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50/50

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Back in December 2015 we hit a big milestone. We had officially paid $50,000 toward debt!!!

What a huge thing! Just thinking about paying $50,000 toward debt in two years (a rate of $25,000/year – nearly half our annual income when we first started blogging!) is mind-blowing.

And just last month we hit another big milestone. One that I have mixed feelings about.

We have now decreased our debt by $50,000.

Say what?

When we hit the first $50,000 milestone, that was money that we’d paid toward debt. But, obviously, most of our debts have interest attached to them. So just because we paid $50,000 toward debt didn’t mean we’d actually decreased our debt by that amount because a good chunk of our money was going toward interest on the debt.

It took another FOUR MONTHS to finally decrease our debt by the same $50,000 that we’d celebrated back in December.

Nutso.

It makes me sick to look at the size of our student loan debt and realize how much we’ve paid that has only gone toward interest. Nothing toward any principal reduction at all. And to see the calculations that say “if you pay the minimum payment, by X time you’ll have paid X amount.” You all know what I’m talking about. Credit card statements have the same statement on them. So you’re looking at your current debt number, but then you see that if you only pay the minimum that in the end you’ll end up paying MUCH more than the original debt amount. After all the interest is included, it can be close to paying 2X! Two times as much as the initial debt!

Ick!

I had a couple people comment on nearing the $50,000 debt reduction mark and ask whether I was excited.

Yes, of course I am! That’s a huge reduction in debt!

But I have mixed feelings. It’s also a little kick to the gut. Knowing we’d paid $50,000 back in December, but our debt numbers didn’t actually reflect a $50,000 decrease until 4 months later. Four long, grueling months of making major debt payments. All of which was consumed by interest. Boo!

It’s a valuable lesson, though. The debtor is a slave to the lender. Another reason to never, ever go into debt again (*ahem* except for a mortgage).

When you think about debt payoff, do you tend to think in terms of dollars toward it (including paying interest), or in actual amount of debt reduction? I report both in my monthly debt updates, but I tend to think more in terms of dollars spent toward debt (including interest). It sucks that there’s such a lag behind dollars spent & dollars in debt reduction.


April Budget Update

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Yikes! With how overdue this budget update is, I did consider just skipping it entirely. I forgot to post December’s budget and it was my first time to ever miss a month! I don’t want it to start becoming a pattern. So, instead of pushing it off any longer, here’s the extremely overdue budget:

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2000
Electricity 88
Water 55
Natural gas 60
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 100
Trash 35
Preschool 1075
Restaurants 249
Entertainment 1
Kids Activities 82
Groceries 582
Gasoline 99
Household Goods 9
Clothing 75
Toddler Stuff 5
Work Expenses 50
Rainy Day Savings 2142 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 424 (minus deductions, see below)
Debt Payments 1521
Total Budgeted $9,941

 

Comments:

Down Payment Savings ($2000): This is right on track.” The goal is to get to $10,000 by mid-summer. That being said, I already know we won’t have the full $2,000 for this month (May). Initially, we were hoping to start house-hunting this month but we thought better and have pushed it back a bit. We are really hoping to have a closing in August/September, so we didn’t want to see something and fall in love too early when we really aren’t ready to be making offers and negotiating yet. Womp, womp! It’ll be here soon, though, and I’m still doing Zillow searches just-for-fun. 

Electricity ($88): Our electric bill has never been lower! But we’ve already been flirting with triple-digit temperatures and our A/C is back in the ON position! I already received the bill for May and, although it hasn’t jumped way high yet, it’s certainly higher than April’s bill.

Restaurants ($249) + Groceries ($582): I feel like you can’t consider one without knowledge of the other. Our grocery bill was pretty low this month (remember in months’ past where I was nearing the $700-mark for groceries!?), but the grocery bill is low because (1) we were on the cruise for one week of the months, and (2) our eating out budget was HUGE! Remember my post about blowing the restaurant/eating out budget early in the month? We aim to have this expense around $200 or less for our family of four. We blew this budget category early in the month and, honestly, the only reason it didn’t surpass $300+ is because we were gone the last full week of the month (longer, really, since hubs and the girls drove they added an extra week to their trip). All expenses while traveling were filed away in the “cruise” category, so they weren’t accounted for here.

Entertainment ($1): 99 cent song on iTunes.

