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.

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

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)  
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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  

meeting our goals

Last January, I shared with you our financial goals for 2010.

Today, I will share with you the outcome of those goals.

Goal #1: Acquire $2000 in an emergency fund.
Result: Success! We have that and a bit more in our emergency fund, as well as an extra month’s worth of funds in checking.

Goal #2: Contribute $1000 to our Roth IRA.
Result: Almost. We contributed $700. It would have been nice to contribute more, but something is better than nothing.

Goal #3: Pay off about $7300 in principal on our debts.
Result: Success! We paid off about $10,400 in principal on our debts, so we exceeded this goal by quite a lot.

I am both excited and disappointed, somehow. We set realistic goals, and even exceeded the amount that we paid toward principal on our debts. We had another baby, went on a big vacation, ate well, and still my husband was able to support all four of us on his one income as well as make additional payments toward our debt load… despite having no work for three months out of the year.

Yet we still have debt, and I suppose that is the thing that disappoints me.

I once heard that people overestimate what they can do in a year and underestimate what they can do in five years. At the rate we are going, we will be out of debt in a little over two years. That’s not too shabby. I want it to be today, of course, but this steady plodding thing is paying off. I hope that five years from now will see us out of debt and being halfway finished paying for a home of our own. It could happen, right?

Published in: on January 4, 2011 at 8:42 pm  Comments (1)  

driving an older vehicle

There are moments when I really detest our car.

Don’t get me wrong: I am thankful to have a reliable vehicle. At 203,000 miles, she is still running strong. We’ve been driving Dory for nearly seven years and still have had to do only routine maintenance and very few side repairs, such as replacing a cracked window and a broken ignition.

It’s just that she is so low to the ground, and the seats are so very uncomfortable, and it is so very awkward to get two small children in and out of their huge carseats in the backseat, and it is so annoying to have to cram groceries in every nook and cranny, and I wish I could take the stroller with us all the time instead of just on select trips. My bi-weekly grocery shopping trips to the city an hour away are becoming a thing of immense exhaustion and much inconvenient maneuvering. I’m tired of having no room in the car to change a diaper, I’m tired of taking everything out of the trunk to get the stroller in, and most of all I’m tired of those darned uncomfortable seats.

And I wish there was a windshield wiper on the rear window. And maybe dual climate control. And a CD player. And I wish that one of our rear seat belts wasn’t broken. And I wish there wasn’t that blind spot where the huge molding on the back window interferes with my line of sight.

This is really nothing new. I have been fighting discontentment with Dory for various reasons for a few months out of every year for oh, the last six years or so. Overall, she’s a great car. But the discontentment has been strong lately, so we have been analyzing the situation again and reminding ourselves why it is not yet time to get a different vehicle. Here is the reasoning:

  • We’re driving Dory less than 1000 miles per month right now. I see no reason that this car wouldn’t last easily until 225,000 miles, meaning she has at least a few good years left in her.
  • Most of my miles are highway miles, so if the average speed (between town driving and highway driving) is 50 mph, then I’m really only in the car for 20 hours per month.
  • If we were to get a newer car, we’d want to get one that was good quality and thus would last us another seven years or more. If car payments were $300 per month, and if we were only driving it 20 hours per month, that means that we would effectively be spending $15 per hour for the privilege of driving the new vehicle, or $20 per hour if you count gas.
  • As uncomfortable as Dory may be, the four of us can still fit in her and she still works for us. I look forward to the day when we get a higher vehicle with more room in it, but the ability to pay down other debts still seems more important than paying $20 per hour for the privilege of driving a newer car.

I think that for me, when it comes to things that are such strong wants that they are almost becoming needs (such as getting a newer vehicle), it is exceedingly helpful to analyze the cost ratio. Our car is not nickel-and-diming us; on the contrary, she is saving us car payments and is holding up tremendously well. The gas mileage is good, the air conditioning works, and the vehicle is acceptable in every other way. For now, it behooves us to continue driving Dory and continue putting more money toward our already-existing debts rather than taking on new ones.

And when the time comes to get a new vehicle, we will just be that much more grateful for it. Right?

Published in: on August 31, 2010 at 12:15 am  Comments (3)  
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this year’s goals

Thanks for the encouragement on the last blog post.

We don’t know what the next twelve months will hold. Adding another baby to our family will no doubt mean lots of fun new expenses which could make it difficult to meet this year’s goals. It’s even more difficult to meet goals if we don’t set them at all, though, so here are the major tenets of our personal financial goals for 2010:

1) Acquire $2000 in an emergency fund.

2) Contribute $1000 to our Roth IRA.

3) Pay off about $7300 in principal on our debts.

