And we have moved!

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Day 1 of the rest of our lives is upon us.  We have finally made the move from our very high priced hometown to a very small town three states away.  The last two days during the move, I have woken up feeling so much hope just overflowing at what the future holds.  We will be living with my grandmother as we get the lay of the land before seeking housing of our own.

And I got a sign that we were going in the right direction during our 8 hour drive loaded down with the last our of our belongings. I got a call regarding a job, one small town away that I applied for 2 months ago!  Woot, woot!  Don’t know what will come of it, but it’s right up my alley and super close to our new town.

All of our stuff is in storage for $125 a month.  It’s in a container that we can have delivered to us for a few hundred dollars or go pick it up at no cost.  We are spending the weekend with friends in Atlanta as Gymnast will compete here for his last regular season meet with his old gym.

We will return to Virginia for one week in March for Gymnast to compete at states near DC.  We have free housing for the week and will knock out orthodontist appointments and so on that same week. He will train here locally for the next three weeks and then return to his team gym for the week before states.  We are so blessed with their flexibility and willingness to work with us.

So for the next three weeks we will be getting the lay of the land, seeking work (Sea Cadet and I at least) and trying to get the kids settled in.

Oh, and one more thing…I now have a “guaranteed” 25 hour a week job at the one I’ve been working for the past year.  So it’s not full time income, but it is steady and more than I’ve had consistently.  (Both my part time jobs have committed to keeping me on despite the move, so I continue to have regular income.)  Will do a budget and goals post in the next month or so as the dust settles from the move.

Things are looking up.  I am filled with HOPE for what this move could mean for us…lower cost of living, more work and who knows what else.


Ashley’s January 2017 Debt Update

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First, thanks for all the great comments and advice on my Medical Debt Collector Dilemma post!

If you haven’t read the comments, then I’ll give you the update:  I was able to negotiate our medical bill down into 3 equal sized payments to be paid across the next 3 months (February through April), and then the medical debt will be GONE and nearly $2,000 will be forgiven. Some commenters noted how this will ding our credit, but seeing as we’re unlikely to be needing any new lines of credit anytime soon, I’m not too worried about the ramifications. I feel like we’re pretty well “set” with our current debts (great mortgage rate, good credit card balance transfer options for paying off student loan debt) – we won’t be adding any additional debts, hopefully EVER!

I’m kind of excited about being rid of this medical debt. We prioritized it below everything else so far simply because it was at a 0% interest rate. But with the offer to forgive $2,000 of the debt, it had to be bumped up to the top of our priority list (which will change the “debt payment” proportions that I had just posted in our 2017 budget. Oh well, budgets need to be flexible!).

I know there are strong feelings on both sides of the fence regarding whether it is morally “okay” to negotiate down debts as opposed to paying the bill in full. We would have paid the bill in full. That was always our intention. But we also weren’t in any hurry about it with so much student loan debt racking up in excess of 6% APR. The offer to settle for less than was owed was solely initiated from the medical debt collection agency, itself. So I feel like it was a fair transaction. The medical company will receive their payment (much sooner than they would have otherwise, at that), and we will soon be able to cross off one more debt from our  list of debts!!!

One other thing I wanted to mention was regarding credit card balance transfer options. When I realized I would be unable to refinance my student loans away from Navient with one of the big/respected student loan consolidation companies, some of you recommended continuing to do credit card balance transfers. So I applied for a new credit card and promptly transferred another student loan away from Navient. Again – a super controversial thing in the world of debt repayment. I wouldn’t recommend this option for everyone, but I’ve been doing it a couple years now and have had great success with it. I literally only use the credit card for balance transfers (it’s not even in my wallet – it would otherwise be cut up and destroyed because it serves no purpose otherwise). So now I’ve got TWO credit cards designated specifically for doing balance transfers. The balance transfer fees have been low (between 2-3%) and I receive 0% APR as long as balances are paid in full by the due date (which I closely track and monitor and have never had a problem with). So….it works for us. Unconventional? Yes. Would I recommend it for everyone? No. But it’s working for us.

