Housing – It’s All in Name and Our Plan

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Update: Read below for my original post.  But the day after I wrote this, I was offered a significant enough local contract to decide to stay put.  It’s not enough to pay the bills yet, but it is enough to make staying put the best decision financially for now.  We will be going with Option 2 for the time being as far as housing goes; the kids are thrilled for a number of reasons!  I won’t start the new contract until sometime in March so still scrimping to get by for now…but I am so grateful.

As of May 1st we will be homeless, meaning we must move out of our current apartment and without a job, I will not be able to qualify for any other housing.  This has been a HUGE stressor for me since learning about it in December.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I am willing and open to most anything as long as I have some time to get used to it.  I’m very open to thinking outside the box.  So here is what the plan is currently:

Option 1: If by April 1st, I do not have a job that keeps us here (or forces us to move elsewhere):

We will be packing most of our stuff and putting it in storage.  We will then hit the road to travel for 4-6 weeks, staying mostly with family and camping.  I currently have a route mapped out which takes us across the center of the US via St. Louis and Denver, down the California coastline and then to my parents in Texas via New Orleans.  I hope to take the kids to the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone and other places that they might not otherwise see, some I haven’t seen.  We will then return to VA for the summer while I continue looking for a job and doing odd jobs.  Income at this time will consist of adoption assistance for the twins and my part time income from my current part time job.  Yes, we will have gas expenses, but we will no longer have rent, utilities and several other monthly bills.  It will not be a luxurious trip, but I think it will be a lot of fun.  We are calling this plan….The Nomad Experience!  See below on where we will live when we return to VA.

Option 2: If I have a job by April 1st that requires us to stay here and/or when we return from the Nomad Experience:

A family friend with quite a bit of land and a couple RVs has offered to let us live on their land in a 10 person RV (where they have a hook up for water and electricity) for FREE.  So we will be putting most of our stuff in storage when we have to leave the apartment and moving with just the necessities to the RV at least temporarily – I am thinking the first two months of the summer.

Now obviously, if I get a job out of state, etc. we will move there and rent a place.  But since our #1 goal is to stay here if at all possible, this free living situation will either 1) let us live here while I continue to look for a job or ideally 2) let us live for a couple of months on a much smaller budget letting me catch up and get ahead a bit.

So right now…that is the housing plan come May.  RV living is certainly not ideal but with far less stuff, a summer with activities and the twins working and driving themselves, I think it will be manageable and even a fun adventure.  Did I mention the land we will be living on has sheeps, pigs, goat, chickens, turkeys…how fun will that be?  Or at least a new experience for my city dwelling kids!

 


First Children’s Activity!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve brought up the issue of paying for organized kid’s activities.

Our twins are now a little over 3.5 years old. They’ll turn 4 this June. And, to date, we have never enrolled them in a single organized children’s activity. We started our debt-reduction mission nearly 2 years ago (when they were only 18 months old) and, at the time, I didn’t feel like they were missing out on anything. I have several friends who’ve enrolled their kids in all kinds of activities even from infancy (e.g., MyGym, tot & me dance/gymnastics, swim, etc.). But at that young age, I preferred to save the money and really didn’t think we were missing out on anything.

Last April I mentioned that I was seriously considering enrolling the girls in swim lessons. At the time, however, they were attending the JCC for childcare. Over the summer the JCC did free swim lessons as part of their daily curriculum, so that satisfied me. However, looking back, the summer swim lessons weren’t the best. It was taught by certified lifeguards, but it included entire class groups of about 18 kids at a time, so a good deal of the time kids were just sitting on the steps waiting for their turn. There wasn’t a lot of actual instruction on a per-student basis. That was totally fine at the time (plus it was free!), but it means our kids still don’t know even the basics of water safety (e.g., how to grab the edge if they fall in, how to float, etc.).

Given our upcoming Cruise and all the time we’ll be spending around water, swim lessons were high on my radar at the beginning of the year of something I wanted to look into. At the end of January I did a lot of research and found a swim school nearby that’s reasonably priced and has great reviews.  I officially enrolled the girls 2 weeks ago and their first lesson was this past Saturday.

The girls LOVED it!

