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Month in Review- June 2015

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Hey Everyone! I hope you’re all having a great week.

It’s July 2nd, so that means it’s time for a month in review. June went by in a flash, didn’t it? The summer months always seem to fly by so fast.

Since I didn’t post on Tuesday, I want to share a couple of items that happened over the weekend:

  • The same couple that I went out with earlier in June, invited me and GF out again; this time for dinner AND a movie (BTW- Jurassic World is AMAZING). I happily said “Yes!” but it also broke my “fun” budget for the month, which I carried $50. It wasn’t a big deal since my buddy asked me earlier in the week and I was able to budget for the dinner and movie out of my paycheck vs. having to dip into my emergency fund. I’m just really excited that I don’t have to say “No” to everything anymore.
  • I didn’t have a debt update to share since my last paycheck of the month is delegated to paying my mortgage and some other smaller bills. If I didn’t have any plans during this week, I could normally set aside $70-80 for a debt payment. Since I went out to dinner instead, I made no debt payment this week.

As for June, there was a lot that happened, so to review:

  • Firstly, now that most of my smaller debts are paid off (with only one more to go below $10,000) I had an internal struggle (The Hard Wins) on how to deal with the the fact that the payoffs are going to be few and far between now.
  • The day after my “Hard Wins” post, I increased my 401k contribution from 4% to 10% (which I mentioned in the comments of that same post). Update: I think this was a wise decision. For one- I haven’t noticed much of a difference in my take home pay. It ended up being about a $60 difference, but it’s definitely not hurting my ability to pay my bills. Plus, it’s awesome to see my retirement account grow so much faster!
  • In the following post (Time Off), I decided to use the month of July as a vacation from paying off debt to both enjoy my vacation to Disney and clear my head so I can hit August refreshed and ready to go. Update: vacation is only 7 days away (yay!) and this Wednesday’s paycheck marks the first paycheck in a LONG time (if ever) where I didn’t have to make a debt payment. I’m using all the extra  money to buy myself some new clothes and to stock up on supplies (more on this on Tuesday)
  • I went out for dinner and drinks with a with an awesome couple, in which my “fun” fund came in really handy (here) and was most definitely worth it.
  • In this post (Birthday Party), I went to a good friend’s son’s 1st birthday party. Since I started an ESA account, I figured I give the gift of some cash for my buddy to start one of his own for his son.
  • In the same post, we began our planning for Disney. Since we are driving down, a lot of you had some great ideas our how to make our trip as fun and as frugal as we can. We’ve incorporated many of the ideas into our plan as we want to spend as little money as we have to on our drive down and then back up.
  • Lastly, we had a little Father’s Day celebration (Father’s Day) where GF did some amazing little things for me, as I am the father to our kids (lol, they’re dogs). We also started cementing our Disney plans and GF used her couponing skills to get us a whole bunch of goodies on the cheap.

As for my debt paydown, no big milestones met this month, but I still paid off $1,592.21. Down to a balance of $48,466.83. Not my best month, but not my worst, either.

Hope everyone has a great holiday!


Cruise 2016 Update

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Remember when I first told you all about my plan to set sail in February 2016 on a cruise with my family in celebration of my Mom’s 60th birthday? Well I’ve got some updates….

Initially, the plan was for this cruise to be a 100% surprise for my Mom. The entire family was in on it and the loose plan was for my stepdad to tell my Mom that he was going to take her on a trip (she would surely assume they were going to San Antonio, as they regularly do), and then drive down to Galveston where the cruise ships dock. The rest of us would surprise her there on the dock. HAPPY BIRTHDAY, MOM!!!!!!

Well, the more planning we were doing, the less likely it seemed that this would stay a surprise. There were so many logistics involved (e.g., making sure she had enough time off work, making sure she packed appropriate clothing and swimwear, etc.) AND some of you commenters planted little seeds of doubt in my mind. You mentioned that maybe she’d prefer her dream cruise vacation to Alaska ALONE with my stepdad. And then I had a conversation with my Mom where she mentioned that since she’s gotten older she much prefers the MOUNTAINS over the beach (since when, Mom?!?!) The point is…I started second-guessing myself.

