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First Children’s Activity!

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It’s been awhile since I’ve brought up the issue of paying for organized kid’s activities.

Our twins are now a little over 3.5 years old. They’ll turn 4 this June. And, to date, we have never enrolled them in a single organized children’s activity. We started our debt-reduction mission nearly 2 years ago (when they were only 18 months old) and, at the time, I didn’t feel like they were missing out on anything. I have several friends who’ve enrolled their kids in all kinds of activities even from infancy (e.g., MyGym, tot & me dance/gymnastics, swim, etc.). But at that young age, I preferred to save the money and really didn’t think we were missing out on anything.

Last April I mentioned that I was seriously considering enrolling the girls in swim lessons. At the time, however, they were attending the JCC for childcare. Over the summer the JCC did free swim lessons as part of their daily curriculum, so that satisfied me. However, looking back, the summer swim lessons weren’t the best. It was taught by certified lifeguards, but it included entire class groups of about 18 kids at a time, so a good deal of the time kids were just sitting on the steps waiting for their turn. There wasn’t a lot of actual instruction on a per-student basis. That was totally fine at the time (plus it was free!), but it means our kids still don’t know even the basics of water safety (e.g., how to grab the edge if they fall in, how to float, etc.).

Given our upcoming Cruise and all the time we’ll be spending around water, swim lessons were high on my radar at the beginning of the year of something I wanted to look into. At the end of January I did a lot of research and found a swim school nearby that’s reasonably priced and has great reviews.  I officially enrolled the girls 2 weeks ago and their first lesson was this past Saturday.

The girls LOVED it!

They’re in classes that are capped at 4 people (though their first class only had 3 kids) so there’s tons of individual attention. The instructor was very friendly and made the lesson so fun.

We have 12 lessons between now and our cruise sail date and, although I’m not expecting full swimmers by any means, I’m hopeful that will be enough time for them to learn basic life-saving measures so that I’ll feel a little more comfortable around so much water on our cruise.

The total cost for one lesson per week is $65/month (per child). This seemed to be a pretty competitive rate in our area. By comparison, I saw some rates that were literally double this amount.

But I do have a question for readers. Now that we’re opening this door (the door of children’s activities)….how do you account for it in your budget? I was going to include it as an “Entertainment” line item, but it almost seems like it warrants its own category. Thoughts?

Also….this just opened the door to a whole world of children’s activities. Soccer, Dance, Swim, Karate, Gymnastics, Oh my!  I can just envision them in little tutus or soccer cleats and my heart wants to burst!

I am determined, at this point, to keep our activities to a maximum of one at a time. I do NOT want to be running them to a different activity every night of the week! Plus our budget (and my time/sanity) wouldn’t allow it! But it’s already making me look forward to whatever activity comes next. They’re still young so there’s plenty of time, but it’s so much fun seeing the excitement in a child’s face as they’re exposed to something new. I could definitely see myself (if I weren’t on the debt-reduction mission) going ahead and enrolling them in multiple activities at a time.

Parents – any experience with swim classes? How does this rate compare to what you’ve paid in the past? What activities do you enroll your child(ren) in? How do you account for children’s activities in your budget?


Outrageous Electric Bill

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We just received what I believe is the largest electric bill I’ve ever received.

I was so sure that the price was an error that I called, waited on hold for a solid half hour, and spoke to a representative who confirmed, Yep. There’s no error, that’s just our bill.

Hubs and I had a little bit of a pow-wow. We can pay the bill, so it’s not an issue of not having the funds to cover it. But the ridiculous price tag meant we needed to have a Come to Jesus meeting to figure out what we’re doing and correct our ways.

For reference, our largest electric bill to date (occurring in a summer month) was $269.  The bill we just received was for $283. It’s a huge jump from last month’s ($199) bill. And it’s not even summer. What gives?

So, after putting our heads together, we decided we’re both a bit at fault.

Hubs has been on a laundry mission the past month. I swear, just about every minute that he’s home he’s got something in the washer and dryer. I’ve seen several half-loads and several items of clothing that weren’t even dirty somehow mysteriously ending up in the laundry pile (the latter being a big pet peeve of mine).

But I’m probably equally, or moreso, responsible. We’re in that weird in-between time of year in regard to temperature. During the night we run our heater (which is gas), but during the day I often flip on the A/C (electric). All the up and down/back and forth has meant that both our gas and electric bills are a bit higher than normal. So that’s got to be a big culprit.

I really think the electric has to come down to these two things. Otherwise, we’re pretty energy efficient – all light bulbs are energy efficient, the house we rent has newer appliances (with the exception of the washer/dryer, which are our own), we don’t leave lights on, the house is well insulated, etc. etc. etc.

