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And we are on the move again…

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Hello BAD Community and Happy 2017!  I hope your holiday season was fantastic and you were able to spend some down time with friends or family.  The kids and I have enjoyed a sabbatical (for lack of a better word) here in Georgia with a quick 10 day trip to Texas.  It was the first time we’d seen most of my siblings (there are 5 of us) in over two years.

We had a very frugal Christmas and loved every minute of it!  I didn’t decorate, I didn’t cook and I felt no stress to meet anyone’s expectations.  It was very freeing!  The kids were ecstatic with their “gift card’s for lunch with mom” and a variety of other small things like the $0.46 shorts.

Now for the bad news…we are still in Georgia, well beyond our expected return date. And the reason is that we have no where to return too.  While we were in Texas, I received a text from our hosts of our Glamping Adventure and where we have lived since April, 2016.  It read and I quote: “Bad news…a line broke on the camper. We had to totally winterize it to protect the rest of the plumbing.”  Yea, just a few days before Christmas we became officially homeless.

They did assure me it wasn’t something we had done (we left on Dec. 7th and this text was received Dec. 19th.)  So instead of returning to VA right after the New Year as anticipated, I have been frantically, FRANTICALLY trying to find us housing.  My original plan was to remain in VA at our free housing until April  and then move everything to GA and make my Grandmother’s our home base if I still hadn’t secure enough work or a full time job to get housing for us.

That has now been modified.  I have been able to secure temporary housing beginning Thursday at a home that will go on the market in March.  They have offered us housing through March 1st at no charge.  It is fully furnished and recently remodeled.

The plan now is to:

  • Return to VA on Tuesday (delayed from Monday due to snow storm.)  We will stay in a hotel for two nights.
  • Move into temporary housing on Thursday with absolute minimum necessary.
  • Spend the next two weeks packing our stuff at the camper.

Now I have to decided whether to:

  • Leave our stuff where it is (at the camper) until mid-February when we must return to GA for a gymnastics meet.  We would then load a moving truck and put everything in storage here in GA; or
  • Get a POD or U-pack or something similar and load everything in to put into storage until we know where we will land next.

A quick pricing check puts these two options within a $100 of each other.  I am leaning to the POD type storage because I am not certain when we will have housing and I am not certain, although I hope, that we will end up in GA.  Any words of wisdom from the BAD Community?

In additional to frantically seeking housing, I have SPAMMED everyone in my network with a plea to share my LinkedIn profile with their network.  I had a first interview on Friday afternoon and made it to the next round, but I’m not confident. 


Ashley’s Year In Review (2016)

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It’s funny how almost universally across-the-board, people have complained about what a terrible year 2016 has been. Was 2016 good to you and your family? Or did you also have your share of bad luck and/or mishaps?

I think for our family it was a bit of a mixed bag. Overall, we did quite well on the financial front. No complaints there! But there were still some quite challenging parts of 2016.

Here’s a little trip down memory lane, complete with links to relevant posts should you be interested to go back and re-read some of the drama (or the triumphs) that I wrote about this year.

 

Dad Issues

In August 2015 my dad was diagnosed with frontoemporal degeneration (FTD). It’s a rare form of early-onset dementia (NOT Alzheimers) for which there is no treatment and no drugs available to slow it’s progression. 2016 has been a rough year in that regard (and, to keep it real, I suspect things will only continue to get worse and worse until his passing. Degenerative diseases such as this one never get “better”….only worse).

This year we moved Dad from his primary residence in Utah down to his secondary residence in Texas so he would be closer to family. I went to Utah and cleaned out his house over the summer and got it on the market. We were lucky to get a bidding war and the house sold immediately.

After some rough patches involving receiving calls from the police and a few-day detainment (against his will) at a mental health hospital, from which he was released with bruises and abrasions all over his body, our family had to make the difficult decision to move him yet again. He was moved to an independent living facility and his second home was put on the market. We are currently under contract for it (fingers crossed – the closing date is set for early January!!)

Unfortunately, things have continued to degrade even with his current living situation. He has recently had his car and keys taken away (he only got to keep them this long after passing a clinical driving evaluation last September, but his forgetfulness meant he kept forgetting where he was going mid-trip. At first we put a GPS on his car, but eventually we decided it was safest for him to be off the road). We’ve recently received another call from the police (the “emergencies” feel ever-present at this point) and to keep him from being detained in a mental health hospital yet again, we had to promise we would make a plan to get him moved to a locked memory care facility. While in Texas this December I’ve been touring and looking at several options. The goal is to find a high quality one and have him moved within the next couple months.

