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.

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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: 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.

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 Mint.com 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: May 2011 – Hitting a Milestone

Remember how I keep saying that we’re going to get back on the cash envelope system wagon? This month, I really meant to. But Dexter got called into work the morning I was going to go to the bank, so I didn’t have a car, and then a trip to the bank never happened. It was another one of those haphazard-spending-amazed-we-came-out-okay months. But this month, I’m going to make it happen. 

We bought a computer this month, which should contribute to my blogging more regularly. We have only had one easy-to-use computer for about a year, so now I can blog and Dexter can write his web novel* simultaneously. Although the new computer has brought about tremendous happiness and convenience, it definitely hurt to shell out that much money once I figured out what percent of our loans it would have paid off. I try not to think about it.

I am happy to report that we have finally reached our long-awaited milestone. This month, we paid off 0.82% of our loans, and we have 74.98% to go! I had to switch to two digits after the decimal otherwise my rounding would have pushed it up to 75%, and I really want to remind myself that we are under 75%!

I’m unsure of how to predict and plan our progress for the next few months. We need to refill the (new car) savings we used to buy our computer. We’d also like to buy a new bed frame and do a few projects around the house. Obviously, we’ll attempt to accomplish those things spending as little money as possible, but it will take at least a little cash. We’re at a point where we know it’s still going to take a few years to pay down our debt, so we have to decide whether we’re going to hold out on buying conveniences (like a bed sturdy enough to withstand our four-legged, 65-pound baby jumping on and off multiple times a day) until we’re debt free, or if we’re going to slow down our repayment a bit so we can enjoy them now.

The bed I really want...only $350.99 from overstock.com!

What would you do? Buy a bed and fix up the house or wait until 2014 and end up debt free a month or two earlier?

*Warning: The comic is rated PG for violence, but if you click away from Dexter’s web novel you’ll find web comics that are rated R for language, drug references, and zombie violence. I also rate Dexter’s novel A for awesome.

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!

Total Money Makeover Update: March 2011

Photo Credit: Egahen

The past 28 days have been busy. Although in January I resolved to use cash for all of our spending, we never made it to the bank to get cash for this month. Fortunately, we didn’t have a lot of time for shopping, either, so I didn’t waste money on things we didn’t need. We bought food and toilet paper, and we paid our bills.

We had a friend move into our basement for a three-or-four-month stay and invited another friend to eat dinner with us on a regular basis, so we had to increase our grocery budget. I’m still figuring out what a grocery budget for three grown men and one woman should look like. Fortunately, I don’t think it will quite double what we currently spend. Hopefully, it will help us to use up everything we buy and will force me to plan meals better. (It’s a lot harder to “wing it” at dinner time when there are four stomachs to feed!) I may have gone a little crazy buying canned food for the nights I don’t feel up to cooking. There were some good sales on Indian food and Muir Glen organic soups the weekend our friend moved in, and I bought about 16 cans (which is really only about 8 meals). I’m hoping to get some freezer cooking done over spring break to further save money and take the stress out of making dinner. (Dish suggestions welcome!)

Last month, I shared a review of the progress we made after having done our Total Money Makeover for a whole year. It was rewarding to see how all our hard work has paid off! When I made this month’s budget, I was a little disappointed. We had lots of extra income due to our tax return, but we also had some larger-than-usual expenses, so the extra loan payment amount on my spreadsheet looked pretty boring and average. However, after totalling our remaining debt and calculating our percentage, I’m encouraged. This month, we paid off 1.1% of our debt and we have 76.6% to go.

I’m also encouraged as I look at the balances for each of our loans. I can see a difference even in the balance even for the loans we haven’t paid extra on. Debt #3, which we are working on now, is looking pretty conquerable. I’m hoping to have it gone by July 1. Debts #4 and #5 are still dauntingly huge, but Debt #5’s biggest digit will drop next month.

Currently, I’m taking Leah’s advice and praying for God to provide opportunities to earn extra money and speed up our debt repayment. For now, we’re pressing on and are hoping to be at the 75% point very soon!

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.

Yuck.

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: February 2011 and One Year Review!

First Birthday
One year ago, Dexter and I made the decision to buckle down about getting out of debt. We pored over Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover book, and my aunt and uncle gave us a subscription to Financial Peace University. Then we put what we learned into action. We cancelled our credit cards, switched to using a cash envelope system for most of our purchases, and we revised and tracked our budget month after month. We were encouraged as we tracked our debt repayment and had big months like April and July. We were discouraged the months we were lax about our spending or didn’t have much extra income.

It’s been a month since our last Total Money Makeover Update. In those 31 days, we paid off 0.9% of our debt. We also brought our baby emergency fund back up to $1,000 (because we realized after-the-fact last month that the money wasn’t all there to fill it up). We also took care of a few yearly expenses. We stayed pretty close to budget in most areas and succeeded in using the cash system *most* of the month.

Let’s take a look at the year in review, seeing what percent of our debt was repaid each month in the last year.

This brings us to a total of 22.3% of our debt GONE! We have 77.7% to go. Let’s break it down some more.

