Back At It

Debt updates:

Banana Republic Visa  – paid off

Discovercard – $50 balance

IRS – paid off

BestBuy – paid off

In May, we’ve reduced our debt by $4323.88.

Since March, we’ve reduced our debt by $7285.98.

I’m happy about getting rid of some payments. It makes everything else so much more livable. We are far from perfect in our efforts but we have come so far, in my opinion. It just goes to show that you don’t have to be perfect to accomplish goals. This is something that was really hard for me to learn – I am a perfectionist by nature, and if I can’t be perfect I tend to give up altogether. I am trying to learn to accept imperfection and to instead keep slogging forward, knowing that mistakes are a certainty. Maybe the mistakes are even essential to achieving the goal.

We had a discussion last night and decided to re-prioritize our debt pay off by interest rate (highest to lowest) rather than using Dave Ramsey’s snowball method. The amount of money we are paying just to owe someone money (“interest”) is absurd. When I did the math, I just felt like it didn’t make sense to use the snowball method anymore. I think we are really on track, and don’t need the psychological boost of small wins so badly now. Also, if work-related things go as we hope (more below), we should be able to throw enough money at the larger, high interest debts that we can get them paid off in four-ish months each, as the biggest single debt we have is $11K though that’s a lower interest one on the bottom of the list (technically, this is two smaller student loans with the same interest rate, but my loan servicer treats them as one for the monthly repayment plan – so I could just throw this statement out the window). The next biggest, however, is $9.5K with a very high (CITI 17.99%) interest rate. So that’s our next target. I think after I make the first large (previously paying the minimum) payment, I’m going to call and see if they’ll lower the interest rate on the balance. 

We got married on May 9! Spent about $1300, including clothes, rings, and license/ceremony fees. My generous parents paid for dinner and drinks after the ceremony (unexpectedly! – we had planned to pay for dinner), and my mom paid for my dress and accessories. It was a small courthouse ceremony, only 15 people including us. We had so much fun. I would do it again in an instant. We used a portion of the cash wedding gifts we have used so far towards the debt, saving the rest as an emergency fund and to also partially fund some mandatory family visits this summer. Husband and I both have family in poor health and we need to make spending some time with them ASAP a priority, even over the debt struggle. I know that many people would argue that everything should go to the debt and we should postpone these trips, but for us, that’s not a reflection of our priorities. Money is very important, but family is more important. We don’t feel that this is a misuse of funds, but rather an investment in our lives that we may never get back (due to cancer in both of our families, and increasingly frail elderly grandparents in mine.)

One unfrugal thing is that I’ve joined Weight Watchers. I’ve packed on about 30 pounds in the three years since I’ve moved to the west coast, and I was much chubbier than I wanted to be on my wedding day. My sister had been in Weight Watchers for a few months and had lost almost 40 pounds I think, and just looked great. I wanted to look great too. Nothing I had been doing on my own was getting me anywhere, or at least the accomplishments were short lived. So I decided that I need help for a little while. Husband is going to join me probably starting next week because school is over this week.

Speaking of husband, an opportunity came up where his bosses at his work-study want him to apply for full time work there. Because of some VA benefits requirements for continued support (GI Bill benefits have been used up, he is eligible for vocational rehab benefits but they are very rigid on courses etc.), VA support for him to finish school is not a certainty at this point. He is also feeling a bit burnt out, but then he normally does at the end of spring semester. So we are now looking at him putting school on hold for a bit and instead pursuing a full time job. It would be great to have the benefits and regular income, and I think also good for his self-esteem. I am also up for a possible promotion at work. If I don’t get that, I will at least get a 3% cost of living and merit increase. But if I don’t get this promotion, I am going to start looking for work elsewhere. My boss has been telling me for many months that he wants me for that position so it would be a pretty big breach of trust for me. Even though he is retiring, I feel that the resentment would be too much to continue here for a long time. I want to learn something new and make more money. The promotion would afford me that opportunity, but if I don’t get that, getting a new job would too. So hopefully these work-related things will go the way we want them to, which will serve us wonderfully in getting out of debt faster.

