Thankfulness and the November 2012 Total Money Makeover Update

Many people have been posting something they’re thankful for each day of November on Facebook. I’ve decided to do the same on a weekly basis, but here in the (relative) quietness of my blog. Here are my first seven, in no particular order.

  1. I’m thankful for my husband Dexter. He is my best friend, and he knows when it’s time to bake a batch of brownies and brew a pot of tea. He’s so creative and has so many big dreams. I’m so proud that he’s started a business called Iron Swallow, which offers ready-made and custom comic book wallets, greeting card, and journals.
  2. I’m thankful for the health insurance and sick leave my job provides. I used both today and was reminded that I received amazing services, information, and medication with incredible flexibility and affordability that many people don’t have.
  3. I’m thankful to have a job I love. Real talk: sometimes I get really tired of my job. However, my students–with a smile, a question, or an enthusiastic “Miss Kelsey!”–always remind me that I love what I do.
  4. I’m thankful for parents who taught me about Jesus, always made sure I knew that I was loved, warned me to NOT EVER mess around with credit card debt, and have been a great example of what it looks like for two imperfect people work together to make a marriage survive and thrive.
  5. I’m thankful that we got through our fire safely, and that a year later we are back home with our puppies and a mostly unpacked house.
  6. I’m thankful for our roommate. She has introduced us to some amazing Honduran foods, she made my birthday celebration extra special, and she’s just a good friend.
  7. I’m thankful that for the first time since our fire, we are able to make extra payments on our debt each month! Since September, we paid off 1.3% of our debt and we have 63.6% to go!

What are you thankful for this month?

Milestone Miscalculation: Age vs. Expectations

I tend to stress more over non-monumental birthdays than over the traditional milestones. Twenty-one wasn’t that big of a deal in my mind. But twenty-two? It gave me that ohmygosh-I-am-so-old-that-21-is-no-big-deal feeling.

I turn 27 next week. I’ve been thinking about 27 a lot over the past few months. I’m pretty sure 27 means that I am in my late-20s. I’m really comfortable being in my mid-20s. I am also really comfortable with the idea of being 30. I can imagine my 30-year-old self. She’s mature. She’s fabulous–she’s maybe had a baby but you couldn’t tell by the hot bod she’s sporting. She’s wise, strong in her walk with Jesus, comfortable with who she is faults and all.

However, I think that near-perfect 30-year-old in my mind might be the problem. When I think 27, I don’t smile and think to myself, What a lovely woman I’m becoming! No, I think, Great, three more years until I face the disappointment I will be to myself at 30. Pressure’s on.

It’s like when I turned 16 and I thought I would be so much cooler–with the confidence and cup-size of all the 29-year-olds that play heavily-scripted 16-year-olds on TV. At 16, I noted the difference, felt like I’d been duped into having high expectations, and moved on. I imagine I’ll do the same at 30, but that’s not doing much to alleviate my 27-year-old performance anxiety.

The reaction older people often give to twenty-somethings when we talk about aging is, “You’re not old. Just wait until you see what old is. Relish your youth, your supple skin, your strong bones, and your iron stomach!” And then they look longingly at your fistful of curly-fries and pop a few Tums.

But the thing is, twenty-seven is the oldest I’ll ever have been. Compared to all the other ages I’ve been, twenty-seven is old. I am totally aware that 27 is younger than 40 and 93, and I’m not at all upset about getting older. I’m not mourning the slow and painful loss of my youth. I am wondering how to navigate the murky waters of becoming someone other than the person you thought you’d become.

Have you ever felt pressure to be awesome by a certain age? What did you do when the day of disillusionment came?

September 2012 Total Money Makeover Update

Life is startling to feel a little bit normal again!

We received our insurance check in August. The mattress we ordered was delivered on Tuesday–which we are so excited about after 6 months of camping on our bedroom floor!

With our insurance money, we paid off Debt #3. We had had “just a little bit” left for a long time, and we are so happy to have that bill gone.

Thanks to our larger-than-normal payment on that debt, plus our minimum payments on our two remaining student loans, we paid off 3% of our debt over the past three months, and we have 64.9% to go.

Debts #4 and #5 are daunting. Thinking mathematically, I realize that we are not on track to pay off our debt entirely by March of 2014, which is the goal we set when we first embarked on our journey to debt freedom. However, we’ll keep that goal in mind to spur us on.