So after a LOT of phone calls with my sister, internal wrestling, and careful thought and consideration we came up with a plan. My sister was having my Mom and Stepdad over on Mother’s Day and made a little craft to present my Mom. First, the card:

Your 59th was pretty crappy.

All we want is for YOU to be happy!

So your 60th is all about you.

And now its your turn to choose.

Then my sister presented her with three envelopes. Inside each envelope was a different vacation: a ship to represent the family cruise, a mountain to represent a mountain-oriented family vacation, and a picture of Alaskan wildlife to represent the Alaska vacation.

My sister explained what each picture meant and what the vacation would entail (we did a lot of research on each of the trips so sister presented all the information of where we would stay, what we could/would do, ports of call for the cruises, etc. etc. etc.). My mom was shocked and surprised and didn’t know what to think. She said she needed some time to think it over and let us know by that same afternoon that her choice was the same one we’d originally made: Family Cruise 2016!!! So it’s on.

Skipping forward….

One of the BIG things about this vacation, to me, is that it be paid with 100% cash. I am very excited and working very hard to make it a complete debt-free vacation.

Another thing is that this gives me a really concrete goal: have all consumer debt paid in full by the time we set sail! I’ll still have student loans to contend with, but it will feel so satisfying to be able to make the trip down to Galveston in a newly paid-off car!!!

And a final update – the cruise is booked! There was a $1,000 deposit, so I wanted to wait until we had that saved up in cash. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that cruises can book up so far in advance. We were originally going to cruise in February 2016 (I thought 9 months in advance was plenty of time to book), but we’ve had to push it back to April 2016 to get the accommodations we wanted (two absolute must-haves were 1. adjoining rooms for sister & I so we could let kids nap in one room and have adults in the other, and 2. A 6:00pm dining time, since the kids are already asleep before the 8:30pm dining time and they need to EAT before bed!) Apparently, those two things go fast so we pushed back the sail date a couple months to make these things happen.

All in all, I’m super excited. I’d wanted this to be a big surprise for my Mom, but I think it’s better this way since she’s now been part of the planning process, has been able to voice her opinion of what matters to her (e.g., she wants an upgraded larger room), and has time to adequately prepare (basically diets all around for every one of us, lol).

So there’s the update.

We’re now officially booked (paying all cash, thankyouverymuch), and I’ve now got extreme motivation to be consumer debt-free by April 2016.

I know some of you were interested in the exact costs associated with this vacation. To give some additional information, we will be sailing on Royal Caribbean cruiseline. Our itinerary is an 8-day/7-night trip to visit 3 different countries (set sail from Galveston, docks in Roatan, Honduras; Belize City, Belize; and Cozumel, Mexico). We are paying for four people (no, kids aren’t free), but are all staying in a single room. We chose an interior room (I’d really wanted an exterior for the extra square footage, but settled on the interior since it was cheaper and we could be adjoining with my sister’s family). The total cost including taxes, port fees, and pre-paid gratuities is $2496. This cost includes all food on the ship (there are options to pay for dining at certain on-board restaurants, but the free options are already delicious, gourmet, and FREE, so we won’t pay extra for food). We will, however, budget additional money to pay for any miscellaneous expenses that come up, including souvenirs, possible excursions (e.g., they charge money to go to the beach at the different ports of call), and any food we eat while visiting the different countries we’ll be visiting. In total I’ve planned to set aside $4,000 for the trip, which should be MORE than enough. I’d rather have extra money set aside and end up being able to make a debt payment with leftover money after-the-fact rather than come up short on cash. So that remains the plan.

