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Starting to Review the Next Step

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Within 8 weeks of this post, I will be consumer debt free.  I will also have saved approximately $5,000 from new jobs, odd jobs and selling a few odds and ends here and there over the last few months.  Now I have to plan the next step.

If I kept going at the rate I’m going with no other changes, paying $2,400 per month towards debt, my student loan debt would be wiped out by the fall of next year.  Isn’t that amazing!

However, we are going to need a car especially by September when school starts back, not to mention the idea of traveling in our sardine can is starting to give me and the kids hives.  Just a quick trip up to one of Little Gymnast meets had us all saying “never again.”  And since I’ve taken on new work with teaching both in person and online, I am definitely going to need some help in getting everyone everywhere.  Not to mention, both the twins are ready for a bit more independence.

We have already established that the twins will be paying 50% of their car insurance, plus gas and maintenance on their car.  (It’s in great shape so other than routine stuff, not anticipating any big bills for the time being.)  That means I will up my insurance payments a bit to help them out (anticipating $100 monthly increase on my part.)

So my thought at this point is to find a family car, obviously older that gets relatively good gas mileage which would be comfortable for us to travel in a bit (remember two trips to GA to see family over the next 5 months.)

I know there are going to be lots of opinions on this.  So the facts are…when this happens my only debt payments will be to my student loan currently right at $300 per month.  I will have $5K saved from recent odd jobs (this does not include approx $3K in my EF.)  So tell me what you think…

 


New Clothes : My Uniform

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I stumbled upon this article this week regarding a woman who has created and wears a uniform to her office job every day.  I could totally relate.  For years now, I have worn the same style outfit on a daily basis with the exception of church and client meetings.  Ok, sometimes even to church because I don’t think God cares what I wear but on occasion I worry about other people’s thoughts.

But here’s the issue.  My clothes are now getting worn out…literally holey.  And as comfortable and un-caring as I am about my daily appearance, umm, well I’m not going to look “shabby chic” with holes in my clothes.  So I’m going to have to break down and buy some new clothes and unfortunately, due to my size, the thrift shop is just not an option.  Ugh!

I’m trying to decide how to fit this in my extreme budget as it is going to have to happen sooner rather than later.  I have two thoughts:

  1. Use some of the “extra” income I have made from little side jobs to finance the new clothes.
  2. Wait until July when my consumer debt is paid off and reward myself with new clothes from my existing income.
  3. Or ???

We are in midst of switching our closets from our winter to our summer clothes so it’s been a good time for me to take inventory.  And if you haven’t figured it already, I am not a clothes hog at all.  But thus far this is what I think I need.

  1. 1 pair of jean shorts.  I currently have 1 pair that is in serviceable condition and I wear them 2-3 times per week during the warmer months.  Would be nice to have another.
  2. 2 pairs of long pants.  I currently have 3, but two are in really bad shape.  I could probably get away with 1 for the summer months since I will really only wear them for client meetings or church.
  3. 1 pair of short pants.  I currently have 2, but both are really close to be un-wearable.  I wear them when we go in public, somewhere where I don’t think wearing shorts is the right option.  I’m sure some women can relate.
  4. 4-5 shirts.  This is wear I’m really hurting.  I don’t know if it’s the tussling with the dogs or just the age of the shirts, but my shirts are in really bad shape, and they are one thing I won’t wear multiple times between washings.  Gross!  So really need almost all new ones.

In looking at this list, I think I can easily get everything for less than $200.  So I’ve got some figuring to do.  I just hate to spend money on clothes because as long as their are clean and serviceable, I truly don’t really care.  Fashion has never been my thing, I’m definitely more into comfort and when I do have extra money would much rather spend it on traveling rather than trendiness.

 


Year of Becoming an Adult: March Update

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This year hubs and I vowed as one of our New Year’s Resolutions to do a lot of things that would move us closer (in our own minds) to becoming full-fledged “adults” (said in quotations since we’re 31 and 32, respectively, so obviously already legally adults for a long time now).

If you need a refresher, I talked about our 2015 resolutions/goals here, and I gave an update on how we did in the month of January here.

You may be wondering why there’s no February update?

Heh. No progress to report.

Yeah.

But I’m here today because I DO have some progress to report for this month. Wahoo!

