Brace Payment Be Gone

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Braces have been part of our lives for almost five years now. You can read some history in these two older posts.

A Car or Braces

Braces – Part II

But I am excited to announce that as of yesterday, all brace debt is GONE! Paid the final $460 payment!

(Braces were not in my budget as I have maxed out my FSA deductions from my W2 job and have been using it to make the payments since I started my W2 job in March.)

Man, this feels good!


First Paycheck = FAIL!!!

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I received my first full paycheck at my new rate of pay. I was shocked that it was much lower than I had anticipated (even after using a couple online calculator programs to try to accurately predict take-home pay).  My expectation was that I’d earn somewhere between $5-6,000/month take-home.  The reason for the large range is that I have a LOT of money coming out in pre-tax deductions, including:  medical and dental insurance, Flex Spending Savings accounts for health and dependent care, and 7% retirement investment (required and matched by my employer). In total, I have 20% of my check removed pre-tax. Taxes remove another 20% of my paycheck. So when looking at my base weekly salary compared to my take-home pay, I’m only actually bringing home 60% of what I earn (to be fair, I’m saving money by being able to pay a portion of medical and childcare from our FSA with pre-tax dollars, but our FSA has caps that we exceed, so some of those expenses are still paid out of my take-home pay post-tax).

After all deductions, my first full paycheck was for a total of $2269. I get paid bi-weekly, so we’re talking about $4500/month for most months (except for the odd month with 3 pay periods). This was a huge shock, given that we’ve been quite accustomed to budgeting for literally double that income amount.

I’ve never shared exact income numbers before on the blog because it made my husband feel uncomfortable for his business earnings to be shared and analyzed. But now that he’s shut his doors down and it’s all me – I feel fine with sharing my personal income. Guess what, y’all….my salary is $95,423/year. That’s with my big raise. I was originally hired at $55,000 two years ago. I guess there’s some disconnect in my brain or something because I thought $95k sounded like “BIG MONEY.” When I got my raise I was overjoyed – I was expecting a huge, wild difference in my rate of take-home pay. Under $5,000/month was NOT what I was expecting. Call me spoiled or privileged of whatever else you want (and I own that I am some of those things – I’m lucky to have the job I do), but this was a huge shock.

So although it feels like “starting over” (although it’s not!!! We’re still down nearly $80k in debt over the last 3 years), it’s definitely a come-to-Jesus moment. Hubs and I have had to totally start over on our budget with fresh eyes. Thinking about how to continue making progress on our debt reduction journey while simply surviving (here, we thought we’d be “thriving” with this huge raise). Some tough realizations have been made:

