Thursday, December 23, 2010

Day 70 - A Gift To Myself

December 23, 2010

Christmas Bonus: It was a tough decision to make because I really wanted an iPad, but I decided the best thing to do with my $1,000 bonus (thanks, job!!) was to throw it at our debt stockpile.  Although it is a decision completely void of instant gratification, it is the right decision for me.  In a year filled with personal loss and struggle, I realize that my Christmas gifts - no matter how cool - are not what help me through the tough days.  And believe me, I have had more than my share this year.  Still having them.  I realize what has helped me the most are my personal relationships - kind of an ironic realization for someone who is not so great at making an effort to keep in touch with friends and family.

So this year most of my family is not exchanging gifts.  Instead we are purchasing a beautiful sunset maple to plant next to my Dad's final resting place.  I can't think of a better gift.  Christmas was a holiday my Dad made every effort to make a special day - no matter how little money he had in the checking account.  And every Christmas after all of his work was done, he would just sit back, relax and quietly take it all in - family, happiness, laughter, togetherness, love.

So here is my ask of you this season: enjoy the gift giving and present-opening but also remember to just sit back and take it in, even if just for a minute.  Look around at the people surrounding you and take time to laugh with them and just enjoy the day.  Don't get caught up in getting things over with so you can move on to your next stop.  Spend ten extra minutes talking with your parents or siblings or close friends.  Give an extra hug to those you love - and actually tell them out loud (or write it down) that you love them.  Trust me, you will never regret it.

I love you, Dad.  Merry Christmas.

Sarah Jane

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Day 66 - Family Kidnapped By Ninjas, Need $4 for Kung Fu Lessons

December 19, 2010

I added a Donate button.

My immediate thought was an image of me holding a hand-drawn cardboard sign asking for a handout.  I'm generally not the type of person to showcase my personal life then say oh, by the way, how about you also give me some money?  Also, I tend to be more likely to give a stranger some cash when there is a bit of cleverness involved in their ask.  One of my favorite homeless person signs:

Family Kidnapped by Ninjas
Need $4 for Kung Fu Lessons

What I'm Doing: I now have a donate button on my blog.  It is an easy way for readers to donate to my debt free $60K Project if they feel compelled or ignore it if they want.  I'm completely fine with either decision and won't be hounding my readers for money.  Also, in order to pay it forward, 50% of donations will be given to a deserving nonprofit organization.  I would like to target lesser known organizations and would love to hear your suggestions.  I have decided to start this push by choosing the Denver Dumb Friends League as this month's organization.  The Dumb Friends League provides humane care to lost and abandoned animals.  No animals are turned away.

Why I'm Doing It: Mike and I are trying to get our life in order but the amount of debt Mike we owe is staggering - about $100,000 in total (and that is AFTER paying off $36,000 already!).  ALL of the remaining debt is related to student loans - we both have Master's degrees and decent jobs.  We have been together for seven years and we would like to eventually get married, buy a house and have kids.  But it is difficult for us to justify these expensive life goals - let alone afford them - when we have so much debt remaining to pay off.  So the $60K Project is our attempt at making sense of our debt, figuring out how to get rid of it as quickly as possible and giving readers a way to learn along with us (as well as get some laughs).

What You Can Do: I realize that you can donate directly to any non-profit without going through my site.  My goal is to give lesser known - but worthy - organizations a chance to get some additional exposure through my site.  Hopefully sponsoring these organizations on my website will introduce some readers to the benefit provided.  So what can you do?  Provide suggestions for nonprofits that are important to you.  I will review all suggestions and periodically change the organization I am featuring (monthly? quarterly? i'll see how it goes and make a decision).

Give me some feedback - I would like to hear what you think.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Day 62 - Mid-Month Report

December 15, 2010

The first and fifteenth of each month I will update you on the status towards our goal of paying off $60K in one year. 

** Check out the Real Time Debt Tracker!!!  Keep up to the minute tabs on our debt balance and whether we can pay it off in 365 days!

These last two weeks have been pretty tight but we made it!  Cheap and not so fabulous dinners at home, car-sharing to save gas, cheaper weekend activities and creative gift buying techniques all contributed to this success.

LOAN BALANCES AS OF 12/15/10
  3,882  Mike Student Loan #1
17,075  Mike Student Loan #2
21,571  Sarah Student Loan #1
           0  Mortgage
42,528  Remaining Payoff

Scheduled Payoff of First Debt: Initially we scheduled to pay off Mike Student Loan #1 - our smallest loan - by end of January or early February.  Now that we plan to apply my Christmas bonus it looks like we could have it paid off right around the 15th of January.
Challenges: Ten months left to pay off $42,528. This equates to approximately $4,252 a month in debt payments.  We know that we currently can't pay that much a month towards debt.  But the bright side is that when we calculated this last month it was closer to $4,300.  By continuing to put extra money towards debt this should continue to go down and (hopefully) result in our goal of paying off $60K in one year.
Upcoming Significant Expenses: Bridesmaids dress, new gym membership, physical therapy appointments
Additional Cutbacks: Cutbacks across the board the first half of the month so we could squeak by on our meager budget. Hopefully this next month will allow a little more flexibility and less unplanned expenses.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day 57 - Snooki and "The Situation" Better Than You at Personal Finance

November 10, 2010

The Wall Street Journal posted an article recently about an online survey conducted to analyze the personal-financial capability of people who live in the United States.  An interactive map instantly tells you how your state sizes up with the rest of the nation.  Believe me, it's not pretty.  A few snippets from the article:
  • Over half of all Americans are living paycheck to paycheck
  • 60% of Americans do not have a "rainy day" fund
New York and New Jersey (land of Snooki and The Situation) consistently came out on top of the survey while Oklahoma (land of me) was close to or at the bottom of the ranks.  Well, this explains a lot!  What is even more disheartening is that New Jersey - one of the top ranked states in the survey - still has 47% without rainy day funds.

Personal finance education needs to become more of a priority.  Young people especially need to be armed with knowledge so that they know what it means to take out a student loan or how much house they can afford on their paycheck.  How to balance a checkbook and understand compound interest should be required material for everyone.  Budgeting should be no big deal.  If nothing is done to educate the US on basic personal finance skills, I think it could have repercussions beyond your own finances by affecting the economy and Gross Domestic Product in the long term.

During the next year I hope to educate myself a little more in these areas and figure out the best way to pass on this knowledge to people who need it.  In the meantime, take charge of your money!  Don't let it call the shots for you.  Don't be another statistic.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Monday, December 6, 2010

Day 53 - It's All About the Benjamins

December 6, 2010

Been Around the World / All About BenjaminsAs many of you know, I base most of my debt payment principals on Dave Ramsey's Baby Steps. Ramseyheads are notorious for intense enthusiasm and I will confess I'm no different.  When you hear how much money has been paid off by people all across the country it's difficult not to get excited at the thought.  I will attempt to keep my enthusiasm in check while blogging but I can't make any promises.

Right now we are working on Baby Step 2 - pay off your debts (except for the house) beginning with the smallest balance first and working your way progressively through the next largest balances.  Our smallest debt balance is one of Mike's student loans with $7,255 remaining at the end of November.  We would really like to pay off this off by New Year's Day (give or take a few days) and we are racking our brain to find a way.  I need your help - can you make money grow on my Christmas tree?  Or at least give me some money-making ideas.  Right now, we have three payments of $1,625 scheduled to put towards this debt in December and early January.  AND.....drum roll please.....Sarah has made an extra $1,000 (after-tax) appear this month by getting a bonus at her job. Voila! Let's see if Mike can create magic and come up with the remaining balance.  When you count the two minimum payments we make in December and January of $134, it leaves $1,110 not including some additional interest accrued.

In the immortal words of Puff Daddy (aka Sean John Combs, aka P. Diddy, aka Diddy, aka.....)

It's All About the Benjamins

So where do we find some??

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Day 52 - The Dreaded Weekly Budget Meeting

December 5, 2010

Mike and I just ended our weekly budget meeting.  We had to cut it off after an hour and a half.  Exhaustion and frustration were beginning to set in.  We attempted to budget through January and found we barely squeak by in December and end up in the red in January.  We estimate having $3 in our checking account on the 15th (my next pay date) and not enough money to cover bills during the first part of January.  Back to the chopping block. 

Let me tell you, money saving ideas come out of nowhere when you really sit down and think about it.  Or maybe it's just me not being responsible enough to remember this stuff in the first place.  For example, we budgeted $200 for Christmas gifts.  I realized I had received $235 from my Wellness Rewards program through work (basically get paid to exercise) and was able to apply it towards an Amazon gift card - gifts are now taken care of without using any cash!

Another expense that is going to need to be cut is Christmas travel for me.  I really wanted to drive home or drive to Colorado to spend time with some of my family, but the cost of that could easily reach upwards of $500 or more.  I think I will be able to find a manageable alternative, plus it will give me some relaxing time at home without having to show up at work for a few weeks.  Not my first choice but I will have plenty of other opportunities to visit with my family in the near future.

So for now we budget to barely squeak by as long as Murphy doesn't visit any time soon.

Workplace Rewards: Many workplaces offer Wellness Rewards or other types of benefits for their employees.  This is basically free money for you - it may take a little effort but in the end it's worth it.

What we're eating this week: PB&J, Veggie stir fry with quinoa, spaghetti and two nights of Christmas parties (wish we could take home the yummy leftovers!)

What we're selling this week: An office chair and some textbooks.

Murphy's Law: Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.