Remember that in January I added hubs to my accounts, but I still hadn’t yet been added to his accounts (due to time constraints). We got our power of attorney forms notarized, but not our wills.

Well, here’s our March update:

  • I’ve now officially been added to hubs’ accounts. He’s on mine; I’m on his. Done.
  • We still do not have our wills notarized. We’re planning to do it this month, but its proven incredibly challenging (we need two witnesses, so we’ve had a tough time with trying to find a time that works for multiple people to come with us to the notary).
  • And my personal favorite update for the month:  We finally have a Roth IRA!!!

This has been a big deal to me because I’ve really wanted to start a retirement account. We’ve only been saving $100/month and finally opened a Vanguard account (which has a $1,000 minimum) with a whopping $1,050. I wish it were more (and I’d originally hoped to be able to throw more money toward it this month), but it is what it is. Given our immense debt, this is probably for the best.

One thing that’s kind of a bummer – we didn’t have enough money to open an account for each of us (hubs and I), so we only opened a single account in my name. Hubs is listed as beneficiary if I die (with our kids as the secondary beneficiaries if we both died), but I would have liked if we’d each had our own account. Aside from the obvious (divorce), is there any real reason for or against opening one versus multiple accounts? Just curious, as I’m totally inexperienced in the retirement savings arena.

Other fun “year of becoming an adult” things coming up on our agenda include:

  • Getting wills notarized! This is first and foremost, at the top of our To Do list!
  • Filing taxes in April (boo! hiss!). We do not have a return (in fact, I’m fearful we’ll owe a bit), so this is NOT a fun thing for us.
  • Re-start the process of trying to get hubs health insurance (last time we tried didn’t work out because it was too soon after hubs experienced a medical mystery illness….the same illness that set us back $9,000). We’re hoping that since it’s been a full year now since his mystery illness that he’ll be able to score some life insurance. Planning to start this process in May.
  • Open 529s for our toddlers, probably in June. Their birthday is in June and I was thinking that instead of spending money on presents and a party that it’d be nice to set some money aside for their future college educations. However, this is still a bit of a pipe dream, as I haven’t researched it yet so I have no details at this time (e.g., is there a minimum to open a 529? what are the rules/regulations/policies/whatever?) So we’ll see.

I think those are the really big things, but if there’s anything that jumps out to you as something a “real adult” should really be doing, then let me know! I’m happy to add things to our list! : )

 


Ashley’s March Debt Update

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It’s that time of month again….time for my monthly debt update!

As I warned you at the beginning of the month in this post, our income for this month is drastically lower than we’re used to (remember, we live on last month’s income so our income for March is actually the money we earned in February).

Our income is variable from month to month, but whereas we’ve averaged about $7,000ish/month, this month we only have about $4,500 to live on. A huge chunk of that is taken up with non-negotiable expenses (rent, preschool, etc.), so we’ve necessarily had to make much lower debt payments than we have in previous months.

Here’s how things look right now (remember, my ACS bill is paid at the very end of the month, so that’s why it says the last payment was from February):

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
License Fees$10922.5%$75March$5808
PenFed Car Loan$154892.49%$50March$24040
Navient - Federal Student Loans$42568.25%$116March$4687
Navient - Dept of Ed$724728.25-6.55%$260March$69191
ACS Student Loans$210407.24%$77February$21035
Medical Bills$62610%$75March$9000
Totals$120,610 (Last month = 120,800)$653Starting Debt = $145,472

If all goes well in terms of income for this month, I’m hoping to eradicate the last of the license fees next month. I should also be paying off the larger of the two medical bills (we currently pay 2 separate entities:  one $50/month, and one $25/month), so it would decrease that monthly expense down to only $25/month.

I’ve also continued to pay extra every month toward my highest interest student loan (Navient – Federal Loans). It’s a $16 minimum payment, and I’ve been paying $116 every month, including this month. However, I’ve paid minimums on my other student loans, medical bills, and license fees. The other BIG thing that probably sticks out is my PenFed car payment. My car payment is technically $450/month. However, I’ve been paying WAY more than the minimum for a long time in an effort to try to knock down that debt. Because of my pre-payments, no payment is due for over a year. I could have literally paid nothing this month and been fine. So I chose to decrease my normal payment to $50. This covers the interest (plus a little extra), and gave me more wiggle room so I was able to still make a larger student loan payment on my highest interest debt.

