Wednesday, February 24, 2010

the baby steps

I've mentioned that I'm following the incredibly simple debt-reduction plan taught by Dave Ramsey.  To give you an idea of what exactly that plan is, here is a list of the seven "baby steps" he teaches as a means to get out of debt and build wealth.

Baby Step 1
$1,000 to start an Emergency Fund
Dave frequently refers to this Emergency Fund to as "Murphy Repellent," meaning that Murphy's Law ("Anything that can go wrong will go wrong.") seems to apply far less to those who are prepared to deal with the unexpected.  It is crucial to keep perspective on what is truly an emergency when considering using this money.  Is it really an emergency?  Could I save money to cover this expense rather than pulling money from my Emergency Fund?

Baby Step 2
Pay off all debt using the Debt Snowball
The Debt Snowball pays off all debts except a first mortgage.  Dave suggests paying off the lowest balances first.  Pay the minimum on everything except the lowest balance and put everything you can toward that creditor until it is paid off.  Then take the amount you were putting toward that balance and attack the next lowerst balance.  As each balance is paid off, the snowball grows and more money is available to pay toward the lowest balance each month.  Learning to live on a budget and within your means (living on less than you make) is the only way to get out of debt and stay out.

Baby Step 3
3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
After the debt is taken care of, it's time to beef up the Emergency Fund.  More savings means you're better prepared for bigger emergencies should the arise.
The next several steps overlap or occur simultaneously. With the first three steps, you are digging out of a hole and ensuring that you are prepared to handle emergencies without incurring debt. The remaining steps are about building wealth.

Baby Step 4
Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement
This is just the start of retirement preparation unless you're already on the verge of retirement.  Once the rest of the Baby Steps are complete, more may be invested.  My company matches 401(k) contributions, doubling the first 1% and matching the next 3%.  That means that if I put in 4% they will put in 5%.  That's free money!

Baby Step 5
College funding for children
R and K will be starting college at the same time, so this step is a little intimidating.  R declared the other day that she wants to be a doctor.  Later the same day, we were driving past the private college that I attended briefly and she told me that was where she wanted to go to school.  Granted, she is not even four years old yet, but I want to support her big dreams.  After all, I want to be in a nice nursing home someday!

Baby Step 6
Pay off home early
Home mortgages are the only type of debt that Dave Ramsey understands as a necessity for most people.  He would prefer that everyone pay cash but that's not an option for most people.  He provides some guidelines for those looking to buy a home:
  1. Utilize only 15-year, fixed-rate mortgages.
  2. Your monthly payment should be no more than 25% of your take-home pay.
Using these guidelines helps you to keep the cost of your home within your means and if your payments are reducing your mortgage balance at a faster rate, equity in your home is built more quickly.

Baby Step 7
Build wealth and give!
With the first six steps out of the way, you can invest more in your retirement if you'd like.  You can give more to the philanthropic organizations that are important to you.  You can even add more cash to the fun envelopes!  A fortune cookie I got recently said it best: 
"If you continually give you will continually have."

So those are the Baby Steps!  That's not so hard, is it? :)

This blog is now open to the public.  Feel free to pass it along to anyone you think may enjoy or benefit from it.  The links over there ---> might help me pay my debt down faster if I find myself with some followers who click on them now and again.

I'm adding labels to my posts so specific topics can easily be found.  I've also added a net worth tracker.  It's not much to look at right now, but it'll be fun to watch it change.  I'm a nerd for math, graphs, and spreadsheets so all of this is kind of fun for me.  I like paying bills.  How weird is that?

Please leave your answer in the comments below. :)

Thursday, February 18, 2010

another one bites the dust!

I had my eye exam on Friday and discovered that I don't need new glasses. The glasses that I have are my current prescription.  It hasn't changed in seven years!  New glasses have now become a want rather than a need, so they're going to wait.  The money I had set aside to pay for my glasses has now been applied to my debt!  I have paid off three creditors this month and have $1,000 in the bank for emergencies!

