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A Tale of Two Sisters

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My sister and I have not always had the best of relationships.

All though childhood, we fought like cats and dogs. We were not close AT ALL! One of my best childhood friends will laugh recalling memories of when we were 10-years-old and my little sister (then 6-years-old) and I would get into huge physical altercations. Like, ripping each other’s hair out and rolling around wrestling. And not in a cute or nice way either. It wasn’t pretty.

We were four years apart and, at the time, the gap felt as wide as the Grand Canyon. I felt like she was so young and immature and I wouldn’t be inconvenienced to let her hang around me and my friends. Due to our age gap and timing of birthdays, we never went to the same middle or high school at the same time. We had wholly different interests, friend groups, and even physical locations due to the different schools we attended.

Then a funny thing happened. After I graduated high school and moved out of my parents’ house, my sister and I started talking more. Then when she graduated high school and moved out, the frequency of our interactions picked up even moreso. We became friends. And then…best friends.

It’s now been a full 15 years since I graduated high school. Even though we weren’t close growing up, we made up for lost time in the 15 years since moving out of our patents’ house. And there’s been a lot of LIFE during that time. We were each other’s’ maid/matron of honors for our weddings. We’ve seen each other through good times and bad, through pregnancies and childbirth, through moving cross-country (twice). Through fun sister-trips to Vegas and tough funeral-visit trips. We’ve been there for each other truly during both the best and worst of times in each other’s lives. We haven’t lived in the same city for over a decade at this point and, even with all the miles between us, she’s still been my best friend.

But something has happened to our friendship that’s been tearing us apart.

In August 2015, my Dad was diagnosed with dementia. Since he had no spouse or partner, we became his primary caretakers. First, the bulk of responsibility fell to me. He was living in Utah at the time and due to my proximity (in Arizona), I was making frequent flights back-and-forth for doctors’ visits, to help pack up his house, and eventually to meet with realtors and get the place sold.

At that time, my Dad moved to Texas and since then, my sister has had the bulk of “caregiver” duties thrust onto her. I’ve tried to help as best I can, being a thousand miles away. I’ve taken over handling my Dad’s finances while my sister has taken the day-to-day/medical/hands-on stuff. Undoubtedly, she has the bigger burden. Without question. I knew the load on her would be hard. It’s not easy to be a caretaker to one’s parent. And though I haven’t shared specifics, none of us were ever close to our Dad. He was not a large part of our lives growing up. So, the burden feels double, or even triple, being that we’re caring for a person who never even really cared for us (at least in a physical sense). A person who was never really a significant part of our lives in our youth nor adulthood.

It’s been hard. Really hard. I started going to therapy, initially, for issues related to my dad’s dementia.

But then things got better for me. As we’ve moved my Dad to higher and higher levels of care, things have gotten easier and easier. Now that he’s in a locked memory care facility, we have no more emergency phone calls from police or social workers (which, at one point, were literally a weekly-occurrence). He’s well cared for, fed, and groomed. All his basic needs are met and none of it requires work or effort from me or my sister (or brother for that matter). My sister still has the bulk of responsibilities – she still goes to visit nearly 3 times a week, takes “groceries” (all food is provided, but he likes snacks in his room), takes him to doctors, delivers his prescription medication, etc. etc. etc. It’s still a lot.

Having a family member with dementia is a lot. For everybody. And for my sister most of all.

Slowly, over time, I sensed a strain in my relationship with my sister. Nothing specific that happened. But things were tenuous. I think things reached a boiling point over summer when we moved my Dad from his independent-living facility into the memory-care facility. My sister had to handle most of the preparations (touring new facilities, scheduling movers, getting things boxed and ready, etc. etc. etc.). I went out and helped with the actual move, but I had to come back to Arizona shortly thereafter. She was left to handle the aftermath. Though things went well with the move (even better than we’d expected), things did not go well between my sister and me.

And so, as things seemed to deteriorate between us, I went back to therapy again. This time with greater frequency, too. Not only was I dealing with issues caused by my Dad’s illness. Now, it felt like I was also losing my best friend. It was heartbreaking, to say the least.

If you notice the timeframe of the sister-breakdown, it occurred right at the same time that our finances got out of control. Coincidence? Well, yes and no. Some of our financial issues just happened to occur at the same time – like the ending of my part-time job and hubs’ closing his business.

But it’s so easy for our finances and spending to get wrapped up with psychological issues, isn’t it? Much of my spending during and since this summer has been for things I might consider therapeutic, even though they seem like superfluous “fat” in the budget. Things like happy hour with friends or yoga classes to center my mind. Oh yeah, and I’m still going to weekly talk-therapy, too.

