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. : )


Canceling My (Vision) Insurance

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Hi friends! Sorry I didn’t get a post up yesterday. Life, you know?

Today I want to tell you about a horrible experience I’ve had with my vision insurance company. I’m about 2 minutes away from canceling it all together but before I officially make the call I wanted to put it to YOU to see if I’m overlooking something or if there’s some good reason to keep it.

Here’s what I’ve been dealing with yesterday and this morning….

I got vision insurance last July through my employer. It’s through a company called Avesis and I pay $15/month for the insurance.

From July through December I received several vision-related services. I had an eye exam, a contact lens fitting, I purchased new lenses (for my existing frames), and new contacts. I did both because I wear both. Contacts about 30% of the time, glasses about 70% of the time.

All combined, I paid a total of $408.97 for vision-related expenses last year (this was spread across the second half of the year, when I was insured). I paid everything completely out-of-pocket and was told I could submit all my receipts for reimbursement so I did that in early January 2016.

Yesterday I received 3 separate letters from Avesis. Two of them denied my claims. The codes were listed as “conflicting service filed in benefit period”, “benefit maximum for this time period has been reached”, and “receive date prior to service date.”

The only one I agree with is the conflicting service. I submitted the receipts from EVERYTHING and I knew they would only cover EITHER contacts OR frame lenses. Not both. But I submitted everything in the hopes that I could receive maximum reimbursement (because the reimbursement rate varies between lenses and contacts, so my hope was that I could be reimbursed for whichever was higher).

Instead I received a check for a measly $15.

I called to find out what the deal was. First, I have to say I received HORRIBLE and ATROCIOUS customer service!

Regarding the “receive date is prior to service date” error, I was told that the person who received my paperwork mistakenly entered it into the system as January 2015 (instead of January 2016). Simple clerical error, right? Only I was told that I would have to re-do everything because of THEIR error. I asked to speak to a supervisor, as this didn’t seem fair.

Here’s where the customer service really went downhill (and, looking back, I totally believe the person was NOT a supervisor, but was probably a friend or buddy of the original representative).

I was talked down to, given serious attitude, and outright told that I was at fault for the date error (which HAD to be on their end. It doesn’t even make sense that the customer would enter a “received” date. I have no idea when they’d receive it. Depends how long the mail takes!).

I was getting nowhere so I hung up and called back, hoping for a new representative.

This time, I was told that the code “benefit maximum has been reached” is because when I ordered my lenses and contacts through Costco, I was given a 20% discount which is the maximum they allow. They would not reimburse anything because that already “counted” as coverage. This didn’t make sense, though, because I never even showed my insurance card at Costco. I paid in full out-of-pocket.

I had to go to work so I hung up and tried again later.

This time (call #3), I’m told that the doctor who did my eye exam had billed them for his services and already received reimbursement for my eye exam. Again, this makes no sense because I paid fully out-of-pocket. I’m told there’s nothing they can do and that I’d have to handle it privately through the optometrist’s office. I asked how much they had mailed the eye doctor. I’m told he received $40, the maximum amount of reimbursement they provide for vision exams.

So after 3 different calls I’m given 3 different excuses of why I haven’t (and will not) be paid. And if I want to pursue the eye exam reimbursement it will be a huge hassle and take another chunk of time (who knows how long), and may or may not even be viable. All for a pesky forty dollars. My time is more valuable than that.

Then I got to thinking.

I’ve been paying them $15/month for the last 6 months (January excluded, I’m only talking about 2015), so that’s a total of $90.

They only gave me a check for $15 and the vague possibility of an additional $40 if I were to fight. This is a total reimbursement of $55 in exchange for the $90 I’ve given them through 2015.

Makes no sense. Why the heck am I paying this?

After calming down a bit (because I was definitely fired up after the third call, feeling like I’m getting the total run-around and that the customer service is seriously the worst I’ve ever dealt with), I decide that I just simply don’t want to do business with this company. I don’t want to give them another penny. And given their reimbursement structure (or lack thereof), it seems to not even make financial sense to keep my plan.

Luckily, hubs and the kids both have great vision, so none of them even need any coverage for glasses/contacts/etc. I would rather pay out-of-pocket for eye exams (which, apparently, I’ve been forced to do even with my insurance coverage) and not have to deal with the headache and hassle of this company.

Thoughts? Any reason to keep them around?

