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Starting the Debt-Reduction Mission


Today I want to talk about a little of the back-story that lead to me really kicking into high gear on our family’s debt-reduction mission. Check out my story and be sure to leave yours in the comments! I’d love to hear more about what caused you and your family to decide that you really needed to kick some debt booty!

If you’ve read my debt story then you know that I haven’t always lived my life with debt. It wasn’t until I started graduate school that I took out my first student loan, then another, and another. Meanwhile, I also financed basic life essentials by paying with credit cards (and never paying them off). In the span of just two short years I amassed over $70,000 in debt.

It was an overwhelming amount of debt so I kind of distanced myself from it, psychologically-speaking. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make any real progress on it until I was done with grad school so I just pushed it out of my mind until that time.

I graduated with a Ph.D. in August 2013. I was lucky to land a position the same month, but at that point I still wasn’t gung-ho about debt reduction.

Really buckling down with debt-reduction had been in the back of my mind for awhile, but I hadn’t felt a great sense of urgency. I was making over minimum payments, but didn’t have a set plan in place (like my debt attack plan of action), and although we had a budget, the spending categories were all set much higher than currently (specifically, a lot more went toward groceries and eating out each month).

But the seeds had been sown.

By Fall 2013 I was really starting to feel more of a need to get our finances in order. I was working full-time (side note just to clarify the job situation…..I was hired at my old alma mater and worked a full-time/in-person position. But only a few months later in December 2013, the faculty member with whom I worked moved to a new university. I continued to work for the new university through distance, but switched from being a full-time employee to a part-time contract employee. This is the “University B” I’ve referenced many times). I started putting big chunks of my paycheck toward debt.

During this time, I started to immerse myself in stories of debt reduction. I’d been reading BAD casually for awhile, but I went back and re-read entire bloggers’ stories. I did the same thing with No More Harvard Debt, Man Versus Debt, and Fun Cheap or Free.

In February 2014 I was listening to my favorite morning talk show, The Bobby Bones Show (it’s a syndicated radio show in several markets across the U.S., so check it out, it’s really good!) and they had Dave Ramsey on. I’d heard the name Dave Ramsey before (Beks even wrote about attending Financial Peace University), but had never googled him, read his books, heard his show, etc. Bobby Bones had him on the show that day to give financial advice to one of the show’s producers, a mid-20s guy named Ray. Ray had just bet (and lost) his truck in a Super Bowl bet (True story. He got money at a cash-for-title place and bet it all on the Super Bowl. He lost the bet, his money, and his truck. You can see the segment here if you’re interested)

Anyway, this was kind of a turning point for me. Hearing Ramsey on Bobby Bones really made me curious about this money guy. I looked up his show and downloaded some (free) podcasts. Hearing the callers’ success stories and debt free screams was so incredibly motivating. I’d already been actively working on debt reduction, but this was the point at which I decided we needed to really be gazelle intense about it (a term Ramsey frequently uses).

This all set the stage perfectly for when Adam and Emily decided to step down as bloggers, and new bloggers were selected (in late March 2014 – you can see my first post as an official blogger here).

That brings me to the beginning of my journey here.

I’ve been lucky. I’d already committed to debt reduction previously, but hearing Ramsey for the first time, and then starting to blog here (and the accountability and encouragement that comes with it) has been a real kick in the pants! I have no doubts that I’d still be on this debt-reduction journey regardless (even if I hadn’t been selected as a blogger here), but I also have no doubt that progress would have been much slower. So I’m very grateful I’ve had your support and encouragement along the way. There’s still a long road ahead, but it actually feels doable now (something I couldn’t say only 2 years ago).

How did you get started on your debt reduction journey?

Tough Decisions


Hi friends!

I think you all know by now that I really do take into consideration your thoughts and opinions about all things financially related to my spending, budget, savings, etc. If you ever doubted it, just refer to my recent plan of action post where I have changed up my debt attack plan of action, in part, to accommodate many of the suggestions I have received from readers.

But right now I have a different sort of decision to talk about – one related not to my debt, but to savings. And although I know that many of you will probably disagree with my plans, this is not a decision I intend to change. It just is what it is on this one.

But to put things in perspective a bit, before I tell you about my new savings plan, I just want to say that I’ve really thought long and hard about this before coming to the final decision. It was a tough call for me, but one that I am happy about. And its not permanent, but will directly impact my budget for the next year. Here goes….

You may or may not recall that hubs and I will celebrate our 5 year anniversary this year (November 2015). I’ve mentioned in the past that I really, really wanted to do something super special for our fifth wedding anniversary. My sights were set on Hawaii!!!!

Welllllll, that’s not happening. But only because its been superseded by a different vacation plan.

