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?


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.

Total Money Makeover Update: August 2011

Since I’m switching to budgeting a calendar month at a time (rather than starting at the 15th of each month), I knew I would have to do a teeny-tiny, half the payments update sooner or later. So here it is.

In the past two weeks we’ve paid off 0.2% of our debt and we have 72% left to go.

I’m not expecting a huge drop in percent next month since we made a bigger payment last month with my multiple paychecks from school. My first paycheck of the school year is in September, so I’m hoping to be able to celebrate my birthday in October by moving down into the 60s.

Total Money Makeover Update: July 2011 – Shaking Up My Easy Budgeting System

Since we’ve become an all-Mac family, I’ve had to change the way I track our budget. I was so frustrated since I had spent years perfecting my system. The upkeep was quick and painless each month, and it was easy to check on my progress throughout the month.

Those days are over. I’ve spent the last month or two downloading the wrong version of Quicken, downloading the right version of Quicken, realizing that my bank’s files aren’t compatible with Quicken for Mac. (From what I’ve read online, this is because Quicken wants extra money from my bank to give them permission to let me have a file with the EXACT SAME NAME. I found a way to hack the system, but I didn’t want to get in trouble. Plus, on principle, it should just work if I’m paying that much for their product.) It hasn’t been fun.

I’ve decided to give a go, since it’s free and *should* look up all my financial information for me each time I log in. This will save me time logging into each of my loan accounts to track our balance each month. However, it seems like every time I log in there’s at least one financial institution that’s not updating properly. So, I may not be saving any time at all. But did I mention it’s free?

By using Mint, I’m also giving up my ability to track my spending starting on the 15th of this month. I’ve gotten around that problem by using part of my triple-beginning-of-summer-paycheck to give us a cushion at the beginning of each month up until the latest day our first paycheck might come. So, after this month, I’ll plan to do my Total Money Makeover Updates during the first week of the month.

Unfortunately, my way of coping with changing our budget system has been avoidance. In fact, my task tonight is to catch up on July and see how big a hole we’ve dug for ourselves where we’re at on this month’s budget. We’re thankful that my summer job brought in a few hundred dollars more than we’d planned so we could pay the $130 ticket we got for forgetting to register our car have a little bit of cushion on our summer budget.

Let’s cut to the chase.

This month, we paid off 2.1% of our debt and we have 72.2% to go.

And remember…register your vehicle.

Total Money Makeover Update: June 2011

Goals are a blessing and a curse.

They say that statistically there is correlation between writing down goals and achieving success. I don’t know who they are or what sort of study they did, but there is obviously some wisdom to formalizing plans for what you’d like to accomplish. Dexter and I planned to pay off our debt pretty quickly after college. However, until we set our goal to have them paid off by March of 2014, we paid our minimums each month and made no progress. Since setting the goal 16 months ago, we’ve paid off a quarter of our non-mortgage debt.

The curse manifests when you’re not making the progress you think you should be. To be out of debt by March of 2014, Dexter and I would have to pay off 2.4% of our debt each month. That has not been happening. I really like to look good in front of other people, and reporting that we’ve paid off less than 1% of our debt month after month doesn’t qualify as “looking good” in my book.

Speaking of what we’ve paid this month, since May 15, we’ve paid off 0.7% of our debt and we have 74.3% remaining.

Photo Credit: foxumon

Last week, I couldn’t fall asleep one night, so I got up and did what any normal person would do: I averaged interest rates, used debt snowball calculators, and created Excel worksheets. The information I found told me that on a fairly (but not incredibly) strict budget, getting out of debt should take about seven years. Not from when we started, but from now. I’m pretty good at math, so I realized that seven years is more than the three that we had been hoping for.

Needless to say, I was upset. It was a busy week, so I didn’t have time to sit down and talk to Dexter about what I’d learned. On Wednesday night, I was working on our summer budget, hoping (while doubting) that we’d be able to pay off Debt #3 this summer. I had been hoping and planning to do this for so long, that even though I knew we probably wouldn’t have enough, I almost wrote the check and took it to the bank, thinking that if I just did it I could escape the consequences. (This is the kind of risk that people like me who have never experimented with drugs and other risky behaviors do for a rush–we think about paying off debt irresponsibly fast.)

