Browsing posts in: Life Experiences

The End of a Decade plus

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Hello BAD Community, I apologize for my long absence. I’ve visited often, with the thought to write an update, but never seem to focus on something to write about.  We are fully settled into small town life in Georgia, our lives in Virginia settling into mostly fond memories.  I think Gymnast still struggles the most.  Change is hard for everyone, but I know the kids are resilient and in time will find their groove here.

Not much has changed as far as busy-ness from my last update (you can read it here .) I’m still working all my jobs and continuing to pick up odd jobs (primarily from previous customers – websites, etc.) Since we had gotten rid of EVERYTHING over the last couple of years, it took a little while to fully furnish our home.  The last big purchase was a used washer and dryer with a one year warranty for just at $500 for the set delivered.

It’s been nice to be in our own home again after 2 1/2 years of tiny living and then glamping. I certainly do not miss either of these living spaces, but there are a number of things that linger.  First, we are still very much minimalist.  There is  nothing in our home that is not used every day.  As a result, our approx 1200 square foot home feels large because it is not cluttered.

We spend a great deal of time in one room – our eat in kitchen. I know it’s always called the heart of the home, but I think we take that to the extreme.  We school in there, eat in there, I work in there and we hang out in there doing crafts and playing lots of board games.  So much so that I’ve decided to divide the boys (Sea Cadet and Gymnast) from the bedroom they are sharing and move Sea Cadet into the living room (it has a door) when Sea Cadet returns from his summer away working at summer camp.

The frugal habits that we were forced into because of being completely broke are now in our nature.  While I do grocery shop once a week, I typically spend less than $100 and just purchase fresh produce and milk, etc.  (We buy meat in bulk at Sams Club and keep it in the freezer. The 20lbs of frozen chicken breast, 2 family packs of pork chops, 1 roast and 10 lbs of ground beef I purchased in April have lasted us and we will probably go another month or so before we need to restock.)

We are spending our “free” time visiting small towns around us, free festivals and lots of live music. I say free time loosely as I still work the bulk of every day between my full time job and my part time jobs.  The kids are asking more frequently when I will slow down, but as of now, I haven’t made definitive plans.  I keep thinking/saying the end of the summer, but I’m not certain I will.  I just don’t ever, ever want to go through what we’ve been through again – ever!  The money is nice but even moreso, the security of knowing if one jobs fails, I have the others.

I still have not sat down and come up with a budget…I keep saying I’m going too.  And I am. Soon. I’m continuing to save 10% of all income in a hard to reach account. And I guess  most impressive to myself, is that I’ve continued to control my travel bug.  I think fear more than anything is guiding my financial decisions.  Which I’m sure is not healthy, but right now, it’s working.

I promise to write a more finance oriented post soon.  We are doing well. Sea Cadet leaves this week for the summer (returning to the camp in VA where he will work as a Senior Camp Counselor through August.)  When he returns, he will be attending the local community college under the GA MOWR program for his last year of high school, focused on pursuing an EMS certificate.  Princess continues to work hard at her academics, and is ready for collegiate classes in some subjects, but not old enough to attend the local community college.  I will have to address that soon.  Gymnast continues to train and will move up another level this fall.  The two littles are looking forward to going to camp this month for two weeks.  I am looking forward to that as well, no kids, two weeks.  I may even treat myself to a day off, but have made no plans for that yet.

 


Giving Along The Way

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On my way to work this morning I was listening to an old episode of the Dave Ramsey Show (side note with some of my favorite podcasts to check out:  This American Life, The Bobby Bones Show, The Dave Ramsey Show, Science Friday, and Serial).

I was listening to a Millionaire Theme Hour. Those, along with the standard Debt-Free calls, are my favorite segments of The Dave Ramsey Show! Anywho, I was listening as Dave talked to all these normal people about how they’d managed to acquire a net worth of $1million+. One of the questions Dave asks everyone is, “What part did giving play in your journey?”  His theory is that most millionaires are incredibly generous people. Contrary to what many people think, the average millionaire is NOT a stingy money-grubbing old scrooge.