So I’m making a more deliberate attempt to be energy-efficient this month. When I get home from work, instead of turning on the A/C I’ve been opening the windows. It’s still a bit warm for my preference (especially when I’m cooking!), but it’s not terrible. And a cold front just blew in this week so I really haven’t needed the A/C at all anyway.

Here’s hoping it makes a big difference in next month’s electric bill because we can’t be having these $300 bills! That’s straight nonsense for a home of our age and our size. No reason it should be that high!

What’s the largest utility bill you’ve received? My mom lives in Austin where water is set at a SUPER high rate to discourage over-watering, etc. She regularly complains about $500 water bills. And there’s only 2 people living in her home! Isn’t that nuts???


New Debt Thermometers

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After completing our last debt thermometer (for the car loan – yay!!!) I decided to make some new debt thermometers.

Only one thing…. I like to keep our old debt thermometers because they’re motivating to look at. I had pulled them off the fridge to take a picture of them and they had been sitting on our kitchen table….and the girls destroyed them. Thought they were playing arts and crafts and basically tore them apart.

So I remade the old ones, too. Heh. Not quite the same, but I really like having that visual motivation and seeing how far we’ve come!

So here are the (new) old ones:

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The Auto Loan (left), I was able to re-use the back-paper, but the thermometer part had to be made anew after the old one was torn to pieces. The Wells Fargo card (right), I was able to re-use the original thermometer, but I had to remake the back-paper anew when the old one was torn apart. So at least on each of them I was able to retain a bit of the original piece.

And here are my New Thermometers:

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On the left I’ve targeted two of my mid-sized Navient student loans.

On the right, I’ve targeted a savings goal (the $10,000 for a house down payment) and the Navient thermometer is actually a conglomeration of 3 separate, smaller sized Navient loans. Separately they seemed too small to warrant a debt thermometer, but combined they’re still a decent sized chunk of debt.

I’ll be starting with the thermometers on the right (yellow thermometers on green paper), but it’s kind of fun to have the next thermometers lined up and ready to go when it comes time to target them.

Having the visual reminder has been such a great thing for me! I used to be nervous or embarrassed about them. Whenever we’d have people over I’d take them off our fridge and hide them. But for about the past year, I’ve always kept them up. I almost want friends to ask about them (so far no one has). Finances tend to be such a personal matter but after feeling so much success on our debt reduction journey I have a hard time shutting up about it! Even if friends don’t actually ask about the thermometers, I hope that people do notice them. I hope that maybe it sparks an interest in someone else; that maybe they think about making one of their own. This debt reduction journey road of ours is a long one, but it’s been 100% worth it!

Time to fill up some debt (and savings) thermometers!!!


Ashley’s January 2016 Budget Update

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Let’s just jump right to it, shall we?

Also, full disclosure….as I was making this month’s budget update I realized I never made one for December! Yikes! How did no one point this out/remind me? In full honesty, I feel too rushed for time as it is to go back and write a post from last month so I’m just picking back up here and moving forward.

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Electricity 199
Water 61
Natural gas 103
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 101
Car Insurance 137
Trash 35
Preschool 1061
Gift-Giving 107
Personal Maintenance 33
Restaurants 197
Entertainment 81
Groceries 665
Gasoline 131
Household Goods 9
Clothing 69
Health 25
Rainy Day Savings 50
Savings Goals 0 (-120)
Debt Payments 4013
Total Budgeted $8366

 

Comments:

Gift-Giving: I paid for 3 birthday and 1 belated Christmas gift with that $107, so I felt like I’d done pretty well considering how many gifts were purchased.

Personal Maintenance: This is for some hair care products I bought. It’s been FOREVER since I’ve bought anything related to my hair (with the exception of hair dye since I cut and color my own hair), so I didn’t think this was too bad. I bought a deep conditioning treatment thing and a new flat brush since my old one has been falling apart for months.

Restaurants: This was super high this month (and was last month too, even though I never did a budget update last month – doh!), and it’s because this includes a bunch of eating out expenses from when we were out of town. Remember that this year we traveled back to Texas in late December and stayed until the first week of January. Some of those expenses, of course, were in December, but some fell in the month of January too. So that’s why this was so high.

Entertainment:  $6 was from the girls riding on those giant animal things they have in malls (know what I’m talking about? No? Nevermind then). The remainder was from a DATE NIGHT that hubs and I took! Wahoo for that! I’m warning you now, I’m really committed to trying to have more regular date-nights this year so you’ll see a higher entertainment budget this year than in the past 2 years of blogging. We’re shooting for every-other-month, but we’ve already got plans for Valentines, so we’ll be going back-to-back January and February.

