Ashley’s December Debt Update

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Wow!

That is all I can say. Check this out…

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date (original debt, March 2014)
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March ($413)
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May ($1381)
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May ($7697)
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June ($2220)
License Fees$27232.5%250*December ($5808)
PenFed Car Loan$169412.49%1400December ($24040)
Navient - Federal Student Loans$44228.25%16December ($4687)
Navient - Dept of Ed$720568.25-6.55%260December ($69191)
ACS Student Loans$210407.24%77November ($21035)
Medical Bills$64850%75December ($9000)
Totals$123, 667
(Last month = 126,285)
Starting Debt = $145,472

I’m glad you all urged me to include beginning balances, because otherwise I never would have noticed that this month (December) marks a big milestone! We’ve officially paid off over $20,000 in debt since I started blogging (back in March 2014).

I remember that when I hit the $10,000 mark it felt monumental. If that was monumental, then this is Herculean! I still have so far to go, but at the same time I’m so proud of how far we’ve already come! At the beginning of 2013 my goal was to be credit card debt-free by the end of the year. Little did I know we would nearly double that goal. We paid off the full $10,330 credit card balance within mere months after starting to blog. And now here I stand, only 9 months after starting to blog, a full $20K paid off. It feels so, so good.

And because I can’t afford to let up steam anytime soon, let’s talk about some of the things that jump out at me from looking at this table.

First, how depressing is it that my student loan balance has grown?! For months, my payments were not even large enough to cover the interest, so the loan balances just grew and grew. My payments still aren’t any larger (I’m focusing first on paying down other debts), but I’m now on Income-Based Repayment, so my unpaid interest is forgiven for all subsidized loans. Just for transparency’s sake, I do have a couple unsubsidized loans that will continue to grow in balance (due to accumulating interest), but I’m still resolved to focus on other debts first.

Second, look at those payoff dates. My first few months blogging I was paying things off left and right! Now I’m working on larger balanced items, and it’s been a full 6-months since my last payoff. I go around and around on the order of my debt payoff, always coming back around to determining that the car needs to be my main focus (for personal satisfaction reasons). But a quick, easy win would really be nice.

And so I’ve placed an asterisk next to the license fees payment.

I don’t want to say I’ve made my mind up 100% (I keep waffling on these payment order issues), but I think I might shake things up a bit in January and make a larger license fee payment instead of putting extra money toward the car.

I can practically hear the groans. I know, I know. If I keep splitting priorities and waffling back and forth then NOTHING gets done. I really need to just pick something and focus. But clearly I’m struggling with this.

I’ll think about it more in the coming month (the next license payment won’t be due for nearly a full month), and make some decision about where to go with this.

If you were to ask me:  “Which is more motivating? Paying off the car or the license fees?”

I would answer:  “The car. 100% for sure, the car.”

But…..that satisfaction is still a long way off. The license fees, although perhaps less satisfying, could be tackled in just a couple short months. And that’s the type of pay-it-off satisfaction I’m really craving after 6 months with no pay-offs.

So, yeah. Decisions, decisions.

What would you do??? I know I ask this nearly every month, but humor me and give me your opinion on the matter! ; )


Teacher Gifts

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I swear this will be the LAST post I write about teacher gifts (well….at least for this year, lol).

I just wanted to show you the final product of what I gave to our kids’ teachers this year for Christmas (or Hanukkah, being as our girls go to the Jewish Community Center for preschool).

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Each teacher received 3 things:

1. A “card” (i.e., construction paper) that said “Thank you Miss [Teacher]! Love Brooke and Bailey”, which the girls colored and decorated with stickers. cost = $0 (all of these supplies were things we had on-hand)

2. A Happy Holiday card from our family. cost = $0 (I hadn’t originally intended to give these to the teachers, but they were extras I had leftover)

3. A $5 Starbucks gift card. cost = $0 (remember, a stranger kindly paid for these)

On the back of the holiday card I wrote a nice, heartfelt message to each individual teacher pointing out things that I was thankful for about them specifically (not just a generic “thanks”). An example is that when I drop off the girls they’ll often run up to a certain teacher and grab her hand; I mentioned that this really lets me know that my girls are being well cared for and makes me feel good about sending them there for preschool.

