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A/C is on….

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It could only last so long, right?

After our outrageous electric bill back in February I turned the A/C totally OFF and it has remained that way ever since. The impact on our bill has been HUGE! Our most recent bill (to be paid this month) is less than one hundred dollars! I think that’s the lowest electric bill we’ve ever received!!!

In my last budget update I’d mentioned that I wasn’t sure how long it would last. We’ve had a few days in the mid-90’s temperature range, and it’s been a little tough to deal with the heat lingering around well into the night. Even so, I was secretly hoping to leave the A/C fully off until after our cruise (which would put us in early May).

Not so much. heh.

I got home the other day from work after what had been another day in the mid-90s and the FIRST thing I notice is a sound….the sound of the air conditioner running.

Gotta love sweet hubs. He set the thermostat at 80 degrees, so it’s still quite high and the A/C isn’t running for long. But he’d been off work early that day and the house was just too hot to handle. Fine. So we compromised on an 80* setting for the time being.

I don’t anticipate this having a huge impact on our electric bill or anything. Living in Tucson we have some HOT summers so we always have higher electric bills in summer when the A/C is busy cranking away for most of the day. But it makes it a bit more “real.” Summer is right around the corner. The hot temps are already coming in full-force. It will be interesting what next month’s bill will be.

 


Make a Wish

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Hi all! Happy Monday!

Sorry I’ve been a bit quiet over here lately. Last week was a tough one. The girls missed two days of preschool due to illness (the frequency of illness this Spring has been crazy!), then I got sick, throw in some Dad-related drama and by Sunday night I was just barely keeping it together. I’ve written a whole post in my head about Easter and now here we are 2 weeks later, my phone seems to have swallowed our pictures (not really, I can see them on the phone…but they will NOT send when I’ve tried to email them to myself and I’m having some upload error when I’ve tried to manually plug-in to my computer.) So…I’m giving up on it at this point. You have to know when to pick your battles, right? ; )  Cliff’s Note version of the post:  I hoarded saved free stuff we got from our neighborhood & church Easter egg hunts. On actual Easter I didn’t have to buy a single thing. I re-used eggs, re-distributed candy (they don’t need much anyway), and filled in some empty eggs with pennies. We had 60+ eggs total and baskets were overflowing. We did dye easter eggs (using food coloring – no store-purchased dying set), but the extra dozen eggs were literally the only thing I had to buy! The grandparents both sent little Easter packages so the girls did get some new stuff (stuffed bunnies, sunglasses, a couple outfits), but hubs and I spent zero out-of-pocket and we still had a fabulous Easter! It can be done frugally, folks!

Moving on….(and, sorry there was no photo to accompany that. Like I said, I have to give up and move on at this point)….

Has anyone ever heard of the app, Wish?

It’s an app you can download and shop for cheap stuff on your phone. All of the items are coming from overseas (I believe they’re all Chinese manufacturers). The app essentially gets rid of the middle-man and puts consumers directly in touch with the manufacturers. Because of this, you can get stuff for pennies compared to store-bought stuff. According to this article, this is the first ever site that was designed specifically for people to shop through the app. No need to use a bulky computer or go to a phyiscal store. The shopping process really couldn’t be easier.

I’ve actually been using Wish for a few weeks to buy random things here and there for our cruise. Check out these adorable swimsuits I bought for the girls:

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(don’t ask me why i could get this photo and not the Easter ones. I don’t know)

They do have some down-sides. The big one is that the sizing is pretty consistently off. Everything is a bit smaller than standard American sizes, so I’ve always ordered up a size. The shipping takes awhile, too, up to 2-3 weeks.

But that being said, I’ve been receiving crazy compliments on everything I’ve gotten so far. It’s cute stuff and for CHEAP!

I hesitated to even share anything about this app with you guys. The main thing is that I was worried it was totally exploiting children labor and I didn’t want to contribute to that or suggest anyone else do so either. But my understanding from doing a bit of research is that the Wish app vets out the different manufacturers and will drop people who do not conform to the app standards. Admittedly, I don’t know that this is 100%, as I’ve seen some knock-off Polo or other name-brand items and I can’t be sure what’s going on at the manufacturing-level. But the app represents these places as the same types of places who sell to American stores already. The only difference is you don’t have to pay the mark-up because you get the item directly from them. So that puts my mind a little bit more at ease.

