How Whole Life Helped Pay Off Debt

A few months ago we got serious about slaying our remaining debts. We had already discovered ways to decrease spending, from razor blades, dropping dish/cable, shopping at Aldi, changing cell plans, and car insurance. While that’s all great and good, one also must slay the debt dragon if you want to get out from under the shadow of Lonely Mountain*.

We looked in every nook and cranny to find money. I had some investments in taxable accounts that I could have liquidated, but decided to keep looking elsewhere. Instead we uncovered how poorly our whole life insurance policies were doing. My $100,000 $50/month policy had a cash in value of $3,440, but I lost $900 when I surrendered.  Kate’s $100,000 $75/month policy could be cashed in for nearly every penny invested which meant $9,300. The “new” money was going to help pay off debts on our timeshare (we’ll discuss the timeshare in another blog) that was at 11.5% interest and still had a large balance. Of course be sure to have the new insurance policy in place to cover your needs before canceling any existing policies.

Considering we have two very young children, we were already considering increasing our coverage.  I was able to replace the whole life and a previous $100,000 $14/month term policy with a a $500,000 20 year term policy for $45/ month. Kate was able to get a new $500,000 term life for $30/month to replace her $100,000 whole life.

So to sum up, we replaced two $100,000 whole life policies and one $100,000 term life policy ($300,000 total) at $139/month with $1,000,000 20 year term life policies at $75/month. Over three times the coverage at half the cost per month and recouped almost $13,000 to pay off a high interest debt (11.5%). This doesn’t even factor into the equation that we needed to increase our coverage, so if we kept the whole life policies we would be paying even more per month for sufficient coverage rather than saving half. Of course the cost savings was applied to the next debt dragon…. student loans.

As with anything on this site, we are not experts and while the description of what we did takes a few paragraphs to explain, it took several weeks of researching whole life policies, making sure we understood any penalties for canceling, and deciding where the surrendered cash would be allocated. In other words, everybody’s money situation is unique you must do your homework. Honestly, neither of us would have bought the whole life in the first place if we had done our homework, but it did help to have the funds available to help pay off debt. Thank you to The White Coat Investor and Mr. Money Mustache.

*If you picked up this was a reference to The Hobbit and the mountain home of Smaug, bonus points to you.

 

 

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Changing my sweet default: one week update

Well, it’s the end of January. Many of us made New Year’s resolutions, and I bet many of us are just about ready to give up on said resolutions. We’ve all heard it year after year: statistically, somewhere between 81% and 92% of resolutions are said to fail. It’s as if we are taunted by the reality that we most likely won’t succeed in our goals. “Don’t even bother trying! You’re not going to make it anyway!”

Here’s the thing: so what if supposedly, the majority of resolutions aren’t kept all year? Maybe a full year of a change is too much to expect from the get-go anyway. Maybe we need to focus on building new habits for smaller units of time. For example, perhaps two weeks of writing 500 words a day. Maybe committing to a month of no red meat. Maybe getting up an hour earlier for a week to run.

For me, and I’m guessing for most of us, the idea of a full year of changing something that’s been ingrained since forever just feels too daunting. It’s overwhelming. I need shorter, more achievable goals. Of course I hope that my changes will last long-term. However, giving up something (or adding something to your routine) for a year? It might as well be forever!

Goals have to be fluid. They tend to be easier to accomplish if we can see the finish line from the start. So maybe I decide I’m not watching any TV for a week. At the end of that week, maybe I’ve struggled mightily, maybe I’ve only caved in once to watch  Chicago Fire, or maybe I’ve killed it and been 100% successful. After that week, I’ll know better what I’m capable of for the following week, and so on. I can adjust my goals as I go along. I may not end up with as complete a change as I’d originally hoped, but I’ll still be in a better place than I was before. Instead of failure, that’s progress! It’s a beautiful thing. Let me encourage you with that, friends: if you can take some small steps toward changing your default, you’re already doing awesome! Keep it up, and if you falter, it’s not the end of the world.

