Posted in Another Monday

Monday 145: Frustration & Inspiration

aargh

Monday, 26 September 2016

The end of summer means the end of sunshine, shorter days, cooler weather, and increasingly longer nights.  Time change occurs with the end to daylight savings . . . and I come home in the dark.  With three days a week running nearly 11 hours, including commute time, and 30 minutes to snarf down lunch without interruption (if I am lucky), it is easy to become a bit melancholy.  Being outdoors during the day becomes really important as it does change attitudes.  Luckily, I am not prone to depression, nor do I live in the far northern latitudes, and we are not hemmed in with blizzards and ice.  Still, the end of the year is always a bit of a downer because of less money in September and October from summer’s shorter work hours, and the looming of property taxes being due in December, and again in April.  When we were really underwater with a second property, it was a real scramble to find money for anything.

We sold the second property, which gave us more money, a good tax refund, and the opportunity to pay off some big bills.  Did we?  No.  Instead, we spent it on a long vacation.  Do we feel guilty about it?  I suppose we could, but that is over and done with, and we had a good time.  Mentally, we were not on the frugal wagon.  Emotionally, we were just worn out.  I was more worn out than the DH simply because he didn’t want to discuss it, didn’t want to join in the discussion, and only complained.  However, when I put my foot down about the second property and said, “We’re done!” he took some notice.  I think that is when our attitude change toward our money began, even if we didn’t handle it too well.

Getting rid of the second property was a good thing.  Even it had its trigger point.  Prior to selling the second property, we were giving $100 / month to a brother leading a derelict life.  When I found myself teetering and feeling guilty about spending that $100 on glasses for the DH versus the brother, I knew something was really wrong.  That’s when the bro was cut off.  He did nothing to earn money, he had a nasty attitude, and the last word in his vocabulary was “Thank you.”  He wanted money even when he came to live with us, and was pissed off when I got $110 / month from the county to house him since he was indigent and I didn’t give it to him.  The idea was he would stay with us and look for work.  Did he?  No.  He spent the first three months just reading science fiction books and smoking on the patio.  DH wouldn’t come out of his office at all.  Altogether, this was a pretty dark space.  And, we never heard a “Thank you” at all.  After five months, we gave him four weeks notice, and he could only curse us for our charity.

I pity my brother.  He died without anyone caring too much; he alienated both friends and family.  I expect I was the least charitable of the lot as I did not have a positive attitude about him for years.  He did not make it easy to like him, though, and was capable of holding grudges for decades.  He smelled, he had no manners, and he stopped trying to improve his lot in life, which, to me, is the saddest statement of his life.  It is also the frustration I have when I look at him – I could not save him.  He died a year ago, and I still wrestle with my feelings about him and people like him.  Yes, it is easy to say there was nothing I could do – which is true, I tried – but he did not want do anything for himself.

In reality, we have had our own hard lessons about money.  We still do.  We have to decide to implement change and to stick to that desire through thick and thin.  Fortunately, we do have a good income and decent jobs, but if something did happen, we would lose a great deal.  I expect family would help us out, though some would say we were fools – even my brother, if still alive, would tell me we were financially foolish!  (He did while he told me was given a $30,000 credit line on a credit card which he had no intentions of paying off!!)

hope

Change is not easy.  It can seem impossible.  It is frustrating to reign in spending and say “No!” when you are used to ignoring the consequences.  In those darker times, inspiration is the guiding light.  We have paid off one credit card.  We are our own inspiration – we know we can do it.  That is so empowering.  Besides this, reading about other people’s financial paths is also inspirational – we are not alone in our failure, nor in our success.  We all need a light, a refuge, for financial pain or other pain.  This is where we learn and grow.  And this is also where we can help others without ever knowing it.

My brother gave me a gift.  The gift is to remember the value of our lives, and to not give up on ourselves, no matter how frustrated or angry we may be with our situation.  Others do the same.  Life is strange in that way, filled with dichotomy and humor.  The gods do laugh at us, and it never hurts to laugh at ourselves as well – it makes it so much easier to get up, dust ourselves off, and move on with life.

Posted in Another Monday

Number 146: The Second Snowball Begins

credit-card-1104960_1280

Monday, 19 September 2016

In August, we did the final payoff of one credit card.  September marks the beginning of the snowball payoff of the second credit card.

Now, we have offers coming in for 0% financing for any balance transfers from the card we just paid off, as well as others.  It feels like we should do a balance transfer to save money in interest, but we have decided not to go there.  The seduction of zero percent could lead us back to that scary path of acquiring more debt.

Why?  Our underlying fear is that we could start the debt cycle once more.  Keeping that paid-off bill at zero is the most important thing at the moment, not the money saved by a 0% interest rate.  Breaking the addiction to spending and irresponsibility with money is the point.  It would be easy to rest on our laurels with the accomplishment of paying off one credit card, and think otherwise, but this really is more of a test than I think we ever realized.  Like many others, we have paid off credit cards, and then promptly run them back up.  This time around, we are determined not to let that happen.

