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Weekly Debt Update #28- Debt Reduction Postponed

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Hey everybody and happy Tuesday!

There’s been a lot of talk on this blog lately with respect to the the proper amount of cash savings to have on hand in case of an emergency. If you haven’t yet ready my post and the subsequent comments, I suggest you do here. Ashley also wrote some great posts about this topic yesterday, here, and here. Based on the comments on my post, as well as Ashley’s, a case can be made for both:

1) keeping your EF low and paying off the debt as quickly as possible and

2) saving up 3-6 months worth of expenses before tackling at debt.

After doing some thinking and sleeping on it for a couple of nights, I’m going to pursue item #2. Based on my current expenses, 3 months worth would put me at $3,803.31. This is assuming I would cut out my internet service, my YMCA membership, cut back on gas, and cut out anything I could that could be considered “extra”. I think I would feel more comfortable in the $4,000-$5,000 range. However, this means I won’t be paying anything except monthly minimums on my student loans for the time being.

As for a timeline: I feel like I could have this saved up by February. At the point at which I have my target savings in hand, I will do what I need to do to keep this savings untouched for the duration of my debt payoff. As many of you have already observed, for the last few years, I have kept all my emergency funding, short-term savings and long-term savings in one account which has continually gone up and down as I saw fit. I’d like to get better at making future projections, in terms of costs, so I that I can weather them without dipping into my newly formed EF.

What this all means is that after today I will no longer be providing any “Weekly Debt Updates”. Instead, I’ll post weekly updates respective to me achieving my savings goal. Once my goal is reached, I’ll continue my “Weekly Debt Updates” where it left off today.

I’d love to hear more feedback in the comments.

As for my last debt update for a little while, here you go:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Update
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,063.69$4,773.55$598.92
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,506.00$3,691.02$50.32
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$0.00$10,350.18$0.00
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$41,569.72$69,017.94$649.24

Have a great week!


Savings versus Debt

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Just to piggyback on my earlier post….

What do you guys think about this?

Screen Shot 2015-11-13 at 4.35.52 PM

Image from this article.

Apparently the image was originally from a poster on Reddit, who advocated a minimum 3-6 months of savings in an EF as well as a steady 401(k) contribution (up to employer match) prior to tackling debt.

It seems to me based on some recent conversations (occurring inside the comments sections of a few posts), that this is the approach advocated by some of our readers.

Of course, for any Ramsey followers (who, admittedly, is one of the first people to get me into personal finance, although I don’t blindly follow all his teachings; I pick and choose what works for me), this is drastically different than what is recommended. Ramsey’s Baby Steps  advocate (#1) starting with a $1,000 beginner emergency fund. His argument is that most unexpected emergencies are about $1,000 or less, so that should be an adequate fund for most people. In my own debt-reduction experience, we’ve had a handful of emergencies (e.g., emergency root canal, emergency car repairs). All of our emergencies except one have been under $1,000. And the one time we had to raid our EF for over $1,000 was this past August. It was not actually due to any large emergency expense, but due to a lack of income! I don’t get paid in August (just due to normal schedule of payment) and hubs ended up having a no-income month that month (he has a variable income). So, really, I would consider this more of a factor related to variable income rather than due to an emergency, per se.

Ramsey’s next baby step (#2) is to pay off all debt but a mortgage, followed by (#3) going back and re-stocking the EF up to 3-6 months expense.

Obviously a very different approach, right?

What other factors do you think are important?

I think for single people, people without kids, people with low monthly expenses, renters, and people with steady/predictable income a lower EF might be sufficient. I also think it depends on the size of the debt (e.g., will it take 3 months to pay off or 3 years to pay off? I’m more likely to be “ok” with a smaller EF for a short period of time rather than a long one).

I’ve also seen some arguments over what debt should be considered high versus low priority. Some people are okay with student loans and car loans hanging around for awhile, though almost everyone is in agreement that credit card debt should be tackled quickly!  I’m of the mind that I want ALL my debt gone. That being said, I’ve still prioritized my debt such that I have paid/plan to pay: (1) credit cards, (2) car, (3) student loans (4) medical bills. To me, our medical debt that has no interest is way less burdensome than my student loans (mostly at 6.5% interest), even though the overall amount of the student loan debt is significantly larger than the medical debt.

