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Financial Ups and Downs


We already know that this month is tough – emotionally and financially!

Here are the latest happenings in this roller-coaster called life…

Good: I got called to do a campus visit interview for the job I recently talked about. It’s really kind of odd. They told me to pencil in 1-4 on a couple different days and they’d get back to let me know which day works for the committee. Very different than my other interview experiences where I’ve had a full day worth of meetings and activities, complete with detailed itinerary and dinner with faculty. I’m hoping this has more to do with the last-minute nature of this job posting and is not a red flag of a potentially low salary (no salary range was listed in the job posting, it just said DOE. I’m very nervous about a surprise super low salary offer, where we might be too far apart to even negotiate).

Bad: Hubs’ truck was making a super scary noise and not braking correctly so he took it into the shop. We were hoping brakes were the issue (they were recently replaced and are still under warranty), but nope. It was related to power steering (he told me more specifics, but I can’t recount the issues here because I’ve already forgotten the names of the leaking/broken parts). Price tag = $1350. Could not have come at a worse time.

Good: We had nearly $900 in our car repairs saving account! I’m going to pay for the repairs on a credit card so I can buy myself an extra month until it has to be paid (note: I still use the credit card for large purchases for the extra assurances and to earn some credit card rewards points, but I always pay it in full when the bill is due). I’ll be able to put $900 toward it from the money we already currently have and the other $450 will come from next month’s budget (since the bill won’t be due until next month). Wiping my brow, thankful we have that savings to cover the majority of the expense!

Bad: I cannot get my husband into the dentist. Cannot do it. Does anyone have any tips on this? From a logical perspective, he totally agrees he needs to go and should really have better oral hygiene – taking more preventative measures instead of waiting until things hit “crisis” level (aka: root canal) and being hit with a much larger bill. So – that’s not the issue. He “gets” it and he agrees. Part of the issue is work-related. Especially with the lower income he’s been drawing he really wants to focus 100% of his energy on work and not take time off for dental appointments. The other part is more psychological. He hates the dentist. I want him to go to a new dentist (an awesome local family-run office who has cut me deals for paying cash and works with me on price), but he refuses to get another dental x-ray. After his health scare in late 2013 when he had a million medical procedures performed, he’s very aversive to any additional procedures. He’s especially reluctant to have new x-rays done because he thinks he’s going to get cancer from all the exposure. He did try to call and have his dental x-rays transferred from his old office, but they send some file format that can’t be opened by the new dentist. The new dentist would even do it for FREE, so it’s really not a cost thing. It’s all about hubs’ fear of dentist/x-ray/dental work and his reluctance to take any time off work. Suggestions? I’m at a loss.

Good: We were officially accepted to a new preschool starting in mid-August! I will be very sad to leave the JCC. They truly have an incredible program! But I really like the new school too and I will LOVE the close proximity to our house and the lower cost! One caveat is it only operates during the school year (not year-round), so I may still enroll the girls in summer camp at the JCC next summer (which, of course, means summer months will be more costly for childcare since JCC costs more). I do like that as a possible compromise though.

What are some good (or bad) things that have impacted your finances lately?

Something’s Come Up


I’ve written this post several times in my head but have had a difficult time putting it down on paper. First, because it’s a difficult subject to discuss. And second, because while I have tried to be as open and honest with y’all as much as possible in many regards (you all know more about my financial life than just about anyone in my real life except my husband!), I don’t think it’s fair for me to bare all the details about other people’s business.

And so with that being said, I’ll tell you now…something has come up.

A very close family member is experiencing pretty debilitating health issues, the full extent of which has yet to be determined. This was a semi-gradual thing, as I started noticing warning signs and symptoms over a year ago. But in the past few months things have reached the next level.

I don’t know what will happen next in terms of this person’s health (though I hope for the best, my fear is that the incident that brought this all to light is really only the beginning of a long road ahead). But I can tell you, in terms of my finances, that I’ll be incurring some additional expenses I hadn’t previously anticipated.

To be more specific, hubs and I have decided that we are going to be making a trip this summer that was previously unanticipated. In the big scheme of things, this won’t be too costly. We went on a trip this past summer and again over Christmas time. So from that perspective, it falls directly in line with last year’s spending habits. It’s just the fact that we hadn’t thought about or planned to take a trip this summer so its money that would otherwise have gone directly toward debt (not to mention the no-income month of May).

