A Story About Paying Off Debt and the Obstacles Along the Way

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Thoughts At The End Of November


Some of these thoughts have nothing to do with personal finance, but hey, at its core, this blog is a holistic record of our lives as we work to get out of debt. It's not always just about money.

1. Winter is here! We got hit with a Thanksgiving Day/Black Friday blizzard that dumped about 10 inches of powder at our house and more than four feet up in the mountains. I get so excited about water in any form now that I live in Arizona: the rain and snow that we receive in the colder months have a direct effect on the severity of our fire season the following spring and summer. The more substantial the snowpack, the less scary fire season is. I used to take precipitation for granted. Now it's like watching gold fall from the sky.

2. I avoided buying anything on Black Friday. One, we were trapped by the blizzard, so we couldn't have hit the sales even if we wanted to. Two, we've wrung our November budget dry; there's not much left to work with. Three, I didn't need anything anyway. That said, if I let myself spend too much time on social media, I start getting hypnotized by all the subtly advertised running gear being peddled by my favorite athletes. I have to check myself: no, famous runner, I do not need to attend your running camp. I do not need that watch, or that treadmill, or that skirt. *forces self to close Instagram*

3. The campground membership is fully paid off, and I'm still on a high about that. It feels good to have one less expense and $100 extra dollars a month to work with.

4. I don't know if I'll continue the Mental Health and Money Mondays series. I like the idea and feel there's value in it, but - and this is very on-brand - I got derailed a couple of weeks ago by a short bout of knock-you-over depression.

This unexpected episode was a reminder that it doesn't take much for me to get in over my head. I mean, the blog wasn't what made me depressed, but committing to one more thing on a regular basis is too overwhelming right now. (But it's just a few blog posts! you might point out. My reply: Yeah, tell me about it... but the message has been delivered loud and clear there's a difference between what I think I should be able to do and what I want to do, and what I can actually do.)

5. I'm feeling more and more ambivalent about Rover. I still love taking care of pets, but between the 20% that Rover takes and the ~30% that the government will take, plus the wear and tear on my car, I'm not sure it's worthwhile. For instance, the owner who hired me for my current gig paid just over $200 for my services. Rover will take $40. That leaves me with $160, and I'll stash about $50 of that into an account I reserve for taxes. I mean, yes, it's nice to have an extra $100, but damn, I did a lot of work and a lot of driving for that $100.

6. I'm facing a new work dilemma, one that's the polar opposite of the one I experienced at the end of last year when I was desperate to leave my shitty and soul-sucking - but well-paying! - full-time job (you know: the one I eagerly departed for a job that turned out to be sleazy, underpaying, and generally awful).

Now I have a highly creative and autonomous part-time job that I truly enjoy. I enjoy it so much that I worked over Thanksgiving and didn't feel resentful in the least.

But here's the problem: it doesn't pay enough. It especially won't pay enough when I go back to working 20 hours a week (from my current 30 hours a week) in January.

Basically, our combined salary will be sufficient to cover our bills and one or two inexpensive family activities per month. Beyond the retirement contributions that are automatically deducted from Fortysomething's paycheck, there will be almost no room for additional saving. Especially if our rent goes up again at the beginning of the summer. *pauses to headdesk*

Although I check the job boards every single day, the opportunities in my field are rather sparse. I know people are always talking about the low unemployment rate and the cornucopia of job openings out there, but... that's not my personal experience, perhaps in part because I live in a small and somewhat isolated town. This isn't Seattle or Phoenix. Job openings here are extremely limited in number and highly competitive.

Plus, I'm terrified of leaving a job I like for the unknown. I'm scared I'll end up in another awful situation. And I'm not entirely confident about my ability to work 40 hours a week (though if my current employer offered me a full-time role, I'd absolutely take it).

This isn't an issue that needs to be fixed right this minute. I have time to figure it out. All I know is that liking a job is great, but job security and being able to save for the future (especially when you're already behind) are also crucial.

Will I ever find that balance? Is it too late for me to find a job that pays well and that I enjoy?
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Another Debt Bites The Dust


Goodbye, Campground Membership


I'm just popping in to say that much to my surprise, we'll be eliminating one more chunk of debt by the end of the year. 

Fortysomething found out today that he'll receive an unexpected and rather hefty work bonus next week. It's truly a windfall. It's enough to cover the $1766 remaining on the campground membership loan that we acquired during our stint as full-time RVers.

The membership made sense back then: it allowed us to stay at full-service, RV-friendly campgrounds for several weeks at a time at no extra charge. However, we decided to stop RVing approximately two months after we took out the loan. Not a great financial move. We've been paying it off ever since to the tune of $108/month. 

(We still have access to the campgrounds in the membership plan, but they're not particularly close to where we live, so we don't make regular use of them. It's a terrible waste of money.)

