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Disappointing Debt Payment

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First, thank you so much for all of your kind comments regarding our family health situation. I’ll try to keep you updated (especially in terms of finances) as I get more information.

In the meantime I wanted to tell you about how this situation, coupled with the no-income May, are going to affect debt payments this month.

It kills me to do this….but I’m going to have to pay only minimums.

We live on last month’s income, so having such a low income for the month of May is really hurting us in June. Hubs’ business drew no income last month (thankfully it didn’t cost us anything so he had enough income to cover his expenses, but no profits were earned). Also, remember how we owe the IRS money? Yeah. We already have some of the money set aside but I was going to use my May paycheck to cover the rest of the bill. BUT, since my paycheck was our only source of income for the month, I’ve put some aside for IRS bill, but I’ve kept some to help cover part of our expenses this month. And we’re raiding our EF hard-core. I’m trying to minimize the amount we have to withdraw from the EF (we’re trying to sell everything possible), but it could come close to being wiped out this month. A very scary feeling.

Given all this (and uncertain future spending) I think that it’s better to keep some money in the bank, pay minimums on current debt, and try to build some reserves this month. Debt payments will be as follows:

  •       PenFed (car payment) = $0 (I’m prepaid ‘till next April so no fees incurred)
  •       Student Loan Payments = $433 (minimum payments:  $77 to ACS ; $356 to Navient)
  •       Medical Bill = $25 (minimum)
  •       Balance transfer = $0 (no interest currently, but this means later payments will need to be higher to cover this month’s deficit)

That’s only $458 in debt payments this month!

I hate it! This is my lowest monthly debt payment in the 15 months I’ve been blogging here.

To compensate I’ve also taken away all monthly savings in their entirety. That means nothing toward:

  •       Cruise 2016 fund
  •       EF (in fact, we’re raiding the EF)
  •       Car repair fund
  •       Health/Dental/Vision fund
  •      Semi-annual fees fund

Usually I put several hundred toward savings each month (up to $1,000), but all savings is being suspended until we can get the financial bleeding to end.

So…minimum debt payments, no savings. Pretty much sums it up.

I’ve got to get back to work – Mondays are always a busy work day for me because assignments are due on Sundays. : ) Still thankful for my job!


Something’s Come Up

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I’ve written this post several times in my head but have had a difficult time putting it down on paper. First, because it’s a difficult subject to discuss. And second, because while I have tried to be as open and honest with y’all as much as possible in many regards (you all know more about my financial life than just about anyone in my real life except my husband!), I don’t think it’s fair for me to bare all the details about other people’s business.

And so with that being said, I’ll tell you now…something has come up.

A very close family member is experiencing pretty debilitating health issues, the full extent of which has yet to be determined. This was a semi-gradual thing, as I started noticing warning signs and symptoms over a year ago. But in the past few months things have reached the next level.

I don’t know what will happen next in terms of this person’s health (though I hope for the best, my fear is that the incident that brought this all to light is really only the beginning of a long road ahead). But I can tell you, in terms of my finances, that I’ll be incurring some additional expenses I hadn’t previously anticipated.

To be more specific, hubs and I have decided that we are going to be making a trip this summer that was previously unanticipated. In the big scheme of things, this won’t be too costly. We went on a trip this past summer and again over Christmas time. So from that perspective, it falls directly in line with last year’s spending habits. It’s just the fact that we hadn’t thought about or planned to take a trip this summer so its money that would otherwise have gone directly toward debt (not to mention the no-income month of May).

I will also say, with the limited medical information I have at this time (hopefully I’ll learn more soon), I think this could have future financial implications as well. I won’t dive into “what ifs” until more is known, but there is a possibility of future trips as well (not just the one this summer).

Our time is so fleeting here on Earth. Remember back when we had 4 new bloggers and we were doing a weekly Q&A series? One of the questions asked, “What is the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?”