As I listened, I started to think about the role that giving has played in our family along our journey to become debt-free. The topic of giving while in debt has come up before on the blog and has proven to be a pretty controversial subject. For the first two years of our journey, we scaled WAY back on our giving! We probably gave less than $100 to charitable organizations in all of 2014. However, we soon realized that in our area we could make tax credit donations. As a quickie for anyone without the program (I’m originally from Texas where there are no state income taxes so I’d never heard of it!), donations to specific approved organizations can be made instead of paying state income taxes directly to the state (this is obviously a very simplified statement – see here for more details). It’s not the same thing as a deduction, in which any charitable donation is deducted from your income for tax purposes. Instead, let’s say that I owed $600 in Arizona state taxes. Instead of writing a $600 check to the state of Arizona, I can literally split up that $600 and send $200 here or there (to approved organizations only) and deduct an equal amount (dollar-for-dollar) from what I owe the state. So if I donate all $600 to qualified organizations of my choice, I don’t owe the state a penny. So this is not additional money being donated. This is money I would already have to spend one way or another (for taxes), that, instead, I’m sending to an organization (or organizations) that I support.

In 2015 we took advantage of our state’s tax credit program for the first time to donate to two organizations that were important to us:  1. the preschool our kids attend, and 2. the local Wings on Words program for children with speech/language delays or disabilities. The former for obvious reasons and the latter because we have a long history of working with and supporting our local WoW program.

In 2016 we still took advantage of our state’s tax credit program (we owed more that year, so we were able to expand our donations). We donated to: 1. kid’s current preschool, 2. kid’s future elementary school, 3. local Wings on Words program, and 4. local foster care organization. In addition to maxing out all of our tax credit donations, we also expanded our giving to include a few additional places that don’t qualify for our state’s tax credit program. We donated to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and our local church. The total of the non-tax credit donations for the year was $200. Still not a ton, but up from the giving of the previous two years (again, keeping in mind that all of the tax-credit donations were money that we had to spend anyway in taxes).

This year (2017), we haven’t done a ton of giving yet. Most of our big giving is still in the form of tax credit donations and we typically do that giving toward the end of the year. However, I’ve already made small donations (under $100, combined) to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Thinking about our family’s giving, I feel a little bit torn. On one hand, money is extra-tight this summer and in general given that hubs has stopped working/gone back to school and that we have such huge financial goals for our family this year! At the same time, all of our “extra” (non tax-credit) giving has been in small quantities and has gone toward organizations that we have personal connections with. For instance, March of Dimes is huge because it funds so much research for premature birth! Our twins were born 8 weeks early, spent a month in the NICU, and would not have survived if they were born 20 years ago because the life-saving technology had literally not been invented yet at that time. So that’s an organization very near and dear to our family. The same is true of all the other organizations we support as well. There’s always some personal connection or reason why we support a cause. So even though I know we really can’t afford to be giving in large quantities at this time, I would hate to eliminate our giving entirely. And I cannot wait until we’re completely debt-free and giving can be a larger part of our financial picture. Probably still a couple years out on that though.

What do you think about giving while in debt? Did/Do you donate to any charitable organizations while working on getting out of debt? Why or why not? What role has giving played in your financial picture, in general?

 

 


JINX

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Are you superstitious? I’m typically not.

But yesterday as I was typing up a post about mending holes in pants and being mid-way through a No-Spend week, I swear I felt a little bit like I was jinxing myself. I ended the post with this one sentence:

Fingers crossed there are no disasters and nothing crazy comes up! (knock on wood)

I swear I felt a little tingle in my tummy, and the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. It was like when someone is behind you and you can *feel* them without actually seeing them. I brushed it off at the time. But I sure did remember the feeling at 6:00pm that evening as I was driving home from work, when my car started dinging a million warnings and the power steering went completely out on me.

Luckily, I was able to safely navigate into a parking lot on the side of the road. I was able to call hubs to come get me, and everything was fine (no one got hurt, no accidents, etc.)

BUT. So much for that “no spend” week.