  • Hubs must keep earning an income somehow. Hubs has run a successful flooring business for almost a decade, but recently quit to go back to school. Many people have commented that he should keep his business going for some side-income, but it just doesn’t work that way. Unless you’ve owned a business in the construction trade before, you probably don’t realize how expensive it is just to maintain the proper insurances, licenses, etc. Hubs is NOT the type to do business under the table without the appropriate certifications. It’s a big problem in his industry (and where we live, in particular), and he was not about to go that route. But to just keep his insurances and licenses up to date cost several thousand a year. When we looked at what he was bringing in part-time versus the costs to keep the company legal, it just wasn’t enough to make it worthwhile. And, maybe surprisingly, the flooring trade is not as flexible with a school schedule as we need. Hubs’ first semester back was this past Spring and he had many stressful calls from employees (or worse, home-owners) with issues that demanded immediate attention, while he was still stuck in class for many hours to come. All in all, this was a losing proposition for our family. So now we’re trying to think of more flexible and accommodating ways that hubs can earn some side-money while in school. So far brainstorming has included: driving for uber or lyft, doing some type of food delivery, and perhaps trying to become a personal trainer. Remember – hubs has been big into health and fitness the last couple years, so the latter is his preferred method, but it will also take the longest to get started and requires additional research first. Any other ideas?
  • Food consumption has to get under control. A friend recently posted on facebook to inquire about how much her friends’ families pay per month for groceries. The most common number I saw was $250/week. I have to say, for the past couple of years since I’ve been working 2 jobs, our food budget has been way over $1,000/month (including groceries + eating out). I mean, $1,000/month was a GOOD month. But remembering back to when I first started blogging, it hasn’t always been this way! In fact, my original grocery budget was only $400/month!!! And I stuck to it! To be fair, it was never easy. I would spend a TON of time researching sales, carefully planning meals around sale items and food we already had in our pantry or freezer. I would easily have to go to 2-3 stores per week to get the best priced items (Walmart does their ad matching, but our local Walmart doesn’t have great quality produce). I’d also make a ton of items from scratch. Everything from breads and homemade granola bars to fruit leather and yogurt – even baby wipes I made myself for cheaper than could be bought bulk at Costco. Between ad searching, meal planning, grocery shopping, food prepping, and scratch baking, I probably spent a good 10-15 hours/week on my efforts. It paid off big-time in terms of money saved, but I just simply lacked the time when I started working full time (plus kept my part-time job, on the side). When I accepted my big raise I had to sign a non-compete so I had to leave my part-time job. So even though I still work full-time, I have significantly more time in the early morning/evening/weekend hours to try to devote to some of my old grocery-saving ways. I don’t know that it’s reasonable to get back to only $400/month. But I think if I shoot for $550-600/month (again – that’s for all food: groceries + eating out), it would be a huge savings over our current spending. I’m going to give it an honest effort for the month of August and see how I do.
  • The budget, in general, needs to be slashed. It’s scary how easy it’s been for things to creep up over time. When I first started blogging all our gifts were in the $10-15/range. Recently our gift-giving has been closer to $25-35+/gift. Hubs and I have both rejoined a gym. It’s very important to hubs (and he spends legitimately a ton of time there), but maybe I’ll cancel my own membership to try to save some money since I’m perfectly happy to run outdoors for free as my preferred form of exercise. I also had a friend recently mention that some health insurance companies offer discounts for gym memberships? I need to call Blue Cross, Blue Shield to inquire about this. Spending across the board needs to come down.
  • Debt payments??? Probably the hardest thing to accept is that our debt payments are going to drastically decrease. We’d grown accustomed to throwing thousands a month toward debt! I’m talking many months where we were paying $2500-$3000/month toward debt!!! Obviously if I’m only bringing home $4,500, there’s no room for a $3,000 debt payment. It’s just not possible. So we have to adjust expectations, adjust our 2017 financial goals, and just keep plowing forward, making as much progress as possible with what we have to work with.

So, ultimately, we need to cut our expenses AND try to find a way to increase our income. There’s not much wiggle room for me (since I can’t pick up side work in my current industry), but I think we can try to find solutions to get hubs some part-time side gigs. My focus will be best spent on trying to reduce our food expenses, since that tends to be our #1 monthly expense (cumulatively speaking. And yes, I know how ridiculous that sounds, but it’s true).

So there you go – I’ve laid it all out on the table. Next up will be formulating a solid budget plan and figuring out how to juggle our debt payments. Especially now that we owe $1,000/month to the IRS from our poor planning last year. Ugh! But baby steps here – if I think about everything at once I become overwhelmed so it’s one thing at a time. We now have a solid “income” figure so we know what we’ll be working with in terms of take-home pay. Now it’s time to figure out how to make our outflow match with our inflow and to find additional areas to cut back.

 

How much does your household spend per month on groceries (and how many people are in the household)? How do you save money on your food budget?


Hope’s Fall 2017 Monthly Budget

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Without further ado, my new monthly budget.

DescriptionMonthly Budget
Total$2,819
Rent$650
Groceries$600
Health Insurance$305
Gymnastics$300
Auto (gas & maintenance)$300
Utilities$250
Entertainment$200
Auto/Rent Insurance$130
Gym Membership$50
Netflix$12
Bill (paid annually)
Life Insurance$22

Some important things to note.  This budget does not include my business expenses, or rather bills I pay out of my business account and use for tax purposes including but not limited to my cell phone bill ($286 monthly,) Adobe Suite membership ($29 monthly,) Microsoft Office ($99 annually,) Dropbox ($99 annually) and so on.  I have completely separated my personal and business expenses since I am working full time as a employee while continuing to work as a contractor.

