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

Why I'm Addicted To Goal Setting (And 2018 Goals In Review)

I've recently realized that I am addicted to goal setting. 

In my life, there's a goal for everything:

I set daily goals, monthly goals, and yearly goals. 

I set personal goals and professional goals. 

I set goals related to finances, hobbies, travel, blogging, and family. 

Heck, I even set goals for my vacations:

I crave challenges, and goal setting allows me to create personal challenges for every aspect of my life. It's stimulating. It makes even the most boring daily grind feel like a playful experiment.

Another benefit of goal setting: it helps me distinguish between what I actually want and what I only think I want. I can't tell you how many times I've drifted completely off course while going after something I felt obligated to pursue or that I thought I might enjoy doing because it looked cool on paper (remind me to tell you about the time I signed up for boat-building school...) As a result, I'm now plagued by indecision and uncertainty: do I want to work for a company or work for myself? Do I want to stay in my current career or make a big change? Do I want to prioritize saving or paying off student loans? Do I want to lose a couple of pounds or enjoy my wine, chocolate, and bagels? 

Feeling directionless and muddling through myriad possibilities seemed okay (even good!) when I was younger, but now that I'm 40, I'm more inclined to cut to the chase. More than ever, I desire clarity.

To this end, specific and manageable goals help. If I care about my goals, I'll make them happen. If I don't, I'll quickly lose interest - a sure sign that I'm moving in the wrong direction. It's a great way for me to shuck off the dead weight of pursuits that don't mean that much to me and focus my energy on the things that do.

So What Did I Learn From Our 2018 Goals?

In 2018, I collected lots and lots (and lots) of goals:
Here's how some of them panned out and what I/we learned from them:

Goal 1: Pay off our credit cards by May 2018.

Did we do it?: Sort of! We didn't meet our May deadline, but we did pay them off at the beginning of July. Considering that we landed a hefty hospital bill earlier in the spring, I'm counting it as a major win.

What did we learn? As we worked to bring our credit card balances to zero, we realized that paying off our debts is one of our biggest priorities. Reaching that goal made us even more determined to knock out our student loan debt.

Goal 2: Become homeowners!

Did we do it?: Oh my sweet summer child (I'm talking to end-of-2017 me here). Not even close.

What did we learn? Realistically, buying a house was always more of a pie-in-the-sky dream than a true goal because houses here are expensive and we had/have little money for a down payment. We are in no position to take on the financial responsibility of owning and maintaining our own home. We know it now, and we knew it then. But when I wrote this goal at the end of 2017, we were in a horrible, noisy, smoky-smelling rental situation and I was looking for a way out.

Luckily, we managed to find a new rental in February. We paid thousands of dollars to break our former lease, but we love our place and have no regrets whatsoever. Not a night goes by that I don't bask in the glory of the silence that surrounds me. I'd live here forever if we had rent control.

Goal 3: Find a new job that better aligns with my education, experience, and interests.

Did I do it? Yes! I was offered a new, higher-paying position almost exactly a year ago.

What did I learn? My old job was terrible and I stayed much longer than I should have. So when I landed my current job, I was over the moon... for about two months. Then I realized that I'd jumped out of a frying pan and straight into a fire. Pro tip: do not leave a job in a field you've grown to despise for another job in the same field. Now I'm in the process of trying to change careers. We'll see how it turns out.

Goal 4: Refinance our student loan payments.

Did we do it: Nope. 

What did we learn?: One, it's possible that we're a little lazy. Two, we're okay with our current monthly payments. Three, although our interest rates are somewhat high (at 7% and 7.25%), federal student loans come with some nice perks, including the ability to defer payments if needed. I'm not completely convinced that refinancing with a private lender is worth giving up that wiggle room, but we will look into it in the coming year after I pay off my loan. 

Goal 5: Volunteer with a local running group.

Did I do it? Yes! I volunteered with a Couch-to-5K program that prepares new runners for their first race. 

What did I learn?: I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I thought I would. I'm not good at making small talk with people I don't know that well. Nevertheless, I'm glad I did it and would consider doing it again because it's a good way to be involved in my community.

Goal 6: Run a 50K.

Did I do it? No. 

What did I learn?: I learned that running for long periods of time can actually exacerbate my depression. I ramped up my running mileage throughout the summer and into the early fall with the intention of completing my first 50K in November. But as September wore on, I started to dread being out on the trails by myself for hours at a time. It wasn't fun. It felt like punishment. It made my seasonal depression even more painful.