The silver lining of the story is that I still have an extended warranty on my car! Remember when I just had to use it for the first time this past summer? At the time I said I should probably cancel the warranty afterward because, honestly, who ends up using it more than once? Statistically speaking, I thought we were in the clear. We should cancel the warranty after the service and take whatever refund we were owed (since we had bundled the warranty with the car loan, it has already been paid in full).

I am now SO GLAD we didn’t! I was able to use our Roadside Assistance through our car insurance (we use and love Progressive!) to have the car towed to the dealership for the warranty repair work. I’ll also be able to use a loaner car, also covered by the warranty company, for up to 7 days. There’s a deductible that applies (it’s either $200 or $250, can’t remember at this point), but I’m sure that’s MUCH better than what I might end up paying otherwise (there’s some issue with the power steering, advanced trac, and also some warranty backup camera issues that were unrelated but will get repaired at the same time).

It’s still a huge inconvenience. Last night was a mess – super late dinner for the kids, no baths, late to bed. And this morning was tough too – with only one car we had to take the girls in early so hubs could get to his own school classes. I’m at home waiting for the tow truck (which is currently running late) and then I’ll be getting picked up by the rental car company so I can go get a rental for the week. Obviously totally interfering with my work day and I’ve had to cancel some meetings and move other things around. I’m frustrated we aren’t going to be able to have a no-spend week after all and I’m still stressed about spending extra money given our tax situation (in fact, one of the meetings I had to move from this morning was supposed to be a meeting with our CPA).

But even with the annoyances and inconveniences, I’m BEYOND GRATEFUL I still have this extended warranty and that it’s still in effect. Guys – it expires at 125,000 miles and I’m at 120,000 miles right now. This is HUGE!!! I don’t know what the total vehicle costs will end up being, but I’m thankful that my personal liability is limited to just the deductible.

Now…is it the weekend yet??? Ooof!!


Focus

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With so many disparate goals for this year, some that focus on debt-reduction and others focused more on savings, I felt a bit like we’ve been playing a game of tug-o-war. We want so many different things and, like a child, we want them all NOW!!!

Ugh. Why does adulting have to be so difficult?

Screen Shot 2017-03-22 at 1.51.03 PM

 

Source – Someone, buy this for me! ; )

When we got hit smack in the face with our looming IRS debt, it forced me to take a step back and re-assess our plans for the year. Some changes I have already implemented (which will go into effect in April) include:

  • Reducing my retirement contributions. My university requires a minimum 7% contribution. I had been investing an additional 3% of my salary (for 10% total), but given our need to get some liquid cash for the IRS (and for debt payments, as well), I called HR and reduced my contributions down to the minimum 7% required.
  • Eliminating extra mortgage payments. Though we closed in November, it still feels like we just barely got here! When I set up our mortgage auto-payments, I set them to include an extra $300 to go directly toward principal. Our required payment was $950, but we’ve been paying $1250. I called the bank and removed our extra principal payment, reducing our auto-draft down to the minimum $950/month that’s required.
  • Practicing patience. I already talked about how my daughter lost her water bottle. Instead of immediately replacing it, I’ve made her start using my water bottle as her own. Unless her old one miraculously turns up (no idea where it is – it’s been lost for 3 weeks now), she won’t be getting a new water bottle until the start of next school year. In the past, I would’ve just immediately purchased a new one. But now I’m examining every purchase and really making an effort to practice patience anytime I’m thinking of buying something that we don’t immediately need.

All of these changes are in an effort to FOCUS on one thing at a time. Dave Ramsey talks about the power of focus (which, I believe, helped motivate the way he designed the Baby Steps so one “goal” is being focused on at a time).

We just have to get out of debt. It’s got to be done. This month marks completion of my third full year of being on this debt-reduction journey. There have been lots of highs and lows and this HUGE tax bill has definitely got me a little down. But, if anything, it’s just made me strengthen my resolve that we need to get out of debt ASAP!!! We had two years of hard-core debt reduction (no frills), one year where we loosened the purse strings a bit, and this year will be a mix. We do have some fun things planned (still doing our first ever Mom-and-Dad getaway sans kids this summer! Eeeeee!!!!!!), but I’m really realizing how much SOONER we can be out of debt if we return to our steadfast FOCUS on the goal at hand. It’s a tough thing going through this journey for SOOOOOOOOOO long. But that’s what the deal is. We started this journey with nearly $150,000 in debt and only making about $50,000/year! Obviously with those numbers it was going to take some time. Things have changed – our income has gone up and our debt has shrunk as we’ve been making huge payments. But it’s time for a renewed focus. I don’t want to be doing this for another three years. That’s too long. I want to try to cut that time in half. If we can be debt-free in a year and a half, I would be overjoyed! I can see the light at the end of a tunnel if we’re only talking about another year and a half!!!