Groceries:  This was also a monstrous sized number! I stocked up on a ton of snack-type foods for the girls that I send with them to preschool (e.g., pretzels, cheese crackers, fruit leather, trail mix, juice boxes, etc. etc.) and I’m hoping/planning that those things will last at least 2 months, so our February grocery budget should be much more reasonable.

Household Goods: This includes some batteries we needed for remotes and kid toys.

Clothing:  I’m still budgeting roughly $100/month for building up a work wardrobe. I’m getting to be pretty good on this, though. I’m still trying to find some decent khaki pants (I’ve tried on a few different pair from a couple different places in the mall, but wasn’t crazy about anything), but once the pants are purchased I think I’ll have all my staples and I’ll reduce this budget down to probably closer to $40/month just to fill in with a new blouse or cardigan once a month or so.

Health: This is from a prescription

Rainy Day Savings:  I don’t really like the category because it’s really not a “rainy day savings” (I need to adjust my YNAB a bit), but this is for the girls’ college savings. We save $25/month per child ($50/total) toward college. I’d hoped to save a bit more toward our car repair fund, annual fees fund, etc., but at the end of the month we just didn’t have the money there, as we’d spent it on getting rid of the car loans (wooo!!!!) We’ll focus a lot harder on this category in February.

Savings Goals:  Similar to the rainy day savings, we just didn’t have money this month for any of our long-term savings goals. You’ll notice that I actually put a negative number there in the table! I actually withdrew $120 from the Cruise 2016 fund. I paid for one plane ticket (I will be traveling separately from the rest of the family because I can’t take off extra time to stay in Texas like hubs and the girls plan to do), and I bought a new swimsuit. I plan to use this money for all cruise-related expenses so I’ll be spending a big chunk this month (when I pay off our remaining balance), and this is where I’ll be spending when I buy cruise-related clothing or other necessities (as opposed to having it come from the regular clothing our household budget).**Edited to add:  I realized without additional context this amount seems off. The plane ticket I bought was only $75 because I already had an airline credit. The remaining $45 was for a swimsuit. PRO tip:  Mix & Match!! I bought a swimsuit bottom from one site because it was cute, my size, and on clearance. I bought the top from another site for the same reasons. They’re both black so, even though they’re different brands, they definitely look like a matching pair. But it’d be possible to mix-and-match patterns, too. The point is that if you look around, you can score some great deals! The swimsuit full price would’ve been about $100. The bottom was from Albion Fit and the top was from Victoria’s Secret (both a bit pricey in swimwear), but buying off-season and clearance saved me a ton. That’s my tip of the day. : )

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

So I think that’s it. I’m excited about the month ahead!

I hope you are all starting off to a fantastic February!


Dipping Into 5-Digit Debt

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You guys! I have another fun debt-related thing to celebrate today!

After nearly TWO YEARS of blogging here (officially started in March 2014. Here was my first “application post“), I’ve FINALLY and forever more fallen below the six-digit-debt threshold! When I started blogging two years ago we had $150,000 of debt. Our combined household income at the time was not quite $50,000/year. After paying off  over $25,000 in our first year and over $26,000 in our second year, we’ve FINALLY crossed this major milestone in our debt-repayment journey. Never ever (aside from mortgage) will we EVER have six-digit level debt. That’s insane! We still have a long way to go, but it really feels like we’ve started gaining speed and making good traction. Our only remaining debts are medical and student loan (which, to this point, we’ve been paying mostly minimums on). I CANNOT WAIT to really start making some headway on those bad boys!

Here’s our January debt update:

PlaceCurrent BalanceAPRLast Payment MadeLast Payment Date Original debt, March 2014
Capital One CC-17.9%-Paid off in March 2014$413
Mattress Firm-0%-Paid off in May 2014$1381
Wells Fargo CC-13.65%-Paid off in May 2014$7697
BoA CC-7.24%-Paid off in June 2014$2220
License Fees-2.5%-Paid off in April 2015$5808
PenFed Car Loan-2.49%$3189Paid off in January 2016$24040
Navient$82,2716.55%-8.25%$279January$80761
ACS Student Loans$85966.55%$20January$8215
Balance Transfer student loan (Former Navient 1-01)$21120% (through April 2016)$500January$5937
Medical Bills$59110%$25January$9000
Totals$98,890 (Dec balance = 102,502)$4013Starting Debt = $145,472

