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I couldn’t wait!!!

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I broke my cardinal rule. I counted my proverbial chickens before the eggs have hatched. And I’m taking a bit of a risk to do this, but…..

I JUST PAID OFF MY WELLS FARGO CREDIT CARD!!!!!!

(*cue the herald angels singing and imagine my euphoric screams here*)

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This was a big – HUGE – deal.

Starting to write here has changed my life (I know this sounds cliche and silly given that it’s been 2 months, but I’m for real). I swear, if I had continued just as a reader (not contributing), there is NO WAY I would be here right now. These past couple months we’ve done pretty well with pay. So we’d be sporting flashy new clothes, or perhaps taking a fun summer vacation. We would put a little extra toward debt, too, but we certainly wouldn’t be throwing every single penny possible toward debt payments and, thus, be in our current position.

You don’t know how happy this makes me! Since I’ve started here: I paid off my Capital One credit card (once maxed out at $7500, balance when I started blogging in March = $413). Next, I paid off my Wells Fargo credit card (once maxed out at over $10,000, balance when I started blogging in March = $7700). Next on my radar is my last credit card, Bank of America. With “only” a balance of $2200, it should be gone within a month.

How did I do this?

First, we’ve been cutting back (I have a whole money-saving tricks series!).

But let’s not kid ourselves, this has primarily been due to increased income (well above our “average”). And every extra cent has been thrown toward debt.

How else did I do this?

Well…..I cheated the system a little. I couldn’t help it. For those with variable incomes, this is a “do what I say, not what I do” moment…..

I have mentioned before that we have a budget (for all of our minimum expenses and debt obligations). We wait until the month is completely over to determine how much “extra” is leftover, and we apply that money toward debt in the following month (as a one-time snowflake payment).

Wellllllll…….I didn’t do that this month. It was driving me CRAZY to see my checking account balance high enough to pay off the WF CC and I didn’t want to wait until May was over to apply the funds! So, this messes up my budget a little but I ended up doing two things I would generally advise AGAINST for anyone with variable incomes (1) I spent money that will hopefully be in surplus from this month (May) to apply toward the WF balance (even though we don’t know yet exactly how much surplus we will have), and (2) I used some logic to assume that, should our surplus not be as much as I’m guesstimating….then I can “borrow” the money from myself. Our current monthly payment to WF is $900, so basically I’m using the June money and applying it toward our balance NOW instead of waiting a week until June is officially here.

I was able to do this because we currently have these funds in my checking account. If something were to go wrong (i.e., husband has work problems/doesn’t have jobs the rest of the month/terrible problem that costs money instead of making money), then it is still “okay” because I had this money available in my Capital One 360 Savings (I talked about all my assets in this first post…we don’t have a ton, but we do have some liquid cash in a money market account + CapOne 360 savings).

This is definitely “counting my chickens before the eggs have hatched” because the month isn’t over yet….so I have no way of knowing whether our income will truly be high enough to justify a huge (almost $3500) payment toward this bill.

But I did it anyway.

So hopefully when the dust settles from May I’ll discover that I made a good decision (meaning, we had enough “extra” money to cover this expense). If not, then that just means that our savings has decreased a little and – oh well. I think it was worth it to get out from under the 13.65% APR credit card debt (side note:  Now all of our remaining debts are under a 10% APR. For some reason, this feels like a big threshold to cross – even though I won’t be satisfied until we have NO debts and aren’t paying ANY interest!)

Oh happy day!!!!

I am smiling from ear to ear! Bank of America….you’re next! Mwhahahaha!!!!! (<<<< I love my evil debt-paying laugh! Feels so good! ) : )

Thanks for all of your advice, suggestions, and support along the way!!!


Travelling on a Budget

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I am getting the pleasure of revisiting one of my all time favorite activities these two weeks…travel! It’s something I wrote on many, many moons ago on my personal blog. You can read that old post here – The Toaster Oven – Road Trip Essentials. A lot has changed in our lives since that post…two more kids, new car, new technology, different ages, etc. (If you read my old post, you will see my paid off car that I sold once the boys were placed with us…I used all the proceeds to pay off debt, but I still miss that car every single day!)

I am EXTREMELY keen on traveling. It doesn’t really matter why or how or where, I just like to go. This is not something new, I’ve been this way as long as I can remember. (I’m sure the roots are in my rootless childhood, with 18 moves under my belt before college graduation.)  Since the twins arrived, we’ve cut back quite a bit, both for monetary and schooling reasons, but we have taken a couple of road trips every year to see family.

