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Financial Goals Revisited

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Looking back at some old posts I see that I’ve had some lofty financial goals. It reminds me of this saying:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

(Google says the quote is by Normal Vincent Peale)

Well, I guess I’ll have to settle for the stars, because I’ve missed my moon. But that’s okay. Progress is still progress. I just wanted to look back and remind myself of where I’ve been and where I’m going….

In this post I had listed my goals in terms of debt repayment. You’ll notice that my goal date to be rid of our license fees was originally August 2014. August came and went, and we still have those monthly license payments.

In this later post I changed my mind and decided to put my Race to 20K (paying off the car loan) above everything else. At the time I was hoping to pay $3,000/month toward the car loan. Yeah….that hasn’t happened either (aside for I think one or two months??)

And recently I’ve hinted at maybe changing my plan of action again. Re-ordering my debt payoff journey. You guys are right. The APR on some of my student loans is outrageous. Why not knock it out and then turn my attention to the car? In the past few months when I haven’t been able to pay $4,000 or $5,000 toward debt it changes the whole payoff schedule. Why not earn some “easy” wins by knocking out some of the smaller debts instead of tackling the comparatively huge car loan that could takes months to pay off?

And then I walk into my kitchen and see my auto loan debt thermometer. And I am absolutely re-energized.

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I guess that’s the thing about personal finance. It’s personal.

No, it doesn’t make sense. Any financial guru you talk to will say I’m doing it wrong. Either you’ll hear from the Ramsey types who say my car loan is too big and I need to start by tackling a smaller loan. Or you’ll talk to a numbers person who will say the APR on my car loan is peanuts in comparison to the student loan APRs, so I should start with the highest APR. No one would say that tackling the car first is the “right” thing to do. Or would they?

Whatever is the most motivating might make the most sense, too. Right?

I mean, I want all of my debt gone. I’m so, so, so sick of it! Having the little financial set-backs this month (with the car repair and house flood) have just reaffirmed how much I hate this debt. It’s so burdensome! It’s like a noose around the neck that we just can’t get rid of! Getting rid of the debt, in so many ways, will feel like earning our freedom back!

But so much of the journey is psychological in nature. And even as I’m doubting myself and thinking, “maybe we should just kill that high interest student loan real quick”….I just keep coming back to my starting place. And I see our car. And I want it to be ours for real.

I know it’s not the popular decision. With all my recent payments and hard work recently we are no longer upside down on the loan, either. I know many would say we need to sell it and rid ourselves of the nearly 20 grand (now actually right at 18 grand) of debt in the snap of our fingers. But it’s just not that easy.

We love our car (actually an SUV, a 2011 Ford Explorer). With the long road-trips we take we need something large enough to accommodate two car seats, a double stroller, us, our dog, our luggage, and cooler of food/drinks/snacks. That’s really not do-able in a car or even a cross-over. A van could work, but it doesn’t feel right to make that type of trade. The way I see it, we’d be able to sell our SUV for $20k, buy a reasonable used van for $10k, which leaves us with $10k less debt (and a paid for van). But as soon as we’re done paying off other debts we’ll go right back to selling the van (plus putting in extra $$) in favor of finding another SUV. Why? Why not just pay it off and own it outright from the start and save ourselves the headache of all the buying and selling and trading of vehicles?

I didn’t want to have to put it all out there like this because it sounds like nothing but excuses and rationalizations. I know it will anger some of you. But we’ll just have to file this under the “agree to disagree” label and call it the “personal” part of personal finance.

So there you go. The plan remains.

But don’t be surprised if I end up wanting to come back to re-visit this again at some point in the future. It never hurts to reassess one’s goals, particularly in light of big income changes. Hopefully with all my applications we’ll be having another big income change sometime soon….only this time going upward! : )

What debt are you currently working on paying off? What method of debt repayment do you follow (smallest to largest? Highest APR first? Psychological satisfaction?)