Total cost for teacher gifts = $0

For the record, I still plan to gift the classroom with some of the wish list items that I’d mentioned here, but I’m going to wait until the new year. I won’t be going crazy or anything, but I can buy several of the items for only $5 or $10 and it will make me feel good to contribute to the classroom. Gift-giving is still a bit hard for me (in terms of the whole getting-out-of-debt mission). I find myself wanting to be more generous than my budget will typically allow. But I try to find that balance and paying a few bucks for some art/craft supplies that my kiddos will be using at school won’t put me over budget (at least I hope not!!! knock on wood!!)

What do you think about being generous with others while in debt? 

Ideas I’ve had include:  Volunteering time instead of donating money (I’ve done this at the girls’ preschool this year, too), donating things we already own and no longer need (instead of spending money buying new things, I’ve donated some gently used baby toys and gently used clothes at a toy drive and clothing drive, respectively); and finally, I donated money to a charitable organization that acts as a tax credit (not deduction), discussed more here. This way it’s not like spending extra money…it’s like being able to choose where my tax money goes (since otherwise I would have had to pay the money toward taxes anyway).


So Grateful – Short Term Loss of Income

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There has been a change in my expected income for the foreseeable future. I certainly hope it’s for the short term, but to be honest, all it’s led to is a flooding of gratefulness.

Yesterday afternoon, my ex-husband called me and simply asked…”Will you be able to get my babies (our two kids) something for Christmas?” I knew where he was coming from, I knew he was struggling financially. And upon my assurance that our kids are well taken care of and want for nothing, he broke down in tears.

For all drama in our marriage and continued relationship because of our children, I KNOW without any doubt that if he could he would do anything for our children and even for me if I needed it. He is that type of man. I am so blessed that even with my failed marriage we have always been able to work together to put our children first. It’s certainly not always been smooth or easy or stress free, but when it comes down to it, neither of us doubts our committment to our children.

I’ve seen SO many terrible things come of broken homes and bad finances, that this interaction with him did not bring me stress, but rather a flooding sense of gratefulness for our warm home, food in our kitchen and so, so many blessings that it’s so easy to take for granted.

So for now, I do not expect to receive any financial support for the kids. I am also uncertain if he will be able to make his car payments ($350 per month.) He has a car that is financed in my name only. Per our divorce decree he is financially liable for any and all costs associated with it. He pays me for the insurance, car payment and taxes and takes care of all the maintenance on his own. As soon as the car is paid off, we will transfer the title to his name and be done with it.

I feel so terrible for him, I wish I could help, and I will where I can…but I’m also so grateful for this journey that I am on to get in a better financial place, for your support and tough love.


The Car

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So I’m here for your advice today. We’ve had our van listed for sale for almost 4 months now, I believe, minus that month it was in the shop was being rear-ended. And while I’ve gotten a few inquiries, but nothing really solid. Then this week, I had a super low ball offer…like 33% less then what I’m asking…no thank you!

Being a commercial vehicle, it’s harder to place a value on it so I went to my bank and asked their help. They valued it at about $25K. I own right at $27K.

So here’s the question…do I continue to list it for sale and just keep on or do I explore downsizing to a used car and perhaps roll the portion I am “upside” down into a new auto loan? I’ve looked (just online) at used cars and I see two viable options:

5+ year older Honda Element
Plus: Price around $12K, great gas mileage, low maintenance
Down: Only seats 4, there are 5 of us. But we do have the ’96 Honda Accord that seats 5 and is paid off. History Buff will get his license in March. Would have to rent a vehicle for any longer distance driving, which we are certainly not doing alot of but it will happen on occassion.

4+ year older Honda Pilot
Plus: Good gas mileage (much better than current vehicle,) low maintenance based on reputation, 3 row seating so seats all of us and some extras when needed (which we actually have ALOT)
Bad: Price around $18K, and I HATE 3 row seating, it’s very inconvenient for getting in and out.

I’m certainly not rushing into any decision. And as mentioned on several occassions recently, I don’t really trust my judgment. So I’m asking for your opinions.

Just a refreshed on current vehicle situation.
Car #1: New, Financed, large commercial van that I purchased to accomodate our growing family. Currently financed $27K, insurance runs about $100 per month, taxes are about $400 per year, monthly payment is $696. Regular oil changes and tire rotations, no other maintenance expected for forseeable future.
Car #2: Older Honda Accord, in good shape, owned outright. Insurance about $20 per month and taxes will be around $50 year. Just got inspection and oil change, will need new tires and to recondition headlights in coming months but no other maintenance known. This will become the twins car as they get their licenses (starting in March.) Oh, and it is a stick shift which I have VERY limited experience with.

