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Finances & Fitness

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Hubs has become quite the fitness aficionado lately. Remember back in 2015 when he lost a ton of weight? He ended up losing 60 lbs. in total. In 2016 he was really just learning to maintain his weight through having a healthier lifestyle overall. He eats pretty clean, drinks lots of water, exercises regularly, etc. This year (2017) he decided he wanted to try to build some muscle mass. Well, mission = accomplished! I think his whole year was made last month when, while on our mom-&-dad getaway, a kid at the hotel’s pool area asked him if he was a professional bodybuilder! LOL! He ate up the compliment and was floating on Cloud 9 the rest of the day!

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As a disclaimer, I gotta say his “before” picture is in a shirt that was stained, not dirty. Hubs was a flooring contractor so all his work clothes eventually had stains all over them from glue, paint, etc. Just kinda gross to see all the “gunk” – it’s not just filth! Ha!

The truth is, hubs works hard for the gains he has made. Our summer has been a little more relaxed, but during the academic year he had been waking up faithfully at 4:45am so he could be at the gym at 5am when they opened, get in 1.5-2 hours of gym time, and be home in time to help get the girls dressed and ready for school. Even on vacation he went to the hotel gym daily. On our long driving days to and from Texas, he figured out creative ways to still get in his workouts by doing youtube videos using one’s own bodyweight for resistance, etc. When the rest of us want a bowl of ice cream after dinner, he prepares a bowl of fruit for himself. He’s dedicated like that.

I’ve wanted to get back on the whole fitness wagon lately. I used to be really into fitness, and while I would describe my current body-type as “average”, I’d love to get back to a place where I could consider myself “fit.” Unfortunately, I’ve found myself lacking motivation. The other day I was talking to hubs and asked him about how he stays so motivated – how he can push himself day after day to make healthy choices, sacrifice sleep for his gym time, choose the healthier food option when a sweet treat is right in his face, etc. I wish he had some secret trick I could share (or sell for $$$), but we all know that’s not the way it works. His response, “You just have to make the decision and stick with it.”

Me:  But it’s too hot to work out!

Him:  The gym has air conditioning. And you should be sweating while you’re working out anyway.

Me: But I’m tired!

Him: You won’t be after you get your heart rate up and going.

Me: UGH!!!!! BUT I DON’T WANT TO!!!

Him: Well….that’s your problem then. : )

As we talked about it, I couldn’t help but draw the parallels between FITNESS and FINANCES.

I recently admitted to letting our finances slip a bit over the summer. I’ve slacked off on a lot of the money-saving habits I used to have. It’s been months since I’ve designed our meal plans around sales and ads, for instance. I used to do that weekly – our meals were specifically planned based on the kinds of food on sale at our local grocers. It’s been years since I’ve done the envelope system. Or since I kept a “30 Day Wish List” prior to buying household stuff.

I think I’ve just been lacking motivation. To be honest, it’s probably been going on for awhile. I’ve been able to get away with it because our income has been high enough to compensate for some poor planning and spending habits. But when our income dropped, I really never buckled down. I never started the process of really trying to cut back significantly and, instead, I continued to spend like all was normal.

I’ve wanted to change, but I didn’t really want to put in the work to make it happen. Kind of like my fitness journey. Heh.

I don’t have any grandiose conclusion right now where I can say “That’s It! I’m back on the financially-fit bandwagon!” The truth is, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it, but not a lot of actions just yet. I really feel somewhat immobilized by our lower summer income (hub recently stopped working to go back to school and I had to leave my part-time job due to a noncompete at my full-time job). It feels like no matter what I do, I’m not sure that I can make our outflow match our inflow right now. It feels helpless. I’ve intentionally never given exact income figures (though it’s not a total surprise, as I’ve been pretty open about our budget and expenses, etc.). But just to give ballpark numbers, we went from earning a take-home salary of roughly $10,000/month….to right at $3,000/month. Practically overnight. Granted, these are take-home numbers (insurance is paid pre-tax, some of childcare and medical is paid pre-tax, mandatory 7% investment is pre-tax), so the low $3,000 number doesn’t mean we’re only making $36,000/year. We’re still making significantly more than that. But just in terms of dealing with take-home pay, we’ve experienced a huge drop over the last couple months.

My new raise goes into effect soon and as much as I am LOVING the academic freedom this summer, I can’t wait for August to roll around just so I’ll be able to experience my first full month with my new salary (remember that raise I got months ago but doesn’t go into effect until my new contract??? Can’t wait!!!).

ANYWAY…..

I just wanted to check in with you all and be honest and open about where I am in my debt journey right now. I have no doubts that we will make a full rebound. I know it. But right now I’m still just kind of limping my way through, trying to find that motivation that comes so naturally to my hubby.

Share a financial (or fitness-related, if you prefer) WIN you’ve made recently! I love hearing other’s successes!

How do you keep your motivation high when you’re not really feeling it? Fake it till you make it? Any other tips or strategies?


Money in the Bank

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I feel like I’ve hit a milestone today that I hadn’t really thought of…money in the bank.

I’m not talking about the 10% I’ve been setting aside in a hard to reach savings account. I’m talking about there being several hundred dollars in my primary daily living account that is not earmarked for some upcoming bill or that I’m watching like a hawk to make sure I can cover something that is coming up.  And the cool thing is, I get paid today too.

As this realization hit this morning, I was able to take a really deep breathe. And smile.

I’ve started working on a budget — really! And am also starting to think about giving back. I’ve had the opportunity of late to give back in small ways, but after what we have been through the last two years and all the blessings we received from others I really want to give back in some real tangible ways, not just sending a check to some big charity.  Something like paying someone’s electric bill as someone did from the BAD community did for us a few months. Or taking some kids back to school shopping. You get my drift. I know I have to put this in my budget AND I still have some debt to dig into.

A financial post will be forthcoming, but I just wanted to let you know that today, I smiled when I thought of my finances rather than trembling with fear or stressing about every day obligations.


How to Deal with New Financial Concerns for a New Generation

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In agrarian times, people were more concerned about crops than money. Then again, crops were money. No wheat, no eat. Contrary to the popular narrative, there has always been credit. People have always needed to borrow goods or services against the promise of future payment with interest.

Generation Xers share many of the same concerns as the agrarian. But along the way, we have developed a few concerns our forefathers and mothers didn’t have. The U.S. is a society of plenty. But it is burdened with epidemic levels of financial stress.

Every generation is convinced that people from the previous generation could not possibly understand what they are going through. And to some degree, they are right. Times, technologies, and social policies change. And personal finance is a different proposition for each passing generation. These are some of the concerns of the current generation of under-forty-somethings:

Old Money

One of the concerns shared by the younger generation is not just about making enough money, but about the system of money itself. In part, this generation is suffering from tracking fatigue. Gold was virtually untraceable. Then we moved to paper with serial numbers, checks, and now electronic transactions.

So reliant are we on electronic transactions that we don’t even carry money anymore, certainly not any money that is completely under our control. Cryptocurrency is a form of money that has the convenience of electronic transactions, but the privacy and control of gold.

Genesis Mining is just one of the many companies that provide the modern-day experience of mining it like gold, but without the picks and shovels. The method of how bitcoin is made is less important than what it enables. Besides enabling anonymous transactions all over the world, it offers a 0-exchange rate currency. One bitcoin is worth the same regardless of where it is mined and where it is spent.

Today, if you are even suspected of a crime, you can be traced by your money, it can be frozen by governments, and rendered indefinitely unavailable. And it is just one more way in which you don’t have the control over your life that you thought you did.

Social Insecurity

In the U.S., Social Security is a federal program that provides a financial safety net for seniors. It is based on the number of years one works, and the amount of money put into the system.

But it is not a one-to-one program. It pays out more than we put into it. And there lies the rub. At the beginning of the program, there were very few beneficiaries, and many workers contributing to the fund. Today, there are almost as many beneficiaries as there are contributors. We are below three workers to one beneficiary. It need not slip much further before the system is completely unsustainable.

People under forty have a right to wonder if social security will be there for them. Eventually, it won’t be, at least on the track it’s on now. And politicians do not have the will to address the issues before it completely crumbles. First, their families will be taken care of for life. Second, voters tend to be older. Messing with social security is political suicide.

Debt Slavery

Not everyone has the option of a side-hustle. But it is a very interesting idea nonetheless. It is just one of the many ways younger people are trying to manage the reality of pervasive debt.

That debt begins the moment we decide to go to college. $160,000 later, you will need to buy a house. That $200,000 mortgage plus a $25,000 car gets you ready for your $20,000 wedding.

In the 1950s, a person could buy a home and start a family without a college education as a working-class citizen. People from that era didn’t need to incur so much debt to live the American dream. That same dream requires us to be mortgaged to our eyeballs.

Money will always be a tool of governments. Safety nets from the 1930s will not last forever. And debt is a constant. The old dream is dead. It is time for new dreams that are bigger than America. It’s time we dream the dreams that encompass the world, and a brighter future for all.


Life Lately

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Hello, friends!

I apologize for my absence! June has been an absolute whirlwind of a month! I feel like I just blinked and all the sudden we’re two weeks deep and I haven’t written a single post! Yikes!

It’s not for lack of thought about you all! Things have just been, well, a bit crazy. Let’s talk some general life updates with some financial stuff sprinkled throughout.

First, my Dad has officially been moved to a locked memory care facility. My siblings and I have been dreading it for months, but luckily the move was far less terrible than the build-up we had in our minds. On moving day, my sister took my dad to a doctor’s appointment and out to lunch while my brother instructed movers to get everything out of the old place (an independent living facility) and moved over to the new place. My dad happily arrived at his new home exhausted and ready for a nap. He likes the food better, which is a big deal for him – he’s become quite picky over foods and hates things he once loved. I’m not sure if his taste buds have changed or what the “cause”, but he prefers bland things and his favorite “snack” is a piece of white bread or a Hawaiian roll. Very odd, but I’ve read other FTD’ers tend to crave breads, too.  He still does not realize he is locked in the facility and cannot leave. This has been a HUGE blessing for us! The facility is built around different courtyard areas so he can freely access “outside” whenever he likes, but the main exit is locked for patient’s safety.

The girls are in kindergarten camp this week. We’d originally planned to stay in Austin longer following my Dad’s move, but I’m so glad we decided to come back early so the girls could go to this camp. They are loving it and I think it is helping to assuage the new school/Kindergarten fears. We won’t have official class lists until August, but they’ve met all the kinder teachers and are becoming familiar with the school, the routine, meeting new friends, etc.

I’ve got to admit to making some poor financial decisions this summer. We’ve been making a huge sum of money the past couple years, but everything seemed to end at once. Now with my part-time job gone, hub’s job gone, and my new raise not going into effect until next month, it’s been a struggle to adjust. I haven’t done great with it. Hubs and I went on our “Mom and Dad Getaway” (one of our 2017 goals) and I feel real guilt over it. It was our first trip away from the kids for more than a single night since they were born (and they turn 5 next week!). I do think we needed the time alone together to reconnect and think it’s a healthy and important thing for couples to do if they can. But…we also could not have chosen a poorer time. I mean, this was the time that worked for me (with my work schedule, summers are best for a getaway), but it was a terrible choice of timing in terms of money (or lack thereof).

We were spending money we didn’t have. There, I said it. First time in the 3 years of blogging that this has happened. I paid for things on credit and don’t have the income coming in to cover the costs. So, there’s that. My raise starts July 1st, but since the paychecks are lagged, I won’t have a full month of my new income until August, at which point things should stabilize financially speaking. My original plan was to just stay treading water over the summer, but now I know that’s not going to happen. We’re slipping backward a bit. It’s not like we’ve gone out and bought a car or taken on tens of thousands in a home equity loan or something, but we’ve paid on credit for vacation items (hotel, food, etc) that we just can’t cover. And then on our way home from Austin we had a tire blowout. Remember how I just barely got new tires? Ha! I’d only bought 2. A couple hours and $500 later I bought 2 more (no chance to comparison shop or find a deal). We were so lucky that hubs’ felt the tire wobbling so he had exited the highway and slowed down the car before the blowout occurred. We were also incredibly lucky to have it happen to be in a small town with cell phone reception (much of the drive from Austin to Tucson is in cell phone dead zones in the middle of nowhere). So, I’m thankful for our health and safety and the fact that we could get the new tires relatively quickly. But it felt like God or Murphy laughing at us for the poor financial decisions we were making and just adding insult to injury. I guess we’ll see a credit card reappear in my next debt update. It’s a tough thing to accept, but ultimately I’m human and made some mistakes poor spending choices.

Despite the spending issue, work has been going well. I’m enjoying the change of pace the summer always brings. It’s been nice to have the hubs and girls around more (even though it makes working from home tough. I usually just go to campus). I’m able to catch up on some big work projects without having classes and 100+ student emails to contend with daily. I love what I do and feel so fortunate to have landed this position and especially the giant raise I secured (though won’t see until next month).

All-in-all, I’m doing okay. Not great, but okay. I’ve been struggling with some mental health issues related to dealing with my dad’s care and dealing with my siblings to try to secure him the quality care he deserves. It’s personal family matters so I won’t go into details, but suffice it to say that it’s been a challenge. I know that ultimately we are so lucky! My dad had assets at the time of his diagnosis, so we are paying for his care with HIS money. It would be a whole different ballgame if it were my siblings and I footing the bill. But even so, it’s tough when there are major disagreements and I hate the strain that this has placed on all of us. I started going to therapy last year around this time and only went for maybe 4-5 months. I’m considering starting to go again, though, just because I did find it to be a helpful outlet. We shall see.

To end on a positive note, let me share one piece of good news. You may or may not recall how I referred to Summer 2016 as the Summer of Death (we experienced 3 significant deaths that summer).  Well one of them was my husband’s grandfather. His estate went into probate and it took a long time, but my husband’s mother has now inherited a good bit of money. Although nothing was left directly to any of the grandchildren (meaning, my husband did not directly inherit anything), his mom offered to pay for 3 days in Disneyland all-expenses paid for our family! She covered the cost of tickets, hotel, food, travel expenses, and even gave us extra spending money to put toward purchasing souvenirs, matching shirts, or the like. I know it seems like a crazy juxtaposition to the “mom-and-dad” getaway we just barely had, in which we set ourselves BACKWARD in our debt progression. But this gift was given to us with the expressed intent to be put directly toward a family Disneyland trip (not toward general household expenses and/or debt). All of our travels thus far have been with extended family, so we have never had a family vacation with just the four of us and my mother-in-law wanted us to have one. We graciously accepted and have booked our room and tickets for next month (again, the idea being that it’s easier for me to travel during the summer – though it will be dreadfully hot!). The kids and I have never been to Disneyland before (hubs has, but it’s been many years), so we’re all excited to go! It may even slightly help with our current financial picture because the entire time that we are away will be financed on someone else’s dollar (so we may see a savings in our grocery bill or utilities for the time we’re away).

I hope your summers are going well! I must admit how tough it was for me to sit down and type up this update, knowing the financial details I would be sharing. I promise to have a complete debt update at the end of this month so we can catch back up with where our family is at now. My hope is that this is just a blip in the radar and that we’ll soon forget this ever happened and be well on our way to smashing our remaining debts!

Have a great rest of your weeks!

~Ashley


The Advantages and Disadvantages of Locking Your Credit

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In today’s internet-driven world, finances are a mixed bag. Online banking services and tools make it easier to manage your money, but it’s also given thieves more ways to steal from unsuspecting victims. I personally have had my PayPal account hacked in the past, but fortunately, PayPal refunded the money that was illegally withdrawn.

Another common cyber crime is identity theft. Luckily, I haven’t dealt with this ordeal directly, but I recently had a close friend who did. It was an absolute nightmare trying to undo the damage that was done to her credit after accounts were opened in her name. That experience has left me much more conscious about my own risk. In my quest to learn how I can better protect my identity, I found out about a few surprising ways people can control their credit reports. I was already familiar with the credit freeze service, but I discovered a credit lock was also an option.