I know the whole idea of a cruise while still in a mountain of student loan debt is controversial so I won’t be bringing it back up a lot. But I stand by my thoughts in this post where I described how and why we came to this decision. I’ve also had a couple commenters ask if we plan to do any type of celebration once we pay off all consumer debt. I think the cruise is celebration a-plenty. Yes, it’s technically for my Mom. But it will be fabulous to pay for the cruise all cash and know that – for my family – the trip also marks an important milestone in terms of being committed to NEVER acquiring additional debt in our lives (big exception: we still plan to buy a home at some point!) Sooooo…..consumer-debt free by early 2016! That means we’ve got some serious work to do on our car loan! Better get to it! ; )

What do your 1-year financial goals entail?


A Reward for Us

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Over the years that I was a reader of this blog prior to becoming a writer, I always found the “reward” posts interesting.  And as I have been facing down this “consumer loan debt free” date, after months of extreme budget living, I started thinking about giving ourselves a reward for all we’ve done this year to get to this point.

For those newer readers, we have done the following (some by choice, some not:)

  1. Moved out of our more expensive home to a tiny apartment.
  2. Sold our fabulously large, though gas guzzling family car.
  3. Tortured ourselves by squeezing like sardines into a tiny, though paid off and good gas mileage car (and learning to drive stick shift to do it.)
  4. Given up all travel since August – HUGE for us!
  5. Lots of individuals sacrifices to which my kids have learned to respond when someone asks “Budget Cuts” which cracks me up every time.
  6. Lived without many conveniences ie microwave, fenced yard, individual bedrooms
  7. Purge – we have sold, given away, trashed or donated almost 70% of everything we owned since September, 2014.
  8. Several months of pretty much living on nothing, not a single dime of money to spend.  We call it living on air.  This was by choice to reach the “living on last month’s pay” and “consumer debt free by July” goals, but we are doing it.

Did I miss anything?

So I have decided we deserve a reward and I need your advice on it!  This is what I want….Drumroll please….

A counter top water filtration system!

Not what you expected was it!  Ha!  I guess, I’m now so engrained in frugal and practical and all other things that continue to point us toward debt free living, that it’s now habit.

So here’s my reasoning:

1) Our apartment water is NASTY!

2) Gallon’s of water eat up our budget and we go through it FAST!  (Typically $0.79 per gallon.)  Lots of time when we are tight, I just won’t buy it and then we suffer through the nasty taste, and thus drink less water. (Ok, I can’t even drink it so we will put lemon in it or some of my essential oils to help.)

3) We need to drink WAY more water…all of us!

So while counter space is prime real estate in our tiny apartment, I have decided that a counter top water filtration system is a wonderful reward for us becoming consumer debt free.  I haven’t priced them, haven’t researched them, so now I am here…asking for your suggestions, advice and recommendations.

Tell me everything you can about your counter top water filtration system!  Anticipate purchase date…July, 2015!


A General Life Update – Rambling Style

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Accept my apology up-front for this kind of rambling update.  I think Ashley sent us her cooties (ie allergies) and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks for those of us with allergies and those of us without listening to those that do have allergies.

As of this week, I have paid all this month’s bills and next month’s bills (ie rent + utilities + insurance.)  For the first time in I don’t know how long I am not waiting nail-bitingly to see when my checks arrive and prioritizing who to pay with this money and who to pay with a subsequent payment (remember, as contract labor I have no set pay dates and am really at the mercy of my clients time table.)

I still have 4 checks that should arrive before the end of the month or soon thereafter.  I will be socking away that money for June’s monthly bills and then proceeding with debt payments (remember we only paid the minimums this month to allow me to get to a place to live on last month’s income.)

We’ve spent all of our grocery allowance for this month and I’m hoping to save May’s until after our mini-vacation in mid-May.  We will have 2 months (April and May) of our Misc money to spend on our vacation.  And frankly, living with no extra has not been so hard.  I think having the incentive of what promises to be a really nice mini-vacation has made it much more bearable.

