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Fighting for FI

I read a lot of personal finance blogs. Like…. a LOT. I have about 40 of them bookmarked in my faves list and i cycle through them. Daily. I love reading everyone’s philosophy on personal finance. But more importantly, I keep looking for the “secret”. The magic thing I need to do to achieve financial wellness. Freedom.

But here’s the rub.

If I read ONE MORE ARTICLE about maxing out your 401K (keep in mind that is $18,500/yr) to be a millionaire by the time your 65 and how I should have simply started saving $1,000/yr when I got my first allowance at 8 yrs old, I am going to seriously VOMIT all over my keyboard.

Folks.

No shit.

Who are these people that can seriously set aside $18,500 EVERY YEAR??? That’s almost DOUBLE what I pay for my mortgage every year. If I could save $18,500 every year for retirement, I certainly am not reading your blog about clipping coupons and downloading apps to save 15 cents wherever I can.

Also, hey, just spend less than you make and save the rest!

OMG> No kidding!

But what about the rest of us? The ones who don’t have a gap? That’s what I call it. The money left over at the end of the month when you tally up everything you made and everything you’ve spent.

I don’t have a gap. I track my money. Every penny. I have an entire workbook devoted to my finances. And someday I’ll share it with you.

For now, I’m just figuring out how to survive. Here are a few things I have going for me:

  • $10,000 emergency fund in a 1.85% money market account. I don’t touch this. Ever. I can’t.
  • I have one credit card with a $1,935 balance at 0%. If I continue to pay $100/month it will be paid off by end of promo period. I keep telling myself that’s $100 that will become part of the gap. Right now it pisses me off that I have a balance/payment at all. I abhor debt.
  • I use a credit card for EVERYTHING. All of my utilities are set up to auto-pay on that card. I buy all my groceries, gas and everything else on that card. I get 1.5% rewards cash and it’s an easy way to track spending.
  • I do not use cash. Ever.
  • I always pay off my credit card in full. Sometimes I make payments every week to keep the balance small. I can’t afford to pay interest.
  • I recently invested $1,000 in lending club. It’s an experiment. But every month I will take the money I receive (principal + interest) and put that money towards extra principal payment on my car.
  • I have a few thousand dollars in an online investment brokerage. This adds about $14/month in dividends. It’s not huge, but it’s a start. Right now this broker is transferring everything to another online broker. Dividends are not being reinvested. Instead, I’m pulling them out and putting them towards the principal on my car.
  • I need to pay off my car loan ASAP. This will help create a gap. Only $11,700 left to go.

Although I am a single mom, I won’t allow that to be my story. There’s no room for pity. Just action. I want to be successful regardless of my relationship status.

Because I don’t have someone else to bring in a second income, it scares the crap out of me. I don’t have room for error. There is no safety net. I need to create several passive (or active) income streams so that I have breathing room. And someday, financial independence. To have enough passive income that I don’t have to worry about the economy or my job. To give me choices.

 

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Ground Zero

Today. Today is the deadline for my ex. I know the day will come and go, and nothing will happen. And I will have to take him back to court. Again.

Today I’m exhausted. I tired of fighting. But instead of feeling sorry for myself, I feel anxious. Anxious to do something about it. But I don’t know what.

So I thought I’d make a checklist. Of where i’m at in life. And figure out where to go from there. Like a scatter plot. Maybe there is a trend. Or a pattern. Or a rorschach test. Maybe i can see soemthing… myself maybe? My life? Maybe if i can see where i am…. i can see where i need to go.

Let’s see:

  • single – check
  • mom – check
  • mortgage – check check
  • work full time – check
  • volunteer – check
  • love life – crickets
  • supportive and loving friends – check, meh… some crickets
  • vindictive ex – check check check
  • stress – check check
  • happy son – check
  • roof – check
  • full bellies – check
  • car repair – needs attention
  • eye twitch – check (ughhhh)
  • positive pants – MIA
  • anxiety – check check
  • tenacity – check

Okay…. I think this is a good start.

Sooooo…. now what?

My ex owes me a lot of money. Like, a LOT of money. Money that would ensure my son and I live a comfortable life. My salary will provide for us. But it would be a very austere existence. And that’s okay. But i WANT my child to have a wonderful and memorable childhood. I want him to be able to experience life and go places.

So. Obviously, I will take my ex back to court. Again. And hopefully the judge will force his hand. Again.

But in the meantime…. i need a plan B. And C and D. And F and G3 and M4a. Cuz I’m a planner. And a do-er. And I know that life is not a fairy tale. A knight in shining armour is not going to adorn my doorstep and save the day. My fairy godmother is flat out of pixie dust. Nobody is coming to rescue me.

My happily ever after is up to me. And me only.

I just don’t know how the hell to move forward. How to write my next chapter. Perhaps I just need to work on this list for now. And evaluate where I am. My ground zero. And then start drafting a plan of what I need to do. To address what i NEED. What i WANT.

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2011 Progress Check…. Survey says??????

Way back in January i listed some short term and long term goals. The short terms goals were basically a to-do list I was whining about, and got all of those done in short order. My annual goals were a bit lofitier and required a bit more work/patience/determination.

So, without further ado, below is my original list of goals and their results…

1.Pay off dump truck.  [There is a balance of $1100. It will be PAID OFF in January!]