Ok, I think that gives you all relevant information. What do you advise?


So much to do, so little time….

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Story of our lives, am I right?

But especially during the holidays + with pending trip to prepare for. There are so many “to do’s” that I’m trying to get taken care of!

I have several posts planned in my head that I haven’t been able to get down on paper yet:

  • Discussing our emergency fund, how its been impacted by recent overages, and plans for the future
  • Assessing 2014 spending and projections/plans for 2015
  • December debt update
  • Roadtrip preparations (and what we’re doing different this time around)

…and on, and on, and on.

But time is short so those will be added to my “To Do’s” and sit in waiting for the time being. I’ve GOT to get my grading done (final week of the semester was last week) so I can move on to trip preparations. I’ll be back soon, though! Should have some new content for you on Thursday. Until then, I hope your weeks are all going well and you’re staying safe and healthy! I’ve seen SO MANY wrecks lately (presumably due to increased holiday traffic and people rushing around to buy presents, run errands, etc.). Let’s all slow down a bit and be safe out there, mmkay? ; )

What are you up to this week? Squeezing in some work during the last full week before Christmas? Are you heading out of town or expecting family for a visit? Just same old, same old???


Cheap Christmas Cards

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Even though I’d resolved not to pay for professional family photos this year (see post here) I still wanted to send out Christmas cards to friends and family, but I wanted to do it in the most economic way possible.

First, I had to decide what to do for the photo(s). We haven’t had any decent full family photos taken in awhile and I’d considered asking a friend to come take some photos of us (she has a really nice camera and does a little photography as a hobby), but timing never worked out (this was the friend who got married at end of October). So, instead, I decided just to use pictures of the girls this year and to take the photos myself with my phone’s camera. Sure, it’s not the highest quality and I’m certainly no photographer. But it got the job done in a very budget-friendly way and still accomplishes the main goal of having some current photos to put on our card.

Next, I had to figure out where to order our cards from. Last year I’d bought them through Walgreens, was not thrilled with the final product, and learned (after the fact) that I paid MORE than one of my girlfriend’s paid when hers looked 10 times better! Where did she get hers from???? Costco!!! (I really love that place). So I remembered that little tidbit and decided to order online from them to pick up in store.

I was able to order a set of 50 cards for $14.99 that looked absolutely beautiful (and came with really nice quality lined envelopes, too)! My crappy phone-quality photos really does not do the card justice, but here’s a picture of the card below:

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umm, yeah. I put a noodle over our last name so that’s what the weird thing is on the card.

The best part is that I was able to order the photos for next-day pick-up. No one needs to know that I put this little project off until December 10th. All that matters is I was able to pick up on the 11th, address the envelopes over the weekend, and send out in today’s mail. They’ll still arrive in plenty of time for Christmas.

There you have it!

Hopefully next year I’ll be more on top of my game and get some better quality family photos to use for the card but, regardless, I’m pretty proud of my last minute super cheap Christmas cards!

Do you do annual holiday cards? If so, do you have a price limit you stick to? How do you keep the project affordable?


An Early Christmas

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Christmas came early this year!

Look what hubs surprised me with….

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Yay!!! A kitchen table!!! Wahoo!!!! For those of you following along, I’ve been wanting a new/new-to-us kitchen table for a long time now (I first mentioned it on the blog way back in August – see here)

Things just weren’t working out to make that happen though. First, our income dropped right around that time. Second, I couldn’t find one for free (I’ve been diligently watching freecyle and posting ads there for months). Third, I couldn’t find a decent used one on craigslist that fit into our budget.

And so we continued to just make do with what we had (which was a high top cocktail-style table with 2 chairs for hubs and I, and a separate child-sized plastic table for the girls. The girls had grown tired of the arrangement and were not thrilled to have to eat by themselves (sad face). But then a couple weeks ago hubs surprised me! I came home to a new table and chairs that accommodates our whole family! He was able to find a floor model on sale for $100 (including chairs). It would have cost more for delivery, but he was able to throw it in the back of the truck and transport home for free. Win!!

Plus, look how happy the girls are to get to sit at the same table with Mom and Dad and all eat together!!!

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Priceless!


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