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.

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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.

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: