Celebrating Milestones

The other day someone told me my hair looked nice. I immediately replied, “Oh no, it’s so gross I haven’t gotten it cut in like a year.” Same thing happened again when someone thanked me for turning around some numbers really fast, “I mean that’s my job, isn’t it?” Why do we do that? Why do we try to diminish a compliment or praise instead of just saying thank you or you’re welcome?

With that in mind, I avoided starting the blog posts I had in mind where I was going to scrutinize some of my recent spending and continue some more lofty goal setting and instead decided I should take a moment to celebrate some serious wins we have had this year.

Student Loan:
Our primary focus continues to be conquering this loan. A year ago our balance was $145K and today we are sitting at $116K. This feels GREAT. We lost some momentum over the summer when we were incurring a lot of moving expenses, but now that we are settled and have much lower housing costs we are picking up steam. Which leads me to…

Spending Trends:
The below chart shows the breakdown of our spending from September to November since we moved into this new house. What I’m OBSESSED with is that 28% of our spending is going to our student loan and that only 13% is our housing cost. Technically this is us repaying a personal loan that we took out to renovate the family home, but we treat this as our “rent.” Outside of debt repayment our biggest spending has been on childcare which is something that’s pretty hard to trim down. I’m really proud of us that we are living into the plan that was set up to get aggressive with our loan while we have low housing costs. I can’t wait to see how much more we can do with this in the new year since all that spending that happened on our move will be done. I should also call out that we are tracking our expenses in YNAB and it’s been a total game changer to be so intimately aware of every financial transaction we make and to have a budget that I’m constantly tweaking to reflect day to day reality.

Household Spending

Income Increases:
My husband and I both got solid pay increases over the summer which is also helping us more confidently attack debt. We are also using that extra income to build up a bigger emergency fund since ours is pretty small and it just doesn’t feel comfortable for us now that we have a child. We were following the Dave Ramsey rule of $1,000 basic emergency fund, but now we are trying to build it up to $5,000 for more peace of mind.

I know there is still much work ahead, but it feels great to have some of these milestones under our belt. Looking forward to seeing what 2019 has in store.

Re-beginning.

I’m not naturally a writer. To come back to this blog after 9 months of dormancy, feels hard. It’s like catching up with a friend you haven’t seen in 5 years – honestly, where to even begin?

The past 9 months have felt consuming to me, in a way I didn’t anticipate. I would say overall, my life is in order. My finances are in order. We are progressing against our big goal of paying off a ton of student loan debt. We have greatly lowered our housing expenses. I’m doing well at work. My daughter is transitioning well to a new home and school and I still like my husband.

But I don’t feel the joy of momentum. I just feel really worn down.

My mind is a jumble of logistics and tasks and caring for others’ emotions running through my brain non-stop “Ok, husband is out of town, how am I juggling school drop offs this week? Did I get groceries? Dammit, that has nuts in it, no nuts at school. Don’t forget brother’s birthday. Did I call friend to talk about that hard thing that happened last week? I should text so and so make sure she’s ok. We need blinds for the windows, everyone can see us. Need to book flights back home. Hmm, daughter’s shoes are too small, need to put in small clothes storage. Do we have any groceries? I should tell colleague I can cover that work assignment. Huh, no laundry again? Am I the only one who does laundry? Ugh, so and so at work is such a nightmare. Does husband know friend is staying with us next weekend? I feel like that conversation with family member didn’t go well…I should re-visit. Oh it’s end of month, bills are due. Gah, we still need blinds.”

I know this is not unique to me. I know this is the universal experience of overworked women and mothers all over. But I do think different personality types react differently. Some people can ruthlessly cut out the non-essential. Others avoid it all. And I am most definitely the type that will find and make the time to address everything at the sacrifice of my own well-being and even it isn’t truly that important. I don’t feel compelled to be a martyr. I don’t get some sort of twisted pleasure at telling people “oh I’m sooooo busy.” I just feel painfully obligated to do, do, do.

