Ashley’s Year In Review (2016)

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It’s funny how almost universally across-the-board, people have complained about what a terrible year 2016 has been. Was 2016 good to you and your family? Or did you also have your share of bad luck and/or mishaps?

I think for our family it was a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, we did quite well on the financial front. No complaints there! But there were still some quite challenging parts of 2016.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane, complete with links to relevant posts should you be interested to go back and re-read some of the drama (or the triumphs) that I wrote about this year.

 

Dad Issues

In August 2015 my dad was diagnosed with frontoemporal degeneration (FTD). It’s a rare form of early-onset dementia (NOT Alzheimers) for which there is no treatment and no drugs available to slow it’s progression. 2016 has been a rough year in that regard (and, to keep it real, I suspect things will only continue to get worse and worse until his passing. Degenerative diseases such as this one never get “better”….only worse).

This year we moved Dad from his primary residence in Utah down to his secondary residence in Texas so he would be closer to family. I went to Utah and cleaned out his house over the summer and got it on the market. We were lucky to get a bidding war and the house sold immediately.

After some rough patches involving receiving calls from the police and a few-day detainment (against his will) at a mental health hospital, from which he was released with bruises and abrasions all over his body, our family had to make the difficult decision to move him yet again. He was moved to an independent living facility and his second home was put on the market. We are currently under contract for it (fingers crossed – the closing date is set for early January!!)

Unfortunately, things have continued to degrade even with his current living situation. He has recently had his car and keys taken away (he only got to keep them this long after passing a clinical driving evaluation last September, but his forgetfulness meant he kept forgetting where he was going mid-trip. At first we put a GPS on his car, but eventually we decided it was safest for him to be off the road). We’ve recently received another call from the police (the “emergencies” feel ever-present at this point) and to keep him from being detained in a mental health hospital yet again, we had to promise we would make a plan to get him moved to a locked memory care facility. While in Texas this December I’ve been touring and looking at several options. The goal is to find a high quality one and have him moved within the next couple months.

I know a lot of these issues are more personal in nature (rather than financial), but it’s been a BIG part of my life in 2016 and I plan to continue sharing tidbits here and there. I even wrote about how I started to go to therapy, in large part, due to the stresses associated with my dad’s situation. I think it has helped immensely.

The other thing that makes my “dad issues” relevant to this blog is that I am also responsible for handling all of my Dad’s finances. Thankfully, Dad had a decent asset-base accumulated before his diagnosis and retirement. It is my job to make sure his assets last the rest of his life (no small task when the cost of his care is roughly $5,000+/month!!!). Meeting with financial planners/advisors and forming a long-term financial plan with his assets is likely going to be a big part of 2017.

 

Work Issues

I started off the year trying to negotiate title and raise at my full-time job. Though I didn’t secure either at that time, I did negotiate to work over the summer, which meant an additional 3 months of salary (I called it a “raise” in this post, but it’s really just additional compensation for the additional WORK I was doing). It was a big deal from a financial perspective, though, because it was a substantial amount of extra money on top of my regular salary.

However, working over the summer also meant I had to secure some summer childcare. Finding high quality childcare at an affordable rate has been one of the most consistently challenging things about having children, in my opinion. I think this issue is probably a bit exacerbated for us given that we do not live by any family so we’re entirely alone in that regard. Fortunately, we were able to find a solution.

I continued to pour myself into work this year. This entire year I’ve worked two jobs:  one at my full-time place of employment (where I’m a benefited and salaried employee) and one at my part-time place of employment (where I’m a contracted employee who receives no benefits, but I get paid very well and have been teaching a full-time load worth of classes). I can’t say anything yet, but there will be some changes coming to this situation at some point in 2017. I’ve said all along that I couldn’t keep both jobs forever. It’s just not a sustainable situation to basically be working two full-time jobs. Changes are on the horizon and I will share more details when I am able. But as far as 2016 is concerned, I’m very pleased with how things worked. I was really able to use all of this additional income to hit our big financial goals. To break it down, we paid $31k toward debt, got $5k in an Emergency Fund, $10k for a down payment, and another $4k in miscellaneous household expenses. That’s $50,000 this year that was put either toward debt or savings. And this speaks nothing of the 10% of my full-time income that goes directly into retirement accounts (7% is mandatory and I do the other 3% voluntarily), or the money we put toward our kids’ 529 accounts, etc. Can I say it again? $50,000 toward debt and savings!!!!!! That never would have happened without my work situation this year. Never. I’m so thankful that we were able to put that money toward hitting our financial goals rather than see it wasted or to slip away into who-knows-what.

