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Made Some Changes – Phone Service

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Consistently since I have blogged here, commenters have pointed out my large monthly expenditure on phone service.  And I am proud to say I have finally taken action and made some cuts.

Thusfar, I have cut $75 monthly service fee.  In addition, History Buff is now paying $30 per month for this phone (that is included in that bill.)

So I’m not sure of the new monthly fee total (all the fees and taxes make it challenging to get a good estimate.) But I’m going to LOVE seeing that bill be below $200.

Woot, woot!  Another bill strikes the dust…good thing too, since it’s just in time for our new BRACES!


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!


Wear, wash, repeat

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I feel like my days are on a serious repeat cycle and this post could pretty much be a duplicate of last weeks, with one MAJOR difference. I am anticipating a check today that will be the last payment towards my consumer debt…July 1st deadline goal met (almost as it hasn’t gotten here yet.) I feel like I should be doing some sort of happy dance or woot, wooting, but really I am just ready to keep plugging along.

I am really enjoying having choices with my money, rather than just looking at what bill is due next. And I really like the idea of not having to fork over a large portion of my money to debt anymore, but I do still have a ways to go. I have picked my next debt goal and am looking at the timeline now so will post that soon.

Now the news from this week…

The housing question is still looming. I have until the 24th of this month to let my apartments know if I am moving out at the end of my lease to avoid any addition fees. I also have the option to go month to month at that time or sign a shorter lease or another year long lease. I know I will not be signing another year long lease, but everything else is still up in the air. So more on that later too.

I’m continuing to do daily chauffeur duties to swim team practice, day camps (this week the littles are at a free VBS,) and gymnastics practice. I feel like I never have a solid block of time at home or if I do it’s at night when I’m exhausted, so not being as productive as I hoped. That is something that I need to change as I continue to try and build my business!

I’ve two extra kids staying with us this week, 8 year old twins. They are from a single mom family and she is really struggling financially so hasn’t been able to afford to run her air conditioner or hire a sitter for them. I just couldn’t stomach the idea of them staying alone day in and day out in a hot house, so voila they are here. They live about 3 hours from us, so she will come on the weekend and we will evaluate the situation for next week. (One of my twins is gone for the week at Ministry and Leadership Training, so it hasn’t been quite as tight as it would have been. Plus, these twins get along like gang busters with Little Gymnast so they are having a blast together.)

Speaking of Little Gymnast, today is his birthday. Now that’s something I can get excited about. When he found out he would not be getting his iPad screen fixed for his birthday, he gave me a revised frugal list…he’s getting everything he asked for: 1 gallon of grape juice, silly string, Reeses Pieces and a new blanket. (His Thomas the Train comforter is on it’s last stuffing!) We will go out to dinner tonight with his dad to celebrate…he’s chosen Golden Corral for the unlimited food and chocolate fountain!

So I’ve got lots of news, but nothing definite. Expect detailed posts coming on:
1. The next payoff goal and timeline.
2. A new, maybe not so extreme budget…maybe. We’ve gotten used to this one and it really hasn’t been that bad.
3. Details on our new family car.
4. A decision on housing as soon as I make one, lots still going on around this so can’t even hint to what the outcome will be.

I hope you are well and enjoying your summer and staying cool. The heat has been stifling and these last few days have been our first break from 90+ degree weather, so I’m dreading seeing what my electric bill will be. But I am oh, so grateful to be a in place where I can run it without worrying about being able to pay the bill. And run it to my comfort. I know that many people can’t do that. We have much to be grateful for, even on our strict budget.


Weekly Debt Update #17- Time Off

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I hope everyone is having a wonderful Tuesday!

For those of you who haven’t read my previous post, or the comment section of the post before that, I’ve decided to take some time off in July from paying down my debt. As you know, I will be taking a physical vacation to Walt Disney World to spend some quality time with my whole family, new nephew included. I will also be using the money I would normally put towards debt to not only fund our vacation (GF and I anticipate spending between $600-$700) but use the money for things I’ve been putting off, as well. I know I want to buy some new clothes and get my car fixed (I’ve had some minor sensor issues for the past couple months) and July seems like the perfect time to get this all done. I want to go into August with renewed energy to finish off the remaining $50,000 in debt in 18 months. What ever money I don’t spend, I’m going to use to refund my EF. I don’t plan on missing any blogs posts during this time off, except for the week I will be in Florida.