And so with some explanation of our debts (and, specifically, the new credit card balance transfer debt you’ll see), I present to you January’s Debt Spreadsheet:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Navient - Federal 2 (unsubsidized)$110985.8042January82433 (all school loans, combined)
Navient - Federal 3 (subsidized)$86245.8025January
Navient - 2 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 7 (subsidized)$72266.5521January
Navient - 8 (subsidized)$63986.5519January
Navient - 9 (subsidized)$85316.5525January
Navient - 10 (unsubsidized)$97726.552018January
Balance Transfer Student Loan #2$22000% (through April 2017)$800January$7650
Balance Transfer Student Loan #3$45940% (through October 2018)
Medical Bills$55860% (must be paid by April)$25January$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$72,560 (Dec balance = 75,171)$3000Starting Debt = $145,472

When I first started blogging back in April 2014, I had $145,472 total debt.

As of January 31, 2017, with a margin of under $200, we have finally hit our half-way mark! We now have $72,560 in debt.

Oh my gosh, guys! I can’t tell you what a huge milestone this is for us! I’ve been blogging for nearly 3 years and we have JUST NOW hit our half-way mark in terms of debt reduction. We likely have another 2.5 years to go (maybe less), so we’re over half-way in terms of the time spent in debt reduction mode. I just cannot even believe it. All the changes in the past three years, all the sacrifices, all the splurges, all the savings and the spending and the analyzing numbers over and over and over again. It just feels fantastic.

I know some have commented that the second half of debt reduction would just fly by. That as soon as we hit the half-way “tipping point” things would start snowballing and debt would just melt away.

I’ve got so far still to go, but I am hopeful and excited about the future!

And I want the debt gone sooner than our projections have it. I want it gone yesterday. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking of ways to reduce savings categories (temporarily) in order to throw more toward the debt. And there’s still some work stuff up in the air that will impact this whole process. I’m optimistic. It’s hard not to be. I may not be able to quite see the light at the end of the tunnel yet, but at least we’ve crested the top of the mountain and are about to make our descent. I can’t wait for the journey downward!


Ashley’s New 2017 Budget

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It’s been awhile since I did a full budget post. As I was working on this post, I was reminded of the reason – these posts always take sooooo long to pull together. I double and triple check everything 10 times to make sure there are no mistakes and to make sure I have solid footing on where all of these numbers are coming from.

These are good posts for me to do, though, because it always offers an opportunity for us to make subtle tweaks or changes to the budget. This time around, the big one was with our Roth IRA savings. We’ve only been saving about $100/month toward a Roth. But one of our 2017 goals is to fully fund a Roth at $5500 this year. In order to do that, we’re going to have to increase our monthly rate of savings for our Roth!!

At any rate, I want to show our budget and then offer some explanation below:

MONTHLY BILLS & EXPENSES
Mortgage $1250
Property Taxes & Insurance $350
HOA $40
Electricity $165
Water $75
Phones $150
Cable/Internet $130
Preschool & Childcare $1100
Gift-Giving $50
Personal Maintenance $50
Restaurants $300
Entertainment $100
Kids’ Activities $100
Groceries $600
Fuel $100
Household Goods $100
Clothing $50
Category subtotal $4710
SAVINGS
3-6 month expenses, Full at $5,000 $0/mo ($5,000 current)
Car Repairs, Full at $2,000 $200/mo; ($676 current)
Kids’ birthday, Full at $500 $50/mo; ($150 current)
Travel/Christmas; Full at $500 $50/mo; ($50 current)
Annual Fees $240/mo (revolving)
Girls’ College Savings $50/mo
Roth IRA Savings $460/mo
Home Improvement $350/mo
Summer Vacation Savings $500/mo
Category subtotal $1900/mo
DEBT
Student Loan Payments $2200/mo
Medical $25/mo
Balance Transfer $800/mo
Category subtotal $3,025/mo

 

TOTAL = $9635/month

 

The biggest “note” right off the bat is this: I do NOT make $9635 “take home” per month. I don’t make that much. So that’s a problem. But here’s the deal – we’ll make it work.
At least for the time being, hubs is still drawing a little bit of additional income, so that helps to supplement my income. But as the year progresses, assuming our income will go down at some point, we’ll end up having to cut back. Likely the cut-backs will occur in both the savings and the debt categories. Some of the savings categories are easy to cut (e.g., travel/Christmas or kids’ birthdays); some of the savings are short-term and will go away eventually (e.g., summer vacation savings). But some will be harder to cut out (e.g., girls’ college savings is set to draft automatically from my account and if we want to hit our fully funded Roth IRA goal, we need to be pretty consistent in that savings category). I hate to cut back on debt at all, too, but if faced with a lack of funds at the end of the month, we may have to dip below my projected number. To be fair, our 2017 goal is to pay $30,000 toward debt, which is “only” $2500/month, so we’ve got a bit of wiggle room if we need to make a slightly lower debt payment (though I’d LOVE to pay MORE toward debt and hit our goals early!!!)

