Debt Elimination Update–February 2019

February did not go as planned, but that’s ok. I had the opportunity to take (and pass!) the first round of training to be a fitness instructor, I joined a congregation, and donated more money than planned. Focusing on some of my other priorities this month led to being a bit less intentional with my money. I will take the opportunity in March to continue with my spiritual and physical health while maintaining my financial plan.

We were still able to make a lot of progress towards debt elimination this month. Tax refunds were good to us in February. However, to sustain momentum, we will really have to check our spending that got a little crazy this month.

Progress from February:

  • Healthy Change in Perspective. This month I began to recognize the notion that my financial plan is a long-term shift in our values alignment. The debt will go away because we have changed how we live. How long that takes (30 months vs. 39 months) really doesn’t matter that much. What matters is living in alignment with our core family values and creating the life we love now.
  • Continued to Increase Charitable Contributions. I think I went a little overboard this month because I managed to give away in a single month over half of what did for the entire year of 2018. While giving is important, even while in debt, I do need to remember that being on more solid footing for my finances is important. I can increase giving at a more sustainable pace.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of January:
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% through July 2019): $1,800.00
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% through November 2019): $8,100.00
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through April 2020): $7,450.35
    • Roof Loan (SoFi Personal Loan @ 11%): $4,733.54
      TOTAL: $22,083.89
      Amount paid off this month: $1,775.49
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $14,004.89

Impressive payoff amount for a single month! Next month is Min’s and my birthdays, so we will probably celebrate in some fashion. However, we will focus on some ways to do so frugally!

Goals for March:

  1. Return to frugality with our spending.
  2. Maintain sanity through meditation during the competition month for J’s Destination Imagination.
  3. Memorize my choreography for part two of my BANG training and improve my fitness level through training regularly.

How I Stay On Track While Paying Off Debt

The hardest part of our Debt Elimination Project is sustaining focus and motivation throughout the process.  Achieving any long term goal that requires a significant, permanent change in lifestyle is very difficult. Here are a few of the ways I’ve kept going through $12,000+ paid off so far (and plan to keep going for another $23,000–look at that I’m more than 1/3 of the way through!):

  1. Accountability through Blogging: This blog serves as huge motivation for me to stay on track. I’ve made this goal and my progress quite public. Many of my friends and family know it exists, and I’m connecting with more bloggers every day (mostly through Twitter and commenting on their blogs). In many ways, the blog has made failure on this project not an option. The reflective space this blog provides helps me stay focused on turning struggles into lessons, rather than derailment. If you want accountability, but don’t love blogging as much as I do, a friend or partner could serve as an accountability partner, but I do recommend making your goals public.
  2. Personalized Spreadsheets: You have to track your progress, but you have to make it meaningful and inspiring for you. I track on Mint, but I love spreadsheets. I tried a few different visual ways to keep track of the debt, but I’m more driven by numbers than I am by art projects, so the spreadsheet game provided the most motivation. As of right now, I keep two main spreadsheets related to debt payoff and budgeting. One spreadsheet lists all of our debts and the balances at the end of each month. On that sheet, I monitor all kinds of statistics, including: total amount paid off on consumer debt, total paid off on all debt, average amount paid off per month, amount paid off this year, etc. I also can enter my predictions for future months to help plan how much I need to save to pay off the balance transfers on time. I’ve begun to track my savings account balances on this sheet as well. The second spreadsheet I just began this year for budgeting. It has a list of every transaction I make on a daily basis (I do track in Mint, but having to reconcile it on the spreadsheet makes me more mindful of my spending). It also has my spending plan (budget) for the next month, based on income and outflow for this month on the same sheet. I create a new tab for each month. I open these spreadsheets and update them at least 2-3 times per week, which keeps me very connected with my spending and my goal. My inner geek is deeply satisfied by these spreadsheets.
  3. Practicing Gratitude and Mindfulness: One of the most bizarre truths of my journey to weight loss and health was the fact that I never made any real progress until I accepted and loved my body as it was in that exact moment. Self-improvement goals have a way of highlighting the parts of yourself and your life you want to change, but negativity never inspires true, long-term, sustainable change. I cannot succeed in eliminating debt permanently if I treat it as a “crash diet”–working hundreds of hours at side hustles I hate, always trying to make a buck, cheaping out on charitable giving, denying my family and myself any “wants” until we are out of debt, etc. Paying off debt does require sacrifices, but my children will never be three and seven again. They need mom and dad now–happy, healthy, and present, not weird husks of themselves sacrificed to some Debt Repayment (or Financial Independence) deity. However, many times shifting a “want” to a less expensive or free option is easily done. Checking in with your real needs and being grateful for what you have helps with that process a lot.
  4. Inspirational Reading: Reading books, articles, and blogs about frugal living, personal finance, minimalism, and debt repayment gives me great models for inspiration. However, I’ve noticed I have to be careful about what content I consume. Sometimes writers in these areas are too judgmental and narrowly focused on their own personal achievements. Others are so bland they are of no use to anyone, simply regurgitating the thoughts of others without adding any insight. Still others feel a bit too much like they are selling a lifestyle (and not coincidentally, a product) like social media influencers. Overall, reading remains one of the major ways I stay focused and get great ideas for my own life.

