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Weekly Debt Update #23- Retirement Contributions Past, Present and Future


Hey everyone! I hope you all are having a great start to your week.

After I posted last week of my after debt plans (here), there was some outcry, confusion and wonder over my retirement plan. Here’s the statement in it’s entirety:

“I’m going to decrease my 401K contribution to the minimum (4%) to get the company match. I’ll use a fairly good portion of my after tax income to fund an investment account for a, hopefully, early retirement. I’d like to do between $300-$400 a week. This is a big one, since I want to save up a pretty large nest egg, but there’s a ton I feel like I’m putting off (like home renovations) that I could do with an extra $400 a month.”

After reading your comments and looking back and this statement, I left a lot of my recent activity and thinking on the subject off the table. But before I go into depth on my present and future retirement plans, I want to give you a history of what I’ve I’ve done previously.

  • At the start of my career, in May of 2009 with the federal government (in the Dept of Veterans Affairs), I started out contributing 3% of my salary to the federal government’s form of the 401k- the Thrift Savings Plan, or TPS, for short. I knew up front that the government would match every percent to 5%, but I also felt I needed every penny to pay my rent, utilities, food and looming student loans. At least I knew enough to contribute SOMETHING. What I didn’t realize at the time (but learned sometime after) is that the government will provide 1% of your salary (w/no match) into a separate money market account as a FERS (federal employees retirement system) basic benefit.
  • After a year of service I not only got a substantial raise, but a fellow employee found out I wasn’t contributed enough to max out the government match. I got a good scolding (she was a motherly type) and increased my contributions to 5% for the remainder of my stay with the government.
  • At the point I left the government in January of 2013, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 in the TPS account and $1,500 in the basic benefit account. When you leave the government, you can either elect to cash out the basic benefit (which was tax deferred) or leave it with the government if you plan on returning. I elected to take the money, which I used to pay down my student loans.
  • When I started with my new company, they have a policy that new employees need 6 months of service before you are eligible for their 401k program. I started at the end of January 2013, and with my six months plus some waiting time for the next enrollment period, I got into the 401k program in November of 2013. I immediately started contributing 4% to get the company match. The company match, however, is subject to vesting: you get 20% on your 2nd anniversary and an additional 20% for every year after until you are fully vested on your 6 year anniversary.
  • I was in the 401k program for 10 months when I met with a Dave Ramsey endorsed CPA in September of 2014. While I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, I do agree that he’s helped a lot of people get out of debt with his debt free program, so I used his service to find a local CPA (plus I didn’t know how else to look someone up). After giving the CPA my story and financial run down, he agreed that I should cash in my government TPS account and stop contributions to my current 401k. I immediately did both of these (well documented in my first few posts here).
  • After 7 months of not contributing anything, I elected to go back to 4% in May and having feeling this still wasn’t enough, I’m now at 10%. My current vested balance is $6,200.

So that’s my history on the subject. Recently (within the past month), I met with a retirement adviser that my company utilizes to oversee the 401k program. After telling him my history, my financial rundown and future plans (the early retirement/financial freedom) he gave me some advise to stop all but the 4% contributions and instead contribute into a non-retirement investment portfolio (one with minimal fees) once I’m debt free. His logic was that if I want to retire at or around 40 (the age I gave him when he asked) I would want to have immediate access to the money without having to worry about income taxes and penalties that are associated with 401k’s. He also suggested that I could split the investments into a Roth IRA and the investment portfolio. This would give me two pots of money, one for pre-55 and one post 55. So that pretty much sums up the rationale behind my previous post. As a few of you said, my thinking nd history on the subject appears scattered, but I would say it IS scattered. I got some amazing feedback on what to do on my last post (looking at you, Angie), but I would like more. Any help is appreciated- anecdotes, references, tips, anything on the subject would help give me some clarity.

As for my current debt balances, here you go:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,719.92$4,117.32$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,604.04$3,592.98$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$4,045.23$6,304.95$410.45
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00

I hope everyone has a great week!

Weekly Debt Update #21- New Budget


Hey everybody! Happy Tuesday!

I want to share with everyone what I’m going to start using as my new budget now that I’m on the 2nd phase on my debt payoff.

But before I do that, I want to tell you quickly about my weekend. It was mys father’s 55th birthday, so we went up to Buffalo to celebrate and hangout. Much like I did for Mother’s Day (here), GF and I went to hard made route for my Father’s Day. Instead of doing the fresh cut flowers and a letter, I picked up a 6 pack of a beer I know he hasn’t tried (he’s really into beer tasting) and made the card myself. It’s by no means a work of art, and even though it looks like a child made it, I assure you the handy work was all mine:

Dad Card

(Yes, we are HUGE Bills fans, if you couldn’t tell, lol)

I did the drawing free hand using an image from Google Image Search as a guide and filled it in using water colors. I personalized a little inscription on the inside basically telling my dad how much we appreciate him, This was my first attempt at really creating something as a gift, and though it is simple, I  could tell my dad really appreciated it. I feel I’m going to have a lot more crafting in my future. As for GF, she made an absolutely delicious salsa using the vegetables from our garden for him (read about it here), which she then wrapped up in a little container with a bow. So between the beer, the salsa and the card, I think we did pretty good.

