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Ashley’s March 2016 Budget Update

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Hey guys! Only a week behind with March’s budget update. Trust me, one week behind isn’t too bad for me right now. heh. Work is a bit in overdrive, but I love it. I’m gearing up, getting ready to be out of town for a solid 8 day cruise and working like a crazy person to try to get everything set just right to run on auto-pilot (fingers crossed) while I’m gone.

Here’s how the month of March went for me:

 

Place Amount Spent
Rent 1200
Down Payment Savings 2000
Electricity 176
Water 61
Natural gas 105
Cell Phones (2 lines) 89
Cable/Internet 97
Trash 35
Preschool 1085
Gift-Giving 189
Restaurants 157
Entertainment 102
Kids Activities 142
Groceries 573
Gasoline 108
Household Goods 144
Clothing 157
Rainy Day Savings 1580 (minus deductions, see below)
Savings Goals 800 (minus deductions, see below)
Debt Payments 2134
Total Budgeted $10,934

 

Comments:

Down Payment Savings ($2000): This is right on track.” The goal is to get to $10,000 by summer time. I’ve had a couple questions about the house-hunting journey. We have NOT started “hunting” yet (though we’ve been doing searches on Zillow just-for-fun and grabbing flyers from homes that are for sale just for comparison). With everything going on, we decided to wait until after the cruise to start hiring people (e.g., realtor, mortgage lender). Our goal is to move late summer or possibly early fall. Our current lease is up at the end of August but our landlord will let us go month-to-month at our current rate (no increase) if we haven’t closed yet by that time. The ideal situation would be to close in late August so there’s just a little overlap of about a week or so. But I know these things can be so unpredictable and we’re lucky to have flexibility with our current landlord. We do NOT, however, want to move much earlier than August (since we’d then be paying double rent/mortgage). So we are not actively on the house-hunt yet. 

Electricity ($176): Remember our outrageous electric bill from February? Fortunately, we only got caught by surprise that one month. Since then, the A/C and heater have both been turned OFF. There have been some hot days (and some cold nights), but it’s been within a range that we as a family could deal with (nothing too extreme). It’s been in the mid-90*s a couple times this week already, so we’ll see how long we can go without any A/C. I already got the bill for April and it’s UNDER $100!!! I’m loving the lower electric bills right now but, like I said…we’ll see how long this lasts (Tucson’s summers are brutal!) The A/C will have to go on at some point.

Gift-Giving ($189): Similar to last month, almost all of this was a charitable donation I made so we could max out Arizona’s tax credit. $25 was for a wedding gift, which was the only non-donation portion of the gift-giving.

Entertainment ($102): A few bucks of this was for music on itunes. The rest was from a date night. As promised, hubs and I are planning to do about one date per month this year (in the past 2 years we rarely ever had date nights). So expect this category to be a bit higher this year in compared to previous years.

Kids’ Activities ($142): This was a high-spending month for kids’ activities. The bulk of this was from our weekly swim lessons (April is the last month for our lessons; we may re-start once it’s summer time, but the initial point of the swim was to get the kids comfortable around water before our cruise. They’ve been making great strides with safety and although they aren’t fully able to swim, of course, they have learned all kinds of life-saving measures if they were to fall in. Safety was my main concern). $40 of this was from horseback riding lessons and farm time that we did while the girls were on Spring Break. The person who does it is a friend-of-a-friend. She is the Benson Butterfield Rodeo Queen. She lives on a nearby farm and lets kids come out and experience “farm time” (basically feeding and petting/playing with all the animals) for $15/hour and horseback riding lessons for $20/hour. I split the lesson so each child had 30 minutes of instruction and tipped an extra $5 just because she was extremely accommodating. Still kind of spendy for us, but it was a ton of fun and was a great way to spend a couple hours during Spring Break week.

Groceries ($573):  After months and months of struggling to keep this number below $600, we finally pulled it off this month. I think it helped that I had increased flexibility over Spring Break (so I was at the house, able to do more food prep, etc.). I’ve also been making a really conscious effort to prep foods on Sunday for the week to come. I’ve gone so far as to portion out daily portions of fruits and snacks; I’ve pre-cooked chicken breasts for lunches; I’ve pre-washed, peeled and chopped up carrots into sticks for snacks; I’ve pre-made breakfasts (e.g., like making a big batch of pancakes that can be refrigerated/frozen and re-heated in a toaster), etc. etc. etc.  It’s tedious and time consuming and not always the way I want to spend my Sunday afternoons (I typically do everything while the girls nap), but it’s made my life MUCH easier during the week when I do my prep versus when I don’t.