How I Reduced My Debt by $10,000 in 6 Months

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By Alan Helman

Chances are incredibly high that, at some point in your life, you will have to deal with debt. Thanks to increasing tuition rates and decreasing summer employment, students are leaving college and university saddled with large amounts of debt. Then add in the costs of starting a family and buying a house and a car and…well, you see the problem. A lot of people who had dreamed of a life as an artist or a designer find themselves having to switch gears in order to handle this debt, and then falling into a depression when they look at the seeming impossibility of becoming debt-free.

When I graduated, the first thing I had to establish was that it wasn’t possible to pay off all my student debt at once, and looking at the full amount due almost gave me a heart attack. I told myself not to freak out; paying off the debt was possible. It would take some creativity on my part, and might require I change my way of living a bit, but the thrill of realizing that I wasn’t so deep in debt was certainly worth the life change.

Build a Budget

After a lot of research, talking to friends and professionals, I found that the best way to reduce (and eventually get rid of) my debt is to set a good budget and follow it. I determined how much money I brought in each month, then figured out what percentage of that absolutely had to go to standing bills like my mortgage, car payments, debt payments, etc. The money that was left over could then be apportioned to my remaining monthly purchases. I started with the most important areas: figuring out an amount to devote to food, an amount for gas (and transit fees, for when I took the train or might need a cab), and an amount for entertainment. I tried to leave myself with extra money in the kitty, because I knew a few things already:

1. Chances were high that I would break my budget in one area or another, especially when just starting out.
2. The extra money could be used to pay down more of my debt.
3. It’s always a good idea to try to accumulate a bit of a savings to safeguard against emergency situations.

There are plenty of online systems that can help create a budget, so I took advantage of that in my planning. The New York Times suggested some great apps such as LevelMoney or Billguard–these systems often come with fees attached, and that money would have to come out of the budget, but it was worth it in the long run. Apps like this provide a valuable service and, for me, were 100 percent worth the money. It might not be the same for you, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you jump for a service.

Search for Sales

I found one of the best things about the Internet is that it makes looking for deals much easier. I no longer had to scour the newspapers and local flyers for the right coupons or stand in line for the huge sales at stores; everything was online where I could access it easily. Since I’d already budgeted for my Internet bill, it was simple. I discovered coupon apps, which led to some pretty great savings (or refunds and rebates) once I uploaded my receipt to the app. Other coupons could be saved on my iPhone, and then shown to the cashier to be scanned. Though the amount saved on each coupon seemed pretty small, it added up quickly. For beginners, the Toronto Star has a great list of sites and advice from people who are quite successful at utilizing this method.

If I needed a new electronic device or piece of computer hardware, I just made sure I found the best deals online. This simple act saved me hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars. I was amazed at the plethora of things I could find coupons for on the net.

Increasing Income Creatively

I didn’t have the time or the energy to take on a second job, but this didn’t mean I couldn’t increase the amount of money I was bringing in. This is actually where I found I could draw on that creative side that I’d come to fear was lost forever. Thanks to online eCommerce sites like Shopify, I found I could create an online store of my own to sell my art, design and products bearing them. I was able to set up a shop that held my unique designs, choosing a price that I felt was fair while still competitive.

While I worked to pay the bills, my designs were finally online for millions to discover. With a little bit of effort in my spare time (dealing with the orders, creating product), I found I could actually, at least in part, live my artistic dream — and still pay the bills. I never had to be a starving artist.

If you think the idea sounds like a silly fantasy, like I did at first, you should know something: this is actually how new designers are approaching the market. Cutting out the retail store middleman allowed both for increased profit but also increased creative control, and even beyond that I came to the realization that the online market is much bigger than single retail stores. It’s quite serious; the Wall Street Journal has touted this method as “the new black.” Online sales are always on the rise, so this was the ideal opportunity to live my dream while still keeping a foot in the regular working world.