So for the next two weeks, we are on the road. Here are my top 10 tricks for traveling on a budget:

  1. Take food – we not only pack snacks and easy meals for the car, but we take staples so that when we are at our destination, we have the basics of meals without having to do a lot of shopping.  For us this includes: cereal, fruit and citrus juicer, rice, favorite seasonings and soups for microwaving.  One change for us is that we no longer take drinks, we each pack a tumbler including lid and straw and then fill them with ice water continually through the trip.
  2. Plan it – I have literally typed up our entire summer itinerary including travel dates, starting and ending addresses and drive times, drop off or pick up times for kids so I know exactly when we can/need to arrive.  I then sent this itinerary to everyone we plan on staying with (having asked them in advance.)  That way they know exactly where we will be and when to expect us…at least a ballpark.
  3. Look at the Map – I, for one, am in LOVE with my iPhone, I have an unlimited data plan so I type in my destination and then just follow the GPS directions. This is great; HOWEVER, take time to look at a bigger map of where you are traveling beforehand.  There are two reasons for this: 1) if you are not planning your stops, you can get a good idea of what big cities are on your route in case you want to site see or use hotel points for overnight stays and 2) using different mapping lets you see the big picture of different routes and may open up some overnights with friends and/or family without taking you too far off your route.  For me, an extra hour drive is worth it to have free accommodations, free food (at least in part) and get to visit people you may not see very often.
  4. Shop Around – As you probably gathered, I do not plan my overnights very often.  I realize that I could probably get better hotel deals if I did, BUT with four kids in the car and me being the only driver, it puts a lot of pressure on me to make drive times and a lot of stress on the kids with long car days.  For each leg of our trip, I use #3 time to scout out areas where we might want to spend the night for touristy reasons and then price out some options there, giving myself a ballpark of what it would cost.  With that number in mind and a fuzzy goal, we drive.  If we don’t make it, I pull off and see what’s ahead and try sites like travelocity.com or priceline.com to see what kind of deal I can get, but if we do, I know what I’m willing to pay and have never had a problem getting that rate.
  5. Take the Pressure Off – Of course there are times when you will have tight drive times where you must drive long and hard, but with proper planning, I find that those can be avoided most of the time. When you can, take time to smell the roses.  Stop at the silly tourist attraction. Take some pictures at the scenic overview. Or even just stop at a rest area and sit down and eat a picnic. As a parent and homeschooler one of my absolute favorite stops is at the welcome center for different states.  We look at the map and trace our route, learn the state motto, bird and flag and just generally see what the state is known for and has to offer.  I LOVE those stops, and the best thing…most of them are absolutely FREE!
  6. Spending Money – At 8, 10, 15 and 15, all of my kids are plenty old enough to manage and save their own money.  They work around the house to earn it, and I consistently remind them of what they have coming up that may cost money that they might want to save for. When we are on trips, they buy their own snacks, their own momentos and sometimes pay for their own “experiences.” Sometimes, they completely blow it and sometimes, they do really well and get some cool stuff and/or come home with money left.  I continue to think that time and experience will show them how best to use their money then me preaching at them about it and this spending money is a good way to do that.  It really stinks when something really cool comes along and they’ve already blown all their money on candy and only that experience can teach them that lesson. (I also save spending money for myself which I typically spend on a meal out or a family experience.)
  7. Don’t Forget about Home – It’s great fun to ride off into the sunset and leave the worries of your day to day life behind.  It’s not so great so come back from that trip and have a crazy high electric bill because you left the A/C on too low or a toilet running. (Yep, I’ve learned that one from experience.)  Make sure you stop your mail, reset your programmable thermostat for an empty house and unplug everything you can.  If you are leaving animals behind, make sure you’ve stocked their food and left good instructions for their care givers.  Just these little things can save you hundreds of dollars upon your return, believe you me.
  8. Prepare for Emergencies and Sickness – Take a first aid kit, take your insurance cards and just as importantly take those day to day medications that you keep stocked in your medicine cabinet and notoriously are going to need…cold medicine, bug bite treatments, bandaids, Tylenol.  These expenses can really add up if someone needs them, and you’ll feel really bad when you have a brand new bottle at home.  When you return, you’ll have two.  We also take grocery bags in case of sickness, rolls of toilet paper and baby wipes, between spills and other accidents, these are priceless!
  9. Gas, gas, gas – There are all sorts of apps out there that will tell you where the cheapest gas is – use them!  With my giant beast of a car, these really pay off.  If you take the same route many times, as we do to see family, you get to know the cheapest cities/states (like, don’t stop for gas in NC if you can possibly help it, and SC is typically cheaper then GA) so you can plan your driving accordingly.  I also am a big fan of finding the local Sams Club if we are in a big city to fill up and restock things if needed.  (With our family of 5, buying most things in bulk always pays off, I know this wouldn’t be true of smaller families.)
  10. Enjoy it! – I’m sorry, but no amount of money is worth torturing you family with driving 24 hours straight every time. And no amount of medical bills is worth staying in flea ridden hotel rooms. Taking a nap at a rest area can be fun, just remember to make smart choices. And sometimes that monument can be just as exciting as a roller coaster, especially if you have history buff children like mine.  Take the time to fully experience your trip, believe me, those memories will last a lifetime.

Bonus Tip: Take pictures, lots of pictures.  They don’t have to cost anything these days with all the digital technology and it is definitely true that a picture is worth a thousand words.

I didn’t write these in any particular order, and I will expand on details on some of these in later posts.  Travel does not have to be cost prohibitive and as the commercials says…the experience priceless.