Okay, so time for the update. One of my faulty defaults (see what I did there?) is eating lots of sugar. Whenever I’m having a rough day, or I need a late-night snack, or it’s a holiday (or a regular Wednesday), my guilty splurges are always sweet. The hubs wants beer and hot wings for his comfort foods, but I want cookies and cereal and candy.

When I shared this last week, I honestly imagined my next post would be one of failure and disappointment. I figured I’d be writing, “Nah, just kidding! Let’s go have some doughnuts!”

I’m glad to report that it’s been, surprisingly, a week of mostly success in my food quest. Less sugar is the name of the game!

As I mentioned last week, I’m not making any ironclad commitments in my diet. I’m not following a prescribed diet plan endorsed by any celebrities. I’m focused on what I find fairly realistic: paying attention to what I eat and drink in general, fueling up for maximum energy, and drastically lowering my sugar intake.

Here are some of the little, yet big, adjustments I’m making thus far:

Old default: two cups of morning coffee with 3 or 4 tablespoons of flavored creamer (100 calories or more). Fewer calories than a fancy frappuccino, but hardly healthy. New default: coffee with half-and-half, 1/2 teaspoon sugar, and a sprinkle of cinnamon. Only about 8 calories. Way less sugar, and I’m starting to get used to the taste being much closer to that of…how about that?…actual coffee (less like a candy bar).

Old default: sweet cereal as a bedtime snack. We’re talking Cap’n Crunch, Lucky Charms, Honey Smacks. New default: well, last night I had oatmeal with just a teaspoon of brown sugar and some cinnamon. Earlier in the week it was plain Cheerios mixed with Rice Chex (no- and low-sugar options). This is a tough one. I LOVE my cereal. But I’m working on saying no to the temptations. Even if I do have a little of the “candy” cereal, I’ll mix it with oats or another sugar-free alternative.

Old default: buy a soft cookie from the school cafeteria when I feel the munchies coming on at work. Not every day or anything, but still a problem. New default: I’m trying to be more deliberate about bringing fruit and vegetables and unsalted almonds for snacks at work. It’s still tempting, believe me (especially on my lunch duty, when I’m looking around at all those kids enjoying their desserts).

Retraining the taste buds is like learning to do just about anything differently from the way we always have. Reading instead of watching television. Cooking at home instead of getting takeout. Getting back into an exercise routine after months (or years) of a sedentary lifestyle. Keeping your desk and home organized instead of cluttered. Responding with patience instead of frustration. Having a positive attitude instead of cynicism and complaining.

I’ve felt tempted by sweets, but I’ve been able to keep myself focused on the goal. I only had two of the mini-cookies my son was eating last night. They weren’t even that good.

A huge help is MyFitnessPal, the app that tallies your food and nutrition info with exercise and calories burned. It’s amazing how even an impersonal app can motivate me to stay with my goals! It takes a bit of time, but knowing I have to record each bite makes me much more determined to do what’s best for me. The past couple of days, I actually came in under my sugar intake goal! Super exciting!

Today is Saturday, so there will likely be greater struggle (with the weekend comes extra free time and added temptations). But so far, I’m really glad to be doing this!

 

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Sweet Temptations

photo tartesFrench pastries–from a supermarket, and they still look pretty darn good. photo eclairs

Tartelettes, eclairs, and millefeuilles make a tantalizing display in France. 

 

I love sweets. I can’t get enough of them. However, something’s got to change.

I’ve lost the ability to see treats as what they should be: treats. That means they shouldn’t be a part of my everyday diet. I shouldn’t be eating cookies and other junk foods that tempt me every day, often multiple times a day.

Sugary cereals and toaster pastries. Homemade cookies. Chocolates. Panera’s cinnamon crunch bagels. Twizzlers. Homemade pumpkin bread.

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These are just a few of the sugary, blood-sugar-spiking, energy-sapping, weight-packing snacks that I consume way too often.