Very few people will live a life of complete leisure, never worrying about their income. But having a budget didn’t mean I couldn’t have nice things (or, you know, things). It just meant I needed to be a little more creative when it came to choosing how to buy things, and left me to explore other ways to make money. The biggest thing I learned was that it doesn’t actually have to be a huge effort, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and current technology. Six months later, and I’m that much closer to living debt-free. You could be too.


Ashley’s Updates and Comment Replies

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Hey guys!

Thanks for your patience with me this week! Husband and I both managed to escape any illness (knock on wood), but toddler #1 had to stay home from preschool on Monday and toddler #2 had to stay home from preschool on Wednesday (they only go MWF), so this week has been rough work-wise. Thus, I’m going to have to really get my rear in gear today while both are healthy and at school! I have so much going on I’m going to just word-vomit with bullet points instead of using full paragraphs…

  • I have two job applications to complete….today (due by the 15th). Yikes!!! In the past apps have taken me nearly 10 hours each and I haven’t even started either yet. Wish me luck!
  • I will definitely add a column in my future debt update posts to reflect the original balance (thanks for this suggestion – so obvious, but I’d never thought to do it before!)
  • Speaking of debt….I’m thinking a change of the plan of action is in order??? More on this to come as I think things through a bit more. I hate to make so many changes. It is not like me to be so “flaky,” but (credit to Walnut for mentioning this) since our income situation has changed it makes sense to re-evaluate our debt payoff plan of action.
  • A couple people mentioned our car being brand new. Just wanted to clarify that our car was bought used. It’s still a newer model (2011), but we bought it in March 2013. Also, we are not upside down on it anymore. Still don’t think we’re wanting to sell at this point though. Perhaps this topic can be discussed more in depth when I re-hash our debt plan of action.
  • Small win – we are set to pay off one of our (three) medical bills next month! We have 3 separate medical bills each month (for $25, $50, and $75, respectively). We’ll be ridding ourselves of the $75/month bill. Wahoo!!!

So there you have it. I’ve got to get some serious work done but I’ll be back soon!!



Executive Decision

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Remember how I mentioned that my family was coming out to visit for a long weekend this past weekend (they were here from Thursday afternoon until Sunday morning)? It was so, so, so good to see them! Usually when someone comes to visit its my mom flying solo. This time it was my mom, my step-dad, my sister, her husband, and their 10-month-old baby (whom I’ve only seen in person one time, last Christmas, when he was less than a week old!!! Boy how babies change over 10 months!)

While we seriously loved getting to see everyone, having that many people visit created some logistical problems. Even with blow up mattresses, we just don’t have enough room to accommodate that many visitors in our house. So they opted to stay at a nearby hotel. Obviously this has pros (e.g., beds and bathrooms for everyone) and cons (e.g., don’t get to see each other as much as if you’re staying in the same place). With baby 2/day nap and toddler 1/day nap schedules (and the nap times didn’t always sync up), by the time Sunday morning rolled around I felt like we had barely seen each other! Instead of feeling like I’d gotten a good family visit and was satiated, I felt more homesick than ever! It really is hard living so far from family! I consider my sister and mom to be my best friends and I don’t see them nearly enough!

So after being pretty mopey and melancholy all week, husband and I talked and have made an executive decision of sorts. We’re gonna go back over Winter sometime.

I’ve been making a big deal about staying in Tucson all Winter and how this would be our first Christmas here. Honestly, I’ve been looking forward to it in some ways – actually getting to start our own family traditions and really be here for the holiday. But after feeling like my family visit was more of a tease than anything else, I just long for home (“home” meaning Austin, where both my husband and I are from and our immediate family reside).

We’re still talking over the details – we may go for Thanksgiving and stay in Tucson for Christmas, or we may just do our usual Christmas trip. A decision in terms of timing hasn’t been made yet. But I did want to pop in and let you guys know about this little change-up as it has obvious financial implications. And, regardless of when the trip occurs, I’ll be posting the financials along the way : )

How close do you live to your family? We haven’t lived in the same place since 2007. First we lived in southern Florida (a 24-hr drive away) and now we live in southern Arizona (a 14-hr drive away). I measure distances in drive-time because husband hates to fly!

