:::: MENU ::::

Browsing posts in: Emergency Fund

Ashley’s Bloated Budget


I have to be honest. I’m totally nervous about this post.

When I first started blogging here back in early 2014, I experienced a lot of backlash. It’s tough to put your entire financial world out there on the internet for a bunch of strangers. And tougher, still, to take in the comments and criticism of very personal financial decisions.

But then the tides changed once I started experiencing some success.

Within 3 months of beginning to blog, I paid off over $10,000 in credit card debt. In total, I paid off just over $25,000 of debt in 2014, just over $26,000 of debt in 2015, and over $30,000 of debt in 2016!!!

Once I was winning with money, the criticisms mostly melted away. I felt more support and encouragement. Not as much judgement or negativity.

Then the summer of 2017 occurred. Poor spending decisions have been made. Income has been reduced. Outflow has increased. I’ve been struggling with some personal mental health issues which have prevented me from spending as much time and attention with our family budget as I should have. Things have just spiraled.

There’s no one single “thing.” It’s more like an avalanche of smaller stuff. Death by a thousand cuts. And all the sudden I look up and realize that our minimum monthly debt payments are so out-of-hand that I don’t know what to do. We’re nickel and diming ourselves to death. To the point that we have no money for food. We have to rely on credit to buy our groceries.

I tried to start over from scratch. I’ve been using YNAB, but I haven’t been able to make the money work for several months now. Our expenses exceed our income, no matter what I do or how I try to shuffle things around, there’s just not enough. So I opened a simple Excel spreadsheet. I wrote my monthly take-home pay at the top and started listing expenses in order of importance. Here’s what I got:

We’re down to $1264 to spend on all of our monthly needs in terms of food and clothing, savings, and/or additional debt payments.  It doesn’t feel like enough….especially since the debt figure ($1098) does NOT include any student loan payments, given that they’re in deferment currently.

On my post about increasing student loan payments, many people tried to give me encouragement that we COULD put $1,000/month toward student loans. That it was totally possible.

Well…..not with only $1264 at the end of the month. Not when we don’t have enough money to buy food or gasoline for our cars. Not when there’s zero wiggle-room because we literally don’t have a single penny in any emergency fund. Not when Christmas is coming up and we have no way to buy gifts for friends or families. Not when our property taxes are coming due!

Can we decrease our fixed bills? The “utilities” line item ($650) includes water, electric, HOA, cable, internet and phone. We can try little things to save on energy, but we’re in a contract with the cable/internet company and same with our phones. HOA is also “set.” So not a lot of wiggle room there.

We do have some debt payments that have lower balances – once we knock them out we can reduce the monthly minimum. But we can’t just be paying minimum payments – we have got to be paying as much over minimum as possible in order to make any headway.

I’m preparing a full debt update so you can see a larger financial picture (give me a couple days to get it posted). But it seems pretty clear to me – we have to find ways to increase our income. $4880/month is not enough for us to achieve our financial goals.

My sister recently added me to a Dave Ramsey Facebook group. It’s been a huge motivational boost to see so many stories of sacrifice and determination. So many debt-free success stories, pictures of fully paid homes, etc. I know we will get there. Our path hasn’t been linear and I think that’s okay. Sometimes “life happens.” Sometimes you have to take a step back and focus on yourself or your family. But we don’t want to live in a state of debt like this forever. The only way out is to put our heads down and plow forward. And that’s just what we intend to do.

As always, I welcome and appreciate your constructive criticism. I’m back to square one here. Googling sample budget plans and just trying to figure out how to survive without taking on additional debt. I’m a little nervous and scared of the path ahead. Our first 2 years of debt-reduction were totally bare-bones. I remember the days well. That was back when I was working part-time from home so it was easier to cook from scratch, meticulously research and shop sales, etc. We’re in a totally different situation now.

It wasn’t easy then. It won’t be easy now. But nothing worth having ever is, now is it?

Give me all your tips! Link to web resources, give me book recommendations. Even just a word of encouragement is appreciated. Thank you all, especially those of you who have been around and seen my story evolve over the past nearly 4 years! It’s been quite a journey and we’re only half-way through it!


The True Cost of a Deck


Thanks for all the comments on my latest post about motivation. I’ve taken the comments to heart and am really doing some serious pondering and life planning for moving forward. I’m trying to minimize the financial bleeding this summer, and then jump back full-force in August with some renewed energy. I wanted to try to go gung-ho this month, but with my lower pay and some unexpected expenses (see below) I just don’t think I can even reasonably expect to try to create a $3,000/month budget for the month of July. We’re going to take on more debt. Sigh. But in August I’ll have my first full month of new salary and our bills will have hopefully stabilized enough for us to create a new budget. From what I’ve figured, I think my take-home pay will be around $6,000/month when my new raise goes into effect. So far the budgets I’ve been playing with are still around the $7,000ish range, so I’ve got to figure out how to come up with an extra $1,000 month (or, alternatively, how to cut an extra $1,000/month from the budget). I’ll write up a post soliciting advice soon.

