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Ashley’s Bloated Budget

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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

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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!



“Fun” Little Freak Out

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Let me share with you a story about an all-out “FREAK OUT” moment I recently had regarding my pay.

In terms of back-story, I am on a 9-month contract which ends May 19. When my new contract goes into effect I’ll be switching to a 12-month contract. But that contract does not go into effect until the start of the fiscal year, July 1st. In the interim (May 20-June 30), I will be receiving pay designated as “supplemental compensation” at my current rate of pay (my raise doesn’t go into effect until the new contract).

Since the academic year is soon ending, I emailed our business manager last week asking if I needed to complete any paperwork/what I need to do to get the supplemental compensation to kick in. There was a bit of a process involved last summer and I can’t remember the exact steps.

The business manager replies back basically saying (paraphrasing), “I have no record of you receiving supplemental compensation this summer. Your new contract starts July 1st.”

And I’m like, “WHAT THE WHAT?!?!?!?!” (insert the Scream emoji face)

I’m instantly reviewing old emails and re-living old conversations in my mind. Is it possible that I misunderstood? That I simply thought I would be receiving supplemental compensation but that I’ll actually be going AN ENTIRE 6 WEEK PERIOD WITH NO PAY WHATSOEVER?!?!?!

I call my husband in a panic. How are we going to survive? Here, I was just saying how these next two months are going to be super tight…I didn’t realize we’d literally have NO INCOME during this entire time period! We (stupidly, in hindsight) sent our entire $5,500 emergency fund to the IRS when we were setting up/establishing a payment plan for our 2016 taxes. What were we thinking?! The IRS felt like an emergency at the time, but with the gift of hindsight, I now realize we never should’ve entirely wiped out all liquid savings. What are going to do?!

Deep breath in. Deep breath out.

I allowed my heart-rate to come down. I emailed my boss to gently inquire into this issue. Was I mistaken? Or am I supposed to be working for the next 6 weeks, as I had planned (not to mention, I’ve got work meetings piled a mile high on my calendar, and all kinds of tasks to accomplish over that time).

My boss was at a conference at the time so it took what felt like an eternity for her to respond. My initial email was sent around 2pm in an afternoon and I didn’t hear back until nearly noon the next day. It was just a simple clerical error. YES, I am supposed to be working (as planned). And YES,  I will be receiving supplemental compensation under my current rate of pay until my new contract goes into effect on July 1st (at which point my nice raise will go into effect).

Just breathe.

I have taken a couple lessons from this experience. First and foremost – we made a horrendous mistake in completely wiping out our EF. We need to get back to at least a “baby” $1,000 EF ASAP!!! Not sure how that’s going to happen given that we’re still grappling just to tread water and not lose ground over the summer. Either way, regardless, we need to have at least a starter EF to help us if, heaven forbid, we face a similar crisis in the future.  Second, rather than rushing to panic – maybe just reach out to my boss immediately and try to save the panic for later. In this case, I would’ve been able to sort out the situation and no panic was needed at all. Also, I’m glad I was proactive in reaching out to the business manager BEFORE the semester ended. It would’ve been a terrible surprise to have the semester end and then all the sudden have NO MORE PAYCHECKS when I was depending on them to pay our bills and feed our family! Yikes!

 

Have you had any financial “close calls” recently?


Well Crap

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It’s been a long time since we’ve had a major financial set-back. A really long time.

In fact, everything has been going rather smooth over the course of the past year or so. Income is up, outflow is down, we just hit the half-way point in our debt reduction journey. Life is good!

Until…..tax time.

We met with a CPA on Friday. Turns out we didn’t have all our sh-t together so we have to round up the last of our documents and get them over to the office early next week. So we don’t have official numbers, but it’s looking like it’s gonna be bad. Like….possibly in the 5-digits level of “bad.” Yeah. We may owe the IRS to the tune of over $10,000. How the f do we owe so much? I don’t even know where to begin.  I  thought my payments through my full-time job would help offset things more than they did. Clearly.

We have a LOT of deductions to claim. We also have tax credits we can claim. We’re not out of hope.

But it felt like I’d been punched in the gut after our CPA meeting. We don’t have $10,000. Not in cash. To owe that much would officially move us BACKWARD in our debt progression. The first backward movement since we started our debt payoff process nearly 3 years ago. We’ve had months of stagnation, but we’ve never gone BACKWARD. Never ADDED to our debt (mortgage not included). But my plan (to have cash or put it on a credit card to buy us an extra month) isn’t going to work if we’re talking about that much money.

We’re scrambling to think of a plan so we can pay with cash and not have to set up a payment plan (accompanied by penalties and interest) with the IRS.

In the meantime, we’ll be having another meeting (or two) with the CPA to figure out exact numbers and the best course of action. I’ve also suspended all non-essential debt-payments so we can pile up some cash. Unfortunately, given my recent agreement with the medical bill place, I’m committed to minimum sized payments of $1215/month through April. That, in addition to my minimum student loan payments, puts us at a minimum of about $2000/month. We’ve only been budgeting $3,000/month toward debt and having a minimum payment of $2000 only leaves us about $1,000/month of “wiggle room” to try to stockpile cash for our upcoming IRS debt payment. It’s not nearly enough. Particularly if we owe in the tens of thousands of dollars. omg. Just saying it makes me sick to my stomach. I hope to God it doesn’t turn out that bad. But, as the saying goes, hope for the best and plan for the worst. So all non-essential spending is DONE. In the meantime, we will hoard and stockpile money as best as we can. We do have an EF ($5,500) and a couple various savings accounts. Though it’s a bit like stealing from Peter to pay Paul. It’s certainly not ideal. But neither is the thought of acquiring more debt. It gives me a headache to even consider the thought.