One last thing – I changed my with holdings on my W2 now that we’re married, and it was like giving myself a 15% raise. I expect to get about another $500 in my paycheck each month. We’ll have to keep a decent balance in savings in case there are any surprises at tax time, but I think we should be ok.

Planning and Progress

Now that the Discovercard is paid off, the next move is to pay off the high interest Banana Republic Visa card. The current balance (before next month’s interest is added to it) is $5531.46. I’ve initiated a $3500 balance transfer to my Discovercard which offered me a 6 month, no-interest balance transfer. The fee is 5% of the balance, so my Discover balance will go to $3675, and the Visa down to about $2500.

The March debt payments will be split between these two balances. The reason for that, rather than just paying off the Visa, is that I am awaiting a $400 reimbursement to the Visa when the VA/GI Bill reimburses me for fiance’s spring semester registration fee. So the plan for March, more specifically, is to pay down the balance on the Visa, after balance transfer, to $600. Then in April when I get the reimbursement, I will only have about a $200 balance which will be paid off in April. In March, at least $700 will go to the Discovercard, then in April another $2300, then in May the balance of $605 will be paid. Also in May, we will pay off fiance’s IRS bill. That one makes me feel really gross so I’m looking forward to that.

We will continue to work on our frugality, specifically cutting back on alcohol and not eating out. We kind of sucked at those this month so far. We’ve only eaten out twice, and at about half of what we used to spend when eating out, but we did get take out a couple of times. When it’s just the two of us we get lazy. When we have fiance’s daughter, we tend to be better about this. I think it’s for two main reasons, at least on my end: I want to feed her nutritious food for the sake of my conscience, and it’s more expensive to take three people out to dinner rather than two (even if one is a kid).

My stepfather came into a little bit of money so he and my mom sent us a windfall (to us) of $500 which will help us accelerate some of the debt payoff. I have to deposit the check though! It was totally unexpected and very generous of them, I feel so grateful. We do have the dogs’ vet visit coming up which will cost at least $500, but that was planned and budgeted for so it should not impact anything and allow the gift from my mom and stepfather to be a boon to us. I’m just keeping my fingers crossed that the dogs get clean bills of health and that bill is kept to the minimum of what it needs to be.

One thing that felt really fun last weekend was that fiance’s car registration renewal came in the mail earlier than we had planned for. Since we had the money in savings (leftover from tax refund), we just paid it online, and the sticker is already here and on the car two months early. This is a huge change from two years ago where he was driving his old car for six months with an expired registration. So I will be able to update my budget and delete that expected expense from the month we had been planning on paying for the renewal.

I feel good and really optimistic about the financial/debt payoff side of things. The plan is solid, and I think we can do even better than planned if we are really diligent and disciplined. I still need to really get motivated on the exercise/fitness side of things. I started a hand-written journal just tracking daily goals and how I did in hopes that will keep me mindful. I wasn’t sure I wanted to do that here, but I may at some point.

I have also been feeling good about work since the New Year. I would like the promotion my director said he wanted to give me before he retires in June, but I feel okay where I am for now. I think I will give this place another year or two as long as I continue to be happy. And after that, if I’m still being under-utilized and haven’t received the raises I’m looking for, I’ll start looking at my other options. It’s just a big change from the end of last year when I felt really trapped and hopeless in the job. I feel really happy that I’m feeling happy. Lol.

I am so looking forward to continuing to make progress on these debts. It will be such a good feeling this summer to have a few things paid off and gone from our lives for good.

First Debt Goal Down!

WOOHOO!

So, I had paid $800 on payday (Jan 31) towards my Discovercard, leaving a balance of $450. Today, my federal tax refund came in so I clicked right over to the Discover website and paid this baby off! I can’t wait until the payment posts and I can see that $0 balance. Super excited!

On his way out the door this morning, fiance couldn’t find his laptop this. He had LEFT IT BEHIND IN CLASS last night. “HOW does that HAPPEN?” you may ask. I do not know. But he is one lucky ducky because when he stopped by the classroom after his morning work study shift it was sitting right where he left it. He had a backpack stolen out of his car on the same campus a few months ago, so this was seriously lucky. Whew!