Chin up. Eyes on the prize.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Day 51 - A Slight Problem

November 4, 2010

Ok, so this is officially our first rough period. Due to some unexpected expenses in the last part of November of about $1,000 (vets can be expensive!!), we have way less money to cover our bills than we originally thought. Another issues that adds to the problem is that about 90% of our bills are due during the first half of the month. Since I get paid on the 15th and last day of every month, the first part of the month is always tight. During the last part of the month, we have to make sure to have enough money left over to be able to cover all the bills due after the 1st. But an unexpected expense can easily wreck this plan.

So what do we do? This is really a time to see our creativity shine as we try to come up with some extra money (and also spend less).  Based on our checking account balances and upcoming expenses through the 15th (car insurance, gas, pet supplies, dr. visits), we have about $75 dollars remaining for food and general supplies - yikes!! The easy way out would be to just take some extra money from Mike's paycheck this month and put less towards extra debt payments. But we are determined to stick to our plan.  Here are some of our solutions:
  • Score! I found a $100 AmEx gift card I got a few months ago from work. Look through your important documents for those gift cards you threw in there a while ago.
  • Protein-packed vegetarian stir-fry: Your favorite beans and vegetables all stir-fried together with soy sauce, rice vinegar, sugar and chili garlic sauce. Substitute quinoa (high in protein) for rice and you have a very healthy, inexpensive and filling meal. Make it in bulk and you can survive on it for quite a few days (we just did).
  • Christmas parties! We've got three coming up and they all involve free food and drinks. We are all of the sudden very social people.
  • PB&J: Come on, nobody is too good to survive on this standby in a time of need.
  • Sell stuff: This is Mike's solution - we've got a great desk chair going up on craigslist soon and a shelf we got as a gift that will be returned to Target very soon.
We are very optimistic that we can get through the next week and a half. Netflix was our best friend last night (along with a nice bottle of wine we received as a gift) and tonight is Balboa Park December Nights - a free Christmas celebration in San Diego which includes free access to all museums in Balboa Park. So despite our limited funds we are still able to have a good time.

What can we do better? We really need to spend more time working on our monthly budgets. To date it has been more of a back of the envelope event, but I feel an Excel spreadsheet approaching quickly.
What are we doing well? Communicating and keeping our cool. Mike and I are in this together and haven't let emotions get in the way when it comes to stressful financial situations. I hope we can keep this up!
Takeaways: Although we really enjoy going out on the weekends for a nice dinner and a comedy show/play/movie/dessert, I realize that you can still have fun on a smaller budget than you think. Netflix is a lifesaver (We LOVE Dexter) and free events are all over the place, especially this holiday season.

Keeping my eyes on the prize - this will be all worth it in about 314 days.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Day 49 - It's Personal

December 2, 2010

The week of Thankgiving is typically a great time for everyone to reflect on their lives and recognize what they have to be thankful for.  Last Thanksgiving, my Dad came out for a visit and we ended up having Thanksgiving dinner at the Hotel Del Coronado - his absolute favorite hotel.  It was a very special day for the two of us - just me and my Dad relishing in the amazing buffet spread in the Crown Room.  We both crave great life experiences and this was definitely one I know he had always wanted to have.  We wanted so badly to savor each moment that we made a point of taking small portions every time we went to the buffet line just so we could have an excuse to get up and do it all over again.  Three hours later we reluctantly headed home.

Since this was my first Thanksgiving without my Dad, it felt strange not to see him camped out in  a comfy chair quietly enjoying the hustle and bustle of the day and the friends and family surrounding him.  But I was fortunate to be surrounded by such wonderful family to help me get through the week.  I am also incredibly thankful that I took the time to really connect with my Dad, especially in the past few years.  I have no regrets when it comes to my Dad - I'm not sure we could have been any closer than we were at the time he decided to move on.  This is what I'm truly most thankful for this season.  I hope that you were able to take some time and reflect on what is most important to you in your life.  Sometimes it takes a tragedy to force people to stop, think and reassess what is important.  Don't wait until it's too late - try to take some time each day to think about what is important so that you can live with no regrets.

Stay tuned,
Sarah

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Day 48 - December Report

December 1, 2010

The first and fifteenth of each month I will update you on the status towards our goal of paying off $60K in one year.

Survived our Thanksgiving week vacation without spending too much money.  Most of it went to food, beer and gas - all necessities when spending a week with family in Denver.  But we are still on the right track!!




Challenges: Since the majority of our bills fall during the first half of the month we have to make sure to have enough money left over at the end of the month to cover all of our expenses.  This month we had an unexpected vet bill for $500 at the end of the month so there really isn't much money at all. Beans and rice, rice and beans for the next few weeks.
Upcoming Significant Expenses: Physical therapy, Christmas travel

Stay tuned,
Sarah
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