Why cut back? (Really, I should be cutting them OUT, not just cutting back.) Anyway, the reasons are obvious. Bad for your health. No nutritional value. Leave you still hungry. Addictive. Not to mention, having junk around means my kids will see it and want it, too. I want to instill good eating habits in them from a young age.

The 30-day sugar fast and variations thereof are pretty popular these days. I hear about people doing them all the time, and I think, yeah, that’s exactly what I need. But I have yet to attempt it.

It was hard enough a year and a half ago when I gave up candy for several months. (That’s right, it means I only specifically gave up candy, so Lucky Charms and freshly baked chocolate chip bars were still fair game.) I still think that basic premise was better than nothing. I definitely backed off a lot and felt healthier by trying to stick to more homemade treats rather than highly processed, purely-sugar snacks. It was a step in the right direction. But now I’m thinking maybe it’s time for a more drastic change.

How could I possibly cut out added sugars entirely for a month? Heck, I’m unsure of whether I could even handle it for a day at this point! It makes me so nervous just posting this, because it feels like a promise to anyone reading. That fear is a big neon warning sign that it’s something I need to do.

I know this is about more than just the obvious SNACK FOODS. There is plenty of added sugar in so many packaged foods, it’s ridiculous. So of course this means taking a really hard look at labels and getting serious about a low-sugar lifestyle.  To me, this is really my Achilles’ heel. Not red meat. Not gluten. Just sugar.

I’m not making any promises like I’m going to shun sugar forever. That’s just not realistic, not for me. But I’ve got friends who I know can help me with ideas for curbing those cravings. Maybe some of you have tips for me as well!

My taste buds definitely need a reset. I’m hoping what they say is true: sugar cravings will subside and even disappear once it’s not a staple of my diet. Then, maybe I’ll be able to gradually reintroduce some of those old favorites back in as an occasional treat. That’s kind of what happened with my candy-buying prohibition. When I eventually started getting candy once in a while, it was special again, but I didn’t overdo it very often.

Friends, do you have any dietary default changes you’re working on right now? How do you motivate yourself? Do you have an accountability partner or support system?

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Ennui: thoughts on purpose for a new year

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Snowy countryside seen on my first run of the year!

Blah. Ho-hum. Same old, same old. Here we go again.

That’s been my general attitude toward life in this first week of 2016. Okay, so I don’t ever actually use the phrase “ho-hum” in my everyday thoughts or speech, but the others are all accurate.

Does anybody else feel this way every January? That post-holiday slump, when you don’t have so much to look forward to and everything seems dull and drab? All fall, I anticipate Thanksgiving and Christmas and the long break from school. Vacation is wonderful, I get to spend more time with loved ones, I get to relax and read and go to the movies. Then, all too soon, it’s a new year, the ball has dropped, and it’s time to get back to regular life.  Back to work, back to scheduled activities, back to normal. The letdown is not quite so strong as when we were kids, and the day after Christmas we felt like we would never have fun again. Nevertheless, the struggle is real.

As a new year begins, I often find myself dragging. Not in all things, of course, but there’s just a sense of…I don’t know…sameness? It’s like I know there’s this new year with all these new possibilities, and that’s great, but so many things in life don’t change, and it makes me feel almost trapped.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am INCREDIBLY blessed (we can debate the true meaning of this word another time, but for now, I think it fits best). Life is amazing. My two boys are challenging, but oh so adorable. My husband is awesome. We have good jobs, loving families, a safe home, and we’re taking control of our finances finally.

But.

A sense of ennui has set in. Lorelai Gilmore defined it as “a lazy, soon to be out of work French concierge who won’t answer the phone”. For those of you who didn’t learn this word from Michel Gerard on Gilmore girls, it’s actually a feeling of weariness and discontent. It’s not even for anything specific. I just get this feeling sometimes, as if I’m missing out on some big secret. Like I’m supposed to doing something so much more dramatic and impressive with my life. Anybody understand where I’m coming from at all?