I will also say, with the limited medical information I have at this time (hopefully I’ll learn more soon), I think this could have future financial implications as well. I won’t dive into “what ifs” until more is known, but there is a possibility of future trips as well (not just the one this summer).

Our time is so fleeting here on Earth. Remember back when we had 4 new bloggers and we were doing a weekly Q&A series? One of the questions asked, “What is the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?”

We never did get around to answering that question as a group, but even at that time I absolutely knew my answer: Not living near family. THAT is my biggest sacrifice.

When I was in graduate school my #1 goal in life was to graduate and immediately move back by family. When we had kids (during my last year of grad school), that feeling only intensified. But things change in life. Husband’s business was growing and by the time I graduated in 2013 we really weren’t in a financial position to pick up and move. It just didn’t make sense to leave husband’s income and move to a place where he had none. What would we do? Move back in with parents? That wasn’t a desirable option for either of us. The much more reasonable and undoubtedly financially sound decision was to stay put. Husband keeps working his job, I keep working mine, and we keep chipping away at our debt.

But it was a tough pill to swallow.

During 2009-2010 (our early years in Arizona, before we had kids), my grandfather suffered from a series of health issues. He had 3 strokes – each worse than the one before. He had to have multiple surgeries. He ended up living on-and-off in different rehabilitation clinics so he could regain strength and motor ability following each of his health set-backs. Being so far away during that time crushed me. Not only did I hate not being there for my Grandpa, but I hated not being there for everyone else, too. You see, a major health issue like this affects the ENTIRE family, not just the afflicted individual. My poor mother was killing herself to try to be at my grandfather’s beck and call (mind you, the woman still works a full-time job, too). My sister had to run errands, buy groceries, cook food, and help with his meds. My brother went over to mow the grass, check the mail, and walk the dog. And on and on and on. You know who didn’t do anything? ME.

Granted, not for lack of caring. Of course I’d like to share in the burden and help my family! But the distance is extremely difficult. I’d call and chat and try to lift spirits a bit. We visited a couple times a year. But I was unable to help in any of the day-to-day duties that ended up piled on my other family members’ shoulders. That type of guilt is a difficult thing to overcome.

And so here we are again. A different situation, granted – different person, different health issues, different treatment and prognosis.

This type of storm would be so much easier to weather if we were debt free. Absolutely! It’s a big motivator to get out of debt.

But at the same time, it’s a big reminder that life does not wait until after the debt is gone. You can’t just push “pause” and hope everything remains the same for multiple years until the debt-monster has been eradicated.

So I will try to take a balanced approach. Nothing in my debt plan of action will change – I will continue on as usual (paying $500/month toward my balance transfer loan, as much as possible toward my car loan, and all else will be minimums), but I may end up traveling a bit more than anticipated, which means we may have a little less to put toward debt during those months than during others.

All we can do at this time is wait and see what happens. Visit more doctors. Gather more information. Come up with a health plan-of-action. And hope for the best.

What’s the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?

Weekly Debt Update #16- Memorial Day Fun


Happy Thursday everyone!

I hope everybody is having a great (and short) week thus far!

As I originally intended to post this on Tuesday, I want to talk about what we did for Memorial Day. Over the weekend, we decided to have my parents down for a couple days to celebrate. Originally, when I talked to my parents about coming down back in April, they were going to stay for one day (Saturday) and night. We ended up having such a good time that it turned into 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) and 2 nights.

To prepare for our plans, which was to have a picnic, I ended up using a good portion of my monthly “fun” money ($50) to help out. I used this money to purchase the food we “needed” for some picnics. GF also pitched in by paying for 1/2 the picnic supplies plus beer. My folks got down to Erie on Saturday where we just hung out, talked and ate stuff we had around our house. We love having fires, so we spent a good part of the evening and most of the night just drinking beer and relaxing by the fire while our dogs played in the back yard.