As a compromise to myself and a nod to the hard work I'd already put in, I ran a 20-mile relay with a bunch of other women in September but backed out of the ultra. Then I shifted gears and began weight training. I'm not sure I'll set a running goal in 2019. I'll have to see how I feel in the spring.

Goal 7: Open my own Etsy store.

Did I do it? Yes, and I made several sales.

What did I learn? This is a classic example of me realizing that I don't want what I thought I did. I quickly lost interest in maintaining and advertising the store. I just didn't feel passionate enough about it and didn't have the time or motivation to improve my product. Now I know!

Goal 8: Do a dry June.

Did I do it? No again.

What did I learn? For a goal that involves habit change, you have to really want it. I was on the right track: I started my dry spell at the end of May and made it through the first week of June without touching any alcohol. Then Anthony Bourdain died. I don't know why it hit me so hard, but it did. My partner and I had a few beers to celebrate his life and that was that. I could have picked up where I left off, but I didn't, because I didn't want it that badly.

The Tally

Four out of eight. Not the greatest outcome, if you're looking at it from a pure numbers perspective. But for me, it's not about success or failure. It's about staying motivated and learning more about myself. As I make my goals for 2019 (stay tuned!), I'll keep these lessons in mind and focus my efforts accordingly.

What about you? What goals did you set for 2018? Which ones did you reach, and which ones didn't work out?
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Winning: December 2018 Edition

Current status

It has been a week. 



This interminable f&*%ing week featured a packed work calendar that left me exhausted at the end of every day, multiple parenting fails, and at least two ugly meltdowns. The meltdowns were from me, not my kid. I was the meltdown-er. Rather embarrassing, given that I'm a 40-year-old professional who's supposed to have her shiz together.

I do not have my shiz together. 

Luckily, it's now VACATION TIME, and for the next few days I can be as un-together as I want to be. I'm going to put this job mess on hold, drink some delicious wine, watch some of my favorite Christmas movies, sleep in until whenever, and eat my body weight in holiday-themed Reese's peanut butter cups. I might maybe also get some fancy hair products to cover all the extra gray hairs that have suddenly sprouted across my head.

To kick off my five days of unrepentant slothdom, I figured I'd crack open said wine and delve into our December wins. You know: turn my frown upside down and all that.

And actually, there's a lot to smile about:

1. I completed a full round of interviews for a job that would tap into my strengths and that I think I'd enjoy. I don't want to speculate on the outcome because I won't hear back for at least another week, but I will happily celebrate the fact that I applied for the job, jumped through all the hoops they asked me to jump through, and lined up some solid references. It's evidence that I'm trying to improve my current employment situation instead of just complaining about it.

It's out of my hands now. If they want me, yay! If they don't want me, well, that's more experience that I can tap into the next time around. (Sigh.)

2. We paid another $1600 to my student loan, bringing the balance to $3700! In the chart below, you can see that our progress really ramped up (ramped down?) after we paid off our credit cards in July of this year:

*If* everything goes to plan, we'll pay off the entire loan by the end of February. This assumes that my salary holds steady. It might not. If I get this new job, my salary will decrease substantially and we'll need to recalibrate our payoff plan. Stay tuned!

Shoutout to the debt snowball method. It's the reason we're now able to pay $1600 a month to my student loan. If you go back to our posts from summer of 2017, you'll see that we were making rather small payments towards all of our debts (credit cards, car loan, student loans). But once we knocked out a couple of them and re-applied the money to the remaining loans, our progress accelerated.

3. The Kiddo and I found a new dentist and got some much-needed dental work. I don't know if I ever wrote about it here, but at the beginning of the year we started seeing a dentist who was just... creepy. 

We have an extremely limited dental network under our insurance plan and he was the only one who had an immediate opening. But after he nearly broke my jaw during a filling (okay, not really... it just felt like it) and did some shady stuff with my kid's dental records (really), I decided we needed to find someone else, even if it meant waiting a couple of months for an appointment.

We lucked out. New dentist is as fantastic and un-creepy as a dentist can get. He takes my insurance, his office is clean, and he doesn't make weird sexist comments to his staff. He did, however, identify a couple of items we needed to take care of: a small filling for the Kiddo and a crown for me, because one of my teeth was disintegrating under a hodgepodge of previous dental work.

The total bill came out to around $700. Although it's never fun to spend that much money on mouth ceramic, I was able to work out a payment plan wherein I paid half the balance up front and will pay the rest in three monthly installments at zero percent interest. As with the Kiddo's appendectomy, I'm using our HSA to cover the cost and thus we won't feel the effects in our monthly budget. YAY!