 

Financial Successes/Milestones

Our family, as with many others, was not immune to crises and sadness this year. I called summer 2016 the summer of death. Hubs’ maternal grandfather died. My maternal grandmother died. And our sweet dog of 11 years died. It was a tough time. But even though we had our fair share of “lows”, our biggest “highs” this year were all financial in nature.

One of the biggest, to me, was when we finally paid off the car, officially becoming consumer debt-free in January 2016. Even though it’s been nearly a year since then, I’m still riding that “high” as it was the sweetest, most freeing feeling thus far in our debt-reduction journey. That same month, we finally dipped down into 5-digits of debt (when we started blogging we had nearly $150,000 of debt, so getting down into the $90,000’s felt like a huge milestone in its own right). By May of 2016 we had officially reduced our debt by $50,000.

We were able to increase our annual income by picking up additional work and I did end up getting a small (3%) raise at my full-time job, all of which helped immensely with our financial goals. I was able to recently announce that we met (nay, exceeded) all 3 of our 2016 financial goals!!!

Aside from becoming consumer debt-free, the second biggest financial “win” this year was when we were finally able to purchase our first home!!! We put 20% down to avoid PMI and financed on a 15-year fixed at a 2.75% APR!! I still kind of can’t believe it!!! Playing around with a loan amortization spreadsheet, it looks like we could have the house paid off in as little as 7 years (with the remaining student loan debt paid off within another 2-3 years). I’m still playing around with our new 2017 budget and will likely write about it’s details in a forthcoming post sometime in January.

 

Frugal Lifestyle

The first two years of debt reduction were pretty hard-core restrictive. This past year we’ve loosened up the purse-strings a bit in an effort to try to have a bit more balance. We’ve gone on more regular date nights (sometimes monthly, sometimes every-other-month, but the goal has been to do one per month), and our BIG thing this year was when we saved up all cash for over a year to go on a cruise in April!! I wrote about our savings habits that allowed us to cruise (here & here) and our practical tips for cruising with kids (here).

Even with a few extra indulgences, we’ve still maintained a pretty frugal lifestyle on the whole. I wrote a few blog posts this year about different ways we tried to save money:  like changing our car insurance (here), making homemade lemonade for cheap (here), and limiting kid’s activities to one at a time (here). We also had did a whole slew of frugal kid crafts:

  • Homemade Valentine’s cards (here)
  • Homemade Mother’s Day cards (here)
  • Teacher Appreciation gifts (here)
  • Last Day of school gifts (here)
  • Teacher Christmas gifts (here)

I’ve found that kid crafts are totally the way to go for cheap gifts. The recipients tend to appreciate them more than cheap crap I might otherwise buy from Target, and it ends up costing us far less money. It warms my heart when we visit family back in Texas and see some of our kid crafts proudly displayed on the fridge or even in frames hung on the wall!!! So sweet!

 

Student Loan Drama

Even though we’ve been blessed in the financial realm this year, we’ve still had a couple of frustrating set-backs. For long-time readers, you’re probably sick of reading about all the student loan drama in my life (Navient is my loan service provider and they are truly the worst entity I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with in my life).

I wrote this year about the time when Navient switched my loan to being unsubsidized when it was bought from ACS (here ), as well as how they’ve charged me extra on my student loans (here ).

My plan was always to refinance my student loans away from Navient as soon as our mortgage loan went through, but then when I tried I experienced a set of frustrating set-backs in that regard, too (see here and here). A few of you have recommended getting a new credit card so I can continue doing balance transfers (the Citi Simplicity card was recommended by a couple of you because they have a low balance transfer initiation fee and 0% APR for 21 months). Is this the best one? Any other suggestions? I’m not keen on the idea of getting another credit card, but a loan consolidation would also have been a new “line of credit” so I suppose its basically equivalent (though psychologically it feels like a different thing). I haven’t decided what to do in that regard just yet, though I do hate Navient with a fiery passion and would LOVE nothing more than to rid them from my life!!!