It’s a tough thing when you literally don’t have enough money to go around. This month has definitely made me feel grateful that I’ve been so on-top of our debt situation since starting to blog. Had I not been making extra payments on the car, we simply wouldn’t have had enough money for all of our minimum debt obligations. I would have had to turn to using a credit card just to buy groceries and put gas in the car (I’ve been there before and remember those days all too well. Scary stuff!)

Fortunately, I’m thinking that this lower level of income was only a one-time thing (fingers crossed). But, just-in-case, I really feel the need to safeguard us a bit. Getting rid of some of these monthly obligations (like the $75/month license fee and $50/month medical bill) will be really nice. And I CANNOT WAIT until the car payment is gone forever. Although I was able to cut back this month and not make the full payment without any penalties (again – since it’s been prepaid), being able to allocate that $450/month payment elsewhere will feel like a big weight lifted.

If you didn’t have enough money to cover all of your bills, do you know how you would handle it? Do you have any wiggle room with any of your debts?


Knee Deep in It – Tax Season

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I’d been so proud of myself for getting posts done ahead of time and here I am already falling off that wagon!  But I do have a good excuse…

So I haven’t filed 2013 or 2014 taxes yet.  Long story short, it all leads back to discussions early on last year with my dad regarding the house, so I am not going to get into that anymore.  But I was comfortable not filing as I had pre-paid my taxes correctly AND because the twins adoption was finalized and they were a special needs adoption, I had a large tax credit coming that can be carried over for up to 5 years.

With that in mind, I have ALWAYS filed my own taxes.  But with the possibility of needing to finance a home in the coming years and the new tax credit which I don’t have any experience with, I decided I might need to hire someone this year to do it for me and make sure I covered those bases properly.  (Since I am self-employed, banks look at my last two-three years tax returns for financing rather than current year pay.)  So I started calling around trying to find someone who was familiar with the Adoption Tax Credit (<=link to IRS site regarding credit if you are interested.)

Almost no one had any experience with the tax credit, and the cheapest I could find was $350 per year…for a total of $700 just to fill out some forms (which I have already compiled all the numbers for) and get the correct form done for the tax credit.  I spent a couple of weeks rolling that number around in my head.  And then started digging into the tax credit.

And yep, I’m back to doing my taxes myself.  I’ve already done all the compiling everything thanks to my organization kick I’ve been on this year.  I figured at $25 per hour, I could essentially give myself 28 hours of research time to figure out the new tax stuff and not have to pay anyone else the $700.  So that’s where I am this week…knee deep in tax code.  And the scary thing is, that I am actually enjoying it.

I did break down and buy TurboTax’s 2013 version to kind of guide me, but from what I can tell, even they don’t handle the tax credit properly.  So I’m doing this by hand…downloading the proper forms from the IRS.gov website and filling them in.  It’s been tedious, but I’ve learned ALOT.  Hopefully, I will wrap this up this week.  And then…I get to help the twins file their taxes.  What a cake walk next to this!


Budgeting Decisions

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Well, folks, the jury was out for awhile but the verdict is finally in. The month of February was a bit rough for our income. Like….ouch.

Hubs and I have a variable income, but in the (almost) year I’ve been blogging our income has ranged from about $5,500/month on the low end, up to over $10,000 on the high end. In general it has averaged around $6,500-$7,00ish/month.

So February officially marks the worst income month we’ve had to date since we began blogging (not in life, in general, but since we’ve started this debt reduction mission). Combined, we didn’t even crack the $5,000-threshold. In fact we were closer to only $4,500.

Yuuuuup.

This also marks the first month in a long time that I’ve actually brought home more than hubs (which makes no difference with our budget since funds are combined, but makes me sad given I only work part-time and he puts in long, physically grueling hours daily. Just feels unfair somehow that he didn’t make more).

Why?