Kids’ Activities ($82): This was our last month paying for the girls’ swim lessons. It was prorated since we only went for half the month. That being said, the girls did INCREDIBLE on our cruise! We spent a TON of time in the water (both in the pools on the ship and in the ocean at our docking places). I was so impressed with how their skills have improved and they seemed like little fishes splashing around in the water. It really made me want to re-start their swimming lessons so they can keep learning and improving. I’m waiting until the semester is over at school because the end-of-year time is crazy and our Saturday-midday swim class was far from ideal. When we start back again I’ll be looking for a weekday afternoon class time.

Household Goods ($9): I don’t remember if I mentioned it already, but I’ve deemed this year the year of buying holiday decorations on clearance to save for next year. In December/January I bought a bunch of Christmas decorations and in April I bought some Easter decorations. I go literally the day after the holiday, first thing in the morning, so I can try to find the best stock for cheapest. I know there can be great finds at garage sales, too, but those are so hit-and-miss that I’ve mostly relied on buying store stuff on clearance after the holiday has passed. The plan is to do this all year for all of the holidays. I’m pretty excited to finally start accumulating some holiday stuff here and there. We’ve always been very minimalistic when it comes to holiday decorations since we have typically moved every year (our current rental house is the longest we’ve ever stayed in a single place!!) I look forward to decorating for holidays with the girls as they grow!

Rainy Day Savings ($2142): I’d deposited $2142 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000. The goal is to get to $5,000 and we currently have $3063.
  • Birthdays: $400. The girls’ birthday is on the horizon in June. To date, we’ve never had an actual birthday party for them, but we want to this year for the first time. It will still be simple (at our house, not another venue), but we’re going to start throwing a couple hundred a month toward this savings so we don’t get caught by surprise in June. This month I’ve over-saved because I’m anticipating that May will be a lower month.
  • Car Repairs: $50. I also withdrew $182 to finally fix the car part that broke 2 weeks after I paid it off. This leaves $73 still in the car repair account. I’ll need to pad it pretty heavily in the next couple of months, as we know we’ve got some routine maintenance stuff coming up on our vehicles and it feels like every time we go to the shop its at least a thousand dollars! Cringe! At least we have time to anticipate and save for it instead of being caught by surprise.
  • Health/Dental/Vision: $542. This gets auto-deducted from my paychecks so we can pay for healthcare out of pre-tax money. It’s sitting in a flexible spending account earmarked for health-care related expenses.
  • Annual Fees: $100. Need to slowly start building this back up. The total current balance is $250 but we have a few annual (or semi-annual) fees coming up within the next couple months (e.g., Costco membership and county pet registration are two that come immediately to mind).
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50. We save $25/each (x 2 girls) for college that’s automatically transferred monthly to designated 529 accounts.

Savings Goals ($424): $424 was deposited but there were also withdrawals. See below:

  • Savings for 2015 Roth IRA: $424. I also cleared out this savings in its entirety prior to filing taxes so I could make a contribution crediting tax year 2015.
  • No other savings this month, but I wanted to report that I also withdrew all of the cruise money from its account (and have subsequently closed the Capital One 360 savings account). At the end of the trip, we were left with an extra $800 over and above what we’d spent. I ended up re-categorizing this money as income for May. That way it’s put in with our normal income rather than being viewed as a separate pot of money. This will be particularly helpful because I don’t get paid from my part-time job this month.

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

 

Final Thoughts:

We put a little less toward debt this month than I’d hoped (I’d originally planned to put $2,000 toward debt). Instead, we put a bit more toward savings, particularly in some categories where we know upcoming spending is imminent (e.g., birthdays, annual fees). In May, I’ll kind of trade-off. Our savings will probably be a little lower and our debt payments will be a little higher. One big thing to note:  I don’t get paid in the months of May or August from my part-time job. Instead, my summer pay is split into two lump sums arriving in June and July. I’m trying to anticipate the lower income months and to spread the pay out when we have the higher income months. Also, I haven’t commented on our tax return yet. We had a return of $540 that hit my bank account just in the last week or so. Like our unspent cruise savings, I’ve simply categorized this as “Income for May” in our YNAB budget. Again – May will be a bit lower income month (given that I don’t get my part-time pay), so I’m hoping this will help pad our income a bit so we can keep up with the hefty debt payments that are planned this month.

Have a great month, all!


Teacher Appreciation

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Last week was Teacher Appreciation Day, but our school actually did a Teacher Appreciation Week back in early April! I’d meant to write a post about it at that time, but it escaped me until now.