I know a lot of these issues are more personal in nature (rather than financial), but it’s been a BIG part of my life in 2016 and I plan to continue sharing tidbits here and there. I even wrote about how I started to go to therapy, in large part, due to the stresses associated with my dad’s situation. I think it has helped immensely.

The other thing that makes my “dad issues” relevant to this blog is that I am also responsible for handling all of my Dad’s finances. Thankfully, Dad had a decent asset-base accumulated before his diagnosis and retirement. It is my job to make sure his assets last the rest of his life (no small task when the cost of his care is roughly $5,000+/month!!!). Meeting with financial planners/advisors and forming a long-term financial plan with his assets is likely going to be a big part of 2017.

 

Work Issues

I started off the year trying to negotiate title and raise at my full-time job. Though I didn’t secure either at that time, I did negotiate to work over the summer, which meant an additional 3 months of salary (I called it a “raise” in this post, but it’s really just additional compensation for the additional WORK I was doing). It was a big deal from a financial perspective, though, because it was a substantial amount of extra money on top of my regular salary.

However, working over the summer also meant I had to secure some summer childcare. Finding high quality childcare at an affordable rate has been one of the most consistently challenging things about having children, in my opinion. I think this issue is probably a bit exacerbated for us given that we do not live by any family so we’re entirely alone in that regard. Fortunately, we were able to find a solution.

I continued to pour myself into work this year. This entire year I’ve worked two jobs:  one at my full-time place of employment (where I’m a benefited and salaried employee) and one at my part-time place of employment (where I’m a contracted employee who receives no benefits, but I get paid very well and have been teaching a full-time load worth of classes). I can’t say anything yet, but there will be some changes coming to this situation at some point in 2017. I’ve said all along that I couldn’t keep both jobs forever. It’s just not a sustainable situation to basically be working two full-time jobs. Changes are on the horizon and I will share more details when I am able. But as far as 2016 is concerned, I’m very pleased with how things worked. I was really able to use all of this additional income to hit our big financial goals. To break it down, we paid $31k toward debt, got $5k in an Emergency Fund, $10k for a down payment, and another $4k in miscellaneous household expenses. That’s $50,000 this year that was put either toward debt or savings. And this speaks nothing of the 10% of my full-time income that goes directly into retirement accounts (7% is mandatory and I do the other 3% voluntarily), or the money we put toward our kids’ 529 accounts, etc. Can I say it again? $50,000 toward debt and savings!!!!!! That never would have happened without my work situation this year. Never. I’m so thankful that we were able to put that money toward hitting our financial goals rather than see it wasted or to slip away into who-knows-what.

 

Financial Successes/Milestones

Our family, as with many others, was not immune to crises and sadness this year. I called summer 2016 the summer of death. Hubs’ maternal grandfather died. My maternal grandmother died. And our sweet dog of 11 years died. It was a tough time. But even though we had our fair share of “lows”, our biggest “highs” this year were all financial in nature.

One of the biggest, to me, was when we finally paid off the car, officially becoming consumer debt-free in January 2016. Even though it’s been nearly a year since then, I’m still riding that “high” as it was the sweetest, most freeing feeling thus far in our debt-reduction journey. That same month, we finally dipped down into 5-digits of debt (when we started blogging we had nearly $150,000 of debt, so getting down into the $90,000’s felt like a huge milestone in its own right). By May of 2016 we had officially reduced our debt by $50,000.

We were able to increase our annual income by picking up additional work and I did end up getting a small (3%) raise at my full-time job, all of which helped immensely with our financial goals. I was able to recently announce that we met (nay, exceeded) all 3 of our 2016 financial goals!!!

Aside from becoming consumer debt-free, the second biggest financial “win” this year was when we were finally able to purchase our first home!!! We put 20% down to avoid PMI and financed on a 15-year fixed at a 2.75% APR!! I still kind of can’t believe it!!! Playing around with a loan amortization spreadsheet, it looks like we could have the house paid off in as little as 7 years (with the remaining student loan debt paid off within another 2-3 years). I’m still playing around with our new 2017 budget and will likely write about it’s details in a forthcoming post sometime in January.

 

Frugal Lifestyle

The first two years of debt reduction were pretty hard-core restrictive. This past year we’ve loosened up the purse-strings a bit in an effort to try to have a bit more balance. We’ve gone on more regular date nights (sometimes monthly, sometimes every-other-month, but the goal has been to do one per month), and our BIG thing this year was when we saved up all cash for over a year to go on a cruise in April!! I wrote about our savings habits that allowed us to cruise (here & here) and our practical tips for cruising with kids (here).