We never did get around to answering that question as a group, but even at that time I absolutely knew my answer: Not living near family. THAT is my biggest sacrifice.

When I was in graduate school my #1 goal in life was to graduate and immediately move back by family. When we had kids (during my last year of grad school), that feeling only intensified. But things change in life. Husband’s business was growing and by the time I graduated in 2013 we really weren’t in a financial position to pick up and move. It just didn’t make sense to leave husband’s income and move to a place where he had none. What would we do? Move back in with parents? That wasn’t a desirable option for either of us. The much more reasonable and undoubtedly financially sound decision was to stay put. Husband keeps working his job, I keep working mine, and we keep chipping away at our debt.

But it was a tough pill to swallow.

During 2009-2010 (our early years in Arizona, before we had kids), my grandfather suffered from a series of health issues. He had 3 strokes – each worse than the one before. He had to have multiple surgeries. He ended up living on-and-off in different rehabilitation clinics so he could regain strength and motor ability following each of his health set-backs. Being so far away during that time crushed me. Not only did I hate not being there for my Grandpa, but I hated not being there for everyone else, too. You see, a major health issue like this affects the ENTIRE family, not just the afflicted individual. My poor mother was killing herself to try to be at my grandfather’s beck and call (mind you, the woman still works a full-time job, too). My sister had to run errands, buy groceries, cook food, and help with his meds. My brother went over to mow the grass, check the mail, and walk the dog. And on and on and on. You know who didn’t do anything? ME.

Granted, not for lack of caring. Of course I’d like to share in the burden and help my family! But the distance is extremely difficult. I’d call and chat and try to lift spirits a bit. We visited a couple times a year. But I was unable to help in any of the day-to-day duties that ended up piled on my other family members’ shoulders. That type of guilt is a difficult thing to overcome.

And so here we are again. A different situation, granted – different person, different health issues, different treatment and prognosis.

This type of storm would be so much easier to weather if we were debt free. Absolutely! It’s a big motivator to get out of debt.

But at the same time, it’s a big reminder that life does not wait until after the debt is gone. You can’t just push “pause” and hope everything remains the same for multiple years until the debt-monster has been eradicated.

So I will try to take a balanced approach. Nothing in my debt plan of action will change – I will continue on as usual (paying $500/month toward my balance transfer loan, as much as possible toward my car loan, and all else will be minimums), but I may end up traveling a bit more than anticipated, which means we may have a little less to put toward debt during those months than during others.

All we can do at this time is wait and see what happens. Visit more doctors. Gather more information. Come up with a health plan-of-action. And hope for the best.

What’s the hardest sacrifice you’ve made to get out of debt?


A Reward for Us

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Over the years that I was a reader of this blog prior to becoming a writer, I always found the “reward” posts interesting.  And as I have been facing down this “consumer loan debt free” date, after months of extreme budget living, I started thinking about giving ourselves a reward for all we’ve done this year to get to this point.

For those newer readers, we have done the following (some by choice, some not:)

  1. Moved out of our more expensive home to a tiny apartment.
  2. Sold our fabulously large, though gas guzzling family car.
  3. Tortured ourselves by squeezing like sardines into a tiny, though paid off and good gas mileage car (and learning to drive stick shift to do it.)
  4. Given up all travel since August – HUGE for us!
  5. Lots of individuals sacrifices to which my kids have learned to respond when someone asks “Budget Cuts” which cracks me up every time.
  6. Lived without many conveniences ie microwave, fenced yard, individual bedrooms
  7. Purge – we have sold, given away, trashed or donated almost 70% of everything we owned since September, 2014.
  8. Several months of pretty much living on nothing, not a single dime of money to spend.  We call it living on air.  This was by choice to reach the “living on last month’s pay” and “consumer debt free by July” goals, but we are doing it.

Did I miss anything?

So I have decided we deserve a reward and I need your advice on it!  This is what I want….Drumroll please….

