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Homeschool – Planning for Next Year

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I was so grateful that Walnut gave me some writing prompts this past week.  Since we have CHOSEN to live on a really tight budget for the next few months AND we have CHOSEN to save our spending money for a mini vacation next month, there isn’t a lot of financial activity going on.  We are saving everything towards the goal of 1) living on last month’s income beginning in May and 2) paying off all consumer debt by July.

So all I am doing aside from working and schooling the kids is thinking and planning for the future…and one of the big things for us is school expenses.  This year was the first year that all four of my kids participated in our homschool co op all year.  History Buff did almost all his school work via the classes available, while Sea Cadet just took electives.  The Princess took some heavy classes which weren’t supposed to be her entire curriculum but really ended up consuming her time.  And Little Gymnast just took some electives that I don’t teach.  The cost of this was HIGH money wise, and I knew as of last semester that we would not do this again.

So…what are we going to do next year.  Well, a couple of things are going to be changing.

  1. History Buff and Sea Cadet will be dual enrolled in our local community college for one class.  This will cost a bit more, but allow them to get their feet wet with college level courses and layouts while I am here to hold their hands.  (Yes, I realize that I sometimes come across as mother bear, but in this case…yes, they will definitely need some hand holding.)  We are going to start with one and if that works ok, will consider additional ones for the following semesters.
  2. I am going to be teaching at our co op!  I am uniquely qualified with my Masters degree and corporate experience to teach high school level computer programming, Ap computer science and advanced computer application, and am thrilled that what I can offer is something they need.  Currently, I will be teaching all three courses but that could change this summer once enrollment settles down.  I won’t do more than three but would ideally like to drop to two.  The entire goal in teaching is to pay for the kids’ homeschool co op.  This will be a huge coup as far as the kids tuition costs being covered and I’m super excited about it.  I will know in May which of my classes make it and have the summer to plan the curriculum.   The lectures will be once a week and back to back, that was my one condition in taking this on.  All other interaction will be online which works well since I am always at my computer for work and an avid multi-tasker.
  3. After 6 years of homeschooling, I know my teaching/planning style. And I know my kids’ learning styles.  That makes a HUGE difference in being successful.  For the first time, I will be selling off curriculum that I have accumulated over the years at a curriculum sale in May.  And then based on the kids co op schedule, my teaching schedule and the monies I earn from selling some of my stuff, I am going to pick up some new items at our statewide homeschool convention.  If you have ever been interested in homeschooling, I suggest you check out a convention, they are AWESOME!

So the financial summation of these changes….

  1. I will be paying for 1 college course for each of the twins.  Estimated cost $800 for both.  This is ballpark, I won’t have the real cost until we register this summer.
  2. I will NOT be paying for any of our homeschool co op classes and may in fact make a little extra money from teaching depending on the number of students who enroll in my class(es.)  Something else that will firm up in May.
  3. I will be selling some of my used curriculum for the first time this year and am hoping to make enough money to buy a few new things at the homeschool convention.  At this time, I have no other monies budgeted toward homeschool supplies, so am really hoping that my curriculum will sell!  Another update on this in May when the dust settles.

Wouldn’t it be nice if I make enough from teaching that not only can I cover our homeschool co op classes, but also the twins college class!?  Only time will tell, but that is the plan right now.


A New Venture

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I hinted at the beginning of the year that I was seeking a way to expand my business, ie make it less about me and more of a product/service I could expand with.  I am excited to say that I believe I have found the beginnings of a new path.  I am super excited and so tempted to throw everything to the wayside and just dive in.  Stop!

The problem is the new venture is going to entail some start up costs.  Some new software and hardware that I do not have and thus far have not found a way to get discounted in any way. So I am proudly, very proudly since before I would pull out my consumer card  that is now paid off (transferred to a lower interest cc) and just go for it.  But I haven’t and I won’t!

I am doing my due diligence, checking out the competition, running preliminary numbers and gathering intelligence.  But I am also putting just a bit more aside this month toward possible business expansion with the distinct thought of jumping in in the next few months.

I’m not ready to reveal this new venture.  But I will tell you this…it would be something that my children could be involved in, it would not change my current level of dedication to existing and long running clients, and I think that it would open a whole new realm of possibilities for my business and future.  I am keeping my priorities, which is why this is taking longer than if I just jumped in anywhere.