As  I mentioned last week, I have gotten two new work jobs…one project and one on-going.  I have decided to delve into that money a little bit and give eh kids a birthday party this year.  It will still be frugal, but with us being so close to being consumer debt free, this being “extra” money that is not currently incorporated in our budget and the kids being SO, SO good about our cutting back in all aspects of life, I think this is a great way to treat them.  I’m hoping that since they are not expecting a party, I can pull off some sort of surprise party…still frugal.  So I’m sure I’ll post on this once I get more of a solid idea.

We are wrapping up our school year this week with standardized testing.  So every morning the younger two kids go to a small private school who is also doing their testing.  For a nominal cost of $25 each, they sit in a classroom with kids their age and take their tests.  We’ve done it this way since they were K and 1st grade and it’s a week they look forward too as they get to be in a “classroom” and it symbolizes the end of their school year.  (We school year round, but our summer schedule is much looser and we will take the next few weeks off until after our mini-vacation.)  The twins can’t go to this same school as it only goes through middle school, so I order their tests from setontesting.com and I proctor them. That costs me $40 per child and it will take 2-3 days 2-3 hours per day.  Just a glimpse into our homeschooling world and costs associated with it.

I think that about sums it up on the financial end.  We are still staying busy with gymnastics 3 days a week, field hockey 2 days a week, Navy Sea Cadets 1 drill weekend a month and finishing up the high school lab sciences for the twins.


March Budget Update

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We had a lot less income to work with in the month of March than in our typical months. Because of this, I had to get a bit creative. Some things (like some savings) were eliminated; other things (like debt payments) were reduced.

There’s always room for improvement and this month is no exception. But at the end of the month we had a balanced budget (meaning, we didn’t spend more than we made – using YNAB has really helped me in that regard), so I’ve got to be happy with the end result. April will have a bit more wiggle room, so I’m excited about the new month.

Here’s how March shaped up:

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 116
Water 69
Natural gas 26
Sprint (2 lines) 114
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1030
Gift-Giving 40
Personal Maintenance 62
Restaurants 108
Entertainment 10
Groceries 388
Gasoline 38
Household Goods 7
Toddler purchases 53
Postage 10
Work Stuff 62
Rainy Day Savings 0
Savings Goals 300
Debt Payments 603
Total $4677

 Most of these items are in-line with expectations. But I do have a couple comments…

  • Preschool ($1030 spent): This month was a normal charge, but I referred a friend to our preschool facility, so I’m excited that next month I should have a referral credit. I’m not sure how much of a discount I get, but any amount saved will be great!
  • Gift Giving ($40 spent): This was a $20 gift for two separate people (both baby presents).
  • Personal Maintenance ($62 spent): This was $35 for a hair cut and eyebrow wax, $12 for attending a yoga class, and $15 for new eye cream and face lotion (I got cheap grocery store stuff…not sure if more expensive stuff works better? I’d love to hear others’ opinions on quality versus budget eye cream and face lotion – that stuff is $$$!)
  • Gasoline ($38 spent): Gas was so cheap this month because my husband ended up filling up the car for me while I was on my not-an-interview trip. I generally only have to fill up twice per month, but this month I only filled up once!
  • Work Stuff ($62 spent): I made a new category called “work stuff” for expenses that are related to work and can be 100% tax deductible. This month these expenses stem from my not-an-interview trip, including food the night I got into town, gasoline in the rental car, and parking costs. I’ve saved all the receipts for everything, but having work expenses as their own category in my budget will make things easier for tracking and tax purposes, too.
  • Rainy Day Savings ($0 spent): With the tighter month, I didn’t put any money aside for any of our rainy day funds (which include: 3-6 month expenses, car repairs, toddler birthday, travel/Christmas, dental/vision, annual expenses, and vet expenses). This is not ideal since many of these categories are non-negotiable anticipated expenses (like my annual expenses for car registration), but skipping one month won’t kill us either.
  • Savings Goals ($300 spent): I put $100 toward my Roth IRA fund (and then I promptly withdrew all the money I’d saved to actually open a Roth), and $200 toward my Cruise 2016 fund.
  • Debt Payments ($603 spent): Discussed more in my latest debt post. This figure represents $50 toward my car payment, $453 toward student loans, $75 toward license fees, and $25 toward medical debt. One side-note about medical debt (and the reason for the discrepancy between this figure and the one I reported in my debt update)…I was supposed to also have a $50 medical bill to pay, but I never received the bill this month. When I called the office to inquire about it, it turns out they’d processed my last payment late, so it looked like I’d skipped a February payment and already paid the March payment. It was a clerical error on their end so nothing negative was reported to my credit and no late fines or fees were assessed, but it means that my next bill is not due until April (also…my April bill will be my LAST bill for the $50/month payment! Eeeeek!!!!)