They’re in classes that are capped at 4 people (though their first class only had 3 kids) so there’s tons of individual attention. The instructor was very friendly and made the lesson so fun.

We have 12 lessons between now and our cruise sail date and, although I’m not expecting full swimmers by any means, I’m hopeful that will be enough time for them to learn basic life-saving measures so that I’ll feel a little more comfortable around so much water on our cruise.

The total cost for one lesson per week is $65/month (per child). This seemed to be a pretty competitive rate in our area. By comparison, I saw some rates that were literally double this amount.

But I do have a question for readers. Now that we’re opening this door (the door of children’s activities)….how do you account for it in your budget? I was going to include it as an “Entertainment” line item, but it almost seems like it warrants its own category. Thoughts?

Also….this just opened the door to a whole world of children’s activities. Soccer, Dance, Swim, Karate, Gymnastics, Oh my!  I can just envision them in little tutus or soccer cleats and my heart wants to burst!

I am determined, at this point, to keep our activities to a maximum of one at a time. I do NOT want to be running them to a different activity every night of the week! Plus our budget (and my time/sanity) wouldn’t allow it! But it’s already making me look forward to whatever activity comes next. They’re still young so there’s plenty of time, but it’s so much fun seeing the excitement in a child’s face as they’re exposed to something new. I could definitely see myself (if I weren’t on the debt-reduction mission) going ahead and enrolling them in multiple activities at a time.

Parents – any experience with swim classes? How does this rate compare to what you’ve paid in the past? What activities do you enroll your child(ren) in? How do you account for children’s activities in your budget?


Outrageous Electric Bill

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We just received what I believe is the largest electric bill I’ve ever received.

I was so sure that the price was an error that I called, waited on hold for a solid half hour, and spoke to a representative who confirmed, Yep. There’s no error, that’s just our bill.

Hubs and I had a little bit of a pow-wow. We can pay the bill, so it’s not an issue of not having the funds to cover it. But the ridiculous price tag meant we needed to have a Come to Jesus meeting to figure out what we’re doing and correct our ways.

For reference, our largest electric bill to date (occurring in a summer month) was $269.  The bill we just received was for $283. It’s a huge jump from last month’s ($199) bill. And it’s not even summer. What gives?

So, after putting our heads together, we decided we’re both a bit at fault.

Hubs has been on a laundry mission the past month. I swear, just about every minute that he’s home he’s got something in the washer and dryer. I’ve seen several half-loads and several items of clothing that weren’t even dirty somehow mysteriously ending up in the laundry pile (the latter being a big pet peeve of mine).

But I’m probably equally, or moreso, responsible. We’re in that weird in-between time of year in regard to temperature. During the night we run our heater (which is gas), but during the day I often flip on the A/C (electric). All the up and down/back and forth has meant that both our gas and electric bills are a bit higher than normal. So that’s got to be a big culprit.

I really think the electric has to come down to these two things. Otherwise, we’re pretty energy efficient – all light bulbs are energy efficient, the house we rent has newer appliances (with the exception of the washer/dryer, which are our own), we don’t leave lights on, the house is well insulated, etc. etc. etc.

So I’m making a more deliberate attempt to be energy-efficient this month. When I get home from work, instead of turning on the A/C I’ve been opening the windows. It’s still a bit warm for my preference (especially when I’m cooking!), but it’s not terrible. And a cold front just blew in this week so I really haven’t needed the A/C at all anyway.

Here’s hoping it makes a big difference in next month’s electric bill because we can’t be having these $300 bills! That’s straight nonsense for a home of our age and our size. No reason it should be that high!

What’s the largest utility bill you’ve received? My mom lives in Austin where water is set at a SUPER high rate to discourage over-watering, etc. She regularly complains about $500 water bills. And there’s only 2 people living in her home! Isn’t that nuts???


4th Month of Unemployment – Status Update

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I am now entering our fourth month of unemployment.  It is only by the grace and generosity of others that I have not accumulated any additional debt and am not too far behind on bills.  (I was so grateful that so many took my post What I have Learned being Poor to heart.  One reader even graciously reached out and offered to pay a bill for us.  I didn’t want to make a big deal of it, but I did want to acknowledge the gift and generosity.  So thank you for the generous gift of paying our electric bill last month!)