And even as I write this, I feel guilty that I’m portraying saying yes as anything but a pleasure, because I do genuinely want to be there for my family, friends, colleagues and community. But I’m completely wearing myself out. My emotions feel thin. Inefficiency in others irritates me disproportionately. “Self-care” feels like an indulgence in myself that I’d rather not sacrifice the time if I could use it to spend quality time with my spouse or daughter.

So what does that have to do with money? Nothing? Maybe everything? For me, it feels like I am so caught up in the doing and the getting things done that I haven’t had time to reflect on my financial goals which I felt so in sync with a year ago. I don’t feel like I’m spending mindfully. My glorious YNAB budget is giving me less of a thrill. Yet, there have been some wins:

  • Last August our loan balance was at $165K and today it stands at $123K
  • We moved to my father-in-law’s house and lowered our monthly housing costs by 50%
  • We moved closer to family which means we are driving a whole lot less and our commute to work got cheaper
  • My husband and I have both increased our income in the past 6 months through raises and/or more commission

There have also been some setbacks:

  • Moving to a new home has been riddled with expenses. There was, of course, packing materials and movers, but there have also been a series of bigger and smaller improvements (shelving, toddler-proofing, lighting) and unexpected costs (broken oven, BED BUGS – BLECH, rug cleaning, painting)
  • Our childcare is more expensive
  • We haven’t been able to make a lot of extra loan payments the past several months given all the home expenses

So as I (we) look to re-commit to writing and look to re-commit to focusing on financial goals, I’m hoping I can find a way to re-commit to myself in even the smallest of ways to clear out some of the mental clutter. It feels SO cluttered. A few goals to hold myself accountable:

  • Every month put extra on student loan
  • Fully budget for Christmas gifts ahead of time
  • Use commuting time as “me time” to read or reflect – no working or tasking in service of someone else! – so that I can re-connect to the goals I felt so in sync with just 12 months ago.

And that’s it. Start small, one day at a time, it’s a journey, etc. – insert the maxim of choice. I’m ready to re-begin.

From FinCon to a New Financial Reality

FinCon is a weird and awesome and wild adventure. It’s days of content and connecting “Where Money Meets Media.” In Orlando. Okay…

FinCon

Tl;dr – it’s a bunch of money nerds who open wallets and words to help folks across the Internet do better with money.

Add the brands who want to woo them to their causes. Because who wants to read product details about a new budgeting tool when they can hear why their money heroes like BitchesGetRiches or Cat Alford use the tool to tackle their shit?

To FIRE or not to FIRE…

Not I…and apparently not most folks, who rely on the much-more-obsessed-than-they to guide them to the promised land of FIRE or debt pay down or the ability to Afford Anything.It’s such a feisty set that when Suze Orman talked smack about the FIRE movement, the money-nerd corner of the Internet exploded. Can’t even hyperlink unless it’s to my search results on the topic, which are pages long…

Like a salmon swimming upstream

I was there for work. Paying more than most (all?) on-site would approve. Taking Lyfts to and fro and racking up spendy ‘ritas and hotel Internet and coffee from baristas each MakeItRainday. While others tweeted about going to Publix for groceries and to fill the coffee mugs they brought from home, we had mediocre hotel dinners + room service and a hotel movie, because team bonding. And chicken fingers

Making it rain tax deductible dollars is a good retention strategy, right? And the wine at the happy hours was blech.

I spent most of one day glued to my laptop watching in horror as the Kavanaugh hearings played out and wasting money in the form of connections and productive time because all I could do was not barf or scream.

(I clearly missed the session on layout…)

And then I got home to wildly-overpriced-but-always-home San Francisco and a shoe dropped on my too-expensively-shod toe. The hubs is prolly gonna quit his job.

I make money. I have a dope business. It makes me super proud that I’ve been able to build a profitable business – and employ people! with real jobs! and bennies! – in two years.