I feel like we’re ready to finally take the leap of moving out of state, getting us closer to Nate’s family and lifelong friends, but every year, something keeps us anchored where we are.  Every time a school break or maternity leave ends, I contemplate staying home for a few years with the kids, but here I am, back at work yet again. We love to travel and can’t wait to return to France as well as explore other countries, but having two very small children doesn’t make that kind of travel super-appealing at the moment.

It’s okay if these things stay the way they are. These are by no means problems. Yet I still long to do something about them. I’m longing for change. I’m stuck, in a sense, and not sure of how or when to be brave and get unstuck.

Many of us are struggling through the first week of New Year’s resolutions. I chose not to “officially” make any this year (meaning I don’t have a list scribbled down anywhere of the things I hope to accomplish). I always have some hopes of change in my mind, though. I realize this is not the way to accomplish anything (you’re supposed to make SMART goals–specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound). So I’m setting myself up to fail already.

Where am I going with this? I guess I want to say that if you’re experiencing a bout of ennui, this sense of boredom, take heart. You are not alone. Perhaps this season of wondering, of waiting, of uncertainty in purpose, is exactly what we need to get us to where we want to be. After all, how can we seek change unless we know what’s wrong with the status quo? Don’t we need to feel the confusion and disillusionment and uncertainty before we figure out what needs to change?

I’ve been aching to put pen to paper (or fingers to I-Pad) for over a week now, wanting so badly to express something, but unsure of exactly what it was. It’s frustrating to think of the ways I fail as a parent, the harmful things I eat, the stories I haven’t written, the time I waste, the goals I haven’t reached, and not have a concrete plan of how to fix all of it. Maybe there are just too many areas in my life that need an overhaul. I can’t focus on all of them at once. Maybe the change I need right now is simply in attitude.

Maybe it’s all right to experience a bit of ennui from time to time. It’s totally human and natural. We can’t be on top of the mountain all the time. We go through seasons of struggle and seasons of achievement. We have to go through the valleys as well as the plateaus. Not to mention all the hard work that goes into actually climbing the mountain.

Photo Nate and Kate by lake

Just the two of us:)

God is with us whether we’re trying a different career path or staying put. He’s with us whether we put down deeper roots here or or move to a different city or town. He’s with us whether we feel successful or not.

But I’m not going to quit searching. I know there’s something out there for me, for us. It’s within reach.

photo CP boats

Perhaps a trip back to the Centre Pompidou is in order?

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Aldi

I’m officially an Aldi convert.

I fought it for years and years, mainly out of intimidation. Those checkout people at Aldi are SCARY, man! They can ring up seven hundred items in 6.2 seconds flat (I think that’s their hiring requirement). The few occasions on which I ventured into one of these discount grocers, I felt like I was meeting the Soup Nazi–if you didn’t know the rules and follow every single one to the letter, they might take all your groceries away! “NO food for you!”

Now that I’ve been a regular Aldi shopper for a few months, I can say I’ve gotten over my fears. I still loathe going in there at peak times, but that’s true with any store. I still don’t have a debit card, so I make sure to get some cash out at the bank every week or two for grocery trips. Bonus: my two-year-old loves going through the drive-thru at the bank, because they still hand out Dum-Dum lollipops for the kids! It’s a nice little (free) treat for him, and it is too cute when we pull up to the teller window and he automatically says, “Are we going to get a lollipop?” (He pronounces it “wollipop”.)
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Anyway. I digress. I love Aldi now.

I love how small it is. Even when I’m stocking up on everything imaginable, I’m still in and out in twenty minutes. Since they carry fewer brands, there’s little debate over which item is better.

I love how people try to give you their cart when they’ve finished shopping. Nobody ever wants my quarter; they just want to be helpful, especially when I’m lugging around the bambino in a car seat.

Above all, I love how much MORE I get for my money. A gallon of milk that costs $3-4 in another market can go for $1.61 at our local Aldi. Even when the price fluctuates up, it still isn’t usually over around $2. That’s just one example. I can purchase more organic items because they’re closer to the price of non-organic in another store. I get healthier, safer foods for practically the same price. I’m estimating our grocery costs overall to be about two-thirds what they have been at the other big chain stores.