I pride myself on giving pretty decent little teacher appreciation gifts without spending a bunch of money (see a previous teacher gift here, and a classroom gift idea here). This year was no exception. Since we did a full teacher appreciation week (not a single day), I spread things out a bit across the week. It helps that our school posted online a list of our teacher’s favorite things, and that they had a suggested calendar of things you could do to help celebrate the teachers. So here’s how our week looked:

  • Monday –  We brought our teachers’ favorite foods (we have 2 teachers):  one said her favorite snacks were cashews and the other said bananas. To make it work, we brought bulk cashews and dehydrated banana chips (both bought in bulk bins at Sprouts). I had the mini mason jars already at home and made a quick note and tied a ribbon around the neck from stuff we had on-hand. Maybe a $3-4 total cost (I can’t recall at this time, but couldn’t be more than that).

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  • Tuesday – I volunteered to come help during lunch time while the teachers had a special luncheon.  Free for me, plus I got to each lunch with my girls! Wins all around!

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  • Wednesday – nothing special
  • Thursday – I brought a homemade dessert (this recipe for churro cheesecake that’s incredible) because the teachers were having a dessert party in the afternoon. PRO Tip: I always buy stuff that we frequently use at Costco when it goes on sale, even if we don’t necessarily need it at the moment. Doing so meant I had all the ingredients on hand for this dessert because it’s made with mostly staples. The only “odd ball” thing, for us, would’ve been the crescent roll dough but I’d recently bought a Costco pack of it so we had plenty for this dessert.

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  • Friday – I wrapped up the week with $10 gift cards (per teacher) to Target along with a nice note of appreciation using thank you cards we already own.

A gift or act of service nearly every day of the week (for two teachers) for a total of under $25. You can’t beat that!

What do you normally do for Teacher Appreciation Day?

How many gifts do you typically give your kids’ teacher and/or class in a year? At the beginning of the year we did a class gift, we did a teacher holiday gift around Christmas time, and now a teacher appreciation gift. Do you do an end-of-year gift, too??? Any other gift-giving occasions I’ve missed (we don’t know the teachers birthdays, for example).


This, too, shall pass

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I know I keep talking about how “busy-busy-busy” or “go-go-go” I am all the time now.

I love my job(s) and I’m very thankful for it them, but the schedule can also be a bit overwhelming sometimes.

The end-of-semester craziness has been kicking my butt and I’ve been looking forward to summer. Just hold on a couple more weeks…a couple more weeks and everything will calm down. That’s been my mantra.

And then I realized…it won’t.

At my part-time job, summer is pretty crazy. It’s great pay (because it’s the same amount of pay, but I’m paid in 2 separate chunks – one check in June and one in July – as opposed to having it spread across 4 months. So it essentially “feels” like double the pay). But it’s also a TON of work to do the same amount of teaching/grading/etc in a shortened schedule.

I’ve also reported how I managed to get my full-time job to extend my contract so I’ll now get paid all summer from the full-time job, too. That’s fantastic news on the financial front (the equivalent of a 33% raise compared to my current salary)…but I don’t get paid to just sit around watching TV. I get paid to WORK! So that means all summer long I’ll be doing just that…working my tail off. At two different jobs. And then fall will be here, and spring, and summer. Wash, rinse, repeat (side note:  I haven’t turned in notice or anything, but I’ve basically decided in my own mind that next summer – summer 2017 – will be my last semester working for the part-time job. The logic was that I want to work there the full calendar year of 2016, but then I won’t want to quit mid academic-year, so I’d wait until the 2016-2017 year is over, which ends summer 2017).

On a surface level, its a bit overwhelming. The cruise was fantastic for a short-lived stint of relaxation. But I’m also longing for summer time and the long days and carefree nature it usually has associated with it for many of us in academia.

But when I find myself stressing out over the lack of time and amount of work to get done, I just stop and take deep breaths. I focus on the moment, write up a To Do list (this is strangely therapeutic for me), and start knocking out line item by line item.

This semester has tested me. It’s pushed me to my limits and I joke that it’s caused me chronic pain (I now regularly suffer from tension headaches. It sucks.). But I’ve consciously made all of these decisions with my debt in mind. I’ve taken on extra work, have two jobs, etc. because I WANT TO GET OUT OF DEBT!!!! This isn’t just for fun. It’s serving a greater purpose.

One of my 2016 goals is to pay $30,000 toward debt this year. But what if I do more? What if I actually kick off $35,000 in debt?

Then next year, when we aren’t saving for a down payment toward a house, what if we get up to $40,000 or $45,000 on debt payments?

We may only be a couple years from being fully debt-free!!! I know once the debt number gets smaller it’s just going to fly by.

We’ll get there. Probably sooner than I even think. It will happen.

So, in the meantime, please excuse my occasional whining about how busy/chaotic/crazy my life is. This, too, shall pass. And when it does, we’ll be that much closer to financial freedom!