Sunday was picnic day. Since Erie has such nice beaches, we were going to have our picnic down on the beach and hang out by the water and soak up some sun. Plans changed pretty quickly that morning. Erie has a very quaint little amusement park down by the water called Waldemeer. My mother thought it would be a great idea to have our picnic there and treat everyone to rides as a thank you for letting them spend the weekend with us. The park ride tickets aren’t expensive ($20-ish for all you can ride) and there’s never a wait to get on, which makes it a perfect place to spent a few hours. Here’s my and GF in the park:


Half way through our stay, I grilled out hog dogs, had some pasta salad and fruit that I got at the store the day before. It was an excellent way to spend time with my family. Later that evening, we had dinner and returned to the park to watch their Memorial Day fireworks (which everyone in Erie goes to watch).

On the actual holiday, the GF and I planted our garden/did some yard work while her mom visited and we had…another cookout! We finally used up the food we bought at the beginning of the weekend. All in all, I ended up only spending $30 for the picnic stuff plus gas to host our families. Last summer was our first experiment with gardening, and we seemed to overload the small plot with too many plants. This year, we’ve stuck to just our favorites: tomatoes, hot peppers, and cucumbers. Here’s a picture of the finished product:


Not only do we love our vegetables, but it’s also a financial save since we tend to go through a lot.

For anyone interested in my debt numbers since last week, here they are:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,896.61$3,940.63$88.62
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,750.50$3,449.52$69.94
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,339.83$3,010.35$67.81
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$4,840.64$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00

Like I posted last week- I reached the under $50,000 milestone! Something, I didn’t think I would ever reach!!

Have a great weekend!

Summer Plan – Extreme Budget Style


Matt’s recent post regarding his summer plans got me to thinking about our summer plans.  We are currently in that lull between our regular homeschool year (Sept-April) and more relaxed summer school as I wrote about last year.  And this time last year we were preparing for some serious travel…TN, GA, OK, TX…all in the name of kids’ activities and family time.  We are pretty adept at traveling on a budget but even then, travel is expensive when compared to staying home and even moreso when living on our extremely tight budget.

So what are we doing this year….

We have two out of state trips plans….

1) In June to see my grandmother, kids great-grandmother in GA.  We will drive, stay with her and it will be just for a long weekend.  We haven’t seen her in almost a year and let’s face it, she is not getting any younger.  Not to mention, we have always loved going.  But we haven’t and we need to.  So we are going.  Anticipated costs: $60-80 in gas and possibly $40 if she feels like going out to dinner one night.  These monies will come out of our MISC fund of our extreme budget.

2) In September to see my parents in GA.  My dad’s high school reunion will take place in September so we are going to go for a long weekend to see he and my mom.  We won’t be inviting them to visit this year for a number of reasons, so this will most likely be our only time seeing them this year.  Anticipated costs: $60-80 in gas and possibly $100 for groceries.  I don’t anticipate we will be on an extreme budget any more at this time, but only time will tell, if so, this money will come out of our $300 MISC monies.

Summer camps for the kids….

1) As I have mentioned before, one of my dad’s gifts to the kids at Christmas is to help pay for one week at a local camp that each of the kids attends for one week out of the summer.  I pay the difference for the little ones and social services pays the difference for the twins, it was the one extra benefit they gave me with the adoption…1 week of summer camp for each boy.  These camps are already paid for as I plan for it in December so it comes out of the old Kids Activities line item on our regular budget and I have held back that money for it.

2) This year we attended a local summer camp event…and we won one free week of camp for Little Gymnast from Sylvan Learning Center – woot, woot!  It was also there that I got the idea to ask about bartering for field hockey which my daughter has recently taken up…and just this week, the director of the program came back and said she would love to barter for a website.  So two free weeks of summer camp – one for each of the littles!

3) We received an email from the summer camp that the kids attend each summer seeking Jr. Counselors, but they needed to be 17.  Sea Cadet has expressed an interest in doing this, but he’s only 16.  I wrote them back and let them know that if they got desperate, he was interested.  They wrote me back and said they really wanted only 17 year olds, but they have a two week training program which they would love to have him in and that there was plenty of scholarship money.  I talked it over with Sea Cadet and he has applied to the training program, and I requested a 100% scholarship.  It does require written references and an interview so we are waiting to see if he gets in, but I think it will be a great experience for him AND open the door for him to work as a camp counselor next year if he still desires that.

