Announcement: A Second Job

This summer has been one of higher spending than I would like while we are trying to pay off this debt.  Some of the spending is unnecessary and out of alignment with our values and focus on frugality, and we are always striving to reduce that spending.  We continue to make progress on this front all the time, but the last couple months of running a bit over (from the travel to the roof replacement) were causing some despair.

Once we had cut all we are able (or willing) to cut, it was time to acknowledge that it would take longer than three years to pay off the debt with our current income.  And that is assuming there are no more major housing/transportation/medical/family emergencies in that time–a big assumption.  We had to increase our income if we wanted to make additional progress, but there were not many opportunities to do so without significant changes to our present lifestyle.

I spoke a bit about my return to volunteering with the crisis hotline.  Well, with the start of school (many of their part time workers are students), several workers either gave notice or reduced their hours, leaving some openings in the schedule.  They offered me a switch to part time status in exchange for a greater commitment to weekly hours (I’m scheduled for 12/ week regularly now, though I can pick up extra shifts) and an obligation to fill in for other shifts when understaffed or for an emergency opening and work a holiday or two.

This is work I love doing so much, I would (and have) done it for free.  Getting paid for greater commitment does reduce a little of my personal and family time.  However, Dave Ramsey’s famous quote about second jobs kept running through my head: “If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”  The idea there is that if you are willing to make some sacrifices now to accomplish your goals of becoming financially secure, you can enjoy that security at a time when others are panicking about poverty in retirement or never being able to retire.

I believe very strongly in balance, but here was an opportunity where minimal sacrifice of time would yield incredible benefits towards accomplishing our goals more quickly.  I think this is the heart of intelligent frugality–be sure the things you sacrifice are worth the gains for your goals and future.  In this case, they are.  Especially because the second job is something I love so much and feel is making a greater contribution to our society, not just to our family’s situation.

This week, I have started my additional hours as a part time worker, in addition to the full time job.  It has been a little stressful, but I feel great about how this will work with our lives and schedule once we all adjust.  Financially, I think the progress I will be able to make in September will be a good gauge of how this decision is contributing to our Debt Elimination goals!  I look forward to this opportunity.

Have you taken a second job to pursue financial goals?  Was it worth it?

Budget Buster: Vacation Spending

We love family travel experiences, even though they are not the most frugal option for entertainment.  However, when returning from a trip or vacation, there is another challenge to the budget, one that is not always acknowledged or talked about: the vacation spending mindset.

When traveling, out of both necessity and desire to fully embrace the experience of a different environment, I often spend money on things I would not allow myself to in the day to day.  In our recent trip to Korea, we ate out frequently (of course–you have to partake of great food opportunities in foreign countries), bought unnecessary snacks (cheap Korean ice cream at convenience stores are worthy of their own separate discussion), and shopped for presents and goods unavailable (or much more expensive) back in the U.S.  We also paid for luxury transportation (taxis and trains), overnight accommodation, and entrance fees (museums, temples, and one spa resort) so often they became habitual.  All of these are part of great vacation and travel spending, but they can shift your mindset and habits when you return home if you are not careful.

Since our return, it has been quite tempting to go out for drinks with friends (like we did in Korea), take my kids to a venue with entrance fees (instead of the free place across the street), or shop for a few new items of clothing and shoes (to match my new Korean purse).  I must own that I have given into that temptation much more frequently than I should have these last few weeks–to the tune of about $300 in additional spending just because I had become acclimated to the increased spending when I was on vacation.  So, in addition to struggling this month with paying the credit card bill that covered all of our vacation expenses (no international fee), I have created a bigger problem for myself by maintaining that “vacation spending” mindset while I’m no longer traveling.

The reality is that I have no legit reason for spending like I’m still on vacation.  The restaurants I visited are ones I have access to at any time, the friends I’ve seen live within a 15 minute drive of my house, and the clothing and shoes I bought will be conveniently available to purchase once I’ve paid off the debt.  These are not experience purchases, they are raw consumerism.