We still frequent the Jewel down the street  because it’s literally two blocks from our house and usually for a bunch of bananas or a pound of spinach, their prices are just fine. But for the majority of our food shopping, Aldi is the new default. Imagine if I’d been buying just my milk there for the past five years. Saving $1.38 per week when only using a gallon a week? That works out to $358.80 saved in five years! Just think of the potential savings gained when multiplying that over 90% of all grocery items over the years!

Now, I won’t lie. There are downsides. The store feels extremely small and hard to maneuver unless the place is completely dead. It’s not open as early or late as I’d like, making it such that there really isn’t much of a “down” time to go (except at 6:30 on a Saturday night…yep, I know how to live it up). If you’re a hardcore “granola” type of person (all organic, no preservatives, everything tastes like cardboard and your kids have never heard of Pop-Tarts kind of shopper), it’s maybe not for you as the selection of those things will seem limited. (By the way, awesome job, if you’re that healthy.) To me, the selection is perfect.

So don’t be afraid to try your local discount grocer. It might just be another in a long list of ways to save money that adds up to big dividends!

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You don’t always have to sacrifice to save. Just look for solutions.

So a little over five years ago I cut the cord. I decided ESPN, the History channel (which no longer showed history), and dozens of unwatched channels could go. Our cord was actually a dish provider running us $60 per month. However, it was the middle of the NFL season and the Walking Dead had just premiered on A&E and I likey me some zombies and Green Bay Packers. So it was going to pinch a little.

 

I had heard of this new crazy fad called Netflix where you could watch shows and movies online. Weird, watch shows on my computer. Maybe it’s more than a fad. Did some exploring and realized there were already a lot of free shows from the networks and cable channels online. I was looking for ways to cut monthly costs since internet was $70 per month, two phones were running $160+, car payment $200+, and house payment $1,200. This seemed my only option.

 

The simple math was exciting. I would be saving $720/year. Giving myself a little raise that year. Maybe I could pay off my car a little faster (or keep up with the repairs). In the 60 months since making that decision, we’ve saved at least $3,600.

 

This got me looking for other ways I could cut costs without really sacrificing. About a year later we downgraded our smartphones to a couple of crap phones, but it dropped our phone bill by $60/ month. SWEET! cha ching! Then Clark Howard caught my interest with the discount smartphone companies. Some companies were under $20/month per smartphone. I was very skeptical and researched each company for a couple months. Then I thought, let’s get one, try it out, and if it works we’ll switch completely. So that’s what we did. That was about 2.5 years ago. We’ve had  three different companies and two different phones, but never a monthly bill over $40 (usually less than $35) total for two smartphones. Some companies had very limited options for phones, but now we have two Motorola G 3rd gen and they are wicked fast. To limit the bill we maximize our use of wifi and minimize data usage. Our wifi calls actually sound better than than phone minute calls. SO quick math: 30 months x $120/month saving compared to old smartphone plan = $3,600 at least!

 

 

So two simple changes which required really no sacrifice on our part saved over $7,200 in 5 years. This opened our eyes. Where else could we cut and not really even notice? No amount was too small. This summer I switched our car insurance to almost identical coverage and cut the premiums in half ($600/year). Aldi is our store of choice. Dollar Shave Club allows me to use a new razor every two weeks without guilt. Shopping is NOT a form of entertainment!!

Then we looked at our debts and decided they were next and we have begun to be much more purposeful with our retirement savings, but that’s for different posts.

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Holiday ramblings

Christmas is coming!

One of my fave Christmas-season activities is watching all the classic holiday movies, plus every Christmas episode of fun sitcoms (Friends, The Office, and such).

The man of the house makes fun of my penchant for watching shows I’ve seen a dozen times before. I personally like seeing them again, especially when there’s a holiday theme. Gotta love those Office Christmas parties!

The other night, after the munchkins were both asleep, since their daddy was working late, I put on an old “Everybody Loves Raymond”. It was the Christmas episode in which Ray gets Debra an expensive new cookware set in an attempt to get in her good graces, so she’ll let him go on an extended golf weekend with his buddies.