Other December wins:
-Kiddo has discovered a renewed interest in school and is generally enjoying himself.
-Kiddo has realized that more studying = more retention = higher grades, and he's digging it.
-Fortysomething finished out his third semester of teaching and still loves it.
-It's vacation time!
-The PF Twitter community is a neverending source of information, advice, and encouragement. I love you guys!

What about you? What are your December wins?

Happy holidays, everyone, and thanks so much for reading.
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Coping With My Job While I'm Searching For My Unicorn

Not much has changed on the job front since I first wrote about my work woes back in September. To be completely honest, I'm dealing with the exact same issues three months later. It's stressful, frustrating, and sometimes exhausting. It is an exercise in endurance.

Endurance is hard.

I'm in the process of exploring other employment opportunities. I've even had a couple of preliminary interviews. Unfortunately, many of the openings I'm seeing on the job boards would involve a significant pay cut, and while I'm not totally opposed to a salary reduction, I'm willing to go that route only if it's a gig I'm truly excited about. I'm hesitant to scale back our debt repayment plans to take a lower-paying job that doesn't make me want to jump out of bed in the morning. 

I want that debt-free life bad. Real, real bad.

So I'm being picky. Really, really picky. As I told my writer/Twitter friend Lisa Munro, I feel like I'm searching for a unicorn.

To save my sanity while I'm out unicorn hunting, I'm busting out every coping mechanism I can reasonably sustain, including:

  • meditating at least 10 minutes a day (inspired by my friend Frugalish Physician)
  • working out daily
  • taking frequent work breaks (I aim for every 15 minutes or so)
  • setting three non-work goals every day 
  • reading the job discussion boards on Reddit if I feel like I need some commiseration and understanding
  • avoiding unnecessary meetings (or, if it's a phone meeting, muting parts of the call)
  • taking at least one mental health day every few weeks - that way, I always have a break to look forward to
  • spending more time with friends outside of work and making my non-work life as big as possible 
  • incessantly reminding myself of the benefits of my job: paycheck, insurance, paid time off. Paycheck, insurance, paid time off. PAID TIME OFF. PAID TIME OFF.

I'm also finding that my work life is easier if I don't think too far out into the future. Can I deal until the end of January? Sure. Can I deal for another year? Cue panic attack. So I don't focus on a year from now. I focus on getting through the next few weeks. I focus on making it to the next break or vacation.

Lastly, I do not allow myself to fall into the "I'm wasting my life away" rabbit hole. It's a very unhealthy and dangerous line of self-talk - especially for someone with chronic depression - so when my mind veers in that direction, I immediately try to put up a mental roadblock and stop that thought in its tracks. I am not wasting my life. Ultimately, as not-thrilled as I am with this job, it is benefitting me and my family in myriad ways and therefore is not a waste of my time or energy.

I know I'm not the only one dealing with this challenge, so tell me: have you ever been in a similar situation with your work? What are your strategies for coping with a job that seems generally unsustainable?
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The $76K Project's Top Twelve Posts For 2018

I'm talking directly to you: thank you thank you thank you for reading The $76K Project. When I started this blog in the summer of 2017, I suspected my enthusiasm would dwindle after only a few months. But this blog has become something I'm deeply invested in from an emotional standpoint, and it's still going strong. A big part of its (relative) longevity is due to your encouragement. Every pageview and every comment means something to me.

My Early Retirement Journey recently compiled her top 10 posts for 2018, and she's inspired me to do something similar. Looking at my list, I'm realizing that the pieces people seem to like the most are the ones that display the greatest degree of vulnerability. Which is a little scary, to be honest. It's hard to put myself out there, to admit my fears and mistakes and frustrations. But clearly those are the posts that resonate the most, and so one of my goals for 2019 is to be even more transparent about finances, mental health, midlife crises, money dilemmas, career hurdles, and other life challenges. 

So grab a glass of wine or a cup of tea, curl up in your favorite reading spot, and enjoy the most popular $76K posts from 2018:

1. Why I Decided To Quit My Job And Find A New One (January 2018): "Your job shouldn't be creating 40 hours of weekly unhappiness. You deserve to have a job that doesn't make you lose sleep, that offers decent pay and opportunities for growth, and that harnesses your knowledge, experience, and passion. You shouldn't settle for less."

2. Here's What Our Financial Recalibration Looks Like (February 2018): "Financial situations fluctuate, meaning that the achievement of our long-term goals depends in part on our ability to adapt and be flexible."