Furthermore, I have a tendency to give up on healthy goals I’ve set if they seem unattainable because of one bad day, week, or month.  Therefore this vacation spending mindset, coming after the real increased expense of the vacation itself is a potential recipe for disaster.  I have definitely felt that pull of “why bother trying?” as I see the bills adding up and the debt not going down.  I have to remind myself that personal finance success is all about the long term.  I am getting back on track by writing this post; it’s always a work in progress here.

While I wish I had “caught” myself earlier in my self-destruction, I’m grateful that the damage is now limited to this lesson learned.  I am committed to getting out of the burden of this debt as quickly as possible so that I can have more travel and vacation opportunities in the future–this time the money budgeted and saved in advance and so I can spend it guilt-free!  I know that I can make progress on my debt through frugal living and be happy and healthy doing so with my family.

Back to the plan and attack the debt!

Summer time is particularly full of tempting spending “vacation” opportunities.  Do you have a vacation spending mindset that is stopping you from achieving your goals?  How do you get yourself back on track?

Attitude of Gratitude: My Health

We have been back in Maryland for one week now and are (mostly) adjusted to the time zone differences and general travel exhaustion.  Yesterday afternoon, however, all of us seemed to be in the grips of the final “ugh” of jet lag: I had a slight fever, an insatiable appetite for snacking, and cold symptoms; H had a fever, a tendency to cry hysterically, and a refusal to nap; Min was morose and felt no sense of accomplishment in completing the awesome task of reclaiming the jungle that our backyard had become; and J was restless, irritable, and showing signs of TV addiction.  It was a bad scene.

However, we worked through this and this morning, I resumed an early morning work out class routine and healthy eating regime.  I had a productive day at work and will complete my first return volunteer shift at hotline tonight.  Min and the kids seem in better spirits and are back to routine.  I feel more relaxed and at peace.  I believe my ability to transition from an afternoon of misery to a Monday of productivity and wellness is a function of my (relative) good health.

For many people, it will seem shocking for me to say that I am grateful for my good health.  I have two major chronic diseases: ulcerative colitis and type 2 diabetes.  I am still classified as “overweight” on the BMI scale, and have in the past been “obese.”  Despite my love of group exercise classes and hiking, I have a hard time classifying myself as “fit,” and I am often the one modifying choreo for ease, using only bodyweight for lunges, or taking breaks every 50-100 feet on the trail.  My health, in particular my two chronic diseases, are a major impediment to any goals I may have related to early retirement or travel (U.S. health insurance is a major problem).  I have often maligned and cursed my body for its limitations and resistance to good health.

Ever since becoming a mother, my relationship with my body has changed.  First, pregnancy, birth, and breastfeeding were the first experiences I ever had where I had been awed by my body and its abilities.  The creation and nurturing of life is something my body did–twice–and it still amazes me.  Second, I know that whatever attitudes and habits I have with my body will be part of my children’s own health story.  Focusing on the amazing things my body can do helps them see their own bodies as purposeful and positive.

For me, good health is about recognizing and celebrating all the ways my body supports me through my mission in life.

I’m not perfect, but since 2014, I have lost about 40 lbs, attained remission with maintenance medication for the ulcerative colitis, been diagnosed with and controlled the diabetes without medication (some medication during pregnancy #2), and become a regular (at least 3-4x week–enough that the trainers and other participants know me) participant in gym classes.  I feel more comfortable moving through my daily life and stronger when attempting physical challenges.  I’m not the strongest I’d like to be, the size I want to wear, or as effortlessly consistent with my healthful eating habits as I desire, but I know that I can achieve those goals through consistent effort and acknowledgement of the power of my body and my health.

I am grateful for the ability to pursue these health goals.  Not everyone has the luxury, support, or financial ability to prioritize their health.  I appreciate all the ways I have been able to arrive at my present state of good health, and commit (as ever) to investing further in my health.

Ways We Save Money: Cable Internet

We’ve landed safe and sound, but are only just recovering from the jet lag (Korea is 13 hours ahead!).  I’m happy to be back to my routine and blogging, but not so happy with how expensive it is to re-stock your house upon return from lengthy travel at the same time we’re dealing with back-to-school shopping.  It’s going to be a rocky few months on the financial progress front!

