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Financial Ups and Downs


We already know that this month is tough – emotionally and financially!

Here are the latest happenings in this roller-coaster called life…

Good: I got called to do a campus visit interview for the job I recently talked about. It’s really kind of odd. They told me to pencil in 1-4 on a couple different days and they’d get back to let me know which day works for the committee. Very different than my other interview experiences where I’ve had a full day worth of meetings and activities, complete with detailed itinerary and dinner with faculty. I’m hoping this has more to do with the last-minute nature of this job posting and is not a red flag of a potentially low salary (no salary range was listed in the job posting, it just said DOE. I’m very nervous about a surprise super low salary offer, where we might be too far apart to even negotiate).

Bad: Hubs’ truck was making a super scary noise and not braking correctly so he took it into the shop. We were hoping brakes were the issue (they were recently replaced and are still under warranty), but nope. It was related to power steering (he told me more specifics, but I can’t recount the issues here because I’ve already forgotten the names of the leaking/broken parts). Price tag = $1350. Could not have come at a worse time.

Good: We had nearly $900 in our car repairs saving account! I’m going to pay for the repairs on a credit card so I can buy myself an extra month until it has to be paid (note: I still use the credit card for large purchases for the extra assurances and to earn some credit card rewards points, but I always pay it in full when the bill is due). I’ll be able to put $900 toward it from the money we already currently have and the other $450 will come from next month’s budget (since the bill won’t be due until next month). Wiping my brow, thankful we have that savings to cover the majority of the expense!

Bad: I cannot get my husband into the dentist. Cannot do it. Does anyone have any tips on this? From a logical perspective, he totally agrees he needs to go and should really have better oral hygiene – taking more preventative measures instead of waiting until things hit “crisis” level (aka: root canal) and being hit with a much larger bill. So – that’s not the issue. He “gets” it and he agrees. Part of the issue is work-related. Especially with the lower income he’s been drawing he really wants to focus 100% of his energy on work and not take time off for dental appointments. The other part is more psychological. He hates the dentist. I want him to go to a new dentist (an awesome local family-run office who has cut me deals for paying cash and works with me on price), but he refuses to get another dental x-ray. After his health scare in late 2013 when he had a million medical procedures performed, he’s very aversive to any additional procedures. He’s especially reluctant to have new x-rays done because he thinks he’s going to get cancer from all the exposure. He did try to call and have his dental x-rays transferred from his old office, but they send some file format that can’t be opened by the new dentist. The new dentist would even do it for FREE, so it’s really not a cost thing. It’s all about hubs’ fear of dentist/x-ray/dental work and his reluctance to take any time off work. Suggestions? I’m at a loss.

Good: We were officially accepted to a new preschool starting in mid-August! I will be very sad to leave the JCC. They truly have an incredible program! But I really like the new school too and I will LOVE the close proximity to our house and the lower cost! One caveat is it only operates during the school year (not year-round), so I may still enroll the girls in summer camp at the JCC next summer (which, of course, means summer months will be more costly for childcare since JCC costs more). I do like that as a possible compromise though.

What are some good (or bad) things that have impacted your finances lately?

Don’t Copy My Lucky Escape


I always wanted to travel from a very young age. Even though color television was relatively new there were plenty of movies at the cinema and color magazines with articles on faraway places to feed my mind. I was never quite sure how I would realize my dreams. After all commercial passenger flight was not like it is today. As time passed it became obvious that many of these places were indeed in reach. An uncle actually spent some time in the Merchant Marine. He crossed the Pacific many times visiting lots of countries in South East Asia though he was rarely in port for long enough to actually explore many of those countries in depth. I didn’t see myself as a seaman, but his stories reinforced my desire to travel. It would be all about earning the money and finding the time.

Not without Problems

Years on I have pretty much fulfilled my dreams, but it has not been without problems along the way. There is plenty of temptation which sometimes manages to push common sense to one side. As the real estate market grew common sense should dictate that the equity created should be used sensibly; retirement is an obvious thing to consider. I must confess that at times remortgaging funded travel which although immensely enjoyable brought no financial return.

Credit Cards

Most people have succumbed to credit cards. They offered readymade credit limits. They should really be used for convenience. Instead, I managed to build up some core debt; balances on a range of cards and each of those cards were costing me penal interest at the end of each month.