I am continuing to job search and interview, but as of today am no closer to a full time job.  I am happy to report that I’ve picked up three small website projects for the month of February, so I have high hopes of catching up with monthly bills and being in a better place going to March.

I’m sorry I haven’t gotten around to replying to everyone on my post regarding the lower paying position I interview for (Is it Worth It?), taking the job or not did not become a question as it was no offered, but I reached the same conclusion as many of you that it just didn’t make sense financially any way I looked at it.  I am interviewing for another part time job tomorrow, but hopefully the pay rate will be more in line with what I need…I hope.  I don’t mind piece-mealing together a paycheck with a variety of part time jobs and projects, but I am hoping to at least have steady income of some sort while I continue to search for a full time position.

I can’t remember if I have mentioned here that with certainty we will be moving in April.  I will write a whole post on this part of our lives.  But essentially, because my initial plan when I signed this lease back in August/September was that we would for certain move to better housing at the end of April (our school year end) even if it meant moving away from here.  So when I signed the lease, I signed the move out notice at the same time.  Fast forward to the first week in December, and I was notified by the complex office that our apartment has been rented out, so staying put is not an option.  So we will be moving…but without a job, what kind of housing can we move too?  This has been a constant prayer request for me, but an answer/option has come.  I will share that plan in another post soon.

Another status update is regarding our pets…we are down to two from the original four. (You can read about this plan: Re-homing Pets.) I’m continuing to only solicit homes from people we know, and while there are currently no placements, with 2.5 more months, I am hopeful. Although it is getting tougher and tougher to think about.

Other than that, we are moving right along…basketball season is coming to an end for Princess, robotics season ended this past weekend for the twins and gymnast is approaching the end of his season.

One side note:  I am going to mention this because it is financially related, but I do not and will not revisit the discussion of my ex or child support….My ex, the youngest two children’s dad has gotten a job.  He has 6 weeks or so of training to do at a minimal rate, but then he assures me he will begin providing regular support for the kids….woohoo!  And even better…health insurance.  So I will keep you posted, but many will remember that it was a year ago this past October that he let me know he could not provide any support for the kids due to job issues.  So this will be greatly appreciated and quite timely due to my job situation.


New Debt Thermometers

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After completing our last debt thermometer (for the car loan – yay!!!) I decided to make some new debt thermometers.

Only one thing…. I like to keep our old debt thermometers because they’re motivating to look at. I had pulled them off the fridge to take a picture of them and they had been sitting on our kitchen table….and the girls destroyed them. Thought they were playing arts and crafts and basically tore them apart.

So I remade the old ones, too. Heh. Not quite the same, but I really like having that visual motivation and seeing how far we’ve come!

So here are the (new) old ones:

IMG_1662

The Auto Loan (left), I was able to re-use the back-paper, but the thermometer part had to be made anew after the old one was torn to pieces. The Wells Fargo card (right), I was able to re-use the original thermometer, but I had to remake the back-paper anew when the old one was torn apart. So at least on each of them I was able to retain a bit of the original piece.

And here are my New Thermometers:

IMG_1663

On the left I’ve targeted two of my mid-sized Navient student loans.

On the right, I’ve targeted a savings goal (the $10,000 for a house down payment) and the Navient thermometer is actually a conglomeration of 3 separate, smaller sized Navient loans. Separately they seemed too small to warrant a debt thermometer, but combined they’re still a decent sized chunk of debt.

I’ll be starting with the thermometers on the right (yellow thermometers on green paper), but it’s kind of fun to have the next thermometers lined up and ready to go when it comes time to target them.

Having the visual reminder has been such a great thing for me! I used to be nervous or embarrassed about them. Whenever we’d have people over I’d take them off our fridge and hide them. But for about the past year, I’ve always kept them up. I almost want friends to ask about them (so far no one has). Finances tend to be such a personal matter but after feeling so much success on our debt reduction journey I have a hard time shutting up about it! Even if friends don’t actually ask about the thermometers, I hope that people do notice them. I hope that maybe it sparks an interest in someone else; that maybe they think about making one of their own. This debt reduction journey road of ours is a long one, but it’s been 100% worth it!