If you’re a long-time reader then it’s for several of the same reasons I’ve discussed before when we’ve had lower-than-average income months. The main thing this time around is that his payroll was super high (he hired a new crew – yay!!!), so he’s been paying out a lot of funds for work that’s been completed, but he hasn’t been able to actually close out the jobs yet (and get PAID on his & his crew’s work) for a few high-dollar jobs due to various reasons (it’s boring, really, but if you’re curious this happens occassionally in flooring….things like they’re missing some transitions that have to be ordered, or there wasn’t enough material and it’s coming from across the country – oh wait – the order can’t come in due to inclement weather in the NorthEast, etc. etc. etc.).

We’re working on some of his business financials to try to change things up so stuff like this won’t happen in the future. In the past, the way hubs’ has run his business is that he’s kept a couple-thousand dollar buffer in his business account, but then anything over his costs for the week, he gives to me as income. But as his business is growing, we’re seeing that a couple thousand dollars is not really enough of a buffer. I’d like to see his buffer grow a little higher (so he can easily cover the expense of materials and labor when needed, even when waiting on his paychecks), and get to a point where hubs is drawing a regular income every month. Any money his business earns above his income would either sit in his business account (adding to the buffer), or he can pay himself a quarterly bonus or something similar. The point is, I’d like to move toward a more regular, steady income that doesn’t fluctuate based on miscellaneous business finances.

The good news is that hopefully March will be a really good income month, what with all his regularly-scheduled jobs PLUS the jobs from February that he’ll finally be getting paid on. Fingers crossed.

In the meantime, you might recall that we live on last month’s income. This means that although February was the low-income month….we really weren’t affected until this month (March). Remember me talking here about how I was scrimping and saving every last dollar to try to make one final $100 (extra) payment toward my student loans at the end of last month? Well, I did manage to save the money! I ended up with about $125 leftover. On Saturday (February 28th), I logged into my student loan account. I was going to make the extra payment but just kept going back and forth between my student loan account and the month’s budget. Seeing how, realistically, I’m going to be unable to make some of my goals that I’d hoped for this month (like finally paying off the license fees), I decided to just let the money sit in my account. I’m going to add it to the income we have in March because, otherwise, there’s just not enough to go around.

I’ve had to make some tough budgeting decisions this month. I’ve had to cut nearly all of our savings and reduce our planned debt payments. Things are going to be tight; particularly since I’ll be traveling toward the end of the month (going for my “not an interview” campus visit), which will cause hubs to have to stay home from work for a couple days (to watch the girls), and I’m sure there will be some eating-out involved.

I was debating whether to withdraw some money from our 3-6 month savings account to use for the month (at least to boost our debt payments), but have decided against it for the time being. This isn’t an emergency and I think that having a little bit lower income this month can serve as a bit of a character-building experience. We’ve taken our income for granted for awhile now. We’ve been lucky to have plenty to go around for all of our basic living expenses + good-sized debt payments. Having a month where we really need to scrimp and save and cut-back on excess will remind us of how far we’ve come and WHY we’re so committed to getting out of debt.

So, just a heads up that this month isn’t going to have as high of debt-payments as I would like (and I’m unlikely to be able to pay off those pesky license fees in full). But hopefully we’ll be able to cut back in all of my budget categories to try to minimize the blow to our debt payments, and with any luck we’ll learn a thing or two about getting back to the basics this month.


2015 Financial Planning & Goals

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Warning: This post is a bit of a doozy! Reminds me of when I first started blogging and would basically write a novel for each post! But everything is related so instead of breaking it up into separate smaller-sized posts you’ve got one monster post to contend with. Maybe make yourself a cup of coffee and settle in with a little snack. This is gonna take awhile!

One of the things I did over my winter blogging break was to analyze my 2014 spending and do some planning for 2015 budgeting and savings needs. I’m trying to shake up my budget categories a bit for 2015. For one, I want to do away with my “miscellaneous” budget all together. I want everything categorized. This will make it infinitely easier in future months/years to look back and easily see exactly where my money has gone (as opposed to this year…where I had to look at each month’s spending individually and start to categorize things on my own).