Lo and behold, on Christmas morning, Ray also gets a special gift (I chuckled when I saw it was–get this–a DVD player! Remember when that was a big deal?) He loves it, but the joy is short-lived as his brother and dad convince him that his wife must be manipulating him with a big gift. He’s expecting a lame tie, but that’s not what he gets. Darn, now his gift is equal to his wife’s in extravagance.

Anyway, a fight ensues (shocker) as Ray accuses his wife of bribing him with a nice gift, and she of course is insulted and offended because she had no ulterior motives in her giving.

Watching the familiar scenes, I breathe a deep sigh of relief, so glad that I’m not in a relationship dependent on presents to prove our feelings. We’ve never attempted to manipulate each other by spending or not spending a certain amount of money.

For us, our newfound commitment to a more frugal lifestyle doesn’t really change the way we’ll spend the holidays. Special occasions have always been rather simple for us. We don’t go out on Valentine’s Day, we don’t give birthday or anniversary gifts, and we don’t even really do Christmas presents. Yes, in the first year or so of dating, we did the gift-giving routine a bit, but since then, we’ve agreed that we really do not need presents.

We don’t need gifts to prove anything. We don’t need gifts to enjoy the holidays or other milestones. We don’t care about how much the other can spend on us.

All we need (really, all we want) is to be together. Does it sound cliche? Yeah, maybe. Who cares if it is? It’s the truth. We love each other and we love our family. Neither of us feels less loved if the other doesn’t buy just the right gift.

Giving has always been more spontaneous for us. If I see something cool with a Star Wars theme (hubs cannot wait for the new movie coming out on December 18), I might get it just because I know how much he loves Star Wars. When he recognized that I would love having a Kindle, even though I resisted it, being a “real-book” enthusiast, he went ahead and got me one that Christmas. I don’t expect that expensive of a gift for every other occasion. He doesn’t get offended if I don’t buy him a present for his birthday, but I did get him a Tardis mug and this nifty t-shirt as a congratulatory gift for finishing his doctorate.

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What this does for us is make us more creative, more aware of one another. We look for ways to bless each other that aren’t dictated by our consumerist culture. He loves to bring home flowers on a random Tuesday afternoon, and I love that: a) they only cost $5 at the grocery store, and b) it was his own initiative, not February 14th, that told him to get the flowers, and c) an unexpected gift is always more meaningful than an expected one.

We are so fortunate that we both are on the same page with giving. Can you imagine how miserable we’d be if I insisted on expensive presents on every holiday and birthday, but he insisted on frugality? We all give and receive love in our own way. If two people are too different in their love languages, that can cause some serious rifts. But for us, traditional “gifts” don’t fulfill our needs or desires. We’re quality-time people above all other expressions of affection.

Our thing for special occasions is pretty much always going out to eat. We do this so rarely (frequency is a relative thing, so we’re talking maybe once every two or three months) that it is a treat every time, no matter what. We go out to dinner over Christmas break and for our anniversary. Sometimes we’ll do a breakfast date at our favorite local diner, where we always try to get seated in Eileen’s section so we can chat with her about her daughters’ college adventures and she can see how much the boys have grown. We use our rewards points there so we get two meals for the price of one. We love spending time together and enjoying good food.

This Christmas, we’ve got plenty of joyful moments to look forward to, as parents of two small boys. It’ll be great to see kid #1 light up with excitement about seeing Santa, decorating the tree, opening presents, and all that jazz. It’ll be frustrating but cute when kid #2 promptly pulls down every ornament, pulls on Santa’s beard (if he treats him at all like his dad, that is), and has more fun playing with gift boxes than any actual presents.