Total Money Makeover Update: June 2012

Life has been a tad chaotic since I last posted about our Total Money Makeover progress.

After our fire, we lived in a Comfort Inn for 6 weeks. We ate out every night–which is not in our normal budget–and were begrudgingly given an advance of $500 (after we’d spent about $1000) by an insurance lady who said they didn’t usually give advances for food. (Which begs the question, What must one need in order to get an advance?)

Then, we moved to a condo and were given a rather random and unhelpful assortment of our stuff to live with. Salad spinner – yes. Bed sheets – no. We also were blessed with the companionship of a family of adorable, but filthy and disgusting brown mice who were much too smart to crawl into our humane mousetrap, even when it was full of cheese and peanut butter. About a week before we moved out, our property manager finally returned our call about taking care of the mice, but we decided to live with the mice and let maintenance deal with mouse-killing after we were gone.

About a week and a half after we moved back into our newly remodeled home, I took one of my students to the hospital and spent most of my evenings for the next three weeks with her. When she was discharged, she moved in with us and became our unofficial foster daughter for a few weeks. Then, she decided to get married.

During all of this, Dexter spent about two months out of work, though God blessed him with a few fantastic freelance jobs. He now has a nice, predictable job at a bank and I get to see him dressed up, tie and all, every morning. We also took an amazing class called Perspectives which added plenty of homework to our schedule. Dexter, always creative and always entrepreneurial, started a handmade product business which I’ll tell you more about soon.

How has all of this life affected our financial situation?

For the last eight months, we haven’t budgeted well at all. We started using a credit card and paying it off every month, but then using it again because paying it off used up our cash flow. After depleting our emergency fund, our car stopped working, so we opened a new, interest-free credit card for that bill.

For me, this summer is about getting back on track financially. We’re paying off the credit cards, getting back on the cash envelope system, and trying to live simply.

I remembered getting to the 75% mark in our debt repayment process, but I didn’t remember how close we came to 70% last time I calculated our debt. I was happily surprised that after months of paying only minimums, we had still made visible progress. Over the past seven months, we paid off 2.8% of our debt and have 67.9% to go.

We haven’t received the check for what we lost from the insurance company. This is mostly our fault, because we haven’t finished our paperwork. I like to blame this on the people who cleaned our house, because we keep unpacking damaged items mixed in with undamaged items, and having to record them in our paperwork. We have a few pieces of furniture to get repair estimates for, and then we should be done. Once the check comes in, things will look a lot more cheery in the financial department. With the check, we’ll do things like:

  • Save money
  • Replace our bed (We are currently floor-camping, and have been since February 6. It’s surprisingly comfortable, but we’re thankful for the new carpet underneath the sleeping bag.)
  • Replace our couch, window treatments, and set money aside for things we discover we need in the future
  • Fix our air conditioner
  • Look into refinancing our house
  • Finish paying off Debt #3

In my imagination, we’ll take the rest of our thousands of dollars and go on a vacation and buy a new car, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to do all the things on the list above. A girl can dream.

Little Things

“You’ll have so much time to blog now that it’s summer!”

This is what my loving, supportive friends say, now that school is out. I agree. I have plenty of time to blog. But I can’t for the life of me figure out what to talk to you about.

I don’t have a strong agenda to communicate–how you should eat less meat or no meat or more leafy green veggies. I could tell you about my thoughts, but a post every day that essentially says, “God, what on earth do you want us to do with this life?” might start to feel repetitive. I could post new recipes, but we’re eating pretty simply around here.

I want to start this conversation again, so I’ll begin with little things, and see where they take us.

Little things, like my sleepy companion who acted like he wanted to snuggle but then took up all the room on the chair.

Little things, like my wrinkle-headed friend who has claimed the ottoman as his bed.

And little things, like how the crop feature in photoshop can take a picture of the recycling, the water dish, the dog toy, and the slobber towel…

…and turn it into a simple breakfast.

A Quiet Return to Blogging

Hello, friends.

Life has been full since my last post, which was nearly 6 months ago. So full, in fact, that there was no room in it for blogging. To be honest, for quite some time, I didn’t miss blogging. After experiencing my fifteen minutes of blog fame (twice!) I thought I should, you know, try to “become someone” in the blog world. But my fifteen minutes wore me out. I was wrong when I assumed my introversion was restricted to face-to-face interactions.