Fortunately, I saw the problem growing and was able to rectify the situation before it got too serious and beyond control. The danger is that credit card balances can somehow escape being regarded as real debt because until the recession came many didn’t feel they would have to be paid back in full. The recession ended any feeling of complacency because as people’s finances crumbled demands often poured in. I had managed to negotiate a consolidation loan before the recession struck. I cut up all but two of my credit cards immediately and paid off every outstanding balance incurring such high-interest rates. It did mean for the next five years I had a fixed monthly payment to make; 60 months and all that money I had used to travel was paid back at a realistic interest rate.


I’ve learned a few lessons in this exercise. Certainly I have enjoyed my travels and hope to continue to do more as retirement approaches. I’ve been fortunate that my income justified the consolidation loan because I certainly lacked some financial self-discipline at times. Credit card companies were perfectly happy to issue cards to anyone who wanted them. Indeed, they seemed to offer them without being asked. It is a trend that seems to be returning today even though the recession has only just receded. If anyone asks me now about cards I would certainly say that they should only be used for their convenience, and not a way to get a loan. Every monthly balance should be paid off in full; I do this now although it took me a while to realize its importance.

There is nothing wrong with borrowing money responsibly. There are loans available for those with the ability to pay the loan amount in full, and the interest rates can be less expensive than what you are paying on cards. That was what I found in my case. I was fortunate to have both a full-time monthly check and money made part-time with my online writing. I write on a variety of subjects based on what my clients want. In addition, if anyone invites me to write about finance, I volunteer advice for nothing. The recession produced many casualties. A huge proportion of them were not as complacent about borrowing as I was. Circumstances brought them down.

I think back and feel relieved that my complacency did not cause me more problems. I’ve seen most of the world and intend to continue to see more in the coming years. Credit could have been my downfall, yet borrowing solved my problem with a sensible consolidation loan. If you look at your own situation and see some of the warning signs that I have alluded to then seek advice. If you have the time and patience, you can do the research on your own, and you can end up apying a lot less on your debt over the long run as you pay it off.

Converting to Cash


Going back to my recent post on The Cost of Convenience – Snack Time, I am finding the temptation to overspend or spend in situations where I don’t need to has become more of an issue as my debt load and monthly obligations continue to drop.  I have more available income and carrying plastic around…well, I have found myself making some bad decisions.  So effective immediately, I am converting to an all cash system.  I’ve cut up two of my cards and put the others away.

I will still pay my monthly bills online using either my debit cards or bank bill pay.  But for any “spending money” I will be withdrawing the money at the beginning of the month and sticking to it.  This money will be my grocery money and the money I would pay the kids for work (since they no longer get an allowance.)  And I’m debating the car money.  Obviously I have to get gas at least twice a month, and paying with a plastic is most convenient.  Not to mention maintenance, etc. that is not always predictable.  I’m considering opening a car only account (checking, that is, not credit) and using that card only for card related expenses.  Thoughts?  But since on most months there are monies left over for that budget item, I really want it in an interest bearing account.  So I’m still figuring that one out.

But essentially I am taking away all possibility of over-spending on a whim or giving into the temptation of convenience or acquiescing to the kids’ “mom, can I have this?”  And when the money is gone for the month…it’s gone.  The kids are used to this on a smaller scale as I’ve been trying it out on a weekly basis…and I’ll just tell them, we are out of  spending money for the week, we have to make due with what we have.  And they are getting that.

Teaser: New monthly budget coming soon as we have cut back on some other expenses to keep us on target for our 6 month credit payoff goal!

Income Analysis


The average household income in the U.S. in 2014 is somewhere between $50,000 and $55,000, depending which source you look at (median = $52,000 here, but nearly $54,000 here). Given these numbers, our household is doing really well!

Remember when I first introduced myself and my debt situation?

I said at that time that our income averaged about $5,500 per month (after taxes). Only….as soon as I’d hit “publish” our income went sky-high. In the following months, things shot up and we were able to make some seriously hefty debt payments as a result. I created a little table below.

Month Month Income Debt Payment % of Income
April 2014 $8290 $3819 (1622 regular + 2197 surplus) 46%
May 2014 $10965 $7451 (5453 regular + 1998 surplus) 68%
June 2014 $9406 $5659 (1959 regular + 3700 surplus) 60%
July 2014 $10420 $1939 (surplus money was saved for transition to living on last month’s income) 19%
August 2014 $8322 $2610 (surplus money saved for transition to living on last month’s income) 31%
September 2014 $6317* start of living on last month’s income $1779 28%
October 2014 $6410 $1752 27%

Table Note:  This is a little confusing so  here’s some explanation. When I first started blogging I would make a debt payment at the beginning of the month (called my “regular” payment), then make an additional payment at the end of the month with leftover money (called my “surplus” payment), so April through June all had 2 debt payments. In July and August I saved the surplus money as I tried to transition to living on last month’s income. September was my first full month living on last month’s income, so the surplus payment disappears since I knew exactly how much money we’d have for the month and, therefore, did a zero-based budget where we weren’t left with any surplus funds at the end of the month.

This month (November) I told you that our income was $5855. This is almost half of what we made in May-July! What’s happened? And, more importantly, how do we get back to those super high-income months so we can continue smashing our debt?

I’ve been studying my budgeting excel spreadsheets to try to determine what is causing such a huge variation in income. And, like most things in life, it seems to be the confluence of many factors.

A lot of it was my pay.

  • I received a large check for a project I’d been working on (unrelated to either of my current job situations).
  • Over the summer semester I received my teaching pay in two lump sums (in June and July), whereas in Fall and Spring semesters the money is spread over four months.
  • Due to various issues I won’t delve into (mentioned here), I haven’t received a check from my research job for work completed in August, September, or October. The check(s) is/are forthcoming, but for those months my pay was slightly lower than usual since I wasn’t getting paid from this job.

And the rest of it was due to my husband.

  • My husband is a small business owner (he does hard wood floor installation). He has two crews of people doing install work. In September, he had to let his second crew go. This was a very tough decision and, obviously, negatively impacts our income. I won’t go into details for privacy sake, but I will say that this was not entered into lightly and there was a LOT of talk and negotiation before the decision was made that he would have to part ways from his second crew-leader.
  • Some unfortunate business expenses came up:  a costly repair that had to be done, some pricey equipment that had to be bought, and payroll for jobs that were net negative (i.e., for the repair work). He has business savings that were able to compensate for some of the expenses, but some of the expenses had to come from his current earnings (meaning, less money for income during those months).

So, how do we get our income back up into that super-high range where we can be putting 60+ % of our income toward debt? Those months where I was paying $5,000+ toward debt payments made such a HUGE boost psychologically. I want to get back to that place! If we do, then we could eradicate our debt so much more quickly; its so encouraging to really see those debt numbers fall so rapidly!

The first target is to increase my income.

I asked my teaching university boss if I could take on an additional class in the Spring (to be honest, I asked if I could have TWO extra classes, but I was told there wouldn’t be enough to go around). Although I haven’t signed the paperwork guaranteeing me the extra class in Spring yet, let’s just say that I’m cautiously optimistic (knock on wood!) I was supposed to have an extra class this semester, too, but it was cancelled due to low enrollment, so this is a “wait and see” type thing.

In terms of my research job, I expect that I should be paid for my time (for work from August-October) sometime this month. I don’t feel comfortable divulging too many details, but this job and relationship is a bit tenuous. Rather than trying to look for another way to supplement my income (finding another part time job or something similar), I’ve decided to devote any extra time right now to applying for full time positions. If nothing turns up this hiring season (meaning, if I don’t land an academic job starting in August 2015), then I will move my attention to longer-term alternative solutions to earn income. Right now I don’t want to distract myself with something short-term just to make a little extra money at the expense of a potentially very lucrative long-term career. I need to keep my eye on the long-term prize.

The second target is to increase husband’s income.

In reference to his second crew, husband took his time and found someone who has just started working as a crew boss for a second crew. This is still brand new but so far things are going well (though turnover tends to be high in the first few months, so fingers crossed that things work out). This will help boost income a bit.

Then, here’s where things get really hairy.

Husband’s only other real way of boosting income is to continue growing his business. He has several big retailers that he does contract work through and would like to get to a point where he sits in the showroom making sales and doing customer bids all day (leaving the install work for his crews to complete). To make that financially possible he needs at least 3 crews running at all times. He has 2 crews currently, but that includes himself and a helper as one crew so he really needs 2 additional crews to be able to quit doing install work himself.

Enter:  dilemma.

This is the hard part of having such an unpredictable future. Husband could bust his butt to try to build things up and then we find out I’ve landed an academic position and we’re moving in July. We have no way of knowing what the future holds. Regardless, Winter is not a great time to build up crews of people since business traditionally slows down around the holidays. But come Spring (right when I’ll hopefully be interviewing), husband has the choice to start advertising and trying to hire more people. I’m not sure what we’ll do at this point. I want his business to be as lucrative and rewarding as possible. But I’d also hate for him to work so hard to try to get to right where he wants it….and then we find out we’re moving.

