Goodbye…for Now

Today I am making official something that has been unofficial: I am taking a little break from this blog. And, largely, from reading.

I am not posting with any regularity, nor am I reading with any regularity. I am finding that parenting a toddler is a lot more time consuming than parenting a baby was and it just keeps getting busier. I also just feel busier in general. I am away from home 2-3 nights a week. I only have so much free time in my life (8pm-10pm, basically, on nights I am actually home) and I would rather spend this time with Ben, even if it is just watching Netflix together, rather than isolating myself with a book or my computer.

I hope to be back in the new year. I am hoping that if I let myself off the hook for a few weeks then I will be reenergized. Maybe it will happen sooner and I’ll be back for some year-end posts (not much to wrap up this year though). Maybe it won’t happen and I’ll extend the break.

I really appreciate all of you who read this blog. Especially those of you who stuck with me this year as I ran out of steam. I will continue to be around on twitter and instagram and maybe I’ll post some bookish thoughts on the blog’s facebook page.

To all of you: Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays. Enjoy this season with your friends and family.

Halloween, Arrgh [Wordless Wednesday]

I’m a little late, but here are a few Halloween photos for you. I don’t have any official E-posed-in-his-pirate-costume photos but I snapped a few photos while he was out trick or treating with a friend. He had a blast and loved the concept. He especially loved answering our door when the older kids came once we were home. The only problem now is that he doesn’t understand why Halloween is over.

The Sunday Salon: October in Review [11.2.14]

In October, I read:

  • All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Runaways Vol. 4: True Believers
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

At the moment, I am reading Rooms by Lauren Oliver and listening to Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

This month I reviewed Girls in White Dresses; shared how and why I am getting out of debt; where books have made me want to visit; and shared photos from the pumpkin patch.

How was your October?

The Sunday Salon.com

HOW I Am Getting Out of Debt

You now know WHY I am getting out of debt, but the tricky part is figuring out HOW to get out of debt. Thankfully, other people have figured out some good plans to follow and you can adapt those to your life. When we had our epiphany about how bad our debt situation really was, I went online and did some research. This led to me checking out Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and reading it cover to cover in about 48 hours. I don’t think Dave Ramsey the person is for everyone – he inserts religion into everything and he and I certainly do not have the same political beliefs – but his plan is a good one.

The Baby Steps

The Total Money Makeover outlines seven baby steps to financial wealth (with my paraphrasing):

  1. Save $1000 for a mini emergency fund.
  2. Get out of debt using the Debt Snowball.
  3. Save 3-6 months of your expenses for a true emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your income for retirement.
  5. Invest in college for your children.
  6. Pay off your mortgage.
  7. Invest and build wealth.

We are currently on Step 2, obviously. And will be for awhile. We have so much student loan debt that I may have to tweak this a bit so that we aren’t waiting 5 years before we get to steps 3-5.

What We’ve Done

  • We started budgeting.

We started this in August and used August as a “practice month” before we really started the plan. We sat down and figured out our budget for August. We listed our income and we listed our expenses. And we found that our expenses were more than our income. We were living beyond our means and had no idea we were even doing it.

  • We eliminated expenses.

I thought this one would hurt, but it actually felt great. We gave up our YMCA membership. We gave up our house-cleaner (okay, this one hurt). We cut cable tv. We gave up our Audible subscription. We stopped eating out. We stopped buying things we didn’t need. We haven’t turned our air-conditioning on in two weeks.

  • We “found” more money.

Ben volunteered to give up his planning period and teach an extra class. We switched to a higher deductible health insurance plan. We stopped contributing so much to our retirement. We stopped contributing so much to Evan’s college fund. These will come later. Four years from now, I’m maxing out my retirement contributions and I’m funding Evan’s college as quickly as possible. Right now, we are spread too thin to do it all and we needed to free up this money.

  • We started using cash.

We use cash for our everyday expenses.Actual paper money cash. We take it out every pay day. When it’s gone it’s gone. Some weeks, like this one, our pantry is looking pretty sad by the end of those two weeks. But we are not starving. And we are learning how to live within the budget.

  • We refined our budgeting.