Those are just my thoughts.

How have you prioritized debt repayment savings? And, among your various forms of debt, how have you ordered or prioritized which debt to pay first? Do you do the snowball method (smallest debt first), avalanche method (highest interest first), or some other arrangement (such as the most personally satisfying)?

Personal finance is just that – personal. So I don’t think there’s one “right” or “wrong” answer and I think there are multiple different routes to the same end-goal (being DEBT FREE with a good financial security net). Just curious about your thoughts on the matter!


Car Inspection and Winter Hobbies

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Happy Tuesday everyone!

From my last post, I discussed needing to save up for my car’s state inspection and emission’s test, which I had scheduled for November 9th. Well, that day came and passed and it hit me to the tune of $887.00, which was within the range I was expecting. I needed some work done, which I was told about over the summer, plus I decided to get 4 new tires. Although they passed inspection, the mechanic told me they would have failed given another month of driving. To be honest, I was surprised they even passed at all. Instead of delaying the cost to next year, I decided to get a new set and just take the hit today. But now that this is out of the way, I could either 1) Replenish my EF (or savings, or slush fund, I’m not sure what to call it at this point), again or 2) Start tackling my loans. Personally, I want to see how long I can do #2, before I have to do #1- which should take me into the New Year, at least. I want to get back to paying off my loans as soon as possible (I’m getting very antsy to do so), which could be as early as today, even with only $1,000 in my EF. My goal would be to get below $40,000 before the end of the year, before contributing to my EF again. What are your thoughts on this?

Also, I have some exciting news on the hobby front. After taking a month off from playing guitar in September and half of October, I got back into it, like REALLY into it. I’ve probably put in 2-3 hours a night during the week and 5+ hours per day during the weekend, even spending some time at our city library to try and wrap my head around music theory. A little background: being in a band has been a dream of mine for the better part of ten years. While I have had some jam sessions with other friends who play guitar, they’re mostly just starting out and weren’t as interested in starting a band. Anyway, I put an ad out last week looking for other people who may want to jam/start a band, and I received a reply! We hung out this past week, and I think it looks really promising! The whole experience of putting myself out there and taking action with it was such a rush, as I’ve only played for my girlfriend and those few friends before.

The problem with this whole scenario is that equipment is EXPENSIVE. I have a guitar that is performance quality, but I don’t have anything else that’s up to par. I would need a new amp and speaker cabinets, pedals, and all the other miscellaneous hardware that comes with putting on a live show. But…we aren’t even close to this point, and I’ll likely be out of debt before I worry about gigging. For right now, I guess, it’s just something in the back of my mind.

What are some hobbies you guys have? Has money ever become a factor for them?

I hope everyone has a great week!


3 Financial Issues

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Hi friends!

First, I just want to apologize for the fewer blog posts as of late. I’ve typically been really good about posting a minimum of 2 per Monday (sometimes 3) plus one more on Thursday or Friday. But the past couple weeks it’s been tough to find the time for even one post! It’s not that I don’t have anything to talk about. Trust me – I could talk PLENTY about our finances/budget/etc. It’s just that there’s never enough time! Now that the semester is really going strong it’s like a balancing act to keep everything together. I love my jobs (both of them) and am so thankful for them, but they require a lot of time and between work and dealing with my father’s health issues….well, saying I feel a bit overwhelmed is an understatement. Regarding the latter, we’re hoping to have his move to Texas (closer to family) complete-ish in the next couple weeks. I say “ish” because there will still be lots left at his house in Utah that my siblings and I will have to deal with in the coming months. But as much as we want to get the house on the market ASAP, we’re thankful to be in a financial position where we have the flexibility to let it sit a couple months until we have the proper time to deal with it all. Regarding this – anyone have experience with selling a (still furnished, in need of some repair) home out-of-state? I’m hoping we can hire an estate planner person to go sell the remaining stuff and subcontract out any needed repair work. We’ll also have to hire a lawn company and perhaps a cleaning service to keep it looking nice while it’s vacant and on the market. Any tips or suggestions in this regard?

That aside, I really had planned for the purpose of this post to be about 3 financial issues I’ve dealt with this month.