Keeping it simple is a big goal in all of our holiday prep. We don’t need to bake seventeen different types of cookies (although I don’t mind eating them). We’ll get free pictures with Santa, see a free movie at the local theatre, and ride the free holiday lights train. The kids don’t need hundreds of dollars worth of toys to unwrap. They’ll each get a few small gifts from us–little toys or books, new pajamas for each (because we always seem to be running out of clean ones), and the older one is getting an Octonauts play set. All told, we’ll likely only spend about $70 total for Christmas for the boys together. Not bad, I think! We could go even more frugal, but it doesn’t seem necessary. It IS still Christmas:)

We still try to keep giving small gifts to each niece and nephew, as well as something for our parents. We’d be cool with it if all our family gave up gift-buying for everyone except the kids. However, we know that for many, the giving of gifts is a true expression of care and love. It’s their love language. So we don’t need to judge anyone else’s giving or stand in their way. For some, it truly would rob them of much of the joy of Christmas if we said, “No gifts EVER!” Being a gracious receiver of gifts is just as important as being a generous giver.

What is your default when it comes to giving meaningful gifts to loved ones? Do you give gifts as a way to say, “Hey, man, I love you this many dollars’ worth”? Michael Scott would say that presents are the best way to show you care. I hope that’s not how most of us feel.

Can one be frugal and not be a miserly old Scrooge? Do you feel you’ve struck a healthy balance of financial wisdom and outrageous generosity?
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First movie in the theatre… Polar Express! (Free admission = paramount with two wiggly kids!)

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Au revoir, student loans!

Today, I owe nothing on my student loans–hallelujah! Thirteen and a half years since college graduation, four years since completing my masters, and 35 grand gone.

It was a bit of a thrill as I logged onto my loan account this morning to see…paid in full. Balance zero. Oh, how beautiful!

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Happy Thanksgiving to us! Not only are we thankful these loans are no longer over our heads, we also thank God that we’ve “awakened” in terms of our finances before it’s too late to fix things.

We’ve made plenty of errors in financial judgment, individually and together. Do we wish we had discovered and heeded the advice of Dave Ramsey, Mr. Money Mustache, and Eat the Financial Elephant years ago? Absolutely! But here we are, ages 35 and 40, and we still have time to make huge strides. Look at all we’ve been able to do in just a few short months (we first read MMM in July). Once we get his student loans taken care of (which we expect to do by summer 2016), we’ll free up soooo much cash each month. All of that surplus will go directly into savings or investments (yeah)!

We’re anticipating that next year (academic year, since we’re in education), we’ll be able to bank half our income. Yeah, that’s right. HALF. None of this wimpy 10-20% that’s advised by so many so-called financial “experts”. We’re changing the default and pressing the reset button. That’s how we’re going to make up for so many of the mistakes of the past and start finally catching up to where we ought to be.

So today, I want to pause and express how grateful I am. I know I’m so fortunate to have a decent job and income, a husband who shares the same values and goals, two amazing little boys, and a realistic hope of gaining financial independence much sooner than I ever dreamed possible.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

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Méchants partout…giving up the illusion of control

Typically, I find it annoying when I hear that an article or video has “gone viral”. But the interview of a small boy and his father that took place the day after the recent terrorist attacks in Paris definitely got to me. I showed it to all of my French classes and watched the students’ reactions, varying from cynicism to tearing up to applause.

The sweet little boy tells a journalist they have to be careful and change houses, and his father calmly responds that France is their home. They won’t be leaving. At the child’s protest, “But there’s bad guys, Daddy,” the dad says “Les méchants sont partout” (there are bad guys everywhere).

In that one sentence, this father has summed up much of my emotional response to these most recent attacks on our security, both perceived and actual. That phrase is both upsetting and comforting at the same time. As we reflect on our everyday plans and dreams and expectations, we know we must recognize the dangers, yet refuse to be cowed by them.

Our major goal right now and for the foreseeable future is to attain financial independence. We don’t want to be enslaved to our current jobs, or any 40-hour-a-week jobs, until we’re 65 or 71 or whatever age the state decides is the minimum by the time we get there. We hope to achieve a level of financial security than allows us to leave our current jobs and spend our time in a more flexible manner. This probably won’t mean complete “retirement” in the typical sense, but rather the ability to try new ventures, go part-time, go down to one income, move abroad for a year…who knows? It may seem trivial in light of terrorist events, but still, the thought of the freedom to tackle new ventures is exhilarating.