Ben and I get paid bi-weekly on the same day. We learned that a monthly budget was difficult for us and that a bi-weekly budget worked better. It takes a little more effort since different things get paid in different weeks, but it works for us. Each pay period’s budget is unique. We work off of a template, but we add in the random things we need to for each pay period (for example, this next period it is a haircut for Ben and Evan’s school pictures).

  • We saved $1000!

It took us 6 weeks, but we have our emergency fund. And while were saving this, we had to spend $300 on car repairs AND WE DIDN’T HAVE TO PUT IT ON A CREDIT CARD. Our credit cards WERE our emergency fund. Now we have a real one. $1000 isn’t going to cover you if you lose your job or have a serious medical problem, but it will get you out of a lot of life’s unexpected twists and turns, like car repairs. Since we saved it, we haven’t had to touch it. Since we plan our two-week budgets with so much detail, not much surprises us.

  • We started our Debt Snowball.

Now, this one did hurt. We listed all of our debts out and put them into three categories. Category A is our credit cards, car payment, and two student loans that I really want to get rid of. Category B is Ben’s student loans. Category C are my student loans. Dave Ramsey says you list them all out and put them in order from smallest to biggest. We did it this way because of some quirks in our own personal financial situation and because it makes it more manageable. Dave Ramsey also says not to worry about interest rate, but if two cards had pretty similar balances and one had a higher interest rate, we swapped them to get rid of the higher interest rate first.  We also made sure most of our credit card debt was on no-interest credit cards.

We pay minimum payments to everything except the smallest debt that we are currently focusing on. All of the extra money in our budget is applied to that debt. The great thing about the snowball is that you with each debt you eliminate, your snowball becomes bigger because you eliminated a minimum payment.

So far we have paid off two credit cards, almost $1200, in a month. We hope to eliminate one more this year and then two more early in 2015. Then the last few will take awhile because those are the bigger balances. But the reason you pay off the smaller ones first is because it gives you some quick victories. And let me tell you, these victories are both amazing and necessary. We give ourselves a little celebration with each goal we meet (usually pizza or an inexpensive meal out). And we cross it off our spreadsheet, which is also therapeutic. The debt becomes much more manageable when it is broken up this way.

What We Haven’t Done

  • We didn’t cut up our credit cards.

It’s supposed to be therapeutic. And it is supposed to prevent you from ever using them again. But we just put them in a cabinet instead. I don’t think credit cards are evil. Evan and I have flown all over the country for free this year because of a couple of credit cards. We don’t use them now – we cash flow everything – but I think we have enough self-control to keep using them once we are out of debt. But, we need to pay them off every month!

  • We didn’t give up everything.

We still pay for subscriptions to Netflix, Google Music, and Amazon Prime. We still went to Michigan in October. We are still going to Disney next week. We still get the occasional pizza. This is a long road for us and we will give up if we deprive ourselves of everything. But we cash flow everything we do now, which is the big change.

  • We haven’t compromised our health.

We still eat well. We buy organic dairy, even though butter is $8. We still get our organic coop box every two weeks. We aren’t eating more processed food even though processed food is cheaper. I could go on for hours about how awful it is that it costs more to eat healthy, but that’s a discussion for another day. This was something I wasn’t willing to compromise.

Our Timeline

We should eliminate all of the debt in Category A by mid-2016. This is a long time and hopefully it will speed up (it seems like things do speed up once you get going). We should be done with Ben’s student loans by February 2018. And we should be done with my student loans by October 2018. Of course, this assumes we don’t have any added expenses (like another kid in daycare) which is a big assumption.

So we are looking at a 4-year plan right now. Which is a very long road, but that’s only because of the massive student loan debt we have. I think most people can be debt-free a lot faster than us. And any extra money that comes our way –  bonuses, tax returns, raises, etc. – goes straight into the snowball.

How Are We Feeling?

This takes a lot of focus and a lot of dedication. We have to have the self-discipline to say no to things. We have to go against our spontaneous-buyer tendencies. We have to have discussions about money ALL THE TIME.

But, being in control feels GREAT. We feel empowered. We feel like our goals are achievable. We love telling our money where to go instead of wondering where it went. As of the time of this writing, we have paid off $4,246.99 in just a few months.