Even with a few extra indulgences, we’ve still maintained a pretty frugal lifestyle on the whole. I wrote a few blog posts this year about different ways we tried to save money:  like changing our car insurance (here), making homemade lemonade for cheap (here), and limiting kid’s activities to one at a time (here). We also had did a whole slew of frugal kid crafts:

  • Homemade Valentine’s cards (here)
  • Homemade Mother’s Day cards (here)
  • Teacher Appreciation gifts (here)
  • Last Day of school gifts (here)
  • Teacher Christmas gifts (here)

I’ve found that kid crafts are totally the way to go for cheap gifts. The recipients tend to appreciate them more than cheap crap I might otherwise buy from Target, and it ends up costing us far less money. It warms my heart when we visit family back in Texas and see some of our kid crafts proudly displayed on the fridge or even in frames hung on the wall!!! So sweet!

 

Student Loan Drama

Even though we’ve been blessed in the financial realm this year, we’ve still had a couple of frustrating set-backs. For long-time readers, you’re probably sick of reading about all the student loan drama in my life (Navient is my loan service provider and they are truly the worst entity I’ve ever had the misfortune of dealing with in my life).

I wrote this year about the time when Navient switched my loan to being unsubsidized when it was bought from ACS (here ), as well as how they’ve charged me extra on my student loans (here ).

My plan was always to refinance my student loans away from Navient as soon as our mortgage loan went through, but then when I tried I experienced a set of frustrating set-backs in that regard, too (see here and here). A few of you have recommended getting a new credit card so I can continue doing balance transfers (the Citi Simplicity card was recommended by a couple of you because they have a low balance transfer initiation fee and 0% APR for 21 months). Is this the best one? Any other suggestions? I’m not keen on the idea of getting another credit card, but a loan consolidation would also have been a new “line of credit” so I suppose its basically equivalent (though psychologically it feels like a different thing). I haven’t decided what to do in that regard just yet, though I do hate Navient with a fiery passion and would LOVE nothing more than to rid them from my life!!!

 

Wrap Up

All-in-all, I cannot be mad at 2016. Every year has its own set of opportunities and challenges and this year was no different. Though our challenges were deeply personal (like the dad issues) and painful (like the multiple deaths), I think the good outweighed the bad on the whole. And I am so, so proud of all the financial WINS we had this year and how far we have come in the financial realm. I’m excited to start a new year and I hope and pray it will be a great one for my family and for yours!

Here’s to a happy and healthy 2017! Happy New Year!!!


We Bought A House!!!!!

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We did it!

After endless back-and-forth negotiations, a variety of snags and snafus, and having to change our closing date not once but TWICE, we are officially home owners! YAY!!!!!

 

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

Image source. Note – this is an image that came up in a search of “Arizona houses.” This is NOT our house. As I said before, I won’t be showing a picture of our actual house.

 

We actually closed about a week ago. It was nice because it was a couple days before our 6th wedding anniversary, so we joked that this year for our anniversary we bought ourselves a house! Lol! Go big or go home, right? : )

Shout out to our families who have been so helpful! My Mom helped us with a portion of our down payment and both of our moms have been here recently (first hubs’ mom came out, then my mom) so they have helped with packing, entertaining the girls, and getting everything ready for the move. Hubs has also done a ton. Funny story – this isn’t the first time that the bulk of moving duties have fallen to him. At least twice before I’ve been gone/out of town during moves. I have left with things in disarray and returned with everything moved into a new space! Ha! This time I wasn’t entirely absent (I haven’t gone out of town), but I’ve been pretty busy with work so hubs has definitely taken the lion’s share of packing and boxing and moving. He started with cleaning and moving pretty much immediately after closing but it didn’t become official (aka: we didn’t sleep in the new house) until this weekend. Now I can’t wait to get out the holiday decorations and go to town! : )

This is random but….does anyone remember this ancient blog post? The post (almost 2 years old at this point) was about the thought of having hubs get a vasectomy. GUESS WHAT’S HAPPENING TOMORROW, Y’ALL!!!!!!!!!! ((insert giant grin here))

Sorry, let me try to contain my excitement (hehehe!)

Poor hubs – he’s not so excited. What a way to be rewarded for all of his hard work in the past week! But I, on the other hand, could not be more thrilled!!! We’ve known that we are done having kids for awhile, but having the little snip-snip is the last thing to make it really super-duper official and I can’t wait! I’m taking off early tomorrow so I can drive him to the appointment, as he’s got a prescription sedative to help him relax and he’s not supposed to drive on it (for a man whose usually cool as a cucumber, he’s pretty anxious over the whole thing). Then back to business as usual.