Household Goods ($144): This category is pretty high this month because I spent $100 on stuff for my office. I bought a 5 x 7 rug, a big wall clock, and a painting (all from Big Lots).  I started this job last July, but it just now looks like I’ve actually moved into my office space. It’s really nice, especially since I spend a lot of time there.

Clothing ($157): This is a bit higher than normal for us. A good chunk of it was new shoes for the girls. Kids feet just grow so fast, I tell ya! But we’ve gone the cheap shoe route and they tend to fall apart, so we opt for slightly nicer tennis shoes. This also includes a couple of new work shirts from me from Wish (see my review here) and new summer PJs for the girls since they’ve gotten hot and sweaty a couple of times at night in their long-sleeved jammies (still using no A/C, remember?) ; )

Rainy Day Savings ($1580): I deposited $1580 into my various rainy day funds (though some money was also withdrawn from these accounts.) See below:

  • 3-6 Month EF: $1,000 (goal is to get to $5,000).
  • Birthdays: $200. The girls’ birthday is on the horizon in June. To date, we’ve never had an actual birthday party for them, but we want to this year for the first time. It will still be simple (at our house, not another venue), but we’re going to start throwing a couple hundred a month toward this savings category so we don’t get caught by surprise in June.
  • Travel/Christmas $50. We like to save at least $50/month in this category, as finances allow (sometimes we skip it if needed).
  • Annual Fees: $280 deposited (though I withdrew $484 for a vehicle emissions inspection and registration for 2 years. That leaves us with $150 still in the account currently)
  • Girls’ College Savings: $50. This is a standard auto-payment that we do every month. $25/month per child isn’t a lot, but it’s better than nothing and that’s what we’re comfortable doing right now while we’re still financially focused on getting out of debt (and buying a house!!!)

Savings Goals ($800): $800 was deposited but there were also withdrawals. See below:

  • Savings for 2015 Roth IRA: $300 deposited. Another note about this is listed below.
  • Cruise 2016: $500. I also withdrew $35 from my cruise fund to buy some new clothes for the trip.

Debt:  I gave a full debt update here.

Final Thoughts:

We ended up putting more toward debt this month than we’d originally thought we would because the balance transfer really needed to be paid off before April (and we did manage to make that happen). It all worked out, though, because we still hit our goal of $2,000 toward the house down payment fund, and we still started hitting several of our other savings goals. We’ll continue to beef up our emergency fund, specifically, in addition to our other “rainy day savings” funds in the months to come.

Related to savings, I didn’t report the “withdrawal” above because it technically occurred in early April, but I took $1500 out of the “savings for 2015 Roth IRA” and put it into our Roth account (last year was the first year we opened a Roth, with a meager $1300 contribution). Our contribution this year wasn’t great either, but it’s better than nothing and 10% of my paycheck is auto-deducted and invested into a 401(k), so this is actually a little deceiving because we certainly saved more than just $1500 this year.

So there you have it. The big goal remains the same: Save up money for a downpayment for a house, beef up our emergency fund, and continue knocking those student loans in the face. It’s more like little jabs right now while we’re saving so much. But soon it will be full-blown punches! I’m coming for you, student loans! Mwhahaha (<evil debt-paying laugh).


Latest Student Loan Update

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I hate student loans. Like, with a fiery passion. I guess they serve a purpose (I would not have been able to get my degrees without them; at least not in the timeframe I did), but there’s just so much wrong with the student loan industry I can’t even start….

*Deep breaths*

Okay. Like I was saying. I hate student loans.

Where does this come from?

Well, my own foolishness, really. I graduated in August 2013. At that time, my loans began accumulating interest. I buried my head in the sand and worked on paying down my credit cards and other consumer debts but didn’t so much as touch the student loans.

And the balances grew, and grew, and grew some more.

It’s disgusting really. When I look at my student loan balances at the end of February 2014 to today, even though I’ve recently started paying more toward the dang things, the overall balance is still up. Of course it is. How could I touch nearly $100,000 of student loan debt when I was so focused on paying down other debts?

I’m not saying I was wrong in doing this. I needed to be consumer debt-free. Needed it.

It was just the motivation necessary to really focus and recommit to get rid of the student loans to begin with.

Let’s back up.