I want to be 100% up front that this post is not sponsored, nor have I received any type of compensation for this post. Actually, they have no idea that I even blog here. I’m just passing it along because I’ve been so impressed with the app. If you have the time to spare and are okay with ordering things without trying them on (and, read the reviews! They’ll help guide your sizing decisions), then this is a great way to save serious money! I think it’s on-par with second-hand prices, only you’re getting brand new stuff that’s really cute and fashionable.

You’ll see a mention about Wish in my next budget update (coming soon – probably Friday) because I’ve bought some clothes from there that will be appearing in the clothing line-item of my budget.

Let me know what you think if you use Wish.

Are there any other really cheap direct-to-buyer apps I need to know about? 

 


New Shoes and Sports

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I could certainly relate when Ashley wrote about her daughters’ First Children’s Activity; while that was many years ago for me, I remember it vividly…Mommy & Me Gymnastics classes…me with two children.  Little Gymnast and Princess must have been 2 and 3 respectively at the time.  If I could do it again…well, I probably wouldn’t.  It was a lot of work keeping track of two during the class, but I do remember it being fun too.

So this week I splurged just a little bit.  I know, not the best idea when you are struggling to pay the most basic bills, but in my defense, I have been hired to do 4 websites this month in addition to my on-going part time job and new part time job starting next month, so I’m not just twiddling my thumbs.

First splurge, knowing that we are now going to be staying here when our lease is over in April and that school would also be over for us, I decided to sign the kids up for a new activity session (spring session, Princess has been playing basketball during the winter session.)  So Sea Cadet, Gymnast and Princess will all be playing volleyball for the spring session and Princess will also be playing softball.  This will give us something to do and get us out of the RV for a few hours each day.  The total cost for all four activities was $185 and the season will run from March thru the end of May.  This will take us right into swim season so I’m happy with it.

Second splurge, new athletic shoes for the four kids.  All the kids were overdue for new athletic shoes and in light of the new sports, I decided to bite the bullet and buy them.  I knew I wanted name brand shoes that had lots of support, all my kids are really rough on their shoes.  So Rack Room shoes, buy one get one half off combined with an earned $15 discount from their loyalty program that I had been saving, plus a gift card from returning shoes Princess received for Christmas…and all of them got shoes they wanted, fit them well and are exactly the support I wanted.  Average cost of shoes $45 per pair.  I’m please with that.  (All my kids are now in adult sizes with two of them with exceptionally large feet, so felt like this was a great bargain.)

I did not make these financial decisions lightly, especially looking at bills that are past due, but I am pleased with them and feel that the intrinsic reward my family will get from these two purchases will far outweigh the financial cost.  And I am continuing to seek more work and make much healthier financial decisions overall.

 


Ashley’s December 2015 Debt Update

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Here we are on the last day of the month/year. How has your December been?

Aside from a couple little financial hiccups, ours has been fabulous! During the school break I’ve actually unplugged for full days at a time (a rarity, especially when you work online!) and its been great to just be around and enjoy family without constantly checking email!

But let’s not forget why we’re here. We had some lofty goals in terms of debt repayment that I wasn’t sure we’d meet this month (in fact, I have said several times we probably would not meet our goals).

After all the dust settled and the paychecks had been cashed, let’s see how things shaped up this month.

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-2.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
Navient$82,1776.55%-8.25%$277December$80761
ACS Student Loans$85966.55%$20December$8215
PenFed Car Loan$31812.49%$1800December$24040
Balance Transfer student loan (Former Navient 1-01)$26120% (through April 2016)$400December$5937
Medical Bills$59360%$25December$9000
Totals$102,502 (Nov balance = 104,704)$2522Starting Debt = $145,472

After all was said and done, we ended up paying just over $2500 in debt this month. Our initial debt payment was actually about $300 lower than this, but I squeezed every spare penny out of the budget and was able to make an additional last-minute (December 30th) extra payment to the car loan.

Our final consumer-related debt, the car, is now at a balance of $3,181. And our overall debt balance is at $102,502. So we did NOT make our goals of paying off the car or dipping below $100k in debt this month as we had hoped. 

That being said, come hell or high water, we will meet both of these goals in January. So we’ll be a few weeks behind the initial goal, but not by much.