If you don’t live near family, how often do you visit? Until this year we’ve always gone back twice a year: once in summer and once in winter. This year we skipped our summer trip (instead going to Utah), and were planning to skip our winter trip but now that fall is upon us, I’m suffering from major homesickness!


Knowledge versus Behavior

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When I was an undergraduate, I remember taking a workshop on conservation education. Basically, the purpose was to teach people about conservation of natural resources: its importance, how to practice it, and how to spread it to others. One thing I remember learning in the workshop was in regard to recycling. Research has shown that you can teach people all about the impact that recycling can make and, after education, these people will express that they highly value recycling. BUT, if you actually observe these people, do their recycling habits (or lack thereof) actually change?

The answer is NO….usually.

Basically, studies have found that unless recycling is made EASY, that most people will continue to simply trash things. If, however, there is a recycling bin placed directly next to a trash bin, then they will indeed opt to recycle. But if the recycling bin is across campus they won’t make the effort to recycle their bottled water or old newspaper. They’ll simply chuck it in the trash. It’s easier.

I give this little anecdote to demonstrate that changing someone’s knowledge (by teaching them something new) does NOT equate to a change in behavior. The behavior is harder to modify. It has to be made easy.

Unfortunately, I have succumbed to the knowledge versus behavior problem this past month. Since starting blogging, I have learned quite a bit about my spending habits. I have worked diligently to change them. For the most part I have succeeded. But in the month of September??? Not so much.

I’ve already told you all about how I went way over budget with our grocery purchases. Why is this?

Well, I leaned back on grocery shopping like the crutch it’s always been. I have historically used grocery shopping as an easy “outing” with the girls. I feel like I’m being productive by buying things that we “need” and, at the same time, I’m getting the girls out of the house for a bit and using the time to serve as a distraction or you could even call it entertainment. I prefer to go to parks and have been making more park trips in the mornings, but its still dreadfully hot in the afternoons here in Tucson and the afternoons drag on and on and on.

The problem, of course, is that this means we end up buying all types of things that we don’t really need or things we could make do without. Then we wind up at the end of the month and I realize our grocery budget is beyond shot – it’s been blown out of the water!

So this broken record is probably getting a little old at this point, but something’s gotta change. I’ll brace myself for your groans and eye-rolls but here I go…..

…I’m going back to the envelope system.

Oh, the envelope system. My much loathed system of paying for goods.

Here’s what I’m going to change for the month of October: instead of actual paper envelopes for all my different spending categories, I’m going to focus solely on groceries and eating out. My other categories, including entertainment ($20 budgeted), personal maintenance ($30 budgeted), and other ($150 budgeted) have not been as big of a problem – I’ve never gone over in entertainment or personal maintenance since I started blogging!! And in the past it made me feel uncomfortable to carry so much cash. BUT, my wallet actually has 2 separate money tabs. I’m going to designate one as being for groceries and the other for eating out. This way I won’t be carrying paper envelopes, I’ll always have my money with me (instead of accidentally leaving an envelope at home), and I’ll be limiting my cash-on-hand to only 2 categories instead of 5.

Oh yes, this is happening. A modified envelope system is back! I’ll let you know how it goes.

Pssst:  I’m spending the weekend hanging with my family who is in town visiting! I’ll be back Monday with a full budget update from the month of September.

PS: Thanks to the reader whom, in my old money envelope posts, had given me this idea by saying that she simply used a regular wallet and labeled the tabs for different categories.

 


Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes!!!!

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There are a couple of big financial changes happening over here. I’ve been hinting at these, but I wanted to wait until things were official before sharing with you guys.

Let’s start with the first financial change….

