Financial Progress

One of my many goals this year is to pay down our debt as much as possible.  With two kids in college come this fall, we need every spare penny!  My husband is an essential worker, so even with all the current (and probably coming) craziness in the world right now, we’ve been able to depend on his income.

However, I am definitely planning ahead and trying to make sure if more strange things happen this year (murder hornets?!) that we are prepared financially – as much as we can be, anyway.

We refinanced our house earlier this year and were able to lower both our interest rate and our payment, which has helped a lot.  Our refinance also netted us some cash, so we were able to stick that into savings.

I think the last time I posted about our budget, we had the mortgage, a car loan, a bank loan, and 4 credit cards.  Yikes!  In March, we paid off one of the credit cards. 😀  We had some expenses that I thought were going to be on that card, but we ended up being able to pay those directly, so now that card is paid off.

In addition to that, we had been putting more money towards the bank loan, because it had one of the highest interest rates.  We used part of our tax refund and put it towards this loan.  Because of that, we were able to pay off that loan this month!

I am still tracking the rest of our debts on my snowball tracker, shown here:

IH Debt Snowball Tracker PNG

My next goal is to pay off two of the credit cards.  They are big box store cards that we used to get 12/18 months no interest and we are close to paying one of them off.  I’m hoping to have the money to do that this month as well.

If I can do that, it will leave us with just 1 credit card, the mortgage, and the car loan.  Which would be AMAZING!  Our house loan is only a 15-year loan and even though the payment was lowered with our refinance, I am still paying the old loan payment amount each month.  This will help us pay it off even faster.

Doing this would also let us put more money in savings every month.  We’ll see how we manage – my husband’s hours have been cut back and I won’t be getting a paycheck while I’m off for the summer.  So paying things off may be a bit trickier, but I’m still determined to get there.

What are your financial goals?

Making Mockups

As I get closer to opening my Etsy shop, one of the things I need to do is to take product photos and/or have mockups of them so that I can show buyers what my stickers look like.

My photography skills are still not great, and even with a light box I’m getting weird shadows on product photos.  So I thought I would try using some mockups, since my products are created digitally first.  I’ve seen a million of them used on Etsy, so a quick internet search would net me some options, right?

Wrong.

Oh, sure, I found a ton of mockups available for free and for sale, but none of them were really what I needed.  I’m not selling photos or prints, and that was the majority of the mockups out there.  After an afternoon of fruitless searching, I decided I would try to make my own.

I own Photoshop CS6 (the last version you could actually purchase, rather than a subscription).  I’m no expert user by any means, but I figured I would at least try.  It turned out to be easier than I thought.

Because my monthly kits will be multiple pages, buyers will want to see what is on each page.  Also, I may offer pages for individual sales, so they will definitely want to know what they are getting in that instance.  So I needed two different mockups – one to show the entire kit, and one to show each page.

Using my limited Photoshop skills, I managed to come up with the following:

Test 3 Stack
This is the mockup for the entire kit

I’m using the kit I made for myself for February as an example.  I managed to figure out how to make each page of the kit a smart object, so now I can just replace each sheet with an image from my Silhouette software, and I’m good to go!

Here’s the mockup I made so that you can see what’s on each individual sheet of the kit, in case someone wants to purchase only certain sheets:

Test 3 Straight
Here you can see each sheet

I’m really happy with the way these turned out.  I now have an easy way to show buyers what they are getting and all the front-end work I put in will make any new images I need to create fast and easy.

Now if I can just improve my photography skills!

Tired of Drowning in Debt?

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Credit: Pixabay

When I jumped into the planner world online, I discovered lots of Etsy shop owners and YouTubers talking about the Dave Ramsey method of budgeting.  I haven’t read everything by Dave Ramsey, but since I’ve always struggled with budgeting, I decided to see what he had to say.

**NOTE: I am not a financial planner or advisor, I am simply sharing a method that has worked for me.**

Everyone dreams of being debt-free, right?  But how do you actually get there?  There are a million financial advisors who can tell you what to do to become debt-free.  It’s simple – pay off your debts and avoid buying things on credit.  But simple is rarely easy.

And when you have a mountain of debt, even when you’re throwing every extra penny at it, it can feel like you’re not even making a dent.  What I learned from Dave Ramsey was to approach my debts in a different way.

What makes the most financial sense is to start paying off whatever debt you have with the highest interest rate first – that way you save the most interest and reduce your debt faster.  However, when your highest interest rate debt is also your largest debt, even when you’re paying extra, it often doesn’t seem like you’re making any progress.  So people become discouraged and quit making the effort.

Enter psychology.

People need to feel like they’re making progress in order to motivate them to continue their behavior.  So instead of paying off the highest interest rate debt first, Ramsey’s advice is to concentrate on the smallest debt first.  Yes, it doesn’t make the most financial sense to do it this way, because your large debt will still be accruing interest while you pay off the small one.  But – you will see progress quickly, and that will motivate you to continue doing what you’re doing.

Once you have one debt paid off, put that same payment amount towards the next biggest balance until it’s paid off, then repeat.  So, for example, when you pay off your car loan and your payment was $200, then you take that $200, plus whatever minimum you were paying on the next biggest debt, add those together, and make that the new payment amount for that debt.

