reviewing our progress for 2015

Has it really been more than three years since I posted on this blog? For some reason, I thought it had been less than a year. Apparently time is going by more quickly than I’d realized.

As we reached the end of 2015, I realized that I didn’t have any distinct goals in mind for 2016, whether financial or otherwise. And I’m actually just fine with that. Sometimes I have found it very helpful to make new goals in the new year. This year just isn’t one of those years. But I did find it encouraging to think back on 2015 and the ways that we have made progress.

The most notable financial goal that we achieved in 2015 was to pay off Keith’s last student loan from our years at Prairie. Yay!! This means that out of all the loans we acquired on the way to achieving our bachelor’s degrees, the only one we are now still paying is my loan from Whitworth, which is now about a third of it’s original total. All of our Prairie debt is paid off. We still have other debt, including Keith’s loans from going back to school at SCC a few years ago, but it is exciting that our undergraduate degrees from Prairie are officially paid for.

A small but challenging goal that I set for myself in 2015 was to refrain from buying any new books, CDs, or DVDs. I don’t usually buy a lot of CDs or DVDs anyway… maybe a few each year, and yes, I still buy CDs instead of MP3s or whatever… but books tend to sneak into our monthly budget here and there. Especially because I’m homeschooling our kids, it’s easy to justify buying a particularly good book for them once or twice a month. But we have a lovely local library system that allows me to place up to 25 holds at a time, check out up to 50 books at once, and request any library books that are not in the local system to either be purchased or borrowed from another library. The same goes for borrowing CDs or DVDs. I’m happy to say that I succeeded in following this goal for the most part. I did pick up a few used books here and there at garage sales, but even in that I was blessed to find a few that I’d really wanted. I read “The Heavenly Man” by Brother Yun this summer and really wanted to purchase a copy for our personal library, but I refrained because of this goal not to buy any books this year. Then I found a copy for fifty cents at a garage sale! (And bought it, of course.) That was an encouragement to me to continue with the no-new-books policy, and also to remember to ask the Lord for the things I want, even in the little things like special new books.

I may continue this no-new-books goal for 2016. There are a few notable instances in which having my own copy of a book is definitely worthwhile, and there are a few cookbooks that I’ve been really wanting. There are also a few favorite kids’ books that I would really like to pick up for our children so that we don’t have to keep checking them out from the library over and over. But I may wait and give them a special gift of one new book each on Valentine’s Day, or something like that.

Another way that we have managed to save money is by Keith taking on every car repair needed to our vehicles, and a few other repairs as well. This fall he replaced the air conditioning unit in our minivan. It was a complicated endeavor, and it took quite a while, but it ended up saving us approximately $600 for him to buy the parts and do it himself. He also fixed our washing machine when it broke and fixed the radiator on our car. I have really appreciated his determination to learn to fix these things himself, not only because it saves us money but also because I just think it’s really cool that he can do this stuff.

One other way that I was able to help our budget was to continue to replace items that we lost in the 2014 storage fire and send the receipts for those items in for reimbursement from our rental insurance company. They gave us about 10% of the value on many items up front, and more on others. On the ones that they only gave us 10%, they are happy to pay us back for purchasing “like kind” items, so I have been creatively (and ethically) replacing those things. For example, my most recent replacement was that I lost an heirloom cedar chest in the fire that was worth about $440, so I replaced it with other storage items: a very nice dresser for our boys’ room, an ottoman for our living room, a laundry hamper, some cool/useful decorative boxes, a laundry hamper, and a diaper caddy for our new little baby (due to arrive next month). It has been really neat to be able to get creative with replacing items lost with items that are more useful to us anyway. I think it is also a good way for me to be able to help boost our finances, as I’m still a stay-at-home mama and not bringing in any income.

So, that’s our progress for the year. Nothing earth-shattering, but I’m happy that we are continuing to make progress forward.

Published in: on January 15, 2016 at 1:32 am  Leave a Comment  

what “driving it until it dies” really looks like

Two summers ago, I shared about our sturdy Toyota Camry that we’d been driving for more than seven years. Much in keeping with the recommendations of financial gurus like Dave Ramsey, we kept driving the Camry long after we would have preferred a newer or different vehicle. It’s hard to let go of something that runs that well in favor of taking on a new car payment!