My income is still pretty variable but the bulk of my income comes from my full time corporate job and a steady consulting job where I work 25ish hours per week.  I currently have 4 sources of steady income and continue to pick up odd jobs. My  income since March of this year has averaged about $6,000 per month.  This is post-deductions for my W-2 full time job and pre-deductions and tax for my consulting jobs.

Now, with that being said, I already know there are changes coming to this budget…first, my deferment ends on my student loans in September at which time I will start paying a minimum of $305 per month AND per my last post, I am beginning to invest in my company sponsored 401K beginning this next pay period.

I did read all your advice and while I get more educated and review all options, I did cut back my 401K from my originally planned 20% to 10%.  I am going to look at Roth IRAs, etc. over the next couple of months, and continue to build my local savings account.

I think most of my budget is self-explanatory, but here are a few notes:

  • I now have to pay for Little Gymnasts training. Ouch!  No more barter. The monthly cost is not quite $300 but I put some buffer in there to help cover the meet fees which will run most of the winter while he is competing.
  • While my commute to work is only 12 miles, I have a two hour round trip 3-4 times a week for gymnast training, thus the higher gas cost.
  • I opted out of the company sponsored health insurance due to its cost and limitations and instead chose to go with a Christian based medical sharing company.  That is the month healthcare cost for the four of us (History Buff is now working full time.)  I do have dental and vision through my corporate job for a very reasonable cost for the entire family.
  • I know $200 is a lot for entertainment. It’s really more a buffer for odds and ends right now.  Sports for the kids and misc housing costs as we continue to settle into our new home. (For instance, I have to buy Sea Cadet a bed this month before he returns from being gone all summer, working at summer camp.)

I will try to be responsive to questions. I know I have tightening up to do. I’ve recently pulled all my credit reports – ugh! So will get a debt update up in the next couple of weeks.


Fully Vested and Planning for Retirement

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Just as I was getting my monthly budget together, the quarter was up and I was given the opportunity to invest in the company sponsored 401K plan…fully vested immediately.  The company matches up to 5% of my salary.

It has been a LONG TIME since I had a company matched 401K opportunity. So effective this week, I am investing 20% of my corporate job’s income in the 401K. I can change it at any time, but I have some catching up to do.

What do you think? I’ve picked a pretty mixed portfolio but lean toward more aggressive options.  I’m so excited.

Any tips or trips would be greatly appreciate for this as really it’s been years and I was in a VERY different place back then.

I have an idea of how this will affect my take home pay, but won’t know for sure until the end of this week when I get my first check with the deduction taken out.  Then I will post my new monthly budget.


Making Extra Money at the Beach This Summer

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I love the beach. In fact, I spend as much time as I can at the beach every summer. The problem I had for years was that going to the beach seemed to be a waste of my valuable time when it came to earnings. Should I go to the beach and enjoy myself, or should I really be using that time to work a side job and bring in more money? Then I began to think, “Is there a way that I can make money when I’m at the beach?” Over the years I’ve tried a variety of ways, some with more success than others. I thought I’d share some of the experiences I’ve had to help inspire others and to possibly get some of your creative juices flowing.

sea glass hunting

Metal Detector

My first idea was to use a metal detector to look for lost treasures while at the beach. The issue was I really didn’t want to spend a few hundred dollars on something I wasn’t sure would work. Luckily, I had a friend who had one and who was willing to lend me hers. While I had fun doing it, I quickly realized it wasn’t a productive way to make money. I found a few odd coins and a lot of metal trash, but I never left the beach with more than $5 the fifteen times I tool a metal detector with me. I think that if I were on the east coast, or went to a beach where there were a lot of wedding ceremonies (lost rings and jewelry) I might have fared better. I’m glad that I gave it a try, but also happy I didn’t invest a lot of money into my own metal detector before figuring out it wasn’t going to work for me.