In terms of the monthly bills and expenses, most of those are pretty “set” at this point. We did our 100% bare-bones blog days (a full 2 years) and have just started loosening up the purse strings a bit for the sake of our sanity and longevity with our get-out-of-debt plans. We may try to make our “entertainment” budget cheaper (which accounts for our monthly date nights and any family activities we do), and I’m always struggling to try to spend less on food (either/both in groceries & in eating out). I could skip or reduce the personal maintenance budget occasionally (which accounts for things like yoga/exercise stuff, eyebrow wax, hair care, makeup, etc). But for the most part, the monthly bills are going to be hard to see much wiggle room in at this point.

So all of this brings us to this point…. It’s kind of scary to see a budget that our projected income cannot cover. To accommodate for this, all savings and debt payments will be made late in the month. That way, we can alter payments (and savings) as needed so that our budget isn’t exceeding our monthly income.

There you have it! January debt update coming soon, too!

 

If you keep a budget, what are your proportions of monthly expenses, savings, and debt? Ours are 48% monthly expenses, 20% savings, 32% debt. Of course, that’s just the budgeted categories and things are subject to change as income decreases. But as budgeted, I think that’s pretty good! I’d be proud to pull those numbers! What are your numbers?


Working from home

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After a recent post  a reader  expressed disappointment in my lack of a job, specifically my lack of working at home, so I felt I should cover the issue in more detail.

I do make a small amount of income from home by providing child care for a neighbor and by renting a room in our home.  While I would love to have a higher income coming from me, there are several factors against it.

1-I have a degenerative vision issue that prevents me driving on a regular basis.   Some days my vision will be just fine, other days it will be so bad that I can’t read the mail.   This said, my issue is not considered bad enough to qualify me for disability..yet.

2-Finding employment near hubby’s  work and carpooling with him seems like a great option, however it would never work.   Hubby is an electrician and goes to different job sites on nearly a daily basis.   Sometimes that means he is working 30 minutes away in town, or an hour away in the city.

3-We live in a rural area where public transportation is unheard of, the closest we get is the school bus that picks up k-12 every morning.

4-Our rural area has spotty internet service, especially in the winter months (yay, for lake effect snow!).

5-Having 1-2 days a week where I can not see well enough to work online (if the internet is working) or to be productive in other ways makes me an unreliable, undesirable employee.

I have in the past experimented with many nontraditional income streams, but, our rural location combined with my vision issue have made each venture impossible as a long term solution.  I would love to hear any ideas that you might have for me!   If I could come up with an income source that works with all those issues, I would snap it up in a heartbeat!


Medical Debt Collector Dilemma

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One of the debts on our debt spreadsheet is from an outstanding medical bill we owe. Before this month’s payment, we owed $5611.00. We’ve been making payments for years but have only been paying the minimum $25/month (with 0% interest). At some point we always knew we’d obviously pay more. But it was a lower priority when we have other student loan debts racking up over 6.5% interest!

Well, just this week we received a bill from the debt collection agency stating:

“If you will pay $3647.15 of your balance by phone using a debit card, credit card, or check by phone, our client has agreed to adjust the remaining $1963.85 and you will have a zero balance.”

Well, I thought it was a good deal. I immediately showed hubs.

“Hey, should we just pay this debt off and be done with it?!”

His thought is: no. We should continue making our minimum $25 payment as normal. He thinks that eventually they’ll come down even more. While we focus on my student loans we’re in no hurry with them. It can sit and wait (as we continue making our $25/month payments). They’ll be there when we’re ready to negotiate.