Another one of our 2015 Financial Goals included paying $30,000 total toward debt during the year. Here’s where our final debt payment numbers landed:

January $1678
February $1822
March $653
April $1796
May $1708
June $725
July $2125
August $2250
September $2575
October $5513
November $2751
December $2522
Total $26118

So, again, we didn’t quite meet our goal, but we weren’t terribly far off either.

Overall, I’m quite proud of how well we’ve done in 2015. Let’s not forget that hubs’ business has had a bit of a rough year. His income wasn’t as high as it was in 2014 (and he had a couple months with no income whatsoever). Plus, I didn’t start my full-time job until the end of summer, so my income didn’t increase until the second half of the year.

When I set our goals, I always like to set “reaching” goals. This means they’re not easily attainable in-the-bag type goals. They’re goals where the numbers don’t quite work and, yet, I set the goals anyway because I want something to reach for and work toward. So the fact that we didn’t quite make our goals doesn’t bother me as much as one might think (though, don’t get me wrong, I would have LOVED to reach our goals!). My point is simply that I think the goals did their job. They made us work hard to try to do something crazy – something the numbers said wouldn’t or couldn’t work. And we made incredible progress, so that’s something to be proud of.

And, I have a mini-secret up my sleeve. My “ace in the hole”, if you will.

Just as former blogger Adam posted that he and Emily are effectively debt free (see their update here), I have similar news to share. You know how every month I’ve reported that I’ve been saving money toward Cruise 2016? Well, guess what…

As of this month (December 2015), I have $3,300 in one of my Capital One 360 savings accounts for the cruise. But the next cruise payment isn’t due until February 2016. So what I’m saying is that we actually have enough liquid cash available to be entirely consumer debt-free today.

In fact, I had initially planned to “steal” from myself (from the cruise fund), pay off the car in full, and then spend January/February re-saving that money for the cruise. However, after the unexpected extra expenses this month coupled with the fact that we really have little-to-no additional savings to speak of right now (not to mention we’re still in Texas so if we encountered any problems on the trip back to Arizona, etc.) I wanted to err on the side of caution and keep that money in the bank.

That being said, mark my words:  We will be consumer debt-free in January 2016. Hopefully we’ll be able to do it the old fashioned way (i.e., using our pay to finish paying off the last consumer debt). But even if something crazy happened, we had extra expenses or whatever, and we didn’t have enough money to quite cover the full amount of debt, I fully intend to use all our available capital (including the cruise fund) to MAKE SURE our consumer debts are fully eradicated before the end of January.

So we are effectively consumer debt-free now (in the sense that we have the money to pay off the last of our consumer debt), but we will become actually consumer debt-free within the next couple of weeks.

You can imagine that this is one of the biggest things on the forefront of my mind and I basically can’t shut up about it. My family has asked if it feels amazing and, although it feels pretty good, I still think there will be a big difference once I actually transfer the funds and see zeros on the balance owed of our vehicle. Just thinking about it makes me smile. And now I’m totally “that person” because I bought both my sister & my brother a copy of Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover for Christmas (during their $10 sale! Couldn’t pass it up!) Edited to add:  This is totally creepy, but the link to Ramsey’s book automatically appears, perhaps since it’s tagged to this post. I did NOT link it myself, nor is the link an affiliate link. In fact, it seems like I cannot remove the link without changing the wording of the post to not include the book’s name. Really weird/creepy, and I don’t particularly like that, but just wanted to be transparent that the link appears to be an auto-generated thing and I do NOT make any type of money or kick-back if you buy the book.

Just to be clear, I don’t blindly follow everything Ramsey says (as you can tell from my 2016 financial goals), but I do credit him (and Bobby Bones!) with jump-starting my mission to become debt-free. And I want to spread the message to those I love! What better gift to give than the gift of financial freedom? LOL. A bit of hyperbole (it’s not like I’m paying off anyone else’s debt), but it’s like giving a roadmap that can help others, so of course I want to share that information!

Anyway, this post has become entirely too long and I’ve got to run! New Years Eve is my birthday and I have lots of fun plans for family time, getting my hair professionally cut/colored (gift from my Mom and the first professional job in a really long time), lunch with my Dad, sparklers with the kids, etc. etc. etc.

I wish everyone a safe and happy New Years! I’ll catch you on the flip side! 😉


Savings versus Debt

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Just to piggyback on my earlier post….