In the meantime, let me tell you about my latest unexpected expense in a story I call “The True Cost of a Deck.”

My mom and stepdad still live in the same home that I was raised in from the time I was 10-years-old. The house is in a highly sought-after area in Austin, TX and has appreciated well during the time they’ve owned it. It’s beautiful and I love it, but it no longer serves my mom and stepdad’s needs. It’s too large, taxes are too high, and it’s too-tall (two story, when they’d prefer a single story).

The plan has been to put the house on the market this coming spring. My mom, a real estate broker, has tried to dedicate much of the last year to putting in updates that were needed to bring the house up to modern-day and to maximize the amount they can list it for when it goes on the market. They’ve done updates in the bathrooms, the kitchen, and with the floors. The last remaining big thing has been the deck.

My mom’s house is built on the side of a hill. When you walk in the front door it’s at ground level, but then the ground slopes steeply so when you walk to the back door of the house (still on the first floor), all the sudden you’re an entire story above ground. They’ve had a back deck that you could walk out on with stairs leading down to the backyard grass below.

The deck is entirely made of wood and it has been heavily used and abused across time. At this point, parts of the deck are warped and rotted and it is unsafe to be on. Many of the surrounding homes had similar problems and all have had their decks redone at some point in the past 5-10 years. My mom, the last hold-out on the street, felt the time was finally right to replace their deck as it could raise safety concerns for potential homebuyers.

My stepdad, a very intelligent academic-type who likes to think himself a DIY-er, spent months thinking up plans for the deck. Finally, they decided to shell out the money to have a professional draft the plans and provide a list of materials needed to complete the project. The plan was for my stepdad to do the work himself. Once plans were procured, my stepdad went to work. Literally on Day #1, before anything else had been done, he got up on a ladder to cut down the limbs of an overhanging tree. When the large branch fell, it took out the ladder my stepdad had been standing on. Chainsaw in hand, all 3 (stepdad, ladder, and limb) fell to the ground. What could have ended in serious disaster (I shutter to even consider the possibilities), ended up not too terrible. My stepdad sustained a severe tear of his rotator cuff that would require surgery. After meeting with multiple specialists (he didn’t want to accept the truth), he begrudgingly agreed to hire out the rest of the work, given that he required immediate surgery and a lengthy recovery. Any plans for future deck-building were gone. In fact, he was told, the muscles in his arm/shoulder would likely never be the same again.

My Stepdad’s surgery was this past Friday afternoon. Early Saturday morning, my sister (an RN) went to visit and check on my stepdad’s bandages/dressing. While there, my Mom encouraged everyone to go outside to see the progress being made on the back deck – now being completed by a hired contractor. Outside, everyone admired the deck. It’s costing an arm-and-a-leg ($20k compared to the $5-7k DIY estimate), but it’s going up quickly and looks beautiful!

Everyone started walking back around the big hill toward the front of the house when my mom tripped on a piece of debris from the construction, fell, and landed hard on her arm. My sister said the “pop” was audible and unmistakable. My mom’s arm was bent backward and sideways, an unnatural direction that can not occur with healthy, intact bones. An x-ray at the ER later verified the extent of the break. My mom was in so much pain that she almost passed out a couple of times: during examination and immobilization.

Screen Shot 2017-07-05 at 2.56.53 PM

My mom had surgery today. Now both people (Mom & Stepdad) have an arm immobilized, recovering from very recent surgery. Neither can drive due to high dosage pain medicine, nor can they do much of anything on their own. In the time between my Mom’s break (on Saturday) and her surgery (today), my Mom has been in such excruciating pain that she’ been nearly helpless, even with her good arm. Meanwhile, my stepdad’s surgery went well but he’s been battling nausea and vomiting due to the pain medicine he’s on (even after having the doctor call in a lower dosage pain medicine). It’s just a mess.

My sister, now 7 months pregnant, is the true hero of the story. She took off almost a full week last month to help move my dad to his new facility. And she’s taken off almost a full week this month to help with my Mom and Stepdad. She’s gone over daily to make meals, take out trash, clean dishes, etc. etc. She had taken over a case of waters and literally had to pre-open all of the bottles because neither parent could seem to do it one-handed. I mean, it’d be comical if it weren’t my parents!

So this deck that was only going to cost about $5,000 to replace will now likely end up costing over $30,000. It’s about $20,000 for the deck itself, then the out-of-pocket max will be hit for both parents due to their ER visits and surgeries, not to mention loss of work (for them and for my sister). I booked a flight and will be arriving on Friday afternoon. I don’t have the money to go and I really don’t have the time, either. But I have to be there for my family. I just have to.

I’ll be in Austin from Friday-Monday. I’ll be back in Tucson in the office on Tuesday, and then I immediately leave for a work conference trip from Wednesday through Saturday. Then the plan is to round the family up and hit Disney later that week.

So the month of July is turning out to be totally nuts. And it’s costing an arm and a leg two arms! (groan, har har).

At least we have our health freedom, right?

Stay safe out there, DIY-ers! I’ll catch you from Austin on the flipside!