A counter top water filtration system!

Not what you expected was it!  Ha!  I guess, I’m now so engrained in frugal and practical and all other things that continue to point us toward debt free living, that it’s now habit.

So here’s my reasoning:

1) Our apartment water is NASTY!

2) Gallon’s of water eat up our budget and we go through it FAST!  (Typically $0.79 per gallon.)  Lots of time when we are tight, I just won’t buy it and then we suffer through the nasty taste, and thus drink less water. (Ok, I can’t even drink it so we will put lemon in it or some of my essential oils to help.)

3) We need to drink WAY more water…all of us!

So while counter space is prime real estate in our tiny apartment, I have decided that a counter top water filtration system is a wonderful reward for us becoming consumer debt free.  I haven’t priced them, haven’t researched them, so now I am here…asking for your suggestions, advice and recommendations.

Tell me everything you can about your counter top water filtration system!  Anticipate purchase date…July, 2015!


Dental Deal

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Remember last summer when I had some dental stuff pop up?

I never gave details before, but I went in for a routine cleaning and was told I’d need a new front tooth because my root was dead. The dentist recommended getting 6 porcelain veneers to remedy the situation. (Note: this was the first time I’d ever gone to that dentist, and I had selected them because they had a new patient special).

Well, I thought that was total crap. Instead, I decided to seek a second opinion. But, before going in, I chipped a back tooth. I’m so glad I went for the second opinion because the new dentist was awesome! He did an exam and x-rays for free and suggested that for the front tooth we take the “wait and see” approach because, although the root was dead, there was no sign of decay. He also said that IF further action needed to be taken, that the best thing to do would be a root canal and a single cap (a far cry from the 6 porcelain veneers the last dentist recommended!)

Anywho, I did need to get a filling on my chipped tooth to protect it from potential cavities but that was it, and cost a grand total of $171 (we don’t have dental insurance and pay out-of-pocket).

It’s now been 7 months and is time for another teeth cleaning.

This time around, I started by checking out a bunch of the dental discount plans in my area. Only….I wasn’t really thrilled with any of them.

The one that sounded best “on paper” I found out had TERRIBLE patient-reviews. Like, an average of 1 star out of 5. Plus it was clear across town.

Then I looked up one that’s nearby with better reviews, but the prices really didn’t seem that great and they don’t have a pediatric dentist for the girls (they really need to start going to the dentist soon!)

The dental discount plan is 100% worth the money if I can get hubs to go, but this month has been insane with his schedule. And its really not that great of a deal if it’s just me and I’m going just for a cleaning. After talking about it with hubs, we decided that I’ll pay out-of-pocket for a cleaning this month, and we’ll look back at dental discount programs next month. Hubs promises to make it a priority to get to the dentist next month. (He’s one of those people who needs some time to wrap his mind around the idea of going to the dentist – he’s never been a big fan.) Stay tuned next month for my “Year of Becoming Adults:  April Update” >>>hopefully I can report on hubs having completed some much needed dental work!

Anyway, given my pleasant experience last time with dentist #2, I decided just to go back there. I figured most teeth cleanings are in the $100-$150ish range so I anticipated an expense of that size (and right now we have plenty of dental savings to cover it). But when I called and scheduled the appointment, I decided to ask the receptionist about it just so I would know up-front what to expect.

And guess what….

Apparently they have a deal going on right now for an x-ray, exam, and cleaning for $50 for new patients. Now, I’m not new, and they’ve already given me an x-ray and exam (for free last time!!!), but they said they’d honor the discount and give me the cleaning for only $50!! Can you believe it?! Oh, how I wish this dentist participated in a dental discount program because they are awesome – from the dentist to the staff – they are all so friendly and accommodating!

At least I’ll be getting my cleaning this time around for a reasonable price. Who knows what’ll happen next time around (dental discount plan? Out-of-pocket?)

But it just goes to show – never hurts to ask about prices!

