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Expensive Day!

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Yesterday was an EXPENSIVE day, though not as bad as it could have been.

My car is a 2011 and, all in all, it has been pretty reliable. We’ve had some bad luck in the tire department in the past year, but (knock on wood), we’ve never had any major mechanical issues. All we need to do is regular, routine maintenance and the car has been great for us!

So when the brakes started squeaking a few weeks ago, I knew it would be time to replace them soon.

But life has been busy with work, school, and the holiday season approaching. I’ve kept putting it off, not wanting to spend the money. Then over the weekend, the brakes progressed from what I would describe as a “squeal” to what I would describe as a “grate.” It was truly an awful noise – the kind that hurts your ears, like nails on a chalkboard. I knew it was time to get in STAT!

I called around to a few shops to compare prices and went with a nearby shop that I trust. New brakes, rotors, fluid, and a serpentine belt later, my bill came to $643.28. Ouch! 

But never forget to Google for coupons! I’d taken my laptop and was working in the waiting room while my car was being serviced. As a last-minute thing, I decided to google coupons for the services I was receiving. And I stumbled across a 15% off coupon, good for all parts and service at the shop I was using!

When I went to pay, they scanned the coupon from my phone and my bill dropped to $549.11. BAM!

But it gets better still! The brakes I got came with a $50 online rebate. I had to wait 24-hours to enter my information, but I did so today and will be receiving a $50 rebate check in the mail in the next couple weeks.

That officially brings my total down to $499.11!

Still an expensive day, to be sure, but not nearly as bad as it could have been! And all because I was willing to do a little Google search to find applicable coupons while I waited.

No one wants to drop $500 on car repairs, especially around the holidays and at a time when we’re really not doing well financially. But to put things in perspective, $500 amounts to less than 2 months of the old car payment (I paid off the car in January 2016). Since we’ve owned the car an entire 2 years since then free-and-clear, a $500 investment here and there to keep the car in good running order is not too bad. I’m very grateful we no longer have that monthly payment in our list of bills!

 

Have you had any major car repairs lately? 


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


Cheap Halloween Kids’ Craft

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After a rocky start to the school year (and a teacher who was replaced a month into the year), we LOVE our new teacher. But I was a little nervous when she texted the class parents at 4:30pm yesterday to say she needed 5 volunteers for a Halloween party today. The volunteers would also need to bring an activity to do for the whole class, supplies and all. Yikes!

I wanted to volunteer because I was planning to work from home today anyway and one of the perks of my job is its flexibility to do things like this! I wish I’d had a little more notice so I could’ve planned a really cool activity, but I set to the interwebs ASAP to find a kids’ craft that is: 1) age appropriate for 5-year-olds, 2) quick, & 3) cheap! Since I’d be providing the supplies I couldn’t get crazy with anything too elaborate or pricey!

Luckily, I found some cute little q-tip skeletons that fit all 3 criteria.

I was able to raid our craft bin for the glue bottles, scissors, and construction paper. I found a free printable for skeleton heads (see here) and printed enough for the whole class. I already had some q-tips on hand, but not enough for the whole class, so I did a quick Target run and bough the cheap store-brand q-tips for a whopping $2.77 (for a 500-count). Can’t get much cheaper than that!

I had so much fun getting to go volunteer in the class! It’s my first time of the school year and I had an absolute blast getting to hang out with my kiddos and meet many of their friends. The kids had several different craft options to choose from, but our skeletons were a big hit (truth be told: I think the kids just wanted to play with the glue bottles because they’re typically only allowed to use glue sticks. lol)

Here’s my kiddo working on her skeleton! Very focused! Oh yeah, costumes were allowed today too. 🙂

Happy Halloween!


Summer Camp

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I realize that my stubbornness regarding the kids’ summer camp is rubbing some people the wrong way. I also realize that I am spending a great deal of money on their summer camp. In fact, the amount I am spending is probably more than I’ve spent on their weekly summer camps for the last 5 or 6 years combined. I am aware of this. I own this decision. And as much as I would like to put the money towards something else, my kids will always come first.

