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Education Excitement


*THIS IS NOT FINANCE RELATED, so if that doesn’t interest you, skip it.

I’m not sure how much I’ve shared on here about the twins education, and I won’t go too far, but we have reached a HUGE milestone and I am so proud of them and their hard work.

A little background…

When the twins were placed with me, 2 weeks before their 13th birthday, it was quickly discovered that while they were avid readers and their reading comprehension was way above level.  Their writing skills and math skills were horrid — and that is not an exaggeration.  Within the first year, I had them evaluated via the schools and their levels were early elementary school or below…this was in 7th grade.

Of course, as a homeschooler I wanted to pull them out and get to work, but that was not allowed, nor would have been wise since the goal for those first two years they were here was for them to be able to return home.  So we started doing remedial work at home along with their public school work.  And we made a little headway, but as a mom, it was like pulling teeth.  I know it was extra work for them and they were really not used to school being so important.

Ok, so fast forward, 9th grade, the year they were adopted I was able to pull them out and we got busy.  A wonderful woman at our homeschool co op really worked with me and tutored them, I continued doing weekly math with them. Etc.   I think you get the picture…lots of hardwork and headaches and failures and triumphs and tears and slamming doors.

So the news…

The twins completed their end of the year testing…using the TerraNova test for those of you who are interested.  (Also, an FYI, we order standardized tests from Seton Testing, so these are the same tests that are given in public schools for those not as familiar with homeschooling.) We did the complete battery and across the board both twins are on or above grade level with the exception of math.  EVERY SINGLE SUBJECT, we are caught up!  And for math, they are both now solidly on a high school level.

These boys have literally caught up on 12 years of math in just 2 years of hard work.  Super proud mama here!  And History Buff worked so hard last year, that there is a solid chance that he could graduate early.

We will be tackling Geometry this year, so wish us luck.  We are getting started this week with hopes of completing the school year by the end of April again.

I hope you will celebrate with me, these boys have worked SO HARD and OVERCOME so much and I couldn’t be more proud.

The Hard Wins


Happy Tuesday Everyone!

I won’t have a weekly debt update this week, since I didn’t pay much off. Instead I want to focus on the challenge my last 3 loans will be to pay off.

On last week’s post, I was asked a number of questions in the comments section by Judi; these got to doing some thinking. The questions pretty much pertained to the following:

  1. Do you think your last 3, but largest debts, will be mentally easier or harder to payoff than all the ones before? And…
  2. How am breaking down these larger loans into smaller wins? And…
  3. How are you planning on keeping your focus during this time?

The first two are relatively easy to answer. I just KNOW that these last few are going to be BY FAR the hardest to payoff. From a financial standpoint, they represent nearly 1/2 of my student loan balance. From a mental standpoint, they are mountains compared to the mole hills I’ve climbing thus far. The only comparable balance would be my car, which had an August ’13 balance of $11,700 BUT I wiped out most of this in one swoop with an old 401K account withdrawal- I don’t have any more large accounts I can withdraw from if I’m feeling that “itch” to just pay another one off.

As far as the 2nd question, ever since I aggressively started paying off my debt, I’ve kept a line of “Next Steps”. For each balance, large or small, my “next step” or target was the next nearest $1,00 increment. So if my balance was $7,575, my target was $7,000 and so on and so forth. This idea was definitely not mine; I got the idea from Joan over at “Man vs. Debt” (Side Note: I really like what Baker accomplished, but they have since seemed to have packed up and moved on over there…). I thought it was one of her best moves, and replicated it in the same fashion into my own debt payoff.

As for the 3rd question, I don’t really know. Since all my loans to this point have been relatively low balances, I’ve only had to go a few months in between the wins of having paid them off- which kept my focus the most. But now it’s going to be months and quite possibly years between wins and the ultimate goal of $0 debt, and I’m not sure what to expect other than difficulty. I’ve maintained my frugal lifestyle since graduating college 6 years ago, but at some point I know I’m going to want to see some tangible rewards for all my hard work up to this point. So it’s like, can I keep this going for another year to 2 years? Just having a savings account worth more than a couple grand would be enough.

Have any of you paid off a large $20k+ debt? If so, how long did it take and how did you maintain focus?

(On a side note: I would like to save more in my 401k, ASAP, while I pay off these last large chucks. I’ve filled out the paperwork to increase my contribution from 4 to 10%, but haven’t handed it in, yet. What do you think?)

I will be posting my May in review, but I’m not sure I can get to it today, but certainly by the end of the week.

Weekly Debt Update #16- Memorial Day Fun


Happy Thursday everyone!

I hope everybody is having a great (and short) week thus far!