We always assumed we would be debt free someday, but someday kept getting further and further off. Thinking about our future now, we can see a day when we have the money to do what we want. Four years is not an eternity. It’s high school, it’s college, it’s a presidential term – these fly by. I wish we could speed up the process, but I understand that we dug ourselves into this mess and we have to pull ourselves up slowly.

For inspiration, I listen to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast almost every day. Which sounds ridiculous but I really like hearing how other people are going through the same thing and I especially love the “debt free screams,” where people who have gotten out of debt come on and I get to hear the joy and the freedom in their voices. I don’t love everything about Dave Ramsey, but I think he is doing an amazing thing for people by offering advice and giving everyone a plan.

My Advice

I’m not sure I am actually qualified to give advice, having been at this for only a few months. But, I’ll give it anyway.

  • Check out The Total Money Makeover from the library. Seriously. It’s a game-changer.
  • Talk to your spouse and make sure you are in this together. This won’t work if you are married and you try to take this on yourself.
  • Really evaluate your spending and see where you can make cuts.
  • Stop using your credit cards.
  • Use cash so you can really feel your money leaving you.

I am happy to talk to anyone who is interested in getting debt free and needs some guidance. I would love to inspire a few of you to follow me on this path. Won’t it be fun if we all do it together?

Why I am Getting Out of Debt

I have debt.

I’ve noticed that people don’t like to talk about this. They don’t want to think about their own debt. They don’t want this to be a topic of discussion. But, if you follow me on twitter, you’ve noticed that I have started talking about how I am getting out of debt. Because I think it is important and I think people often don’t realize how much their debt is holding them back. This is a big focus of my life right now and I blog about things going on in my life. I also like the support system. Some of you send me a simple “yay!” when I say I paid off a credit card. Some of you tell me you’ve started the same plan. Some of you tell me you think it’s great that I am talking about this. So I am going to keep talking about.

Today I wanted to share WHY we are getting out of debt and why we have made drastic changes in order to do so.

So, what debt do we have?

We have a mortgage. We live in a reasonably-sized house in a reasonable real estate market and we waited until 2012 to buy so we bought at the bottom of the real estate market. So we’re not doing too bad there.

We have one car loan that should have been paid off by now, but we refinanced the car when we needed a new roof a month after moving into our house because that’s what people with no cash do.

We have some credit card debt. We had it all paid off in 2011, so, naturally, I blame Evan, who is definitely the cause of a good portion of our credit card debt. But, honestly, plane tickets have always been our credit card weakness and that’s been an issue since we moved to Florida.

And then we have student loans. A lot of student loans. Six figures worth of student loans. My husband and I both have graduate degrees and we both got them in the most expensive way possible – at very expensive schools and using student loans. This is probably the only piece of the puzzle that makes us different than the rest of America.

That sounds pretty normal, right?

That’s not much of a confession. Most of us have debt, right? And people often talk about good debt versus bad debt. Student loans and mortgages are “good” while credit cards and car loans are “bad.” Under this philosophy, 90% of our debt is considered “good.” But, when your student loan debt is almost equal to your mortgage debt (and your monthly student loan payments are actually higher than your mortgage payment), I can tell you there is nothing that feels GOOD about that. When you throw in an average amount of credit card debt and a car payment, it quickly becomes a very unpleasant place to be.

So what happened?

We were treading water for a long time, sometimes getting a few strokes ahead, but eventually we felt ourselves starting to be pulled under. We never got in trouble. We’ve never missed a payment. We never even made a late payment. We are blessed with steady incomes in jobs we like. We have excellent credit scores. Everyone wants to loan us money. We were completely normal.

But the debt was starting to drive us insane. It was this constant THING hanging over us. We tried to ignore it, but we couldn’t.

And then we did some math and realized that we literally couldn’t afford to have another baby.  If we were to have a second child, which has always been the plan, we couldn’t afford to send that kid to daycare – we just didn’t have enough free money each month in our budget. Now, we understand where babies come from and that they don’t just show up demanding daycare without some warning, but it really made me stop and think about what we were doing with all of our money. We live paycheck to paycheck and we shouldn’t HAVE to.

So we made some drastic lifestyle changes…

This post has gotten a bit long, so I will save the HOW we are getting out of debt post for another day. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from some of you in the comments.