I’m never going to be one of those headline-grabbing stories about paying off huge amounts of debt in short amounts of time or becoming financially independent and retiring before my 50s.

However, we are making progress on our debts without having to radically alter our lifestyles.

One parent is still full time with our young kids, we live in a house that is quite comfortable for us, and we enjoyably participate in community and recreation. We will be on track to be out of all consumer and student loan debt before the end of 2020 (barring any major life setback). This is sustainable and inspiring enough for us.

How do you stay motivated to achieve difficult financial goals?

Debt Elimination Update–January

January was a month of financial housekeeping. I reconciled my debt elimination progress goal to include the personal loan from our roof replacement last year. I am transitioning bank accounts, so one of my payroll checks from the end of January was mailed home instead of direct deposited; as of this morning, I have not received the check. We focused on building our banking buffer in our new checking account (when we get the tax refund, we will be able to keep a full month ahead of expenses) and replenishing our depleted emergency fund in another account. 

January was a fantastic month–financially and otherwise–but I did not make much progress on debt.  However, I’ve set us up to be in a much stronger position to torch the debt for the rest of this year!

Progress from January:

  • Low Spending. Thanks in large part to Min becoming more invested in meeting our financial goals and my breaking my last few bad habits, we spent less in January than we had in any single month last year by about $300. I hope to continue this momentum into February as we question the value of every, single purchase we make.
  • Increased Charitable Contributions. In line with my major goal for 2019 to align our spending with our values, I set up recurring monthly contributions to two different local nonprofits (the library and the soup kitchen), sent a bit to two different families suffering (one with a medical emergency, the other with a sudden death), contributed to a literacy nonprofit I researched for a post, and donated jeans and sweatpants to the drive at work for children in poverty. I am fundamentally changing the way I think about money through giving. It has been spiritually healing; I will write more on this in February.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of January:
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% through July 2019): $2,800.00
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% through November 2019): $8,500.00
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through April 2020): $7,600.00
    • Roof Loan (SoFi Personal Loan @ 11%): $4,959.38
      TOTAL: $23,859.38
      Amount paid off this month: $224.65
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $12,229.40

Happy one year (12 months!) of debt elimination updates. I started owning my responsibility for paying off debt in February 2018 when I realized that some major windfalls I received that month barely made a dent in the problem. I had a little talk with myself about how I couldn’t keep hiding from consumer debt and promising myself it would be “taken care of” with the next big payoff.

One year later, I have much more than $12,000 less debt. I have hope. I have faith in myself. I have this blog.

Goals for February:

  1. Didn’t quite meet it for January (very close), so again: 0$ on prepared food/drink outside of the home.
  2. Bike at least 100 miles for Rally for the Y.  If you’d like to support me, please consider contributing!
  3. Go outside in nature with the kids at least two times/week (it’s February… don’t judge!)

Debt Elimination Update: December (and 2018)

Happy New Year!