My sweet mother’s birthday was last weekend. Her 59th. And I wasn’t there to celebrate with her. We facetimed so she could see the babies and we sent a small gift, a photo album which I know she will cherish. My family is very important to me, but my Mom holds a special place in my heart. She’s truly one of my best friends (as cliché as that sounds).

And, keeping with the cliché, my Mom does everything for everyone. I don’t want to divulge too many of her personal details here, but she cares (physically and financially) for my aging grandmother, she cares (physically and even to some extent financially) for my siblings and myself (no, she doesn’t give me money, but she does ease our financial load by sending tons of clothes for the girls’ birthday and for Christmas, she helps provide gas money when we visit her, she provides meals and childcare when we’re in town, etc. etc. etc.) With all of this caring for everyone else, she doesn’t do nearly enough to care for herself. She still works full time with no imminent retirement in sight. She’s had a dream to go on an Alaskan cruise for years, but instead spends her money on others. Always on others. Never on herself.

So my sister and I have planned a surprise for next year’s birthday.

In February 2016, we will be taking a Mom’s 60th Birthday/Family Cruise!

I wish we could swing an Alaskan cruise, since that’s been her dream, but the price and distance sets it outside of the realm of possibility for us.

However, my sister and I have been scouring the internet for the past two months and have decided on a cruise sailing from Galveston (one of the closest ports for my central Texas family). After doing a lot of talking, strategizing, and planning, hubs and I have decided to make this a priority for us. But only on one condition: DEBT FREE VACATION!!!

We are planning to cruise in February 2016 (the month of my Mom’s 60th birthday). To ensure that we can do so debt-free, we’re going to plan to save $400/month just for this cruise.

Now, that’s a LOT of money. I know. It’s a lot of money that could do a lot of good elsewhere. It could help me get out of debt by an extra $400/month! Or it could go toward a Roth IRA, our 3-6 month savings account, or any number of worthy causes.

But, having made this a priority, it will be entered into our monthly budget starting THIS MONTH (yep, I’ve already set aside our $400 savings for the month of February). To feel “okay” about doing this, some changes have been made in other areas of our budget. One thing, for instance, is that I’ve decreased our savings to other areas. I’m going to take things month-by-month (since we have an irregular income, this is the only thing that makes sense). But, for now, I’m holding off on savings in many of the different savings categories that we have created (girls’ birthday, travel/Christmas, pet expenses, 3-6 month savings). We’ll still be saving monthly toward a car repair fund, dental/vision fund, and annual fees fund because these are all regular expenses that we know we’ll incur. The other categories, however, really aren’t needed. We’ll forego a big birthday party for the girls this year (they won’t know the difference…they’ll only be 3), we’ll hope the dog doesn’t get sick (and, if he does, we still have our existing emergency fund), etc. Basically, I can’t in good conscience save toward ALL of these places every month, so I had to make some tough decisions.

And, of course, saving $400/month toward Family Cruise 2016 may require a somewhat smaller debt payment than otherwise. But it is what it is.

And, to be fair, I kind of warned you all this would be coming (Note – when I wrote the post about balance and slowing down, we did NOT have plans yet for this cruise. But my point is that I’ve kind of known in the back of my mind that a slowdown was inevitable at some point. We’ve now come to that point). To be clear, I’m still 100% invested in getting rid of my debt. That’s why I’ve tried to offset this $400/month savings in other areas so I wouldn’t have to impact our debt payments as much. But I want to be honest with everyone about what’s going on.

I think this could present an interesting story too….

In my original balance post (seriously, give it a read if you haven’t yet. It really explains my mind-set on the matter pretty well), there seemed to be many readers who were interested in a more balanced debt-payoff schedule. And I think it’s still a fabulous goal: cash-flowing a vacation planned for 2 years deep into debt-reduction mode. By that point we should be down to only paying off student loans, anyway. So, no worries. I’m keeping my momentum up. But this will be a new, fun road to travel too.

Can I get a hooray for an all cash *real* vacation?!? (I say “real” because we’ve gone on trips to visit family, but it doesn’t feel the same as a “real” vacation!)

Did you take any vacations during your debt-reduction mission? Did you feel that it helped (by giving a nice mid-debt-reduction reward for your hard work) or hurt (by taking funds that otherwise would’ve gone toward debt)??? Anyone with personal experiences in this domain? I’d love to hear how it all worked out!

We Went Car Shopping


I bet that headline made most of you gasp and think, oh what has she done!  Rest assured, this was pure fun with no buying intentions and it was SO MUCH FUN!  Every Wednesday the Princess and I have about an hour and a half of girl time in between dropping off and picking up various brothers at various places.  We normally go somewhere and get a soda or snack and catch up, do some tutoring or just goof off together.  But this week, I just really didn’t want to spend money and frankly, was pretty bored of our norm.  So I suggested we go look at cars!