I ended up paying off the balance today with my trusty REI credit card, which translates to some additional cash back that we'll receive in the spring with our REI dividend. When the bonus hits the bank account a week from now, I'll pay off the credit card.

I should note that I haven't included the campground membership loan in any of our debt updates (although I've always included the monthly payment in our budget reports). For a long time, I didn't want to acknowledge its existence. How's that for some warped and determined financial psychology?


Updating the Student Loan Repayment Plan


By paying off the campground membership, we'll be able to bring our monthly student loan payment from $400 to $508.

I just did the calculations. At that rate, the student loan will be gone in... drumroll, please...

a little less than eight years.


Wheeeeeeee.

I mean, I'm pretty sure we can do it faster than that - especially if we apply part of our future yearly bonuses to the balance - but that's the baseline, and it's fine for now.


Better Than Expected


We're almost at the end of 2019, and given that I went from making a salary of $60K back in January to making a current salary of more like $20K, I'm extremely pleased with our progress. No, we don't have enough in retirement. No, I'm not convinced my part-time job is sustainable over the long term.

But somehow, we're actually on track to meet the majority of our financial goals for the year.

I'll take that win.


Update


The payment went through! Take a look at this:

And now that it's paid, I'll admit that the interest rate was pretty high and we probably should have included it in our total debt stats. Oh well.


I'm just glad it's done. It really is a relief, and it'll be nice to have a little more wiggle room when my hours drop again in January. 
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Rainy Day Budgeting: November 2019


For the first time in weeks, we're getting some substantial rainfall here in Northern Arizona. It's chilly, it's pouring outside, and it feels like the perfect opportunity to settle in with some coffee and write about a topic I've been neglecting lately: our budget.

(Sidenote: I wrote this yesterday. It is no longer raining, which makes this former East Coaster sad. But it was nice while it lasted.)


Making the Most of Higher Paychecks


Right now, I'm getting paid for 30 hours a week while we wrap up a big project at work, so my paychecks have been more substantial than usual. In fact, because I don't receive employer-sponsored benefits and therefore don't have any related deductions, the amount I'm earning is roughly equal to what I was making at the shitshow job back in the spring. 

That means we have a little extra money to play with and plan with.

What we're doing with it:

1. Celebrating

As I was just sharing in a blog comment, October through December tend to be expensive months for us. We've got two birthdays, an anniversary, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. For the past couple of holiday seasons, we've tried hard to limit our spending, and without fail, we've... kind of failed. We've found that it's far more difficult to tighten our belts at the end of the year than it is in, say, March.

We don't go overboard with presents, but we like to gift things that our loved ones will truly value and that will last for a long time. Oftentimes, those items come with a higher price tag. The hammock that Fortysomething gave me for my birthday is a good example: it was expensive, but it's a high-quality product that should last for years. 

We also tend to spend more than usual on food during the holidays. I used to look at other people's food budgets and feel bad for how much we allocate in this category, but I'm over it. We buy the food, we share the food, we eat all the food, and we enjoy the food.

You'll see. Our food line item is high.

Anyway, in 2019, I'm facing facts: we're going to spend. It's okay. I'll be realistic and build it into the budget.

2. Saving

I also want to make sure we're socking away some of our extra money while we have the opportunity. In January, my hours will drop back down to 20 per week, I'll make approximately $800/month less, and we'll be saving much less - maybe $100 per month, unless I find a higher-paying job or ramp up my Rover business again.

I'm always going back and forth on where to put our savings. Regular checking account? 401K? My little IRA? Although it's likely we'll increase Fortysomething's investment contributions in the next month or two, for now, we're being boring and putting the savings into our bank account. There's a part of me that still feels like I'm on slightly shaky employment ground, and I want to be able to access cash easily if we need to dip into our savings.


A Word About Rent: Can We Do Anything About It?


You know what bothers me more than our food budget?

Our rent.

As much as I appreciate the perks of where we live (walkable, close to Fortysomething's work, beautiful location) and renting in general (we don't have to maintain anything, and we don't spend our weekends fixing stuff), the amount we pay in rent is a thorn in my side. I am never going to be okay with it.

I've written before about why we choose to rent our place and why renting something cheaper isn't much of an option for us: one, even the least expensive rentals here aren't that much cheaper, and two, I can't deal with shared walls due to extreme noise sensitivity (blocky apartment complexes are out; in our current duplex, the only wall we share is in the kitchen).

Also, right now we can get away with having just one car. If Fortysomething had to drive to work, we'd need to consider a second vehicle.

So. 

We're trying to figure out if buying property is an option for us and whether it would save us money (or at least allow us to avoid yearly rent hikes). Whether we can get a home loan on 1.5 incomes that would allow us to buy something that isn't totally falling apart is questionable, but we're looking into VA and USDA loans, which may increase our purchasing power a bit.