On an other note- my fun fund has come in handy once again. Over this past weekend, a good friend of mine invited me and GF out them for dinner and drinks. GF couldn’t make it, as it was pretty spur of the moment, and I ended up spending nearly $50. I’m so grateful to those who convinced me to put money aside for fun every month. Only a couple months ago, I likely would have said no to the request, or worried so much about how much I was spending that I wouldn’t have enjoyed myself, anyways.

And an update on an item that came up last week- I handed in my 401k contribution form to increase my contributions from 4 to 10%. Me contributing to our company’s 401k was never about affordability, it was more so about how quickly I could pay off my debt- every penny was one closer to my original goal. Well, lately I’ve had an internal struggle over putting money towards savings. I think this increase in contributions will ease my mind in this regard. If it doesn’t work out, I can always decrease the contributions back down (the paperwork take roughly 1 minute to fill out), but I know I’m not going to get optimal savings years back.

Lastly, for those interested in how much I’ve paid off lately, here are my balances as of today. I didn’t post an update last week, so the “+/-since last week” is actually from 2 weeks ago.

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$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,750.50$3,449.52$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$6,577.48$3,772.70$707.05
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$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
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00$0.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$49,224.59$61.363.07$707.05

I hope everyone has a great week!


Stupid Auto-Renewals!

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One of the things that has continued to get me are auto-renewal payments or even monthly subscriptions.  As I mentioned previously I really fell off the wagon with record keeping some time ago and am really just getting back into Quicken to track and plan things…and that has been really slow going.  So without that, and the historic data with say dates things are going to renew, I am often surprised when a renewal comes out and I’m not expecting it.

Many times, these are business expenses so not something I address here on the blog, but there have been a couple lately that got me.  First, Sea Cadet’s Christmas present from my dad was a subscription to Loot Crate *affiliate link for my son.  My dad sends me the money, I put it on my card…but it auto-renewed this past week for $55!!  No way.  I emailed their support team and as one time courtesy, they cancelled it and refunded me the money (you are supposed to cancel 3 days prior to renewal, but they don’t send out a warning that it’s going to renew.)

Then the same week…I get a charge for $81.  Ugh!  What is going on here?  And this was for our Invisible Fence at our old house (not an affiliate link but a product I highly recommend if you are like me and love your animals AND your wide open spaces.)  What?!?  I haven’t had time to call them yet.  But really?  This is one that I definitely did not sign up for and the only thing I can think is that they have somehow put us on a subscription for batteries for the collars, which we are no longer using.

So the point of the story is, that 1) I really have to get my act together and get all these auto-renewal dates down and into my records and 2) making those phone calls does help especially if you weren’t planning to renew.

For my monthly subscriptions and expected renewals, I have designated one of my credit cards (the only one I’m keeping after pay off) to take those charges.  This will serve two purposes: 1) keep me from being surprised out of my main cash account which is how things have been up until now and 2) continue to earn points for travel for when we can resume that.

The same card will be used for business and personal, I just want to make things easy for myself and keep it all in one place.  Charges that reoccur are Personal: Netflix, Insurance, milk delivery, pet food delivery, EZPass for toll roads (mostly used when transporting Sea Cadet) and Business: subscriptions for business tools, cloud service for storage, domain name and hosting fees, etc.

How do you handle those pesky renewals and subscription charges?


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?


Mother’s Day 2015 Toddler Craft

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Writing at this blog has been transformative for me. Just one of the many, many changes has been in regard to gift-giving.

Prior to writing here I would always send some type of (usually $$$) gift for Mother’s Day to all the important women in my life. I am fortunate to have many: My mom, 2 living grandmothers on my side, hubs’ mom, and one grandma on his side. That’s FIVE people to whom we’d send gifts every Mother’s Day. Generally I’d spend about $50/person. I remember shipping Bath and Body Works gift packages one year. I did a chocolate-of-the-month gift one year. I’ve done gift cards to restaurants. You get the picture. This holiday was pricey for me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Matt wrote an excellent post where he discussed that all his Mom really wants is time together with the family (his post was specifically about his Mom’s birthday, but I think the same applies to Mother’s Day).