Spending money is a high for a lot of people.  It is also an emotional crutch, a way to hide pain.  There is actually a society called Debtors Anonymous which addresses these problems, much as AA does alcoholism.  Lauren Greutman has a recently published book on the subject of spending.  Like she says in her book, polite people do not discuss sex, religion or money in public  . . . but now all is discussed except money. For many of us, money is a forbidden subject and continues to be so.

Money is so often a thing of mystery, emotion, guilt, inadequacy, and fear.  The DH feels inadequate about handling money.  Only after 25 years of marriage did I learn this.  I feel guilty because I was always interested in money, but it was a secret in my family, and questions were sternly turned away.  Money was a volatile and dangerous topic.  We both have this feeling that talking about money is just plain wrong.  I don’t think either of us got any education in money and handling it, only guilt trips.  Guilt keeps people silent, and I know it kept us silent for a long, long time.  Breaking that silence is what has put us on this path.

We still have a long way to go.  Yes, we have hit a milestone, for which we are justifiably proud, but that is only one marker on the way.  What we continue to do is what is important.  Challenges do lie ahead, and they will test us, but I also think we have the experience to know we can succeed, so we will continue to strive for financial success.

Our spending habits have been with us for years, so it will take time for our not-spending habits to become more a part of who we are as individuals, and as a couple.

Each day is a challenge; some days we fall, some days we fly!

Posted in Another Monday

Monday 147: August Recap

bar-graph

Monday, 12 September 2016

Time to take a peek at the August expenditures. It was an expensive month, but the expenses, for the most part, had been planned for.

The big payoff was the credit cards. We worked very hard at this and paid one off (see last week!).  We made three payments, the biggest to pay off one card.  Cost toward all three cards: $3330.00

Next kicker was our vacation up to Mammoth Lakes. Total cost for the week, including gas, food, fees, and whatever, was about $1750.00.

The regular monthly bills were met, but the areas which increased were in the areas of groceries ($553.00) and personal supplies and unplanned little things: $264.00.  August was another party month (we’re such wild ones!).

Utilities vary every month because one month we get a water bill, and the alternating month is the trash bill. This month was water: $208.00. Rates are high in California, and we have cut back a good amount. Electricity: $167.00. Gas: $16.00.

Hobbies are always an expected expense. This is for brewing: $19.00. This was probably yeast.

August was expensive, but there was no accrued debt. And that is all because we planned!

Posted in Another Monday

Monday 148: Zero Percent

Zero Percent

Tuesday, 6 September 2016

A day late!  It was Labor Day yesterday!

Having paid off one credit card, it was a fantastic thing to get the last bill in the mail showing amount owed as $0.00.  Along with it has come a slough of offers from the same credit card company for 0% for one year.  We have other credit cards needing to be paid off.  Should I take up this offer, or not?  As you know, we have one hovering at 20% needing to be paid off.  The credit limit on the one paid off is not the amount of the other card . . .

This is sort of a dilemma.  Should we, shouldn’t we?  The interest we will save is substantial, but we are hesitant to go that route – not so much because of the money saved, but the potential – the very scary and very real potential – to use credit cards again.  The psychology here is the key, not the money.  It’s like offering a drug addict – a credit addict – a taste.  We don’t want that taste.  We want to stop this!

Posted in Another Monday

Monday 149: Some Reading

Some Reading

Monday, 29 August 2016

For someone without a lot of free time to read, reading takes on an even greater meaning . . . meaning quality and value.  Quality is how interesting I find the writing.  Value means what I get out of it.  This varies for everyone, and it varies, too, with the purpose of the reading.  Information?  Entertainment?  “Have to” reading for a class?  (I admit, textbooks and 18th century literature put me to sleep, and I was an English major!)  Because this is a blog about getting out of debt and into retirement, we will focus on financial books, not whether or not Mary Shelley was a liberated woman.

The First Inspiration

Up front, I am not really sure what pushed me to begin reading about getting our finances together.  It had been on the back of my mind for awhile.  We sold a rental a few years ago, and didn’t use our tax refund wisely, meaning, we did not use it to pay off debt.

We started on track in late 2015, with 2016 being the beginning of serious debt reduction.

When the Subaru blew up to the point we were no longer willing to fix it, we were torn – new car, new-to-us old car, fix old car?  We had sunk close to $4000.00 into the Subaru in the past year, for this and that, so when the head gasket went, so did the Subaru.  We decided on a new car because the used cars we liked were too expensive for their mileage, and the one that seemed a best value was the HRV.

With that purchase, one credit card we have bumped its interest rate to a tad above 20%, and that tipped it for the plunge into “gazelle-like intensity.”  (That line always makes me laugh!).  This made me furious, and thus the serious move to reduce debt began, and while I had read Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover, I dug it out, and began in earnest.  We paid off our lowest card this month.  And now the revenge on that 20% card begins – while it may not be with F-you money, it is still an F-you!

The First Book:  The Total Money Makeover

Yep, we do owe Dave a lot.  He’s inspired us with his simple method and the short, inspirational tales.  The psychology of getting one card out of the way was and is an important element for us:  it made us feel successful.  That psychological factor was very important for us.  The empowerment is heady.  We have felt like financial failures, even though we did not talk about it, for many years.  Feeling like a failure leads to victimhood and to acquiring more and more debt – that’s what financial failures, do, right?  Feeling in control decreases the sense of being a failure, and that, in turn, decreases victimhood.  We ain’t no stinkin’ victims, man!