Following this idea, rather than concentrating on my large credit card balance, I focused on the small balance remaining on a car loan.  Within 6 months, the car loan was paid off.  And the feeling of walking into the bank and paying it off was amazing! To help me keep track of what I’m paying, I created this Debt Snowball Tracker for myself (there are a million versions of these out there, so feel free to grab this one or make one for yourself):

IH Debt Snowball Tracker PNG

I currently have four credit cards, a car loan, a bank loan, and a mortgage.  I’m ignoring our mortgage for this purpose, because we will likely move and sell the house before we pay it off anyway.  We did just refinance our mortgage and were able to get a better interest rate and lower our payment, so that will help.

Simply having a visual tracker like this helps so much when you are budgeting and paying bills.  You can see how much the amounts are reduced in a single glance, and when you see that you are getting close to paying off the balance, it helps give you that extra push to get it done.

Once I paid off the first car loan, I have been adding that payment into the bank loan (our smallest remaining debt balance), and in just a few short months, it will be paid off as well.  After that is paid off, I’ll be able to attack our credit card debt and work my way through them as well.  And while I know that this approach doesn’t make the most financial sense, it has allowed me to be successful in making progress, and that’s what matters to me.

Productive and Present

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Credit: Pixabay

I can’t believe it’s already halfway through January of 2020.  2019 flew by and there are some big things on the horizon for me in 2020.  I don’t want to miss anything, so I’m making an effort this year to be more present in the moment.  My mortality has definitely been on my mind more lately and I have things I want to do/accomplish before I shuffle of this mortal coil.

I am working hard on stickers for my sticker business.  I wanted to have 10 products ready when it launched and I’m happy to say that I have over 10 done!  Now, I have to take photographs and get them ready to list and sell.

I’ve also made more headway in paring down the number of planners I’m using.  I’m now down to only 3 – a budget planner and 2 daily planners.  I really need to just jettison my cheap daily planner and use the Happy Planner but I’m resisting that.  Sunk cost theory and all that.  I’ve given myself until next month to get rid of it as I slowly transition everything over to the Happy Planner.  I have the classic size, but I may try out the larger size next time to see if that works better for me.

I have to say, I’m actually loving the budget planner.  I feel like it’s helping me keep better control of our spending.  I’ve also been following some of the Dave Ramsey method to try and pay off our debts.  I would love to be debt free (except for our mortgage) in the next 4 years.  I created some inserts for my Happy Planner – a debt snowball tracker, a savings tracker, and a sinking funds tracker.  So far we’ve managed to pay off one car loan and we’re close to paying off the second.

I created some daily to-do lists for myself and I love how productive I’ve been lately.  I get a little thrill every time I get to check something off my list as done.  And now that I’ve got my under-desk elliptical, I’m getting way more steps in every day.  I feel like I’m off to a good start in 2020.  Now all I have to do is stay consistent.

Progress

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Credit: Pixabay

During the holidays, I tried to take advantage of my free time to create and be productive.  I made some progress.  I wanted to have 10 products ready to go, and so far I’ve gotten 4 of them done.  They all have some things I want to tweak, but I’m forcing myself to move on to another item.  If I don’t, I’ll spend all my time tweaking instead of working on new things.  I can always go back and tweak them later, once I’ve got some spare time.

I’ve also spent time learning.  I’ve been playing around with digitally coloring my mandalas, I’ve done some more exploring in iColorama, and this weekend I taught myself how to make my own SVG files to use in my Silhouette Design software.

I’ve added in social media for the business (find me on Pinterest, Ello, Twitter and Ko-Fi) and it is keeping me busy.  Not too busy to experiment, though. 😛

I decided to take Mandala 25 and color it digitally.  Here’s how it turned out:

Mandala 25 Colored

Once I was done coloring it, I decided to try out iColorama again.  I’ve watched a few videos on how to use and discovered all the amazing presets – something I somehow missed the first few times I used it.

I wanted to add some texture and depth to the image.  I shifted the colors a bit, using one of those presets, and I added some texture using a couple of different filters.  I’m pretty happy with the way it turned out:

Mandala 25 colored

It looks like a piece of printed fabric, or perhaps a needlepoint someone stitched. I’ve still got a list of things I want to try out, including using some overlays and filters in Procreate to color in some of the mandalas.  But I’m making progress, which is the important thing!

Use It or Lose It

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Credit: Pixabay

“Use it or Lose It” – a cliché that people throw around all the time, so most of us just ignore it.  The thing about clichés, though, is that they become clichés because they’re true.

Today people use their brains less.  How long has it been since you memorized a phone number? You don’t really need to, since all the numbers you need are in your smartphone.  Do you even remember your own phone number?  What about your spouse’s or kids’ numbers?  I can still tell you my previous three landline numbers, even though I haven’t used them in over 20 years.

I’ve noticed this lately because I’ve been spending more time on the computer and so I need to keep more passwords in my memory banks.  I don’t trust those password sites that say they will remember your passwords for you.  I’m sure they will, but I also know that everything can be hacked, so I’d prefer to not have every single one of my passwords stored in one place.