For those who are currently debt-free, how long was your journey? How long did it take? For those still on the path, what’s your projected timeline like?


More Online Savings

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Between working 2 jobs, having a family, and basically another part-time job tending to my Dad’s matters, “spare time” has been basically non-existent lately. I feel like I’m lucky, too, because I have such a supportive spouse/partner. I seriously don’t know how single parents or parents with traveling spouses (or military/deployed spouses) do it! I seriously don’t. Props to any and all of you reading here!

Anyway, due to the extreme lack of time I’ve found myself turning more and more toward online shopping. I’ve already posted about my new favorite app where I’ve been scoring cute clothes for cheap (though, warning: it’s totally addictive! It’s been okay for now because I’d already intended/budgeted for buying some new clothes before Cruise 2016, but after the cruise I may need to delete the app for awhile! It’s just too easy to shop!).

Today I’ve got another favorite online tool that has been helping me save money:  Paribus (<refer-a-friend link. If you sign up from my link we both get an extra 5% savings).

If you’re unfamiliar, Paribus is a little widget thing you install on your computer. It tracks your internet shopping (by recording e-receipts you receive from merchants for online transactions) and if you happen to purchase something that goes on sale later, they will contact the company on your behalf in order to get you a refund of the overage.

Paribus doesn’t support all merchants world-wide (I believe they’re U.S.-only right now), but they do support several big ones. I’ve received refunds from Target and Amazon for purchases I’ve made for items that have later been reduced.

My favorite part is that, after the initial set-up, it requires absolutely nothing on my part. I literally forget it even exists until I get an email from them saying that I’m getting some money back! I experienced this recently when I bought a glass canister set from Target for $24.99 as a gift (Target is my favorite for gift purchases since shipping is free and I get 5% off using my Target card). The canister set went on sale and I ended up getting back $2.34 automatically to my Target card. They contact the retailer and get them to refund you the difference through whatever means you paid (it’s online shopping, so I’m assuming this is mostly debit or credit). Getting the email about it made me think that I needed to share it because it really does work!

So how does Paribus make money as a company? Simple. Paribus takes a 25% cut from whatever your savings are on any given item. So, yeah, they take it from the customer. If something were to go on sale at a store and you take it in directly, along with receipt, you could get the price adjusted and not have to essentially pay a “commission” to anyone. You’d get the full amount back. But, to me, a 25% commission is well worth it given that, otherwise, I would likely never take the item back to get a price adjustment done. I’m just speaking for myself. But I know I’m terrible with returns. I’m sure as heck not spending precious time scouring the internet for possible sales and then taking the item (along with receipt) to the store for a price adjustment. It just wouldn’t happen. First, I’d probably never even know about the sale. Second, I just simply lack the time over a couple bucks here and there. But if Paribus wants to come in and handle all the heavy lifting for me and just give me back 75% of the savings, then I’m happy with that! Feels like “free money” to me (I know it’s not really “free” but that’s how it feels).

There you’ve got it. I give Paribus 2 thumbs up. If you use it, tell me what you think! If you’re thinking about trying it, use my referral link so you and I each save an extra 5% on the “commission” fees (ps: “commission” is my term, not theres. They call it a “success” fee. 🙂 )

 


Saving Money on Electricity

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Remember a couple months ago when we had an outrageous electric bill ($283 to be exact)? It was literally the highest it’s ever been. I was super worried, especially considering the bill was from a pretty temperate month. If it was that high in the Spring….what’s it going to look like in the blistering dessert heat of summer? *gulp*

If you remember, I took immediate action to try to lower our bill. Things like not running so many loads of laundry (taking effort to fill every load to the max so we weren’t running through half-loads of laundry), not flipping the AC on and off, and being more conscious, in general, about our electricity consumption.

On that original post, a couple of commenters suggested reaching out to my electric company to see if I could get a discount for using electricity during “off times” of the day. I did a little research and….no luck in my area. But I did find an awesome company that I wish we had where I live! I wanted to tell you about it in case anyone lives within the area.

The company is called OhmConnect. Get this – OhmConnect pays YOU for saving energy. Saving money & energy? It’s a win-win!

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Here’s how it works:  once a week you receive a text message that tells you to turn down your electricity consumption (during a time of high electricity usage in the area). If you are able to save electricity during that time, then OhmConnect will pay you money! It’s not a lot (an average of $100-$300/year), but every little bit helps, right!? And they have a really cool feature that allows you to donate your savings to local area schools if you prefer.