  1. I will still be able to set my own hours and work around the kids schooling and activities.
  2. I will still be able to work from anywhere, so the very real possibility of moving somewhere cheaper would not be a factor.
  3. I would still be mobile, so could travel and work simultaneously.
  4. While there are some start up costs, and annual costs associated with this path, I think I could make a success of it enough so to offset the start up considerations within a year or three at most.
  5. There is a true need for what I am considering so any investment would be a wise one if I commit to sticking to it and growing it.

I am super excited and wanted to share since I really have finally zeroed in on one very real venture.  I’m sorry if this is cryptic, but I wanted you to know what was going on with this area of my life.  Expanding my earning power and moving toward taking myself out of the mix so I can expand my business.  Yeah!


Weekly Debt Update #1

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Hey everybody!

I’ve been doing some thinking and since I update my personal debt numbers on a weekly basis and tally my budget numbers, I’dd the same here. I give the run down of my week of week from what I paid on debt to what I spent.

So on Wednesday I got paid $924 (my normal $847.50 plus milage reimbursement for driving). I pay my electric bill on the 2nd week of each month which was $99.70. After I paid myself $70 for whatever gas and groceries (I tend to buy dog food and chicken to help out my girlfriend). This week I was able to make a payment of $752.93 on my Sallie Mae loans.

Rant alert- I really hate how Sallie Mae allocates how you can pay off loans. I’m in the automatic withdrawal program to get .25% off my interest rate on each of my loans. The automatic withdrawal gets made the 21st of every month. My due amount on the 21st is currently $467.91, which they lower as I pay off the loans (my initial payment after college was somewhere around $900!). At the beginning of the month, if I want to make a payment, they don’t allow me to choose which loan the payment goes towards until I’ve paid the full $467.91, even though I make this same payment on the 21st. I guess it’s not terrible in the sense that I’m paying off each of my loans with 2 payments a month plus what ever extra, but I could pay off the lowest ones so much quicker!

So here’s my debt numbers for the 2nd week of January:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid Off
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$24,462.48$3,374.76
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$19,189.15$3,007.87
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$655.99$20,036.11
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$7,723.61$2,226.57
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$5,356.99$739.04
Sallie Mae 06 & 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$57,338.22$53,249.44

And here’s how my budget stands:

Matt's Blogging Stuff

My sister is currently 8-1/2 months pregnant. I bought her a bunch of gifts and had them sent out of state to where she lives. That’s the $116.53 showing up in the misc. category. My $70 didn’t last too long this paycheck. I ended up spending it on a couple of restaurant dinners (totaling $20, but could have been avoided) that I could have avoided, $20 on gas and the remaining cash on groceries. As I type this on Monday night, I’m penniless until Wednesday.

For the coming week, I don’t see too many expenses. I owe my student loans on Wednesday and my folks are coming to visit, which I should be able to use my normal $70 to pay for any expenses with this, but normally we just hang out around the house. Barring anything that comes up between now and tomorrow, I should be able to make a nice loan payment.


Priority Order

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I greatly appreciate all your constructive feedback on my priority list that is being incorporated into my life plan.  After evaluating much of your feedback and really weighing what is important to me, here is the current priority list and broken down bits.  (Timeline to be added with next revision.)  Please review and let me know your thoughts.

Car

  1. Take ownership of Honda Accord – add insurance, tax bill.  This happens this week as my dad is bringing the title to what we call the “twins car.”  This debt ($1900 was eliminated via the sell of the house per my dad and my agreement.)
  2. Sell car – eliminating high car payment, higher insurance payment and tax bill. This has been listed for sale for months no with some interest but no luck yet.  I will explore other options of getting it sold…ie Car Max etc after Christmas.
  3. Enroll in AAA.  This will bring me some security in comfort in driving an older car.  Thanks for the suggestion!
  4. Begin paying self “car payment” to savings for next car – est $300 month – add this to monthly budget so I 1) have money for car repairs and/or 2) can buy a newer used car with at least mostly cash when time (eta for this would be Fall, 2015)