Store Card 1 - $323
Direct Deposit Advance - $220
Credit Card 1 - $350
Line of Credit - $465
Credit Card 2 - $685
Student Loan 1 - $1,640
Store Card 2 - $2,800
Student Loan 2 - $3,145
Auto Loan - $4,005
Credit Card 3 - $4,470
Credit Card 4 - $4,910
Student Loan 3 - $5,615
Student Loan 4 - $6,025
According to the Debt Snowball Tracker that is part of my budgeting software, I have paid off $1,303.15 of my debt since I committed to this journey.  This includes both the larger payments I've made to pay off creditors as well as my regular payments to those still in progress.  I still have a long way to go, but this is an amazing start.  Next up is my Line of Credit.
I am using an envelope system for categories in which I tend to overspend the most or spend without thinking.  I have envelopes for groceries, restaurants, clothing and entertainment as well as one for fun money.  I have two checking accounts.  One of these is now being used solely for gas.  The reason for the gas account is that it makes it much easier to get gas when I don't have to take a pair of three-year-olds out of their car seats and into a store full of candy to pay for it.  That account is, essentially, my gas envelope.  The other checking account is being used to pay bills.

I'm still tweaking my budget with every paycheck.  I have discovered that I spend less on gas than I thought I did.  It's getting easier to admit that I don't have the money to do some things.  It's also very exciting to have money set aside to have some fun.  The girls and I are getting back into the habit of going to the library on our weekends together.  They love it and it provides entertainment for several weeks in the form of books and movies.  Gabe and I often cook as a form of entertainment and just generally enjoy each others' company.  I have maintained my Netflix account as an inexpensive form of entertainment as well.  We only get one DVD at a time and unlimited streaming movies online, so there is always something to watch if we're lacking things to do.  When we do go out, it's far less expensive with Gabe than most of my social life had been prior because there is no drinking on his part and very little on mine.  I used to buy friends drinks if I was getting myself one so the expense of one drink often doubled or tripled.  They're not cheap to begin with, so this is probably saving me more money than I even realize.

Things are great. My valentine's weekend was low-key and wonderful.  The girls and I are taking a road trip tomorrow to see Grandma Char and Grandpa Doug.  It'll be fun to spend some time with them and the girls always have a great time.  See you soon, mom and dad!

Monday, February 8, 2010

i've hit the gas pedal!

I'm happy to announce that I have already paid off my first two debts! Store Card 1 and my Direct Deposit Advance were both paid off this week, never to be seen again.  This is where I'm at (yes, these balances are the same as the last post as these posts are being made on the same day).

Direct Deposit Advance - $550

Store Card 1 - $323
Credit Card 1 - $400
Line of Credit - $510
Credit Card 2 - $685
Student Loan 1 - $1,951
Store Card 2 - $2,800
Student Loan 2 - $3,148
Auto Loan - $4,140
Credit Card 3 - $4,577
Credit Card 4 - $5,150
Student Loan 3 - $5,614
Student Loan 4 - $6,048

I have also ordered new tires for my car and have an appointment to get new glasses and will be paying cash for both of those expenses. Whatever is left of my tax return after I get my glasses is going to be put toward my next debt. I'm incredibly proud of myself for accomplishing so much in the last few weeks.  I debated buying a Wii with a piece of my tax return, but have come to the conclusion that maybe that would be a good reward when I get everything paid off.  It's too much money to put toward something that will only make me want to spend more money.  Come to think of it, maybe it would be a bad idea to ever get a Wii. :)

full disclosure

I have expressed my desire to pay off at least $15,000 of debt in 2010.  In total, I have $35,000 in debt.  About $16,500 of that debt is student loans.  Somehow I feel like student loans are an acceptable form of debt so I need to explain that.  The rest is consumer debt in one form or another.  Here's the lowdown of every debt I'm making payments on.

Direct Deposit Advance - $550

Store Card 1 - $323
Credit Card 1 - $400
Line of Credit - $510
Credit Card 2 - $685
Student Loan 1 - $1,951
Store Card 2 - $2,800
Student Loan 2 - $3,148
Auto Loan - $4,140
Credit Card 3 - $4,577
Credit Card 4 - $5,150
Student Loan 3 - $5,614
Student Loan 4 - $6,048

There you go.  Every bit of it.  I'm working the Dave Ramsey plan.  That means that I'll be paying these debts according to the balance, lowest to highest.  This may seem counterintuitive to some who are of the pay-less-interest school.  Numerically, that makes a lot of sense, but the reasoning for paying them according to the balance is to get the momentum going.  If I paid these according to the interest rate, it would probably still result in paying some of the lower balances first (store credit cards are notorious for ridiculous interest rates), but sticking strictly to the lower balances first is going to increase the amount of money that I'll be able to commit to paying the next debt faster.