I think things with my sister are slowly getting better. I’ve been working hard in therapy, developing coping techniques and skills, and surrounding myself with things to bring me joy and happiness. We’ve been talking a little more. I’m hopeful for our future.

But I’m not going to lie. The past few months have been some of the personally hardest in my life. And not because of any specific “event” (no cross-country move, wedding, or childbirth). But just because of the psychological stressors of the entire caregiving situation with my dad and the fallout it has caused between me and my siblings. I hadn’t realized what a source of social support my sister had been for me until I felt like I had lost her.

I’m not perfect. Our family finances are still in need of triage. We have so much work left to do.

Right now I’m considering myself a “work in progress.” Both in terms of my financial habits and just my general psychological well-being. But I just wanted to provide some additional context and background for why it may be difficult for us to turn things around as quickly as we had back in March 2015 when I first started blogging. I’ve been lucky to never struggle with mental health prior to these most recent years. And now that I know the struggle from the other side, I know how truly all-consuming and debilitating it can be.

If you have time and are interested, I’ve linked to two videos about dementia that have been personally moving to me:

I know this post is a little different than the traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, but I felt compelled to share a little piece of myself with you today. I hope you can take it and remember that everyone has their own inner demons and battles that we know nothing about. Especially in this holiday season, let’s do what we can to uplift and encourage others and to promote kindness and empathy for others.

I’ll be back soon with a more traditional get-out-of-debt blog post, too! <3

~Ashley


Black Friday Frugal Fun

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Hi all!

Anyone out braving the Black Friday crowds today trying to score great deals?

We haven’t even taken a look at any of the Black Friday specials. We’re kind of “phoning it in” for Christmas this year. We really don’t have any money to be out-and-about shopping. Plus, we already know what our parents are getting for the kiddos and they’re BIG gifts!!! Bikes from my mom and a motorized car from hubs’ mom, so we’re just going to do little necessities (e.g., new socks) and minimal other stuff (e.g., stocking stuffers) and call it a day. The girls are going to be so spoiled from their grandparents that they really don’t need anything extra from us.

So instead of going out shopping, we decided to do something special on this Black Friday. We decided to do an “experience” gift.

Black Friday Frugal Fun Challenge:

  • We decided to each take one kid so they could have special one-on-one time with us. So we had to think of two *separate* experiences.
  • We wanted to do something special we’ve never done before – not just taking them to the park or mall play area/normal stuff.
  • We set a maximum price tag of $25 per pair ($25 for Mom & daughter; $25 for Dad & daughter).

I jumped online to check out pricing for my idea and it totally paid off!!! I wanted to take my kid to Funtasticks. It’s a little local place with putt-putt golf, bumper boats, kids’ carnival-style rides, race cars, etc. After checking out the website, I discovered they were having a 50% off sale for 2-hour wristbands. Instead of $20.99 each, I only spent $20.99 total (+ tax)!!! The trick was that the sale was ONLY advertised online. There was no mention of it anywhere on-site and they were still ringing up wristbands at full price, so you had to ask to get the special rate. Again – it pays to check out sales and coupons online (I just saved a ton on my brakes that way, too!)

We had an absolute blast! It was 2 hours of unlimited outdoor adventures! We used every single second and took advantage of the slow day (almost no lines anywhere! We practically had the park to ourselves!)

Notice the spaghetti straps! It’s still in the upper 80’s here in sunny Tucson! We’re breaking heat-records from the 1890s with our current temps! But on the plus side, it makes outdoor fun all-the-more appealing!

It was so fun!

And don’t feel sorry for sister! She and Dad found a pottery place in the mall and spent their time crafting!

All-in-all, it’s been a great Black Friday! We spent time together as a family in the morning pulling out some Christmas decorations, ate leftover Thanksgiving sandwiches for lunch (one of my favorite parts of turkey day!), and spent the afternoon having some special one-on-one time with our kids.

How have you spent your Friday? Any great Black Friday finds?


Internet Scammers

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Obviously we all know about internet scammers. These scum-of-the-earth types who tend to prey on older folks who don’t know any better. It’s something I’ve heard people talk about for years, but I’ve never actually known anyone who has fallen victim to these scams. Until today, that is.

One of my dear childhood friends just posted on Facebook a series of screenshots to help warn others of internet scammers. My friend’s mom is a recent widow, her husband just passed not quite a year ago. She is still grieving, lonely, sad. In a word…vulnerable.

So when some creep online (with a fake profile/pretending to be a high-ranking individual in the military) reached out and initiated an online relationship, she jumped at the chance to fill the aching void in her heart. His story was that he needed money for military purposes. The U.S. doesn’t negotiate with terrorists, so he needed money to free one of his servicemen.