Wrangling With the Cable Company

I check my bank account daily to see which bills have been deducted so that I can update my budget spreadsheet. I enter the amount paid and highlight it when it has actually been deducted since some payments take a few days to post. This is how I keep track of how much money I have for the rest of the month.

This morning, I checked my bank account as usual and noted that my payment to the cable company was about $17 LOWER than the normal amount. Subsequently, I logged into my Time Warner Cable account, which confusingly showed the amount due as the regular amount ($77), the amount paid as the lower charge ($60), and the balance as $0. Still confused, I opened the pdf of my monthly statement, which was of no help. Finally, I clicked the chat button to find out from the customer service person that I was given a promotional discount for internet for some magical reason. It occurred to me to ask what my bill would be next month because the promo I had wrangled for the past year should be up soon. Lo and behold, she tells me that next month it’s going to be $97!!

I have kept the cable only so I don’t have to pay a fee to cancel it. We don’t watch it. We watch our Roku or the streaming channels on our smart tv. Now was my big chance to finally cancel cable tv!

Long story short, I agreed to keep the most basic tv package that comes out of the jack in the wall, and I have to keep our internet because we use that every day. The kind gentleman I spoke with in the department that is apparently called “Customer Solutions” was very helpful and got my bill down to $57 for the next six months, after which it will go up to $64. But he said at the end of the six months I can call again to have “services re-aligned with your budget and needs.” Meaning that I can call back and make a stink and they’ll probably work with me. (Not that I made a stink, I was very pleasant, but straightforward. This gentleman was very nice and helpful and did his job well.)

I was actually quite pleased with how easy it was. The voice response system actually gives an option for cancelling services. I feel like I remember in years past they would never mention cancellation openly and it was like pulling teeth to get rid of the damn service you didn’t want or need.

I feel so accomplished! I’ve been waiting to downgrade my cable services and I’m so pleased with myself.

Stumbling Blocks

So payday for February has finally arrived! Yay!

We had some implosions (eating out, extra alcohol, extra grocery store trips) at the end of January that used a portion of the dogs’ vet money. I had planned to recover that with some money that had been planned to go into savings: a portion of my tax refund, an “extra” work study paycheck from fiance, and a reimbursement from the GI Bill for fiance’s school registration for the semester.

But then we found out that the disbursement my fiance got from the GI Bill was much lower this month than we had estimated. I knew it would be only a small portion of the full month payment because classes didn’t start until the 27th of January, and the payment is based on the portion of the month where classes are in session. Consequently, that meant we had to adjust our budget. Out the window went things that were adjustable: $100 for eating out this month, paying only the minimum $25 payment on a store credit card rather than the $50 planned, and using a portion of my tax return, when it arrives later in the month, to pay off my Discover card which had been intended for wedding rings and savings. I had planned to pay off the Discover card on payday, but instead I was only able to pay a portion of that today. I will receive my tax refund, registration reimbursement, and fiance will get two more work study paychecks before the end of the month, so I will still be able to pay it off this month as planned. But pulling some money out of the tax return will take away from money that was planned for wedding rings and our summer wedding “tour” of our home states. I’m hoping I can make up for that money with money my parents usually give me for my birthday in April, which I had not included in my wedding tour savings calculations because I don’t know how much it will be.

While this was disappointing, it certainly has not diminished my will to keep moving forward and making progress on getting out of debt. I felt really relieved that we had the ability to readjust and reprioritize and just make it work. We were lucky that we have a few irregular sources of extra money coming in this month that we were planning on putting in savings.

So while we stumbled, we did not fall! Yay! Of course, we still need to continue working on avoiding those implosions I mentioned…

Hump Day Wins and Fails

I only have a four day work week this week thanks to Monday being a holiday. WIN! Lol, I admit that was not a personal accomplishment.