Thankfully my logic defeated my impulse, because we only had enough to pay off a quarter of what remains on the loan. If I had paid it, we would have been living off emergency savings, car replacement savings, Chrismas savings, and spare change from the top of the dryer all during August.

All this begs the question: Why did we think we could pay off the loan by March 2014 in the first place? Easy. We thought we’d make more money, spend less money, and let God help (but just a little bit).

Why are we making less money? Although it sounds terrible, we actually made a decision last month to start bringing in less money for a short period of time with the hope of increasing our income even more in the future. I’ll share more about that decision next week.

Why are we spending more money? That’s a harder question. We’re doing good things with our money, like giving to Compassion and Campus Crusade, buying local food, and using dairy from happy cows. We’re also doing a bad job keeping up with our cash system, which means more “I’m sure we have enough” purchases on the debit card. We’re eating out more. We’re getting comfortable, knowing that we make enough to pay the bills each month.

Why are we “letting” God help? We purposely chose a goal date to be debt free that was a bit of a challenge. We wanted God to be glorified through our journey to debt freedom, and that wasn’t going to happen if we approached the goal as if we could do it all ourselves.

What are we going to do about it?

The problem I see with the answers I’ve given above are with how comfortable we are parting with money. For the past several months, I haven’t been mad about our debt. I remember looking at a tax form for one of our student loans last year. I realized that we had spent one entire month of my income on interest for that one loan. That made me sick, but it also renewed my sense of urgency about getting out of debt.

Looking at our summer budget this week and realizing that we couldn’t pay of Debt #3 made me mad. When I analyzed our summer budget, I thought, “Who needs clothes when you have debt?!” and “Restaurants are for rich people!” I did, obviously, leave some room in the budget for those things, but I have a renewed desire to spend as little as possible in those areas. Hopefully this new drive will help us stick to the budget and really analyze what is a need and what is a want.


Top Ten Reasons I Can’t Wait for Summer Break

I know, I know. Poor me, having a 10 week break during the season of sun, farmer’s markets, and barbecue. You’ve got to cut me some slack, though, because I do spend 7 hours a day trapped in a windowless, air-conditionerless room with the future of America in its adolescent form.

There are 17 days of school left. My summer to-do list is 18 miles long, and I’m anxious to get started before I realize that 10 weeks (minus 3-4 weeks of a summer job, minus a school workshop, minus curriculum planning) is not nearly enough time to accomplish half of what I want to get done.

Here are the top ten things I can’t wait to do this summer.

  1. Read. Every once in a while, I can turn my head just right, blocking out the mess, and focus on reading a book. My 30 Before 30 list includes reading a book a month, and right now I’m behind 3.5 months. I keep making mental additions to my reading list, and I can’t wait to get started.
  2. Running. On Easter, my schedule finally calmed down and I began making time to run. I’m now in the middle of Couch to 5K Week 3, and it’s going better this time than ever before. I’m even thinking there could be a 10K in my future.
  3. Farmer’s Market. Although down south, where it seems like the majority of bloggers that I read live, some summer food seasons are already over. In Iowa, the first veggies have barely started to be harvested. Our town’s first farmer’s market was last weekend, and I’m looking forward to weeks of fresh veggies. We’re not doing a CSA this summer, so I’m going to make an effort to faithfully shop the farmer’s market each week.
  4. Cooking. The past month or so, we’ve been eating spaghetti, pizza, canned soup, and canned Indian food. I’m ready to get in the kitchen, make some delicious, fresh meals, and still have the time and energy to clean up after myself.
  5. Paying off Debt #3. I’m not 100% sure, but we might be able to pay off what I’ve dubbed our “mini mortgage” on July 1. I’m excited to figure out the budget and take that check to the bank! We’ll still have a ways to go, but we’ll be down to our last two loans.
  6. Being artsy and crafty. I’ve always enjoyed artistic things, but haven’t really considered it a full fledged hobby before. I have lots of creative ideas bouncing around in my head, and I’m excited to put some of them into action.
  7. Blogging! Between running, keeping food on the table, and keeping my home mold and bug free, I haven’t had a lot of time to blog. I’m still trying to decide how many times a week to post this summer, but I’m hoping to get into some semblence of consistency and discipline.
  8. Walking my dogs. My poor puppies spend every day cooped up inside, but they love to run and sniff. We got Fitz a new collar that helps him to walk with us rather than drag us on our faces down the street, so it should be a much more pleasant experience.
  9. Refinishing furniture. I inherited a dining room table and a porch glider from my family. The dining set is in good shape, but I’d like to refinish the wood so it’s darker and more modern. The porch spring is metal and rusty, so I’m hoping to clean it off and give it a fresh coat of paint. I’m still looking for an old bed and dresser to spruce up for our bedroom.
  10. Redecorating my house. Maybe it’s all the interior design blogs I’ve started to read lately, but I can’t stop thinking about rearranging my furniture, covering my sofa, painting my walls a calming neutral, and adding pops of teal and red throughout. It just sounds bright and cheery.