Overall thoughts on March budget

Honestly, March was tough on me psychologically. I feel like I’ve just been making tiny little baby steps lately, where I’m used to the “rush’ that I felt when I first started the debt repayment process and was making huge strides monthly. I still stand by my previous statements that I think having a lean month from time-to-time can be good for us, force us to examine how every single penny is being spent and use the opportunity to try to reflect on true necessities versus extras.

That being said….I’m ready to have some more income to toss at debt. I’m not going to lie. It hurt to only put $603 toward debt when I’m used to paying between $1500-$2500/month!! Six hundred dollars doesn’t even move the needle of what I owe – its like just treading water because it only covers interest without any extra! It made the month feel long as it draaaaagged on with its relentless 31 days (and coming on the heels of a 28-day month!)

And I wish I could say that April was going to be an awesome month, but it won’t be (we live on last month’s income, so the money we have to spend in April is from income earned in March). It will be better than last month, as we have almost an extra $1500 in the budget, but it’s not as high as I’d like (for comparison’s sake, our income this March is down nearly $2,500 compared to March of last year). Oh the joys of small business ownership. The good news is that the business has, overall, been flourishing and even when there are leaner months, we can be sure that fatter months are ahead. (Fingers crossed!)

How did you do with your budget last month? Do you have any areas you’re working on improving?


Read the Fine Print

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As with most of us here, I am constantly looking for ways to cut expenses.  In fact, that has been the biggest way that I have been making strides in paying off debt.  So I was so excited when I saw a headline that read…Feed a Family of 5 for $200 per month!  I just knew they had some sort of magic couponing trick to get food really cheap, a great meal plan that lets you stretch things out for several meals and some other super component that I have been missing, because food gets us all the time!

So, of course, I clicked right through and the first sentence dashed all my hopes!  They were feeding two adults, a young elementary aged child and two toddlers.  Of course, their food bill is less than mine.  The two adults can make healthy choices and wait between meals (one thing they pointed out they did.)  Their elementary aged child will eat what they are given and doesn’t consume alot, and toddlers…eat like birds.  I did continue to read the rest of their meal plan to see if I could gain any new knowledge that would help me in my continued quest to feed my family healthier yet more economic foods.  But alas, all I did was come away disappointed.

But it did bring to mind a lot of what really gets me in doing this blogging thing.  So many of my critics, who I certainly appreciate as they always motivate to do more, constantly compare me and my choices to Ashley.  While we do have several things in common such as:

  • Both native Texans and our family remains there, so travel is required to see them.
  • Variable income due to her husband’s job and my job.
  • Have kids.

I think that about sums it up.  The reality is that we are very different such as:

  • I actually moved here to VA to be close to my family, 4 of the 7 of us lived here when I moved here 11 years ago.  When the last two moved back to TX just about 2 years ago, it cut me very deeply.  And not seeing them regularly is anguish at times.  So I will eat the travel expenses to see them when I can. (I am proud to say that I  have only taken the 1 trip down, but it’s not for lack of wanting.  Just trying to stay the course for debt pay off.)
  • I am a single mom with no second income to count on and no one to help make decisions.  (You have no idea how valuable a second opinion is even on day to day choices until you no longer have one, especially when there are kids involved.)
  • My kids are almost grown…16 years olds who are almost driving (think car insurance premiums) and two almost middle schoolers who are constantly growing and heavily involved in activities.  All of them who eat quite a bit, as compared to toddlers.