What I’ve noticed is that I CAN actually remember lots of passwords – if I use them on a regular basis.  In a day, I probably use between 20-25 passwords for various websites and apps.  That sounds like a lot, but it’s probably less than a lot of people use, because I assume I use fewer apps than most.

So one of my goals for this year is to spend more time working out my brain – whether it’s memorizing passwords, reading, or whatever – I’m gonna use it so I don’t lose it!

Reading for the Win!

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Image Source: Pixabay

For the last couple of years, I’ve set reading goals for myself.  I used to read all the time when I was younger, and then as life got busier, reading fell by the wayside.

When I was lamenting this fact, my husband thoughtfully gifted me a Kindle Unlimited subscription for Christmas one year.  Now, I know lots of people don’t like KU, but I have to say, I love it.

I read lots of books I probably would never have tried and have found lots of authors I truly enjoy and would never have discovered without KU.

Last year I set a goal of reading 300 books.  I actually didn’t set the goal until about halfway through the year, but I still made it.  I use a Goodreads account to keep track of what I read, because KU doesn’t.

I started out this year with a goal of 500 books.  Pretty ambitious, I thought.  I met that in June, so I upped the challenge to 600.  I met that in August, so I upped it to 700.

Today, I finished my 700th book this year!!!

Now, of course I’m going to up the challenge to 800.  And, technically, some of the books on the list are novellas rather than novels, but I’m still counting them.

I taught myself to speed-read when I was in high school, and I still tend to read pretty quickly.  Most of what I read is purely for enjoyment, not heavy reading classics, though I might throw a couple of those in here and there.  I only work part-time at the moment, so I have afternoons where I will curl up with my iPad and read.

We also do a lot of traveling since my youngest plays sports.  Reading is a great way to pass the time while my husband drives.

Still, it’s a goal that I set, and achieved, so – win!!

I Saw the Light

I’m not sure whether to call this a win or a fail, so I guess I’ll call it a tie. I posted before about my frustrations trying to take a picture of one of my mandalas that I had colored.

Creating the mandalas, both the ones for this blog and the ones I’m designing for my (someday) online store, has been a huge creative outlet for me. When I started doing them for this blog, it was more to have something creative to do and share. It also let me learn how to use my iPad, Apple Pencil, and Procreate app better.

In just a short few weeks, I have experimented with all kinds of elements and designs and have felt comfortable enough to move on to experimenting with new brushes and effects and such in Procreate. It has made a huge difference to how I create the coloring mandalas – I am much happier with what I am creating now.

Since the ultimate goal is to create mandalas that people can color, I wanted to try some of my designs and see how they worked. The coloring part went great. The getting photos part – not so much.

After several weeks of teeth-gnashing and hair-pulling, I saw someone on social media talking about DIY light boxes that would help you take better photos. I don’t have a good place in my home to take a photo, so I thought, well, I’ll just make my own light box.

So I watched a few videos about how to do that and then decided that by the time I gathered all the materials and put in the time to make one, I could probably just order one. Amazon, here I come!

I found an inexpensive light box for around $25, which was less than I would have spent on materials and time to make it myself. It came with a little tripod to hold my phone, the box, and 4 different colored backdrops. It’s made to refold and travel, but I’ve just left it set up. It has 2 LED light strips that I run off a portable battery charger and it has a hole in the top that I use to take the photos from above.

Image from Gyazo
Photo from Amazon.com

There are a ton of them online and some are even cheaper, though the quality will probably differ as well. It’s not fancy, but it gets the job done and I was able to set it up quickly and take the photos I wanted all in about 15 minutes.

So, I’m calling this a win because I did manage to get the photos I wanted of the colored mandalas. However, I feel like I kinda cheated because I ordered the light box in order to do it.

Sitting here writing about it, though, I’ve decided I’m being too hard on myself. Professional photographers use lights all the time and no one considers it cheating, right? So – win!

Stay tuned for posts with the actual photos of the colored mandalas. 😀

Success!

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Credit: Pixabay

I’m feeling pretty proud of myself today.  For the last 9 years or so, it’s been a project of mine to scan in all our old family photos.

All of them.  :/

It started out with a small box and then the pile just kept getting bigger.  And the bigger the pile got, the further the project moved down on my to-do list.  I mean, some of the photos are so old I don’t even know who the people are in them.  So unless there are names on the back, I haven’t got a clue.

While I was off this summer, I made a list of projects I wanted to try and complete.  The photo scanning was one of them.  I started off with the most recent ones – the ones that were me and my kids, and then worked my way backwards in time.

And I’m done!

I have a pile of photos for each of my siblings (all extras of the scanned photos) and the rest are stored away in photo albums after scanning.  Why store them after scanning?  I don’t know.  I mean, that was the original intention – scan them so that I could have a digital copy rather than a physical one.

But I just couldn’t bring myself to destroy them.  Trashing photos of my kids or family members seemed wrong.  So, I have both – a digital and physical copy.  But now they’re not sitting around in a box in the floor of my closet, so I’m calling it a success!