But I also optimize for growing the biz versus paying myself; maxing my 401k and tax write-offs versus dollars in my pocket, because the hubs’ current job is crazy lucrative.

As a result, I have let the lifestyle creep so far up my own ass, only a few years after we were envelope budgeting and cutting cords and costs and the things I THOUGHT came with my badass executive-ing… So after having been broke and underpaid for most of my adulthood, I’d climbed to a higher salary than I thought I’d make in my life…and had the tightest budget to-date. Because I hadn’t accounted for four kids, big moves, a nasty ex (his, not mine) and the ensuing costs of custody lawyers, tuitions, and the whole nine.

And I’d entered into a debt-averse marriage with sky-high cost of living.

So the last couple of years, I’ve been focusing on building and re-investing in the biz, while hubs has worked his ass off building inside a big company and functionally printing money because the stock market, tho. Oh, and his tremendous work. But. That stock.

stock market.jpeg

So now, as we’ve cut away every cost-cutting measure and added luxuries from impromptu travel to frequent food delivery to Rent the Runway Unlimited (which’ll be yanked from my well-dressed self when it’s cold and dead) and having (in his words not mine) “money to burn” after we hit our 401k, 529 and other savings goals…we might be looking at a family of 6 (college, private high school, two with a nanny) and an ex (still bankrolled) on a salary that even if I paid out every profit dollar to myself, wouldn’t match what I made when I worked for THE MAN.

So. Time to get real. And reflect. And figure out how to live in the city that I love and enjoy some of the finer things that balance my hectic work-life-circus act, while also ensuring we can do it without simply polishing our golden handcuffs and learning to suck it up until we die.

So that’s me. As of today. Mortgage just under a cool mil’. Lifestyle extended at each edge. Trying to take to heart the teachings of the nerd herd I admire so much and make it work for me.

Next up, reading Broke Millennial and Get Money  — because I know the authors live in expensive cities and are still handling their ish. And I love buying first run books, especially from female authors.

So. Game on.

Catching Up–my thoughts on money and life these days

For a writer, the act of sitting down and writing feels torturous. The act of opening up YNAB and updating my budget to get a sense of where things stand feels worse. It is easier to move slowly through my messy house, straightening piles of things that have nowhere to go.

My divorce will be final in December–two months away. The state disability I’ve been receiving for the past year just sent me my final payment–$335.15. I’m not sure how much longer it’s going to take for the long-term disability provider to decide whether they will accept my claim–the process has been ongoing for two months. Whether my new mortgage gets approved so I can buy my almost ex-husband out of his portion of this house I’m living in will be determined by the disability decision. If I don’t get the disability approved I will go back to work, in a new position with my long-term employer because my health can withstand the grief and travel and time spent in hospitals required by my last position. If I go back to work I will have to find childcare for the kids on my days.

My ex moved off this property three weeks ago and we’re in the process of transitioning to 50/50 custody. I got my first child support payment this month–$587 plus the $200 I asked him for in exchange for my continuing to watch the kids during his days as we transition.  I suggested a slow transition because I knew it would be hard for all of us, for different and similar reasons. I knew I was offering more than I was getting in exchange–my energy and care in exchange for money–and I waved the mental red flags away because it felt important and worth it. After two weeks of providing most of their meals and doing almost all of the drop offs and picks up and trying to be a safe space for the many emotions coming from my four kiddos, I got resentful and sick and asked to speed up the transition. This weekend was really the first time I faced my quiet house and stayed here when they’re not here–I’ve run away every other time. Run to San Francisco where I can hide out and be a couch potato. Not deal with my life. Not deal with my house. Not deal with my aloneness.

This month I also became a landlord for the first time. I took over all the bills for my own house that’s not quite my own yet–car insurance, water, garbage, electricity, cell phone, cable and internet. All of those things were in my husband’s bucket when I had a husband. I’ve called the home warranty company twice to come fix things in my house and now my tenant’s house. I’ve paid the house cleaners twice to have them come make this place look beautiful for the few moments before the kids and I come in and destroy it. I’ve watched the pool get greener and murkier because I wasn’t dealing with it for a while and because the filter needs to be cleaned and that is a monumental task I have not been up to.