December has been a great month to focus on reflection and prepare for the new year through changing habits and clearing out old stuff that was holding us back.  We had a wonderful Christmas, though we struggled with terrible colds after!  We struggled to get Zero Spend Days this month (just a few, mostly at the end of the month).  However, after a setback this year, I quit the evil Diet Coke once more (22 days strong, baby… I intend this to be permanent).

We also wrap up the year and can note our progress from this debt repayment journey.  Overall, it’s been awesome.

Financial Progress from December:

  1. Set Financial Priorities for 2019. While getting out of consumer debt is our main goal and our focus, I felt that the great progress we’d made allowed me to take a step back and look at the bigger picture of financial health for our family over the next few years. In the past, I’ve set these kinds of goals without really believing I could achieve them. I have a great deal more confidence that we will meet our emergency fund, retirement, and college savings goals. I know that we can prioritize travel as a family without getting into debt again. These are great feelings. For specifics, I’ll share that we plan to pay off a minimum of $15,000 of consumer debt in 2019. Not quite paying off all of it, but pretty close! (Next to tackle: Roof & Graduate Student Loans)
  2. Reviewed Net Worth Annual Progress. I’ve been reviewing our Net Worth fairly regularly. Since purchasing our house in 2013, we’ve been on a steady upward trajectory (from about $0 Net Worth), even though debt has increased somewhat (thanks real estate market!). About 75% of our assets are the house and another 10% is a mandatory pension, so it grows more than just debt repayment. We are ending the year at just above $150,000. Last year, we ended at around $120,000, so pretty solid growth in all.
  3. Progress on Credit Cards. Here are the numbers for the end of November:
  • Home Improvement Loan: $0 (so crushed it!)
  • AmEx: $7,400.00
  • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 6 more months): $2,835.00
  • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 11 more months): $8,716.25
  • TOTAL: $18,951.25
  • Amount paid off this month: $1,331.75 (impressive, no?)
  • Amount paid off TOTAL: $12,004.75

Did I take $100 out of my emergency fund to make it to over $12,000 paid off in 2018? Yes I did. Do I care? HOO BOY HALLELUJAH, $12,000 paid off this year!!! I feel like I never need to accomplish another goal ever again. (Just kidding; it’s fueling my wild addiction to success).

Goals for January:

  1. Spend 0$ on prepared food/drink outside of the home.
  2. Form two good habits: meditate every day and eat something green with every lunch/dinner.
  3. Restore $1000 Emergency Fund.

Debt Elimination Update: November

November did not go according to plan, but I still enjoyed Thanksgiving, my work trip, and our wonderful houseguests from Korea who are returning home today.  I did notice that a lot of intentional frugal changes (cooking at home more, reducing mindless shopping, fixing stuff ourselves) have become habitual.

Which means… I made it to over $10,000 paid off this year! Actually–in just 10 months!  Woohoo!  If December goes according to plan, we’ll also be under $20,000 owed in consumer debt.  I’m very excited about our progress.

Progress from November:

  • Tried to increase Zero Spend Days. I am finding that it brings greater awareness to all my purchases and causes me to be more intentional with every purchase.  In November, we had $0 spending on 6 days out of 30: the 8, 15, 18, 19, 22, and 27.  That’s 20% of days with zero spending!  I hope to increase it to two days/week minimum in December.
  • Opened a 529 account for H.  When my father passed, some of the insurance money established a generous college trust for J and my niece.  H wasn’t yet born.  I wanted to open the account before the end of the year to get a bit of a tax bonus this year and to apply for a state contribution next year.  The minimum contribution to open an account was $250 (or $25/month recurring).  Before this debt payoff process, I wouldn’t have let myself utilize this program until my finances were fully “in order.”  However, by paying more attention to our numbers, I’m setting up a savings plan for next year that includes this account.
  • Progress on Credit Cards.  Here are the numbers for the end of November:
    • Home Improvement Loan: $1,100.00
    • AmEx: $7,600.00
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 8 more months): $2,863.00
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 12 more months): $8,720.00
    • TOTAL: $20,283.00
    • Amount paid off this month: $958.00
    • Amount paid off TOTAL: $10,673.00

My goal for December is to bring the amount owed to under $20,000 total and to “catch up” on the total debt reduction (including student loans, roof loan, and mortgage) so that going forward I will be able to report additional debt reduction beyond the consumer debt payoff.  I need to pay off the Home Improvement Loan in full by the end of January to avoid deferred interest charges, so I’ll be directing as much as possible to that loan.