As for my budget, I’ve added a some line items, because of lumping everything into a catch all  “Miscellaneous” category for all items that I don’t have planned for.  I’ve also added a car maintenance line to take car of items like oil changes and repairs. Here’s what it looks like:

New Budget


For comparisons sake, here is what I was using:

Weekly Update #9


So…what do you guys think?

And lastly, here are my new debt balances since last week:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,776.95$4,060.29$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,651.56$3,545.46$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$5,310.59$4,867.47$443.12
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00

I hope everyone has a great week!

Summer Book Club Review: Your Money or Your Life


I’m a little late with my review, as Your Money or Your Life was supposed to be our July book for our summer book club and I just finished it. Better late than never, right?

In June I reviewed Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money. Feel free to check that out, too!

Now, onto this review.


For some reason, I had a really hard time getting into this book. There’s an introduction and a prologue and I swear it took me 3 weeks to get through those few pages. But once I finally got into the first chapter, the book drew me in a bit more and I devoured it pretty quickly.

I definitely didn’t agree with everything the authors said. They start laying their argument by discussing how miserable many people are in their jobs:  the long commute, battling traffic, doing mindless work, and always looking forward to 5:00pm or punch-out time. They call it “making a dying” (instead of making a living). I have to say, this perspective really didn’t resonate with me at all. I think partly because I really love my job, partly because its still so fresh and new (and I’m just so grateful to have it), and partly because I don’t have the typical 9-5 job. There’s a little more flexibility and I find it to be challenging but enjoyable at the same time. So the way they framed the book really didn’t appeal to me. I felt like it was written for someone else.

That being said, I still really enjoyed the content. Some of the figures the authors present are really compelling – on average we have $8,000 of consumer debt for every man, woman, and child in the United States. Savings rates in 2007 were less than 1 %, compared to a 10.9% rate of savings in 1981.

The book was a little dated (and, therefore, so are the figures presented), but the core message is clear:  We spend our whole lives working and have nothing to show for it. No savings and lots of debt. So from that perspective, we’re certainly a slave to our jobs.

I also really enjoyed the various thought provoking exercises. Again – I didn’t feel that everything necessarily applied to (or helped) me, personally. Though I think much of that is because I’m already committed to my debt-reduction journey. If I read this book 3 years ago when I was still just contemplating tackling my debt (before I’d taken real and active measures to actually pay down debt) I think it would have been much more beneficial. Even so, there were several activities that still appealed to me.

Step 2 in the program is to “track your life energy.” The authors give two simple instructions to complete this step: “a) Establish the actual costs in time and money required to maintain your job, and compute your real hourly wage, and b) Keep track of every cent that comes into or goes out of your life.” The purpose of this activity is to step back and really assess our true income, after taking all job-related time and expenses into consideration (e.g., work clothing, commute time, lunches at the office, evening e-mails, etc.)

The authors pose the question: “If you didn’t need [your] money-earning job, what time expenditures and monetary expenses would disappear from your life?”

I also like how the authors continually push back against the traditional job scenario (the 40 hour work week for 40 years). They teach readers to think in terms of overall life values, satisfaction, and fulfillment and to examine how behaviors might change if work were not a requirement of survival. They challenge our culture’s very idea of “fulfillment” and explain the thin line between “enough” and “excess.” They teach the pleasures of frugality – of spending less, but enjoying more.

Overall, nothing was really rocket science in this book. They provide strategies to decrease spending and live a happier, more fulfilling life with less. But I liked how they tied together many psychological and even spiritual (to some extent) elements to make a case for the importance of changing our outlook on life:  to place more value on our time and less value on “stuff.”

I think this book would be particularly beneficial for those just starting (or thinking of starting) their debt-reduction journey, or for those who are struggling with budgeting.

If you’ve read this book, what did you think? Have you read any other good financial books or articles lately? (feel free to link in comments)

My Thoughts About My Month Off


I hope everyone is having a fantastic start to their week, even after the bad news we all got (Ashley’s Father). Ashley- if you’re reading this, my heart goes out to you and your family during this time.