It was tough to swing this monstrous sized debt payment (just over $4,000!!!!!) and, as you’ll see in an upcoming budget update post, in order to balance the budget we had to forego a couple of savings items I’d really wanted to squeeze in this month. But February is a new month and we’ll be full-steam ahead on our next course of action, which includes building back up a healthy emergency fund, saving money toward a down payment of a home, and getting into a bit more comfortable position before we really start slugging those student loan payments. It pains me to see that, for instance, we paid $279 toward Navient this month and yet, our balance actually grew a little compared to last month because that payment still didn’t even cover the interest accruing on the loans (though this is, indeed, over our minimum payment, which is only $206/month). We’ve got to stop the bleeding and so, even though I’m considering it a “minimum” payment while we beef up our savings a bit, I’ll be increasing our student loan payments to at least cover the interest (I’m considering it “minimum” because it will still be a very minimal amount at first as our focus will be on trying to build an EF. But I will increase it from the official minimum so that we aren’t seeing a growing balance every month).

It’s so exciting to get to celebrate these recent wins after such a long period of what has felt like stagnancy. Even though we’ve been whittling away at our debt all along (so we’ve never really been stagnant), the “wins” have felt few and far between in the past year or so. Paying off the car/becoming consumer debt-free, and now dipping below the 6-digit-debt threshold both feel like huge breaths of fresh air. Like we’ve just been given a giant pat-on-the-back for all of our hard work. It really gives us the momentum to keep on rolling.

As I look at the year ahead, of course no one can really be certain what to expect, but I see good things ahead. Last year was a tough one. Nothing terrible happened, but there were lots of changes/re-adjustments as I started a new job, dealt with a lot of father health issues, and just tried to find my place in life a bit. This semester is starting off great (I really am so lucky to truly love what I do!), the financial year is starting on a high note, we have an all-cash paid vacation in a couple months, we have plans to buy a house this year(!!!), and I just hope this is setting the tone for what will be a fabulous 2016. I couldn’t be more excited! So much to be thankful for!

I hope we can all pause today and reflect on something that makes us happy or something we are thankful for. Even in the most trying times, I find it to be a helpful exercise. : )


What’s Next

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If you missed my post earlier this week, I announced the exciting news that we are officially consumer debt-free! YAAAAAAAAAAAY!!!! (insert happy dance emoticon)

What’s funny is almost immediately after making the final payment on the car….it broke. Ha!

A bit of euphemism. It didn’t break down. Just a piece of it broke off. Check this out.

IMG_1575

Nothing even happened to cause it to break! I was just driving down the road to get to work, minding my own business, when out of the corner of my eye I saw a piece of our car just flapping in the wind! I immediately exited the highway but on the exit ramp the piece fully fell off and broke into several pieces.

Hubs looked it up and thinks he can get the part for relatively cheap ($100ish) and do the install himself. So all is well, just kind of funny that the second it becomes OURS….it breaks. Ha!

At any rate, I’ve had a couple people comment and ask what’s next now that the car is finally paid in full.

It’s tough because #1) I’d love to start punching Navient in the face, taking out loans left and right, and #2) I have a relatively small balance transfer loan (just over $2100) from what was originally a student loan that I’d love to pay off next month.

BUT…

I’m trying to use my head and not just my heart (which says to start stomping the student loans NOW), and make our first priority re-building our emergency fund.

If you don’t remember, our EF was slowly whittled away the second part of 2015. As was our “living on last month’s income” fund. Hubs’ business wasn’t doing so hot in 2015, so whenever I needed that extra little boost for paying debts, I’d “borrow” here and there. First from the “last month’s income” fund, and then when hubs had a no income month I used our EF and, well, now we’re down to basically nada in either of those accounts (note:  not entirely true…we still have a few hundred in the EF, but not nearly what we’d like to have).

We have 3 big goals for 2016:

  1. Save up $10,000 for a house down payment.
  2. Save $5,000 for an emergency fund.
  3. Put $30,000 toward debt.

Starting in February, we’ll begin chipping away at items #1 and #2. We’ll still be paying toward debt, too, of course. But we’ll be doing so at a much less aggressive rate as we, instead, try to restock some money in the bank.

The plan is to put nearly $2,000 a month into savings. This will be $1250/month toward the house down payment fund (our goal is to buy by the end of summer, so we need to save heavily the first half of the year), and another $500/month into our dedicated Emergency Fund.

In addition to that, we’ll still be making debt payments in the range of $1500-$2000 per month.

It’s going to be tough. That’s a pretty aggressive rate of savings and debt payment. We’re talking about $3500/month between the two, which is more than what our average monthly debt payments were last year (see here for a quick-view breakdown of the majority of last year).