  1. Comcast:  In my last budget post I mentioned that I’d been dealing with some cable/internet provider issues. Our bill has typically been around $110-ish, but then I received a bill in August for $150!! I’d called and thought everything was resolved…until I got a new September bill also for $150! No way, Comcast! Not today! You’ve messed with the wrong person! Generally when these issues pop up it’s 100% worth it to go into the store (the local branches have infinitely better customer service than the call center people). But I logistically couldn’t make it happen between work and childcare schedules. So I called and basically geared up for a fight (though, to be clear, I always try to remain respectful when in these types of situations. It’s easier to catch flies with honey than vinegar!) I did have to ask for a manager, but I explained the situation – basically, last month they said they’d given me a credit and all was resolved, but in fact the current month bill shows that my payment was considered a partial payment. Meaning, there was no credit ever given to my account. So it showed I still owed the remaining balance. I’ve found that it helps when you tell the manager exactly what will make you happy. I mean, be reasonable. But it’s not okay to scream and yell and pitch a fit. No one wins in that scenario. Instead, have some idea of a compromise or solution that will fix the problem and be mutually beneficial for both parties. I already had in mind my solution:  just give me a credit that will take my bill down to $110 (the normal monthly payment). I’m already in a new promo rate so I don’t want to change that, but I refuse to pay the full $150 bill when I’d been told my account had been credited, all was resolved, yada yada yada. So make my bill $110, and we’ll be good. The manager had me hold for a minute and did one better. Gave me a credit so my current month’s bill is $97.02. Even better than what I’d asked for. Next month should be back to the regular rate (about $110ish). This time, I got the manager’s name and took notes of the call so I have them for reference just-in-case. But I’m hopeful that this situation is now fully resolved.
  2. Phone service: A couple months ago we switched phone providers to get a (slightly) better rate and get a free upgrade to newer phones. After canceling we received a GIANT ($250) phone bill from our old provider. But part of the deal with our switch is that our new provider would reimburse us the cancellation fee to buy us out of the contract. Rather than send us a check, they just take it off our our bill. So last month we had a huge bill to pay (to our old provider), but I was hoping it would even out this month when we got our new provider’s bill, showing the $250 credit. Turns out all is good in that area. This month we’ll have a much lower bill (but to remind you so it’s not a surprise with my next budget post – I’d fudged my August budget a bit. I paid the full $250 for the old phone network last month, but I cheated a little and split it half-way in this month. So I’ll still be reporting charges this month in my budget update at the end of the month. But really that was money that was paid for awhile ago). In October, things in this regard will be all smoothed over and we’ll be comfortably paying our new bill.
  3. Navient. Y’all. I can’t even. I cannot. Remember my “best day ever” post where I said my Navient issue was resolved? Ha! Nope! It seriously makes me so angry just thinking about it so I’m going to keep this brief for the sake of my blood pressure and psychological wellbeing. Long story short – issue is NOT resolved. They still have my loan (which was just transferred from another loan servicer, ACS) categorized as unsubsidized. They claim its a valid unsubsidized loan. Many, many hours (literal hours) of my life have been spent talking to all kinds of people – Navient’s customer service, Navient’s escalation department, the loan guarantor, national student loan database services, and on and on and on. We’ve reached a point where I’ve had to contact a loan mediation service (it’s free for me – part of the federal government, I guess). But they don’t move quickly. My last call to them was Friday and they said I wouldn’t hear back for 7-10 business days. So, yeah. In the meantime, I’m being charged interest out the wazoo for this student loan that is supposed to be subsidized (and, therefore, unpaid interest is supposed to be forgiven). So its going to totally mess up my debt totals when I do my next debt update (hopefully coming this Thursday! I’ve been holding off hoping that I’d get this issue resolved so I could report accurate debt totals, but no dice). I swear this issue has taken years off my life due to the stress and headache of it all. I know on my last post many people suggested reaching out to a class action lawsuit attorney (since Navient has so many pending lawsuits against them for wrongfully charging extra interest, etc.). I’m hoping the mediation can help us come to a resolution. I’m just so strapped for time I don’t even know what to do. It’s a huge burden in my life and just makes me wish I could write a check and be debt-free today. It’s just so wrong and it feels like there’s no ramification. No way to hold them accountable. I feel a little bit defeated at this point. But I’m keeping the course with the mediation route and hoping for some success at the other end. I’ll keep you updated.

