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The Green Eyed Gimmies

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Has anyone read the classic Bernstein Bears book (or seen the associated cartoon) about the Green Eyed Gimmies?

It’s really a lesson for children about how they should be happy with what they have and not always be looking for something new/keeping up with the Jones’, etc.

But it’s hard not to make those social comparisons, you know? It’s a natural human thing to look at our neighbors and feel a little pang of jealousy when they have the shiny new car or insert-whatever-the-new-thing-is.

Recently I experienced a little bit of my own Green-Eyed monster, but not about something you might think.

Does anyone else read Stephanie’s blog – SixFiguresUnder?? I have to admit I’m more of a casual reader, but I think someone recommended it back when I first started blogging here and, every couple of months, I’d head over to her blog to read their latest debt update.

It’s been a minute (so I’m a little behind on this), but I recently went to check out their latest happenings and was shocked to see that they’re now DEBT FREE!!! (read Stephanie’s debt free post here).

Now, I don’t know Stephanie. Never met her in my life. I have no connection to her or her family. But, as a reader, I was happy for them! Becoming debt-free surely must be an incredible feeling!

But I was surprised by an underlying feeling….that of envy.

Stephanie and her family managed to pay off $144,000 in debt.

My starting debt was $145,000.

Stephanie started blogging in September 2013.

I started blogging just a few months later, in February 2014.

Our incomes started out about the same – Stephanie’s first reported monthly income was under $4,000 (from here). Our first monthly income was just over $5,000 (from here).

Our incomes even increased around the same time. Her husband, a lawyer, opened his own practice which dramatically increased their income. I found a full-time job, which dramatically increased our income. The big difference were that they had fewer fixed expenses so a larger proportion of their income was able to be put toward debt. We do pretty well in our house, too, but Stephanie’s family has us far beat both on groceries (one of our big expenses) and on rent/utilities (they live for free in their in-laws’ basement for now).

We’re different people. Different situations. But the desire to make comparisons is strong. I knew they would finish their debt journey before us. When Stephanie started blogging they were already down $40k, starting right at $100k in debt. And we didn’t even start our debt journey until a full 6 months after them. So obviously we would finish after them! We had different start points; it’s only natural we’d have different end-points.

Even so, I felt jealous.

Ohhhhh how I yearn to know what it’s like to be fully debt-free! To not owe anything to anyone.

I love listening to the debt-free screams on Ramsey’s radio show because it’s so motivating and inspiring. But somehow, reading it online caught me off-guard (my own fault, because I wasn’t following their story closer…I should’ve known it was coming up!!!)

So I try to remind myself about all the AMAZING things we have already accomplished!

Our only remaining debt is for student loans and medical debt. That means we own ALL of our possessions 100% outright (ahem – at least until we close on the house). NO ONE can come and take ANYTHING from us as a repossession or as collateral on an existing loan. Electronics, furniture, even vehicles = all are OURS!!!

And we’ve paid SO MUCH DEBT off already! Yes, we still have a long way to go. But I’m proud of where we’ve come from!

For newer readers, you might have a hard time believing that when I first started blogging here, many didn’t think I’d make it. There were whole GOMI threads dedicated to the Blogging Away Debt bloggers (Yes, I know about them. No, I don’t visit them often. And we’re rarely discussed anymore for that matter). People thought I was an airhead. Naive, dumb, blonde – whatever you want to call it.

I was a different person then than I am now. A lot has transpired in the past almost 3 years!

I still have my “airhead” moments. I am human, after all. But I’m learning.

I got my first job! I have been working hard at negotiations (for title, raise, etc.)! I’ve learned about buying (and selling) homes! I’ve been working on the ever-elusive work-life balance. And even as we’ve increased our spending on “life” stuff (e.g., date nights, family entertainment, foods-not-cooked-from-scratch), we’ve still continued to put a good proportion of our income toward debt each month. In a typical month, about 25% of our take-home pay goes straight to debt. That’s in addition to our savings goals, our monthly expenses, etc. I’m proud of that figure.

Recently I received a comment on an old post. Someone asked why I was still saving for retirement, contributing to my kids’ college accounts, and saving for an emergency fund all while trying to get out of debt. Dave Ramsey talks about how when you split priorities, you never get anything done. That’s why he’s all about focusing on one thing at a time.

I responded simply that “I’m not following Ramsey’s plan.”

I wish I could. I wish we could be that focused.

But that’s not our reality.

Most of Ramsey’s followers get out of debt in under 2 years. I believe their average is 18 months.

We’re (nearly) 3 years deep, with perhaps another 2-3 years to go.

That’s too long to put off life and living, in my opinion.

