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My Stomach was in Knots but it is Okay

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Written on Tuesday…

For the first time EVER in my life, I had to meet with someone and tell them I could not take care of my family.  I had to go to the same building that I visited so many times as a foster parent and later adoptive parent full of pride that I was doing something to give back, something good and right, and admit that I was a failure.  I had to look at a woman in the eye and in essence say “I’ve failed to prepare for this situation by not saving and by using my money un-wisely.”  It was the worst feeling EVER.

And what a lesson.  I hate this situation.  I hate that my decisions brought me here.  I cringe at admitting what a failure I am.  But if the last year and then have taught me anything, it’s that I AM going to do better.

In no way shape form or fashion am I making excuses, but the one thing that helped me get through this morning while I was turning in shot records, leases, bank statements to what turned out to a extremely compassionate worker was that this is temporary.  I will get another job.  I will choose more wisely where my career path takes me.  I will make better money choices, even better than the ones I have started to make.  And more importantly, I WILL give back.

I do not deserve the support my community has given me and yet people have reached out offering Thanksgiving meals, help with Christmas and just words of encouragement.  But I do know that when I am back on my feet, the first thing I am going to do is find someone who has entered a dark time and reach out to them as so many have to me.

I will find out in a few days if/what assistance we qualify for, and I’ve been told that I have 10 days after I get my first paycheck to report a change in status.  I continue to seek the next step in this transition.

(And just a side note: I just completed my first of two phone interviews scheduled for today…and the second interview is scheduled for Friday.  I am counting on God to steer me as I step out in faith to follow what He has for me next rather than what I would choose.  Use me, send me…that is my prayer.)


Gone Shopping!

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Not one week after happily exclaiming that I’m allowing myself to go shopping again….I get into some trouble!

Last weekend I went to the mall on a mission to find some black pants. It was over the Labor Day weekend and there were sales, galore! My first stop was Macy’s. I didn’t find any black pants I liked but I did find a beautiful dress that I just had to snag! It’s appropriate for both work and church and was marked down from over a hundred dollars down to just $9.99!!! Truly! I snapped a picture as proof!

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Happy with myself for my awesome deal of a find, I set out for Banana Republic. I’d scored an awesome deal on navy pants last time I was there and I was hoping for a big sale. Struck out. It’s okay, Express is right down the way and I love their Editor pants. I head in that direction hoping to find something black. But on the way I pass Bath and Body Works. They have a big 50% off sale sign up in the front of the store. I have not bought an item from B&BW in literal years – since before I started blogging here. I miss it. I LOVE their scented candles and nothing at the regular grocery store compares. They might smell good, but they aren’t as potent as B&BW candles. They smell nice if you’re in the immediate vicinity but they don’t make the whole house smell like B&BW candles do. And I’m also convinced they burn faster, too (is that possible? Like B&BW uses some additive that makes the candles slower-burning???). For the most part we just haven’t had candles at all. It’s a superfluous luxury we’ve just simply cut from our budget.

But I was on a shopping high, having just scored an awesome deal at Macys! I see the 50% off signs. And…I’m feeling indulgent.

About 15 minutes and 115 dollars later, I walk out of the store.

When she rung me up and I saw my total, I knew I’d messed up big time. I handed over my debit card and typed in my pin and silently walked out of the store as though I’d just seen a ghost. I wasn’t on the same shopping high I’d been on when I walked out of Macys. This time, I just felt sick.

I debated for maybe 5 seconds whether to continue on to Express. I still hadn’t found the black pants I’d been searching for (the entire point of my trip to the mall to begin with). I decided against it. Clearly I wasn’t thinking straight. I was like an alcoholic who’d just had a drink after months of sobriety. I knew the options were (1) go home now, or (2) get drunk as a skunk go on a shopping bender. Thankfully I had my wits about me enough to know I needed to leave.

On my way home I’d already resolved that I needed to return much of my Bath and Body Works haul. I simply couldn’t allow myself to have spent that much money on candles and body spray. It was insane!

So the following day I convinced hubs to come back to the mall with me, kids in tow, to return a bunch of the items I’d purchased. I kept 3 candles and a wallflower plug for my office (which I’d already opened), but ALL of the lotions, body spray, and body wash would be returned.