But when you have something so meaningful that you’re working toward, it definitely helps put the fire under your pants. That, plus this will be our first full year both working full-time (and I still have the part-time job, too). It’s just going to be astronomical earnings compared to 2 years ago. Even compared to the first half of last year. So I think we can do it.

The first half of the year will, admittedly, be a little heavy on the savings side of things. Then the second half of the year we’ll make up some ground and really start making some good headway with the student loan debt.

But it won’t be all savings and no debt until then! It wouldn’t make sense to blog for a getting out of debt blog if I wasn’t actively working on the debt!

I’ve got a few tricks up my sleeve to try to make some good progress even while in savings mode! I’ve GOT to have the balance transfer student loan paid in fully by April (that’s when the interest sky rockets from 0% to 13%!!!) But right now my projections show it being paid in full by March. Then I plan to initiate a second balance transfer to do it all over again (they still have the deal with 0% APR for a year, and only a 2% initiation fee; this is half the initiation fee of other offers I’ve received).

I also may consider some type of consolidation program a little bit down the road. I like having my loans separated currently because it gives me a big psychological boost every time I pay off one of the loans (and I target them one-by-one, paying minimums on all others). However, I hate Navient with such a fiery passion that it may be worth it to consolidate with an outside company just to get them out of my life. We’ll see. I’m not jumping on anything now, but keeping my mind open to the possibility down the road.

Anyway, that’s it for now. I just wanted to dedicate a post to the question I’ve been seeing, “What’s next?”

Also…counting down the days until the all-cash paid Cruise 2016 vacation in April! We’ve been planning and saving for it since February 2015 (over a year!!!), so we’re beyond ready! I can’t wait! Whoever said you can’t have a little bit of fun while in debt-repayment mode certainly never read here! It may be a controversial stance, but I’m a believer in balance in life. We’ve worked HARD the past two years to dig ourselves out of the giant debt hole we were stuck in. Yes, we have a long way to go. But it’s precisely because this is a MARATHON (and not a sprint) that I think it makes sense to build some fun into the budget. Otherwise it’d just be impossible to stick to for so long! That’s my view on the matter.

What are your plans once you get out of consumer debt? Tackle student loans? Your mortgage? Get your savings up to snuff? Or are you going to go beyond? Perhaps save enough to retire early? Do some traveling, etc? I’d love to hear YOUR plans!

 


Saving Money in the New Year

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Since starting my full-time job this past summer, I’ve had a really tough time keeping on top of some household tasks. The biggest of which was meal planning and food prepping. It’s lead to a large increase in our overall grocery spending as I’ve been buying more prepared foods, not buying items on sale, and making more last minute trips to the store for “one item for dinner” (which inevitably leads to over-spending on additional items). Just not a great situation overall.

So one of the things I’m trying to be more mindful about this year is to do some better planning and try to save more on groceries.

Toward that end, I recently came across this article in Cooking Light titled 18 Foods You Can Scrimp On At The Grocery Store.

I hate when articles force you to click through screen by screen, so let me summarize the main points for you (content from Cooking Light)

Buy these foods generic:

  • Sugar
  • Whole and Ground Spices
  • Block Cheese
  • Tomato paste
  • Milk
  • Canned beans
  • Bagged lettuce
  • Table salt
  • Panko
  • Neutral cooking oils (e.g., canola, vegetable, safflower)
  • Cooking spray
  • White vinegar

Save money on:

  • Buying whole produce (as opposed to pre-washed/pre-cut)
  • Nuts, by buying in bulk
  • Brown rice & whole grains, by buying in bulk
  • Dried beans and lentils, by buying bulk
  • Popcorn, by buying in bulk
  • Herbs. Instead of buying lots of individual kinds of herbs, buy blends that can be used more frequently to reduce waste.

Your thoughts? Any items you disagree with? Any other items you’d add that you’ve saved on?

I don’t agree with the idea of buying generic/cheap cooking spray. I used to do that, but noticed that the thing always clogged up or broke before the spray was actually gone. I switched to a name brand and have never had an issue since (update:  I actually started using Kirkland brand from Costco so it’s technically a generic/store brand, but it’s awesome! Costco for the win again!)

I’ll also mention that some of these suggestions are tough with busy schedules. I used to buy bulk pinto beans that I’d soak overnight and then cook all day. We’d use them whole (as pinto beans, duh!) or mashed up (as refried beans). Yes, it cost literal pennies compared to canned stuff in the grocery store. But ain’t nobody got time for cooking foods that take all day when you’re not home to make it! Yes, crock pots can work, but not being present just adds an element of difficulty that wasn’t there when I worked from home.

I’d love to hear other ideas of areas where you save on your food budget!