Finances

  1. Continue paying minimum payments on all debts.
  2. Pay off checking account debt this month (December) whatever it takes! Total $746
  3. Focus on Credit Card – Retail with any extra debt payments.
  4. Build $1000 EF
  5. Pay off Credit Card – Consumer with any extra debt payments
  6. Add monies to EF until I have $6000
  7. LAST DEBT: Pay off Student Loan with any extra debt payments
  8. Begin living on last month’s income using EF monies to start.
  9. Retirement plan

Housing

  1. Continue to work on design for dream house – free
  2. Continue to monitor land sales – free
  3. Get solid phased plan broken down by costs and timeline
    1. Land phase (owner financing or foreclosure possibility)
    2. Phase I house – livable shell with construction loan  (architect costs and find construction loan so I only have to pay interest during build out)
    3. Move out of apartment (moving and furnishing costs)
    4. Phase II house – build out interior doing as much DIY or bartered as possible (this is an as I have it phase, incurring no more housing debt)
    5. Phase III house – ???
  4. Land phase – at any time with right deal
  5. Begin House – Phase I after Finances #6 is complete
  6. Get re-certified as foster family (this will have to be done if we are not able to take in children by May, 2016)

Personal

  1. Learn something new every month.  This doesn’t always have to cost money or alot of money, ideas include but are not limited too:
    1. Learn to knit – class available at Joann’s for about $30
    2. Find car maintenance class for self and twins (try Parks & Rec and local community college)
    3. Find house maintenance class (local community college?
  2. Vacation…save for it, dream about it, plan it

Business

I did not add this into the priority list because frankly, it is the gate through which everything else must be done…so after much consideration I have decided NOT to return to corporate. I did not make this decision lightly.  The thought of a steady and most likely higher paycheck was tempting, sorely tempting, not to mention the possibility of signing bonus, moving expenses since I’m will to relocate…well, very tempting.  But let’s face it…the cost would be too high.  I would give up the flexibility I have to be wherever my kids need me, when they need me.  Not just activities, but sick days, therapy visits and just mental health days.  I would give up these moments with my kids where they really grasp something and it lights up their faces and then proceed to sprint forward in understanding in application of concepts and ideas.  I would give up those little moments of me time that I get almost daily because after returning from a full day at the office I would need to supervise homework, get dinner on the table and really be there to get one on one time with each child, something I am really able to do at leisure throughout the days now.  And all these don’t take into account the very high possibility that I would have to travel, have lots of job related stress and the over-hanging cloud of working mom guilt.  So that’s a long way of saying…I have decided not to return to corporate.

However, this does not mean I must accept the status quo.  When I lost my oldest, and almost biggest client last fall, I took a big financial hit.  It was literally like going from a two parent income to a one parent income, and I didn’t get the relief or help that would have been in there was actually a second parent staying home because I was still doing it all.  So I have decided to go with option #4 from my original priority list.  It is time to change the game.  I’ve enjoy my “off” time per se since losing my 40 hour per week phone client and it’s time to re-strategize and then market the new and improve business model.  So here is my current game plan for my business (still under construction:)

  1. Set up a meeting with local SCORE chapter.  It’s time to get some expert advice.
  2. Redesign marketing channels: web site, social media, LinkedIn
  3. Create marketing plan
  4. Revitalize job hunting profiles: Guru, Indeed, Fiverr, etc.  Got more suggestions?  Where do you search for consultants?
  5. Research passive income streams
  6. Get the kids involved
    1. Twins have expressed an interest in doing projects via Fiverr, encourage and guide them
    2. Daughter has expressed interest via actions and words in dog training and care, encourage and guide her
    3. Little Gymnast needs to focus on school but add income and budgeting to his curriculum through real life experiences

Okay, so that’s where I’m at.  Probably not the best format for this type of plan, but the goal for the next round of evaluation will be to put it in a timeline format with dependencies in place.  I am wide open for your constructive opinions and criticism.  Obviously there are places that I will need to plan and break things down a bit more, but I’m feeling good about this first draft right now.


Lessons Learned from Owning a Small Business

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Happy Thanksgiving to you U.S. readers!!!! I hope you have a wonderful holiday filled with happiness and warmth! In full disclosure, I wrote this post on Monday but I wanted to schedule it ahead of time so I could give you a little light reading over the long holiday weekend. I’ll be spending the day with my family. I hope you all have a great day and a safe holiday weekend!