I’ve fallen off my special, restrictive, health-improving diet because the act of shopping separately for food for me to eat and food for the kids to eat felt over-whelming and expensive. Even though eating well made me feel cared-for and energetic and healthy.

I’ve been spending money and treating myself and eating what I want because it’s felt like the way I’ve wanted and needed to be cared for. Even though to take care of myself, to truly practice self-care, I need to feed myself well and look at my budget. It just feels too hard and too scary.

That’s where I am right now. Slowly cleaning my living room, noticing that I would like more light in here and wondering if I can afford a new light and what kind I would want.

Money learnin’

We decided it would be useful to write about what blogs or podcasts or books each of us has used to learn more about personal finance. This is an easy one for me because the answer is. . .none! The exclamation point does not denote pride or enthusiasm but rather surprise and emphasis around the fact that I have spent so many years bemoaning the idea that I am bad with money. . .while doing nothing to learn more about how to be good with money.

The internet is new to me. . . ha ha that is only somewhat of a joke. It wasn’t until my last two years of college that I started using email and browsed AOL for the first time. Each time I clicked an arrow to take me to a new page I got freaked out that I wouldn’t be able to find my way back to where I started. How will I remember how to find all of these pages? Since then of course the internet has become a big part of my daily life–for personal communication, work, Facebook, celebrity gossip, booking travel, finding a destination. All of this at my fingertips but it’s only been the past two years where I’ve really been using it to educate myself. I’ve read an article or two about personal finance if it popped up on my feed for some reason but I’ve never gone searching. I’ve read lots of blogs, mostly about motherhood even before I was a mother. But I never thought to look up blogs about money. I’m not sure it even occurred to me that there were people writing blogs about money.

A year or so ago my sister-in-law Lady BlueOak sent me the link to The Frugalwoods, telling me how much she loved it. This might have been in response to a specific money conversation we’d been having but I can’t remember. I read one or two essays on the blog and I liked them but I didn’t fall hard for Mrs. Frugalwoods or her subject like my sis did. And there you have it–the sum total of my personal education on personal finance.

Oh wait. I did once start reading the book Rich Dad, Poor Dad almost twenty years ago when the older man I was dating, appalled at my lack of awareness, recommended it to me. I didn’t finish it.

I met with a financial planner several times about ten years ago. She gave me many tasks to complete, most of which are undone.

I created a Mint account around the same time and it helped increase my awareness of my own spending a little bit. But I never did much with it.

I’ve never read a book about personal finance. I’ve never listened to a podcast. I’ve never taken a class. I don’t remember any conversations with my parents about savings or interest or investment. There was no focus in college on the topic either. All this time I’ve put money in a category of things I’m not good at and don’t want to think about and then I’ve just left it there. Considering how much I love learning–how excited I get to acquire new skills and see my knowledge grow–it is pretty astonishing to me that I’ve done nothing in this area. No wonder I’m not so good at it.

The Lola Retreat was my first foray into a world of people, and more importantly to me women, focused on kicking ass on the personal finance front. I felt like a kindergartner in a room full of grad students. I was shy and embarrassed about my lack of knowledge. . .and I was also inspired and excited by the peek into a world I was for the first time interested in being a part of.

Staying Motivated in the New Year

I feel like 2018 crashed into me.

Not only did the new year begin, but January came and went. I can already feel February slipping away.

I’m someone who adores New Year’s resolutions. They bring me great satisfaction as do lists and goals and other “gold star sticker” related activities. I’m sure if I ever shed my Midwest “we don’t talk about it” roots and embraced therapy there would be many sessions dedicated to why I need performance based validation, but that’s for another day. What’s notable is that I did not set New Year’s goals this year. In fact, I didn’t even go out for NYE for the first time in my entire adult life (and maybe my entire teenage life…?) which feels indicative of the type of year it’s going to be.