We didn’t start out with only $45,000 in debt. We had $145,000 to contend with. And a lot transpires in the 5-6 years it will take us to be fully debt-free. Too much to go without for so long. As an anecdote – I remember asking my mom for foaming hand-soaps from Bath & Body Works for my birthday one year. I distinctly remember nearly tearing up about it. I felt so deprived that I would never be able to buy a stupid $5 soap because we were using the cheap bulk soap from Costco and refilling our hand soap pumps. How I longed for those Bath & Body Works soaps. Would I ever get to have fancy soaps ever again? Surely not! We couldn’t justify a $5 soap in our tight budget!!!

I couldn’t live like that for a half decade or more. Some are stronger than me. Some may be less materialistic. Some maybe just don’t care a single iotta about their soap. And, to be fair, I still refill our hand soaps with the cheap bulk stuff from Costco. But this is just a silly example to discuss the idea of “living” while in debt-repayment. We were BARE BONES for a solid 2 years. I’m talking not a single new article of clothing, not a single professional hair cut or color, not a single vacation, all homemade foods/all the time, all from scratch/all the time, etc. I made my own baby wipes, for goodness sake!

And I just couldn’t do it forever.

At the end of the 2 year mark we made a conscious decision to loosen up the purse strings a bit. For us to make it through to the end of our journey, we just had to allow some room for “living.” Now we have monthly date nights (and we pay a babysitter to watch the girls!), we went on our first real vacation (cruise 2016) this past April, I’ve bought new clothes – mostly for work, but when I need a new pair of jeans I just buy them instead of continuing to mend and re-mend the hole-in-the-crotch of the pair I already own (true story – I mended the same hole 3 times when I first started debt repayment. I refused to buy anything new and was determined to “make do”). The point is that we had to find what worked for us so that we can make it to our own finish line.

How that looks will be different for every family.

Maybe your family can scrimp and save and not spend a penny and be out of debt in 12 months. I would be the first to congratulate you (and I’d try to not be envious!) : )

But maybe your family needs a little bit more room in the budget for discretionary spending. Maybe that’s what you need in order to survive the long haul to debt-freedom.

I don’t regret the beginning of our debt journey. I think the first two years of super-strict spending gave us the jump-start we needed and put us in the right frame of mind to succeed. But there came a time when we also needed to be realistic with ourselves about our own limitations. We couldn’t keep at it forever at that pace. Rather than fall off the wagon entirely, we made the conscious decision to loosen up the budget a little. It can be a slippery slope and it’s not the right choice for everyone. But it was the right choice for us. And we’re still making killer progress, thank you very much (latest debt update here).

So maybe this is a “do what I say, not what I do” moment.

When you feel yourself becoming envious over someone’s debt journey, remember that it’s just that – someone else. It’s not you. It doesn’t reflect on you one way or another. It’s a different person with a different situation under different circumstances. What might work for them may not work for you and vice versa. Be kind to yourself, forgive yourself, and never give up.

My debt-free date may not be right around the corner….but it will be here before we know it!

Until then, I’ll keep you in the loop about our latest adventures on the journey.

Hugs,

Ashley

 


Mid-Life Career Changes

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I come to you today with a bit of an announcement…..though nothing has actually changed yet, so it’s more of an announcement of things to come (not of things that have already transpired).

I’m sure it’s pretty evident that I’ve been overwhelmed with work lately. I haven’t been able to blog nearly as frequently as I’d like; I’ve sometimes written reactionary/overwhelmed posts (like this one); you all know the vast amount of time that it takes to deal with my Dad’s stuff; finding “balance” has been a reoccurring theme in my blog posts, etc. etc. etc.

It’s something I’ve been talking about with hubs quite a bit over the past several months (I just want to note that this is not another reactionary thing – it’s been on our minds for a long time).

So here’s the deal….I want hubs to quit his job.

Hubs is a flooring contractor. He has a couple of crews of people who work for him but he, himself, also goes out and installs floors all day every day. He’s quite good at it and takes a great deal of pride in his workmanship. But for some reason, we have been unable to grow this business. He’s done it for nearly 7 years here in Tucson (with lots of experience prior to living here, both in Florida and Texas on high-end homes). But every time he starts to expand his operations, we’re hit with HUGE blows. Typically he has someone from an install crew make some mistake and he’s left having to cover the costs to rectify the situation. I think, at most, he was once hit with a $15,000 repair. But he’s had several jobs over the years that have cost him $5,000 here or there. I’ve gotten away from giving our monthly budgets (just due to time constraints as those are one of the most time-intensive posts to write), but when I reported our income monthly I’d sometimes talk about how he had a no-income month or a negative-income month. Yes, these things tend to even out (there are super high income months, too). But, on the whole, things just don’t seem to be progressing. We feel stagnant. And unable to gain traction.