I’ve got some good news to share in relation to my husband’s business!

He’s now up to three crews! Woohoo!!!

If you’re new or don’t know what I’m talking about then let me back up…

My husband is a small business owner. His company does wood flooring and since I’ve started blogging he went from having one crew (him and a helper) up to having two crews (his + another), back down to one crew (his) and now he’s back up to three (his + 2 others).

I want to knock on wood while I’m saying this but so far it’s been going really well with the extra crews!

I haven’t talked a lot about husband’s business since I’ve been blogging, but I want to brag on it (and husband) a minute here and provide some insight into his work situation.

Husband has been in wood flooring forever. He started when he was 18 and had done it on-and-off for years. When we moved to Florida (for my Master’s program) he decided to do it full time and went to work for other people. He worked 2 years on really high-end homes (he did Celine Deon’s floors on Jupiter island and the majority of his work was on multi-million dollar properties). He learned more in those 2 years than most would in 15.

When we moved to Arizona (for my Doctoral program) he worked for someone else for the first couple years and had bad experiences – work was irregular, low paying, and unreliable. He then decided to start his own business.

Owning our own business was pretty costly the first year or so.

Not only are there the mandatory expenses (business licensing, contractor licensing, and start-up costs associated with equipment, etc.), but there are also the expenses that you have to chock up to “learning lessons.” We had a LOT of those that first year. Husband tried to bring on a bunch of crews at once and it was a nightmare. He ended up eating multiple botched jobs completed by employees and didn’t have great control of the situation. We bled money and husband dropped his crews and just had one crew (him and a helper) for a long time.

When he added a second crew he did so cautiously. He leaned on some of his management background (while on-and-off with flooring he also did retail management for a few years), and did a much better job controlling the situation. He learned some valuable lessons from his previous experiences (both in terms of leadership/management but also in terms of business finances) and he was able to apply them this time around.

He did have to let his second crew go, but then he was able to bring back a second crew, plus add a third crew! Plus, he’s expanded his horizon a bit. Husband only does wood/laminate floors but his second crew does both wood and tile work. And his third crew does carpet installation. Husband’s licensed for all floor types so now he’s expanded his company’s repertoire and, as a result, enjoyed increased business in recent weeks.

I’m still cautiously optimistic about the whole thing, but proud of my hubs for the way it’s worked out. I’ve mentioned how husband may try to expand his business in Spring but its just sort of worked out to happen sooner. Hubs wanted to go back to two crews so his second crew was planned, but his third crew just kind of “happened” to him. He’d done a wood install that included carpet tear-out and when husband went to the local carpet recycling place to drop off the old carpet, he made a business contact who put him in contact with his now third crew. Funny how things work out!

So hubs’ business is looking like it’s on the ups and with any luck (*fingers crossed*) we can continue to draw an income even when we go out of town for Christmas!

Small Business Owner Bad thing = No breaks from work!

Small Business Owner Good thing = Paychecks keep coming!

That’s the hope, anyway!

Any small business owners out there? Any good books you might recommend or tips you have from learning the hard way how to build your business?


How I Reduced My Debt by $10,000 in 6 Months

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By Alan Helman

Chances are incredibly high that, at some point in your life, you will have to deal with debt. Thanks to increasing tuition rates and decreasing summer employment, students are leaving college and university saddled with large amounts of debt. Then add in the costs of starting a family and buying a house and a car and…well, you see the problem. A lot of people who had dreamed of a life as an artist or a designer find themselves having to switch gears in order to handle this debt, and then falling into a depression when they look at the seeming impossibility of becoming debt-free.

When I graduated, the first thing I had to establish was that it wasn’t possible to pay off all my student debt at once, and looking at the full amount due almost gave me a heart attack. I told myself not to freak out; paying off the debt was possible. It would take some creativity on my part, and might require I change my way of living a bit, but the thrill of realizing that I wasn’t so deep in debt was certainly worth the life change.

