What Have I Learned?

Here is the first mandala I published on this blog. I thought it would be interesting to compare it to my latest mandala and decide whether I can see any growth from the start to where I am now in my drawing.

This is my most recently published mandala. I am happy to say that I can see growth and development from where I started. My lines are cleaner, more distinct, and more assured. Even though this latest mandala is not my favorite, it does have a coherence that my first one does not.

It’s definitely been a learning process, and I’m still learning with each mandala I draw. Some day I’ll gather them all together and put them in a book.

Some day. 😀

Budgeting and Financial Independence

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My husband and I are well on our way to financial independence. In the last year, we’ve paid off 3 credit cards, a bank loan, and a car loan. We’ve been very lucky that my husband maintained his regular income even during the COVID lockdown and with a bit of discipline (and some unexpected windfalls) we made real progress on our goals.

One of the first things I did was to set up a budget planner for myself. In it, I track all of our expenses and income. It’s really helpful just to see where all your money goes during the month. Before the pandemic hit, we ate out quite a bit – so cutting down that expense (especially since lots of places weren’t open) was helpful. We also made a concerted effort to cut down on our Amazon spending. It’s so easy to just go to Amazon, pick out what we want, and then two days later it’s on our doorstep.

However, we were buying things we didn’t really need, so we cut that spending down. I also tackled our smallest debt first, which at the time was the balance of a car loan. It felt amazing to walk into the bank and plonk down the cash to pay it off! After that, we had some store credit cards we’d used to purchase some appliances, so I focused on those next. We continued to pay on our other bills as well, of course. Once the store credit cards were paid off, we focused on the bank loan.

At the beginning of this year, we were down to just one credit card, a car loan, and our mortgage. We refinanced our mortgage two years ago in preparation for my youngest entering college. We were able to get some equity out of our house and into our bank account as well as lowering our mortgage payment due to the super low interest rates at the time.

Our remaining credit card has been a source of frustration for me, because we have had it paid off before, but whenever we travel to Canada to visit my husband’s family, the balance creeps right back up. This year, since we haven’t been able to travel, we’ve had more time to get it paid off, as well as getting some help in the form of our tax refund and our stimulus money.

But – a win is a win, and I’ll take it! The last credit card is paid off – though I do have some small monthly subs that will get charged and then paid off immediately. Because of course, if you don’t use your credit cards, your credit score goes down. How and why everything is tied to your credit score is a source of constant frustration and irritation to me, but that’s a whole ‘nother post! 😛

So, we have one car loan and our mortgage left. And we will be using a chunk of our stimulus money to pay down the balance on the car loan significantly. All this means that we can (finally!) start putting money that was used to pay debts to work for us – in savings, in investments, in retirement accounts. We’ve been able to purchase additional large ticket items – like a new smartphone and a new dishwasher – in cash, rather than putting them on a credit card. Yes, it means a little delayed gratification sometimes while we wait to have the cash in hand, but the feeling of paying for each item in full at purchase has been more than worth the wait.

I’m still using my budget planner every month (with my cute stickers that I made!) to track all our purchases. Our Amazon spending has crept back up, so we need to be more careful with that, but otherwise we’ve pretty much stuck to the plan and are saving and investing as much as we can each month. Now we’re able to talk about what we want our lives to look like when we do finally move. We’d both like to work less and have more time to spend with each other and our family. More time to do those things that we want – like traveling, or just spending leisure time at home and with each other. My husband works long hours and it sometimes feels like we barely see each other – like we spend all of our time working to afford this house that we’re barely in except to sleep.

Looking back on all we’ve accomplished in the last year or so feels really good. We’ve got decent savings in the event of an emergency, we’re saving up to pay tuition, we pay our regular bills, and we still have money to set aside for investments for the future. I can’t wait to see what else we can achieve this year!

Financial Freedom!