As I originally intended to post this on Tuesday, I want to talk about what we did for Memorial Day. Over the weekend, we decided to have my parents down for a couple days to celebrate. Originally, when I talked to my parents about coming down back in April, they were going to stay for one day (Saturday) and night. We ended up having such a good time that it turned into 2 days (Saturday and Sunday) and 2 nights.

To prepare for our plans, which was to have a picnic, I ended up using a good portion of my monthly “fun” money ($50) to help out. I used this money to purchase the food we “needed” for some picnics. GF also pitched in by paying for 1/2 the picnic supplies plus beer. My folks got down to Erie on Saturday where we just hung out, talked and ate stuff we had around our house. We love having fires, so we spent a good part of the evening and most of the night just drinking beer and relaxing by the fire while our dogs played in the back yard.

Sunday was picnic day. Since Erie has such nice beaches, we were going to have our picnic down on the beach and hang out by the water and soak up some sun. Plans changed pretty quickly that morning. Erie has a very quaint little amusement park down by the water called Waldemeer. My mother thought it would be a great idea to have our picnic there and treat everyone to rides as a thank you for letting them spend the weekend with us. The park ride tickets aren’t expensive ($20-ish for all you can ride) and there’s never a wait to get on, which makes it a perfect place to spent a few hours. Here’s my and GF in the park:


Half way through our stay, I grilled out hog dogs, had some pasta salad and fruit that I got at the store the day before. It was an excellent way to spend time with my family. Later that evening, we had dinner and returned to the park to watch their Memorial Day fireworks (which everyone in Erie goes to watch).

On the actual holiday, the GF and I planted our garden/did some yard work while her mom visited and we had…another cookout! We finally used up the food we bought at the beginning of the weekend. All in all, I ended up only spending $30 for the picnic stuff plus gas to host our families. Last summer was our first experiment with gardening, and we seemed to overload the small plot with too many plants. This year, we’ve stuck to just our favorites: tomatoes, hot peppers, and cucumbers. Here’s a picture of the finished product:


Not only do we love our vegetables, but it’s also a financial save since we tend to go through a lot.

For anyone interested in my debt numbers since last week, here they are:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,896.61$3,940.63$88.62
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,750.50$3,449.52$69.94
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,339.83$3,010.35$67.81
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$4,840.64$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

Like I posted last week- I reached the under $50,000 milestone! Something, I didn’t think I would ever reach!!

Have a great weekend!

Weekly Debt Update #15- One More Paid Off and Support Groups


Sorry for the late posting today, but it’s been a very busy couple of days at home- lots to do now that the weather has turned for good!

I’ll start this post with a debt update because I have some wonderful news to share- I paid off Sallie Mae 05!! That’s right- gone!! Another one bites the dust, lol.

So here’s what the numbers look like now:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid Off+/- Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,985.23$3,852.01$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,820.44$3,376.58$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,407.64$2,942.54$0.00
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$4,840.64$1,255.39
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’m also super close to another milestone (a milestone that felt like an eternity away only a year ago)- below $50,000. I think seeing a 4 as the first number is going to have a very big impact on my psyche moving forward.

I also want to talk about something that can very much make or break a debt payoff- the support of your family and friends. I’m extremely blessed in the sense that for the most part, I have this support, with most of my blessings aimed towards my parents and my GF. BUT, it hasn’t always been this way for me. When I originally told my parents, I got a lot of “why’s?” and “don’t you make enough money not to worry?”. They still make jokes at my expense about it, but I take it in stride, since they really do support me. It took some convincing that I’m on the right path FOR ME, but I finally got them to agree that I’m making the right choice.

When I graduated from college (with a butt load of debt and 40K/year in pay) I had a girlfriend of a year. When my student loans were coming due and I had to make cuts (which included, dates, gifts and the like), we did NOT see eye to eye and was one of the big reasons for our eventual breakup.

I even went on a date a couple of years ago where the girl spent the whole date asking me about my personal financial situation. After I told her I was an engineer, but I didn’t have much money to spend, she couldn’t believe that I chose to live my life in such a frugal manner. There was no 2nd date.

As for my close friends, I don’t remember having many issues. They supported since we were, and some of us still are, all in the same predicament, being as we all graduated from the same, very expensive, school. Some of us still talk financials on a regular basis.

This is a hard subject for me to bring up, because I’ve haven’t been on the other side of the fence too often. I had the one breakup many moons ago, but other than that I haven’t found any of my friends or family to be roadblocks. To me, it seems like such a crapshoot, which boils down to: are you lucky enough to have people around you, particularly family members (as you can’t pick your family, like you can friends) that got your back? Since I really feel we’re all in this together, I’d like to open a discussion on the topic in the comments section for anyone willing to share. I have a couple of questions:

  1. During your debt payoff, do you feel like you did or didn’t have the support of those around you?
  2. How do you think it affected your debt paydown?
  3. Did any of you NOT reach your goal from lack of support?
  4. Did any of you reach your goal IN SPITE OF the lack of support?