As a little backstory, at the time when we first incurred the medical debt (back in December 2013) I called and tried to negotiate settlements if I could pay the debt in full. We owed several different medical entities (I wrote about how hubs had a weird health crisis in one of my very first posts on this blog). When I called around, only one (0ut of maybe 4 or 5) would even negotiate. I’ve since heard Dave Ramsey talk about this on his radio shows: few medical entities (or collectors for medical entities) will negotiate and settle debts. I guess they’re less likely to do it than a major credit card company, for example.

So the fact that this company is offering a settlement now, I thought, was HUGE!

But then, I got a call today on my cell. It’s the debt collection company (who has never once tried to contact me before). They asked how we planned to pay our bill. I told them that we’ve been paying our bill and planned to continue the way we have been. They said that, no, we were not actually on a payment plan. That we needed to pay the bill in full. And then they started trying to confirm information (employer, address, etc.). I confirmed our address but, when they asked about employers I said I was uncomfortable talking about that and they got all huffy and ended up hanging up on me. No mention of the settlement offer that they had just mailed.

Soooo…what the heck, guys???

I don’t know what to do! I’ve heard many times on Ramsey’s show about nasty debt collectors calling employers, etc. I’ve literally never had a call from this entity before and have been making faithful payments. Now I don’t know if they’re lying, or trying to scare us into paying, or what?! And I was about to pay in full to receive this settlement, but now I don’t know if that’s a terrible idea – like if they’re trying to take advantage of us. For instance, if we pay with a debit card and then they try to withdraw more than we agreed to, etc. Or what if I’m being overly dramatic? I just have absolutely NO experience with debt collectors. And then we get this letter, and now this rude call, and now I’m worried about my boss getting a call… What the heck!?

Thoughts? Advice? Words of wisdom?

*****UPDATE: I’ve written some relevant updates in the comments section. I’ve now received a new/updated settlement offer (see comments). Looks like I may be getting rid of this debt sooner rather than later, after all! ******


The Same Page?

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Have you ever said anything to your spouse and immediately regretted it, even when it did need saying?  I totally had one of those moments last night!

My darling hubby is a romantic at heart and came home with flowers after work, because he knew that I had had a difficult day dealing with the ramifications of the recent loss in our family.   Sweet, right?   Here comes my totally cringe-worthy moment.   My first words in response were “Thank you, but those really weren’t in the budget”.   Yeah, you can break out the pitchforks now, I am fully aware how awful that was!   Luckily, the hubby is awesome and totally got it and it didn’t cause a conflict, but I certainly felt like a jerk!

This event got me thinking to all the little things that we spend money on that are not really needed.   Hubby will bring me flowers, I will buy his favorite candy bar to sneak into his lunchbox.   Those  little signs of affection are very much important aspects of our marriage, and are something I need to plan for that I really hadn’t considered previously.

The flower situation also made me realize through the conversation that followed, that hubby, while wanting to get out of debt, is not quite ready to go kung fu, hard core on it yet.   That means I have a new aspect to the debt reduction challenge.  How do I make it happen as quickly as I want it to, while making sure that Hubby isn’t feeling the “pain” of it?  Any tips or ideas?


Tracking

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The last few weeks have been a bit boring on the debt pay down front as I am still just tracking expenses before I create a budget.   However, a couple things have already been revealed to me through just the tracking process.

1- We need to increase our income.   This is a really tricky one with my vision situation and not being able to drive.  Realistically,our debt payoff will be really slow if I don’t come up with a solution, because there is not a lot of excess to roll over.

2-We need to decrease our expenses.   While this goes hand in hand with #1, I think this is actually going to be the easier one to tackle.   Grocery and entertainment spending seem to be the easiest way to do this as far as what the numbers say so far.    The key to getting those expenses down is definitely going to be planning, from meal planning to planning on the go snacks and meals while we are out and about in order to decrease eating out expenses.

3-In order to jump start our emergency fund, we need to utilize our tax refund well!

4-We need to reconsider needs vs need right nows vs wants more thoroughly,   While we are not particularly frivolous spenders, we don’t always think twice when it comes to certain purchases, and we should!  For example, we had a heat register cover in our home that was beat out of shape and really did need replaced…..but I gave no thought to whether or not it needed replaced  right now.   It wasn’t a planned for expense, and even though it was a minor cost, I feel I should have waited until there was a specific budget for it.

5- The hubby and I are not as much on the same page as I though we were!….More to come in another post!


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