It was tough, y’all. I’m terrible at returning things to begin with. I don’t like the hassle of it and I rarely follow-through. But this was just way too much money to miss out on.

I nearly cried when we approached the front of the store and I saw the signs! In addition to the 50% off sign they’d had the day before, they now also had a $12 3-wick candle one day sale going on! It took every ounce of strength and will power to walk straight to the cash register rather than raiding their candle table.

I waited patiently in line while staring straight ahead (afraid the pumpkin table would pull me away if I dared glance in its direction).  When I got to the front I set my giant bag on the table and explained that I’d gotten carried away and needed to return a bunch of items. I also asked about a price adjustment for one of the candles I’d bought (2 were already half-price, but 1 had been full price). I was told that the adjustment could only happen if I had the candle with me. I was disappointed but said okay and waited while the cashier processed my return.

Only…..while I was waiting, I glanced down and saw their own store policies, taped to the counter top. Right there in black and white, it read that price adjustments could be done only within 14 days of purchase and only with an original receipt. NOTHING about needing to physically have the product with you. I pointed to the policy and commented, “This policy only says I need the original receipt. Sooooo????” (the question just hung in the air). She was obviously annoyed, but I met both of the requirements listed (it was a very recent purchase and I had the receipt with me). She had no other option but to refund me with the difference in cost between the full-price candle and the price advertised during their one-day sale.

After the refund from the return of 6 items and price adjustment on the candle, the total amount I actually spent was $50. Still a lot of money for candles and a wallflower (a type of air freshener). But a price I was much more comfortable with and a level of indulgence that our budget could withstand.

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I still never got my black pants. I think I just need to take an ice shower to get over the “high” from the shopping and Labor Day sales. Or better yet, maybe I’ll reinstate use of actual cash (a throw back to when I did the envelope system) to eliminate the possibility of going on an unchecked shopping spree. It will be an easy way to control my spending and make sure I don’t veer off course as I start incorporating little shopping trips back into my budget after so long with very minimal shopping. I definitely don’t want another Bath and Body Works experience at any other stores, either! But I think this was a good little learning experience.  I am capable of sticking to a very strict budget (been doing it for 18 months!). But gradually adding shopping experiences back into the budget can be a tricky thing. It almost requires even more will-power than simply not shopping at all. This is because when you’re simply NOT shopping, then you aren’t even at the mall! There’s no in-your-face temptation like when you’re in the mall with the intention of spending money, and walking by all the stores seeing their big sale signs standing tall. At least for me, I’ve found that I’m an easy target for a well placed advertisement and a good sale price. I have to keep reminding myself what I’m really there for and to try to stick strictly to the shopping list.

Black pants, I’m on a mission to find you now! (just….maybe not until next weekend).

Have you ever had a shopping bender you’ve really regretted? How do you feel about returns (am I the only one who HATES returning things??)?


Frugal Living Topic: Therapy???

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I certainly don’t read every single frugal living/paying off debt blog in the world. But I browse a good handful! And one thing I’ve never seen anyone talk about is therapy. Because it costs a lot, right? And it’s kinda taboo to talk about?

I had to deal with a big emergency with my Dad in the middle of last week. Without going into details, it was insanely stressful. I started thinking about the most stressful events I’ve personally experienced in my own life. This is probably a good Top 5 list:

Ashley’s Top 5 Most Stressful Life Events

5. Moving cross-country the second time/tied with planning an out-of-state wedding

4. Moving cross-country the first time

3. First year of twins’ life (living in a state without any family support; trying to complete my Ph.D. during this time because I had the twins the summer before my last year of grad school)

2. Emergency c-section of twins after developing HELLP syndrome.

1. Current Dad health situation

So, yeah. Dad’s health issues definitely secure the place of #1 most stressful thing I’ve ever dealt with (I realize this is small potatoes compared to what many others deal with. I’m just talking about me and my situation, not making any judgments about anyone else).