Last November, after eight years of loyal service as our main vehicle, the Camry had an oil cog split in half. This destroyed the oil pump, timing belt, and quite likely the engine. While it is still possibly that a small part and two days’ work may reveal that the engine is salvageable (and Keith intends to give that a try sometime), it is essentially a ruined vehicle and it is likely that we will not be able to do anything more with it than sell it for scrap.

In retrospect, this has raised some discussions for us. It was at about this time last year, well in advance of the part breaking, that we began to seriously consider looking around for a different vehicle. There was no obvious reason not to trust the Camry any longer, but for some reason, and it’s probably just that it was at 210,000+ miles, I was beginning to doubt that it would last for much longer without a significant issue arising. We considered purchasing a newer vehicle, something that would better fit our growing family. Our thought was that it would be worth it to sell the Camry before it hit any major issues, thus getting as much as we could for it while it was still worth something.

Having just come off a long season of unemployment, though, we weren’t really in a position to spend much more cash than the car was worth, and it seemed irrational to let go of something that was working well in favor of buying something different which might have it’s own set of problems.

So we chose to keep the car. But it was a decision point. We said things like “We’ll drive it until it dies.” And then it did actually die, and we did actually run it into the ground like we had always said that we would, and in retrospect I kind of wish that we hadn’t. I kind of wish that we had sold it before it was too worthless to do anything but sell as junk.

Had we sold the Camry last summer or used it as a trade-in, we would have easily had $1500 to $2000 more to put toward a newer vehicle. We couldn’t have known that it would die so tragically and all at once, rather than nickel-and-diming us, but selling it while it was still an asset was not a bad idea. If we are faced with a similar choice in the future, I think it likely that we will make a different decision than we made this time.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 7:35 pm  Leave a Comment  

reviewing our progress for 2011

It may be nearly June, but I have been intending to jot down our start-of-year paying-off-debt progress ever since the beginning of January. So here goes.

We didn’t make any specific financial goals for 2011. I had a feeling that we weren’t going to make much or any progress during the year. As it turns out, I was right.

Here is how 2011 looked for us. Keith was unemployed for the first five months, during which time we incurred more debt. He then worked long hours at an arduous job for most of the rest of the year, during which time we paid off some debt, including one of our three student loans (hurray!). We then had enough money saved up to pay the full birth costs of our third child by the end of December.

So. After being unemployed for nearly half the year and paying for the birth costs of another baby out-of-pocket, as well as having me be able to be home full-time with our little ones all year, we ended up starting 2012 with a grand total of $94.87 more debt to our name than when we began 2011.

Disappointing? Well… yes and no. Sometimes making less progress helps us recognize the times when we make more. It was not a banner year financially, and yet the difficulties that we ran into could have set us back much further than they did. We didn’t pinch pennies as carefully as we have during some years, yet we also didn’t make any memorably foolish financial decisions that cost us from going forward, and all in all I think we were fairly fiscally responsible.

The only area in which I wish we’d been able to do just a bit more was in contributing to Keith’s Roth IRA. Our yearly “bare minimum” goal is $1000… which I know is paltry compared to how much you really should put toward those things, but it’s significantly better than nothing… and we contributed $900. So it would have been nice to contribute just a bit more there, but that’s just the way it goes sometimes. Maybe this year we will be able to achieve a bit more in that category.

Published in: on May 31, 2012 at 12:31 pm  Leave a Comment  

twelve minutes well spent

Amount that our bank charged us in overdraft protection charges last month: $24

Amount that our bank wanted to charge me to order “free” checks online: $22

Time spent calling a telephone banker to politely ask why our checks weren’t free: 10 minutes

Time spent wondering aloud to telephone banker why our bank didn’t email me that our account balance was low (as should have happened according to the automatic low balance alert that I had set up): 2 minutes

What happened then: got our checks for free and got our overdraft protection charges refunded

Total time spent: 12 minutes

Total amount saved: $46

Result: smug satisfaction on my end

Published in: on September 8, 2011 at 2:46 pm  Leave a Comment  

a happy milestone

I haven’t posted much this year because nothing much seems to be different. We are still doing things frugally. Keith was out of work for six months, so now we are trying to overcome a few thousand in credit card debt (for groceries and gas and other required expenses) acquired in the last month or two of that. We aren’t able to put extra money toward debts right now, as we need to build up our savings account and save for a few extra expenses coming up around the corner, as well as the possibility of seasonal unemployment again this coming winter.