Head over to OhAmanda for more Top Ten Tuesday!

Total Money Makeover Update: April 2011

Photo Credit: Billy Alexander

It’s been a busy month! Our evenings and weekends have been packed with events, friends, and responsibilities. I’m at the point where when a friend cancels, I’m thrilled. I even had to take a rain check on an invitation for dinner with this lovely lady. We’re looking forward to our next completely free weekend on May 21. (Sigh. That’s a long time.)

We’re not making extra income like we were in the fall when I worked after school three days a week. I miss the check, but as busy as we’ve been, I’m so thankful it’s no longer such a frequent commitment. It’s also been interesting to see what cooking for four has done to our budget. I also failed to get cash in my envelopes last month, which resulted in us coming in around $60 over budget. (It’s a miracle that it wasn’t more!) Since our month starts today, I plan to go to the bank tomorrow morning (or send Dexter) so I don’t make excuses later.

I was disappointed about the lack of extra payments we made this month. We paid off 0.8%  of our debt and have 75.8% to go. Next month we’ll make another small extra payment, but I’m hoping it at least gets us down to 75%. The following two months should be much more fun!

Thanks for checking in on our progress!

Spring Break on a Budget

For a few short days in December, Dexter and I entertained the idea of visiting New York City over Spring Break. It’s on both of our 30 Before 30 lists (although I’ve been there before), and we were both a little anxious for adventure. (Sometimes I feel like since I don’t have kids–and not because I don’t like them–I am entitled to have adventures. It’s not a healthy mindset.)

I had it all planned out. We were going to stay in this swanky vintage style hotel. We were going to indulge in dessert (and maybe dinner) at this Smitten-Kitchen-mentioned* restaurant. We were going to walk, wide-eyed, around this museum.

But, alas.

Remember my post about making money decisions? Well, reluctantly, I took my own advice and looked at the price of a trip (and let me tell you, I researched some bargains!) in another light. I calculated how much extra interest we’d pay in the long run because of the money we’d spend on our trip. Then, I figured out that by spending Spring Break in New York, we’d be keeping ourselves in debt for an extra 6 months.


We remembered the verse in Proverbs that says, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” And we were pretty sure we’d be sorry during the fall of 2014 as we were sending our checks to the student loan company rather than transferring money into savings. So, we decided not to go.

We realized, however, that we do need to get away. We need a weekend without dirty dishes, without picking up dog poop, and without phone calls from work. So, we followed the example my parents set and planned an “urban midwest getaway.” This summer, you might remember, we spent a weekend in Kansas City. Chicago also makes itself into our weekend getaway rotation. (For some reason, we ignore Omaha.)

So, in less than two weeks, we’ll be gazing at the Minneapolis skyline. And we’re pretty excited.

Like New York, the Twin Cities have hotels, restaurants, and museums. And they’ll be noticeably more budget-friendly than their NYC counterparts. This trip will keep us in debt less than a month longer than we would have been. Which, I think, is an excellent trade-off when you consider that our options are a) go on this trip or b) go crazy.