3. Dollar Dilemma: To Sign Up For The Race Series, Or Not (March 2018): "My attitude has clearly evolved in this respect: in the past, I had no problem shoving the budget aside, doing what I wanted to do, and telling myself I'd worry about the cost later. Now, I take our budget seriously: it tells us the unwavering truth about our financial situation and what we can afford."

4. Doing More Of What I Love (May 2018): "What I hope to achieve by doing more of what I love is to stop treating work as the centerpiece of my daily life. If I can re-allocate some of the massive amounts of mental space that I currently devote to my job to the things I love, I think I'll feel more rooted in my own life, and less frustrated by the sense that work is stealing my time."

5. Why We're Taking A (Short) Break From Debt Repayment (June 2018): "For more than a year now, a huge chunk of our lives has been about debt. Frankly, it's tiring: tiring to always be tracking expenses to the penny, tiring to have to say no to so many things, tiring to constantly be reminded of our mistakes. We need some time away from this whole process so that we can re-energize and gear up for the next phase."

6. These two go together: How We Crushed Nearly $25K Of Debt In One Year (June 2018) and Our July 2018 Budget And Credit Card Zero Celebration! (July 2018): "The fact that we managed to meet this milestone, and well before we ever expected to, feels shocking in an is-this-really-happening (or as my former therapist would have coached me, did-we-really-make-this-happen) sort of way. It hasn't sunk in yet. Credit cards have been my ball-and-chain financial reality for so long that the idea of existing without carrying a balance seems... outside the realm of my understanding... And yet here we are!"

7. We Should Be Talking About Our Salaries. Here's Why. (July 2018): "It is disingenuous, for example, to attribute your financial independence to the eschewing of Starbucks lattes and avocado toast while failing to mention that you make a six-figure income. Someone making $200K a year and someone making $40K a year could be doing the same things in terms of cost-cutting measures and savings rate, but obviously the higher earner is going to achieve financial independence or debt freedom more quickly. It's helpful to know that you're not actually working with the same resources. It's helpful to have context. That doesn't mean that people with different incomes can't learn from one another."

8. Why We're Prioritizing Our Emergency Fund Over Student Loan Repayment (August 2018): "For the past few months, our e-fund has hovered somewhere between $1K and $1.5K, the amount that debt repayment guru Dave Ramsey recommends keeping in savings until all debt is paid off. Adding our bonus cash to the pot would bring the balance to $5K and give us a little more financial security in the face of an unexpected and expensive crisis."

9. When Your Mental Health Affects Your Financial Well-Being (August 2018): "But the way I respond to these challenges has changed for the better - mostly in the sense that I act less impulsively now - and as a result, I have a much better handle on my personal finances than I used to. I'm very proud of that. Do I think it's going to all go perfectly from here on out? Nope. The goal is to simply do my best with the quirky mind I've got, consider the long-term effects of the decisions I make, and let go of non-ideal choices made when things get difficult."

10. Stuck: A Job Post (September 2018): "I do see the pros of my job: the paycheck, the benefits, the chance to finally pay down my debt. But if you've never experienced it for yourself, it's hard to describe how mentally and emotionally taxing it is to feel as though you are throwing away 40+ hours of your life every week. If you've been there, you know what I mean. It's exhausting. It shouldn't be that way."

11. These two go hand in hand, too, because they revealed the same lesson: Coming To You LIVE From The Debt Repayment Pain Cave and Breaking: Debt Repayment Journey Gets Delayed By Midlife Crisis! (October 2018): "I don't mean that we should go back into credit card debt or that we should quit our jobs tomorrow. But maybe it's okay to slow this whole thing down a little bit, because I really don't see why I should sacrifice the things I like about myself for the unknowns of tomorrow."

12. This Financial Update Comes With A Free Blogging Rant (December 2018): "It's not that I don't want to blog. I do. I enjoy it: the writing, the interaction with readers, the creating of a detailed record of our financial journey. I like knowing that some readers might relate to our goals, challenges, setbacks, and wins. But do I want to do all the things you're supposed to do in order to be a successful blogger?

Well. No."

What about you? If you're a blogger, what post or posts are you most proud of? Share them here and I'll post them on my Twitter feed. 

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This Financial Update Comes With A Free Blogging Rant

It's been a couple of weeks since I've posted here, and even longer than that since I've offered an update on the $76K Project's financial progress. The delay is due in part to end-of-year busy-ness: work, everyday chores and tasks, appointments, and getting ready for the holidays are taking up a lot of time. (Also napping. And arguing with people on Twitter. You know how it goes.)