  • Highest Month – April (thanks to the tax-credit we received for buying our home!)
  • Lowest Month – September (my third consecutive month without a real paycheck)
  • Average Per Month – 1.9%
  • Projected finish date at the beginning: March 2014
  • Projected finish date at 1.9% paid per month: June 2014
  • Projected 50% date at 1.9% paid per month: May 2012

I so badly wanted to sell off everything we own to get down to 75% this month. I thought that being a quarter of the way through our debt in a quarter of the time we wanted to take to pay it off sounded really good. It’s disappointing to realize that we’re a few months behind schedule. However, I’m so thankful for how far we’ve come. Our debt is scheduled by the banks to be paid off in 20-30 years. Four years and some extra months is so much more encouraging than 30!

I’m also refusing to be discouraged because of some things we’ll be changing in the next year.

  • Last year, we saved $200/month to replace our car whenever that becomes necessary. Because we think we have enough saved to replace our car’s transmission if that were to go out or to buy an old car to tide us over till we’re out of debt, we’ve decided to stop saving for a car. From now on, we’ll have an extra $200 a month to put toward our debt!
  • Starting this summer, we’ll be having the housemate who lived with us last year move back in. Although last summer he lived here for the cost of groceries and a little for utilities, since he’ll be staying here long-term, we’ll actually be making a little profit from rent. We researched how much he’d be paying for accommodations nearby and are charging him a lower price. We’re hoping to save him money and speed up our debt repayment a little, too!

Most importantly, we’re refusing to be discouraged because we’re trusting God to work out our financial situation as he sees fit. If he wants us to be done in March 2014, that’s when we’ll be done. If he wants us to be done in June 2014 (or later), we’ll trust that his plan is good. If he wants us to be done earlier, I definitely won’t fight him either!

We’d like to say thanks to all of you who have encouraged us over the past year. Your positive comments, especially in the slowest months, meant a lot to us. Although we’ve heard stories about people being mocked and even berated about their decision to live frugally and become debt free, we’ve been blessed to have family and friends who think it’s cool that we’re making these financial decisions.

Let’s get year 2 of this Total Money Makeover started!

Money Monday: How I Track My Budget

It took me a long time to find a method of keeping track of our budget that was simple and efficient. Everybody has a different system. One of my aunts doesn’t have Quicken (or a system like it), online banking, or a debit card. She loves the simplicity. Alicia uses a handwritten ledger, and explains her system here. I used Microsoft Money before they stopped updating it and no longer offered online support. I tried Mint.com for a while, but it wouldn’t upload all my accounts, or I’d have to change my password and it wouldn’t let me login, and it wouldn’t let me split transactions (if I bought both gifts and groceries at the same store) the way I wanted to. We splurged for Quicken, and I finally have a thorough but easy-to-use system.


At the beginning of each month, I figure out how much money we have leftover from the previous month, predict our salaries and expenses for the month, and record them on an excel spreadsheet* (shown above, download here).  Once the income and the necessary expenses are filled in, I allot money for birthdays or weddings we’ll be shopping for that month, date nights and spending money, and most importantly, I use up the rest of our money in an extra loan payment as part of our total money makeover.

Then, I take out cash for several of our spending categories. Ideally, I’d walk into the bank and get the exact bills I need in one trip. Unfortunately, we often fail to get to the bank when it’s open, so we hit the ATM several times over the course of the first week to fill our envelopes. When I withdraw the cash, I categorize the transaction in Quicken with the exact amounts of cash that went to each category. Here’s what typically goes into our envelopes each month:

  • General Groceries: $200
  • Stock-Up Groceries: $50
  • Church Groceries: $20
  • Clothes: $50-100
  • Toiletries, Cleaning & Other Household: $50-100
  • Date Night: $50-100
  • “Blow Money”: $20 for each of us
  • Love Budget“: $10 for each of us

We try not to use our bank cards of any of these things. If we do, whether because we left cash at home or we bought something online, we deposit that cash back into the bank and note in Quicken what category that money should go to.

Ideally, several times throughout the month, I download my transactions from my bank’s website, assign each one a spending category, and compare Quicken to my spreadsheet. This process shows me how much room we have in the budget for non-cash categories and lets me make sure none of our envelopes “owe money to the bank.” In real life, this happens once in the middle of the month before I write our extra loan payment check and before our mortgage and other larger bills go through, and then at the end of the month.

To quickly compare my spending recorded in Quicken to my budget spreadsheet, I use the exact same category and subcategory names in Quicken that I do on my spreadsheet. Quicken will create a report for me of my spending in each category for a period of time (shown above), so I pull that up alongside my spreadsheet whenever I want to check how closely we’re following our budget. Unlike Dave Ramsey’s worksheets that put things in order of priority, e.g.: tithing first, then housing, etc., my spreadsheet alphabetizes the categories and subcategories so I can quickly glance from Quicken to the spreadsheet to compare.

At the end of the month, I enter our actual income and expenses. The surplus shown in our spreadsheet should exactly match the balance in Quicken on the last day of the month. (That works for us because we’re only tracking these categories in one account. It would be harder if you had multiple checking accounts or credit cards involved in the process. Which is exactly why I don’t have those!) If the numbers don’t match, I double-check Quicken and my spreadsheet to find the problem. Then, I start over again and prepare our budget for the following month.

What budgeting tips do you have? What money management system works for you or your family?

*I didn’t create this entirely myself. I found one from a friend of a friend of a friend online and adapted it, but I can’t find the source now. If it was you, thanks!