 

Wrap Up

All-in-all, I cannot be mad at 2016. Every year has its own set of opportunities and challenges and this year was no different. Though our challenges were deeply personal (like the dad issues) and painful (like the multiple deaths), I think the good outweighed the bad on the whole. And I am so, so proud of all the financial WINS we had this year and how far we have come in the financial realm. I’m excited to start a new year and I hope and pray it will be a great one for my family and for yours!

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017! Happy New Year!!!


I’ll be back!

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I just wanted to post a super quick note…I have not forgotten about blogging here!  Shortly after the flood in our basement we had a family emergency occur that we are still dealing with.   This has meant that overnight our household grew by six kids!  Things have been crazy!!!   I will have a post up soon!

 


Ashley’s 2016 Goals Wrap-Up (With December Debt Update)

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2016 has been a rough one for many. Have any of you seen this meme floating around the interwebs?

Screen Shot 2016-12-22 at 3.07.22 PM

(Here’s one source, but I’ve seen it on multiple accounts. It’s everywhere.)

Makes me chuckle. Although 2016 has been tough in many regards (and I have a year-end wrap-up post in the works with more info on my 2016), it hasn’t been all bad. In fact, I’ve had a pretty good year when it comes to my financial goals.

In the beginning of 2016 I set these financial goals for myself and my family:

  • Save $10,000 for down payment for a home.
  • Save $5,000 for an emergency fund.
  • Put $30,000 toward debt.

These were pretty lofty goals at the time they were set. But then our income just exploded.

I ended up working all summer (an extra 3 months worth of income), I taught an extra class one semester, and hubs landed some big contracts in the Fall.

Without any major financial set-backs this year (*knock on wood*) we managed to hit these goals out of the park!! I’ll explain each in more detail below.

  • Save $10,000 for down payment for a home. Once this goal was set, I really put it first above  all else. Initially we were going to start looking at homes in May, but we pushed it back a bit when we felt we needed more time to save up an EF, etc. We found “the house” in August and it was a long process, but when all was said and done we finally closed in early November. I wasn’t sure if we’d be able to save the money in-time when we were shooting for a May timeframe, but by the time November rolled around we had more than enough saved for our down payment. With the money we saved (+ a generous gift from my mom) we had just over 20% to put down. We also had some cash reserves still on-hand that came in quite helpful when we needed to buy nearly $4,000 worth of “stuff” to get moved into the house (e.g., refrigerator, blinds, etc. See this post for details).
  • Save $5,000 for an emergency fund. This goal was so important to me, personally. This was the real reason why we delayed our house hunt from the beginning. We had our $10,000 saved up, but had nearly no emergency fund and I felt like it was just a recipe for disaster to buy a home with no money on hand. After we pushed back our original “house hunting” date, we were able to continue to stack money (again – I picked up work over the summer and additional classes in the Fall, too, which really helped in this regard). As I type this post, we have exactly $5,085 in our dedicated Emergency Fund and I consider it fully funded for the time being. Eventually we’ll try to bump this up to a full 3-6 months ($5,000 is about one month for our household…maybe 2 if we really stretch). But while we’re still in the process of debt repayment we’ll leave it at $5,000. I did have some comments on the house post that mentioned making a separate house-related EF (especially given the age of our home, etc.). I’ll address that more in my forthcoming 2017 Goals post. Look for that post likely next week sometime.
  • Put $30,000 toward debt. This is just such an obscene amount of money to pay toward DEBT in a single year! It’s crazy to think about how many families are struggling just to get by on $30,000 total annual income. When I first started blogging here our household income was just under $50,000. Thinking of that time (and there would have been zero chance we could have put a full 30k toward debt) compared to where we are now…I’m just amazed. Life has had it’s fair share of ups and downs, but we’ve been blessed in the financial realm this year. Check out our December Debt Update table:
PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Navient - Federal 2 (unsubsidized)$110715.80209December82433 (all school loans, combined)
Navient - Federal 3 (subsidized)$86215.8025December
Navient - 2 (subsidized)$85376.5533December
Navient - 7 (subsidized)$72326.5528December
Navient - 8 (subsidized)$64026.5525December
Navient - 9 (subsidized)$85376.5534December
Navient - 10 (unsubsidized)$161356.552020December
Balance Transfer Student Loan #2$30000% (through April 2017)$1000December$7650
Medical Bills$56360%$25December$9000
Balance Transfer student loan #1$00% -Paid off in March 2016$5937
PenFed Car Loan$02.49%-Paid off in January 2016$24040
License Fees$02.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
BoA CC$07.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
Mattress Firm$00%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC$013.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
Capital One CC$017.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Totals$75,171 (Nov balance = 78,345)$3399Starting Debt = $145,472

With our last large debt payment from December 2016, we’ve managed to cross the finish line on our final financial goal of 2016. We have officially paid over $30,000 toward debt this year!!! See below (with a previous goal check-in post found here):

Month 2016 GOALS 2016

January

Goal: $3500 $4013
February Goal: $1000 $1261
March Goal:  $1000 $2134
April Goal:  $2000 $1521
May Goal: $2000 $1325
June Goal:  $4000 $3500
July Goal: $4000 $4928
August Goal: $2500 $1374
September Goal: $2500 $2775
October Goal: $2500 $2750
November Goal: $2500 $2625
December Goal: $2500 $3399
Total Goal: $30,000 $31605

Some months were up and some were down, but the highs and lows all averaged out and still allowed us to hit this monstrous goal we had set that didn’t even seem feasible in January of 2016 and yet, here we sit at the end of 2016. Mission accomplished.

For anyone casually stumbling across this blog (as well as long-time readers – thanks for sticking around!!), I just want to stand on the top of a mountain and shout: I’M A REAL PERSON. A NORMAL HUMAN BEING JUST LIKE YOU. THERE IS NOTHING SPECIAL OR OUTRAGEOUS ABOUT ME AND MY SITUATION. IF I CAN DO IT, SO CAN YOU!!!!

Three years ago, I never would have believed I’d be sitting here today having annihilated nearly half of our debt!!! It’s a pretty incredible things and more great things are on the horizon.

How have you done on any 2016 goals? Are you taking stock and making plans for 2017 goals??


Debt Payment – Processing

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Hi all!

I hope you all had a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays : )

I’m just peeking in quickly today to say that my December debt payment post is…”processing.”

I made a very large payment scheduled on 12/23 and, I suppose due to the holidays, it still shows as Processing on Navient’s website. It has not yet posted. Soooooo, I’m holding off any my debt update post until the payment officially goes through. I just wanted to let you know what’s up since I’d alluded to an exciting debt update (and said it would be up yesterday). I’m still waiting.

I hope everyone is doing well! Happy birthday shout-out to Hope, too! I’ll be back soon! : )

~Ashley


Home Ownership: 1 Month Status

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We’ve now been in our new-to-us (1980s) house for just over a month. I haven’t talked much about the house since we closed, so I wanted to talk about some of the financials in the past month of home ownership.

Monthly Bills

The house is larger than our last home so although it’s too soon to tell true differences in heating and cooling costs, my guess is our new house will be a little more expensive on average. Relatedly, our home is now 100% electric (no natural gas) so that’s a bill we’ll be eliminating from our monthly budget. Our trash is now paid quarterly instead of monthly and even though we’re now receiving more service (our neighborhood does twice weekly trash pick-ups), our overall cost is actually less. We do, however, have HOA fees to pay.

Overall, our monthly bills will probably be a little bit higher than in our previous home.

One-Time/Set-Up Costs

The hidden costs of home-ownership! We knew when we bought the house we would have to purchase a refrigerator (we got ours at a great Black Friday deal because Lowes did their “Black Friday” prices for the entire month of November! Great time to buy a home!). What we had NOT realized until we moved in was that not a single window had any blinds on it. Not one. I’ve never bought blinds before. Even going the DIY-install/Home Depot purchase route, we still ended up paying over $1,000 on blinds! We also ended up needing a few smaller items (e.g., one extra bathroom = one extra trashcan, extra hand-towel set, etc.). We also bought 3 ceiling fans for rooms where they were not present (the living room + 2 bedrooms). The bedrooms were already pre-wired (but just had metal plates affixed to cover the wires), so hubs was able to install those on his own. But we had to hire an electrician to wire the living room because, living in Arizona, we HAVE to have a fan in the living room and it hadn’t been wired for one so that work needed to be done.

A great majority the walls in the house are bare. Some of the rooms, even, are bare. But I’m okay with that for now. I’m in no hurry to rush out and spend a lot more $$$ to decorate and furnish the entire home. We’re comfortable with what we’ve got and I prefer spending some time in the house to try to find a design style, etc. and to slowly build up decorative pieces vs. going to the nearest Home Goods and buying all.the.things. just for the sake of having everything immediately decorated.

All things included, we ended up spending nearly $4,000 for one-time/set-up costs (the “big ticket” items were the blinds, refrigerator, and fans/electrical wiring). Luckily, we’d been building up a stash of money for the downpayment and an extra slush fund so we had the cash on hand for these expenses. I’m thankful to YOU readers because I’d initially wanted to make a larger down payment (leaving us with less cash-on-hand), but many of you had commented that we really needed to have a good cash reserve when buying the house for just this type of situation. Having a later-than-expected closing date helped in that regard, too, because we had extra time to save the money up.

Mortgage

Our rent at our old house was $1200/month. Our current house has a mortgage payment of $950/month. When we set up the auto debit, however, we also asked for an additional $300/month to be applied toward principal. That will take our monthly payment to $1250/month. We can always change or amend the extra/surplus payment, but that’s how we’ve set it up to start. I thought it would be a nice way to build some equity in right from the start, without really “hurting” us since it’s comparable to the payment we’re already used to making.

Not having a mortgage payment due in the month of December was the greatest thing ever!! We ended up having extra money to put toward our debt payment (debt update coming Monday that I’m super excited about!!!).

So that’s how home ownership has impacted our finances on an immediate basis (i.e., initial one-time costs) and for the foreseeable future (i.e., monthly bills). Before we’d ever started house shopping I was hoping to find a place that would be somewhat similar in costs to our current standard-of-living. I didn’t want our expenses to all the sudden sky rocket. And I’m happy with our home. Although, yes, it will likely cost a bit more than our old place, it’s not so much more that it will slow down debt repayment. We won’t be “house poor” by any means. And we always have that $300 buffer on our monthly mortgage – if we find we need a little more wiggle room in the budget we can always make that auto-pay adjustment.

I’m busy baking today with the kiddos and getting laundry done and suitcases packed for our upcoming trip. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas or Happy Holidays and I’ll see you on the other side from Texas! : )

Happy Holidays, y’all!


Teacher Christmas Gifts

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Hi all!

I hope you’re having a happy Thursday! The girls and I are headed to Texas on Christmas Day. We are flying (on Christmas because its much cheaper) instead of driving because hubs has to stay back and work. He’s still planning to quit and go back to school in the Spring (he’s all registered and ready to go), but he has a couple big jobs in the meantime that need to be wrapped up by the first of the year. It’s great, too, because it will give him a final big payday before that source of income dries up. I need to write a post on our 2017 budget soon, because it will be looking pretty different given all of the major income/outflow changes coming soon (e.g., hubs quitting work, some job changes with me in the works, etc.).

This is my first time to ever fly alone with the girls (we haven’t flown with them at all since they were 4 months old – we flew back for a wedding I was in). In general, I think traveling is much easier with young children versus infants, but I’m still a little nervous. Send your best tips and happy travel prayers my way (I’m planning to pack backpacks for the girls with things to keep them occupied, etc.)

In the meantime, today is the girls’ last day of preschool. They have their class party and gift exchange with the classmates (everyone was instructed to wrap a book to exchange). I also wanted to share our teacher gifts this year!

For the gift, itself, we took the easy-way-out by getting a gift package thing from Costco. Our store was selling two-packs of Starbucks gift sets for $20 each ($10 per gift). I got the green paper bags from our local Walmart for 33 cents each (it was 3 for $1). The rest of the gift bag items (craft stuff, construction paper, glue, and tissue paper) was stuff we already had on-hand.

I drew a Christmas tree shape on construction paper and let the girls cut it out themselves (we actually did a ton of Christmas trees so we could also put some in cards to family members – I think we did 10 total?)

After cutting out the trees, the girls decorated them using craft materials we already had on-hand. I then glued them in place on the green bags (and wished I’d bought red bags instead) and outlined them with thick black sharpie. Put the Starbucks gift set inside, stuffed tissue paper around it, and called it a day!

 

Teacher gifts for about $10 a piece, complete with a personalized custom-made kid craft : )

IMG_4542This was actually a little more expensive than our typical teacher Christmas gift. In past years we’ve done $5 gift cards, a kid-drawn picture, and Christmas card (as an example, see here). Even so, I was happy with the price-point. We still stuck within our budget and bought a thrifty gift that I hope the teachers will enjoy.

What do you do for holiday teacher gifts? What is your Christmas budget typically like for teachers, neighbors, etc?

 


Dad’s House #2 is Under Contract!!!

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For long-time readers, you know that my Dad was diagnosed with a rare form of dementia in August 2015. By November 2015 we’d moved him out of his first home (in Utah) and down to his second home (in Texas) to be closer to family.

By February it was already apparent that he really shouldn’t be living independently. In March, we moved him into an independent living facility. It still allows him a bit of freedom and independence, but now all of his basic needs are being met (e.g., they serve 3 meals a day, they have staff that cleans residents’ apartments, etc.)

Meanwhile, we set to work on trying to fix up and sell his homes.

Home #1 sold almost immediately! We received multiple offers the first day it was on the market. All went smoothly and it was like a dream! That sale was complete in August.

Home #2 took longer to “fix up”. It’s been on the market for 3 months with very little action and it’s stood in stark contrast to the ease of selling home #1. Finally (finally!) we received an offer in early December…..for nearly $50k below our asking price. To say we were disappointed would be an understatement.

We grappled with negotiations. We aren’t huge fans of our realtor (we actually came THIS.CLOSE to firing him. Like, I literally sent an email saying “I need to speak with you – please give me a call.” I never received a call until 3 days later, when the realtor was calling with an offer. So we stuck it out just for the sake of closing this transaction.)

In the end, my mom (also a realtor – but we didn’t ask her to do the listing for this property due to the fact that it’s our father’s property and they had a messy divorce. To honor our father’s wishes we went with someone different) ended up doing ALL the work. She ran all the comparables, gave us advice, guided us with our counter offers, and – in the end – we signed a contract that was only $20k below our original asking price (and still quite fair for both parties involved).

Now I hold my breath and wait as the inspections are done. We’re currently set to close in January. This is a BIG deal to me because I have been the person to physically handle all of my father’s finances since August 2015. It has been a big burden to be responsible for 3 households (our own + my dad’s 2 houses). Not to mention I live out-of-state of either property. I’ve handled all the bill pay for utilities, mortgages, I’ve scheduled all the landscaping (and payment), all the repairs (and payment), etc. etc. etc. I CANNOT WAIT until I’m back down to only dealing with ONE home (our own).

At the same time, it’s a bit scary. We’ve sold off all our father’s assets. All of his earthly earnings are now sitting in different funds, being managed solely by me. (yikes! talk about pressure!)

The goal, obviously, is for his assets to last the rest of his lifetime. He’s not wealthy (in my opinion), but he does have a solid asset base that, if we are careful, should last the remainder of his life (fingers-crossed!!!)

I’ve already met with one financial advisor but decided not to go with the company after not liking the advice I was receiving. I was planning to meet with another advisor over the winter holidays, but given the imminent sale of this home I’m thinking it might be better to wait and meet after the return from this home has been liquified. So I’ll probably set something up for the mid-January timeframe. It’s interesting to be dealing with two such different financial planes. My own financial plane, characterized by loads of DEBT and working on strategies to reduce that debt. Compared to my Dad’s financial plane, which is all about investment strategies and ways to maximize available assets. I’m hoping to pick up a thing or two, as these lessons should be helpful to me down the road once our own debt mess is cleaned up.

At any rate – that’s all for today. The point of this post was just to share my excitement to FINALY be under contract! Let’s all hold our breath and cross our fingers and pray we get to closing day without any major set-backs. It would be a Christmas miracle! ; )


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