Time to fill up some debt (and savings) thermometers!!!


Ashley’s January 2016 Budget Update

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Let’s just jump right to it, shall we?

Also, full disclosure….as I was making this month’s budget update I realized I never made one for December! Yikes! How did no one point this out/remind me? In full honesty, I feel too rushed for time as it is to go back and write a post from last month so I’m just picking back up here and moving forward.

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Electricity 199
Water 61
Natural gas 103
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 101
Car Insurance 137
Trash 35
Preschool 1061
Gift-Giving 107
Personal Maintenance 33
Restaurants 197
Entertainment 81
Groceries 665
Gasoline 131
Household Goods 9
Clothing 69
Health 25
Rainy Day Savings 50
Savings Goals 0 (-120)
Debt Payments 4013
Total Budgeted $8366

 

Comments:

Gift-Giving: I paid for 3 birthday and 1 belated Christmas gift with that $107, so I felt like I’d done pretty well considering how many gifts were purchased.

Personal Maintenance: This is for some hair care products I bought. It’s been FOREVER since I’ve bought anything related to my hair (with the exception of hair dye since I cut and color my own hair), so I didn’t think this was too bad. I bought a deep conditioning treatment thing and a new flat brush since my old one has been falling apart for months.

Restaurants: This was super high this month (and was last month too, even though I never did a budget update last month – doh!), and it’s because this includes a bunch of eating out expenses from when we were out of town. Remember that this year we traveled back to Texas in late December and stayed until the first week of January. Some of those expenses, of course, were in December, but some fell in the month of January too. So that’s why this was so high.

Entertainment:  $6 was from the girls riding on those giant animal things they have in malls (know what I’m talking about? No? Nevermind then). The remainder was from a DATE NIGHT that hubs and I took! Wahoo for that! I’m warning you now, I’m really committed to trying to have more regular date-nights this year so you’ll see a higher entertainment budget this year than in the past 2 years of blogging. We’re shooting for every-other-month, but we’ve already got plans for Valentines, so we’ll be going back-to-back January and February.

Groceries:  This was also a monstrous sized number! I stocked up on a ton of snack-type foods for the girls that I send with them to preschool (e.g., pretzels, cheese crackers, fruit leather, trail mix, juice boxes, etc. etc.) and I’m hoping/planning that those things will last at least 2 months, so our February grocery budget should be much more reasonable.

Household Goods: This includes some batteries we needed for remotes and kid toys.

Clothing:  I’m still budgeting roughly $100/month for building up a work wardrobe. I’m getting to be pretty good on this, though. I’m still trying to find some decent khaki pants (I’ve tried on a few different pair from a couple different places in the mall, but wasn’t crazy about anything), but once the pants are purchased I think I’ll have all my staples and I’ll reduce this budget down to probably closer to $40/month just to fill in with a new blouse or cardigan once a month or so.

Health: This is from a prescription

Rainy Day Savings:  I don’t really like the category because it’s really not a “rainy day savings” (I need to adjust my YNAB a bit), but this is for the girls’ college savings. We save $25/month per child ($50/total) toward college. I’d hoped to save a bit more toward our car repair fund, annual fees fund, etc., but at the end of the month we just didn’t have the money there, as we’d spent it on getting rid of the car loans (wooo!!!!) We’ll focus a lot harder on this category in February.

Savings Goals:  Similar to the rainy day savings, we just didn’t have money this month for any of our long-term savings goals. You’ll notice that I actually put a negative number there in the table! I actually withdrew $120 from the Cruise 2016 fund. I paid for one plane ticket (I will be traveling separately from the rest of the family because I can’t take off extra time to stay in Texas like hubs and the girls plan to do), and I bought a new swimsuit. I plan to use this money for all cruise-related expenses so I’ll be spending a big chunk this month (when I pay off our remaining balance), and this is where I’ll be spending when I buy cruise-related clothing or other necessities (as opposed to having it come from the regular clothing our household budget).**Edited to add:  I realized without additional context this amount seems off. The plane ticket I bought was only $75 because I already had an airline credit. The remaining $45 was for a swimsuit. PRO tip:  Mix & Match!! I bought a swimsuit bottom from one site because it was cute, my size, and on clearance. I bought the top from another site for the same reasons. They’re both black so, even though they’re different brands, they definitely look like a matching pair. But it’d be possible to mix-and-match patterns, too. The point is that if you look around, you can score some great deals! The swimsuit full price would’ve been about $100. The bottom was from Albion Fit and the top was from Victoria’s Secret (both a bit pricey in swimwear), but buying off-season and clearance saved me a ton. That’s my tip of the day. : )