Photo by Karolina Grabowska on Pexels.com

I’ve written before about my progress towards financial independence. We have been lucky enough to remain employed during the craziness of the last year, and so we continued to chip away at our mountain of debt.

Yesterday I paid off one of our last remaining debts. When I first decided to work towards being debt-free, it seemed like an insurmountable hill. I did a bit of research and found Dave Ramsey and his snowball method. I figured I’d try it. Even though the method doesn’t make the most financial sense, it made psychological sense. So I aimed at our smallest debt first, even though it didn’t have the highest interest rate.

After paying off our smallest credit card bill successfully, I moved on to one of our car payments. After 6 months, that car loan was paid off. We kept plugging away, throwing any extra money we made towards a debt.

After over a year of being mindful of our spending and concentrating on paying down our debt, we are (essentially) debt free! Now, a bit of explanation here, because we do still have two debts – our mortgage and one car loan. However, using the snowball method, we have paid off a car loan, a bank loan, and 4 credit cards! That means that all the money we had been throwing towards debt can now start going into savings and other investments.

We are likely going to move, so paying off our mortgage isn’t a huge goal for us. Our mortgage payment is small and it’s only a 15-year loan. When we do move, the equity in this house should pay for our next house outright, as we are planning on downsizing quite a bit. So for us, the mortgage debt, while still there, is not a huge concern.

The remaining car loan is for my husband’s car, which he is currently not driving, since he has a company truck. It isn’t getting used for daily driving, which means he isn’t putting any real mileage on it. We will still be paying on that loan, of course, and I will pay extra, as always, but that car will likely be traded in as well when we move, so again, it’s not a huge concern to us right now.

The mortgage and the car loan both have low interest rates, so it was more important to us to wipe out the credit card debt first anyway. We were able to pay off the last remaining card with our tax refund this year, and paying off that balance felt so amazing! I can’t wait to get the next statement with that $0.00 balance on it. 😀

With our debt paid off and my oldest graduating with no student debt, we feel like we have achieved some amazing goals. We still have tuition for my youngest and those last two bills, but we will be able to put away a significant portion of our income each month, even after accounting for those.

When I first started this journey, it felt like we would never make it. Every time I turned around it felt like we had another bill to pay, so to have made it to this point is a huge weight lifted off our shoulders. I’m not abandoning my spreadsheets or budgeting planner, but instead of groaning every time I see a balance, now I can smile as I see our savings grow. My husband and I are excited to make plans now that we have achieved our goals – the future is definitely looking bright.

Pay Yourself First

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I’ve written before about my financial goals and my journey to be debt-free. It’s still slow going, but any progress is good, especially when it comes to debt.

Lately it has felt a bit like we were stuck – not making any big purchases to add to debt, but not making any huge payments to make a dent in the debt, either. As we headed into 2021, we sat down and had a discussion about what our financial goals were.

I don’t think either of us had ever actually sat down and had a discussion about what financial goals were important to us. It was extremely helpful – both for us to see what goals were most important to the other person, as well as to discuss whether we agreed with those goals and then how to reach them.

With two kids in college, tuition is a big goal. I want both my kids to graduate debt-free, as I did. My oldest should graduate in May, and I just made the last tuition payment for her. So yay! That goal is met for her, now I just have to concentrate on my youngest. I’m so glad that we only had one year of paying tuition for both of them – I have no idea how people do it.

Of course, we’re continuing with our previous goals – to pay off as much debt as possible. We’re down to one car payment, our mortgage, and one credit card. The mortgage will be gone when we move, so for now I’m ignoring it, though we do pay extra every month to get it paid off faster. The less we owe, the more we’ll have in equity when we do move.

The car payment also gets a bit extra added to it every month, but for now I am focusing on the credit card and trying to get it paid off. My husband was in agreement with all those goals, but also wanted to start saving for a vacation – something we haven’t had in a while (and we wouldn’t have been able to travel, even if we’d had the money, with the current state of affairs). As we talked, something I’d heard somewhere stuck with me – ‘Pay yourself first.’