Ready... Set... GO!

Friday, February 5, 2010

baby step 1: COMPLETE!

I got a big fat paycheck (lots of overtime) and my federal tax return today.  My baby emergency fund ($1,000 in the bank) is now fully funded!  Yay!  I also paid off half of a low-balance credit card.  When my state return comes in, it will buy tires and glasses and the rest will go to debt payments.  What a great start!  I'm going to do my best to keep the momentum going.  Woooooohoo!

Thursday, February 4, 2010


Looking at my budget for February, I think I'll have my baby emergency fund fully funded plus pay off two credit cards and make a pretty good dent in a third by the end of the month!!  Wooooohoo!  What an awesome start!

I'm so happy I decided to get working on this just as I was getting my 2009 taxes ready.  My tax returns will play a major role in the jump start I'm getting.

Working overtime is also playing a pretty big role.  I've missed having time and energy for the girls over the last few weeks, but my manager is looking into getting access to allow me to work from home.  That will be a big help and allow me to spend more time with the girlies rather than having to shuffle them to their dad or to babysitters when I need to work.  I really hope that works out as there looks to be quite a few more opportunities to work OT in the near future and OT is far easier to work out than trying to find a part-time job to supplement my income while I'm on this journey.

I had a bit of a reality check the other day.  I was talking to Gabe about the possibility of taking another east coast vacation this year.  We had talked about (and Gabe's aunt Sue had insisted) taking the girls with this time.  I thought it sounded like a great idea and was thinking my tax return would allow us to do that, but upon reflection I realized that taking our vacation last year landed me further in the hole and if I want to pay this debt off, I need to be making smart decisions about money all the time, not just when it feels good.  I called Gabe back and suggested that we consider going camping someplace relatively nearby instead.  He thought that sounded like a decent plan.  As much as I would love to take the girls to the beach this year, I know that they won't care if we wait a few years and they'll probably appreciate it more and have loads more fun when they're a little older.

Gabe is one reason that I've decided that now is the time to get rid of this debt.  We've been together for 10+ months, but we're both divorced and in no hurry to tie the knot again.  In the meantime, I want to put myself in a position to be be less of a financial burden if/when the time comes.  I already come with two extra mouths to feed so upkeep on this package deal isn't cheap.  I'd love to be in a position where I'm living, not just getting by.  My goal is $15k this year, but I would love to surpass that goal.  I'm making an effort to make sacrifices now so I can live better later.  My income would allow for a comfortable life if a third of it wasn't going toward debt payments.  I'm going to get there!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

the approach

How do I keep it going?
I'm taking a few approaches to keep myself excited about paying off debt.  I want to stay focused so I'm trying to spend some time every day working on my finances in one way or another.  I look at my budget every time I recieve a bill to determine when it will be paid.  Because I'm in my first few months of using a budget, it is going to require some regular tweaking before I get it just right.  I am also listening to financially-focused podcasts on a daily basis to learn more and hear about the experiences that others are having paying off their debt.  Right now, I listen to The Dave Ramsey Show and Rebound.  I have also subscribed to and am using the money tools there to help me in this process.  I'll blog more about that soon.

Why do I want to pay off my debt?
At this point, I spend about a third of my take-home pay on debt repayment.  That's ridiculous!  If I was able to save that money every month, I'd have the girls' college funds fully funded well before they were in high school.  I could afford to have them in preschool.  I could spend money on piano lessons.  And for me, I could contribute to a retirement fund and purchase stock at the company I work for.  I could buy new clothes when I lose weight.  I wouldn't be stressed out about how I'm going to pay for car repairs when they're needed.  And there is the fact that I hated going into my first marriage with debt.  I do intend to marry again someday and I don't want to bring financial baggage into the relationship.  I am currently dating an absolutely amazing man that has the desire and ability to be an entrepreneur.  Business ventures require capital.  I'd love to be a help rather than a hinderence in those ventures if we should end up marrying someday (and I hope we do <3).
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