Today, I’d like to share something we’re doing to save money on our high speed internet bill.  Some people might consider it “cheating,” but in my opinion it is the only logical response to a company with shady pricing practice that indicates they do not value the business of their paying customers.

We live in an area that only has one option for high speed internet (cable).  I’m sure most of you will recognize which provider when I explain that they offer the best deals not to loyal, consistent customers, but only to new customers.  They’re like a person who trades in their spouse for a new model every few years.

When I canceled our internet before the trip, we were paying $75/month just for high speed internet (no cable TV).  And that was for second-tier speeds that sometimes struggled when we were streaming on more than two devices.  However, they were offering new customers the same exact service for $39.99/month.  I called several times over the past year asking for the “new customer” rate, only to be met with high-pressure, hardball tactics and consistent refusal to accommodate.  This is only tolerated by people because this company has a monopoly in the area.

This time, when I signed up for the service again, I simply put the account in Min’s name with his phone number/email address and voila: we are new customers.  The company even let me “merge” the two accounts so my login and payment information is the same as before.  Just $35 less.

If, when the “new customer” rate expires in a year, this company won’t offer me the same deal as other customers, we’ll try the switcharoo again back to my account (when you are inactive for 6 months, you can be “new” again).  Unless we finally get some competition in this area, and I can find a better service for a good rate!

How do you save money on some of your most stubborn bills?

Korean Summer 4: Travel with Kids

One of my favorite places to visit in Daegu is the beautiful Palgongsan mountain area and Donghwasa temple (fun fact–where we had a friend take our wedding photos back in 2010).  When I enjoyed temple trips and mountain air pre-motherhood, the enjoyment was aesthetic and contemplative.  I examined the complex artwork and enjoyed the meditative air of a Buddhist temple.  I exerted my body in a demanding hike to savor the breeze of a cool forest respite.  These sites are what helped me fall in love with Korea back in my first year abroad (Min came along a few months later…).  J has visited the temple twice, but it was the first time we took H.  We also rode the cable car up to the mountain top and enjoy lunch at the little restaurant there.

J and H, ignoring the impressive tall Buddha statue in favor of collecting and then dumping water into the fountain.

Travel with kids is quite different.  They are impressed with entirely different things than adults.  For example, they found all the different water fountains to be endlessly fascinating.  Water is cool, sure, but have you (adult person) really, really understood how incredible water from a fountain can be?  No?  At least two solid hours of entertainment.  No lie.

Cable car set up. A bit scary, but incredible views!

You get your workout not from challenging mountain climbs, but from wrangling children away from the many dangers that face them in these unfamiliar areas–moving cars, rocky precipices, table edges.  I also found it personally challenging because I spent three years in Korea learning enough etiquette not to be labeled as the “uncouth foreigner,” but kids (well, my kids) don’t really care that much about following social norms–especially social norms in another country.  My usual embarrassment of my children’s wild behavior was intensified by my own feelings of standing out as a foreigner.  This trip was not the relaxing escape of my youth.

I was not lying about the water. Hours and hours of fun!

Travel with children is much more complicated and expensive than traveling alone or with another adult partner.  Even done frugally by seasoned world explorer-parents with boundless energy, enthusiasm, and patience (not us–but we certainly have witnessed many of those other couples with wonder and awe), it is quite challenging.  For example, we have used taxis and borrowed/rented cars much more frequently on this trip because it was more convenient and almost the same cost as bus/subway fare for all four of us.

One of the major prayer sites at Palgongsan, Wish Rock. J and H model the “heart” pose, ubiquitous in Korea.

Many young families choose to abstain from travel until children are a bit older because it becomes much less difficult logistically when kids can pack their own bags and entertain themselves a bit more independently.  Also, there is questionable return on investment in excursions that require expensive plane tickets, accommodation, car rentals, or “family entertainment” industry purchases that children may not remember or appreciate.  Example:  H’s favorite part of our camping trip to Niagara Falls last summer was riding the “Yogi Bear Bus” from the campsite to the visitor center.

Family selfie in the cable car.

