Tax Time!

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It’s that time of year again…TAX TIME!!!!

This year I’ll be responsible for getting the taxes done for two households:  my own and my father’s (side-note: my dad has frontotemporal dementia, as explained here). Last year at tax time, my brother physically went with my Dad to an H&R Block to have his taxes done, at his request. It worked out, but was a whole mess because then my Dad lost all of the tax paperwork after-the-fact and it’s been a huge pain as I am the person who handles all of his finances. I really could use those year-end statements!!!

This year, given another year of progression of his cognitive impairments, my dad no longer cares about his taxes so I can handle them entirely myself without needing to include him (this is always a tricky balance because he cannot be in charge of his own finances, but he still wants to have some oversight and say in how things are handled. It’s totally understandable, but presents a challenge since he doesn’t have the mental capacity to fully think through financial decisions, etc.).

For our own household, we’ve either done our taxes ourselves (in years past) or used H&R Block, too.

This year, I want to do better. I’ve never been a huge fan of the cheap drop-in type of tax places. I want to hire a CPA that we can have an ongoing relationship with. Someone who knows our finances and is knowledgable enough that they can make recommendations (e.g., donate $X or contribute $X to whatever tax-advantaged account, in order to save $x in taxes) and know all the little ins and outs of tax laws. I want to pay what we owe, but also to limit our liability in whatever (legal) ways are possible.

Also, there’s the whole issue that I live in Arizona and my dad lives in Texas. I’m flying back for a couple of days in March to handle some of my Dad’s affairs (I will be scheduling meetings with:  an estate attorney, a CPA, and a financial advisor). I’m assuming my Dad’s CPA needs to be someone physically in Texas, given that state-level tax laws are obviously different state-to-state.

Here’s my issue – I have NO IDEA how to find a reputable CPA. None. So I come to you all, as you are way more knowledgeable about this than I am. How do I find a really good CPA? Where would I even search? Google? Yelp? Help!

And as a side note….I’m pretty nervous about this year’s taxes. Gulp! The past couple years I’d been paying estimated quarterly payments so our tax liability in April was pretty minimal (usually about another $1500ish or so). This year, I haven’t done any estimated payments at all. UGH!!! We have made some hefty tax-credit approved donations so our state tax liability should hopefully be zero (knock on wood). And I’ve had taxes removed from my full-time paycheck so hopefully that will help offset the burden of what we would otherwise owe. But, we’ve had a lot of income that hasn’t had any taxes removed (both hubs’ business income and my part-time contract based job do NOT have taxes removed from checks). Sooooo, pretty sure we’ll end up owing a pretty penny.  I’d like to get our taxes all figured out by mid-March so we have March and April to try to gather up our funds and hopefully pay the IRS in full so we don’t end up having to pay interest and penalties, etc. Worst case scenario, we could pay by the mid-April deadline on a credit card, which would buy us one extra month to pay off everything in full (since purchases made in April wouldn’t be due until May. Note: I NEVER carry a balance on my credit card!! Any purchases made on the card are paid 100% in full by the next month’s due date). That would allow us THREE months to spread the IRS tax bill over. With how high our income is, we should be able to scrape up the funds. But it also depends on how high our tax debt is. NO FUN!!!

Have you done your taxes yet for 2016? Any tips on finding a great CPA?


New Job!!! (Kinda)

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If you’ve been reading my posts lately, you know that I’ve been hinting at some job changes coming up. For the past year and a half, I’ve had two jobs.  Job A: My full-time (in person) academic job. Job B: Adjunct teaching part-time online for a different place. It sounds reasonable, but my “part-time” job was like working the hours of another full-time job and I knew the schedule was unsustainable long-term.

I want to tell you all the crazy details (I swear there was about a 48-hour-period where I was absolutely freaking out) but it’s probably in my own best interest to be vague.

Long story short…I guess I kind of experienced a “bidding war”???? That makes me sound like a prostitute – like I’m selling myself to the highest bidder. And I hate for it to come across that way, when I know that’s not who I am. But…that’s what happened.

I was offered a job for significantly more than my current salary. But when I went to resign, I was offered significantly more than the other offer to stay. I’m talking, my salary increased by about $40k in a 48-hour period. On paper, anyway (the contract has been signed, but the salary doesn’t go into effect until this summer, after my current contract ends).

I can’t even believe it! I’ve known there were going to be some changes, but I had fully expected to be reporting to you about having an entirely NEW job. There are some aspects of my full-time job that will be changing (more responsibility, etc.), but I’m staying in my CURRENT job and will be saying goodbye to my part-time job, effective this summer. One of the conditions of my new salary was that I had to sign an agreement not to seek outside employment in my area for 3 years so I cannot legally stay at my part-time place. Overall, it was a great deal and I was happy to sign it (there was a lot more than just the increase in salary, too; The package was quite generous compared to comparable positions in different departments and universities).