The next credit card will be a bitch.  It has a horrid interest rate, and the plan is to pay it off in June 2017.  This means an average payment of $1400.00 / month for ten months, beginning in September.  This, and continuing to aim for $1000.00 in savings per month, for back up money and for property taxes.  It will be tight.  And whatever needs to be paid off in June, to make that goal, will come out of savings.

The Blogs

Once we started reading about and thinking about getting out of debt, the internet search began.  A lot of great things are out there, and the fact that there are blogs about real people doing the real financial independence thing, and writing on a regular basis, is a big help.  Isolation is not a good thing, and though I doubt we will ever meet any of these bloggers, they help us stay focused.  We see where they have been and where they are going.  A number of the blogs I enjoy are on this site, in the inks, for my easy access.  I have my favorites . . .

More Reading

Besides the blogs, new books are coming my way.  Some I like, some I don’t.  JH Collins bookThe Simple Path to Wealth, is a good read, though I haven’t finished it, and I am enjoying Ramit Sethi’s I Will Make You Rich, too, but I was hesitant at first simply because of the title – it is a bit over the top for me – but is worth the read as there is a lot of good stuff in it.

Now, time for coffee!

Posted in Another Monday

Week 150: Spreadsheets

Spreadsheet on Laptop

As a two-income family, you would think we would know exactly how much income we have every month, and thus be able to budget accordingly.  Not!  My husband’s income is stable, comes in like clockwork on the 15th and last working day of the month.  It is a salary spread out over 24 weeks a year.  The 15th has a penny’s difference than the last working day.

My income varies.  As a teacher, I am used to a salary based on the number of hours given per calendar year, distributed evenly over 12 months.  However, my district does not do it.  The result is an income that fluctuates wildly month to month.  To understand – to guestimate – how much money I bring in, I have to figure out my monthly hours, multiply it by my hourly wage, subtract 32%, and finally put the hours I worked, say in June, into the budget for August.  Royal pain in the ass!  And, it is still a guestimate until I get my actual check.  (But after 10 years, I’ve gotten pretty good at it!)

The plus side is that I really do have to look at what we have for disposable income – meaning, we dispose it in the mortgage baskets, the utility baskets, the insurance baskets, the credit card baskets, and so on.  :-)

So, over the weekend before returning to work, I sat down in Google Docs and created spread sheets that run from September 2016 to September 2017.  I know my work schedule and monthly hours, so I did the guestimated income for me, and the anticipated income for my husband.  And then I wrote out all the known bills and costs, and found the monthly differences – meaning, all the leftover cash not put into savings – and put it into the extra debt snowball payments toward one of the credit cards.  Of course, this number will change with time, and with other costs, but there is some mental security in knowing fairly well in advance what is on the economic horizon.  All of this can change, though, so it is only a projection until each day arrives.

The nice thing about using a spread sheet is the fact that as something changes, using the “sums” part of the spread sheet, I can see the immediate changes and deal with them.  I am not a genius with spread sheets, and Google Docs is simpler than Excel, but I am a simple person.  The portability of Docs is the big selling point, even though MS Office is now on the Cloud.    The tedious part of creating the spread sheet was . . . creating the spread sheet.

Up ahead, we have some concerns.  Rather than telecommuting, people at my husband’s company are being returned to the office.  This will mean traveling in a car and increased fuel costs, an unknown variable depending on where he is placed in an office.  Some office space should be found locally, as it is a global company, but they may think a 50 mile commute to set up a laptop is reasonable (which it isn’t!).  There is office space from 4-10 miles from home, and the closer, the better.  He is not happy.  The dogs will be miserable.  And we will have to adapt.

Still . . . we have paid off one credit card, and that is why we are continuing doing our happy dance!

 

Posted in Another Monday

Week 151: Back From Vacation

Mountain Flowers

Monday, 15 August 2016

We are back from vacation!  It was so nice to get away, and to completely stop looking at all the stuff we have to for work.

Was vacation expensive?  It depends on what you consider “expensive.”  The total cost came to about $1500.00, which includes B&B for 5 days, dinner out every night, a gondola ride to the top of a mountain, gasoline to and from home to vacation destiny, and snacks for lunch.  All this for a total of 6 days.  We are glad we did it!  We are very fortunate to have a most fantastic friend who dog and house sits for us!  (If you are reading this, you know who you are!)

Coming back from vacation meant catching up on a few things, like laundry or what have you.  Bills are paid at this time of the month (around the 15th) as well as the first.  We put a part of the vacation on the credit card we are paying off, just to avoid having to not be able to see where our debit card goes.  That entire card is now paid off!

We return to work today.  I am back on my awful schedule, and the other half is in a position he does not like, and is not a good fit.  He was put there in a moment of corporate reorganization which was not well planned.  And with this return to the routines in life will come better detail on our debt reduction and listing of expenses.  And the realization that in 3 years we hope to be debt-free (150 more Mondays, but who is counting?) and retired.