Thanks, and have a great week!

How I Got into Bartering


Many have asked how I got into bartering. It wasn’t intentional, typically I would be too nervous to ask, but becoming a single mom make me a bit more fierce on behalf of my kids. It started a little over five years ago. I was having such trouble with my son (the twins were not in the picture yet.) He was stubborn and inquisitive and determined like no one I’ve ever met, and this was at 4 years old!

The owner and Princess and Little Gymnast soon after they started.

The owner and Princess and Little Gymnast soon after they started.

I was seeking help, and stumbled up martial arts as a sport of discipline. So I started calling around and visiting martial arts schools with him in tow. Most wouldn’t touch him, he was just generally too young for their programs, but one school would – Baeplex Family Martial Arts. I had explained a little bit of the situation as I set up the appointment to bring him in to try a class. We walked in the door and I felt at home. The instructors were personable, high energy and super attentive to the kids.

We walked out of there with both kids signed up for a trial month. We could go as often as our schedule allowed, the classes were just the right length that I could sit and wait or even run out and do a quick errand (that was like manna to this single mom’s ears,) and the price for the month was perfect, something I felt I could keep up.

Now keep in mind, I was only finding this for my son, but my daughter had a month until her dance classes started, so I did the trial month for both, figuring that the Princess would quit after the month and go into dance. Needless to say…at the end of that month, she BEGGED to continue. And there I was meeting with the owner of the studio, anticipating paying for one child on an ongoing basis and seeing that it was really my daughter who wanted this. I was in tears…and felt I had no choice but to ask.

And that is how bartering began for us…my web design and technical support skills in exchange for a reduced monthly tuition. Four years later, the Princess received her black belt. (Little Gymnast continued for several years, but after he found gymnastics, it was over.)

The owner of the studio tying on her new black belt after 3 hours of testing.

The owner of the studio tying on her new black belt after 3 hours of testing.

I would never have had the courage to suggest it without the needs and wants of my kids bolstering me. And now five years later, I don’t hesitate to ask/offer. I figure the worst they can say is no, and it’s opened up so many doors for my children to experience things that they never would have been able to without it.

So my suggestion…ASK…the worst they can say is no, but I think you will find many are willing to work with you!  Just today I sent an email to a new sport my daughter is trying to offer web design or registration form design services in exchange for participation or summer camp, etc. whatever they might need.  Crossing my fingers that it might work out.

A General Life Update – Rambling Style


Accept my apology up-front for this kind of rambling update.  I think Ashley sent us her cooties (ie allergies) and it’s been a miserable couple of weeks for those of us with allergies and those of us without listening to those that do have allergies.

As of this week, I have paid all this month’s bills and next month’s bills (ie rent + utilities + insurance.)  For the first time in I don’t know how long I am not waiting nail-bitingly to see when my checks arrive and prioritizing who to pay with this money and who to pay with a subsequent payment (remember, as contract labor I have no set pay dates and am really at the mercy of my clients time table.)

I still have 4 checks that should arrive before the end of the month or soon thereafter.  I will be socking away that money for June’s monthly bills and then proceeding with debt payments (remember we only paid the minimums this month to allow me to get to a place to live on last month’s income.)

We’ve spent all of our grocery allowance for this month and I’m hoping to save May’s until after our mini-vacation in mid-May.  We will have 2 months (April and May) of our Misc money to spend on our vacation.  And frankly, living with no extra has not been so hard.  I think having the incentive of what promises to be a really nice mini-vacation has made it much more bearable.

As  I mentioned last week, I have gotten two new work jobs…one project and one on-going.  I have decided to delve into that money a little bit and give eh kids a birthday party this year.  It will still be frugal, but with us being so close to being consumer debt free, this being “extra” money that is not currently incorporated in our budget and the kids being SO, SO good about our cutting back in all aspects of life, I think this is a great way to treat them.  I’m hoping that since they are not expecting a party, I can pull off some sort of surprise party…still frugal.  So I’m sure I’ll post on this once I get more of a solid idea.

We are wrapping up our school year this week with standardized testing.  So every morning the younger two kids go to a small private school who is also doing their testing.  For a nominal cost of $25 each, they sit in a classroom with kids their age and take their tests.  We’ve done it this way since they were K and 1st grade and it’s a week they look forward too as they get to be in a “classroom” and it symbolizes the end of their school year.  (We school year round, but our summer schedule is much looser and we will take the next few weeks off until after our mini-vacation.)  The twins can’t go to this same school as it only goes through middle school, so I order their tests from setontesting.com and I proctor them. That costs me $40 per child and it will take 2-3 days 2-3 hours per day.  Just a glimpse into our homeschooling world and costs associated with it.