Whether due to threats to national/international security, loss of Social Security or pensions, illness, and so many other risks, we know all of our efforts at saving towards early financial independence may be futile. The state of our nation and world are such that all of our plans may not yield the results we anticipate. No one has been guaranteed tomorrow.

As we remember that father’s words to his small son, “bad guys are everywhere,” we know that we will simply continue to do all that we can to get our finances and our lives in order. Just like all of you, we’ll go to work and play with our kids and honor our obligations and do our utmost to be responsible with the gifts we have. We’ll do this with the awareness that we aren’t fully in control of our lives. Whether or not you believe in a higher power who orchestrates every aspect of our lives (I do), no one can deny that there are factors outside of OUR control. Watch the news for thirty seconds and you know this is true.

I guess the knowledge that there are méchants partout can be comforting in a way. We can’t worry that the next move we make will lead us into danger. We can face danger anywhere. But we face life with courage. We persevere in our current course of action. We use the idea of the Serenity prayer–changing the things we can, accepting the things we can’t, and the wisdom to know the difference.

If you watched the end of the interview, you know the father’s explanation to his son is that while the bad guys have guns, we have flowers and candles, placed in memory of those lost. The flowers and candles, he says, are for protection. The little boy, trusting his father’s words, is comforted. While this is a somewhat simplified view of the situation, it is also profound.

These expressions of grief and love have a way of uniting us in humanity. For we who mourn the loss of life on November 13 in Paris as well as every day all over the world, we comfort one another through flowers and candles and prayers and kindness. Perhaps the best we can do to combat the “méchants” is to treat everyone with compassion, in hopes of eradicating any need for violence or cruelty. While there is evil everywhere, there is also beauty everywhere. Let us hold on to the beauty.

photo tall trees

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Impatience to Make Things Right

photo girl rainy window

Patience is a virtue. But is it always?

Impatience is a better trait, I think, when it comes to knocking out your debts. Patience is what got me to this point. Fourteen years out of college, still paying off loans, month after month. Who knows why the maximum 20 years of repayment sounded reasonable to me back when I graduated. I’ve never carried a credit card balance from one month to the next, but for some reason, taking forever on student loan repayment seemed okay. Yeah, school debt is one of the so-called “good” debts, but I’m learning that there really is no such thing. That’s a default mindset that has to go.

Now that we’ve become obsessed with saving money, the last debts are driving us crazy! We just can’t wait to be DONE with all those pesky student loan payments so we can finally, REALLY focus on saving. We’re impatient to stop owing money and start keeping more of our pay. We’re impatient to get to the point of saving half (or more) of our income within the next year. It’s totally possible, and it’s going to happen!

I have $5,000 left to go on my master’s degree loans (out of $15,000 to begin with). Maybe six months ago, I just finished paying off my $20,000 in undergrad loans. I’m SO excited to be so close to done with the rest! I keep looking up the loan account online, day after day, as if hoping that the balance will magically have shrunk to zero. Obviously, that hasn’t happened yet (go figure).

The end is near, though! I finally cancelled my stupid whole life insurance policy today (another in a long line of financial blunders) and should get my cash value back sometime soon. That refund check can’t come fast enough! I was thinking maybe I’d get it within a week of sending the cancellation document, but Nate warns it’ll probably be more like a month. Dang.

No matter when it arrives, more than half will go immediately to the loans and they will be, at last, PAID IN FULL.

I am so ready to see that zero balance. Even more exciting: keeping/saving another $160/month that has been going to the loan company!

Impatience in paying off debts = a faster journey to financial independence! This is one time when patience is NOT the best route. Debt is an EMERGENCY and should be treated that way. What do you do about an emergency? You fix it immediately and as quickly as possible. Thanks, Mr. Money Mustache, for teaching us a new default in that area.

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2012/04/18/news-flash-your-debt-is-an-emergency/

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