Anywayyyyyyy….. I ended up spending nearly 6 hours on the phone on Wednesday after this emergency situation occurred. I had to speak to a hospital, a social worker, my brother, my sister, my uncle, my dad, the social worker again, and on and on and on. Six hours is seriously not an exaggeration. And that was just on a single day. The calls continued throughout the rest of the week (and into this week).

So my Dad’s last test was expedited and occurred on Monday.  And guess where I am today? Flying back to Utah. My Dad’s follow-up with the specialist is tomorrow. My sister and brother are coming, too. It’s a whole family affair. Diagnosis Day. After tomorrow, Dad will be able to apply for disability, he’ll need to permanently relocate, we’ll start trying to sell off his things, take over managing his finances, and on and on. Lots to be done.

And over the weekend I was struggling. Like, hard.

I’m really a very level-headed person, but the stress has been eating away at me. I’m now working a full-time job PLUS a part-time job, I’m spending HOURS a day with issues related to my father’s health, not to mention normal life stuff (which was busy enough before any of this ever happened). It was just all too much!

I had a good cry and let it out. Felt much better afterward. You all know I’ve been hit pretty hard with this process already, but this was my first real cry and it felt like a bit of a release. Cathartic.

And it made me think…..maybe I should look into therapy???

To be perfectly clear, I think there is absolutely nothing wrong with therapy.  That being said, I’ve never actually seen a therapist in my life. It feels a little foreign. I’ve always just talked over my problems and/or feelings with my friends, family, or hubs. But this feels different. No one I personally know can relate. No one knows what to say. And I just feel like its burdensome to continue bringing it up in conversations.

Enter:  health insurance!

Before starting my new job our health insurance didn’t cover any type of mental health care. My new insurance has a deductible, of course, but covers the majority of the cost of speaking with a professional.

In all honesty, right now I feel like I’m too busy to even take the time to talk to someone. I’m already struggling to keep up with my responsibilities.

But once Dad gets moved to a new permanent residence, the semester begins, and things settle into a bit of a routine…I’m thinking I might see a therapist a few times. Not an ongoing forever type of thing. But I feel like I need someone to talk to about this. I mean, clearly I’m having issues, am I right?

I can’t be the only one in the world. Why does no one else in the frugal living world ever talk about going to see a therapist? Maybe they think it’s cost prohibitive (before my insurance I would’ve thought that, too). Maybe they think it’s too personal to mention in such a public space (probably true?). Maybe I’ve just missed seeing people talk about it? Maybe they talk to a pastor or preacher or someone for free (we go to church occasionally…but don’t have anyone I’d want to talk to like that for counsel). I tried looking for support groups on Facebook, but it just doesn’t feel the same as speaking to a real human sitting across from you.

So I just wanted to throw this post out to the world. I don’t really want opinions on if I should or shouldn’t go (pretty sure I’m going to go. Just need to wait a bit for things to settle down so I have a chance to research people/places and find the time to go).  I’m just kind of curious why I haven’t ever seen anyone else mention therapy before.

Have you ever considered prioritizing the costs of therapy even within a tight budget? What have been some of the most stressful events in your life?


My Thoughts About My Month Off

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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!


Pretty Torn Down

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I truly appreciate the thought out comments on my last post (The Next Step.) I have read every single one of them. But frankly, this time, the “doormat” “enabling” etc. comments just tore at me. I realize that I signed up for this but more importantly, I realize that it’s a lot easier to stand on the sidelines and yell direction then it is to actually be in the middle of it where the action is actually happening. I wonder if some of you realize that…

I have contemplated not returning, but I’ve never been one to shy from a fight, so after a couple of weeks of licking my wounds.  I am back.

So to follow up on that last post…

1. I am not doing anything illegal nor am I committing insurance fraud.  The car has sat with occasional driving when I needed it or when he would visit the kids.  He has another car with one seat in it he uses on a daily basis.

2. While it may be in my name, etc. it is HIS car and HIS debt.  That is spelled out clearly in our divorce decree and I do not think it would be right to discuss HIS debt here.  Thus, no numbers were mentioned in that post.  I just wanted to get your feedback on that being the next course of action.  From the responses, I would say everyone overwhelmingly agreed with my desire to rid my name of that debt although many differed on how it should be done.