So that’s the update on my 3 financial issues. As per usual, this was way lengthier than I’d originally intended. heh. Guess I had a little time after all. I’ll try to get a debt update post put together for you guys for later this week (Thursday or Friday). Thanks for your support along the way!!!


Pumpkin Spice is BACK!!!!

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If you are like me, you anxiously await the return of pumpkin season since….well, since the last pumpkin season ended around New Years.

In fact, my mother-in-law gifted me a Starbucks gift card as a congratulation when I was first hired at the new job (so sweet of her, right?!). I purposely saved it and used it literally the first day that Starbucks had their pumpkin spice latte back. As in – I got my first PSL on the big preview day that required a special passcode. I was SO, SO excited because this is the first year that they have actual pumpkin in their pumpkin spiced latte. Yes, I’m that much of a super-fan to know these things (and I also follow TheRealPSL on twitter. Yes, it’s a thing).

And call me a trendsetter – I’ve been adding REAL pumpkin to my homemade version for years (see my post from last year as proof).

Here’s the lineup of key players

IMG_0370

 

Sorry for the terrible lighting! It was EARLY (= no sunlight) when I made my coffee and took this picture!

I start with a good vanilla flavored coffee (because vanilla + pumpkin = heaven!) I add a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice. Then I throw a heaping teaspoon of PUMPKIN into the bottom of my coffee cup and brew my coffee, pouring it in while still steaming hot and stir in the pumpkin until it dissolves. I like to add milk (almond milk for me) and sweetener (I use agave). If you’re feeling extra indulgent, add a little whipped cream on top. If you aren’t using vanilla coffee beans (like me), then I also suggest adding a tiny dash of pure vanilla to your coffee, too (buy it at Costco for cheap).

Heaven in a glass, I tell you!

IMG_0371

So if you want to save lots of money but still want to indulge in the famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, then try my homemade version. You will NOT regret it!

What’s your favorite pumpkin treat? Are you all aboard the pumpkin train or is it not your thing? What other seasonal food do you prefer instead?


Hand-me-downs

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We lucked out this weekend!

One of my very good friends recently moved out-of-state. She owned a home here and, although she took most of her furniture, she left a few key pieces in her home for staging purposes. Her mom lives in town so she’s been helping maintain the property while its been on the market.

Well, the house has sold and passed inspection and with the closing date coming up quickly, her Mom reached out to me to ask if I was interested in any of the stuff in the house. My friend’s Mom is a little older and has no interest in trying to sell the stuff through craiglist or something similar. She doesn’t need the money and doesn’t want to deal with the hassle.

So as soon as hubs had a day off we loaded up and headed over with both vehicles (hubs’ work truck & my Explorer). I was expecting mostly artwork and wall hangings. What we ended up with was enough to furnish a small apartment!

We got a new leather sofa, 2 end tables, a nice leather chair, a queen bed and bed frame, some mature potted plants, a big utility shelf for the garage, a couple lamps, some patio furniture, and about a million throw pillows and pieces of artwork.

I was absolutely over the moon!

Right now we’ve got everything moved into our house. We already threw away our old guest bed (truly too old/gross to even donate, as our dog has eaten a hole in the mattress that we have done a make-shift “patch” job, but is not adequate even for donation), we have the couch in the guest room, and we’ve scattered other pieces of furniture and artwork throughout our house (patio furniture in the backyard).  We’ve debated possibly selling some of the nicer furniture pieces (like couch and leather chair), but want to keep it for the time being in the case that we end up moving to a larger place that we may be able to furnish with some of this stuff next year. But it’s nice to know we’ve got possibilities, too, because I do think we’d be able to get a few hundred for the furniture if we were to list it for sale.

These types of scores are few and far between given that we live out-of-state from any family members and from the majority of our friends. But I feel very grateful for these items and it’s also made me appreciate the things we already own that much more. After the “move” (It really felt like we were moving!!! There was so much stuff!) we spent the rest of the afternoon doing a pretty thorough cleaning of our current stuff. It’s been a long time since the couches got a really good scrubbing, cushions removed for vacuuming, etc. Taking care of our possessions is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to make our things last as long as they have. And with any luck we’ll have these new things for years to come also!