Summer Camp Reasoning

With that being said, and all the comments I’ve gotten each post, I felt like sharing my thoughts and reasoning was necessary. I’m sorry if you do not agree with this choice, but this is one choice I am not willing to reconsider.

  • The kids will be 13 and 14 next year. It will most likely be their last year going to summer camp. They will both be old enough to get part time jobs the following year, and will want to (they already want to.)
  • They are REALLY isolated in this tiny town. As much I attempt to get them out and involved, it’s just a completely different world here. These weeks are camp at are a needed respite from that isolation. And they LOVED this camp this past summer.
  • Although I have been attempting to hire someone to help facilitate getting them out and about, even just to volunteer opportunities, well, I haven’t had any luck. The summer is worse since their brother will be gone again. They understand that this camp commitment will replace any chance of me hiring someone, and they are in agreement.
  • They shoot guns, ride horses, jump off huge platforms onto blobs in the lake, play nightly games, go camping and so much more that they have never done before. Some I’ve never done before. I want these experiences for them. I never got to go to summer camp. I want this for my kids. I can’t give them everything I want to give them, but I can give them this. This is in my grasp now.
  • And probably the most selfish reason of all, but with this camp, I get TWO WHOLE WEEKS of me time. As a single mom, this is just a breathe of fresh air. Two weeks where I don’t have to drive anyone anywhere, feed anyone, answer calls about drama at home and so on. Unless you have walked in my shoes, don’t judge. I don’t EVER get a break, NEVER.

This is my justification, excuse, whatever you want to call it for the camp commitment. I know it is delaying my debt free life a little while. But I also know I won’t get this time back with my kids, they won’t get time in their life back.

I can’t be the only one with a hold out in their “minimizing budget.” Do you have an item in your budget that others would question? What is your Achilles heal when it comes to your money choices? Obviously mine is my kids and their activities.


Three Recent Purchases

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I’ve been talking about all this money we’d spent in summer but haven’t given specifics. There’s a lot to talk about in the context of that whole conversation, but today I wanted to pop in quickly with 3 recent purchases (made in the last 3-4 months).

1. Hot Water Heater

When we bought our house in November, we new we would need to purchase a new hot water heater soon. It was original to the house (almost 30 years old) and had a huge dent in the side. Most of our home had been updated semi-recently before we bought it, but the hot water heater was still original. It never really worked great, but over the summer it totally puttered out, requiring a replacement. Not a huge expense, but an easy $350 on the old Home Depot credit card. (Cha-ching!)

2. A New Tire (again)

Can we all agree that I have the worst luck in the world with tires? I replaced two tires in April, then we had a blow-out in June which required 2 more tires to be purchased. If I’d purchased all at one time I could’ve saved a lot of money, but I hadn’t realized I was in a situation where I’d be buying 2 more tires only two months after the first 2 tires. And the blow-out occurred while driving on a cross-country trip, so it was a pretty huge ordeal at the time. WELL, fast forward to early September. I was driving on my way to work and had another blow-out. All I can guess is it was due to construction debris along the highway. There was no real “cause” (didn’t hit or run over anything obvious) and the tires were brand new. Guess which tire blew out? One of the two that were replaced in that out-of-state tiny-town repair shop. No warranty. So add another tire to the credit card (cha-ching!)

3. Halloween Masks

I really have no business being in any retail stores right now, but the girls had a friends birthday party at a Michael’s Craft store (did you know they hosted parties? the kids really had a blast!). Anyway, while walking around I noticed that all the Halloween stuff was 60% off!!! I love Michaels because they’re one of the only places that will do big sales before a holiday (not just after it’s passed). These little face masks were originally $1.00, but I scooped them up for 40 cents each. I bought 8 in total and have invited some of the kids’ friends (and their moms) over for a playdate this weekend. The friends’ parents are going to bring craft stuff to decorate with (e.g., sequins, feathers, pom-poms, etc.). I’m going to provide the masks and paint (which we already own) and will have some snacks we can share from our pantry/Costco snack stash. Cheap little playdate. Also the only one of the 3 items on this list that I was pumped to buy! Forty cent face masks?! Can’t argue with that! Woo!