No more short-term gratification. No more “today I announce how I will optimize my life!” No more marking a specific day to hold specific meaning. Rather, I’m taking the long view and the slow burn. Every day is a day to work toward our goals and every day is a day to make special and to embrace with gratitude.

Since the Lola Retreat in August my husband and I have gotten our student loan debt down from $165K to $140K. I have high hopes for where we can get it by the end of the year. And while I want this debt to be gone, gone, gone – I’m finding I am feeling less panicky about it. I’m trusting in myself, in my husband and the process. We have put a lot in motion to lower our expenses, we are both actively working to increase our salaries and we are staying in tune with the flow of our money.

Oh. And I’m consuming an endless amount of personal finance content.

What’s weird is I don’t know that I’m necessarily learning a ton of technical stuff with all this finance consumption. I understand investing basics, I don’t “leave money on the table” with my 401k, and the concept of spending less than what I make is not revolutionary. But I love the stories. I love hearing people’s journeys to where ever they are trying to get. I feel tremendous comfort (and maybe some horror) in the solidarity of our country’s collective mess of personal finances. Here’s what’s been keepin me inspired:

Dave Ramsey – I know, I know. He’s super polarizing. But I think there is really something to his baby steps approach and focusing on one thing at a time with intensity. I also LOVE the debt free screams. I passively stream his show at all sorts of hours of the day listening to the radio call-ins. I also started branching out to some of the other “Dave Ramsey Personalities” like Chris Hogan.

Debts to Riches – I read a lot of blogs, but something about the tone of this one has really stuck with me. She’s working toward paying off her debt, yet you can feel so much more evolution of her perspective on life happening as well. Digging in about what matters, the joy that is stolen from comparison and staying intensely focused. I can relate to her story a lot.

Bitches Get Riches – Funny and informative, I love all their posts. This is one of the blogs where I feel like I am actually learning stuff I don’t know or haven’t considered before.

So Money – Just started listening to this more. She interviews a lot of the usual suspects, but also has a wealth of knowledge.

Frugalwoods – This was my gateway drug into all of this (I mean, minus that Suze Orman book I read obsessively in my early 20s). I still have a deep respect for them (and want to read her book!), but now that they’ve met their goal I find it’s not meeting me in my same mind space right now. But I will always be loyal. I also like that they have kids! So few of the FIRE people have kids…

Our Next Life – Same as Frugalwoods. Now that they are retired, I am interested, but it’s a passive read.

Cait Flanders – Really love her Year of Slow series.

#debtfreecommunity – I didn’t know you could follow hashtags on Instagram. I guess it’s a thing and I love it. My feed is flooded with all sorts of random people documenting their debt free journey. It’s a good burst of motivation to break up the pics of babies and dogs.

That’s where I am right now. I’m looking forward to the April Lola Retreat to check in with others and feel good about my commitment to the long game of financial happiness.

 

 

 

Debt payoff report: November 2017

The holidays have been kicking my butt from a “share of mind” perspective, but we did well with our debt payoff in November. I maybe left our checking account a bit slim at the end of the month which I didn’t love, so I need to re-evaluate what feels like a comfortable cushion. A trip to the emergency room for our daughter a few weeks back reminded me that having extra money on hand when you have children is probably a good idea…

The most exciting aspect of November was that we dipped below the $150K mark! It felt really good to cross that threshold.

Without further ado, here’s what we’re looking at:

  • Starting balance: $150,363
  • Regular November payments (includes interest): $1,909
  • November extra payments: $3,365
  • New balance: $145,433

December will be tough on the budget with holiday gifting and some other end of year expenses, but I’m hopeful we can keep the momentum. As we settle into this accelerated payment schedule we’ve set a goal of paying $1K over the minimum every month. If we can maintain this minimum extra payment we will be done with our loans in May 2022 which is 3 years ahead of schedule. Of course, we have aspirations to accelerate even faster – but that feels exciting nonetheless!