Tonight I came home and I really, really, just wanted to go out and eat. Red Lobster is running a special for two where you each get a salad and an entree and an appetizer or dessert to share. I know RL is not the highest quality (though when I was a kid it was high class!), but thanks to the power of marketing and my own weakness, it has been in my head. Plus there’s one about a mile away. Nevermind that the $30 plus tax plus drinks the deal would cost would buy groceries for a week (we buy most if not all of our meat in bulk at the beginning of the month at Costco, so we only buy produce once or twice a week throughout the rest of the month). Nevermind that I just found out that my filling that I need to have replaced next month is going to cost twice what I had thought. Nevermind that it was not in the budget, nevermind that January was supposed to be the month of not eating out and we’ve done so good so far and only have a week and a half to go!!!

Fortunately, when I got home and asked fiance what was for dinner (which is kind of mean-spirited of me since I almost always do the meal planning and he wouldn’t have expected to have to had come up with an idea – something else for me to work on), he said he was planning to have leftovers from last night’s dinner. Which was very magnanimous of him since he already ate those leftovers for breakfast and lunch today. I did too, for that matter, but I had another option (other leftovers) which I did not choose to pursue.  So, we did not end up eating out, keeping the streak of no eating out in January! WIN!

We did have alcohol both on Friday and Monday night this past weekend. I think the holiday made me feel like I was supposed to be on stay-cation and I am not familiar with vacations that do not involve alcohol. Some may take issue with this. So that makes a total of three violations of the no alcohol January for the month. Which is a significant improvement over a “normal” month, so that is good – but we still did not achieve the goal we had set. Now, we’re not going to just say eff it, why bother trying anymore? We are going to continue our efforts because the point was to save money and be healthier, and even without being perfect we can still save money and be healthier. So WIN in some unexpected ways, but FAIL on achieving the exact goal.

Budget-wise, I’d estimate that we are about $50 over our food budget for the month at this point, and then probably about $50 spending on alcohol that was not in the budget. There was a small buffer built into our budget as well as an extra $79 in random checks I magically received this month, so it did not hurt too much. Admittedly, it would have been better to be on budget and let the buffer and the surprise checks go towards debt or savings. So while I’m not totally disappointed in us, I will rate FAIL on this because I feel like such a child when I can’t be disciplined on the budget for a month. So maybe we’ll readjust next month’s budget to try to be a bit more realistic.

Exercise: FAIL. Just fail. I have done a couple of sessions, but really not even close to the 15 minutes a day I had set as my goal. Which is not even a lot! I could revisit this goal to see if it’s realistic, but I feel like I’m just lazy and I need to make myself do it, one way or another. Tomorrow’s another day!

A big WIN for me was that I finally talked to my mom about what fiance and I truly want for our wedding ceremony. When we first got engaged she made me promise we wouldn’t elope, and I agreed without really thinking about it because I wanted to please her. But after months of thinking about it, we realized that eloping was exactly what we wanted to do. We don’t want to go deeper into debt for a party, but we don’t want to wait to get married until all of our debt is paid off because that’s two years away. Also, it’s impossible to satisfy everyone’s expectations (for example, my sister was telling me I had to plan days’ worth of activities since I was having a “destination wedding” which we’re not, we live here, but neither of our families do). Most importantly we want the day we make this commitment to be about us, and the seriousness of it, and the joy of it – not babysitting or impressing other people. I guess I really don’t want to be the center of attention either. It makes me feel uncomfortable and I don’t think I can entertain people for four hours with just my wit and beauty. I totally respect anyone who wants the big wedding and reception, but it just isn’t right for me and my fiance. So I explained all these things to my mom and she took it really well. She insists on paying for a dress for me, which I have accepted. Also, she wants to pay for our airfare to my hometown in the weeks after the ceremony when we’ll have a party there so the locals (friends and family) can come celebrate with us. At first I tried to refuse but she argued, and it was true, that she and her husband are comfortable financially and would like to do these things for us. So I said ok. I feel good about it, and I’m totally ready to get married now. Well, we have to save for a wedding rings but I’m hopeful that my tax refund will take care of that. (They will be modest in fitting with our financial goals.)

In summation, some wins, some fails, and tomorrow’s another day! I’m not giving up anytime soon.