It is disappointing to move slowly on our pursuit to pay off debt, but I have sensed since the beginning of this year that we wouldn’t be able to put extra toward debt in 2011, so I’m at peace with that. I do hope it changes a bit in 2012, but we’ll see.

We did hit one big milestone today, though. We paid off our first student loan! Hurray!

The milestone is a relief, but not as exciting as I’d thought it would be. That it took five years to pay it off, and that we have two more student loans to go, gives me cause for gloominess. We didn’t even get to put one big final payment toward it… it was just a slightly smaller payment than last month, paid automatically just like every month. No big rush of glory. And as much as I am glad to have it paid off, I thought when accruing it in college that it would be paid off in only a year or two after graduation.

On the other hand, we’ve been putting extra toward this loan whenever possible for the last year or two. This one had the highest interest rate of all our debts (a hefty 7.2%) as well as the highest required monthly payment. To have no more debts with interest rates higher than 3.99% is a very nice thing indeed! And if we continue to pay the same amount toward debts every month, the snowball effect will certainly help us pay off these pesky credit card debts and subsequent loans much more quickly.

So I suppose there really is cause for celebration, now that I think about it a little more. We haven’t reached the huge vacation or expensive piece of artwork stage of celebration yet, though we are thinking that giving a few bucks to a poor college student or something of that sort would be a nice little way to celebrate our freedom from this particular shackle. For now, I think I will make some brownies.

Published in: on September 6, 2011 at 5:58 pm  Comments (1)  

yard sales!

It’s yard sale season, and although I haven’t hit them as often as I would have liked to this summer, my little ones are old enough now to do tolerably well when I drag them around town to yard sales for an hour or two on Friday mornings.

We’ve made some great finds this summer. I forget how very worthwhile it is to spend those few hours going to yard sales each week until I stumble across several worthwhile finds in a row. Here are some of my favorite finds from this season:

new pair of Doc Martens for Keith: $3
decent pair of Keen shoes for Keith: $2
about seven pairs of jeans for Keith with lots of wear left: $14
Little Tikes play tractor that Abraham absolutely adores: $2.50
complete Narnia series on CD for Keith to listen to at work: $10
Blueberries for Sal, one of Rilla’s favorite books: $.50
several other good children’s books: about $1 each
several yards of vintage yellow fabric for me to sew with: $3
purple wool blanket to make a jumper for Rilla: $3
several books for our box to send to South Sudan: about $1 total
nice wooden salad bowl (like yours, Morgan!): $.50
nice wooden coat tree: $2

total cost from this list: about $45
total cost for these items if bought new: easily $470 or more

I really love it when I find deals like these. Although I haven’t read it in a while, I remember that the book The Shrewd Christian talks about the importance of having a home manager who is watching the back door, so to speak, while the main income-earner is bringing money in the front door. I love that aspect of being a stay-at-home mom who is in charge of our finances. I love having the time – of course, I have to make time for it, but still – to be able to go to yard sales and find bargains that are better than any online sales. For example, Keith has needed black dress shoes for a few years now. How nice to be able to be aware of that and able to snatch up a great pair of brand-new, good quality ones that fit him for $3! Saving that much money in a few hours makes me feel like I got “paid” quite a lot of time for my hourly work!

Of course, there are the dud days too, when we go out for a few hours and find nothing. But even then, all I’ve lost is a few hours, and I think that the days when I stumble on heaps of useful items are well worth the overall time invested!

Published in: on August 25, 2011 at 10:53 pm  Leave a Comment  

recommending Heartsy

Okay, those of you who love all things Etsy… have you found Heartsy yet? Big discounts on Etsy stuff. I’d say that it has become dangerous, but the things that I’ve bought so far are only things that I was going to buy anyway… like cards and whatever… so it’s actually been a pretty good bargain thus far.

I try not to recommend things that give me money back unless I would recommend them anyway. If you sign up through my link, I get $5 credit, but really… I would recommend it anyway. Paying about a third of the price for cute handmade stuff? Yep, that’s a good deal!!