Writing this post seems pretty trivial after this weekend, but now it’s nearing the end of my month off from paying off any debt, I want to provide everyone with my what my feelings have been during this time:

  • I felt like I had more money than ever before. Which was true- I’ve never been able to spend like I spent this month without incurring extra. And even with this fact in mind, the money is all gone, sorta- I put $500 into my savings.  But I can plainly see how people’s expenses can grow to meet their income, and it a lot of cases, exceed their income, without a good deal of oversight.
  • I felt good spending the money. It was awesome (and greatly needed) that I bought new clothes. It felt good to be able to spend “freely” in Disney. We’ve certainly enjoyed eating out and going for ice cream and the other activities we did that we normally wouldn’t have.
  • But I don’t want to make it a habit. I had a ton of money to spend, I spent it, it felt pretty good spending it, but I don’t want to make it a habit. In the short term- I have the goal of paying off debt while saving as much as I can for retirement. In the long term, I may be debt free, but I don’t want to live with a mountain of stuff only because I’ll have the money available. I think this may be obvious to a lot of you that I wouldn’t want to end up this way after spending so many years tackling this debt, but I want to reiterate it here for my own peace of mind after all the spending I did this month. It was a fun month but not the lifestyle I want to live.
  • And at the end I’m no happier than I was. At the end of this month, with all the money I spent, I didn’t leave this month any happier than it began. It may be because I still have a mountain of debt to payoff, or it may be because after all the “stuff” I bought, it couldn’t buy me happiness, just like the cliche saying. The Disney trip made me unbelievable happy and I’ll always have those memories- but it was over in an instant and we we’re back to everyday lives, albeit with some added post-Disney depression.
  • However, it did make me ready to go again for more payoff. I think this was the biggest outcome I got from the month off. TBH- I was feeling very mentally drained towards the end of June, which I think you could all tell, so this allowed me a little bit of R&R. But now, I’m READY to get back into it! Like an athlete that had to sit out a year due to injury, I’m going to hit the next half of my payoff with a full head of steam, (while still having that oh so important life/payoff balance :))

What are your thoughts concerning my month off? Have you done anything similar? Was it worth it or did you regret it? Let me know in the comments!

I’ll have one more week of my month off (but I pay my mortgage this week, so it won’t feel like it), at which point I’ll be back with my weekly debt updates and my month ending reviews.

Have a great rest of your week!

2015 Goal Check-In


On December 30th of last year I sat down and took stock of my progress with debt repayment and made some 2015 financial goals. Some of the goals were more about general bookkeeping (like splitting up my “miscellaneous” category, which I did when I joined YNAB). But my one concrete numbers-based goal was simple.

In 2014 I paid more than $25,000 toward debt. I made the goal that in 2015 I’d pay $30,000 toward debt.

So how have we done?

Wellllllll, not so great. We were struck with a series of months with lower-than-our-average pay, even during the months when we usually make the most (like during summer). There was one month where hubs literally didn’t draw an income at all and almost all of my pay was sucked up into an overdue tax bill. So we had some pretty lackluster debt payments.

We’re 7 months into the year, and here’s where things stand with debt payment.

2015 Debt Payments

January $1678
February $1822
March $653
April $1796
May $1708
June $725
July $2125
Total $10,507

By this point in time, we should really have paid closer to $18,000 to be on target to hit our $30,000 goal. So we may be behind, but I’m not ready to admit defeat on this goal just yet.

With my new income stream starting to come in (my first paycheck was this past Friday! Wahoo!), and another goal being to pay off the car by the end of the year (now with just under a $14,000 balance), I think if we focus and are conservative with our spending that we’ll be able to reach BOTH goals (paying off the car by end of 2015 AND putting $30,000 toward debt this year).

There are definitely still some unknowns (e.g., will I get to keep my part-time job???), but right now I’m thinking positive thoughts and I’m going to keep chugging along with the hopes of hitting that big $30,000 mark. Can we have a moment of silence in appreciation of how HUGE that figure is? Granted, that’s not all money going straight toward principal (its money paid toward debt in general, which includes a good chunk of interest, so it’s not the same as a reduction of $30,000 in debt). But still! I’m in amazement, given that just a few years ago our entire ANNUAL INCOME was around $30,000! And now we’re hoping to spend that much just on debt! It feels good! I’m ready for this debt to be gone! It’s far past time!

I’m coming for you, debt! Say your goodbyes now!!!

My Father’s Caretaker and Long-Term Financial Implications


You know the feeling where you’re so overwhelmed with important tasks and to do’s that you can’t do anything and you end up just taking a nap?

Yeah. That’s where I’m at. Not so much with the napping part (though it sounds nice). But, hello little bloggy! Here I am “talking” to you instead of putting my head down and pushing through some pretty important to do’s.

Let’s talk about yesterday.

Longest. Day. Of. My. Life.

Reeeeeeeaaaaaaaaallllly long.

Between my 2 siblings and I (3 of us total), I totally thought I was the most mentally prepared to face my Dad’s health issues. I’m not a super emotional person. I look at things scientifically. Matter-of-factly. I’m a realist.

