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Starting to Review the Next Step

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Within 8 weeks of this post, I will be consumer debt free.  I will also have saved approximately $5,000 from new jobs, odd jobs and selling a few odds and ends here and there over the last few months.  Now I have to plan the next step.

If I kept going at the rate I’m going with no other changes, paying $2,400 per month towards debt, my student loan debt would be wiped out by the fall of next year.  Isn’t that amazing!

However, we are going to need a car especially by September when school starts back, not to mention the idea of traveling in our sardine can is starting to give me and the kids hives.  Just a quick trip up to one of Little Gymnast meets had us all saying “never again.”  And since I’ve taken on new work with teaching both in person and online, I am definitely going to need some help in getting everyone everywhere.  Not to mention, both the twins are ready for a bit more independence.

We have already established that the twins will be paying 50% of their car insurance, plus gas and maintenance on their car.  (It’s in great shape so other than routine stuff, not anticipating any big bills for the time being.)  That means I will up my insurance payments a bit to help them out (anticipating $100 monthly increase on my part.)

So my thought at this point is to find a family car, obviously older that gets relatively good gas mileage which would be comfortable for us to travel in a bit (remember two trips to GA to see family over the next 5 months.)

I know there are going to be lots of opinions on this.  So the facts are…when this happens my only debt payments will be to my student loan currently right at $300 per month.  I will have $5K saved from recent odd jobs (this does not include approx $3K in my EF.)  So tell me what you think…

 


“Free” Swim Lessons & A Preschool Update

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Remember when I put out the question of whether it would be a worthwhile expense to pay for swim lessons for my girls this summer? As a reminder, they have never been in any paid activity (ballet, soccer, swim, etc.) in their entire lives with the exception of childcare.

Well we just got letters sent home from our girls’ preschool (they attend the Jewish Community Center). We signed permission slips for the girls to go to the pool over the summer months where they will be receiving swim lessons from certified water safety instructors! This is “free” to us (in quotations because we pay a lot for the childcare, itself, but we are not required to pay any additional money for the swim lesson services). So YAY!!! I was super excited about this because I had NO IDEA this was going to happen! What a selling point/benefit for parents! I’m surprised they didn’t make a big deal about this when we first enrolled our kids here (they didn’t even mention that over the summer they do swim lessons!) To be fair, it’s surely not as in-depth as paid lessons (they go for 30 minutes twice per week for a few weeks in the summer), but it will teach them the basics and won’t cost us additional money out of pocket. Win-win!!

So that’s the free swim lesson update. Onto the preschool update…

Currently we pay a TON for very high quality care (see our budget where these costs are outlined here). Finding care for children aged 2 and under is challenging in our area. There were cheaper options available, but the quality wasn’t nearly as good. You can read about one of our experiences here. So we were willing to pay extra for really high quality care. There were two main issues related to this when we chose to go to the JCC. 1. Cost, and 2. Distance. Our current childcare facility is a full 30-40 minutes away. And since I work from home, that’s a 60-80 minute round-trip twice per day (once for drop-off and once for pick-up).

When the girls first started I was pretty diligent about staying at the JCC the whole day. I’d work in the library, then move to the patio, out to the commons area, etc. But there were lots of distractions and across time I found myself simply driving home more and more often. This, of course, meant less work-time since I was spending more time driving. In the past month or two all this driving has really become burdensome for me professionally speaking. I’ve had difficulty getting my work done in the limited hours available to me. The girls are in preschool 21 hours per week, but I easily have 30 hours worth of work. Not to mention the driving time means that the 21 preschool hours really only equals about 17-ish hours of actual work time. Less when you factor in other miscellaneous errands or activities (e.g., I’d often go to the gym at the JCC for 30-45 minutes when I’d drop off the girls. This reduces my work hours even more…now down to about 15-ish per week). The point is that I ended up working more and more late in the evenings and/or on weekends and felt my overall productivity waning. Toward the end of the Spring semester I was barely hanging on by a thread. Still taking care of my responsibilities, but just barely.

So we knew it was time to move the girls to a new preschool facility. They turn 3 in June and a ton of new options will become available to them (many preschools are only for potty-trained kids age 3 and up, so they weren’t options last summer). I found one place I really like (I spoke about it here). Last Friday I went to the preschool office and paid the enrollment fee ($75 per child) so starting this Fall (the preschool year is the same as the academic year in our area – starting in August and running through May), our girls will officially be starting a new preschool!!!

I’m super excited because both of our big issues with the JCC (price and distance) will be resolved to some extent. Instead of a 30-40 minute drive, our new preschool is about a 10-15 minute drive. And we’ll be saving some money, too. I ended up deciding to enroll the girls in 5 half-days instead of 3 full-days. The difference is 21 hours (for 3 full days) versus 25 hours (for 5 half days). The price is going to be about $800/month for both kids. We’re currently paying over $1,000/month so we’ll be saving a couple hundred a month (not to mention gasoline and having more work-able hours since I won’t be driving as far). I wish we’d be saving more, but I think this was a good compromise and I’m happy with the trade-off.