Sea Glass

I’ve always loved sea glass, and I would casually wander and pick it up when I would visit the beach anyway, so I thought this might be a possibility to earn a bit when I learned that rare sea glass could go for a pretty penny. What I quickly learned was that finding rare colors is not easy, and the common stuff that I was finding wasn’t worth a whole lot of money. I did find a sea glass marble which I was able to sell for $15 on eBay, but most of the sea glass I found was of little interest to collectors.

Driftwood

I had a friend who asked me to collect driftwood for her, and I thought I might be able to turn this into a money maker. There was plenty of driftwood to collect at my local beach (please check the regulations at your beach before doing this…many state beaches don’t allow you to take anything including driftwood). I was a bit more successful with the driftwood than I was with the metal detector and the sea glass. I found several buyers who would take what I found, but it still ended up being quite a bit of work for not a whole lot of money.

Combining the Three

While each of the three above individual efforts to make money ended up not working, I finally was able to come up with a way to make money from the beach by combining the three together. I started taking the sea glass, the random finds from the metal detector (which I still borrow from my friend from time to time) and the driftwood to make jewelry and artwork I sell at our local flea market and summer festivals. I also include interesting shells and rocks I happen across as well. I don’t make a ton of money doing this, but I make enough that a trip to the beach is now a profitable endeavor rather than a day without any income generation.

I know this isn’t possible in all circumstances, but I’ve learned that it’s worthwhile trying to figure out if there is a way to make a little money from the things you enjoy doing and would do anyway. Figuring out how to make money going to the beach makes me feel a lot less guilty about heading to the ocean because now I know I will not only enjoy my time there, it will also benefit my bottom line as well.


The True Cost of a Deck

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Thanks for all the comments on my latest post about motivation. I’ve taken the comments to heart and am really doing some serious pondering and life planning for moving forward. I’m trying to minimize the financial bleeding this summer, and then jump back full-force in August with some renewed energy. I wanted to try to go gung-ho this month, but with my lower pay and some unexpected expenses (see below) I just don’t think I can even reasonably expect to try to create a $3,000/month budget for the month of July. We’re going to take on more debt. Sigh. But in August I’ll have my first full month of new salary and our bills will have hopefully stabilized enough for us to create a new budget. From what I’ve figured, I think my take-home pay will be around $6,000/month when my new raise goes into effect. So far the budgets I’ve been playing with are still around the $7,000ish range, so I’ve got to figure out how to come up with an extra $1,000 month (or, alternatively, how to cut an extra $1,000/month from the budget). I’ll write up a post soliciting advice soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my latest unexpected expense in a story I call “The True Cost of a Deck.”

My mom and stepdad still live in the same home that I was raised in from the time I was 10-years-old. The house is in a highly sought-after area in Austin, TX and has appreciated well during the time they’ve owned it. It’s beautiful and I love it, but it no longer serves my mom and stepdad’s needs. It’s too large, taxes are too high, and it’s too-tall (two story, when they’d prefer a single story).

The plan has been to put the house on the market this coming spring. My mom, a real estate broker, has tried to dedicate much of the last year to putting in updates that were needed to bring the house up to modern-day and to maximize the amount they can list it for when it goes on the market. They’ve done updates in the bathrooms, the kitchen, and with the floors. The last remaining big thing has been the deck.

My mom’s house is built on the side of a hill. When you walk in the front door it’s at ground level, but then the ground slopes steeply so when you walk to the back door of the house (still on the first floor), all the sudden you’re an entire story above ground. They’ve had a back deck that you could walk out on with stairs leading down to the backyard grass below.

The deck is entirely made of wood and it has been heavily used and abused across time. At this point, parts of the deck are warped and rotted and it is unsafe to be on. Many of the surrounding homes had similar problems and all have had their decks redone at some point in the past 5-10 years. My mom, the last hold-out on the street, felt the time was finally right to replace their deck as it could raise safety concerns for potential homebuyers.