What do you guys think about this?

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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!


Family Photos

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One thing we cut out of our family budget while in debt-reduction mode has been family photos. Last year for our holiday cards I used a photo I’d taken myself (see here). The last time we had professional photos taken (2 years ago), we’d used a groupon and went to the JC Penny Portrait Studio. But it was kind of a rip-off. The photos were just so-so, we felt rushed (had 15 minutes total), only a couple different poses, and then we were nickel and dimed for everything. I think we got to pick 2 prints and if we wanted more we had to pay extra. Plus the images we received were actual prints. If we wanted digital copies (for printing holiday cards), it cost extra. In all (portrait fee + prints + digital images) we paid $75 (I actually looked up our spending so this is a true figure). Apparently the price has gone up, because according to their website, a similar package (portraits + prints + digital images) will now run you $100-$150 depending on whether you use a coupon (See here).

Do we need new family photos?

No. Absolutely not. Professional photos are a want, not a need.

But toward the end of October (which happened to be a fantastic month financially for us; see budget update here), one of my good friends mentioned how her family was getting family photos, blah blah blah. Next thing you know, I was calling to schedule photos the same day/location, just an hour before my friend.

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I am IN LOVE with the photos! The photographer did an amazing job, particularly since we had two sniffly/cold-striken toddlers (who, as I’m sure you can image, are not easy to work with).

But you know what I love just as much as the photos? The price.

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We paid $150 for the photographer’s time, some prints (1 8×10, 2 5×7, 1 sheet of wallets), and access to ALL the digital images (over 100 images in total). Plus, we lucked out because my friend (who had referred us to the photographer) was late to her session. The package was only for 30 minutes of time, but when my friend was running late, the photographer just kept snapping away, in no hurry to be done with us. We ended up getting photographed for over an hour of her time!

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And, I mean, LOOK at these!!! ((heart swoon))

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Of course, as fate would have it, November is not shaping up to be nearly as lucrative financially as October was. So….dang.

Would I take back these photos?

Ehhhh, probably not. We’re a matter of months away from being consumer debt free. My heart longed for some real, professional quality family photos. And I’m blown away by these! I think a bi-annual family photography session seems pretty reasonable. Particularly in light of the fact that I don’t have any other great options for family photos (in the past people have suggested having a friend take our photo, but I’m not friends with any hobby photographers and my one friend that had a really nice quality camera moved away this summer).

So….yeah. I don’t mean for this to be somehow rubbing our fancy-pants photos in peoples’ faces. We’ve gone a long time without quality photos so this is certainly an exception rather than the norm for our family.

But I also didn’t want to lie or pretend like this never happened. I wasn’t sure how to categorize the spending of these photos (entertainment? Christmas spending?). I ended up using funds from our Christmas account since one of the primary purposes of the photos is to send out holiday cards. So you’ll see this in our November budget. Luckily, because we have a mini Capital One 360 savings account for Christmas-related spending, this expenditure shouldn’t have a big negative impact on our November budget.

Also, by reader request, here are a couple (very UNprofessional) photos of the girls in their $14 Costco Halloween costumes.

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At a neighbor’s house. They had set up a Halloween-themed backdrop for photos!

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Getting 2 toddlers to look at the camera at the same time = impossible. I have no idea how the professional photographer managed to do it!

Professional photos by E-Motions. Crappy iPhone camera photos by me. ; )

Happy Monday, y’all!

**Edited to add:

I mentioned getting family photos to my sister, who complained that she wanted new photos but couldn’t afford the cost. Her go-to photographer is $300/30-minute session (double the price of mine) and she said they’d easily spend another $200 on getting hair cut/colored and new clothes for the photos. At a whopping $500 cost, she couldn’t justify the expense in their family budget. 

But I totally disagree….it CAN be done, and for much cheaper than $500!

Our photographer was a steal. Hubs and I both wore clothes we already owned. I cut and colored my own hair, so no cost on any of that. The girls were wearing new tights and coats (I’d bought in October and mentioned in our budget post), but that’s because they needed new coats and tights (not specifically purchased for this photo). Everything else (boots, shoes, fluffy red skirts, shirts, etc.) were things they already owned. So, use what you have, go a cheaper route for hair care/maintenance, and shop around for a reasonably-priced photographer you like. If its important to you, it can be done on a budget. I promise!!!


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