Some of this is just rambling thoughts. I’d like to write up a whole “3 Years Reflections” post with thoughts and reflections on the entire debt-reduction process, to date. But in the meantime, I just wanted to jump on here and say “Hi!!! and let you know about some of the upcoming changes I’ve made in an effort to increase our monthly take-home pay so we have extra cash to throw at debt. It needs to happen. I can’t wait to kick our debt’s butt. Next debt on the chopping block is our medical debt. By this time next month, it will be 100% GONE and then we’ll be on to just the student loans. Can’t wait!!!

Hope you’re having a great month!


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.


Financial Goals: 2017 & Beyond!!!

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For the past couple of years I’ve made our family’s financial goals public, sharing them with you all and tracking along throughout the year to see how we did (see 2015 goals here and 2016 goals here). We met our financial goals the past two years and hope this year will be no different.

2017 Financial Goals:

  • Pay $30,000 Toward Debt. This may seem like no big deal since we had this same goal last year and met it, no problem. But this year will be different because our salary is going to decrease a bit. Hubs is going back to school and mid-way through the year I’ll be leaving my part-time job. I’ve kept hinting that I have some news on the job front but I’m still not in a place where I’m able to share it. Probably within the next few weeks I’ll be able to elaborate on this. Overall, though, our salary will be down this year compared to last year.
  • Fully Fund A Roth IRA. Our first two years of debt payment were narrowly focused on debt payoff at the exclusion of all else. When I started my full-time job in August 2015, a 7% retirement contribution was required (and is matched by my employer). In the past year (we’re almost at the 3-year mark for our debt payoff journey), I’ve tried to add in a little extra balance. That means more of a focus on savings for retirement and on spending a little bit for fun (e.g., monthly date nights, kids’ activities, etc.). I’m still continuing to do my mandatory pre-tax retirement contributions (it goes into a 401(k) type thing, but the education equivalent…I think it’s a 401(c) or something??) I’ve also tried to separately put a little money into a Roth the past couple years, but we’ve only managed to do about $1,500 or $2,000ish each year. This year the goal is for us to have 1 fully funded Roth at the maximum allowance (I believe it’s still $5,500). In the future we’ll work toward having 2 fully funded Roths, but I think just having 1 will be a good goal for this year, as we still work diligently to reduce our debt.
  • Mom & Dad Getaway. This is still a very new and not fully fleshed out goal but one that has been floating around in my mind for quite awhile. For newer readers, hubs and I have twin 4.5 year old girls. One of our favorite (pre-baby) passions was to travel. We used to travel a LOT. In fact, that’s one of the reasons we have in our mind for why we want to be debt free: so we can have the freedom to travel! In February 2015 we set a goal to go on a cruise for my Mom’s 60th birthday and we did! We saved up for over a year and in April 2016, we went on a family cruise. It was a lot of fun and I’m glad we did it. But it kind of re-kindled this flame in my heart – this desire to travel with my husband! In the past nearly half-decade since we’ve had kids, we haven’t had a single overnight away from them. Not one. We love our kids, but I also think we’re now at the point that it would be healthy and good for us to have a little mini-getaway solo. It likely wouldn’t be for long (we’re thinking 4 days/3 nights) and it likely wouldn’t be extravagant (maybe drive out to San Diego since that’s only a few hours drive). So I’m sure it won’t be as costly as the cruise was. We don’t have defined or “set” plans in place, but we’ve talked to hubs’ mom about it and she’s volunteered to come out to Arizona and watch the girls for us so we wouldn’t have to be paying for childcare. I don’t know when this would be (maybe over summer; maybe not until fall), but it will happen sometime in 2017. It needs some work to make the goal more defined, but it’s a definitely goal we have for this year.