My stepdad, a very intelligent academic-type who likes to think himself a DIY-er, spent months thinking up plans for the deck. Finally, they decided to shell out the money to have a professional draft the plans and provide a list of materials needed to complete the project. The plan was for my stepdad to do the work himself. Once plans were procured, my stepdad went to work. Literally on Day #1, before anything else had been done, he got up on a ladder to cut down the limbs of an overhanging tree. When the large branch fell, it took out the ladder my stepdad had been standing on. Chainsaw in hand, all 3 (stepdad, ladder, and limb) fell to the ground. What could have ended in serious disaster (I shutter to even consider the possibilities), ended up not too terrible. My stepdad sustained a severe tear of his rotator cuff that would require surgery. After meeting with multiple specialists (he didn’t want to accept the truth), he begrudgingly agreed to hire out the rest of the work, given that he required immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery. Any plans for future deck-building were gone. In fact, he was told, the muscles in his arm/shoulder would likely never be the same again.

My Stepdad’s surgery was this past Friday afternoon. Early Saturday morning, my sister (an RN) went to visit and check on my stepdad’s bandages/dressing. While there, my Mom encouraged everyone to go outside to see the progress being made on the back deck – now being completed by a hired contractor. Outside, everyone admired the deck. It’s costing an arm-and-a-leg ($20k compared to the $5-7k DIY estimate), but it’s going up quickly and looks beautiful!

Everyone started walking back around the big hill toward the front of the house when my mom tripped on a piece of debris from the construction, fell, and landed hard on her arm. My sister said the “pop” was audible and unmistakable. My mom’s arm was bent backward and sideways, an unnatural direction that can not occur with healthy, intact bones. An x-ray at the ER later verified the extent of the break. My mom was in so much pain that she almost passed out a couple of times: during examination and immobilization.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 2.56.53 PM

My mom had surgery today. Now both people (Mom & Stepdad) have an arm immobilized, recovering from very recent surgery. Neither can drive due to high dosage pain medicine, nor can they do much of anything on their own. In the time between my Mom’s break (on Saturday) and her surgery (today), my Mom has been in such excruciating pain that she’ been nearly helpless, even with her good arm. Meanwhile, my stepdad’s surgery went well but he’s been battling nausea and vomiting due to the pain medicine he’s on (even after having the doctor call in a lower dosage pain medicine). It’s just a mess.

My sister, now 7 months pregnant, is the true hero of the story. She took off almost a full week last month to help move my dad to his new facility. And she’s taken off almost a full week this month to help with my Mom and Stepdad. She’s gone over daily to make meals, take out trash, clean dishes, etc. etc. She had taken over a case of waters and literally had to pre-open all of the bottles because neither parent could seem to do it one-handed. I mean, it’d be comical if it weren’t my parents!

So this deck that was only going to cost about $5,000 to replace will now likely end up costing over $30,000. It’s about $20,000 for the deck itself, then the out-of-pocket max will be hit for both parents due to their ER visits and surgeries, not to mention loss of work (for them and for my sister). I booked a flight and will be arriving on Friday afternoon. I don’t have the money to go and I really don’t have the time, either. But I have to be there for my family. I just have to.

I’ll be in Austin from Friday-Monday. I’ll be back in Tucson in the office on Tuesday, and then I immediately leave for a work conference trip from Wednesday through Saturday. Then the plan is to round the family up and hit Disney later that week.

So the month of July is turning out to be totally nuts. And it’s costing an arm and a leg two arms! (groan, har har).

At least we have our health freedom, right?

Stay safe out there, DIY-ers! I’ll catch you from Austin on the flipside!


Finances & Fitness

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Hubs has become quite the fitness aficionado lately. Remember back in 2015 when he lost a ton of weight? He ended up losing 60 lbs. in total. In 2016 he was really just learning to maintain his weight through having a healthier lifestyle overall. He eats pretty clean, drinks lots of water, exercises regularly, etc. This year (2017) he decided he wanted to try to build some muscle mass. Well, mission = accomplished! I think his whole year was made last month when, while on our mom-&-dad getaway, a kid at the hotel’s pool area asked him if he was a professional bodybuilder! LOL! He ate up the compliment and was floating on Cloud 9 the rest of the day!

IMG_5292

As a disclaimer, I gotta say his “before” picture is in a shirt that was stained, not dirty. Hubs was a flooring contractor so all his work clothes eventually had stains all over them from glue, paint, etc. Just kinda gross to see all the “gunk” – it’s not just filth! Ha!