That said, I periodically obsess over "should we buy?" and then drop it. Who knows if we'll actually make any progress here. But we're likely to have a rent hike in May, so if we're going to avoid it by moving into our own place, we need to start taking action now.


Anyway, Here's The Budget


Item Budget

Rent 
2205
Internet 65
Phone  80
Car Insurance 64
Student Loan 400
Campground Membership 108
Gas/electric/utilities  151
Food 850
Gas in car 40
Cat 40
Netflix/Hulu 27
Miscellaneous 400
Donation 30
Savings 725
Health Insurance 340

Total 
  
5525
Pretty standard, right? Other than Miscellaneous (which is higher than usual due to a birthday and our anniversary) and Savings, everything else is typical of how we allocate our money every month. I will admit that we re-upped Hulu, so that line item increased a bit. Health insurance also increased somewhat because I added vision insurance to my short-term insurance package.

How's your November budget looking? Does your budget change at the end of the year, or do you run a pretty tight ship, unlike us?
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Mental Health and Money Mondays: I Spent Money and I Liked It



Preface


I wrote this post and immediately was like, WOOOOOOO I have so much financial confidence! Look at me go!

Then, later, I re-read it and started having doubts. 

First of all, I worry that it sounds braggy, which isn't my intent, but still. Sometimes what a writer wants to say and how the reader interprets it are two different things. 

Second, I feel like The $76K Project is going to give people whiplash. One day it's like, LET'S PAY OFF ALL THE DEBT! And another it's, The system sucks, everything sucks, people can't get ahead! A few weeks later I'm saying, SCREW DEBT, who cares.

And now I'm gleefully writing a post about spending a significant chunk of money. So.

Yeah.

I'm giving myself whiplash.

Look, people, it's a roller coaster: not only the process of paying off lots of debt, but also the task of overhauling your money mindset and learning to trust your newfound financial know-how. And for some people, like me, money is a very emotional thing. 

So what can I say? My money journey is rife with ups and downs, and the blog is reflective of that.

Please keep that in mind, and buckle your seatbelts.


Our October Spending Spree


When all was said and done, October was a spendy month in the $76K household. Having met our emergency fund goal in September, we celebrated by dropping much of our disposable income on fun things:

1. Hotel + food + transportation for CentsPositive: $500

Relaxing in the room before CentsPositive began

2. Going out to eat + coffee: $110

3. Aquarium gear + fish for Kiddo (and let's be real, for the cat, too): $100

Living her best life with her new fish friends/prey

4. Birthday celebration (homemade cheese tray + wine + movie rental): $60

This. Was. Delicious.

5. Birthday present for me from Fortysomething (a hammock! I love it!): $110

New favorite activity

6. 25K race fee: $92

Spent almost $100 to nearly lose my cookies on this hill

Total spent on fun: Almost $975

Whoooosh. Not a typical month. Very little money went into savings. (I feel obligated to add that no money was removed from savings, either.) 


I Have No Regrets (For Once)


In the past, my ability to let go and sink into such a financially freewheeling month would have been compromised by the little voice in my head telling me that I/we don't deserve it, we should be putting every extra cent to student loans, I'm being selfish, I'm being short-sighted, I'm being stupid with money, etc.

In other words, guilt and shame would have undermined my financial confidence and diluted my enjoyment.

But after some reflection, I can say that I have no regrets about our October spending spree. Every dollar spent represents something that made or will make our lives better in some way. Every dollar spent represents an investment in things that we value: being together as a family, communing with likeminded friends, being outside, challenging ourselves, learning new things. 

And as we were spending this money, I felt... good about it.

Not guilty.

Not ashamed.

Not ambivalent.

Not stressed out about whether we could afford it.

I literally delighted - DELIGHTED! - in every expense.

Spending money sans negative emotions? Who am I?


Good With Money


Good is a word I'm not used to associating with money, but last month, I felt unapologetically good about our finances and good about investing in things/experiences we care about. I felt good about my ability to manage and deploy money. I felt good about setting ourselves up well enough that we could afford to let loose for a few weeks. I felt good about crossing the finish line of that expensive race, setting up that aquarium, inhaling that fancy cheese (and wine), sitting in the woods in that crisp new hammock, and getting a solid night's sleep at that downtown Seattle hotel.

Obviously, not all months can be like this, and we're dialing it back in with our November budget. Although our plans leave room for some frivolity, we're also earmarking a chunk of our earnings for our savings account. Time to get back to our goals.

But October showed me what a healthy relationship with money can be like. It gave me a taste of what financial wellness feels like and how liberating it can be. 

Going forward, that's my objective: financial wellness. 

What about you? How would you describe your relationship with money? And is there anything you've bought or invested in lately that made you feel like, YES, this was the best decision? If so, NO SHAME AND HIGH FIVE.
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