For any new readers, I have a long history of being screwed around by Navient (formerly Sallie Mae). I’ve documented it in what has now become basically a mini-series (see here, here, here). When I last left off, Navient had bought a large student loan I had with ACS. When it transferred over, Navient switched it from a subsidized loan to an unsubsidized loan. This is a HUGE deal to me because I’m on income-based repayment (IBR) and, under this plan, unpaid interest is forgiven on subsidized loans (but NOT for unsubsidized loans). All the electronic records at ACS disappeared and Navient claimed they were unavailable due to the transfer. I had NO proof (besides this little old bloggy) to show that the loans had, indeed, been subsidized the entire time I’ve had them (thus, why the balances had never grown in spite of my measley not-large-enough-to-cover-interest payments. I never even chipped into the principal balance, but since unpaid interest was forgiven, the balances remained exactly the same month after month).

Now Navient is charging me money for interest, claiming the loan was always unsubsidized (definitely not true).

You guys. It makes me so angry that my blood just boils! It’s hard to talk about without losing composure.

I got a third party group involved, the Ombudsman Group. In the meantime I also wrote all my legislatures about my experiences. I’ve spoken with several representatives inside Navient. I’ve jumped through hoops to try to prove these loans were subsidized. Navient had me call the loan guarantor, I had to track down an original master promissory note from my old university (this was a loan from my Master’s degree back in Florida). The list of things goes on, and on, and on. But all of it was pointless, as even the original promissory note does NOT list the type of loan (i.e., subsidized versus unsubsidized).

Ombudsman Group conducted an investigation and after literal months, I got the call. They are siding with Navient. Because apparently the loan on the government’s website is called Loan 07 Unsubsidized.

Let me repeat.

THE NAME OF THE FREAKING LOAN IS ‘UNSUBSIDIZED.’

To me, this is proof of nothing. Any dummy could have labeled or misnamed the loan. Where is any paperwork proving that the loan was unsubsidized? Why can Navient not furnish any of the past paperwork and history of this loan (that was originally through ACS)? Why does ACS simply delete every trace of the loan as if it never existed so I cannot retrieve old records from them either? I’ll mention, also, that I do have some old ACS statements, but they ONLY provide the payment due. They say nothing about subsidized versus unsubsidized, nor do they even provide the loan balance. It literally only gives the payment due amount.

Because of the name that someone typed up for this loan I’m now out hundreds of dollars in interest. The name, which I don’t trust, nor do I believe, lest the government has screwed itself out of interest from me for the entire time the loan was housed through ACS and I’m SURE they’re not just giving me free interest for over half a decade – the loan is from 2009 – unless the loan REALLY IS A SUBSIDIZED LOAN. Only I can’t prove it.

So there you have it. Chapter closed.

The loan is too high of a balance for me to do a full balance transfer on (my limit for the transfer is $7500 and the loan is nearly $18,000). But I’m seriously considering halving the loan by doing a balance transfer on half. This one specific loan (out of my long, long list of student loans) is EATING ME ALIVE. I want to slam my head into a wall over the injustice that is occurring to me and, undoubtedly, countless others in the student loan world. The scary thing is that this could be happening all the time. Before I really started getting out of debt I didn’t monitor my student loans AT ALL. I had a budget for day-to-day/routine spending, but student loans were not a part of that discussion. They were buried away until the day I wrote my first debt update here (that was literally the first time I’d added it all up, as naive as that sounds).

Suffice it to say, I’m awake now. My head is out from under the sand. But I’m still partially buried beneath the mountain of student loan debt. Luckily, I’ve just received a battery re-charge (from becoming consumer debt-free) and I’m furiously clawing and pulling my way up from the depths of the debt-hole.

I know better now. And I’ll pass it on to all who will hear me.

Don’t go into student loan debt. If at all humanly possible, just don’t do it. I wrote about ways to avoid student debt here.

I’ve had a couple people ask about what’s happened with the student loans, so this is the answer. Nothing good, that’s for sure. Time to go into attack mode. I’m still trying to build our savings a little more, but very soon I will be WAGING WAR against my student loans. That’s really how it feels, too. Like I’m about to walk into battle. I hate these things that much. So let me build up my reserves. There’s never been a better time for a relaxing vacation (see: Cruise 2016). Upon my return….I just hope Navient is ready to take the figurative beating I’m about to impart. I want them out of my life and gone. It’s about to go down. Join me on my quest to kill my student loans? While we’re at it, lets kill yours too!

Anyone else have student loans that have been hanging around for a half decade or longer? Anyone else with nearly triple-digit student loan debt? I know I’m not the only one. Let’s join forces (figuratively speaking) and beat down on our loans together! Strength in numbers!!! : )


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