I’m really looking forward to the end of the semester! I feel like such good things are on the horizon – new house, hubs starting back to school, a new year, etc. It just feels like a fresh start or a re-set of some sort. Not that this year has been bad (in fact, there’s been a lot of good), but I did call summer 2016 the summer of death and I’m excited to see what new adventures lie ahead for us as a family.

On the financial front – I may have lied. I said I was going to refinance my student loans THE SECOND that the house deal went through. But now that I’ve been thinking about it, I’m not so sure. I still have 9 months left of interest-forgiveness for my subsidized student loans (through IBR), so now I’m thinking I might only consolidate the unsubsidized loans and leave the subsidized ones for the time being so I can get all 9-months worth of interest-forgiveness before I throw them into the consolidation? However, I have issues with Navient every time I turn around, so I’d love to rid them from my life. In the end, I think I’ll do nothing this month. Over the winter break I’ll start my investigation into student loan consolidations/interest rates/etc. and probably make a more concrete decision before the end of the year (because that will greatly impact our financial goals for 2017).

Anywho, I gotta jump back into work! I hope your Mondays are off to a good start (look at me actually blogging on a Monday – pat on my back) ; )

Talk soon!

~A


Talking about debt

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This past weekend I took the girls to one of their friends’ birthday parties. I was hanging out chatting with the other moms when I mentioned my husband heading back to school and the crazy discount we receive ($25 per class!!!). It’s practically free!!

One of the mom’s lamented, “Must be nice, I still have 20 years left on my student loans!”

Another mom chimed in, “I just applied for public service student loan forgiveness so mine will eventually be forgiven.”

Another mom also nodded, mentioning how the interest payment, alone, is the same as her car payment.

And I said….nothing. It felt too odd to chime in that we’re actively working on aggressive student loan pay-down. Like it would be smug or elitist or something to suggest an alternative option. No one pays off their student loans early. Would I come across as conceited or like I’m talking down to them? What do I even say? “Well…just so you know, there ARE other options. I started with nearly $100,000 in student loan debt but I’m now down to about $70,000. If all goes well it should be gone in just a couple of years!!!” (Insert big smile here)

It just didn’t feel like it would go over that well. And I didn’t want to be “that person” making others feel bad or to come off like I was bragging or something.

What would you do? These are not close friends (my close friends & family are all very aware of our debt journey). These were random acquaintances. Parents of our kids’ friends. I would love to give them some hope that it IS possible to pay off even outrageous debt in less than the mandated loan length. I honestly think many people don’t even consider it an option. It’s never occurred to them that it’s possible to pay it off early.

If you were in a similar situation would you have spoken up?

I’m genuinely interested because I want to be a source of hope for others that it IS possible…but when I’m still in the trenches myself I can’t say “I’ve done it, you can too!” (because we still have a LONG way to go before we’re done!!!) Plus I really fear coming across as pretentious or condescending if I were to say something. Thoughts?


Money Down The Drain

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First, thanks for the responses, comments, and helpful feedback on my last post.

Edited update: I did type up a full proposal and email but, after thinking better of it, I never sent it. Instead, I sent an email asking for a brief meeting sometime in the next couple weeks and already received a reply that we’ll meet on the 20th. Further out than I’d like, but better than nothing. Then we can discuss the changes in roles/responsibilities and the mis-alignment between contract and current duties in person. One commenter suggested asking for the changes to be implemented in the next financial cycle (like future planning) instead of insisting on immediate change. I think that it makes sense for me to be flexible and open to that, if thats what’s necessary. Ultimately, though, all this will be discussed in person. Not via email. I’ll keep you updated. I sincerely thank you for your suggestions!

 

Today I just wanted to tell you a little story of how being more aware can save you money (or, rather, how failing to be aware COST me money).

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One of my friends is due with a second child in October. She had a baby shower over Labor Day that I had to miss since I was in Austin. I still wanted to get her a gift so I decided to shop Target.com since 1) she is registered there, and 2) I have a Target card so I get free shipping and 5% off all purchases.

Cool.

So I log in and pick out a couple things for her baby (a book for big brother and a 3-pack of onesies for the new baby). I thought it was a nice touch to throw in the “big brother” book. I try to stay around $15-25 for most gift-giving occasions (weddings, baby showers, birthdays, etc.) and the total cost of the gift was right at $25, so I was in that range.

But…

I have another friend who is organizing a big Lego drive for kids with cancer being treated at our local children’s hospital. One of her friends (an acquaintance of mine) has a son who has been battling cancer for 3 years (after 3 relapses at only 4 years old). I generally don’t do “Go Fund Me” or similar such things, but I felt moved to donate to this Lego drive for kids fighting cancer. So I added two $12 Lego sets to my Target.com order. My idea was to let my girls help wrap them up and go to drop them off at the Lego drive (they’d each have one to give).