And aside from that, hubs isn’t getting any younger. Let’s face it – his job is manual labor. He’s going to need knee replacements at probably a very young age. His back aches daily and even now (at 34 years old), it takes him a couple minutes just to get up and start moving around some days. He has to stretch to make sure his knees don’t buckle beneath him.

We’ve always known this job wouldn’t last forever. But we’d hoped he would transition away from doing physical install work and toward just managing at some point. Unfortunately, we’ve been trying to do this “transition” thing for nearly 4 years now and every time he gets close, he’s hit with these huge expenses and forced to go back to working, himself. It’s just not a sustainable business strategy long-term.

Looking at the past couple of years’ taxes, we know that I make roughly the same from my part-time job that hubs makes from his full-time job. I say this not to shame him, but just to state a fact

(As a side-note, I want to mention that hubs was the sole income earner in our family for a very long time. I’m blessed beyond belief to have a work-horse as a husband! I’ve seen friends with lazy husbands who drag their feet applying for jobs or just basically refusing to work and in no way can I relate. Even when we first moved to Tucson and hubs had no official employment, he was buying and selling things on Craigslist and trying literally anything to make some extra money for our family. The man is one of the hardest workers I know).

But when I’m literally talking about quitting my part-time job because I can’t keep up with it, yet it only takes me about 15 hours per week and is bringing in the same income as hubs’ 40 hour/week job…..it just doesn’t make sense for me to be the one to let my job go.

When I first broached the subject with hubs, he was vehemently against it. Again – the man is a work-horse. He’s considered it and come to the conclusion that he would not be happy or personally fulfilled to be Mr. Mom. He wants to work. He yearns to work and provide for our family.

But then we started considering some other options. Instead of quitting work and becoming Mr. Mom/Homemaker, what if hubs throws his time into securing a new career. We’ve looked into it and he can take college classes at the university where I’m employed for literally $25/class. Yes – twenty five dollars per class. So, what if he takes a few years “off” of work, during which time he helps out more around the house and with the kids to afford me the time to dedicate to work, and simultaneously goes back to school himself so he can change career trajectories???

Hubs has “some college”, but never finished an actual degree. One field we’ve talked about, specifically, is engineering. It doesn’t require a crazy amount of school (typically the four year degree is all that’s necessary), and you come out on the other end pretty employable (unlike many fields that require different advanced degrees just to be competitive on the job market).

The big drawback to this is age. If we do this, he likely won’t be graduating until he’s 38 or 39 years old. Is that “too old” to make such a major switch in careers???

Like I said, nothing has happened yet. IF we do this (still a big “if”), we’ve talked about doing it as a slow transition. He would ramp down his business across the course of the next few months. He’d likely keep at least one crew working under his business license for the time being (he has one crew that is totally self-sufficient and does great work, so he could continue drawing a small income from the profits on their job). Then he’d look into some college courses for this coming Spring semester (starting in January).

It’s just scary to make such a major life decision. It would obviously affect our debt payoff at least a bit, but the way things are operating currently are just not sustainable. I’m talking about having to quit my (very lucrative) part-time job, which would be a big blow to our income. Losing hubs’ income would also be a big blow, but when looking at it from a perspective of time versus money, it just makes more sense to keep my part-time job and give up his full-time one given that it’s basically the same amount of money either way. To test the waters, he’s already been ramping up his help around the house. He basically does 90% of the laundry at this point, 75% of the general cleaning, and significantly more childcare (he picks up and drops off at preschool much more regularly than he used to last academic year & always takes them somewhere once every weekend so I have a few hours of dedicated work-time on Saturday or Sunday).

It’s just hard. There’s no guarantee on the other side that he’ll 100% for sure be able to go into this completely different career field. And we know that this can not be a long-term plan because, like I said, he would not find it to be a personally fulfilling lifestyle (which is very important, even though I’m sensitive to the fact that many would bend over backward to be in the position to quit their job and not have to worry about the financial implications).

So I’m just kind of laying it out there for you. I’d love to hear if you have stories of mid-life major career changes (into a totally different field all together). Do you know any books on the topic that might be helpful to read as we consider this type of major life transition? Do you have any suggestions of things we might want to research or take into consideration? For the record, yes, it will have an impact on our budget and debt payments. But, as I’ve mentioned, that’s likely to happen anyway (since the alternative is that I quit my part-time job and at some point down the road we would still need to figure out an alternative plan for hubs because he cannot physically stay in his current career forever).

In addition to constructive criticism, advice, and suggestions, I also welcome happy thoughts and prayers for clarity while we try to figure out what the best move is for our family in the coming years.

As always, thanks for your unwavering support! : )

 


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