I’m back, not trying to become anyone, but trying to be myself–something I’m working on in real life, not just online. I want to write for me. If you’re reading, I want to write for you, too. But this introvert won’t wear herself out trying to write for the whole world just yet.

While you’re here, visit my 30 Before 30 page to see my newly revised list of goals. How does it compare to your life to-dos?

Top Ten Surprising Things After a Fire

Almost three weeks ago, our house caught on fire. Before the fire, I had never given any thought to how I might feel if our home caught on fire. I assumed it would never happen. But it did, and we’ve experienced a surprising range of emotions and experiences. Here are a few things that have surprised us about the experience.

  1. I am so thankful. Once we found out that everyone, including the firefighters, were safe, I didn’t even care about our home or the relatively few belongings that we lost. God protected us from so much. I’m so glad the situation is totally under His control–from the first spark to the small details of rebuilding our house.
  2. I was so thirsty. Maybe it was exposure to smoke, shock, or that I just hadn’t drank enough water the day before the fire, but I couldn’t stop downing water for the next day or two. When our insurance agent brought us a bag of food and toiletries, the first thing I went for was the bottled water.
  3. Smoke smells are everywhere. When I walked out of our neighbors’ house the night of the fire, I thought, “Wow, it smells like someone is grilling.” Then I realized that it was the smell of my house burning. Since then, we’ve smelled smoke everywhere. Sometimes it was in our hair or on our clothes, but it’s also from the projector in my classroom getting hot or walking past a restaurant.
  4. Fishing out damaged items was surprisingly unemotional. I imagine this would have been different if more of our things had been damaged. However, cataloging the damaged-beyond-repair items took a lot of time and felt more like business than a personal experience.
  5. I was exhausted, but could somehow keep going. We got about 2 hours of sleep, broken up into segments by our dog throwing up and me having to run into school, the night of the fire. Somehow, we made calls, wash and folded all of our clothes, talked to friends, and rode to Des Moines the next day. We spent the day packing and inventorying our things on Monday, and we were back at work on Tuesday. The adrenaline wore off that first day of work.
  6. Everything sparks memories of the fire. We now know exactly where the fire extinguisher aisle is at Target. I was at a conference today and had to answer a question about what had effected my life lately.
  7. We have too much stuff. I first realized this during our marathon clothes washing session the day after the fire. I really thought I might die if I folded another piece of clothing. After we sorted through our clothes at the hotel, we got a decent-sized pile ready to take to Goodwill. When your house catches on fire and you feel like you have too much stuff, you are blessed.
  8. We know a lot of awesome people. We had so many people leave comments on facebook, send emails, and even leave comments on this blog that I didn’t respond to. If that was you, thank you! Your words meant a lot to us. Our exhaustion and not knowing exactly how to deal with we felt about the fire kept us away from social media except to communicate that things were okay.
  9. Eating out eventually becomes a chore. Before the fire, I would have told you that I would LOVE to eat out every day for the next month. However, just deciding where to eat seems like more of a hassle than cooking and cleaning up after dinner. Restaurants are also not full of choices if you’re narrowing things down to what’s vegetarian or even relatively cruelty-free.
  10. We are not alone. So many people we’ve talked to know someone who has had a fire. There have been three other fires in our community since August. One was fatal, one destroyed an entire apartment building and more, and one was just down the street from us.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that not only do we feel thankful for everyone’s safety, thankfulness has been the pervasive feeling throughout the past few weeks. I’m thankful for the firefighters who came and saved our home, the Red Cross who took care of us and our neighbors, and the good friends who watched our dogs and offered us a room in our house for the night and indefinitely. I’m thankful for parents who came ready to do whatever needed to be done–from hugs, to taking us out to eat, and to helping us empty our house if need be. I’m thankful for my husband–for being able to hug him and hold his hand when we couldn’t go home. I’m thankful for a lot more people who have listened to us, and offered to help.

Visit OhAmanda for more Top Ten Tuesday.

Total Money Makeover Update: November 2011

Last month was the first time since the beginning of our Total Money Makeover that I neglected my monthly update. I forgot my online banking password, and since we didn’t make any payments, I knew it wasn’t going to be very exciting. However, I knew I needed to keep track of our progress because it’s a key to staying encouraged on our path to debt freedom. Plus, nobody likes to be a flake.

In the past two months, we’ve paid off 0.8% of our debt and we have 70.7% remaining.