Have you ever saved money by simply asking for a better price? If you pay out-of-pocket, about how much did you spend on dental care last year?


Never Going Back: Homemade Yogurt

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One thing that is consumed A LOT in our house is yogurt.

We can have yogurt just about any time of day….

For breakfast I’ll often serve it with fresh fruit and wheat toast for the girls/raw oats for me (don’t knock it ’till you try it. It actually tastes really good, and way healthier than super sugar-fied granola!)

I’ll sometimes serve it as an accompaniment to lunch. Particularly on days that the girls are in preschool I like to send yogurt since its a good source of protein. The girls’ preschool is meat-free, so I sometimes struggle with protein-based options (peanut butter gets OLD after awhile). Yogurt as a side is always a good option.

And yogurt is just about everyone’s favorite snack.

MMMmmmmmmm yogurt!

Until this point I generally spent a good $5-6 on yogurt per week. Maybe more (okay, probably more).

But no more, my friends!

I have discovered how incredibly EASY and DELICIOUS homemade yogurt can be! Who knew?!?

I used this recipe and followed it to a T, so I won’t rehash all the recipe deets, but I wanted to give some commentary on my experience making my own homemade yogurt for the first time.

The Basics

Okay, so read the recipe, but to give you the gist, you’re going to pour a gallon of milk into a crockpot, heat it up in your crockpot for nearly four hours, then cool down to a specific temperature (which can take another hour), add a yogurt “starter” (you need the live yogurt cultures…this could be store-bought or leftovers from your last homemade batch), then let it sit for up to 12 hours.

Whew! That’s a lot of time!

My Thoughts.

First, you’re going to have to plan ahead to make your own yogurt. I tried for 3 consecutive days to do it, but time got away from me and I ended up having to put it off until the next day (because making it in a crockpot takes HOURS to do). Sure, there are faster ways (like stove-top), but I liked the leave-it-and-forget-it method of the crockpot and I didn’t have a timeline for when I needed the yogurt, so I just pushed it back a couple days until the timing worked out. But just a heads up that it DOES take some pre-planning.

Second, Stephanie mentioned how the “tang” in homemade yogurt might surprise you. I’ve had plain yogurt before, so I wasn’t at all surprised. If anything, I thought my yogurt was less tangy than what I’d expected. As she mentioned, the longer it sits the tangier it gets. I’d left mine for about 10.5 hours, so it would have been tangier if I’d left it longer.

The Taste.

In my opinion (and the reason I’m Never Going Back <<the title of this post), the taste of homemade yogurt is WAY superior to store-bought! OMG, it tasted so decadent and delicious! I could close my eyes and almost have an out-of-body experience, pretending to be in some super swanky brunch spot enjoying a freshly prepared yogurt parfait. Dramatic? Yes. True? Yes!

Plus homemade yogurt costs PENNIES per portion, compared to store-bought yogurt that often costs up to $1+ per portion!

Storage.

You should note that homemade yogurt doesn’t last as long as store-bought yogurt. This makes sense since there are no preservatives (or other icky stuff for that matter). According to google, it can last for up to 2 weeks in your fridge, and 3 months in your freezer. Not too shabby if you consume as much yogurt as we do. Bonus – the frozen homemade yogurt can be thawed OR eaten frozen (duh! Like frozen yogurt!)

I store my yogurt in glass mason jars that I keep in the fridge. If you’re going to freeze it, however, you may want to put it in a plastic container (sure, glass freezes, but I’ve had more than my fair share of “oopsies” after accidentally breaking a frozen glass container)

Fruit Options.

There are a ton of ways to eat yogurt. I’ve used plain yogurt before as a substitute for sour cream in various baking recipes (healthier and cheaper). I also enjoy plain yogurt, but most people probably prefer to add in a little fruit.