Anyway, when I started off writing this post I wasn’t intending for this to take such a philosophical turn. I just wanted to do a little analysis of our income and to try to analyze how we can get it back to such a super high range. I guess the answer, to some extent, is simply time. Hopefully I’ll be making more money come Spring. Maybe I’ll land a job and make even more the following Fall. Husband’s job could really get booming in the Spring. He could hire more people, get more crews running, and transition to office-only by Summer.

I guess only time will tell.


Capital One update


Hey! I realized I have one more quick update to share with you guys!

Remember this situation? To jog your memory – someone from Capital One called and said there was an attempted fraudulent charge on my account, asked me to verify some info, then said they’d send a new card. I asked if this was a tactic designed to try to get customers to use their credit card (since mine has been laying dormant for months).

You guys (many, many readers) scared the crap out of me when you said I’d been scammed! I called Capital One and they couldn’t verify whether the attempted fraud call had come from them or not. They said they’d change the account number and send me a new card (with new account number). They said someone from the fraud department would follow up with me.

Well, no one from fraud ever called.

But about a week after that incident, I got 2 letters from Capital One. The first had a new credit card (same number as the old card). The second had another new card (with new account number). Sooooo, I think that solves the mystery. The call alerting me about the attempted fraud was definitely from them (since they did, in fact, send me a new card). I think the fraud department still should have contacted me, but since I’d explained my concerns to the call center employee, I’m sure there were notes in the system and the fraud person would have easily been able to see that there was no actual fraud that took place (only a misunderstanding when I thought I might have been getting phished, but actually got a phone call from them).

This brings me back around to my original point though….. I still think this might have been a tactic to try to get me to use my card by bringing it to my attention and sending me out a new card so its right at my fingertips (instead of locked away in my safe). It didn’t work. I’ve actually never even called to activate the new card (though I guess I should? Is there any disadvantage not to? I don’t want to actually close the account since it would impact the length of my credit history).

That’s all – one last update for today. Now I think we’re all caught up for the most part. I do have a bit of a secret to divulge (which directly impacts our finances), but that’s going to have to wait for probably another week. Like that little teaser? I’m keeping you on the seat of your pants! haha! Really though, after this whole incident (when I lost a bit of my anonymity), I feel the need to be more cautious about what I say and when. I’ll spill the beans eventually, but I need a little more time. NO – I AM NOT PREGNANT! hahahaha!!!

Have a good weekend guys!!!


Going, going, GONE!!!!!!!


We’re lining up our credit cards and knocking them out one at a time!

First up – Capital One

Next – Wells Fargo

And finally, I present to you….my Bank of America credit card account:



Current balance = ZERO, Baby!!!! Wooo!!!!

We are officially credit card debt-free!!! MWHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!

Cue the Pharrell song, Happy, along with a little “raising the roof” dance! I’m cool that way. Feel free to join in ; )







Did I just get lied to?


The other day I got a phone call about 9am from my Capital One credit card company. It was the fraud department asking if I’d tried to make a $200-some-odd dollar transaction that morning.

  • Me: What? No! I haven’t used the card in months!!
  • Representative: Well I’m glad we got in touch with you then! Yes, our records indicate no activity in over 6 months, so this transaction was flagged as fraudulent and was declined. No need to worry, but we will be issuing and sending you a new card.

The conversation goes on for a bit with them verifying information and me worrying about how my credit card information was “leaked.” FYI – I checked and I still have the card in my possession (I never use it, but keep it locked in a safe in our house).

Then after the call I started thinking……is this a new tactic credit card companies are using to try to get you to use your card? They come up with some excuse (e.g., fraudulent activity) to send you a new card so its fresh in your mind and right at your fingertips for the using (as opposed to being locked away in a safe)?

Am I being overly paranoid or skeptical? Or did I totally just get lied to about a fake fraudulent attempt at using my credit?

For the record, I checked online and there are no recent or pending charges. Of course, the woman said the attempted-fraud charge had been declined so I suppose it wouldn’t show up, but now I’m suspicious. If I never use my card (never even log into my account – I had to do the “forgot my password” option because its been so long!), and still have the card in my possession, then how on Earth would someone get the card information in order to attempt a charge?

I’ve been known to be a bit on the skeptical side….but I’m calling BS on this one.

Anyone else have this experience before???