Here’s the thing: We don’t really know the Twin Cities area very well, so we need your tourism advice.

What would you do on a weekend away in Minneapolis?

(Can’t decide what advice to share? Consider the following. We’re not on a super tight budget–although concert tickets at $100 a pop aren’t going to happen. We like food–especially local, organic, and humane. We like coffee–especially fresh, small-batch roasted coffee. We like shopping. We like museums of all sorts. And Dexter is kind of a hipster–you know, the good kind, with hipster taste and none of the attitude.)

*Click that link. Make that gingerbread. Flour your pans well. You won’t regret it.

Photo Credit 1 & Photo Credit 2

Total Money Makeover Update: January 2011

Photo Credit: brokenarts

Thanks to Dexter getting three paychecks this month instead of two, we were able to recover from last month’s spending spree, refill our emergency fund, and make a big extra payment on Debt #3. The first digit (biggest place value) in Debt #3 dropped by two this month, which is exciting for me as I look for any glimmer of hope as I calculate our debt each month.

Our day-to-day spending wasn’t as good as our big payments. We ate out more than we should have this month, and I definitely didn’t update my checkbook every day like I promised. I also gave myself permission to only use envelopes for groceries. This wasn’t very effective, because I kept forgetting about my envelopes altogether and used my card anyway. We’ll be back to the envelope system next month. We only use our bank card for the ATM, gas, and online purchases. I’m trying to devise a way to leave my bank card at home so I’m not tempted to use it or don’t accidentally use it. I wonder if I can use gift cards to pay at the pump at any gas stations? Then, as long as I get all my cash ahead of time or by going inside the bank, I shouldn’t need my card.

I was thinking about buying a refill of Dave Ramsey envelopes and reinforcing them with packing tape, but they’re currently out of stock. I like that they’re bound together, but they didn’t last long. I’d also probably cut the flaps off the envelopes because it takes too long to find my envelope and open it when I’m checking out. (It doesn’t seem like a legitimate problem, but I felt so slow when I used it before!) I also found this template for cute tabbed envelopes. I’m still deciding if it’s worth my time to make these when I can just use the plain white standard envelopes I already have. Maybe it would give me some inspiration to get back on track with my envelopes!

In summary, we paid off 1.8% of our debt this month and have 78.6% to go. We hope to pay off the rest of Debt #3, almost 8% of our total debt, this summer. Then we’ll just have two (miserably huge) debts to go!

Tune in next month for the one-year summary of our Total Money Makeover!

The Balance of Blessing and Budgeting

Dave Ramsey’s motto is, “Live like no one else, so later you can live like no one else.” Essentially: live within your means (unlike most Americans) so you can become wealthy, meet all your family’s needs, and give generously (unlike most Americans). This makes sense. And it works. But there is a problem.

There are needs that need to be met NOW.

Dexter and I started sponsoring a child through Compassion when we were in high school. We both worked and had money to burn. However, the needs of our Compassion kid didn’t change when our Total Money Makeover began. When we went over our budget before starting our debt snowball, we had to pray about what was going to make the cut. We decided that being faithful to our sponsorship commitment was a way to honor God with our finances and are trusting him that our $38 a month won’t put us behind the schedule of his will.

Shortly after we began our debt snowball, a friend was called to ministry with Campus Crusade for Christ. She needed to raise support so she could devote herself full-time to the students she was working with. At first, I was bitter about the idea of giving money to someone to do ministry in the city where they already lived. Weren’t all Christians supposed to be loving the people around them and making disciples for Christ? I didn’t expect anyone to give me money to do what I was supposed to do. One day, I began thinking about my life and my schedule. My job was so time-consuming that I could barely feed myself and clean up afterward. I wasn’t eating healthily, I wasn’t exercising, I wasn’t immersed in Scripture the way I wanted to be, and I wasn’t being active in making disciples. I wanted to be obedient, but I was torn. I knew God wanted me to do quality work at my job, but I also know that my life isn’t about my work but about His work. Dexter and I talked and decided that since our cash flow allowed for it, we wanted to financially support someone who could devote herself to making disciples. We realized that God was calling us to participate in making disciples financially and trust him to provide money to pay off debt. Although we set our goal for being done with debt before making our commitment to Campus Crusade, we’re on and maybe even ahead of schedule for paying off our debt.