Published in: on June 26, 2011 at 11:30 pm  Leave a Comment  

the mechanics of conscious spending

There is something about month four of unemployment that wakes up my materialistic “I need this” side and causes it to come tumbling out at every opportunity.

Or maybe the tight budget just makes it more obvious?

Either way, there was a bit of advice on Get Rich Slowly today that seemed particularly timely and useful. Here it is:

The mechanics of conscious spending are pretty simple. Before you buy anything, ask yourself some simple questions:

  • Do I have the money to cover this expense, or would I be going into debt for it?
  • Does this expense forward my financial goals?
  • Can I get this need or desire met without spending money on it? Could I spend less money?
  • Does this money need to be spent now, or can it wait thirty days?
Good advice, huh?
Published in: on April 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm  Leave a Comment  

tips from Miserly Moms

I’ve been reading Miserly Moms by Jonni McCoy this month. It’s one of the better practical finance books that I have read, and although it’s not my very favorite, I do recommend it.

One key point of this book is that being a stay-at-home mom (rather than working outside the home) may save more money than you would ever guess. I agree with this. It’s not the first time we’ve heard it or crunched the numbers, of course, but I would just add my voice to the testimonies of this book: In our experience, there is a tremendous amount of money saved by me being able to be home. Beyond the most important benefit of being able to raise our children how we want to, having extra time saves a tremendous amount on food, vehicle expenses, clothing, and all kinds of other variable costs. Even little things like having time to return unnecessary purchases or call a credit card company to question a fee can add up to quite a lot of extra money.

Here are three other principles from Miserly Moms that I found particularly helpful:

1. Chart Grocery Prices. I’ve been wanting to do this for a while but hadn’t figured out a good system. Jonni uses a chart with sections for each food item, and then next to that has columns for Average Price, A Good Sale, and Once in A Blue Moon. I haven’t done it yet… ugh, the work involved to do it the first time!… but I know it’s going to be really useful. For example, I know that 99 cents a pound is a great price for organic apples, but does Costco really have the best price per ounce for extra virgin olive oil, or would that be cheaper to buy through Amazon when they have a sale combined with Subscribe & Save on a certain brand? That kind of thing. Knowing for sure what the best price is in every situation would be a tremendous help to saving money.

2. Take Good Care of Your Teeth. As the author noted, this might be kind of an odd thing to put in a finance book. But it was a good reminder for me. I haven’t been taking the best care of my teeth since having children… it’s kind of easy to forget about things like showers and flossing when you reach a certain level of exhaustion… and the reminder of the costs of root canals (not to mention the long-term effect of bad teeth on a person’s health) really sobered me and gave me a renewed vigor for careful brushing and flossing.

3. Have Good Medical Insurance. I know that some people view this as a no-brainer, but we have never had medical insurance unless it was covered by work (so, for like six months out of almost seven years of marriage). Keith has been unemployed for the last three months, so now is not exactly the best time to add on a new expense, but I think that we will join up with Samaritan Ministries healthshare program in the next year or so. In general we are careful to seek out healthy food, avoid chemicals, take supplements, and use alternative remedies, but we are beginning to feel that it’s time for us to have a better safety net in case of big unexpected medical needs.

One last thing that I appreciated about this book… I can’t find the quote now, unfortunately, because I just returned the book to the library… was that Jonni clearly differentiated between frugality and being miserly. The point of being frugal is to live a better life. We still spend money on things that matter. It’s just that once you start being more careful in your spending, you realize quickly how very many things don’t matter.

Published in: on March 29, 2011 at 12:40 pm  Comments (1)  

debt reduction planner

I’m reading a (terrific!) book called Miserly Moms. It makes reference to a debt planner located here…

… and I must say, this is the best debt planner I’ve ever seen! It is a simple way to plug in all your debts and see what kind of variations you can make in order to pay it all down more quickly. This is the kind of calculator that we searched for but never found when we were walking people through the Money Merge Account program. Seriously, this is a great calculator! You’ve got to try it.

Note: It says that it’s for credit card debt, but it really doesn’t matter; you can include any time of debt. If you’re familiar with Dave Ramsey or Crown Financial, the Fixed Payment option works perfectly with what they call the snowball effect.

I am enamored with this thing. It is a number-cruncher’s dream come true!

Published in: on March 8, 2011 at 4:10 pm  Comments (2)