We do have to be officially “accepted” to the program (I had to fill out a huge application packet and they’ll notify me within 2 weeks if we’re accepted or not), but the woman at the front desk didn’t seem worried about it. My guess is its more of a formality to make sure there aren’t glaring red flags about the family or children somehow. I think we’ll be okay (fingers crossed).

So now let’s just hope that the transition is a smooth one. The new preschool has fabulous reviews and I coincidentally met a mom at the park whose kids go to the preschool and she just raved about it. So I’ve got high hopes!

Do you pay for summertime activities for your kids (if you want to share, just out of curiosity, I’d love to know how much you pay and what the activity is)?

How much do you pay for childcare?


Nooooo!!!!!!!!

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That was my immediate thought when I opened my email inbox to discover THIS message waiting for me inside.

Screen Shot 2015-05-09 at 7.17.53 AM

So there’s that. ACS (with whom I’ve never ever had a single issue) has sold my loans to Navient (with whom I’ve had multiple and ongoing issues). So that’s good.

I’ve got a couple months until the transition is complete, but I’m really contemplating what to do regarding my loans.

I’m still set on my current plan: focusing predominantly on my car loan, while also paying aggressively on my balance-transfer student loan. But, ugh! My passionate hatred for my student loan company makes me wish I could just write a check, pay them all off, and never deal with them again.

My Income Based Repayment (IBR) renewal is on the horizon as well, and once I submit our 2014 tax information I’m anticipating that my monthly payments will be going up a bit. I’m really not sure by how much (side note: one good thing is that they take into consideration income AND expenses…although our income went up in 2014 compared to 2013, so did our childcare expenses. We were paying $600/month when I initially applied for IBR, but we currently pay nearly double that, so hopefully that will help offset the increased income a bit in determining our monthly payment obligations).

Random question (I’m sure I could call and ask but thought I’d throw it out here)… for anyone else who has done IBR payments, when you renew does your payment immediately change or does it not change until the end of the year? I ask because I don’t have to renew until August, but I’m getting emails to renew now. Just wondered if I went ahead and renewed now if my payment would immediately change or if the change wouldn’t go into effect until August.


Mother’s Day 2015 Toddler Craft

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Writing at this blog has been transformative for me. Just one of the many, many changes has been in regard to gift-giving.

Prior to writing here I would always send some type of (usually $$$) gift for Mother’s Day to all the important women in my life. I am fortunate to have many: My mom, 2 living grandmothers on my side, hubs’ mom, and one grandma on his side. That’s FIVE people to whom we’d send gifts every Mother’s Day. Generally I’d spend about $50/person. I remember shipping Bath and Body Works gift packages one year. I did a chocolate-of-the-month gift one year. I’ve done gift cards to restaurants. You get the picture. This holiday was pricey for me.

But it doesn’t have to be that way! Matt wrote an excellent post where he discussed that all his Mom really wants is time together with the family (his post was specifically about his Mom’s birthday, but I think the same applies to Mother’s Day).

I’m in an unfortunate situation where we can’t easily spend time together since we live so far away. BUT, that doesn’t mean that our only option is to spend a bunch of money on stuff/junk that no one really needs anyway (side note: that chocolate-of-the-month club was one of the more expensive gifts I’ve sent, and was a miserable failure as every.single.month the chocolate arrived totally melted).

So I’ve really enjoyed doing these cheap little toddler crafts. I think it’s so much more meaningful to the recipients than it would be to receive a gift card or the newest lotion and candle from B&B Works. Not only do the recipients get a gift of love, but I like to snap a couple pictures of the girls actually making the craft that I include in the card. The total cost is typically less than $3/card (honestly, probably much less than that. I already have a huge craft box, so I only ever buy envelopes, stamps, and the cost of the pictures that I include). And I’ve gone back to Texas to visit and seen these works of art hanging on fridges, or framed and hung on a wall like a true piece of art (<<This is for real. I was so shocked and humbled to see the girls’ flower art on the wall of their Nana’s home, in a frame and everything. Warmed my heart).

The whole point is that if you think outside the box, you can often think of more meaningful and less costly gifts for ANY type of occasion than you would if you’re just rushing to the nearest Walgreens to buy a generic gift card to stuff inside a Hallmark card.