So, is the answer always to spend and bless? Probably not. Consider our next conundrum.

Dexter and I live about a mile from the college football stadium in our city. The team is good and the games are sold out. We thought that getting cable and opening our home as a place to watch the game on TV would be a good way to bless people in our town. Sure, a loaf of zucchini bread would be accepted, but what people in our town really want is access to the game. As we began to make plans, we realized we had a problem. We have a 24″ tube TV. This isn’t exactly crowd-friendly and won’t make our home the hub of game-time action. We began praying about buying a big, flat-screen TV. We knew there wouldn’t be room in the budget this month, especially because we have car and life insurance premiums due. I decided I was willing to part with the money we have set aside to redo our main-floor half-bath. I plan to do some superficial, cosmetic fixes instead of starting from scratch, and I hope to squeeze the paint and other supplies out of other areas in the budget. We decided on a 32″ Sony on sale at Best Buy. It was a great deal–even cheaper than the no-name brands they carry. My brother offered us his old 32″ tube TV when we went home to visit for his birthday, but we were so enamored by our Best Buy deal that we decided to get our fancy TV anyway.

That night at church, our house church leader mentioned he and his wife’s journey toward debt freedom during his teaching. I don’t even know how it was related to what we were studying–we definitely weren’t talking about money. Usually, I’m the one who’s gung ho about debt freedom, but hearing even a mention from someone else sparked a desire in me to pay things off faster. If we bought the TV this month, we would have only had about $25 extra to pay toward loans on top of our minimums–and that didn’t seem very fast to me. After church, I turned to Dexter and asked him what he thought about using our bathroom/TV savings to pay off loans and ask my brother if he would sell us his old TV. He agreed with my plan, and I texted my brother about the TV. My (wonderful, generous, super-cool) little brother responded saying that we could just have the TV and that he’d send it up with our parents this weekend.

I don’t have any clear-and-dry answers about when to and not to spend money, especially while you’re still in debt. I think about this balance a lot, however, and have a few tips for your decision-making process.

  1. Pray. I often pray that God will stop me from doing something stupid and impulsive, even though I have good motives. Once I make a decision, I pray that God will stop me if my decision isn’t in line with his will.
  2. Calculate the cost. Say I had an extra $500 to spend on a TV, but that I had an average of 6% interest on my loans. If that $500 was the last of the loans I paid off, I’d accrue interest on the unpaid money between now and my payoff date. If we pay off our loans in March 2014 as we originally hoped, we’d pay over $100 extra on our TV in loan interest that wouldn’t have been there if we’d just paid the money to the bank.
  3. Examine your motives. My motive for wanting a big TV, I thought, was to bless people. I realized, after we changed our minds, that I didn’t just want people to enjoy the game at my house, I wanted them to think I was a good hostess and that we had a nice home. I also realized that my motives for wanting to do an expensive overhaul of our bathroom were the same.
  4. Think about how you’ll feel after making the purchase. Proverbs 10:22 says, “It is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich, and he adds no sorrow to it.” I realized that I was going to be rather sorry about seeing the money for the TV go, especially in light of how little progress on repaying our debt we’d be making.
  5. Search scripture. James 1:27 says, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after widows and orphans in their distress and to keep ones self from being polluted by the world.” TVs aren’t necessarily pollution (especially since our favorite channel is the Food Network), but I can much more easily find scripture that backs up spending money to support a fatherless child in Guatemala than I can find it to support buying a TV. Maybe the Bible has something specific to say about the purchase you have in mind. If not, what principles can you apply?
  6. Remember, it’s just money. I’ll be the first to admit that I can be a little…overzealous…about managing our money. My budgeting system involves envelopes, Quicken, and spreadsheets. Matthew 6:24 says, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” It’s important to remember that God wants you to be a good steward of your money, but he doesn’t want you to be obsessed with it. If it consumes you a little too much, consider trading duties with your spouse or involving him in the budget process a little more.