 

What’s one of your recent purchases?


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?


Giving Along The Way

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On my way to work this morning I was listening to an old episode of the Dave Ramsey Show (side note with some of my favorite podcasts to check out:  This American Life, The Bobby Bones Show, The Dave Ramsey Show, Science Friday, and Serial).

I was listening to a Millionaire Theme Hour. Those, along with the standard Debt-Free calls, are my favorite segments of The Dave Ramsey Show! Anywho, I was listening as Dave talked to all these normal people about how they’d managed to acquire a net worth of $1million+. One of the questions Dave asks everyone is, “What part did giving play in your journey?”  His theory is that most millionaires are incredibly generous people. Contrary to what many people think, the average millionaire is NOT a stingy money-grubbing old scrooge.

As I listened, I started to think about the role that giving has played in our family along our journey to become debt-free. The topic of giving while in debt has come up before on the blog and has proven to be a pretty controversial subject. For the first two years of our journey, we scaled WAY back on our giving! We probably gave less than $100 to charitable organizations in all of 2014. However, we soon realized that in our area we could make tax credit donations. As a quickie for anyone without the program (I’m originally from Texas where there are no state income taxes so I’d never heard of it!), donations to specific approved organizations can be made instead of paying state income taxes directly to the state (this is obviously a very simplified statement – see here for more details). It’s not the same thing as a deduction, in which any charitable donation is deducted from your income for tax purposes. Instead, let’s say that I owed $600 in Arizona state taxes. Instead of writing a $600 check to the state of Arizona, I can literally split up that $600 and send $200 here or there (to approved organizations only) and deduct an equal amount (dollar-for-dollar) from what I owe the state. So if I donate all $600 to qualified organizations of my choice, I don’t owe the state a penny. So this is not additional money being donated. This is money I would already have to spend one way or another (for taxes), that, instead, I’m sending to an organization (or organizations) that I support.

In 2015 we took advantage of our state’s tax credit program for the first time to donate to two organizations that were important to us:  1. the preschool our kids attend, and 2. the local Wings on Words program for children with speech/language delays or disabilities. The former for obvious reasons and the latter because we have a long history of working with and supporting our local WoW program.

In 2016 we still took advantage of our state’s tax credit program (we owed more that year, so we were able to expand our donations). We donated to: 1. kid’s current preschool, 2. kid’s future elementary school, 3. local Wings on Words program, and 4. local foster care organization. In addition to maxing out all of our tax credit donations, we also expanded our giving to include a few additional places that don’t qualify for our state’s tax credit program. We donated to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and our local church. The total of the non-tax credit donations for the year was $200. Still not a ton, but up from the giving of the previous two years (again, keeping in mind that all of the tax-credit donations were money that we had to spend anyway in taxes).

This year (2017), we haven’t done a ton of giving yet. Most of our big giving is still in the form of tax credit donations and we typically do that giving toward the end of the year. However, I’ve already made small donations (under $100, combined) to March of Dimes, the Autism Society of America, and the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society.

Thinking about our family’s giving, I feel a little bit torn. On one hand, money is extra-tight this summer and in general given that hubs has stopped working/gone back to school and that we have such huge financial goals for our family this year! At the same time, all of our “extra” (non tax-credit) giving has been in small quantities and has gone toward organizations that we have personal connections with. For instance, March of Dimes is huge because it funds so much research for premature birth! Our twins were born 8 weeks early, spent a month in the NICU, and would not have survived if they were born 20 years ago because the life-saving technology had literally not been invented yet at that time. So that’s an organization very near and dear to our family. The same is true of all the other organizations we support as well. There’s always some personal connection or reason why we support a cause. So even though I know we really can’t afford to be giving in large quantities at this time, I would hate to eliminate our giving entirely. And I cannot wait until we’re completely debt-free and giving can be a larger part of our financial picture. Probably still a couple years out on that though.

What do you think about giving while in debt? Did/Do you donate to any charitable organizations while working on getting out of debt? Why or why not? What role has giving played in your financial picture, in general?

 

 


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