Who needs new? Hand-me-downs are good as new, if you ask me (not to mention a heck of a lot cheaper!). Oh, how far we’ve come from the days of financed king-sized beds (remember that???) Never again, my friends! Never again!


Weekly Debt Update #23- Retirement Contributions Past, Present and Future

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Hey everyone! I hope you all are having a great start to your week.

After I posted last week of my after debt plans (here), there was some outcry, confusion and wonder over my retirement plan. Here’s the statement in it’s entirety:

“I’m going to decrease my 401K contribution to the minimum (4%) to get the company match. I’ll use a fairly good portion of my after tax income to fund an investment account for a, hopefully, early retirement. I’d like to do between $300-$400 a week. This is a big one, since I want to save up a pretty large nest egg, but there’s a ton I feel like I’m putting off (like home renovations) that I could do with an extra $400 a month.”

After reading your comments and looking back and this statement, I left a lot of my recent activity and thinking on the subject off the table. But before I go into depth on my present and future retirement plans, I want to give you a history of what I’ve I’ve done previously.

  • At the start of my career, in May of 2009 with the federal government (in the Dept of Veterans Affairs), I started out contributing 3% of my salary to the federal government’s form of the 401k- the Thrift Savings Plan, or TPS, for short. I knew up front that the government would match every percent to 5%, but I also felt I needed every penny to pay my rent, utilities, food and looming student loans. At least I knew enough to contribute SOMETHING. What I didn’t realize at the time (but learned sometime after) is that the government will provide 1% of your salary (w/no match) into a separate money market account as a FERS (federal employees retirement system) basic benefit.
  • After a year of service I not only got a substantial raise, but a fellow employee found out I wasn’t contributed enough to max out the government match. I got a good scolding (she was a motherly type) and increased my contributions to 5% for the remainder of my stay with the government.
  • At the point I left the government in January of 2013, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 in the TPS account and $1,500 in the basic benefit account. When you leave the government, you can either elect to cash out the basic benefit (which was tax deferred) or leave it with the government if you plan on returning. I elected to take the money, which I used to pay down my student loans.
  • When I started with my new company, they have a policy that new employees need 6 months of service before you are eligible for their 401k program. I started at the end of January 2013, and with my six months plus some waiting time for the next enrollment period, I got into the 401k program in November of 2013. I immediately started contributing 4% to get the company match. The company match, however, is subject to vesting: you get 20% on your 2nd anniversary and an additional 20% for every year after until you are fully vested on your 6 year anniversary.
  • I was in the 401k program for 10 months when I met with a Dave Ramsey endorsed CPA in September of 2014. While I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, I do agree that he’s helped a lot of people get out of debt with his debt free program, so I used his service to find a local CPA (plus I didn’t know how else to look someone up). After giving the CPA my story and financial run down, he agreed that I should cash in my government TPS account and stop contributions to my current 401k. I immediately did both of these (well documented in my first few posts here).
  • After 7 months of not contributing anything, I elected to go back to 4% in May and having feeling this still wasn’t enough, I’m now at 10%. My current vested balance is $6,200.

So that’s my history on the subject. Recently (within the past month), I met with a retirement adviser that my company utilizes to oversee the 401k program. After telling him my history, my financial rundown and future plans (the early retirement/financial freedom) he gave me some advise to stop all but the 4% contributions and instead contribute into a non-retirement investment portfolio (one with minimal fees) once I’m debt free. His logic was that if I want to retire at or around 40 (the age I gave him when he asked) I would want to have immediate access to the money without having to worry about income taxes and penalties that are associated with 401k’s. He also suggested that I could split the investments into a Roth IRA and the investment portfolio. This would give me two pots of money, one for pre-55 and one post 55. So that pretty much sums up the rationale behind my previous post. As a few of you said, my thinking nd history on the subject appears scattered, but I would say it IS scattered. I got some amazing feedback on what to do on my last post (looking at you, Angie), but I would like more. Any help is appreciated- anecdotes, references, tips, anything on the subject would help give me some clarity.

As for my current debt balances, here you go:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,719.92$4,117.32$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,604.04$3,592.98$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$4,045.23$6,304.95$410.45
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$46,369.19$64,218.47$410.45

I hope everyone has a great week!


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