With the twins so close to driving on their own, there’s lots of talk about dream cars and wishlists, etc.  So her dream car when she can drive is a Mini Cooper.  I personally have no experience with them so thought it would be a fun, free way to spend our time.  We chose a CarMax location on the way to our next pick up and stopped there for about an hour.  We walked in and told the salesperson we were just looking and he directed us to the Mini Coopers.  Wow, that was so much fun!  We got in each one, in the front, in the back, she sometimes even got in the trunk.  We pressed all the buttons, discussed looks and uses.  And after we finished there…

We went ALL over their lot, getting in cars, reading tags, sitting in cars and talking about whatever came to mind.  I thought I would get all “I’ve got to have this” or “this is going to be my next car” BUT I wasn’t.  Looking at the 1000s of dollars in each price just made me sick to my stomach.  So we had a really great time, and she does still want a Mini Cooper after now sitting in several.  But I am in no rush to buy another car.  What a change for me!

One other thing that came out of it, was the math of buying a car in cash.  She has about 5 1/2 years til she can drive independently.  So she picked out her favorite Mini and we sat down together and did the math on how much she would have to save in the approximately 66 months until she can drive.  It came out to saving $200 month.  What a great way for her to see the cost of a car.

We will definitely be doing this again, and I will be taking the boys for the same exercise.  They will get to sit in all the cars they want, pick their favorite and then we will work on the math for 1) buying a car in cash and 2) financing a car with different interest rates.  Not only will it be a GREAT math lesson but more importantly a life lesson that could last a life time and save them some of the errors that I have made.

So my recommendation…take your kids car shopping!

Visual Debt Reminder – Hope


I loved Ashley’s post a few months back with her “goal thermometer” (sorry, couldn’t think of a better way to describe it.)  And with my really tight goal for the first 6 months of this year, I thought that might help me too.  Since I’m not quite as artistic minded as Ashley, I decided a computer generated one would suit my purposes.  So without further ado, this is my Visual Debt Reminder that is hanging directly next to my desk so that every moment I am at my computer…typically on some work related task, it is in my line of sight.

5 More Months to Make the Doughnut Disappear

5 More Months to Make the Doughnut Disappear

This is just my targeted 3 remaining debts…not my student loans which will come after this.  But the goal is to make the doughnut disappear completely by July 1, 2015!

Note: For those interested, I did a web search on this and this was the first return: The One Hour Project: Create a Visual Debt Reminder.  I loved that their 15 year goal was the same as mine…a house in the country.  Granted, I do not want to wait 15 years but…did like the similarity.

Financial Goals Revisited


Looking back at some old posts I see that I’ve had some lofty financial goals. It reminds me of this saying:

“Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

(Google says the quote is by Normal Vincent Peale)

Well, I guess I’ll have to settle for the stars, because I’ve missed my moon. But that’s okay. Progress is still progress. I just wanted to look back and remind myself of where I’ve been and where I’m going….

In this post I had listed my goals in terms of debt repayment. You’ll notice that my goal date to be rid of our license fees was originally August 2014. August came and went, and we still have those monthly license payments.

In this later post I changed my mind and decided to put my Race to 20K (paying off the car loan) above everything else. At the time I was hoping to pay $3,000/month toward the car loan. Yeah….that hasn’t happened either (aside for I think one or two months??)

And recently I’ve hinted at maybe changing my plan of action again. Re-ordering my debt payoff journey. You guys are right. The APR on some of my student loans is outrageous. Why not knock it out and then turn my attention to the car? In the past few months when I haven’t been able to pay $4,000 or $5,000 toward debt it changes the whole payoff schedule. Why not earn some “easy” wins by knocking out some of the smaller debts instead of tackling the comparatively huge car loan that could takes months to pay off?

And then I walk into my kitchen and see my auto loan debt thermometer. And I am absolutely re-energized.


I guess that’s the thing about personal finance. It’s personal.

No, it doesn’t make sense. Any financial guru you talk to will say I’m doing it wrong. Either you’ll hear from the Ramsey types who say my car loan is too big and I need to start by tackling a smaller loan. Or you’ll talk to a numbers person who will say the APR on my car loan is peanuts in comparison to the student loan APRs, so I should start with the highest APR. No one would say that tackling the car first is the “right” thing to do. Or would they?

Whatever is the most motivating might make the most sense, too. Right?

I mean, I want all of my debt gone. I’m so, so, so sick of it! Having the little financial set-backs this month (with the car repair and house flood) have just reaffirmed how much I hate this debt. It’s so burdensome! It’s like a noose around the neck that we just can’t get rid of! Getting rid of the debt, in so many ways, will feel like earning our freedom back!