I’m in an unfortunate situation where we can’t easily spend time together since we live so far away. BUT, that doesn’t mean that our only option is to spend a bunch of money on stuff/junk that no one really needs anyway (side note: that chocolate-of-the-month club was one of the more expensive gifts I’ve sent, and was a miserable failure as every.single.month the chocolate arrived totally melted).

So I’ve really enjoyed doing these cheap little toddler crafts. I think it’s so much more meaningful to the recipients than it would be to receive a gift card or the newest lotion and candle from B&B Works. Not only do the recipients get a gift of love, but I like to snap a couple pictures of the girls actually making the craft that I include in the card. The total cost is typically less than $3/card (honestly, probably much less than that. I already have a huge craft box, so I only ever buy envelopes, stamps, and the cost of the pictures that I include). And I’ve gone back to Texas to visit and seen these works of art hanging on fridges, or framed and hung on a wall like a true piece of art (<<This is for real. I was so shocked and humbled to see the girls’ flower art on the wall of their Nana’s home, in a frame and everything. Warmed my heart).

The whole point is that if you think outside the box, you can often think of more meaningful and less costly gifts for ANY type of occasion than you would if you’re just rushing to the nearest Walgreens to buy a generic gift card to stuff inside a Hallmark card.

So, sorry if you’re getting tired of these craft ideas. I know I’ve done a bunch of these now…and I spared you my Easter craft this year because we did one of those, too! Here’s a quick pic for proof:

Toddler Easter Card/Craft Idea

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Oops, apparently I never took a pic of the finished product, but here’s a quick explanation…

I made little Easter eggs (here, you see the tracing outline of 2 eggs on a piece of white paper), and let the girls color the paper for decoration. I then cut out along the outside and folded the two end flaps to meet in the middle. I had a picture of the girls inside so when you opened the egg you saw a picture of them! Pretty cute, right? Most of my crafts are ideas I’ve seen on Pinterest, but this one was entirely my own! ; )

But here it is… my annual Mother’s Day toddler craft (previous toddler craft posts include:  Easter 2014, Mother’s Day 2014Valentine’s 2014 & 2015).

Toddler Mother’s Day Craft Idea

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This was a super easy-peasy one (the painting crafts are always a little more time-intensive since they require mandatory baby clean-up/baths afterward). I started by giving the girls markers to color on long white paper (we just used the paper that came with our art easel, seen in this post). Then I traced the girls’ hands onto some colored construction paper and measured their arm span. That’s it for the girls’ part! Sooo easy!

After they went to bed for the night I cut the long white paper into strips. I wanted the paper to be the actual length of the girls’ armspan, so that’s why I took their measurements. I glued the two hands to the end and wrote the message (I love you…. THIS Much!!!) On each craft I used one hand that was Bailey’s and one that was Brooke’s so I labeled their hands on the back and wrote on the back of the white paper “actual armspan” so the recipients would know that this is a true-to-scale long-distance HUG from the girls! Isn’t that cute!

Since there really wasn’t room on the back of the hands to write a nice message, I also bought cheap Mother’s Day cards from the Dollar Tree (2 for $1). I wrote a personal message to each recipient, included a couple of recent photos of the girls, and slipped the “hug” inside.

DONE!

If you are still looking for an easy and cheap Mother’s Day craft, this is the way to go! This was by far one of the easiest crafts I’ve done to date. The whole thing start-to-finish took maybe 10 minutes and I made 6 crafts (I’ll send 5 out for Mother’s Day gifts and I’m saving one to send to my Dad for his birthday later this month).

I hope you all have a great rest of your week, and a happy early mother’s day to all the moms out there! (and hugs to all the motherless daughters on what I’m sure is a painful and/or bittersweet day. Here’s a post a friend shared on Facebook that you may find of interest).


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