With the legos added to my cart, my total was now right around $50. The Legos, alone, were about half of the total amount.

After placing my order I received the standard email from Target (I order from Target.com for most of my gift-giving occasions, so I have an account with them, etc.). The order looked correct, I saw the dates things would ship, and all was good.

Then a few days later…

I get a text from my friend with a ‘thank you’ and a picture of her son playing with one of the Lego sets I bought!!!

WHAT????

It turns out that since I ordered off her registry, it automatically shipped my order to her house. I didn’t even notice!!! Because I have an account with target.com I never have to enter my shipping information (it’s all saved), so I didn’t even realize that the gift wasn’t coming to me as I’d intended!

I immediately texted that I was so embarrassed it had gone straight to her – I thought it would come to me so I’d have an opportunity to wrap it, etc. She lol-ed and that was basically it. But because her initial photo was of her son playing with the open Legos package, I didn’t feel like I could ask for the other one back to give to the kids with cancer. And she didn’t inquire about why I sent 2 identical Lego packages (clearly not intended for a newborn baby). Left it at that.

Lesson learned.

Failing to pay more attention to what was going on caused me to spend an extra $25 (basically doubling the price of my “gift”) AND means that my donation didn’t happen. Not sure what to do about that one, as I feel guilty not donating to the cancer kids, but I also didn’t have planned to donate an additional $25 worth of stuff. Thoughts on that one?

Have you ever experienced a similar shipping snafu? If it were you, would you have asked for the other Lego package back, or just chalk it up as a lesson learned?


My Absence

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I apologize for my absence these past weeks. And I hate to say, I may be absent for a few more. Life has come flooding back like a tidal wave after months of trials and despair. And while it hasn’t all been candy and flowers, lots of good things happening.

I have two very steady clients now that are giving me more than full time hours, sometimes closer to double full time. The pay is decent if not great, and I am working like a crazy person. All contract work, but no end in site and have been given more responsibilities and hours on both sides a couple of times. Good news.

We have finished out the softball season for Princess and volleyball season for Princess, Gymnast and Sea Cadet. A blast was had by all, but I am definitely ready for a break from the busy-ness. We start swim on Monday for all four, but that doesn’t take quite as much out of me and I can work while they practice an hour daily. I was able to barter for our pool membership this year, but do have to pay for the swim team. But I think it’s worth it since it is literally three months of daily fun and exercise. Cost $215 for all four to be on the time.

Car wreck, my fault – ack! It was very disheartening, just when things seemed to be turning around for us and now I have to come up with a $1000 deductible. Everyone is fine and the car is driveable. So I’m putting it off for a short while to get a bit more financially stable. I don’t carry rental coverage, so we will be down to one car when I put it in the shop, so trying to make wise decisions there.

Short trip. We made a short trip to meet up with my parents in GA and visit my grandmother. My dad paid for my gas and provided food for us while we were there, so financially it was not a burden. And it was good for the kids to see their grandparents.

Housing is going well, it’s a lot like living at summer camp. I am so grateful for the blessing and working hard to make the most of it financially.

Lets of other changes happening in our lives, some harder than others. I am truly focused on work, lots and lots of work right now. So I will try to keep up with weekly posts, but no promises just yet. Really trying to stay focused, not worry about what is coming next and save, save, save.

Thanks for your understanding and patience with me. I truly appreciate the support of the BAD community.


Life on the Farm with Chickens

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Life has really slowed down for us.  I am spending 4-6 hours a day working on work or finding work or thinking about work, and then the rest is spent on schooling or sports with the kids.  Everyone is really happy with this move.  But we’ve also had some excitement…

History Buff with rooster

History Buff with our lone rooster – name Milo after my beloved dog.

Princess and Sea Cadet with our 25 chicks

Princess and Sea Cadet with our 25 chicks…living in our kitchen!

 

Yes, we’ve got chickens!  24 pullets and 1 rooster.  Our hosts ordered 450 new chicks for the farm and after filling their garage offered to let us care for some.  We are all thrilled!  We are learning a lot, enjoying playing with them and look forward to the day we can move them outside…three more weeks or so.

The hosts are covering all costs, we are just putting in the time.  So it’s a win-win.  The kids are literally spending hours playing with them, digging worms for their dessert and reading up on caring for them and their predators we have to be careful of.

And our hosts say that once they start laying eggs in the fall, we can help sell them at our local farmer’s market where they will take them.  Fun times all around!


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