I don’t remember where I heard it, but the gist was to make sure that you were paying yourself – by saving some money each paycheck, even if it was a small amount. After all, you work hard for your money, so you should get to enjoy it too, right?

So we decided that we would put a small amount aside each paycheck for a vacation fund. It’s not a ton of money, but if we put money in it consistently, it won’t take long to build up. I’ve been doing it since the first of the year, and honestly, it’s felt really good to see the balance growing.

I know that most financial advisors would tell us to use that money to pay off debt faster, and I get that. But psychologically, watching that small bit of money grow each month is more motivating to me than using it on our debt. It’s small enough that it wouldn’t make much of difference to the debt, and it’s worth more to me for the motivation factor in the vacation fund.

Who knows, we might decide at the end of the year to use the money for debt rather than a vacation, but until then, watching it grow is financially motivating. In the meantime, we’ll keep plugging along, working day jobs and trying to grow side hustles (like Etsy and YouTube). Maybe one day we’ll get lucky and one of those lottery tickets my husband buys every week will pay out. Okay, probably not, but we can dream, right? 😀

Paradox of Change

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If this year has taught us anything, it’s how to be adaptable to change – whether we wanted to or not. In addition to rolling with the punches from 2020, I’ve been trying to make smaller changes in my life.

Being debt-free is a large goal, but I also have smaller ones. I’ve been trying to get healthier – eat less, exercise more, eat cleaner, that type of thing. What I have discovered while trying to make these changes is that there is what I’m calling the ‘paradox of change.’

The paradox is that if you want to be successful at making changes, you need to stick to a routine. Which is paradoxical, right? Whatever change you’re trying to make isn’t a part of your routine, which is why it’s a change. The trick is to make the change part of your routine, so it becomes something automatic – something you just do without even thinking about it anymore.

Sticking to a routine is hard, but so beneficial. Most people crave the structure of a routine – we are comfortable when things go as expected. And having a routine that fills most of your life means that when something unexpected happens, it’s easier to deal with it. (Although 2020 is sure testing that theory for me!)

As we get closer to the end of the year, I thought things would start to calm down. Unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the case. As things continue to escalate, my job has gone remote. Which is good, but also challenging. Figuring out how to effectively deliver instruction to preschoolers virtually is a challenge – we’ll see how it goes and how well we all (students and teachers) adapt to this new change.

In the meantime, I plan to continue to keep working on the small goals in my life and incorporating them into my daily routine. Here’s hoping I can overcome the paradox of change! 😀

Planning Ahead

Even though I use a planner and I like to think of myself as organized, I often find myself making my monthly sticker kit for my planner at the last minute. Sometimes the new month has begun before I start making the kit.

I wanted to get a jump on the next couple of months for a couple of reasons. One, because making both the kits for November and December puts me ahead. Two, because it means I can cross two things off my to-do list. 😀

I could buy sticker kits on Etsy for my planner, and I have before, but I like to make my own. I’ve shown you several of them before, but I don’t think I’ve shared them for a couple of months. Eventually I plan to sell them myself on Etsy, but until then, I have fun making them for my own planner.

For November, I wanted a nice, soft, autumn theme – not the usual turkeys and Thanksgiving theme. So I made this:

Ignore the payday and bill due stickers – I don’t generally use those myself, so I don’t bother changing the colors on them when I make my own kits. And it wasn’t until after I had printed it, cut it, and went to apply it that I realized I forgot to change the name of the month to November. Gah!

I do like the way it turned out, and I love that I can hop over to Pixabay and find all kinds of free art there. So I spent some time finding things to use on my December layout as well. Christmas is one of my favorite holidays, so I found all kinds of goodies to use.

I really like how the December stickers turned out. I love the colors and I couldn’t resist the cute little plaid reindeer. The maple leaf is a nod to my Canadian husband. 😀 This kit was a little frustrating, because my cutting machine was being a jerk and not aligning properly when cutting. I printed and cut the stickers three times before finally deciding to close the software program and restart it. Voila! Suddenly it cut perfectly.