So I went to this appointment feeling fully prepared to hear what I thought would be “worst case scenario.” I had already in my mind an idea of what I thought that scenario would be.


I was wrong. So, so wrong.

It’s worse.

Prognosis is not good. Again, wanting to maintain some privacy for him and not give too many of his personal details, I’m going to be intentionally vague (you may be able to figure it out – which is fine – but I don’t want to just put it all out there on a silver platter).

My dad has a progressive, degenerative disease for which there is no cure. Eventually he will die of it (or complications related to it). Not today. Not tomorrow. But his life span has just been dramatically reduced. He just turned 59 in March. Quite young, relatively speaking.

I will also tell you that the thing he’s been diagnosed with can be genetic. If one inherits the gene mutations associated with this disease, there’s a 50/50 chance of developing it as some point.

It will cut life short. Most people are diagnosed in their 50s, and life expectancy at time of diagnosis ranges from 2-10 years, with most living in the 5-7 range. My dad managed to go undiagnosed for a long time. It’s unlikely he has 5 years. Probably closer to 2. If we’re lucky.

What does this mean for me?

Well, if I have the same gene sequences, there’s a 50% chance I’ll someday have the same thing. That means my life expectancy will be drastically cut. According to here  my life expectancy is 78.7 years (white female born in 1983). But instead it might be closer to 55 or 60. 65 if I’m lucky.

What my Dad has is not curable at this time. There’s also no way to prevent it.

So I’m going to ask my doctor for a referral to a genetic counselor. I want to know if I have these gene mutations. If I have them it’s not a guarantee that I’m “doomed” (again – only 50% chance of developing the disease). But it will undoubtedly change the way I live my life. Knowing I may only be around until my girls are age 30; knowing I may not have the long retirement we all dream and plan for; knowing my life may go in a very different direction than what I would hope.

Unfortunately for this get-out-of-debt blog, many of these long-term implications are financial in nature. I certainly don’t want to leave my family in financial ruin (and I still have every intention of paying off all our debt). BUT I’m not going to put off vacations to once a decade. I’m not going to live bare bones with the hope that someday I’ll be able to live this fabulous life full of fruits and riches that may never end of happening.

Maybe I’m still in a bit of shock and some of these feelings will fade. The emotions are raw right now.

I’m devastated. For my Dad. For my siblings. For me. And for my daughters (God, please don’t let them have this gene mutation!!!)

Sorry to be such a downer today, but this is literally ALL I can think about and I always try to be open and honest with you all. It’d be completely phony to act like nothing is wrong when it feels like the ground has just opened up beneath me.


So emotions aside, let’s talk about genetics. And money. Specifically….money for genetic testing.

Anyone know anything about that? It’s probably expensive, huh?

I changed my insurance. I was going to do a Health Savings Account, but I had to switch to a PPO. There’s a chance my Dad may come to live with us for a bit and, if so, he’ll be my dependent and added to my insurance. He’ll need a lot of care so it makes an HSA not beneficial.

Plus, I think my PPO plan will pay for some genetic testing to be done. Remember when I had a genetic screening for the gene mutation responsible for breast and ovarian cancer? That was fully covered under my PPO and my new job’s coverage is the same plan (Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO), so I REALLY REALLY hope they’ll cover some additional genetic screening to be completed. I know this is an area of intense debate. Several commenters were against my last genetic screening. But every person is different. For me, I feel like I NEED to know.

Plus another perk, with the PPO plan a vasectomy is only $30! Remember when we had that conversation?

So I’m just chugging right along. Possible big financial changes ahead (particularly if my Dad does, indeed, move in with us. Still discussing options with the siblings right now). I don’t even know what a best case scenario looks like. There is no best case. Just a bunch of crappy, more crappy, or slightly less crappy options. Just a bunch of crap.

Is it Friday? Thank goodness for that at least! I plan to spend the weekend squeezing my daughters tightly, playing the tickle monster game all day, and just generally smothering them until they tell me to go away because I just want to soak in their sweet little toddler spirits. God bless children for being a rainbow in the midst of a storm!

Yogurt Date


One of the joys of being more in control of my month, monthly expenditures and debt…is DATE time.  No, I am not dating…but I am definitely making a more concentrated effort to spend more one on one time with each of my kiddos.  Living in our tiny space have been stressful for us all, but especially as of late with the “hope” of being able to move and having that quashed multiple times.  (More on that another time.)

So I got to end my work day today with a yogurt date with Little Gymnast before dropping him off for his 5 HOURS of gymnastics training.  I love that I can schedule a DATE with him and not worry about spending the $10 for some fun without having a crushing weight over me, living paycheck to paycheck and wondering how to keep all the “balls in the air.”

So just a quick joy filled post about my wonderful mom/son date time today with yogurt…which I did use a $5 off coupon for – even better!