I’m excited that even without extra payments, we should be under 70% by the first of the year. This month, any surplus will be going to refilling our emergency fund after we used funds from it in September to repair our car. I’ve also recently started a side business (details coming soon!) which has required some financial investment. Finally, because of our house fire, we’re eating out every night and having to buy more convenience foods for lunches because we’re still living in a hotel. Our insurance company will repay us for the eating out, but we don’t know when that will be, so we need to plan for that to be covered in the cash flow this month.

Thanks for all of your thoughts, prayers, and kind words in regards to our fire. We feel so blessed to have so many friends and family who care about us.

A Fire and the Aftermath

I’m lying in a king-sized bed in a hotel, watching cable. I’ve eaten out for every meal the last two days. I won’t be charged for any of it. It feels like I’m on vacation, but if it were up to me, I’d still be at home, in my queen-sized bed, watching Netflix on the computer. This is the story of why that’s not a choice anymore.

Thursday night, while I was at a Bible study with a friend and my sister, Dexter began noticing some electrical problems. First, all of the ceiling lights controlled with a light switch stopped working. After I got home, the ceiling fan lights went out. Then, the upstairs outlets stopped working.

We tried going to sleep, but Dexter was concerned that some light switches he had replaced had caused the problem. After discovering that the light switches weren’t the problem, Dexter couldn’t stop worrying about the problems upstairs. He went upstairs to see if our roommates had any overloaded outlets that could be causing the problem. He noticed a funny smell in one room, but assumed it was from a space heater that had turned off. Since we had shut off all the fuses for the upstairs, we decided that we would call an electrician in the morning.

We texted our roommate, we’ll call him Arnold, who was still out, telling him we’d left him a flashlight on the stairs since there were no lights upstairs. We finally settled into bed in our basement bedroom at around 11:45. We heard Arnold arrive home at around midnight. Minutes later, as we were just starting to doze, we heard the door at the top of the stairs open. Arnold yelled down, saying Dexter’s name and something about a fire. Dexter yelled something in response and ran upstairs. I fumbled around for my glasses and a sweatshirt, putting them on as I ran upstairs.

Arnold told us he saw a glow from a recessed light in his bedroom. Dexter got the fire extinguisher and blew it at the light a couple of times. He went to the hall closet where the attic access was to see if he could extinguish from the top of the fixture in the attic. As he went toward the closet, I asked, “Are you sure we shouldn’t just call 911?” He went ahead and opened the passage to the attic. It was bright with flames. He yelled for me to call 911. I did, and gave the responder our information while trying to get the dogs on leashes. After throwing on a pair of rainboots, I ran outside with the dogs. The responder told me that the fire department was on its way. Dexter ran back downstairs to put on outside-appropriate clothing, and we frantically knocked on our neighbors doors to warn them about the fire. Our roommates grabbed a few possessions and then joined us in warning the other families. Then, Dexter ran inside to grab our laptop off a TV tray in the living room.

I called our friends who lived just down the parking lot. I apologized for waking them up and said, “Our condo is on fire. Can we bring the dogs over to your place?” They agreed. I dropped the dogs off with them, let them know that everyone was out safely out, and went back to see what was happening.

The fire department arrived amazingly fast–in under 3 minutes. We stood across the parking lot and watched smoke pour and flames rise from the roof of our home. My whole body was shaking, either from shock or from the cold. Neighbors came out of their homes and watched the firefighters work. They brought us blankets and invited us in for hot chocolate. We accepted the blankets, but stayed outside so we’d be available to answer questions. We prayed for the safety of the firefighters and thanked God for the safety of all the residents.

The attics in the sixplex are all connected, so it was necessary to access the attics in multiple places to make sure the fire didn’t spread. Our neighbor to the left wasn’t at home, but even after they had broken the door open, they couldn’t access the attic. They took chainsaws into our house to cut out the ceiling in the bedroom. They also cut the side of our neighbor’s condo open to access the attic so the fire wouldn’t spread. The fire was under control by 1:25 and out by 1:40, but we didn’t know this until the next day. Firefighters were there until 3:00 or 3:30, and Red Cross was there until around 4:00, giving vouchers for food, clothing, and shelter to people who would be displaced at least for the night.

Before went went to our friends’ house to sleep, the fire department allowed us to walk back inside to get a few things we needed. We grabbed my purse, our camera, some clothes and shoes, toiletries, our hermit crabs, Dexter’s large desktop computer, and a laundry basket full of meat from the freezer (worth around $400). We were so thankful that the firefighters had pushed a lot of furniture (including our piano!) and possessions out of the way and covered it with a tarp so that as little as possible would be damaged.