Over the course of the past few months, she’s been wiring this creep money over and over again. In total, she’s sent over $100,000. A huge chunk of her entire retirement savings.

My friend (her daughter) just found out about it and is, obviously, totally heartbroken over the whole thing. Since the internet scammer is in another country, it will be hard to find him and there’s almost no chance of recouping the lost funds. What an agonizingly painful lesson to learn the hard way.

I post this today to bring attention to this issue and warn readers to help look out for the loved ones in their life who might be vulnerable to this type of attack. My siblings and I had been worried about this with our dad. When he was first diagnosed with dementia, he still had access to his bank account. Even though I took over managing and paying his bills, he still had a debit card and would occasionally go to the bank to get cash just to have on-hand. It’s tough to take away a grown-ups’ freedom and we tried to go slowly with one thing at a time (first he moved to Texas, then to an independent living facility, then we took away the car, then we took his credit/debit cards, then he moved to a locked memory care facility). But while he had access to his money, we all knew he was a likely target. He once showed me one of those fake million-dollar-bills quite excited because he thought he’d stumbled across a *real* million dollars! Not a person who should have access to large sums of money.

It’s a sad story and a cautionary tale. I’ve also heard of much more sophisticated scams taking place via Facebook. Ones in which an individual will find personal information (e.g., children’ names, grandchildren’ names, etc.) and use the personal information to fabricate stories and lies in an effort to acquire money from the victim. So sad for those who fall victim! Be careful, y’all!

Do you know anyone who has fallen victim to one of these internet scammers? Has anyone tried to scam you before?


Ragnar Relay = Complete!

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Just popping in with a fun “life” update today. If you are only interested in strictly financial posts, just skip this one and check back tomorrow – I’m finally posting my budget!

I’ve mentioned a couple times about how I’ve been training for a big running relay race called Ragnar.  Well, the race is complete! It started Friday and ended Saturday. Today, I’m at home and in full recovery-mode (meaning, as little movement as possible and fully stocked with ibuprofen) 😉

Here’s a picture I posted on my Facebook:

23 hours, 15.4 miles of mountain running, 2.7 hours of sleep, 8 crazy teammates. So much fun!

Each member of our team had 3 different legs ranging in length from 4.1 – 6.6 miles of trail-running/mountainous terrain. I ran my first leg on Friday evening, my second leg on Saturday about 3am, and my last leg on Saturday at 10am. This photo was taken as I was taking off for my last leg of the relay. My shirt, appropriately, says “Everything Hurts and I’m Dying.” A little tongue-and-cheek, but definitely fitting for how I felt at that moment. I wore my Fitbit the entire time and for Saturday, my stats indicated that I’d gone 37,726 steps (= 17.91 miles), and climbed the equivalent of 114 flights of stairs (from the mountains we were running)! To say I’m pooped today is an understatement!

BUT – tired as I may be, I had an absolute blast! It was THE BEST time ever! And, as I’ve got 3 half-marathons under my belt (but nothing longer), this is a PDR (personal distance record). YIKES!

All my teammates immediately said they wanted to sign up again for next year. I’m still on the fence. I loved it, but I typically only sign up for a big race once every couple years. Committing to do it again next year feels like a lot to me. There’s a lot of time and effort dedicated to training, but it also costs money to go (the race was $120/person + we all pitched in another $25 for team shirts + a day off work, food and snacks for while we were there, etc.). We’ve got a few months to think it over so we’ll see.

For today, though, I just wanted to share this major accomplishment! I’ve heard of Ragnar races before, but never really considered doing one myself. If it weren’t for my teammates (friends/colleagues from my department) I probably never would have pushed myself to try to complete a Ragnar race. But the feeling of pride and accomplishment is huge! Just the little psychological boost I needed going into a new month! If I can accomplish something this big physically (15+ miles of running on mountainous terrain), surely I can conquer our monthly budget. Right?

I’ll be back tomorrow asking for your advice! I’m already nervous, so bring your patient pants, as I could use your support!

Have a great end to your weekend!

~Ashley


Totaled Car but So Grateful

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As I mentioned in yesterday’s post regarding my New Debt and New Car, we have gone just at 8 weeks with one car. It has been hard, but we made it through and no one missed any commitments or activities or work!

Sea Cadet got up most mornings and took me to work, and then returned to pick me up. We were able to borrow my Grandmother’s car most evenings when Gymnast had practice, and I was able to find a steady ride Princess to youth group (when Sea Cadet is in class and I am an hour away with Gymnast.) You can see, it’s been a bit of a juggling act.