Our household income will still be a little less this year than last year (this raise doesn’t fully make-up for what I’m losing in terms of my part-time income, though it’s close. But additionally, hubs’ business continues to ramp down so his income is way down). Even so, it is an exciting thing to have secured such a huge raise after only being in my current position for a year and a half! Frankly, this type of thing is unheard of in academia! But I feel like this is also the culmination of a significant amount of hard work coupled with a bit of dumb luck/being in the right place at the right time and having a specific skillset and expertise that is highly valued. I love my full-time job and couldn’t be more thrilled that I get to stay!

Have you had any good news on the job-front lately?


Valentine’s Day Kid’s Craft

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We have a long history of using homemade kid’s crafts as a way to give gifts to friends or family in an affordable way, while still having a personal, meaningful touch.

This year, we decided to make some homemade Valentines for the kids’ class. To be fair, we did still buy some Valentines because the twins are in the same preschool classroom so we didn’t want to be giving identical/duplicate homemade gifts. But doing one fully homemade (and the other store-bought), we still saved 50% of the money!

Better yet, our craft used all things that we already owned so we didn’t spend a single penny on any of these!

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For Halloween we had bought a giant Costco-sized package of mini playdoughs to give out for kids who needed/wanted a non-candy treat. They ended up not being very popular among our trick-or-treaters (go figure! lol) so we still have a pretty good sized pile leftover. I decided to use those instead of a candy for the basis of our Valentine’s Day “Card” to give to classmates (last year, one of our daughters came home and promptly threw up from the candy/sugar-overload, so I purposely emphasized non-candy treats this year).

I helped the girls to cut out the hearts. I wrote the message on the front and the girls signed their names on the back and decorated with heart-shaped stickers (every valentine was different and unique). Finally, I was able to fold over some tape to affix the playdough to the card. They’re little mini-sized ones, so the tape held just fine.

I think my hand-writing could have been neater and we could have decorated a little better if we’d spent more time. But for 4-year-old Valentines, it’s not half bad. ; )

If you want to check out last year’s home-made Valentine’s Card (+ a bonus homemade idea I “borrowed” from a classmate), check out this post.

Do you ever make homemade Valentine’s for your kids’ class exchanges? Have you seen any other good homemade Valentine’s card ideas? 


And we have moved!

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Day 1 of the rest of our lives is upon us.  We have finally made the move from our very high priced hometown to a very small town three states away.  The last two days during the move, I have woken up feeling so much hope just overflowing at what the future holds.  We will be living with my grandmother as we get the lay of the land before seeking housing of our own.

And I got a sign that we were going in the right direction during our 8 hour drive loaded down with the last our of our belongings. I got a call regarding a job, one small town away that I applied for 2 months ago!  Woot, woot!  Don’t know what will come of it, but it’s right up my alley and super close to our new town.

All of our stuff is in storage for $125 a month.  It’s in a container that we can have delivered to us for a few hundred dollars or go pick it up at no cost.  We are spending the weekend with friends in Atlanta as Gymnast will compete here for his last regular season meet with his old gym.

We will return to Virginia for one week in March for Gymnast to compete at states near DC.  We have free housing for the week and will knock out orthodontist appointments and so on that same week. He will train here locally for the next three weeks and then return to his team gym for the week before states.  We are so blessed with their flexibility and willingness to work with us.

So for the next three weeks we will be getting the lay of the land, seeking work (Sea Cadet and I at least) and trying to get the kids settled in.

Oh, and one more thing…I now have a “guaranteed” 25 hour a week job at the one I’ve been working for the past year.  So it’s not full time income, but it is steady and more than I’ve had consistently.  (Both my part time jobs have committed to keeping me on despite the move, so I continue to have regular income.)  Will do a budget and goals post in the next month or so as the dust settles from the move.

Things are looking up.  I am filled with HOPE for what this move could mean for us…lower cost of living, more work and who knows what else.


Ashley’s January 2017 Debt Update

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First, thanks for all the great comments and advice on my Medical Debt Collector Dilemma post!

If you haven’t read the comments, then I’ll give you the update:  I was able to negotiate our medical bill down into 3 equal sized payments to be paid across the next 3 months (February through April), and then the medical debt will be GONE and nearly $2,000 will be forgiven. Some commenters noted how this will ding our credit, but seeing as we’re unlikely to be needing any new lines of credit anytime soon, I’m not too worried about the ramifications. I feel like we’re pretty well “set” with our current debts (great mortgage rate, good credit card balance transfer options for paying off student loan debt) – we won’t be adding any additional debts, hopefully EVER!