4) We have always taken advantage of the local churches vacation Bible school programs for one or two weeks per summer; unfortunately, Princess has now aged out of most of them.  We did find one this year that will take both the littles, so they will be doing a half day there for one week.  They always love the programs and I love that it’s free and a positive experience.

5) I am considering a couple of other camps for the littles, because even with this lull they are already antsy, and I really need some dedicated work time this summer (more on that in another post.)  But I will most likely have to pay for those, so no commitments yet.  They range from $150-300 per week for just day camp depending on the hours and specialties.

6) Thusfar, Sea Cadet has not committed to any summer camps.  I don’t know if he is losing interest or just wants a break, but I’m just following his lead and imagine that he will end up attending at least one local camp this summer to maintain his eligibility to rank up.  Cost for those are $160 for 7-9 day camp.  I told him that as long as it was within a 3 hour driving radius from our home I would make it happen if he chooses.


1) Robotics Camps – The three oldest will be volunteering at least 40, probably more hours, towards their robotics team (yes, Princess has joined it for this next year.)

2) With an eye on college – I am encouraging the twins to find some regular volunteer work to do possibly for the summer but definitely for the school year since they need to “spice” up their college transcripts entering into their junior year.


Both of the twins continue to work.  Sea Cadet is working part time 15-20 hours a week while History Buff has upped his hours to full tiem plus over time.  As proud as I am of History Buff, I worry that he is going to burn himself out and really miss out on his last summer of “fun” as next year they really will have to work to help pay for car insurance, etc. They both continue to save 50% of each of their paychecks without complaint and then have 25% towards “bills” in their checking account and 25% as fun money.


Since lofting the beds, we are much more comfortable in tiny space, so we’ve invited our best-est friends to come visit.  We will have two of my best friends their their 3 and 2 kids stay with us for a long weekend (two separate weekends, we’re not crazy.)  We are really looking forward to their visits and intentionally picked the weekends during times when the pool would be open.  Both friends are very aware of what I am doing so I do not anticipate much extra monies required, but we will probably use much of our MISC monies those months to buy more groceries.

Other plans…

I have in the back of my mind that we will be taking a couple other overnight trips but nothing nailed down yet.  One would be to start visiting some colleges and then some other small “fun” trip, but we will see.

I think that’s it for our summer plans.  Overall, I expect is will be a relatively “cheap” summer for us, and I am greatly looking forward to enjoying our apartment pool!

Cheap Going Away Gift Basket


Since my friend was moving cross-country, I decided to put together a little going away roadtrip-ready gift basket. This was super cheap to put together, but is thoughtful and practical at the same time.


In my basket I included:

  • 3 current magazines, purchased through trade-in credit at our local used bookstore (tip: this is a great idea for magazines to flip through while you travel, too. They sell current issues for as little as $1 at our store). Cost: $0
  • 3 dollar store snacks (Corn Nuts, Yogurt-covered pretzels, and trail mix). Cost: $3
  • 3 candies from Walgreens (Skittles, Lemon heads, and Rasinetes). Cost: $3
  • 1 basket from Dollar Tree. Cost $1

Total Cost: $7

Another idea that I had after I’d already given the basket to my friend was to include a gift card that could be used for something to listen to. Ideas include iTunes (to download music or audiobooks) or a Cracker Barrel gift card, since you can rent books on CD from Cracker Barrel and return to any other location (and since Cracker Barrels are typically directly off of highways, its super convenient to rent and return items).

The whole basket was very inexpensive for me, but I like these types of gifts that can be meaningful (and/or practical) without having a big price tag. I feel like blogging here has really helped make me more creative in that regard (instead of just defaulting to buying a $25 Home Depot gift card for a moving-away friend as I might have in the past).

Speaking of more meaningful and low-cost gifts, I’ve been working on another Mother’s Day gift toddler craft (reminder:  Mother’s Day is this Sunday!!). I’ll try to get a post up soon in case anyone is interested in doing something similar for a special woman(-en) in your life!


Another Time Out…


Remember that I had planned a little “going away lunch” yesterday for my good friend who is moving cross-country?