Thankfully, we have great homeowners’ insurance from State Farm. Our agent brought us an intial check and a bag of snacks, toiletries, and bottled water. The cleaning company, electrician, and property management are all working to start repairs. Our insurance will cover a hotel for us to stay in, and if the repairs are scheduled to take more than a month, they will find us a house. For now, our dogs are staying with my parents in Des Moines. If we get into a house where we can have them, we will bring them back to Iowa City with us.

Neither of our roommates have renters’ insurance. One of them lost almost nothing, but Arnold, whose bedroom the fire started over, lost almost all his furniture, his electronics, and his nicest clothes. They will salvage everything they want from the house this weekend. We’ll go in on Monday and work with a company to inventory all the items that need to be professionally cleaned and those that have been lost.

Although the fire really only hit one room, the smoke, water, and electrical damage have affected the whole house. We haven’t received an estimate on how long we will be out. Update 10/25/11: They estimate we’ll be out of our house for about two months. We’re staying in a hotel right now, and will probably be moving into an extended stay place or rental house so we can have access to a kitchen. The insurance company is stressing that they’ll try to find a dog-friendly place with a yard so we can bring our puppies back soon.

In the meantime, here are some pictures of the damage:

Total Money Makeover Update: September 2011

Hello, internet. It’s been several weeks since I’ve blogged. School started, we got a second renter, Dexter and I have been talking and praying about future dreams, and I just plain didn’t want to.

This blog and I have become frenemies. I love the chance to write, to interact with the nice people online, and to urge myself to be creative. However, I think I’ve been taking it all too seriously in light of my other priorities. I also struggle with what to write about–freedom is a blessing and a curse for the no-niche blogger.

I did, however, commit myself to updating the blog monthly with our debt repayment. I knew what to write about. I didn’t feel like I was contriving something to write just so I could talk to you. I thought some math symbols would break the ice or anesthetize the awkwardness. Whether or not it’s working, here I am.

close up picture of keys on a calculator

In August, we paid o.5% of our debt and we have 71.5% remaining.

It’s far enough into September that I know what our extra loan payment situation looks like. Last month, I naively wished that for my birthday in October, I could pay off Debt #3 or at least get down into the 60%s rather than the 70%s. Then, we paid for six months of auto insurance, a year of life insurance, three new tires, and new front breaks and rotors. So, not only do we not have any extra payments, we’re dipping into our baby emergency fund.

I was really frustrated when I prepped the budget for this month. I really want to be out of debt. I’m tired of the bondage and having an eerie voice whisper in my ear in the checkout lane.

You shouldn’t be buying this. Underpants without holes aren’t a need, they’re a want. Who cares about animal welfare; you need money.

While I successfully smother these voices long enough to buy what is good and practical to buy, the feeling they leave is uncomfortable.

What’s wrong with you? Why did you let yourself get into so much debt in the first place? Was a college education really worth it? Why is it taking you so long to pay off? You must not be smart enough to take care of your finances. Other people are done paying off their debt after 18 months. You’re not even 30% of the way there.

My inner-monologue is not always very friendly.

I had to remind myself that we made the choice to make less money at the beginning of summer. I didn’t tell you why, but I’ll tell you now.

My extremely talented (and handsome) husband cut down his paid hours at the coffee shop and was accepted as an intern at an innovative, well-respected web development company, Cramer Dev.

It was a gutsy move on Dexter’s part. He took the cut at work without knowing he’d get the internship. He worked really hard crafting a layered print resume that combined an 80s color scheme with professional quality. (Yeah, he’s that good.)

Since June, I went from understanding 99% of what he told me about his coffee shop job to giggling in the middle of his how-was-your-day report because he sounded like the trumpet-voiced teacher from Charlie Brown to me. I listened really hard, though, and figured out what the words meant.

He has learned so much in the past three months, and he has been so happy learning it. When he used to get on facebook or Tumblr to kill time, now I catch him writing CSS on the sly. My new question for him, whenever I see what he’s created, is, “So, did you make that by just typing some words?”

So, when I remind myself that, aside from slowing down our debt, this summer has allowed Dexter to pursue a passion and develop skills for his vocation (which may end up helping us to pay off our debt faster down the road!), the sacrifice of staying in debt just a little longer is a no brainer.