I’m kind of excited about being rid of this medical debt. We prioritized it below everything else so far simply because it was at a 0% interest rate. But with the offer to forgive $2,000 of the debt, it had to be bumped up to the top of our priority list (which will change the “debt payment” proportions that I had just posted in our 2017 budget. Oh well, budgets need to be flexible!).

I know there are strong feelings on both sides of the fence regarding whether it is morally “okay” to negotiate down debts as opposed to paying the bill in full. We would have paid the bill in full. That was always our intention. But we also weren’t in any hurry about it with so much student loan debt racking up in excess of 6% APR. The offer to settle for less than was owed was solely initiated from the medical debt collection agency, itself. So I feel like it was a fair transaction. The medical company will receive their payment (much sooner than they would have otherwise, at that), and we will soon be able to cross off one more debt from our  list of debts!!!

One other thing I wanted to mention was regarding credit card balance transfer options. When I realized I would be unable to refinance my student loans away from Navient with one of the big/respected student loan consolidation companies, some of you recommended continuing to do credit card balance transfers. So I applied for a new credit card and promptly transferred another student loan away from Navient. Again – a super controversial thing in the world of debt repayment. I wouldn’t recommend this option for everyone, but I’ve been doing it a couple years now and have had great success with it. I literally only use the credit card for balance transfers (it’s not even in my wallet – it would otherwise be cut up and destroyed because it serves no purpose otherwise). So now I’ve got TWO credit cards designated specifically for doing balance transfers. The balance transfer fees have been low (between 2-3%) and I receive 0% APR as long as balances are paid in full by the due date (which I closely track and monitor and have never had a problem with). So….it works for us. Unconventional? Yes. Would I recommend it for everyone? No. But it’s working for us.

And so with some explanation of our debts (and, specifically, the new credit card balance transfer debt you’ll see), I present to you January’s Debt Spreadsheet:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Navient - Federal 2 (unsubsidized)$110985.8042January82433 (all school loans, combined)
Navient - Federal 3 (subsidized)$86245.8025January
Navient - 2 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 7 (subsidized)$72266.5521January
Navient - 8 (subsidized)$63986.5519January
Navient - 9 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 10 (unsubsidized)$97726.552018January
Balance Transfer Student Loan #2$22000% (through April 2017)$800January$7650
Balance Transfer Student Loan #3$45940% (through October 2018)
Medical Bills$55860% (must be paid by April)$25January$9000
Balance Transfer student loan #1$00% -Paid off in March 2016$5937
PenFed Car Loan$02.49%-Paid off in January 2016$24040
License Fees$02.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
BoA CC$07.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
Mattress Firm$00%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC$013.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
Capital One CC$017.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Totals$72,560 (Dec balance = 75,171)$3000Starting Debt = $145,472

When I first started blogging back in April 2014, I had $145,472 total debt.

As of January 31, 2017, with a margin of under $200, we have finally hit our half-way mark! We now have $72,560 in debt.

Oh my gosh, guys! I can’t tell you what a huge milestone this is for us! I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 years and we have JUST NOW hit our half-way mark in terms of debt reduction. We likely have another 2.5 years to go (maybe less), so we’re over half-way in terms of the time spent in debt reduction mode. I just cannot even believe it. All the changes in the past three years, all the sacrifices, all the splurges, all the savings and the spending and the analyzing numbers over and over and over again. It just feels fantastic.

I know some have commented that the second half of debt reduction would just fly by. That as soon as we hit the half-way “tipping point” things would start snowballing and debt would just melt away.

I’ve got so far still to go, but I am hopeful and excited about the future!

And I want the debt gone sooner than our projections have it. I want it gone yesterday. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of ways to reduce savings categories (temporarily) in order to throw more toward the debt. And there’s still some work stuff up in the air that will impact this whole process. I’m optimistic. It’s hard not to be. I may not be able to quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but at least we’ve crested the top of the mountain and are about to make our descent. I can’t wait for the journey downward!


Ashley’s New 2017 Budget

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It’s been awhile since I did a full budget post. As I was working on this post, I was reminded of the reason – these posts always take sooooo long to pull together. I double and triple check everything 10 times to make sure there are no mistakes and to make sure I have solid footing on where all of these numbers are coming from.

These are good posts for me to do, though, because it always offers an opportunity for us to make subtle tweaks or changes to the budget. This time around, the big one was with our Roth IRA savings. We’ve only been saving about $100/month toward a Roth. But one of our 2017 goals is to fully fund a Roth at $5500 this year. In order to do that, we’re going to have to increase our monthly rate of savings for our Roth!!