Well we went and had the lunch as planned and I treated, also as planned. I thought this was going to be my last time to see my friend for a long, long time.


While at lunch I was informed of a little surprise. One of our old grad school buddies apparently booked a last minute plane ticket to Tucson. He arrives on Friday afternoon (the same day my good friend will be finishing packing up her house).

So I’ll now be going out on Friday night as well.

To be clear – I love, love, love my good friend. She has been there for me through the rough grad school years and I’m thrilled to celebrate with her one more time before she leaves (and its just an added bonus that one of our mutual friends will be in town, too).

That whole issue aside….I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was just a little bit bummed over the financial aspects of this. I’ve financially limped by to the end of April and now I’ll be starting out May a little behind, too. That said, I rarely go out so its unlikely I’ll have any other big spending that occurs during the month of May. But still…I’ve got goals in mind and am trying to watch my spending more now than ever.

So there’s a little bit of pain associated with this. I’m a little torn, too, over the more personal/relational aspects of this. I would have liked hubs to come out with us (seriously – we never go out like this, so if I’m going to go I’d love for hubs to get to come with us!) But the cost of babysitters is really high and, ultimately, hubs opted to stay home and watch the girls so I could go “live it up” with the grad school buds one last time. Sounds like a re-living of our glory days or something, but I promise it won’t be nearly that exciting. ; )

Since I treated at lunch I think I’m off the hook for drinks at the bar, right? Maybe a single round or something but I don’t think there will be any expectation for me to pick up the whole tab. Hopefully I can get away with nursing a single drink all night long without drawing too much attention to myself. I want to have fun, but I’m not a drinker anyway, so it doesn’t sound fun to me to go out to a bar, spend a ton of money on drinks, and then have to figure out a way to get home. So we’ll see how it all goes and I’ll keep you posted.

What do you think? Am I being overly cheap? What do you think the social expectations are here regarding buying drinks…is going Dutch okay???

Lofting Beds – Money Well Spent


We spent the weekend in construction mode.  I decided a month or so back that Little Gymnast would move into the twins room for the summer no matter what we decided as far as long term housing.  He’s just at the age and with them working quite a bit this summer, it was a good time to make the move.

I researched bunk beds, custom built lofts, diy lofts and as I was at the hardware store pricing things needed, I came up with my own brilliant, if I do say myself, design.  I called my dad as he has years of construction experience and ran my idea by him to make sure it was viable.  With just a few modifications, he thought it would work and for just a few dollars more than a traditional bunk bed we created our own custom lofts in the two bedrooms. Figured a picture was better than my description. Please excuse the messiness, we are still organizing and arranging.

2015-04-27 18.22.12

We purchased the following to complete this project:

  • Four steel utility shelving units, 2 per loft at $72 each
  • Eight 2″x4″x10′ to bolster the lofts at $3 each
  • Two sheets of plywood originally 4’x8′ but they trimmed the width down 2″ for free at $20 each
  • One box of nails at $3.60
  • One twin mattress at $119

Each loft (not counting the single mattress) cost right at $178 each. The design solved multiple problems in one fell swoop ie storage, desks and separate beds. They are identical in the two rooms with the exception of my king size bed under Princess’ bed and both the twins’ beds under Little Gymnast.

2015-04-27 18.22.21

You will see in this picture that Princess and Gymnast both have plenty of room to sit up in their beds and are using the top shelves have made desks. We’ve then been able to use the remaining shelves for much needed storage…shoes, extra blankets and possibly a stock pile of home goods that up until now we had no way to store.

Everyone is proud of a job well done, appreciates the new “private” space and is getting settled into the new boundaries and room situations. Overall, I think we have solved the bulk of the larger issues we were encountering with our small space living. And I’m pretty proud of the design.

Next up…dining room tables out of extra piece of plywood we already have and a set of saw horses. Just trying to figure out how to stabilize the plywood to keep it from warping.

Update: When I first wrote this, I forgot to say where this money came from and I’m sure it will be asked. We did not break out of our extreme budget. We used monies earned from the massive purge last fall when we were downsizing – between the individual item sales and garage sales we socked away right at $2048 which has been saved towards furniture. Aside from a few odds and ends in our new place, that money has remained untouched.