A credit lock is very similar, but not quite the same as freezing your credit. If you’re seriously concerned that your identity has been stolen you can request a security freeze. This will prevent creditors from accessing and looking at any of your credit reports unless you authorize it. That way thieves can’t use a person’s identity to open new lines of credit.

Each of the credit bureaus also allows consumers to use a credit lock. It’s not as draconian as a credit freeze, however, a credit lock comes with a few advantages of its own.

Advantages of a Credit Lock

A credit freeze offers identity theft protection, but lifting a freeze can be a real hassle. That’s where a credit lock has the advantage. With a credit lock, you have more control over the status and accessibility of your reports.

Better Manageability

Unlike a credit freeze, state laws don’t dictate a credit lock. You can initiate or end it at any time. If you initiate a credit freeze, your state may decide how long it remains in effect (usually several months). It’s a lot easier to lift a credit lock since you can do it yourself through your account. You can also lock and unlock your credit report as many times as you want throughout the year whether or not you’ve been a victim of identity theft.

Straightforward Fees

Depending on your state’s credit freeze laws, you may have to pay a fee to initiate a credit freeze, lift a credit freeze and/or receive a new PIN or code to access your accounts. The cost of a credit lock is very straightforward. The bureaus charge either a monthly fee or an annual fee that covers the service for the entire year. There’s no fee to end the credit lock or establish a new PIN.

You Can Still Get Credit

With a freeze, it can be difficult to establish new lines of credit since all three credit reports are simultaneously inaccessible unless you provide approval for a creditor with each credit reporting agency.

Preventative, Not Reactionary

A critical shortcoming of a credit freeze is that it’s reactionary. It may not be possible to initiate a freeze unless your identity has already been compromised. A credit lock is a preventative measure that can be used to limit access long before identity theft is a concern.

Disadvantages of a Credit Lock

The obvious disadvantage of a credit lock is its limited scope. In order to cover all three credit reports, you’ll need to set up a credit lock with each bureau. A credit lock through one credit bureau won’t impact the other two reporting agencies.

Another disadvantage alluded to above, is the cost. A credit lock isn’t ever going to be free. Typically, you’ll have to pay a monthly fee for the ability to lock and unlock your credit report. However, if your state charges fees for a credit freeze the cost is less of a factor.


Get Your Business Rolling!

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As a small business owner, one of the many challenges that I faced was financing. I think I speak for others when I say that business loans are one of the biggest challenges for SMBs today.

The reason I say this is that banks are tightening their requirements when it comes to approving individuals for business loans. Regardless, you need capital to grease the wheels of your business.

So, I got thinking. Where is the best place to apply for a business loan?

Remember, chance favors the prepared mind. So, I set about doing my research on precisely what I need the money for, what loan would best suit my needs, and which lender could best accommodate me.

Every business needs liquidity to stay operational. But when you’re applying for a loan, you need to have a blueprint of how that loan is going to help your business grow.

As a small business owner, I have to think carefully about the specific type of loan that I need. Since there are so many lenders out there, cost becomes an important consideration.

The terms and conditions of the loan (payback period, interest rates, early payoff penalties etc.) are paramount. Naturally, your credit score is going to come into the reckoning as well.

Fortunately, I maintained a credit score of around 770 for quite some time, thanks to regular repayments of my bills, low credit utilization, and a rather limited number of inquiries for additional lines of credit.

Over the years, I learned that one of the best ways to manage your credit score is to diversify the types of credit that you have available. In this vein, mortgages, auto loans, student loans, credit cards, and store credit will help you.

When you are managing your credit, you want to be sure that you shop around for the most appropriate business loan. I like to use credit loan aggregators services since these allow me to do comparative shopping.

Once you’ve got a short list of lenders, you can start to narrow them down even further according to the types of services they offer.

As I said earlier, I am in the process of expanding my business operations. I want to branch out into other cities by marketing my home-based business on the web. To do this, I need to create video retargeting content, increase my marketing budget, and employ the services of SEO experts.

