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.