Needless to say, we were all really grateful when we unloaded our new to us car from my Uncle’s trailer Saturday morning on our way to drop Gymnast at practice. But within minutes of his drop off, that all changed…

1996 Honda Accord


Sea Cadet ran head on into a car turning left. It was his fault. The car is no longer driveable. Thankfully, both drivers (no passengers) walked away with very minor injuries, nothing broken. It could have been ALOT worse. Princess and I were right behind him when it occurred. I am so glad he didn’t have to go through what can be a very scary process alone.

His car is totaled, but we did not carry comprehensive insurance on it, so there is no replacement help. Thankfully it was paid off. (Our liability insurance will take care of the other driver’s damage and medical, thank goodness for good insurance. Thanks, USAA!)

Once again, we are back down to one car. But I am so grateful that this wreck was not worse! This will definitely have financially implications, but haven’t had time to wrap my head around them all yet. Right now, just figuring out how to get him to all his obligations as I am not quite ready to turn over my new car to him.

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3.5 Years Into Debt Repayment: Reflections & Looking Ahead

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Let’s get brutally honest. I never thought I’d still be blogging here right now.

When I first started blogging back in February 2014 (see my introduction post here), my goal was just to get out of credit card debt. At the time I had nearly $150,000 in total debt, and that amount seemed totally insurmountable. (See my first ever debt post here or read about what lead me to start my debt-reduction mission here). I had over $10,000 in credit card debt, so that was my original goal when I started blogging here. With a household income of about $45,000/year, I thought it would likely take 12-18 months to pay it all off.

I shocked everyone (myself most of all!) when I somehow managed to pay off my final credit card (over $10k in total credit card debt), in just shy of 3 months!!!! 

Where had all that money come from? It didn’t even seem mathematically possible, but the second I put my mind to it, things just started happening. Hubs’ got some big checks, I got some big checks, and we absolutely slashed our spending and expenses  down to next-to-nothing.

We ended up paying off over $25,000 of debt (+interest) in 2014.

We went on to pay off over $26,000 of debt (+ interest)  in 2015. 

And we kept the train rolling, paying off over $30,000 of debt (+ interest) in 2016!

Source

After just shy of three (long and hard-fought) years to get to this point, I finally reached the half-way mark in my debt-eradication journey in February of this year.

I received a lot of encouragement around that half-way point:

“The debt will just start melting away”, they said.

“It will start going so rapidly”, they said.

“It will feel so easy in comparison to the start”, they said.

“They” lied. Or maybe not lied, per se. But they were wrong. It’s not any easier. The debt is NOT falling away. And I do NOT feel like it’s a downhill run, easy in comparison to the start of the journey. If anything, it’s the hardest now that it’s ever been.

Why? What’s changed?

At the beginning of the year I’d set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2017 and beyond. My goals included:

  • Pay $30,000 toward debt
  • Fully fund a Roth IRA ($5,500)
  • Take a Mom & Dad Getaway trip

One goal about debt eradication, one about saving, and one that’s just a total splurge.

Guess which of the three actually happened? Just the splurge. That’s it.

We will likely have nothing to put into a Roth IRA this year. No extra money for savings of any kind really* (*caveat: my employer requires a mandatory 7% retirement contribution and provides a full match,  so I do have a pre-tax retirement account that’s being funded. But no additional savings of any kind – no liquid cash in a savings account, no Roth, etc.).

In terms of debt, we’ve managed to actually increase our debt burden. Things have been rough since April – first discovering a HUGE tax liability we had (still have), and then when my part-time job ended, hubs’ work ended, and the entire summer (May-August) we kept on spending like we had this phenomenal income (we’ve grown used to an income around $10,000/month), but my first full-time paycheck at my new rate of pay indicated that I’d likely only be bringing home around $4,500/month. It was a HUGE wake-up call. HUGE.

We’re still making pretty hefty debt payments, but it’s to the IRS and credit card companies in addition to the student loans I’d finally thought were starting to get under control. We’ll still have paid a good amount toward debt this year, maybe $20-25,000. But I doubt we’re going to hit that $30,000 mark that we’d planned on. Oh yeah…..and now we’re starting off in a worse place than we were at the start of the year because of all our new debt that’s been tacked on for the ride.

I have lots more to share about how our debt increased – all the over-spending we’ve been doing (and some unavoidable medical expenses, as well). But I’m going to save the nitty-gritty details for another post.

Right now, I just wanted to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we hope to be in the future.

Getting out of debt is hard work. Especially with the amount of debt that our family was grappling with. $150,000 is no joke. No small stuff to scoff at. It’s the real-deal, legitimate, takes years and years and lots of hard work and persistence type of debt to get out from under.

