Enjoying Life

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It’s been quite a little while since I felt like I had something to say here. Life is busy with other projects and – well, you know how it goes. 😀

While I’ve been working hard on other things, it’s been too easy to let this space slide into the background. I don’t know if that will continue or not. I am keeping up with the Monday Mandalas, so at least that’s something!

Life is good – I’m making progress on many of the projects I am currently working on, and it feels good. There have been some frustrations and setbacks, sure, but I am working on things I WANT to do, so even setbacks don’t seem as daunting as they once did.

Things are great at home – everyone is enjoying their summer vacation and trying to avoid thinking about the work that will be in front of us in just a few short months as we return to school. Except for my poor hubby, who works outside all day in this ferocious heat. But we are planning and saving for a family vacation, so he doesn’t mind too much. 🙂

Speaking of saving, we are still working on our journey to being debt-free. We are down to just our mortgage and one car loan, and we are paying extra on both of those every month. I hope to have the car loan paid off well before the end of the year, so fingers crossed! Even though we are paying extra on the remaining debts, we are still managing to ‘pay ourselves first‘ and put some money away in savings every month. Some is earmarked for specific things – like college tuition and vacation – but the rest is going into a rainy day/emergency fund. Just in case, because you never know.

On the miniature front, I haven’t painted anything lately. I’ve been busy with my newest project, which is my diamond painting YouTube channel. Though I jokingly call it my ‘obsession,’ the truth is that discovering this hobby/form of therapy has saved my sanity in a lot of ways.

For the first time in a long while, I am happy where I am. I have plans for the future, of course, but the present is good, and I’m remembering to BE present and enjoy it. I hope you’re doing the same!

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!

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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? 😀

Slow But Steady

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I still have tons of things to work on, but – as someone reminded me – even slow progress is better than no progress. In spite of all my dithering about, I did manage to get some things done the other day. I added items to my Etsy shop, I began working on additional items for the shop, and I did some back end work for opening a TeachersPayTeachers shop.

As I get older, I find that my motivation and focus are not what they used to be. However, I’m trying to remember that I need to be nicer to myself and that everything does not have to get done in a day. Even if I want it to. 😛

So, if I want to work on a diamond painting one day and paint some minis the next, that’s okay. The world won’t end if I don’t finish all the things at once. Slow but steady wins the race, right? That is how I’ve approached our financial goals, and even though it seems really slow some days, if I look back, I can see exactly how far we’ve come.

When I started working on paying off our bills, we had a mortgage, two car loans, a bank loan, and 4 credit cards. As of today, we are down to just our mortgage, one car loan, and 1 credit card. 😀 We’re still not where I want to be, but we are so much closer than we were to being debt free.

I’m hopeful that by the time we are ready to move, we will have paid off the last credit card. That means we will have more cash available for our move and associated expenses. We want to move so that we can be closer to my husband’s family. Lots of things are still up in the air (because nothing is normal in 2020), but at least we’re making progress towards our goals. So I’ll continue to try and remind myself that progress is progress, no matter how small it is. 😀

Money is a Tool

When I started my journey towards being debt free, it was because I realized that I am tired of working for ‘things’ that I often don’t enjoy and/or have the time to enjoy.

My husband works 10 hour days and many times it feels like we are passing ships, greeting each other as we go about our daily routines. We’ve had many conversations about what we want our life to look like, and none of them include killing ourselves working to be able to afford the latest new gadget or the biggest house. I like our current house, but it was never intended to be our ‘forever’ house.

I want to downsize our next house. I want to be able to pay less in bills so we can spend more on things we want – whether that is a vacation, books, a new hobby – whatever.

Our current house is a good fit for our life right now, because my children are still living at home. But once they move out, we will be getting a smaller house. My car is over 10 years old, but it is paid off, and that makes it worth more to me than a newer car with a payment. Would I prefer to drive a newer car? Sure, but I don’t want the ridiculous payment that would go with it.

I was watching a financial YouTuber and she made a comment that has stuck with me. “Money is a tool – not a measure of your self-worth.” I think I’ve gotten so used to thinking about what we’re “worth” that I forget money isn’t everything.

Don’t get me wrong, I know money is important. But it is important because having it enables me to do what I want. Experiences are always going to be more important to me than material things. Do you know what is important to you? Or are you killing yourself trying to keep up with the Joneses?

I wonder sometimes if the ‘instant gratification’ culture of today is why so many people are in debt. No one wants to spend time saving up for a purchase, they just want it right now. So what if they have to pay 25% interest on the credit card to buy it?

I’ve tried to instill in my kids the need to budget and save and to consider the future. For example, my oldest wants a new pet desperately. So I’ve had several conversations with her about how expensive pets can be. Our last pet needed back surgery ($3K) as well as the routine costs for things like shots and grooming. Even though it was HER dog, WE paid the bills. (She got him as a gift when she was little.)

While it would be nice to have a pet, I’m not ready to get another one right now. And since she still lives with me, she isn’t getting one either. Although she isn’t happy, she understands the reasoning. Her money right now is better spent saving up for when she is ready to move out and live on her own once she is done with college.

I think people would be happier if they thought of money as a tool to help them achieve their goals and desires, rather than money being a goal itself. After all, you can’t take it with you. 🙂

Debt Payoff Update

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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.