At any rate, I want to show our budget and then offer some explanation below:

MONTHLY BILLS & EXPENSES
Mortgage $1250
Property Taxes & Insurance $350
HOA $40
Electricity $165
Water $75
Phones $150
Cable/Internet $130
Preschool & Childcare $1100
Gift-Giving $50
Personal Maintenance $50
Restaurants $300
Entertainment $100
Kids’ Activities $100
Groceries $600
Fuel $100
Household Goods $100
Clothing $50
Category subtotal $4710
SAVINGS
3-6 month expenses, Full at $5,000 $0/mo ($5,000 current)
Car Repairs, Full at $2,000 $200/mo; ($676 current)
Kids’ birthday, Full at $500 $50/mo; ($150 current)
Travel/Christmas; Full at $500 $50/mo; ($50 current)
Annual Fees $240/mo (revolving)
Girls’ College Savings $50/mo
Roth IRA Savings $460/mo
Home Improvement $350/mo
Summer Vacation Savings $500/mo
Category subtotal $1900/mo
DEBT
Student Loan Payments $2200/mo
Medical $25/mo
Balance Transfer $800/mo
Category subtotal $3,025/mo

 

TOTAL = $9635/month

 

The biggest “note” right off the bat is this: I do NOT make $9635 “take home” per month. I don’t make that much. So that’s a problem. But here’s the deal – we’ll make it work.
At least for the time being, hubs is still drawing a little bit of additional income, so that helps to supplement my income. But as the year progresses, assuming our income will go down at some point, we’ll end up having to cut back. Likely the cut-backs will occur in both the savings and the debt categories. Some of the savings categories are easy to cut (e.g., travel/Christmas or kids’ birthdays); some of the savings are short-term and will go away eventually (e.g., summer vacation savings). But some will be harder to cut out (e.g., girls’ college savings is set to draft automatically from my account and if we want to hit our fully funded Roth IRA goal, we need to be pretty consistent in that savings category). I hate to cut back on debt at all, too, but if faced with a lack of funds at the end of the month, we may have to dip below my projected number. To be fair, our 2017 goal is to pay $30,000 toward debt, which is “only” $2500/month, so we’ve got a bit of wiggle room if we need to make a slightly lower debt payment (though I’d LOVE to pay MORE toward debt and hit our goals early!!!)

In terms of the monthly bills and expenses, most of those are pretty “set” at this point. We did our 100% bare-bones blog days (a full 2 years) and have just started loosening up the purse strings a bit for the sake of our sanity and longevity with our get-out-of-debt plans. We may try to make our “entertainment” budget cheaper (which accounts for our monthly date nights and any family activities we do), and I’m always struggling to try to spend less on food (either/both in groceries & in eating out). I could skip or reduce the personal maintenance budget occasionally (which accounts for things like yoga/exercise stuff, eyebrow wax, hair care, makeup, etc). But for the most part, the monthly bills are going to be hard to see much wiggle room in at this point.

So all of this brings us to this point…. It’s kind of scary to see a budget that our projected income cannot cover. To accommodate for this, all savings and debt payments will be made late in the month. That way, we can alter payments (and savings) as needed so that our budget isn’t exceeding our monthly income.

There you have it! January debt update coming soon, too!

 

If you keep a budget, what are your proportions of monthly expenses, savings, and debt? Ours are 48% monthly expenses, 20% savings, 32% debt. Of course, that’s just the budgeted categories and things are subject to change as income decreases. But as budgeted, I think that’s pretty good! I’d be proud to pull those numbers! What are your numbers?


Working from home

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After a recent post  a reader  expressed disappointment in my lack of a job, specifically my lack of working at home, so I felt I should cover the issue in more detail.

I do make a small amount of income from home by providing child care for a neighbor and by renting a room in our home.  While I would love to have a higher income coming from me, there are several factors against it.

1-I have a degenerative vision issue that prevents me driving on a regular basis.   Some days my vision will be just fine, other days it will be so bad that I can’t read the mail.   This said, my issue is not considered bad enough to qualify me for disability..yet.

2-Finding employment near hubby’s  work and carpooling with him seems like a great option, however it would never work.   Hubby is an electrician and goes to different job sites on nearly a daily basis.   Sometimes that means he is working 30 minutes away in town, or an hour away in the city.

3-We live in a rural area where public transportation is unheard of, the closest we get is the school bus that picks up k-12 every morning.

4-Our rural area has spotty internet service, especially in the winter months (yay, for lake effect snow!).

5-Having 1-2 days a week where I can not see well enough to work online (if the internet is working) or to be productive in other ways makes me an unreliable, undesirable employee.

I have in the past experimented with many nontraditional income streams, but, our rural location combined with my vision issue have made each venture impossible as a long term solution.  I would love to hear any ideas that you might have for me!   If I could come up with an income source that works with all those issues, I would snap it up in a heartbeat!


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