I made a strawberry-banana yogurt that was TO DIE FOR (ahem, if I do say so myself *brushes shoulders off*)

All I did was take a very ripe banana and some strawberries and put in a large container. I used a potato smasher to “muddle” the berries and basically worked everything into a pulp. Then I stirred in the yogurt and mixed everything well. It’s important to note that once fruit is muddled like this, it immediately starts to break down (meaning:  decompose). So you cannot do this if you plan on putting it in your fridge for 2 weeks. But, its perfectly fine for a few hours. In fact, allowing the flavors to meld for a few hours is what makes it really taste like HEAVEN! I did this in the morning and then served it as an afternoon snack and it was the perfect amount of time.

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Fruit in the bowl before muddling

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All together now!

You could do this with any of your favorite fruit combinations, or you can always just serve the plain yogurt with whole or sliced fruit, too.

I honestly can’t decide what’s best:  the money I’ll be saving making homemade yogurt from now on, or how good I feel about healthify-ing one of our favorite foods!

Most people already think of yogurt as a pretty healthy food (it can be, though lots of the stuff sold in stores is loaded with sugars and additives), but it really doesn’t get any healthier than making it yourself! I used rBST-free 2% milk when I made mine (you can use any type you like), which I thought was perfect! I’d imagine that whole milk would provide an even richer taste, while skim milk will obviously save you some calories. Since my kiddos are some of the biggest consumers of yogurt, I like to buy 1% or 2% so they can get some of the healthy fats from the milk (and/or yogurt), but you can use whatever you prefer.

Let me know if you try your hand at making homemade yogurt and what you think!

Do you make any “fun” foods homemade? I’ve toyed around with the idea of doing homemade cheese but I’ve been scared of dealing with the rennet. I’ve also thought of doing homemade pasta one day, but it also seems so prep-intensive that I’ve been scared off for now. Maybe one day. : )

 


Out Sick

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Sorry folks, I got a pretty nasty cold this weekend and I’ve been out of commission for the past couple days. I won’t have a weekly debt update per usual today, but I will have one up on Thursday once I’m feeling better.


Breast Versus Bottle: A PSA

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Hi friends! I’m taking a little time today to blog on something totally unrelated to debt as a little public service announcement (PSA).  Even though unrelated to debt, I really want to spread this message and encourage any/all of you to do the same. This is something that isn’t talked about nearly enough, but is quite near and dear to my heart. Mention it to a new Mom or Mom-to-be. Or just talk about it amongst friends. If this message reaches and helps even a single new Mom, then this post will have served its purpose. Thank you for your patience with this interruption to regular blogging. I’ll be back later with a more relevant post.

One of my lifelong best friends called me the other day.

I could tell instantly that something was wrong. She was clearly holding back tears, just trying to keep it together.

My friend Alice* (*not her real name) is a first-time Mom. She brought her sweet baby home from the hospital a few days ago, and is having a very difficult time with the transition. Although it’s totally normal to have your hormones all over the place in the early days and to feel some level of angst, Alice’s feelings were a bit amplified compared to most. As we spoke, I could tell that she was near-panic. My heart ached for her as she told me about her anxiety and feelings of helplessness.

What was Alice’s biggest problem?

Breastfeeding.

Alice’s baby was refusing to latch. She’d seen multiple lactation consultants in the hospital, but was experiencing continued problems. The doctor noticed it and even had her stay an extra day in the hospital, hoping the extra time would help.

Exhausted and feeling defeated, Alice turned to formula while at the hospital. Now at home, she was still trying to breastfeed, but was working herself into a terrible mental state due to her difficult and unsuccessful experiences.

She called me to seek some solace from our friendship and to ask about my experiences (I’m a huge breast-feeding supporter. I breastfed my girls for 6 months and attended a weekly breastfeeding support group religiously). I gave her some suggestions and talked about my experiences. Every person is different. Every baby is different. When I first had my babies I’d planned to breastfeed for a full year. I fought tooth and nail to make it to 6 months. I won’t go into all the details, but it felt like a daily battle and I struggled the.entire.time. It never came easy or naturally for me and my girls.