I think that about sums it up on the financial end.  We are still staying busy with gymnastics 3 days a week, field hockey 2 days a week, Navy Sea Cadets 1 drill weekend a month and finishing up the high school lab sciences for the twins.

What’s Next to Come


I’ve had an allergy/sinus-related borderline migraine for the past couple days so bear with me today. This post is a bit stream-of-consciousness…. (side note: I googled whether the expression is “bear with me” or “bare with me” and its definitely “bear.” Apparently “bare with me” would literally be an invitation to undress with someone. lol!)


Two big things going on right now that I’d like to talk about and discuss amongst ourselves. Perhaps would be better to split into two separate posts but you get stream-of-consciousness Ashley today, lucky you!

1. Preschools. For new readers, my twin almost-three-year-old daughters are in preschool Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. We pay an exorbitant amount of money for this part-time care to the tune of over $1,000 per month (see last budget post here). For long-time readers, you may recall that deciding on this specific preschool was a decision that we emotionally wrestled with for months. We first tried two separate options (an in-home daycare and a different preschool) before settling on our current place. We pay through the nose for this care, but it is HIGH QUALITY care. This is very important to me, so I was willing to pay this price (and drive quite a distance – a solid 30-45 minute drive each way x 2 for morning drop-off and afternoon pick-up). BUT – a lot more options open up for three-year-olds. We were a bit more limited with options for 2 year olds, but I’ve already started touring some new places nearby. Let’s be honest – our current place is INCREDIBLE. Really, truly incredible. They don’t have official NAEYC accreditation (the “gold standard” for measuring quality child care), but they meet all the top 10 program standards set forth by NAEYC (see here for more info). Meeting all 10 of those standards is TOUGH! I’ve got 4 new preschools on my list to see and so far I’ve checked out 2. One is definitely out. The other one I really liked! It doesn’t have standard #8 (i.e., there’s no community involvement/outreach), but it meets all the other standards and the curriculum is specifically designed to be NAEYC-compliant. Plus its much closer (about 15 minutes versus 30) and costs less. For 3 days a week, the cost would be $640/month (for both girls!), so significantly cheaper! For 5 days a week the cost is still less than our current preschool, costing $880/month (for both girls). I do have one concern – the main teacher is only in the room until noon; at that point the aids take over for the rest of the afternoon. That’s not ideal for a few reasons (higher turnover of aids disrupts relationships, not as high education/training, etc.), but it’s not a deal-breaker. Overall, I’m hopeful that come August (when the new school year starts), our preschool costs will be decreasing! Fingers crossed!

2. Job Stuff. Blah! Now that I’m writing this I feel like it really deserves its own post, but here goes…  I’ve recently determined that I’m going to spend more time doing research (which is completely unpaid but can help me get a full-time academic position). BUT, I’m really starting to feel the pain of losing my part-time research job at University B (got my last paycheck back in December), so I was thinking about trying to pick up more work. I starting poking around at online teaching jobs (for new universities) and it is so incredibly depressing. Do you know that online college teaching – for people with masters and doctorates – pays an average of $1500-$2500 per class? What the heck? That is insane!! For a 3-credit hour class, the general rule of thumb is that you spend 10 hours per week on the class. If the class is 15 weeks long, that averages out to only like $10-15 bucks an hour! Sure, there are shorter classes (condensed into an 8 or even 5 week course), but then you spend more hours per week on it! We’re talking – adjuncts are getting paid peanuts! You get paid more flipping burgers at some places! Wow! I have never revealed exactly how much I make teaching online (I’ve just said I get paid very well considering its part-time work). Let’s just say…I make substantially more than that. Like…by a lot. So now I’m so torn! I want to make up my lost income, but I have begged and pleaded to teach more classes at my current online teaching place and they just simply don’t have the demand for more classes right now (I’ve been granted an extra class 2 separate times, only to have it canceled due to low enrollment). I do teach 2 classes per semester – thank goodness! – but I would LOVE a third! BUT, it turns out that if I want to branch out to teaching at other places, I would essentially have to teach THREE classes just to equal the amount I get paid for ONE class at my current job. Makes it feel not even worth it! You guys – help! Would you try looking for additional teaching work? At $10 or $15 bucks an hour, is it even worth it? Or should I be focusing my attention more on the research (even though its completely unpaid…though has the potential for a bigger reward in the end if it lands me a job)??? I’m thinking I may hold out on looking for additional revenue streams while I’m trying to bolster my research career, but wanted to know what you think.

And one final question – can you OD on tylenol? I mean, I’m sure you can….but how much does it take, exactly? Liiiike, I’ve taken 4 and my head is still throbbing. Maybe time just to lay down for a bit??? We only have tylenol at home right now, but does a different medicine (motrin?) work better for sinus-related headaches???

I hope no one else is experiencing the allergy hell I’m in right now! Be well, everyone!