3. Hiring a lawyer to do this, that or the other.  No offense to the lawyers who may be reading this, but are you crazy?  Have you gone through a divorce where there are kids and property?  Well, I see/hear about it EVERY day from other of my single mom acquaintances…$20K and counting in legal fees, , chasing and waiting for child support, limited child support based on his income and it never stops until the kids reach 18.  I paid $75 and did my own divorce paperwork.  I got exactly what I wanted…full legal and physical custody of the kids.  He got the car to finish paying off.  I also got a relationship with him where I could say “the kids need” and he was willing to work with me on money without feeling like I was coming after him.  And I don’t have to go back to court  every time things change or chase him down for child support via more court appointments.  I have seen the results of that many times over and do not want it for me, my kids or even him.  Sorry if you don’t agree, but I KNOW this was the right decision.

4. You like reading Ashley…great!  I like reading Ashley too.  Life was definitely much more simple when I had two little kids and a husband helping pay the bills, and had a corporate job.  But that’s not my life anymore and frankly, despite the hardships of the last years I LOVE my life.  I love spending every day with kids, seeing them evolve and grow with every new experience and “lightbulb” learning experience.  I love my clients and the flexibility I have to work when and where I want and do work that challenges me.  The absolute only thing I am missing these days from life is having a couple more bedrooms…but you know what, that will come.

I have read Blogging Away Debt since the very beginning.  I would check back daily for new posts and was sad when there were days or weeks between them.  But I was most interested in reading about the different bloggers life – challenges, successes and yes, sometimes even failures.  It inspired me.  So that’s how I write.  While the blog updates with charts and numbers are great, they are not my style.  If you don’t like it…that’s okay, there are two other bloggers.  I can’t/won’t be everyone’s style.  But I would like to share a quote my parents taught me growing up “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything” and always “Silence is golden.”

More to come this afternoon…


Summer Book Club Review: Complete Guide To Money

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It’s time for our first summer book club review!

Did you read Dave Ramsey’s Complete Guide to Money with me?

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If not, no worries! I’ll be announcing the next book club read at the end of the post! And read my review anyway – maybe you’ll get something from it even without reading the whole book.

Let’s get started….

My general thoughts are that the book basically rehashes a lot of his other books that I’ve read (I’ve read Total Money Makeover and EntreLeadership). Even so, his writing is fun and engaging. He’s definitely a charismatic speaker and it comes through in his books, too. There are a lot of repeat stories that I’ve heard before on the radio (and/or read in previous books), but there are certainly some new ones too. Also, he’s pretty honest and open about the fact that the book covers all the same stuff he talks about on a regular basis. So you go into it almost expecting a bit of a review (at least that’s the case if you’re a regular Ramsey reader or radio show listener).

One of the things I enjoy is that Ramsey includes “We Did It” stories throughout the book as a motivating tool to read about real life people who applied his principles to reach their financial goals. I also like that he pulls in Twitter and Facebook posts as an added connection to readers.

Here are some quotations (some are direct quotes some are paraphrased) of things that jumped out at me as I read through the book:

  • If you start at age 16 and never have a car payment, but instead invest the difference, you’d retire a multi-millionaire just by avoiding car payments. Why not teach THAT in school?
  • Debt is a product. It’s the most successfully marketed product in all of history.
  • Dave’s grandma always said: “There’s a great place to go when you’re broke….. To Work!” (<<<my personal favorite quote from the book!)
  • Most families going through Financial Peace University program are debt free except their house in 18 months!!!
  • How would it feel to have absolutely no debt hanging over you?
  • How much of your income is currently going out in the form of payments every month (e.g., credit cards, home equity loan, mortgage, car loan, student loan, etc.)? What could you do if you actually got to keep that money?

While reading the book I also jotted down a couple of my own personal stories that related to things Dave mentioned in his book.

