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.
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.
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.
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.
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).
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!!!
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!!!