At least now those two months are done and I can move on to working on other things – like my budget planner. I do also need to order new planner to use for next year. The budget planner I use is undated and I accidentally ordered two the last time I needed one, so I’m set there. For my personal planning, I use a big Happy Planner. I’ve tried several different sizes, but I like the big one the best.

I’ve tried using the Erin Condren planner, and while I love the way the paper feels, the spiral binding makes it too difficult to add and remove pages for me. It’s so much easier to move things around with the Happy Planner disc system.

Now, on to the next project! 😀

Debt Payoff Update

Credit: Pixabay

Even in these uncertain times, my husband and I are still trying to pay off our debt. Having less to pay in bills each month means more of our income can go where WE want it to.

We were focusing heavily on paying off debt, and while we are still doing that, we have scaled back a bit on how much we are paying. If you remember, we refinanced our house a while ago, which lowered both our interest rate and our payment, as well as putting a nice cushion in our savings account.

All of those things have made it easier not to panic financially. My husband, while considered an essential worker, has still had his hours cut at work. Not the end of the world, certainly, but that is money we aren’t getting now. In addition, I am off for the summer, so I don’t receive a paycheck. I’m still not sure that my job will open up again in the fall, but we shall see.

In spite of all that, we have been able to continue making additional payments on our mortgage and to pay off another credit card! I wanted to keep making the same mortgage payments we were before, even though our payment went down, because that means we are paying towards the principal of the loan every month. And since it’s the amount we’ve been paying for years, we don’t miss it.

When I first started trying out the snowball debt payment method, we had our mortgage, a car loan, a bank loan, and 4 credit cards. In the last six months, we’ve paid off the bank loan and one of the credit cards. Today, I paid off a second card! It feels so good to see that zero balance. 😀

We still have a ways to go, but we are slowly getting there. Since I am off for the summer (sort of), I am working on creating new side hustles and income streams for us. I talked previously about launching my Etsy shop (it still needs work!) and I am planning to start a YouTube channel where I will be posting videos of the mandalas I draw. Once I have the channel up and running, I’ll post more about it here.

Both of those projects have taken more work than I initially thought, but I am determined to see them both through. Any extra income I can bring in can go towards paying down our debt, so that we are in a better financial position if anything thing else crazy happens this year.

Success!

Credit: Pixabay

It’s been a crazy few days, eh?

I’m trying to focus on the positive and things that I can actually control. One of those is my job. I posted before about applying for a new position at my current job.

I had an interview via Zoom – a strange experience, but I watched some Zoom tutorials before the meeting, so I knew what to expect. It went pretty smoothly – I even managed to screen share some of the work I had prepared. And it all worked out – I got the job!

It’s going to mean more work, but it’s also more pay, so. . . 😀

I’m also still working on completing other personal projects – like my miniature painting, my writing here, my Etsy shop, my mandalas, etc. It’s going well – I like being able to jump around to whatever project seems most appealing at the time. I spent yesterday painting minis and experimenting more with the contrast paints. Made mistakes, but I’m learning.

Today I’m meeting with my boss to discuss plans for next year – we’re going to have to make a lot of assumptions about what the world looks like 3 months from now, so we’ll see how it goes.

For the last week or so, I’ve been using the new block editor here on WordPress. I’m still not sold, but I’m going to give it a few more weeks before I make a decision. There are some features that I like, but some are just annoying.

We planted some new seeds for our container garden. My youngest made me a raised container bed and we bought several other containers from the local garden store. So far, everything is green and growing, but we’ll see what happens. I have a definite black thumb, which is why I don’t keep houseplants. I’m not sure if we’ll get anything edible out of the garden, but crossing my fingers that the plants know what to do, and I just need to provide food, water, and sun. 😛

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?