The truth is, hubs works hard for the gains he has made. Our summer has been a little more relaxed, but during the academic year he had been waking up faithfully at 4:45am so he could be at the gym at 5am when they opened, get in 1.5-2 hours of gym time, and be home in time to help get the girls dressed and ready for school. Even on vacation he went to the hotel gym daily. On our long driving days to and from Texas, he figured out creative ways to still get in his workouts by doing youtube videos using one’s own bodyweight for resistance, etc. When the rest of us want a bowl of ice cream after dinner, he prepares a bowl of fruit for himself. He’s dedicated like that.

I’ve wanted to get back on the whole fitness wagon lately. I used to be really into fitness, and while I would describe my current body-type as “average”, I’d love to get back to a place where I could consider myself “fit.” Unfortunately, I’ve found myself lacking motivation. The other day I was talking to hubs and asked him about how he stays so motivated – how he can push himself day after day to make healthy choices, sacrifice sleep for his gym time, choose the healthier food option when a sweet treat is right in his face, etc. I wish he had some secret trick I could share (or sell for $$$), but we all know that’s not the way it works. His response, “You just have to make the decision and stick with it.”

Me:  But it’s too hot to work out!

Him:  The gym has air conditioning. And you should be sweating while you’re working out anyway.

Me: But I’m tired!

Him: You won’t be after you get your heart rate up and going.

Me: UGH!!!!! BUT I DON’T WANT TO!!!

Him: Well….that’s your problem then. : )

As we talked about it, I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between FITNESS and FINANCES.

I recently admitted to letting our finances slip a bit over the summer. I’ve slacked off on a lot of the money-saving habits I used to have. It’s been months since I’ve designed our meal plans around sales and ads, for instance. I used to do that weekly – our meals were specifically planned based on the kinds of food on sale at our local grocers. It’s been years since I’ve done the envelope system. Or since I kept a “30 Day Wish List” prior to buying household stuff.

I think I’ve just been lacking motivation. To be honest, it’s probably been going on for awhile. I’ve been able to get away with it because our income has been high enough to compensate for some poor planning and spending habits. But when our income dropped, I really never buckled down. I never started the process of really trying to cut back significantly and, instead, I continued to spend like all was normal.

I’ve wanted to change, but I didn’t really want to put in the work to make it happen. Kind of like my fitness journey. Heh.

I don’t have any grandiose conclusion right now where I can say “That’s It! I’m back on the financially-fit bandwagon!” The truth is, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it, but not a lot of actions just yet. I really feel somewhat immobilized by our lower summer income (hub recently stopped working to go back to school and I had to leave my part-time job due to a noncompete at my full-time job). It feels like no matter what I do, I’m not sure that I can make our outflow match our inflow right now. It feels helpless. I’ve intentionally never given exact income figures (though it’s not a total surprise, as I’ve been pretty open about our budget and expenses, etc.). But just to give ballpark numbers, we went from earning a take-home salary of roughly $10,000/month….to right at $3,000/month. Practically overnight. Granted, these are take-home numbers (insurance is paid pre-tax, some of childcare and medical is paid pre-tax, mandatory 7% investment is pre-tax), so the low $3,000 number doesn’t mean we’re only making $36,000/year. We’re still making significantly more than that. But just in terms of dealing with take-home pay, we’ve experienced a huge drop over the last couple months.

My new raise goes into effect soon and as much as I am LOVING the academic freedom this summer, I can’t wait for August to roll around just so I’ll be able to experience my first full month with my new salary (remember that raise I got months ago but doesn’t go into effect until my new contract??? Can’t wait!!!).

ANYWAY…..

I just wanted to check in with you all and be honest and open about where I am in my debt journey right now. I have no doubts that we will make a full rebound. I know it. But right now I’m still just kind of limping my way through, trying to find that motivation that comes so naturally to my hubby.

Share a financial (or fitness-related, if you prefer) WIN you’ve made recently! I love hearing other’s successes!

How do you keep your motivation high when you’re not really feeling it? Fake it till you make it? Any other tips or strategies?


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