My only other consideration was that the company does help reimburse some of the expenses related to Lasik eye surgery. I haven’t made definitive plans but was hoping that I might have some money saved up to be able to do Lasik toward the end of this current year (2016). But when I called to find out about it, I discovered that, again, coverage is really limited. They only reimburse a couple hundred dollars and only cover one single surgeon in the entire Tucson area (who, by the way, doesn’t have great reviews online). There are other options up in Phoenix, but that’s definitely not convenient and, given the run-around I’ve received on the reimbursement for simple expenses, I don’t even want to count on actual reimbursement for surgery. I think I’d rather pick whatever surgeon I actually want (rather than being limited to a very restrictive list), save up the cash, and just pay for it myself. And, again, we’re talking about something that may not even occur this year (might be 2017 before I get around to Lasik).

That’s all I got. Very frustrated with this company and with my (lack of) coverage.

Has anyone else experienced similar issues with this or another company? Why are insurance places such a pain to deal with? Ugh!


Fulfilling Charitable Resolutions Without Breaking the Bank

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how to keep your charitable resoltions

By Holly Tomlinson

Giving back more is one of the most popular resolutions made each year, but as we round out the first month of 2016, I find myself having done nothing towards my goal. If you’ve also made a commitment to improving the world around you, you might be wondering how you can do so on a tight budget when you find yourself often having less than you need. I always try to remind myself that there is always something worse off who could use a helping hand, and I’ve come up with a list of ways you can fulfill your charitable resolutions without breaking the bank.

Spring Cleaning

The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” couldn’t be truer. Consider donating used goods that you don’t get much utility from anymore. Clean out your closets, including those of your kids, and put any things that you’ve outgrown or haven’t seen in at least six months into a bag. You can also go through recreational items, like hockey sticks from an abandoned hobby, old golf clubs, baby toys, and other things you can bear to part with. Take them to a local church, homeless shelter, or Goodwill and make a difference in someone’s life.

The Tax Breaks

While altruism should be the main reason behind your urge to give back, you can’t deny that tax breaks do give incentive to charitable contributions. A gift to an IRS-approved charitable organization may entitle you to a tax deduction if you itemize deductions on your tax returns. Most charities qualify for this deduction but make sure you do your research before banking on a tax break. You’ll also need to ensure you get receipts from your donations, as no deduction is allowed for anything over $250 if you don’t have documentation of it.

Unused Gift Cards

If you’ve got gift cards with small balances that you’re never going to use, consider giving them to charity or a homeless shelter. More often than not we let them hang out at the bottom of our purses or tucked behind credit cards in our wallet, and according to a MarketWatch estimate, almost $750 million worth of gift cards went unspent in 2014. Don’t hang onto it on the off chance that you might use it, and give it to people who could actually benefit from it.

For Online Shoppers

If you’ve got a mean online shopping addiction, use your purchases to donate money to charities that could use your donations greatly. Websites like iGive.com allow you to choose a cause to support initially. After you’re set up, all you need to do is shop on iGive-approved websites — they’ve got upwards of 1,700 online shopping sources to peruse. Everything from car rental websites to upscale clothing stores are on the list, meaning your every need can be met with the added bonus of donating to a charity that’s close to your heart.

Use Social Media

If you’re looking for ways to get involved, stay active on social media and follow different charities. Often local organizations will post about upcoming events, giving you the opportunity to participate and make a difference. Another handy part of the process? You’ll be able to share great things that come up and spread the news to your friends and family — you never know who’s looking for a way to get involved. Social media outlets like Facebook often have pages where likeminded volunteers can come together in their community and plan ways to get involved, so do a simple search and press join–you’ll be glad you did, I guarantee it.

The Ripple Effect

Even the smallest gesture can create a ripple effect of altruism within your community. Small generous efforts can mean big results, and you don’t have to spend a ton to get them done. If you’re a Starbucks addict, pay for the coffee of the person in line behind you — they might be so thankful that they’re inspired to pay it forward. If you know of a family friend going through a hard time, pick up a gift and drop it off at their home unannounced. Even something as simple as dropping off cookies at a children’s hospital will change someone’s day. Fulfilling your charitable resolutions is easier than you might think, and changing the world starts one person at a time. Consider what you can do to improve your community, and watch the karma dividends come back to you.

(Photo courtesy of Randy Heinitz)


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