Goals for December:

  1. Remember that you have purchased all the gifts you need for J’s birthday and for Christmas.  Avoid last-minute temptations.
  2. Continue shopping, alcohol, fast food, and Facebook ban.
  3. Decluttering challenge for December.

Debt Elimination Project–October

October marked the beginnings of my journey into meditation and mindfulness.  I believe that this practice is very powerfully linked with how balanced and comfortable I felt about my progress financially this month.  I am spending more time observing my feelings and less time letting them control my behaviors and habits.

Progress from October:

  • Began a shopping ban.  I was unhappy with my spending on fast food, so I decided no more of that through the end of the year.  Also no clothes items of any kind for me.  Will consider how I’m allowed to replace items for 2019.
  • Getting more serious about controlling food waste and gardening.  I finally started a bin to compost food scraps, a freezer bag for veggie stock scraps, and improving the habit of remembering to put fruit/veggie waste there.  Min has become really interested in gardening the last few months, both kitchen scrap regrowth and now the purchase of some indoor “kits” to grow sprouts.  I read Michael Pollan’s book In Defense of Food which has a simple premise, “Eat Food, Not Too Much, Mostly Plants.”  However, his analysis of the food industry has me thinking about how food consumption connects to wastefulness and consumer culture in general.  This may be a future post.
  • Preparing for my (first ever) “business trip”.  I love to travel, but I’ve never had a job before that would pay for me to go somewhere else.  I’ll be attending a national conference in San Antionio, Texas at the start of November.  While business travel expenses are mostly reimbursed, it would be easy to go over allowed expenses if not planned.  I’m very excited!  One of my hopes is that in the future I can pair this annual conference with a vacation for my family.  One more reason to get out of debt, ASAP.
  • Progress on Credit Cards.  Here are the numbers for the end of October:
    • Home Improvement Loan: $1,800.00
    • AmEx: $7,600.00
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 9 more months): $2,891.00
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 12 more months): $8,950.00
    • TOTAL: $21,241.00
    • Amount paid off this month: $916.33 (my highest since March!)
    • Amount paid off TOTAL: $9,715.00

My goal for November is to hit the over $1,000 paid off in a single month, and of course more than $10,000 total.  I am on track to achieve both of those goals very soon!

Goals for November:

  1. Daily meditation and journal.
  2. Continue to add $100 back to the Emergency Fund for each of my second job paychecks until it is fully replenished to $1000 (it’s almost there).
  3. Shopping ban and fast food ban–continue it.

Debt Elimination Project–September

And we’re back full swing in debt-torching mode!  I feel so much better about the direction we are heading this month.  Our expenditures were finally back in line with our more regular spending and the extra money from the second job allowed me to rebuild the cushion of emergency funds to where I feel confidence moving forward, rather than fear.  For me, feeling that confidence in my ability to achieve the goal leads to better choices overall–both for my health and for my finances.

Progress from September:

  • Stopped charging things on cards I’m paying off.  In an effort to mitigate the crazy outflow of cash and not turn our main card (paid off each month) into another consumer debt to pay off, I used some of the cards I’m paying off below to charge daily expenses.  This is a way to lie to yourself about what you’re really doing.  This had to come to a full halt.  It has.
  • Got back in the green. July and August were both red months for net income (meaning we had more going out than coming in) because of 1) the roof replacement and 2) travel and high spending.  Since starting this journey in February, those are the only two months that have been red (compared to last year which had only three months in all of 2017 that were green), but having those months back to back was quite disheartening.  Being back on the positive side feels amazing!
  • Adjustment to working two jobs.  Obviously, working 12-16 hours a week part time changes my lifestyle quite a bit.  I’ve been adjusting to the “new normal” of working a second job.  At first, it was a bit of a struggle (and I allowed myself to start drinking the dreaded Diet Coke again–ugh!), but now that I’m a month in, the main things I’ve found less time for are television shows, social media, and reading.  The only one that’s been even a bit of a downer is the last one, but it’s ok.  Especially because returning to crisis work has been a powerful boost to my mental health.  I missed direct service more than I realized.
  • Progress on Credit Cards.  Here are the numbers for the end of September:
    • Home Improvement Loan: $2,200.00
    • AmEx: $7,687.33
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 11 more months): $2,920
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 13 more months): $9,350.00
    • TOTAL: $22,157.33
    • Amount paid off this month: $600.00 (yes, I played around with adding a few bucks to one payment to make this number exact)
    • Amount paid off TOTAL: $8,798.67

The numbers do not quite reflect as significant a gain as I felt this month was an improvement to the context of my financial life, but I anticipate laying the foundation this month will allow for even greater progress in October.  I’m hoping to hit more than $10,000 paid off well before the end of the year.

Goals for October

  1. I have some major medical stuff coming up this month (tests, appointments, etc.)–I want to maintain my healthy routine even with the anxiety this produces.  Continue to work out and avoid fast food.
  2. Add $100 back to the Emergency Fund for each of my second job paychecks until it is fully replenished to $1000.
  3. Adopt the thirty day wait rule for all non-consumable purchases.

Debt Elimination Project–August

This has been the hardest, darkest month of our debt elimination project so far.  I tend not to dwell on the negative in this blog, but there have been many days in August where I felt like giving up on everything and resigning myself to the idea that we might be in debt forever.  All the credit card bills from the trip to Korea came due, we’re hanging out on the edge with almost no emergency fund, and we couldn’t seem to get back into our frugal groove when we returned home.  I’m happy to report we’ve ended in a good place, thanks to acknowledging our struggles and finding a way to increase our income, but this was a rough month and the numbers reflect that.

What’s amazing to note is that even though I spent way too much this month and wanted to give up and just go mega-consumer, the good outweighed the bad and we did reduce our balances by a bit.  Not much.  But any progress is good.

Progress from August:

  • Made it through a tight month and didn’t give up completely.  This is a win.  We’re still in this fight.
  • Opportunity to practice forgiveness. I’m going to forgive myself for screwing up this month.  I’m going to start right now.  I made mistakes, yes.  But I do NOT have to continue making them.
  • Second job.  Offering hope and light at the end of this dark tunnel.
  • Progress on Credit Cards.  Here are the numbers for the end of August:
    • Home Improvement Loan: $2,497.52
    • AmEx: $7,743.81
    • Balance Transfer 1 (0% for 12 more months): $2,949
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% for 14 more months): $9,567.00 (Yes, this balance increased.  The 0% is for purchases, too.  This was a very, very bad month.  Practicing forgiveness.)
    • TOTAL: $22,757.33
    • Amount paid off this month: $208.50
    • Amount paid off TOTAL: $8,198.67

A bit of perspective for me:

I’m writing about my financial progress this month as if this was a terrible month, but when I look at it from a different perspective, I’m grateful that not making progress on debt is what we can consider a “bad” month.  That’s an incredible privilege.  We did not suffer any reduction in lifestyle for us or our children, and we did not go backwards.  I feel frustrated and overwhelmed by our lack of progress, but realistically we are in an incredible position to be able to worry about financial goals so divorced from the basics of survival.

It is easy to feel, as I read financial blogs about the success of others, that not having the same level of success is a failure.  It’s not.

I’m not failing to provide for my family or enjoy life.  I’m rich with opportunity and possibility.  I do better when I remember how important it is for me to be a good steward of the incredible resources available to me through fortune (privilege) and past success.

Goals for September

  1. Own my responsibilities with grace.
  2. Don’t get sucked into a cycle of negativity.
  3. Crack down on those creeping bad habits.  Now.

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?

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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