But it has more to do with my conflicting feelings about this blog.

Wherein I go off on a tangent about blogging

I see so many personal finance bloggers on my feed absolutely killing it. Some of them are creating snazzy fresh websites and/or re-shaping their brands. Others are broadening their content by delving into new realms of commentary and advice. Several of my PF blogging friends have even invested in courses through Pete McPherson's BloggerU*, and they're seeing results. They're growing their audiences. Which is awesome.

*Please note that this is not an affiliate link. Pete McPherson has no idea who I am. I'm not even sure I spelled his name right.


Clearly I'm not doing any of that. If I were anywhere near serious about growing, I'd at least have the decency to move to Wordpress. Instead, I haven't even found the motivation to figure out how you can comment without having to identify every single car or crosswalk in the picture and if you don't do it right the first time, you're done, goodbye.

It's not that I don't want to blog. I do. I enjoy it: the writing, the interaction with readers, the creating of a detailed record of our financial journey. I like knowing that some readers might relate to our goals, challenges, setbacks, and wins.

But do I want to do all the things you're supposed to do in order to be a successful blogger?

Well. No.

For the past few weeks, I've been feeling stuck on the things I feel I *should* be doing with this blog. And the more I try to convince myself that I need to do and write about what other, more successful writers are doing and writing about, the less I want to do anything at all.

I don't want to feel like I'm writing things just to be noticed by Rockstar Finance (I'm not saying anyone else is doing it; I'm saying I found myself feeling this way). I don't want to create an email subscription thing. I don't want to learn SEO. I don't want to make my blog look better, even though I am very much aware that the current design is very 2002.

I don't want to write about things like: 

...how to invest (no idea; I just stick everything into index funds)

...how to travel hack (I'm convinced I'd just end up in credit card debt again)

...how to negotiate your salary (though I know people who can help you with that)

...how to find a better job (hell if I know)

...how to make frugal Christmas crafts (though I would like to *make* frugal Christmas crafts)

...FIRE (so not my wheelhouse...)

(If YOU are writing about any of these things, know that I think YOU are doing a tremendous job.)

Really, I don't want to tell you how to do anything. You should not be here for advice. That is not my strong suit. I mean, I know I've offered some advice in the past, and maybe some of it is a little helpful, but there are other people who are saying the same things in a better way. And okay, I've also written some how-to posts, like how to make a budget and how to find cheap shoes on eBay, but I don't always enjoy writing those types of pieces and don't want to feel like I have to.

Instead, I'll keep doing what I'm good at doing and want to do, which is shamelessly talk about myself. And if there's something in here that you can relate to, or find encouragement in, then that's awesome.

Anyhoo, here's a financial update

So here's what happened in November.

We did all the things we said we were going to do. We made a budget and mostly stuck to it. We went on a mini-vacation over the Thanksgiving holiday and had a pretty good time, except that I ended up with food poisoning on the last day and now feel that I deserve a complete vacation do-over.

We went out to eat less. We tried some new recipes and drank less wine.

The emphasis going into this month was on saving, not paying down debt, and so we initally put money into savings, as planned, and paid just the minimum on our student loans. 

But a few weeks ago, Fortysomething shared with me that he's really sick of the student loans. Like, vomitously sick of them. We've been dragging them around for over a decade (I know, I know) and he's getting older and it's just ridiculous to have them and BLURGH.

We've both wanted to have these loans gone, but he's never made such a passionate case for getting rid of them ASAP. I think he brought it up because he was worried I'd up and quit my job, and then we'd be looking at several more years of paying off the damn things.

In that moment, we decided: we're going to stick to the original plan and obliterate the loans as fast as we possibly can given the constraints of our income and budget. 

This means that for now, I need to stick with my job (either my current one or a new one, if a viable new one comes along) even if I'm not thrilled with it. Fine. Paying off the loans in full will take about 1.5 years if we go all-out; I can last that long (I think). 

Can we do it?


Will it be fun?


Will I complain along the way? 


To seal the deal, we took some of the extra money we'd put into savings and threw another $1600 at my student loan.

And it felt good:

Total debt as of today: $43,802.

Keep in mind that in January of this year, our debt total stood at $65,934.

If I have any lesson to offer, it's that you can make progress if you just keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can even complain while doing it, like I do.

Anyway, that's where we're at. I'll post the nuts and bolts of our December debt totals in the link at the top of the page, so check it out if you're interested. 

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