Many of you had warned that we should beef up our EF now that we’re homeowners. This wasn’t the intended purpose (most commenters were thinking more in-line with needing to repair/replace an old roof or HVAC, etc.)….but now that we’re in this situation, it’s sure making me think about how great it would be to have a full $10,000 EF. This IRS tax problem would be solved (and then the “problem” of re-stocking the EF is much easier and less stressful).

So that’s my “well crap” update. I will bring you a February debt-update (which, as mentioned, is lower than the originally planned $3,000 due to the need to save all non-essential payments for our upcoming tax bill). In the meantime, I’ll just keep putting one foot in front of the other. Hoping for the best. Preparing for the worst. Ugh!


The Savings

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I received several questions about the $200 budget item towards savings that I listed in my last post.    The answer is a bit complicated.   We currently have have several savings accounts that are for irregular expenses…with the idea that we could also use those accounts as an emergency fund in a true emergency.   These funds are currently auto-drafted into the savings accounts every payday.  Each category receives $20 a month added to it.  However, the original thought was that some categories are close to being “fully funded” and then that money could be reallocated to other categories until they need “refilled”.    Here’s how I have things divided:

Savings 
Work expenses100.03
Home improvements133.00
fun/holidays55.00
Gifts5.00
clothing85.00
pets70.00
replacements55.00
Auto185.02
Irregular expenses (auto registration/costco/ AAA)39.53
Yard/garden/pest control70.00

Total: $802.58

In explanation:

  • The work expenses category covers things like continuing education, licensing and replacement items for Hubby’s work.  Once we reach $500 this will be considered fully funded.
  • Home improvements will never be considered fully funded.
  • The Fun/holiday fund covers everything from fireworks on the fourth of July, extra grocery expenses for Christmas baking, campground fees, and the occasional movie date night.This will be considered fully funded at $100 while we are still reducing debt
  • Gifts are a hard one.  I will have to think about what I would consider fully funded.
  • Clothing I will consider fully funded at $100, mostly because we do not have expensive clothing needs.
  • Whereas we have an older dog and an older cat that at some point in the future will need a greater amount of vet care, I would not consider this fully funded until we reached $1000
  • The replacements category is actually very new to our budgeting, inspired by needing to finance a fridge when ours died.  This is meant to be money for when an appliance dies, or a new mattress etc. is needed.  I am not sure where I would consider this fully funded, most likely at $1000+
  • The auto category is pretty self explanatory.  We currently own one vehicle out right and have a loan on our second.   These funds are used for maintenance and hopefully will eventually grow enough that we can replace a vehicle by paying cash.
  • The Annual expenses category covers things like AAA and costco memberships, and car registration.  I would like to grow this to be able to pay for six months of auto insurance at a time in order to receive the prepay discounts.
  • The final category is yard/garden.  I LOVE veggie gardening.  We just moved into our home last summer, so this will cover soil amendments, hardscaping, seeds and repairing the disaster of a sprinkler system that currently exists.   It also covers pest control to come out four times a year to treat for voles and the giant wolf spiders that we get here.  After this coming summer, the amount going into this account should be able to be reduced significantly as some of the much need landscaping is completed.

Obviously, If I wanted to keep putting money into these categories until they were all fully funded, I would be saving forever, and that would impact my debt payoff.   I am currently leaning towards continuing to save in them at my current speed until I reach a total of $2000 across all the accounts.   At that point I would simply add to the accounts if I had used the funds.

What do you think?  Am I making a mistake by combining my savings categories and emergency fund?  Is there something I should be saving for that I am not?

 

 

 

 

 


Small Goals Met – Emergency Fund, Credit Repair and more

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Just dropping in to share some exciting news…I’ve met one of my small financial goals on my road to getting back on my feet.  I now have $1,000 socked away in an emergency fund.  Woohoo!

With that goal met, my next goal is to clear up my credit a bit.  When I originally met with the mortgage company a few years ago regarding financing our build, they referred me to someone who came highly recommended.  At the time, I was able to qualify for the amount needed without it, my credit actually wasn’t too bad.  (Not good, but not too bad.) But now…yea, it’s in the pits.

Since I am able to pay my bills on time again and have relatively steady although fluctuating income, I decided it was time to get that going.  So I met with the company this past weekend, put down the non-refundable $400 deposit and now just have to wait.  Their work typically takes 2 months but can take up to 4 months.  So we will see.

Last small update…I am just a little over a month from having my ex-husband’s car paid off.  Sticking to him paying these last 2 payments.  I am looking forward to transferring the title and being rid of this last legal financial tie (excluding our kids but that is not at all the same thing.)

I haven’t forgotten about getting a real numbers update to you.  I will, I promise.  Thanks for your patience with me.

But I do have a question for you…have you ever used a credit repair service?  Experience?