So, sorry if you’re getting tired of these craft ideas. I know I’ve done a bunch of these now…and I spared you my Easter craft this year because we did one of those, too! Here’s a quick pic for proof:

Toddler Easter Card/Craft Idea

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Oops, apparently I never took a pic of the finished product, but here’s a quick explanation…

I made little Easter eggs (here, you see the tracing outline of 2 eggs on a piece of white paper), and let the girls color the paper for decoration. I then cut out along the outside and folded the two end flaps to meet in the middle. I had a picture of the girls inside so when you opened the egg you saw a picture of them! Pretty cute, right? Most of my crafts are ideas I’ve seen on Pinterest, but this one was entirely my own! ; )

But here it is… my annual Mother’s Day toddler craft (previous toddler craft posts include:  Easter 2014, Mother’s Day 2014Valentine’s 2014 & 2015).

Toddler Mother’s Day Craft Idea

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This was a super easy-peasy one (the painting crafts are always a little more time-intensive since they require mandatory baby clean-up/baths afterward). I started by giving the girls markers to color on long white paper (we just used the paper that came with our art easel, seen in this post). Then I traced the girls’ hands onto some colored construction paper and measured their arm span. That’s it for the girls’ part! Sooo easy!

After they went to bed for the night I cut the long white paper into strips. I wanted the paper to be the actual length of the girls’ armspan, so that’s why I took their measurements. I glued the two hands to the end and wrote the message (I love you…. THIS Much!!!) On each craft I used one hand that was Bailey’s and one that was Brooke’s so I labeled their hands on the back and wrote on the back of the white paper “actual armspan” so the recipients would know that this is a true-to-scale long-distance HUG from the girls! Isn’t that cute!

Since there really wasn’t room on the back of the hands to write a nice message, I also bought cheap Mother’s Day cards from the Dollar Tree (2 for $1). I wrote a personal message to each recipient, included a couple of recent photos of the girls, and slipped the “hug” inside.

DONE!

If you are still looking for an easy and cheap Mother’s Day craft, this is the way to go! This was by far one of the easiest crafts I’ve done to date. The whole thing start-to-finish took maybe 10 minutes and I made 6 crafts (I’ll send 5 out for Mother’s Day gifts and I’m saving one to send to my Dad for his birthday later this month).

I hope you all have a great rest of your week, and a happy early mother’s day to all the moms out there! (and hugs to all the motherless daughters on what I’m sure is a painful and/or bittersweet day. Here’s a post a friend shared on Facebook that you may find of interest).


Cheap Going Away Gift Basket

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Since my friend was moving cross-country, I decided to put together a little going away roadtrip-ready gift basket. This was super cheap to put together, but is thoughtful and practical at the same time.

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In my basket I included:

  • 3 current magazines, purchased through trade-in credit at our local used bookstore (tip: this is a great idea for magazines to flip through while you travel, too. They sell current issues for as little as $1 at our store). Cost: $0
  • 3 dollar store snacks (Corn Nuts, Yogurt-covered pretzels, and trail mix). Cost: $3
  • 3 candies from Walgreens (Skittles, Lemon heads, and Rasinetes). Cost: $3
  • 1 basket from Dollar Tree. Cost $1

Total Cost: $7

Another idea that I had after I’d already given the basket to my friend was to include a gift card that could be used for something to listen to. Ideas include iTunes (to download music or audiobooks) or a Cracker Barrel gift card, since you can rent books on CD from Cracker Barrel and return to any other location (and since Cracker Barrels are typically directly off of highways, its super convenient to rent and return items).

The whole basket was very inexpensive for me, but I like these types of gifts that can be meaningful (and/or practical) without having a big price tag. I feel like blogging here has really helped make me more creative in that regard (instead of just defaulting to buying a $25 Home Depot gift card for a moving-away friend as I might have in the past).

Speaking of more meaningful and low-cost gifts, I’ve been working on another Mother’s Day gift toddler craft (reminder:  Mother’s Day is this Sunday!!). I’ll try to get a post up soon in case anyone is interested in doing something similar for a special woman(-en) in your life!

 


April ’15- Month in Review

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I hope everyone is having a fantastic week thus far!

I want to start doing a “month in review” here on BAD to clue everyone in on what’s occurred during the previous month. I think this will help summarize what’s going on in my life as we move forward on my debt reduction journey and allow people to quickly get up to speed that didn’t catch my weekly updates.

To summarize, A LOT occurred in April:

  • I began the month (technically it was March 31st, but let’s call it April) by telling you what’s been bothering me even since I started my hardcore paydown (read it here). This was the hardest to write but most heart felt post to date. Update: I’m starting to realize time is more important than money and or gifts, and spending time with people and giving them a minute or two every couple of days is priceless.
  • I vowed to help my sister by contributing to a 529 in my nephew’s name (read it here). Update: I officially opened up an ESA (not 529) account in my nephew’s name over the weekend. The first contribution will be this Wednesday.
  • In the same post, I decided to re-contribute into my company’s 401K plan (read it here). Update: All the paperwork has been filed and I’m set to start contributing 4% (giving me the max. 2% company match, as well) of my paycheck this Wednesday.
  • I also decided to start budgeting for $50 of “fun” money per month to use to go out with friends (read it here). Update: I’m going to set the $50 aside on the 2nd Wednesday of every month for the following 4 weeks. I don’t have any other bills, except my electric due at this time.
  • I came across a roof leak in our house and freaked out! (read it here) Update: I haven’t opened any ceilings yet (mostly out of fear) but it’s been dry now since the day I ventured upon it. We’ve had some pretty good rainstorms already this year, so if it was from rainwater, I feel it would still be wet. My hunch is still ice dams.
  • I got a work bonus and a raise! (read it here) Update: The bonus was quickly put into my savings account. The raise has amounted to $17 a paycheck, but every additional penny helps.
  • We (GF and I) finally got around to celebrating Valentine’s Day, while also doing a fun little getaway up in Buffalo, NY (read it here).
  • Lastly, I got around to putting  our summer plans down on paper (read it here). It may not seem like much but I have a feeling it’s going to be a busy one this year!

For those interested in where my budget shook out:

April '15

I had some major expenses this month: 1) a tax bill close to $200. Since my I didn’t pay enough taxes last year to match my income (which was greatly increased due to pulling out my retirement fund), I owe the state of PA estimated quarterly taxes this year. 2) Our get-away cost nearly $400 in total 3) I spent more for groceries and dinner than I normally do. After my post to kick-off the month, I’m not too upset about this.

In debt reduction notes:

I reduced it by OVER $2,500!!

Pretty exciting stuff.

However, all good news aside, I had thoughts last week of stopping my debt reduction pay down altogether (obviously I’d still pay the minimums), which would have also meant writing for BAD, too. As I was sitting my car thinking about everything, I couldn’t help but wonder if instead of throwing every extra cent at debt, if I threw every extra cent into my savings. It would build quickly, giving me a large enough windfall to get through any obstacle, and when the balance was big enough, I could use it to pay off all the debt at once, alleviating my stress while giving me comfort that I won’t be in debt forever. After talking it over with GF, the feeling came to pass. With savings interest rates so low, it wouldn’t make a ton of sense mathematically, but, as I’ve always said, being in debt is a psychological, as well as, financial burden.

But what do you think? Do you ever get feelings like this? If so, did you suddenly change course, or did you let it pass? Let me know in the comments!

Have a fantastic week!


Ashley’s April 2015 Budget Update

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Happy Monday! Hope you had a good weekend, wherever you are! We spent our Saturday morning at the splash pad and Sunday morning at church. A fun and relaxing little weekend (wishing it weren’t already nearly 100* in Tucson)!

Now that we’re officially in May, here’s an update on how we did with our budget in April.

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1055
Electricity 101
Water 53
Natural gas 22
Sprint (2 lines) 115
Cable/Internet 99
Car Insurance 58
Health Insurance 394
Trash 35
Preschool 1035
Gift-Giving 37
Restaurants 125
Entertainment 16
Groceries 416
Gasoline 75
Household Goods 93
Clothing 20
Parking 8
Toddler purchases 40
Rainy Day Savings 100
Savings Goals 500
Debt Payments 1796
Total  $6193

 

Some notes:

  • Gift-Giving included a going away gift basket (post coming soon), the purchase of some mother’s day cards, and another baby present (I’ll be sending a baby present this month too…I think this makes 3 months in a row. I’m definitely at “that” stage in life, lol).
  • Restaurants was a little over my typical $100 budget due to all the get-togethers this month (one for a dissertation defense and two for going-away celebrations).
  • Entertainment included a couple songs on itunes and some supplies we bought for when we went camping (I consider camping to be entertainment, and therefore, it was included in this category).
  • Household goods was a little high this month. I finally got some gardening supplies (soil, a new pot, some herbs), and I got Costco-sized packages of toilet paper and laundry soap.
  • Clothing included purchase of two $10 pair of water shoes for the girls. Their preschool class goes to the splash park twice a week and water shoes are required. I got the shoes (which were some of the cheapest I found, but still of good quality) online from Target. I use a Target card because I get 5% off and free shipping to my house! (I pay the card in full whenever used)
  • Toddler Purchase is a C0stco sized box of diapers.
  • Rainy Day Savings represents $50 each, toward my health fund (including dental/vision/health) and my annual fees fund. I use Capital One 360 to easily separate my money for these different savings goals (<<refer a friend link).
  • Savings Goals represents $400 toward Cruise 2016 and $100 toward a Roth IRA.
  • Debts. This figure is broken down here (and in my most recent debt update post):
    • $100 PenFed car payment
    • $453 student loan payments (that’s ACS and Navient payments)
    • $1119 for our very last license fee(!!!)
    • $124 toward medical debt

So there you have it. I’ve got to run. Hope your week is off to a great start!