Fortunately, I’ve been in business for several years now and this makes it easier to apply for a loan. As soon as you have a history of revenue streams, you are looked at more favorably by banks and non-bank lenders.

I’ve seen many of my friends being turned down because they were relative newcomers to the scene, and still operating in their first year of business. Remember this: Lenders want to see your ability to repay the loan, and this is why startups face so much pressure all the time.

If you’re wondering about different types of small business loans, consider that you can use different types of credit facilities. These include crowdfunding, microloans, business credit cards, and even loans from friends and family.

I don’t recommend the latter option since you don’t want your personal relationships to sour if your business does. My for-profit business has been fairly stable over time, and I needed to expand operations to keep on growing.

I didn’t want to go the bank route since I didn’t want to provide collateral. Banks typically take a little bit longer to approve loans than non-bank lenders, and that may work for some people.

The average SBA loan ranges between $5,000 on the low end and $5 million on the high-end. Small businesses like mine find it a little more difficult to get loan approval because our revenue streams are so much lower.

That’s the reason decided to go with a non-bank lender over the Internet. When you’re looking for quick funding options and smaller lives of credit, you can certainly go with an online lender. I secured a loan of $45,000 through online lenders at a rather favorable repayment term.

My business’s turnover is $65,000 per annum, which fits rather snugly into the requirement zone of $50,000 – $150,000. Be sure that you are within that range when you are applying for a small business loan.

FYI: before you apply for your small business loan, I recommend getting a free copy of your credit report from any of the top 3 credit reporting agencies. You can also use your credit card provider’s website to check your personal credit score.


5 Point Plan for Getting Out of Debt

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Debt could be good because it affords you an opportunity to use tomorrow’s money to meet today’s needs. However, debt when not properly managed can cast very dark shadows over your finances and make it hard for you to become financially secure. This article provides five actionable steps that could help you improve your odds of getting out of debt faster and permanently.

Build an emergency savings fund

An emergency savings fund is money you set aside to tide you over during the proverbial rainy days. An emergency savings fund can help you cover unexpected expenses such as a broken faucet or a failed transmission among other things. Experts often advise saving up enough money to cover at least three months of living expenses.

However, it might be impossible for you to save up that much money if you already have a debt burden. Yet, you can still shoot for saving up $1000 in an emergency fund. You can reach the $1000 milestone by doing odd jobs, having a garage sale, or working overtime among others.

Get rid of all consumer debt

Consumer debt has a way of sucking people into the darkest recesses of a debt vortex because you’ll always have more reasons to take on more debt. Student loans, credit cards, gas cards, medical bills, and car loans are some of the consumer debt you should prune off your finances. If you are serious about getting out debt, you should start by paying off the smallest debt with the biggest interest payment. Move on the next debt with the second biggest interest payment work through the rest of your debt systematically.

Leverage the value of your home

A smart way to get rid of consumer debt (see above) is to leverage the value of your home. If you own a home, you’ll find it much easier to get out of limiting debt by taking out a home equity loan. A home equity loan gives you a huge emotional boost by lifting the psychological burden that comes with being saddled by too many loans to different creditors. Debt consolidation with a home equity loan means that you have only one creditor; hence, you’ll find it much easier to manage monthly payments and other parts of your finances.

Invest 15% of your income

One of the reasons you got into debt in the first place was that your expenses was more than your income; hence, you were forced to borrow money to make up the difference. You can improve the odds of your financial security by moving from being a spender to becoming an investor. Ideally, you should invest at least 15% of your income into investments that could bring in some extra money or investments that could provide you with income during retirement. Of course, you can start investing the little money you already have instead of waiting until you have a huge investment capital.

Build a real emergency saving fund

Getting out of debt is not an end in itself, being financially secure enough not to get back into avoidable debt is the real goal. You can take proactive steps to reduce your need for avoidable debt by building a real emergency savings fund. Building an emergency savings fund enough to cover at least three months (and up to six months) worth of your living expenses will put you in a strong position to weather most financial storms.


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