Life continues to happen. Life doesn’t care about our financial goals and our hopes and dreams and what we’ve got planned. Life just comes right at you full-force with job changes or job loss, unexpected health issues, costly car repairs, etc. Kids grow up! When I first started blogging here my twins were 18-months old! Now they’re five and entering kindergarten! Life doesn’t just “pause” and allow us to get out of debt real quickly so we can take our kids on fun trips, make lifelong memories, and  allow them to participate in all the activities and extracurricular that I would prefer None of that stuff happens.

Kids grow, parents age, emergencies (of the major + minor kind) occur. All while just trying to scratch and claw and slooooooowly climb out of the giant hole of debt that is our financial life. It’s tough. And it’s not fun. But I also cannot wait. I want to scream it from the rooftops: I CANNOT WAIT TO BE DEBT FREE!!!!!

Back when we made our financial goals for 2017 we were anticipating being debt free by early 2018.

Sorry to say, but it’s going to be longer than that, folks.

Hubs is back in school (= no income currently and only the possibility of part-time employment at best) and my income is pretty well “set” without a lot of room for flexibility. I just got a huge raise, but had to sign a non-compete for the next 3 years (lucky I love my job and where I’m at, but it means no chance of additional or outside employment in my current field for the time being). Without a chance for any significant increase in household income for now, our only option is to get our spending down. Spending, which has been a HUGE issue this summer.  This, to undoubtedly be the topic of several blog posts in the future.

I have to be honest. I don’t feel as much excitement as I used to. I don’t feel the same level of passion and enthusiasm. Right now, I’m just worn down and tired. We slacked off big-time this summer – I must admit. So it’s not like we’ve been living the rice-and-beans life for the entire 3.5 years. We did for the first 2 years, but our spending as of late has been unacceptable. So there’s certainly room for improvement.

But that doesn’t make it any easier.

So right now I’m just going to put out the big “pie in the sky” type of goal. We’ll get around to all the numbers and the concrete financials. But for now I just want to declare: 2018 will be our year!!! I don’t know that it’s possible. In fact, I think it’s likely a mathematical impossibility right now. But so was that $10,000 of credit card debt. And somehow, someway we managed to pay it off in 3 months. So I will keep the hope. We may not be done in early 2018 as originally projected, but I’m going to make it a personal goal to figure out how to sell any and everything of excess, how to totally scrimp and save and cut out all unnecessary spending and once and for all just GET OUT OF DEBT BY THE END OF 2018. December, I’m looking at you! What a wonderful Christmas present it would be to our family and ourselves to make a final debt payment in December 2018. It’s happening, folks. This debt is going down!

Who else is with me?

What are your current debt-reduction goals? When do you plan to be fully debt-free?


It’s Good to Be Back

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I’m so excited to be writing here again. I was shocked when Ashley’s post mentioned we had been writing here for 3 1/2 years now (we started the same week.) I feel like I need to go back and re-read where I’ve been sometime soon to prove how far I’ve come. Just a recap of what comes to mind:

  • We lost our home and moved into a tiny apartment.

    Not sure what we would do without board games. Between work, gymnastics training and school, board games keep us sane!

  • We sold our giant van.
  • We lived survived and thrived living in 900 square feet with all five of us and our 4 animals.
  • I lost my primary source of income.
  • We spent 9 months ‘glamping’ when I could no longer afford our apartment. I’m grateful for the gift, it kept us from becoming truly homeless or spending a single night in a shelter.
  • We had to say good-bye to all our animals in one way or another, but enjoyed raising chickens while we were glamping.
  • We moved to another state earlier this year and in with my grandmother.
  • I got a great new job.
  • I continue to work 2 part time jobs and a variety of odd jobs.
  • We rented our very own home in Georgia, leaving one of the twins in Virginia, and now we each have our own bedroom after 3 years of tiny living.
  • For the first time in a LONG time, we are not living paycheck to paycheck.  But I still have a long way to go in learning to make better money choices and becoming truly debt free.
  • And this is where we begin today.

So much has happened during my life on BAD. I can’t wait to see where we go next. I write this as Irma rages outside. I was so grateful to be able to work from home today and tomorrow while she moves on through. We’ve had some limbs fall on the roof, one took out our backside neighbors brand new fence. We will wander out when it’s over and see the damage, but for now I’m just grateful for a cozy home.

I’ve made some terrible financial decisions lately. And it’s huge for me to be able to just say that. I even said as must out loud to a friend this past weekend when we went out for chips and dip. Thinking with my heart instead of my head. More on those coming soon. But I definitely recognize that I have a problem.


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