  • When I was a kid (not even 18 yet), I got a membership to Columbia House. They send you a bunch of free DVDs, but then start mailing you random DVDs every couple weeks which they bill you for in-full until you send notice to cancel your membership. I’d gotten caught up in the program and hadn’t canceled in time and owed money that I never paid and, eventually, it went on my credit. Again…we’re talking about something from nearly 15 years ago. The debt was small (under a hundred dollars), but it stayed on my credit forever – well past the 7 year mark – because creditors can do an account inquiry, which counts as account activity. Eventually I just paid the debt off so it would go away, but I was shocked to find out that the whole “it drops off your credit in 7 years” myth is NOT always the case. Columbia House showed me that by hanging around probably 12 years or so.
  • Ramsey talks a lot about how debt collectors have all kinds of terrible techniques to get you to pay THEM before any of your other bills. After my grandfather’s death, my maternal grandmother (who now lives in assisted living funded for by my mother) didn’t have a lot of income. She got behind on her bills and had credit card debt collectors calling her relentlessly. They convinced her to pay her credit card bill before her own mortgage and utility payments (which my mom was forced to step in and cover to keep the lights on). Obviously you shouldn’t be taking on debt you can’t afford to pay back. But you should also make sure you have a roof over your head and food in your fridge (and electricity to power the fridge) before paying back scummy credit card companies! No debt is the way to go!
  • Ramsey talked a lot about the power of marketing on buying decisions. I saw this come to light the most when I was planning our wedding 5 years ago. I swear, everything is marked up 10x just because its associated with a wedding. An identical product intended for a birthday party (instead of wedding) is so much cheaper! There’s something about weddings, specifically, that make people feel obligated to spend. I remember joking with friends at the time…. “if you truly love each other, you’ll order the specialty cocktail napkins with your personalized monogram! If you don’t upgrade but opt to stick with the regular napkins, you’re surely destined for divorce!!!” No, no one literally said those words to me. But that’s certainly how it felt!!!

Overall, I’d give the book 3.5 out of 5 stars. It never drew me in to where I just couldn’t put the book down. But its a quick and engaging read and has lots of helpful info, even if much of it is review.

What did you think?

What would you do with your extra money if you didn’t have any debts to pay?

And….drumroll please……..

Our next summer book club selection is:

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Your Money or Your Live:  9 Steps to Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Achieving Financial Independence.

So pick it up from your local library. This will be our selection for the month of July. If you have another (financially-oriented) book you’d like to read, leave a comment with your opinion and I’ll select another one for August!

 


Weekly Debt Update #19- Father’s Day Weekend and Disney Prep

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Hope everyone is having a wonderful day.

This past weekend was Father’s Day, of course, so for all you fathers out there- here’s to you. Since my dad was down in Orlando visiting my nephew all weekend, we did not do any celebrating. After talking with my mom and brother, we’re holding off celebrating with my dad until the weekend of the 4th, since we all have the weekend off. However, just like for mother’s day where I celebrated GF being the “mother” of our dogs, she did some amazingly wonderful things for me. First, she made me breakfast, and then I got to spend most of the day doing what I wanted (spent playing guitar) while she worried about taking care of the chores. She made the dinner of my choice (her awesome homemade chili and a Greek salad) and then took us for a drive to a little, but fairly famous, road side stand for root beer floats. On the way back, we stopped at a beach and relaxed in the park. Here’s me on a child’s swing, lol:

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As for Disney prep- I appreciate all the amazing comments on last week’s post. We now have some ideas for what we are going to do for food on our way back. Chances are at this point, we’ll find a grocery store outside of Disney and grab some items to pack in our cooler on the way back. Like I said before, GF has begun picking up non-perishables for the ride down. The way she coupons and shops, I don’t see a problem having enough non-perishable foods for both the way down and the way back up. We also started doing a “hardcore” cleaning of our house. The house never gets really dirty, but we don’t clean into the nooks and crannies too often. GF and I agree that there’s no better feeling after vacation than coming home to a super clean house. This way we won’t have to worry about doing much in the ways of chores when we get back. If there’s one thing about Disney, with the amount of walking and the lack of sleep, you could use a vacation after, so to speak, lol.  We started doing the cleaning last night and we’ll move room to room until we leave in a couple of weeks.

For the last week of debt payoff, here’s the numbers:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,838.59$3,998.65$57.94
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,702.35$3,494.67$48.15
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$5,925.89$4,424.29$345.74
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
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00$0.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$48,466.83$62.120.83$451.83

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