But so much of the journey is psychological in nature. And even as I’m doubting myself and thinking, “maybe we should just kill that high interest student loan real quick”….I just keep coming back to my starting place. And I see our car. And I want it to be ours for real.

I know it’s not the popular decision. With all my recent payments and hard work recently we are no longer upside down on the loan, either. I know many would say we need to sell it and rid ourselves of the nearly 20 grand (now actually right at 18 grand) of debt in the snap of our fingers. But it’s just not that easy.

We love our car (actually an SUV, a 2011 Ford Explorer). With the long road-trips we take we need something large enough to accommodate two car seats, a double stroller, us, our dog, our luggage, and cooler of food/drinks/snacks. That’s really not do-able in a car or even a cross-over. A van could work, but it doesn’t feel right to make that type of trade. The way I see it, we’d be able to sell our SUV for $20k, buy a reasonable used van for $10k, which leaves us with $10k less debt (and a paid for van). But as soon as we’re done paying off other debts we’ll go right back to selling the van (plus putting in extra $$) in favor of finding another SUV. Why? Why not just pay it off and own it outright from the start and save ourselves the headache of all the buying and selling and trading of vehicles?

I didn’t want to have to put it all out there like this because it sounds like nothing but excuses and rationalizations. I know it will anger some of you. But we’ll just have to file this under the “agree to disagree” label and call it the “personal” part of personal finance.

So there you go. The plan remains.

But don’t be surprised if I end up wanting to come back to re-visit this again at some point in the future. It never hurts to reassess one’s goals, particularly in light of big income changes. Hopefully with all my applications we’ll be having another big income change sometime soon….only this time going upward! : )

What debt are you currently working on paying off? What method of debt repayment do you follow (smallest to largest? Highest APR first? Psychological satisfaction?)

Something to look forward to…


We’ve had a rough couple of weeks including the car wreck from last week.  Our budget has been tighter then normal with having to purchase replacement food and spend more to get the house on the market than anticipated.  In fact, I’ve still got a couple of bills to pay from that.  We are certainly not suffering, but additional stress has wreaked habit on my normally silver lining filled personality, and as a result, has affected the kids perspectives.

So my remedy…a vacation budget for all of us to see and contribute too!  And here it is!

Our vacation fund.

Our vacation fund.

We’ve decided our goal vacation is to backpack through Europe after taking a cruise ship to get over there. I know it will take a lot of pickle jars full, but with that lofty goal and a commitment from everyone to throw in their loose change…well, anything is possible right!

Moving Update – One Week Away


Exactly one week from today we will be moving into our new space…cutting down from 1800 sq ft to 900 sq ft.  I am SO PROUD of how well my kids have gotten on board with this move and the minimizing and purging we have been doing over the last six weeks since this move became a reality.  So here’s where we are at today, one week from move day.

  • Little Gymnast and Princess rooms are completely empty.  They have moved into my room, just as we will be living in the apartment.  We have a king size bed and a twin mattress on the floor.  (At this time, I am also taking a double mattress that slides under my kind size bed just in case we need our own space ie they fight too much on who sleeps where.)
  • All of us have packed all of our clothes except for 3 outfits which we will use for the next week.  There is one exception to this, History Buff and Sea Cadet are attending their first Cotillion dance of the season on Saturday so they kept out their suit and dress shoes for that event.)
  • Every closet has been cleaned out and packed.
  • Every bathroom cabinet has been cleaned out and packed.
  • The twins room is down to bare bones with just their twin mattresses on the floor and their clothing (three outfits and suit each.)
  • The living space is all packed up except for computers, tv and video games.
  • My “office” area (in my room) is beginning to get purged and packed.  I will get it down to just computer and desk by Friday.  Lots of digitizing and shredding going on along with testing electronic equipment and matching it with all cords in ziploc bags for packing.
  • The kitchen will get packed over the weekend.  We have purged all the cabinets so the only items remaining are those that we will live with, but I am keeping those out as long as possible so we can continue eating at home and using up the food we have here.

All items packed and ready for move are labeled and stacked neatly in the garage for easy loading into the moving truck next Tuesday night.

I think we are ready and very prepared for a stress free, as stress free as moving can be that is, move next week.  And I am proud to say that the only money spent in getting to this place is as follows:

  • 1/2 dozen rolls of packing tape at $3 per roll = $36
  • 3 trips to the dump @ $24 – someone had given me $12 when they moved = $12 (uses convenience coupons you have to purchase)
  • Gas for 12 trips to thrift stores = $0 (negated by receipts for donations)
  • Boxes (From curb of neighbors on recycling days and twins dad’s job) = FREE
  • Garage Sale (advertised for free on Craigslist and Facebook, no signs or newspaper ads) = FREE

Total $48

And we have easily made that back in our garage sale, donation and bartering. We are ready!