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

So I think that’s it. I’m excited about the month ahead!

I hope you are all starting off to a fantastic February!


Dipping Into 5-Digit Debt

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You guys! I have another fun debt-related thing to celebrate today!

After nearly TWO YEARS of blogging here (officially started in March 2014. Here was my first “application post“), I’ve FINALLY and forever more fallen below the six-digit-debt threshold! When I started blogging two years ago we had $150,000 of debt. Our combined household income at the time was not quite $50,000/year. After paying off  over $25,000 in our first year and over $26,000 in our second year, we’ve FINALLY crossed this major milestone in our debt-repayment journey. Never ever (aside from mortgage) will we EVER have six-digit level debt. That’s insane! We still have a long way to go, but it really feels like we’ve started gaining speed and making good traction. Our only remaining debts are medical and student loan (which, to this point, we’ve been paying mostly minimums on). I CANNOT WAIT to really start making some headway on those bad boys!

Here’s our January debt update:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
License Fees-2.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
PenFed Car Loan-2.49%$3189Paid off in January 2016$24040
Navient$82,2716.55%-8.25%$279January$80761
ACS Student Loans$85966.55%$20January$8215
Balance Transfer student loan (Former Navient 1-01)$21120% (through April 2016)$500January$5937
Medical Bills$59110%$25January$9000
Totals$98,890 (Dec balance = 102,502)$4013Starting Debt = $145,472

It was tough to swing this monstrous sized debt payment (just over $4,000!!!!!) and, as you’ll see in an upcoming budget update post, in order to balance the budget we had to forego a couple of savings items I’d really wanted to squeeze in this month. But February is a new month and we’ll be full-steam ahead on our next course of action, which includes building back up a healthy emergency fund, saving money toward a down payment of a home, and getting into a bit more comfortable position before we really start slugging those student loan payments. It pains me to see that, for instance, we paid $279 toward Navient this month and yet, our balance actually grew a little compared to last month because that payment still didn’t even cover the interest accruing on the loans (though this is, indeed, over our minimum payment, which is only $206/month). We’ve got to stop the bleeding and so, even though I’m considering it a “minimum” payment while we beef up our savings a bit, I’ll be increasing our student loan payments to at least cover the interest (I’m considering it “minimum” because it will still be a very minimal amount at first as our focus will be on trying to build an EF. But I will increase it from the official minimum so that we aren’t seeing a growing balance every month).

It’s so exciting to get to celebrate these recent wins after such a long period of what has felt like stagnancy. Even though we’ve been whittling away at our debt all along (so we’ve never really been stagnant), the “wins” have felt few and far between in the past year or so. Paying off the car/becoming consumer debt-free, and now dipping below the 6-digit-debt threshold both feel like huge breaths of fresh air. Like we’ve just been given a giant pat-on-the-back for all of our hard work. It really gives us the momentum to keep on rolling.

As I look at the year ahead, of course no one can really be certain what to expect, but I see good things ahead. Last year was a tough one. Nothing terrible happened, but there were lots of changes/re-adjustments as I started a new job, dealt with a lot of father health issues, and just tried to find my place in life a bit. This semester is starting off great (I really am so lucky to truly love what I do!), the financial year is starting on a high note, we have an all-cash paid vacation in a couple months, we have plans to buy a house this year(!!!), and I just hope this is setting the tone for what will be a fabulous 2016. I couldn’t be more excited! So much to be thankful for!

I hope we can all pause today and reflect on something that makes us happy or something we are thankful for. Even in the most trying times, I find it to be a helpful exercise. : )


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