The Sunday Salon [10.26.14]

I am back after an involuntary blogging leave caused by my amazing ability of killing every macbook charger that finds its way into my life. Of course, I go missing all of the time, so maybe you didn’t notice.

Life, of course, goes on even when computers do not. Yesterday, we went to the Festival of Reading, saw RL Stine and Aasaf Mandvi, and wandered around St. Pete a bit. Today I am participating in a 4-hour Yogathon to benefit The Children’s Heart Foundation.

As for reading, it’s been a little slow-going. I just finished Anna Dressed in Blood and now I am reading Rooms and listening to Her Fearful Symmetry. Apparently I am embracing the ghost stories this October.

Anyway, I have nothing scheduled for this week, but hopefully I’ll pop in with a post or two.

 

The Sunday Salon.com

The Top Ten Places Books Have Made Me Want to Visit

Popping in for a Top Ten Tuesday post today. These are the top ten places books have made me want to visit (whether fictional or real).

Hogwarts

I am still waiting for my letter. I don’t care if I’m 31.


Scotland

I’m crediting Jeri-Smith Ready for this one.


1920s Paris

I’m just gong to go hang out with Dorothy Parker, Ernest Hemingway, and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Don’t mind me.


Regency England

I’m going to go looking for Mr. Darcy. But I’ll settle for Colin Firth.


Boarding School

Too many boarding school books to give any single one credit for this dream.


Ancient Ireland

I’ve always wanted to go to Ireland, but Edward Rutherford made me want to go to pre-St. Patrick Ireland.


Deep Valley, Minnesota

Betsy-Tacy makes turn-of-the-century Minnesota seems warm and inviting.


The Hundred Acre Wood

One of my very first literary travel dreams. It has never faded.


The Book World

I don’t necessarily want to risk my life as often as Thursday Next, but I wouldn’t mind hanging out with some literary characters (probably not Hamlet).


Imperial Russia

I’ve got a thing for Russian classics. But I also have a thing for warmth, so maybe not.

***

Where would you like to visit?

The Sunday Salon: September in Review [10.12.14]

Seeing as it is October 12, it is probably time to quickly recap September. It was a busy month yet again, despite the absence of airports and hotels. I read a little, I blogged a little, I worked a lot, I parented a lot, I watched my college football team fall apart, and that’s about it.

I shared my favorite Gilmore Girls episodes; gave a one star review; shared a photo of Vanderbilt Beach; listed the books I am most looking forward to this fall; read and reviewed my first comic book; bloggiesta-d; hid Green Eggs and Ham; reviewed the last book in a recommended series; and shared another one of Evan’s current favorites.

I read these:

Time is just flying. Pretty sure Evan will be 16 next week.

The Sunday Salon.com

Girls in White Dresses [Book Review]

TitleGirls in White Dresses
Author: Jennifer Close
Genre: Short Stories; Women’s Fiction
Pages: 304
Year: 2011
Publisher: Knopf
Source: Personal Collection
Rating: 5/5

Publisher’s Summary:

Isabella, Mary, and Lauren feel like everyone they know is getting married. On Sunday after Sunday, at bridal shower after bridal shower, they coo over toasters, collect ribbons and wrapping paper, eat minuscule sandwiches and cakes. They wear pastel dresses and drink champagne by the case, but amid the celebration these women have their own lives to contend with: Isabella is working a dead-end job, Mary is dating a nice guy with an awful mother, and Lauren is waitressing at a midtown bar and wondering why she’s attracted to the sleazy bartender.

My Thoughts:

You guys, this book.

I haven’t so thoroughly enjoyed a book like I enjoyed this one in ages.  I would yell at you all for not making me read it sooner, but you all tried. Jen even sent me a copy. THREE YEARS AGO.

I thought this would be a novel, but this is really a book of inter-related short stories (along the lines of The Girls Guide to Hunting and Fishing). Which made it even lovelier. I love a good short story collection.

The characters were well-developed, realistic, and relatable. I wanted to be friends with them. It made me wish I had moved to New York City after college and lived in a crappy apartment and dated the wrong guys. It was like Sex and the City when Sex and the City was at its best.

If you’ve left this one lingering on your shelf, like I did, you are making a mistake.

****

What book did you wait too long to read? What book has been waiting patiently on your shelves for you?