Here’s the thing. We all know that “breast is best.” We’ve all read the studies, heard it from nurses, pediatricians, etc. We have had it beaten into us that breastmilk is the best thing we can give our babies. I am not arguing with that.

What I would like to say though, the message I really want to spread, is that it’s not all about what’s best for the baby. There’s another very important person in the equation:  the mother.

Yes, we all know about the studies showing how important breastmilk can be for supporting a baby’s health (see here or here for an overview). But do you know how incredibly important maternal mental health is for her growing baby? A recent meta-analysis discussed the many varied ways that maternal depression can negatively effect a child long after infancy (see here).

I want to be clear that I’m not a breastfeeding-basher. If a woman can breastfeed then that is fantastic! I’m totally pro-breastfeeding! I’m just saying that there are many cases where trying to breastfeed may actually cause more harm to the child than formula-feeding would. One of these cases, specifically, is if the woman is battling severe anxiety and/or depression as a direct result of breastfeeding complications. We all have these ideas of what it will be like when we have a baby, and rarely do we think that one of our biggest troubles will be feeding the baby! Experiencing difficulty with breastfeeding is actually quite common. But if these complications translate into perpetuating a state of anxiety and depression in the mother then, “Houston, we have a problem!”

I liken this to being on an airplane. If the cabin loses pressure and the oxygen masks come down, we are instructed to put on our own oxygen mask FIRST! We do this BEFORE helping anyone else (including children and/or elderly) because if we don’t help ourselves then we aren’t in a position to be able to help anyone else!

If a woman is struggling with depression, then she’s unable to mother as effectively as she would otherwise. This can negatively influence the growing child’s affective and behavioral development in a number of ways (higher rates of depression and psychopathology, behavior problems, and altered biological stress reactivity profiles). In short, if a new mother is depressed, it’s bad for her child. I would argue that the effects of maternal depression are much worse (and longer lasting) than the effects of being formula-fed as opposed to breastfed.

Many people don’t look at it that way. They look at a new baby and if the mother is feeding the child formula, then she’s often judged. Why would you not want the best for your baby? But maybe offering formula IS the best choice for the baby.

I’m not a trained counselor nor am I a trained medical professional, but I gave my dear friend my own personal advice (this, coming from someone who is pro-breastfeeding, but also pro-mommy’s mental health). I told her not to give up yet. Try to pump so baby can still get breastmilk that way. Try to nurse (like, really try….could take a good 30-45 minutes) at least once a day. See another lactation consultant. Try a nipple shield. Etc. Etc. Etc.

But I ended the conversation with this:  If, after you’ve exhausted all other options, you are still finding yourself in a state of panic and depression, unsuccessful with breastfeeding….then you give your baby a bottle of formula. And you do NOT feel bad about it for one second. You are doing the best thing you can for your baby. You are taking care of YOU!

I know this is a controversial topic and you may not agree with me and that’s just fine. But I  urge you all to open your minds a bit about this topic and consider not just what’s best for baby, but what’s best for Mommy?

In my opinion, this concept (what’s best for Mommy) is not discussed nearly enough. Think about it. Keep it in the back of your mind when you offer a new Mom suggestions or advice. Remember that each person is different; our babies are different; our experiences are different; and let’s be sensitive toward each other in our choices about breast versus bottle because it’s not always the clear-cut choice that everyone makes it out to be. We’re all just trying to make it through life doing the best we can. Let’s offer each other a little bit of grace.

Thank you! I hope you’re having a fabulous day and will check back later for a more debt-related post. In the meantime, tell me one of your favorite things about your best friend. My dear friend Alice is so incredibly generous. She always thinks of others before herself (really to a fault), and over the years has taught me to be a more caring and giving individual. I am a better person for having her in my life.


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