 

Basically, I wanted to see where this “miscellaneous” money was going and see if I could plan and budget for it. In addition to my normal budget categories (see latest budget here), here are some new categories I’ve come up with:

  • Gift-giving. I’ve greatly reduced the amount I’ve been spending on gifts since starting to blog here at BAD, but it’s not down to zero! This needs its own category.
  • House maintenance. Looking at the past year, this is mostly gardening-related stuff (some tools, plants, mulch), but it also includes things like light bulbs and cleaning supplies. There’s nothing too major cost-wise, but still enough random miscellaneous expenses to justify its own category.
  • Phone/Computer Items and Repairs. I broke my phone twice this year. I now have a serious heavy-duty case on it, but should the unthinkable happen again (fingers crossed), I decided to make this it’s own budgeted category. In addition to phone repairs, this year I had to buy a new charger for my computer and an external hard drive to back up my work, so expenses like that fall into this category as well.
  • Holiday expenses. Non gift-giving holiday related expenses. Things like Halloween costumes, 4th of July sparklers, and holiday decorations. This was also a relatively small category of spending.
  • Clothing purchases. I’ve actually successfully avoided the clothing-shopping bug this holiday season. I’ve mentioned before I’m not a big shopper in general, but I usually have one or two big shopping splurges a year where I’ll spend over $100+. This year I’ve done really well with making do with what I have and only filling in with absolute necessities (like when I had to buy a new pair of pants when my old ones had already been mended twice and were falling apart). Again – a small category in terms of money spent.
  • Work-Related. This was primarily for parking-related expenses when I would drive to campus for meetings. I haven’t been going to campus as regularly in recent months so some of these expenses have fallen away, but this also includes anything specifically work-related (e.g., licensing for special data analytic software, printer paper, ink cartridges, etc.)
  • One-Time Expenses. This was a tiny, tiny category but there were still a couple random things that came up that don’t fall within any other category. I’m calling them one-time expenses.

Please note, I will certainly NOT be spending money in each of these categories every month! For instance, I only spent money on work-related purchases 6 months out of this past year; only spent money on holiday expenses 3 months out of the past year, etc. But these will be categories that may pop up from time to time along with my regular budget categories, depending on what that month demands. Instead of having such a rigid, set number of budget categories, my new 2015 budget will be more fluid depending on that specific month’s needs. I think this will be a much better system overall.

What Else is Changing?

I did a careful analysis of all my monthly savings categories. It’s obvious that we were not budgeting enough toward dental and car maintenance, for instance. By tallying up our actual expenses for the full year, I was able to get a better picture of our real needs in these areas. Let me address each one individually:

 

Current

Saved

New

Plan

Explanation

Annual Expenses $100/mo $100/mo This is a perfect amount. It covers annual life insurance premium, car registrations, and Costco membership. It actually also left us a little bit extra leftover, but I’m not reducing the monthly amount saved because we’ll be adding life insurance for hubs soon, too.
Car Maintenance $100/mo $200/mo My calculations actually amounted to only $166/month needed for vehicle repairs, but I’m rounding up to $200/month because I know we will be needing to replace husband’s work truck at some point (probably this year), so I want to save a little extra. This will amount to $2400 saved for the year. Note that when we come up with an exact time frame to buy a new (new-to-us) work truck, this figure may need to be bumped up for a few months.
Dental/Vision/Health $125/mo $125+ ??? Our actual costs here would amount to needing $3651 for the year (just over $300/month). BUT, we’re going to purchase a dental discount plan in January and will see how much it will save us. Husband is going to go get a full exam and see exactly how much dental work he is quoted. I think we’ve covered the “big” stuff at this point (fingers crossed) and, in the meantime we’ll continue saving $125/month, but will adjust this number depending on his dental appointment with an in-network dentist.
Christmas/Travel $25/mo $25/mo Of course, this doesn’t fully cover our travel and/or Christmas-related expenses, but it was never intended to fully cover those costs. It does what it needs to do, which is to off-set some of the costs incurred. Any extra money needed will come from that month’s budget.
3-6 Months Expenses $25/mo $25/mo Ugh! Still owe you guys a post about the emergency fund. Right now, though, the amount being contributed will remain the same on a monthly basis.
Dog Expenses $10/mo $500/year Previously, I was only saving for potential vet expenses. I’m changing this category to cover food costs for the full year (about $50 every other month), plus the pet registration required by our county, and a couple hundred dollar buffer for potential vet expenses. I’ll likely fully fund this savings in January and just draw from it all year long.
Girls’ Birthday $10/mo $10/mo Staying the same
2014 Roth IRA $100/mo $100/mo Staying the same
TOTAL $495/mo  