I could go on, but I think you get my point.  We all have to learn to read the fine print when we see those headlines that might make us think we can do better.  And I would ask that when commenting on my posts, you remember that comparing Ashley’s life and mine is like comparing apples to oranges rather than apples to apples.


Housing – Stop!

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This post will let you know where we are on our housing quest that I brought up in my Year to Build post back in February.  I know many of you are horrified at the thought of me looking to build or buy a home while still in debt, and I totally get that on a financial level.  But on a mom level, this has been a VERY hard pill for me to swallow.  So here’s what I’ve been doing this past two months on this front. (Please note that this post is filled with links to additional information, but none of them are affiliate links, just wanted to show you what I’m talking about more effectively.)

First, I need to make it VERY CLEAR, that not a single dime has been spent on any housing ideas.  I’ve spent a lot of time researching and meeting with people, but no money.  So let’s make sure that is clear first.

As you know, I had an idea that our housing situation was going to change  early year as I drew closer and closer to the idea of not purchasing the home from my dad.  I immediately started with Google searches like “houses for $100K” and “building a house for $10K.”  That brought me to the DIY sites for Yurts, which seem amazing and affordable, but awfully small for us.  From there I researched RV living, bus conversion, tiny houses of all shapes and sizes and then finally stumbled upon this Steelmaster Quonset style home.

Arc House in East Hampton

Arc House in East Hampton – read more here

And that leads me to where I began this year…with this concept and almost a year’s worth of research on building one in a cost effective, energy efficient manner.  We are talking I am now full of knowledge on insulation (blanket vs spray,) heating (radiant vs heat pump,) efficient building practices, direction housing should face for solar, window efficiency and so much more.  I mean lots and lots of data.  I’ve even been reading up on building practices, being your own general contractor, etc.  So when I posted the post in February I had a pretty good idea of what I wanted to do, what my budget was and the only uncertainties were land, and red tape from financiers.

I quickly found a lot I wanted in a rural area.  It’s been on the market for quite a while, is already cleared (used as farmland) and well, I really fell in love during a tour.  It just spoke to my soul.  In fact, as I’m writing this, I’ve just received a message that the owners was to know if I am interested.

Financing a house, especially a build…ugh!  I started with construction loans…20% down, and a 700+ credit score is pretty much across the board requirements.  Yup, I don’t have it.  So I decided to hunker down and really go hard at my debt, thus the 6 month pay off goal came into the forefront.

But then, during my late night ramblings across the internet, I found….the USDA Section 502 Rural Loan Program. The program was designed to reinvigorate lower income rural areas, supporting lower income families to get into modest housing. The county we are looking to move to qualifies across the board, and frankly, I couldn’t consider moving there if I didn’t homeschool.  They will finance 100% with minimal guidelines of what type of housing you can build.  I thought we were home free.

Through all this, I’ve been meeting with contractors and engineers and leaving each meeting a bit wiser and more determined that this was the right course.  And so, two weeks ago, I went into a mortgage office to apply.  And here’s where my dreams derailed quickly:

  1. Evidently I am an authorized user on one of my dad’s high limit credit cards – ding #1.
  2. They will not discount the car payment that my ex-husband is responsible for, meaning it counts against me in my debt to income ratio – ding #2.
  3. Underwriters don’t think they will finance this type of building because there are no local comparables – ding #3.

Obviously, issue #1 and #2, I can do something about, especially since I will be rid of all consumer debt by July.  But #3, just made me cry.  So last week, I took a week off from any thought of housing and every time I thought of it, I said a prayer asking for guidance.  It was a hard week but good to step away and get some perspective.

So I’m back this week and I’m ready to start looking at housing from a different perspective.  The kids and I had a great talk about it this past Friday night as we ate our pasta dinner before Little Gymnast state meet.  So stay tuned for the next chapter of this story….

 


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