OhmConnect is not an actual utility-provider. It’s a third-party company. So you might be wondering how they make money if you don’t pay them (you pay your utility company), yet somehow they pay you. Skip this part if you aren’t into the logistics, but I think it’s pretty cool. The idea is that energy consumption data is projected based off of past usage. The goal is to have just enough power for the energy that everyone needs. But sometimes the projections are off and there’s not enough energy being generated by the existing power plants. At this point, smaller plants called “peaker plants” get booted on to make up the deficit. Turning on these satellite plants is expensive – it increases the wholesale cost of energy from $40-$1,000/mwh. Also, the peaker plants tend to be less energy-efficient, emitting 2-3 times the C02 emissions as the “normal” power plants (see here for more details).

It’s actually cheaper for utility companies to pay an outside company (like OhmConnect) to prevent the satellite power plants from turning on. It saves them money and using OhmConnect can save consumers money!

Here’s the bad news…OhmConnect is only available in California right now. But, due to recent legislation upholding a decision called “FERC Order 745”, it is likely that similar programs will expand out across the United States in the coming years. I’m just a hop, skip, and a jump from California so fingers crossed it bleeds across the border soon! I’d love to be able to save a few bucks just by saving energy (and helping the environment at the same time! Boom!)

Do you have similar energy-savings programs where you live?

California readers – let me know if you or someone you know uses OhmConnect! I’d love to hear about user experiences and real life savings!

This post was sponsored by OhmConnect. Even though I did receive a small compensation for sharing my thoughts about their company, all opinions are entirely my own. Thanks for the support!


Budget’s Busted!

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We’re nearing the end of the semester at my university and this time of year is notoriously crazy. Fortunately, I’m seeing a light at the end of the tunnel (and the cruise! Can’t wait!!!). But the past 4 weeks have been insane. It hasn’t helped that I haven’t had weekends to catch up on things, either! Last weekend I had a 2-day workshop that I hosted and ran (= TONS of work, not to mention the whole weekend was taken). The weekend before, hubs was out of town the entire weekend for a conference (= quality mommy-daughter time, but impossible to catch up on other household or work tasks because there’s no “time off”). So it’s felt like the past 3 weeks were just one continuous week with no end in sight. I’m really looking forward to this weekend.

But there’s one thing…

I’ve let time get away from me. The first time I sat down to reconcile the budget this month wasn’t until just a couple days ago (usually I enter purchases pretty immediately). I sat down and typed in all the numbers and discovered that we’d already blown our entire restaurant budget for the month…only 1/3 of the way through the month.

It’s kind of ironic coming on the tail of last month, where I’d finally tamed our food budget and was talking about what an impact meal planning and food prep had been making. This month has included far too many nights where I’ve had to unexpectedly work late, resulting in a quick run to a sandwich shop or chick-fil-a on my way home so the kids could eat immediately and not wait for food to be cooked. We’ve also been dealing with more illness (this entire semester has been back-to-back sickness! It’s been tough!). There was a solid week straight that was affected as first one child had a stomach virus, then me, then hubs, then other child. While hubs and I were sick (and our bugs overlapped. Ugh!), it was impossible to cook food for the kids, but they still needed to be fed. Take-out pizza to the rescue! I think you’re seeing the general trend.

Realizing what’s happened, I’m going to buckle down and try to have no more eating out for the rest of the month. That being said, we luck out a little since our cruise is on the horizon. Any “eating out” at that time will come from our cruise budget (not our regular eating out budget). However, my mother-in-law is coming out to help travel with the kids. While she’s here we’ve always treated her to at least one meal out at a local restaurant, so I know there’s going to be at least one more eating out expense.

It’s tough. There are giant peaks and valleys in academia. During summer, things are pretty tame. But right now I’m getting my butt whipped and just barely treading water as I keep battling illness, trying to plan for a vacation, etc. I’ll be honest. Early in our debt-reduction mission I might face this type of challenge with gumption and determination. Right now though…..when I added all the numbers and saw we’d blown the budget….I just felt defeated. Like it’s not even possible to go the rest of the month without any more eating out.

I really am going to try my hardest, but just wanted to be honest about my feelings. Don’t know whether the difference can be attributed to just the craziness of this time of year with work, or whether its a more general issue of being so entrenched in debt-reduction. It’s no longer this shiny new thing that I’m just beginning. I’m still just as dedicated to get out of debt, but I now feel like I’m dead in the middle of an ultra-marathon. I’ve come so far, but still have so far left to go and digging deep to find the energy to continue isn’t always easy.

I’ll just keep pressing forward.

How do you handle disappointment when you realize you’ve blown your budget? How do you continue with resolve rather than simply blowing off the rest of the month? What do you do to keep your spirits high?


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