$585/mo

 

(+ one-time $500 expense from the dog expenses category)

 

This brings me to…

My 2015 Financial Goals

In 2014 I paid monthly debt payments that equaled $25,091!!! This is actually a conservative number because it only includes the planned debt payments. Remember that before I was living on last month’s income I would often make debt payments bi-monthly: once was the planned debt payment (which this figure represents), and then I’d make a second payment at the end of the month with any extra “surplus” money from the month. (Side note for new readers: I did this because we have a variable income so I made conservative debt payments initially, then when I figured out exactly how much income we had for the month, I’d put any money leftover toward debt. Now that I live on last month’s income I know exactly how much money we have at the beginning of the month and, thus, have eliminated the need for any extra payments because I do a zero-based budget so there is no money leftover at the end of the month).

So my goal for 2015 is to pay at least $30,000 toward debt payments.

Whoa. That’s a big, huge number. $30,000 is a full annual salary for many people! To say we’ll put that much toward debt is certainly a lofty goal. But you have to shoot for the moon, right? ; )

What debts do I plan to eradicate from our lives with that $30,000???

Well, some of the money will be going toward minimum payments for all of our debts and interest, of course. But with extra debt money I plan to eliminate the license fees, car loan, and highest interest unsubsidized student loan. Then our only debts remaining will be medical bills and additional student loans. Don’t get me wrong – we’ll still have a ton of debt (I have almost $100,000 in student loans, alone), but it will feel so good to knock out some of these smaller debts in their entirety! So, so good, indeed.

How Will I Do This?

I’m a firm believer that all goals require careful and strategic planning. If you just pull a goal out of the air its really more of a hope or a dream. Goals, in my opinion, require more careful calculation than that.

So it might surprise you that my answer to this question (How Will I Do It?) is….”Who Knows!?” ; )

This year could potentially be full of many big changes. If I land a job here in Tucson then my salary will double and we won’t have any moving costs. Win! If I land a job elsewhere then my salary will more than double, but we lose husband’s salary and incur moving expenses. If I don’t land a job then I keep making what I’m currently making, try to find additional work, and husband focuses on building his business. Oh yeah, and I’d love to start saving for a house down payment at some point (once we know where we’ll be)! There are so many unknowns!

What I do know is that I want to keep working as hard as I can on reducing our debt. BUT, that being said, I do still plan to let up a little steam (just a teeny, tiny bit) in March 2015. Remember this whole post about finding balance??? It still stands. I don’t think I’ll give up the blogging (I love it and you guys too much), but don’t be surprised if you see a “date night” pop up in the budget every other month or so. That’s a big expense that we’ve done without for the majority of this past year (honestly, for the majority of the last 2.5 years since we had kids!!!). But I also think it’s important to nurture our relationship and while our kids have been infants/toddlers our marriage has taken a bit of a back seat. Don’t get me wrong – there’s no trouble in paradise or anything like that!!! But I think it’s time to make dating my husband and nurturing our relationship more of a priority in our lives. And even if we do so cheaply, it still costs money.

I’ve got one more curve-ball….

I’ve spoken before about retirement savings and how we’d like to start funding a Roth IRA. Although our contributions for 2014 are pretty measly, I’ve been talking more to hubs about it and we’ve come to an agreement about the matter. Once the highest interest student loan and license fees are paid in full, I want to bump up our Roth IRA contributions. Ideally, I’d like to work toward having fully funded Roths for both hubs and myself. We haven’t committed to an exact number yet at this point, so it may be that we double our current savings (go up to $200/month) or triple them (up to $300/month), or we could even aim to have fully funded Roths (about $458/month x 2, for each of us). We’re not there yet so I’m not sure how comfortable I’d be with saving that much while our existing debt is still incurring so much interest. It’s something we’ll think about more moving forward (and feel free to weigh in on the topic). But just let it be known – once these two fees are paid in full (license fees and highest interest unsubsidized student loan), our Roth contributions will be increased…while still trying to hit the $30,000 mark for debt payments this year.

So cross your fingers for us or wish us luck (or call us crazy).

No matter what 2015 holds in store, I feel like it will be a very good year!

What are your financial plans for 2015? Any big budget changes? Any lofty financial goals? What do you think of our goals and plans?