Build a Budget

After a lot of research, talking to friends and professionals, I found that the best way to reduce (and eventually get rid of) my debt is to set a good budget and follow it. I determined how much money I brought in each month, then figured out what percentage of that absolutely had to go to standing bills like my mortgage, car payments, debt payments, etc. The money that was left over could then be apportioned to my remaining monthly purchases. I started with the most important areas: figuring out an amount to devote to food, an amount for gas (and transit fees, for when I took the train or might need a cab), and an amount for entertainment. I tried to leave myself with extra money in the kitty, because I knew a few things already:

1. Chances were high that I would break my budget in one area or another, especially when just starting out.
2. The extra money could be used to pay down more of my debt.
3. It’s always a good idea to try to accumulate a bit of a savings to safeguard against emergency situations.

There are plenty of online systems that can help create a budget, so I took advantage of that in my planning. The New York Times suggested some great apps such as LevelMoney or Billguard–these systems often come with fees attached, and that money would have to come out of the budget, but it was worth it in the long run. Apps like this provide a valuable service and, for me, were 100 percent worth the money. It might not be the same for you, so make sure you know what you’re getting into before you jump for a service.

Search for Sales

I found one of the best things about the Internet is that it makes looking for deals much easier. I no longer had to scour the newspapers and local flyers for the right coupons or stand in line for the huge sales at stores; everything was online where I could access it easily. Since I’d already budgeted for my Internet bill, it was simple. I discovered coupon apps, which led to some pretty great savings (or refunds and rebates) once I uploaded my receipt to the app. Other coupons could be saved on my iPhone, and then shown to the cashier to be scanned. Though the amount saved on each coupon seemed pretty small, it added up quickly. For beginners, the Toronto Star has a great list of sites and advice from people who are quite successful at utilizing this method.

If I needed a new electronic device or piece of computer hardware, I just made sure I found the best deals online. This simple act saved me hundreds, possibly even thousands of dollars. I was amazed at the plethora of things I could find coupons for on the net.

Increasing Income Creatively

I didn’t have the time or the energy to take on a second job, but this didn’t mean I couldn’t increase the amount of money I was bringing in. This is actually where I found I could draw on that creative side that I’d come to fear was lost forever. Thanks to online eCommerce sites like Shopify, I found I could create an online store of my own to sell my art, design and products bearing them. I was able to set up a shop that held my unique designs, choosing a price that I felt was fair while still competitive.

While I worked to pay the bills, my designs were finally online for millions to discover. With a little bit of effort in my spare time (dealing with the orders, creating product), I found I could actually, at least in part, live my artistic dream — and still pay the bills. I never had to be a starving artist.

If you think the idea sounds like a silly fantasy, like I did at first, you should know something: this is actually how new designers are approaching the market. Cutting out the retail store middleman allowed both for increased profit but also increased creative control, and even beyond that I came to the realization that the online market is much bigger than single retail stores. It’s quite serious; the Wall Street Journal has touted this method as “the new black.” Online sales are always on the rise, so this was the ideal opportunity to live my dream while still keeping a foot in the regular working world.

Very few people will live a life of complete leisure, never worrying about their income. But having a budget didn’t mean I couldn’t have nice things (or, you know, things). It just meant I needed to be a little more creative when it came to choosing how to buy things, and left me to explore other ways to make money. The biggest thing I learned was that it doesn’t actually have to be a huge effort, thanks to the wonders of the Internet and current technology. Six months later, and I’m that much closer to living debt-free. You could be too.


The Part Time Job

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I’ve bitten off more than I can chew…so this past weekend I resigned my part time job, and I felt horrible about it.  One because I really enjoyed just getting out of the house and my typical routine and being around other adults and just doing mundane tasks that I didn’t have to bring home.  Oh, and the bi-weekly deposits into my newer emergency fund were nice.

I went in for what I assumed would be my last day this past Friday, and realized just how much I appreciate and respect my boss there.  She is rock steady, a micro manager without being a micro manager and I didn’t want to lose that relationship I’ve started to build with her.  I didn’t want to quit.  So I let her know the circumstances and offered to just come in on Fridays and do project work.  And she took me up on it!

So what was a part time job, is now really only going to be a few hours per week, but I think it’s a good compromise and I’m glad it worked out for both of us.

Since this money really only funded my EF it won’t really affect my  debt payoff journey, but will continue to contribute to my baby steps to become more financially sound in the long run.  Baby steps!


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