Even with all of these drawbacks, I believe the rewards are much greater and worth the challenge.  This was one of the most fun family days we had in our time here in Korea.  Here are some great reasons travel with kids is totally worth it:

  1. Kids learn a lot from travel.  Just as adults do, kids learn about cultures and independence from visiting new places.  They learn how and why we travel.  They learn patience from waiting in lines, and how to see beauty in different things.
  2. Travel builds family relationships.  On this trip, the kids learned that Min is slightly afraid of heights, so H held his hand on the cable car to comfort him.  J and I had a little walk through some of the outlying buildings with art, lanterns, and wind chimes as we each took pictures and talked about why we took pictures of which things and why.
  3. Kids see that travel is possible, though it requires some planning, effort, and expense.  If we allow our anxieties about the inconvenience of travel with kids to interfere with taking trips, kids come to view travel as inaccessible or excessively challenging.  Although my parents didn’t take us abroad as kids, our camping trips and road trips taught me about packing food for lunch to avoid overpriced food at tourist sites and how to tolerate transit discomfort.  I think it is vital for kids to be exposed to these experiences and am willing to work harder to make it happen!
  4. The family stories are priceless When we talk about the travel we do, we reinforce the memories.  J especially loves to talk about how he was nervous or scared to try something, but overcame his fears and loved his accomplishments.  H likes to tell stories about the funny things that happened or that she saw.
  5. Kids make travel more fun.  The enthusiasm my daughter has for dancing and jumping in public helps me see her as a future performer.  My son loves learning new facts (that he repeats endlessly) and makes plans (“Let’s travel to a new country every year, Mom!”).  Kids ask questions adults don’t think to ask.  You discover the joys of a fountain.  (Or at least you can finally meditate for a few minutes while they distract themselves.)

What do you think?  Is family travel worth the challenges?

Debt Elimination Project–July

What a wonderful month for our family!  Our house has a new roof, and we’re enjoying time in our second home, Korea.  We’ve enjoyed a bit of a break from our laser-focus on debt while we travel.  However, as a result we have not made as much progress as usual in debt reduction.  I’m most proud that while we’ve decimated our emergency fund (will be built up after paying of the Home Improvement Loan that has a deadline of Jan 2019 if we want to avoid the $1000s of dollars in deferred interest payments) and have pretty much only paid minimums on our credit cards with a balance, we are moving forward a little bit at a time.  Constant forward progress allows us to continue our momentum despite a few slowdowns and setbacks.

Progress from July:

  • Mostly frugal travel practice.  We cooked at home for most meals and focused on free/low cost things to do around Korea.  We spent more money than we would in Frederick, but probably not by much.  Probably less than we did on beach/camping trips last year.
  • Raise–yay! I got a small bump in pay (about $150/month).  This should help increase our debt payments and achieve our goals faster.
  • Used my time in Korea to quit Diet Coke.  I will have to post about this on its own, but my relationship with Diet Coke is a detriment to both my health and finances, but not enough for me to kick the addiction by itself.  I quit it for three months last year and it was fantastic! But then, I allowed myself to start back up and was finding quitting again to be quite a challenge.  However, you can’t buy Diet Coke in Korea, so I plan to continue my three week detox into a permanent elimination of this bad habit!
  • Progress on Credit Cards.  Here are the numbers for the end of July:
    • Home Improvement Loan: $2,785.64
    • AmEx: $7,821.46
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 13 more months): $2,978
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 16 more months): $9,380.73
    • TOTAL: $22,965.83
    • Amount paid off this month: $413.23
    • Amount paid off TOTAL: $7,990.17

This is pretty awesome progress for just six months.  I’m recommitted to frugality and ruthless prioritization of my financial goals for my family upon our return to the U.S.  We’ve had a fulfilling summer trip, with lots of great memories.

Goals for August

  1. Enjoy our frugal day in LA (14 hour layover mini trip!).  My guess is we’ll probably spend as much on renting a car and seeing some of the sites around town as we would in the airport entertaining the kids.
  2. Food planning/prep to reduce food waste and grocery costs.  Goal of NO dining out because of lack of preparation or laziness.
  3. Continue Diet Coke ban as I return to the U.S.
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