  1. I’m starting to pay on my student loans now. This is actually something that was brought to my attention when Liz from Great Lakes posted on my very first debt update (nitty gritty debt details. Side note: some of you thought we should declare bankruptcy when you first saw those numbers! My, how things change in 4 short months!). I don’t even have Great Lakes as a carrier of my loans, and I know Adam had mentioned issues with them (and I’ve seen other commenters complain about payment problems), but I am very grateful for that post.

Liz mentioned that I may qualify for Income Based Repayment (IBR) to get a lower monthly payment. The real “cincher” though, in me deciding to sign up for IBR, is this: the total cost of my student loans continue to rise every month due to accumulating interest. Under IBR, “the government will pay your unpaid accrued interest on your subsidized loans for up to three consecutive years from the date you begin repaying your loans.” (see here: http://askheatherjarvis.com/blog/pay-as-you-earn-hotter-than-IBR). That means I can continue focusing on paying down my car debt without my student loans continuing to gain interest.

There is some controversy about IBR plans. Under this plan, any remaining student loan balance is forgiven after 20 years of qualifying payment. Obviously people have a lot of strong feelings about this. Let me be perfectly clear: I fully intend to have my loans paid off well before the “20 year” period. This means I intend to pay my loans in full without relying on the government for any forgiveness (big exception = forgiveness of some unpaid interest, but none of the principal). Additionally, I will actually pay for most of the interest because, after the car is gone, we will start attacking the student loan debt more seriously and will be paying above the minimum IBR payments. But in the meantime, I really appreciate that my loans won’t continue racking up interest.

What does this mean for my budget? Overall, the amount we pay toward my student loans is going to go up (since most are currently in deferment). The monthly payment is going to be in the $500ish range (about $250 each toward Sallie Mae and ACS). But that’s a far cry from $1100 (which is what it would be otherwise after deferment ends), so it’s a fair trade. Instead of waiting until February when my loans come out of deferment, I’m starting repayment with IBR now. (side note: see current budget here)

  1. We are starting a new childcare situation. This is the change I really didn’t feel comfortable talking about until it was “done.” And, because of this whole situation, I also really don’t feel comfortable explaining my reasoning and rationale for this. We’ll simply have to file it under the “personal” label of “personal finance” and roll from here, knowing that this is what is best for our family right now.

Unfortunately, our childcare changes have come at a cost. A BIG cost. Instead of paying $50/day, we’ll be paying $125/day. Yep. A BIG increase. To try to offset these costs a bit, we’ve reduced our child care to two days a week (instead of 3). This means we’ll be paying more, but for less care. Instead of $150/week (for 3 days of care), we’ll be paying $250/week (for 2 days of care). Just to continue with the math for you, this means our monthly cost will be roughly $1000 (for a 4 week month), instead of only $600.

My hope is that this will not be the situation forever. Once the girls (who just turned 2) are potty-trained, a bunch of additional and more cost-effective options open up. My goal is to try to get them potty trained by about 2.5, so we’ll be able to switch to a different place in about 6 months and pay significantly less. We shall see.

So I hope this explains some of the vagueness of my posts the past couple weeks while I’ve been trying to sort the whole childcare situation out. I am not going to lie – going down to 2 days a week has already been tough work-wise. I’m having to work a lot more late evenings when the girls are in bed and just generally trying to be more efficient. If this were a “forever” situation, I don’t know that it would be viable given my work-load. However, I keep reminding myself that this is a temporary, relatively short-term solution (for hopefully only about 6 months). Also, my work-load is extra heavy right now as it is summer session for the courses I teach, which is much more condensed than the regular semester. When the Fall semester starts, my grading will be spread out further, meaning the courses won’t be quite as demanding as they currently are.

In the meantime, I apologize for some of the babbling and otherwise hasty posts you may be seeing from me! I used to have the luxury of spending much more time writing and editing posts and now I feel more of a need to get them thrown up quickly so I can move onto my next task.

In this spirit, I need to get going.

I hope you all have a Happy Friday and a safe and happy weekend! See you on Monday!!!