It is undetectable on the surface, but there is something different about this year’s goals as compared to the past four years. Perhaps I am learning the art of what Proverbs calls slow and steady plodding, or perhaps it is simply a matter of being content in our circumstances. Either way, my secret thought behind every previous financial goal has been this: “But really, I want to pay off EVERY CENT and I want to do it THIS YEAR.”

I feel now that such thinking has done more harm than good.

Not that it is wrong to desire to be out of debt, but setting unrealistic goals only sets me up for dissatisfaction, even as we make strides toward financial freedom. We have several major things taking place in the next six months which could either help us greatly or set us back greatly, and yet I am not worried about them. (Well, not most of them.) We will work hard toward these goals and trust the Lord to direct our steps in financial matters as in all others.

And if the end of 2010 doesn’t show the bottom-line number that we are hoping to see, we’ll still be okay.

Published in: on January 18, 2010 at 12:49 am  Comments (2)  

last year’s goals

We’re now a full week into the new year, and I realize that I haven’t yet posted our year-end totals.

Part of the reason I’ve waited is that our finances are rather unstable now that Keith is out of work and not eligible for many weeks of unemployment. But if this blog is really to be one where I honestly chronicle our journey toward financial freedom, that will have to include the lean times too, right?

So here we go.

Our financial goals for 2009 were 1) to acquire $1000 in emergency savings, 2) to begin a Roth IRA, and 3) to pay off about $9250 in principal on our debts.

We achieved the first goal, but ended up dipping into it at the end of December. I believe we should be able to fill it back up this week, but that likely won’t last long, as our living expenses now exceed our income.

We achieved the second goal, hurray!

We didn’t achieve the third goal, instead paying off about $6515 in principal on our debts. I have to admit, that is pretty disappointing. But we know which choices we made that prevented us from reaching the number we had hoped to reach this year, and we don’t regret making them. And I will say that after a year like 2008 in which we saw our debt-load increase, it is satisfying to have come to the end of 2009 – a year in which three of us lived on one income in a down economy – and have at least made some headway on our long-term goal of paying off all debts.

Published in: on January 7, 2010 at 5:01 pm  Comments (4)  

missions accomplished

Since meeting our last financial goal, we have chosen to take a break from paying extra toward our debts. Instead, we have met three other goals. They may not seem huge to all of you responsible types, but for the three of us who are relying on one income (and that income was gone for two months this year, remember?), each one is a pretty big deal.

Goal #1: Have $1000 in savings. This is, of course, one of the first steps toward financial responsibility, because it means having a cushion to fall back on in case of emergencies. It’s been a tight year, and it’s so good to have that cushion there again.

Goal #2: Have the money for next month’s expenses before the month begins. It is amazing what a relief it is to not be living paycheck-to-paycheck or even two weeks out. Today I am able to look November square in the face and have no qualms about the expenses it will bring.

Goal #3: Open a Roth IRA. This one is the most exciting for us. We have met the other goals before, but this one has been hovering beyond our grasp for years. Almost a decade! I can even remember talking about it together just after we finished high school. But there is always some other way to spend that nice plump chunk of money that it takes to open a retirement account. It was actually quite hard for me to resist putting the extra money toward my student loan during these last few months of saving! But we did it. Tonight we opened a Roth IRA. Hurray!!

Published in: on October 27, 2009 at 12:06 am  Comments (7)  

one down

“Outstanding balance: $0.00.”

THAT feels GREAT.

We paid off the lesser of our two credit card balances the other day. Not the kind that we use for monthly expenses; this was a debt made up of 2007’s taxes. It’s been hanging around since last year, and we just made one final shove to get rid of it. Hurray! One debt down, only four more to go!

I’ve been realizing lately (with reluctance) that like everyone else, I too spend more money when putting monthly expenses on a credit card. It’s taken me a long time to admit it, though. Keith and I never used credit cards during college, and we’d never accrued any debt other than student loans, so when we began using credit cards for monthly expenses in the year following college graduation, it was purely for the purpose of building credit. Because we just knew that we would never be so foolish as to use credit cards unwisely. Fast forward a year, then throw in the worst six months of our lives, add in making next to nothing for the six months after that… and bing, we have credit card debt. I really do think it’s fortunate that we had credit to fall back on during that point in time, and we are fortunate to have our credit card interest rates to be under 5%, but still. Debt is debt.

So anyway, that has all been separate from the card we use for our monthly expenses, but I’ve decided I really need to just pay for things out of checking now. Even if we don’t get the 4% cash back. I’m excited to see what kind of difference it will make in my spending when I am forced to write everything down in the checkbook. Thus, the “monthly expense” card is now down to $0 as well, and I have begun in the last few days to use real money to pay for things.

I kind of like it.

Published in: on July 9, 2009 at 8:53 pm  Comments (3)