 

I know this is a get-out-of-debt blog, so some of the things I talk about (e.g., savings, spending) may be a little controversial. I am proud, overall, on how frugal we have been and how much we’ve been able to reduce our debt. I think ours is a success story. If we had less debt, we may have just been able to go gung-ho the whole time (we did for a solid 2 years!!!) and just eliminate the debt in its entirety. But with the amount of debt we’re grappling with, I didn’t think it was possible for us to be “gung ho” for a solid 5-6 years. I knew we would end up falling off the wagon. Therefore, we’ve purposely built our budget in a way where we can SUCCEED. That includes building in a little “wiggle room” for a monthly date night, weekly dance class for the kids, and having friends over for dinner every couple of months. These “life” things are important to us and we wouldn’t be able to make it through to the finish line if we didn’t allow them.

It’s been so encouraging to watch our debt shrink. We now owe $75,000 according to our most recent debt update. Here are our long-term goals:

2017: $30,000 toward debt payments

2018: $30,000 toward debt payments

2019: DEBT-FREE by the middle of the year!!!!

2019 still seems so far off! But then, we started this journey in 2014 and that feels like it was just yesterday! So I know 2019 will be here before we know it. We’re over half-way there!!! I hope you’ll continue to stick around while we’re on our journey. And I wish you luck on your journey as well.

 

What are your 2017 financial goals? Do you set annual goals for yourself and/or your family?


And we are on the move again…

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Hello BAD Community and Happy 2017!  I hope your holiday season was fantastic and you were able to spend some down time with friends or family.  The kids and I have enjoyed a sabbatical (for lack of a better word) here in Georgia with a quick 10 day trip to Texas.  It was the first time we’d seen most of my siblings (there are 5 of us) in over two years.

We had a very frugal Christmas and loved every minute of it!  I didn’t decorate, I didn’t cook and I felt no stress to meet anyone’s expectations.  It was very freeing!  The kids were ecstatic with their “gift card’s for lunch with mom” and a variety of other small things like the $0.46 shorts.

Now for the bad news…we are still in Georgia, well beyond our expected return date. And the reason is that we have no where to return too.  While we were in Texas, I received a text from our hosts of our Glamping Adventure and where we have lived since April, 2016.  It read and I quote: “Bad news…a line broke on the camper. We had to totally winterize it to protect the rest of the plumbing.”  Yea, just a few days before Christmas we became officially homeless.

They did assure me it wasn’t something we had done (we left on Dec. 7th and this text was received Dec. 19th.)  So instead of returning to VA right after the New Year as anticipated, I have been frantically, FRANTICALLY trying to find us housing.  My original plan was to remain in VA at our free housing until April  and then move everything to GA and make my Grandmother’s our home base if I still hadn’t secure enough work or a full time job to get housing for us.

That has now been modified.  I have been able to secure temporary housing beginning Thursday at a home that will go on the market in March.  They have offered us housing through March 1st at no charge.  It is fully furnished and recently remodeled.

The plan now is to:

  • Return to VA on Tuesday (delayed from Monday due to snow storm.)  We will stay in a hotel for two nights.
  • Move into temporary housing on Thursday with absolute minimum necessary.
  • Spend the next two weeks packing our stuff at the camper.

Now I have to decided whether to:

  • Leave our stuff where it is (at the camper) until mid-February when we must return to GA for a gymnastics meet.  We would then load a moving truck and put everything in storage here in GA; or
  • Get a POD or U-pack or something similar and load everything in to put into storage until we know where we will land next.

A quick pricing check puts these two options within a $100 of each other.  I am leaning to the POD type storage because I am not certain when we will have housing and I am not certain, although I hope, that we will end up in GA.  Any words of wisdom from the BAD Community?

In additional to frantically seeking housing, I have SPAMMED everyone in my network with a plea to share my LinkedIn profile with their network.  I had a first interview on Friday afternoon and made it to the next round, but I’m not confident. 


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