2.Pay off 3 credit cards. [Actually PAID OFF 5! Yesireeee, $3175 – GONE. Plus, paid down another $2100 on the remaining cards.]

3.Establish an E-fund. [Started out great, ended up needing to use some. Currently have $2,000 stashed. Not bad, but not the $5,000 i was aiming for.]

4.Establish savings for: Christmas, Health, Rainy Day. And set it up to contribute automatically. I use ING Direct so this is the easiest thing in the world. Just need to do it. And not “borrow” from it. [Set-up account for Christmas. Saved $1000 and used some of it for my shopping. Still have about $300 in there for next year. 🙂  Did not set up Health because we may do Flexible Spending at work. FAILED at setting up Rainy Day fund. Unless the cookie jar counts? There’s a few Benjamin’s in there…]

5.Lose some weight. Specific numbers and/or plans seem to have the opposite effect. So, let’s just keep it vague and any victory will be a win! [WOOOO-HOOOOO!!! Lost 23 lbs this year! Down a pants size and feeling good about the progress. Doc would like to see me lose another 20-30 before we go to fertility specialist. Got an ipod for Christmas, so loading up playlists for workouts.]

6. a) commit to making healthier meals [Sorta. Kinda. Not eating as many carbs. Definately eating at home a lot more. I give it a 50%]

7. b) get a complete physical [Done. everything good except triglycerides a touch high.]

8. c) work out at least 1 day a week at the fire hall [I work out at home. As often as i can. Some weeks it’s every day, some weeks 0 days. Hey, i’m busy. I do it when i can. Let’s call it 50%]

9.Paint the downstairs and decorate. We’ve been there 10 years. It’s about time. [FAIL. I got as far as painting some sample colors on the wall. Hubby freaked the ‘f’ out. Back to square one. Found some inspirational idea pics. Just need to find the right shade of paint and hire a painter.]

10.Might as well make it an even 10. Get back into taking lots of pictures and scrapbooking. Now that i have a cricut, i have nothing to do with it! [Took lots of pictures, but haven’t been able to scrapbook much. It really has been a very busy year for me.]

All in all, i’m pleased with the progress i’ve made on my list of goals. It’s not like i was a total loser. I tried. And succeeded, mostly.

Since New Year’s is only a day away, it’s only fitting to write up a list of GOALS for 2012.

  1. Lose 20-30 more lbs.
  2. Get pregnant
  3. Establish a Rainy Day fund to cover Goal #2 expenses
  4. Paint & Decorate house
  5. Pay off my car

That’s it. That’s all i really care to accomplish in 2012. All i really want is to have a family with the love of my life. All other goals are simply pre-requisites to the ultimate goal: children.

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Being broke is expensive /flip/ the more money you have, the more money you have…

As I was making my daily trip to the bank the other day, an idea hit me. Struck me, really. Pretty much a hand slap to the forehead.

Lately, i’ve been making daily trips to the bank to deposit whatever money that has come in to stay ahead of expenditures. Overdraft fees are $36 – a huge expensive ding – and must be avoided at all costs. Since March, we’ve been able to stay just ahead of the game. Last year we made an incredible discovery on just how expensive it is to be broke. Late fees, higher interest, overdraft fees – all added up to thousands and thousands of dollars lost. So, we worked really hard to get all of our accounts current, thus avoiding late fees and keeping the bank accounts in the green to avoid overdraft fees. Lately it’s nearly a photo finish on a daily basis, but that’s only temporary. I totally realize how expensive it is to be broke and i don’t wanna do it.

I was also thinking about our sharebuilder account. Some of the stocks i purchased had paid dividends and just like that our wealth increased. And THAT is when it struck me. Really knocked me on my a$$. In the same way that being broke is so dauntingly and crushingly expensive without much effort, having money creates more money without much effort. The broker you are, the more expensive it gets. The more money you have, the more money it makes. And the more money you have from making money, the more money you make. The rich get richer – from compounding!

It’s really such an elementary lesson, but it never really struck me how much of an IMPACT money has on your financial existence. It’s not enough to simply pay the bills each month. You also need to be smart and get your money to WORK for you. Before investing in stocks, the only money my money made was from interest. And that wasn’t worth SQUAT. One can barely buy a cheeseburger with earnings from interest in a savings account. But when you invest in 15 shares of a company, and 3 months later, through the magic of dividends, you now own 15.25 shares. And another 3 months later you own 15.54 shares – well that’s just freakin’ spectacular. My money is actually making money, which will make even more money…

good lord, i am such a slow learner…

The next step is to keep finding funds to purchase investments with. And how often should i purchase? Obviously it is better to save up as much money as possible and purchase only 1 kind of stock so that the $9.95 transaction fee is minimal per share if/when it comes time to sell.

The in-between is such a surreal place to be. Still paying off debt and trying to stay afloat, yet stashing money in savings, and now investing.

CAN’T WAIT to have all credit card and installment debt PAID OFF!!! Life will be footloose and fancy free!!

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Still going…..

I wish i could tell you that we are debt free and pursuing our next goals. But…… we’re not. If we had been able to stick with the debt management program, our last payment would be in a few weeks. Unfortunately, we had to drop out of the program last winter because we just couldn’t come up with the moo-lah anymore. We have been making the payments still, but much smaller.

The good news is this: we are current on all of our regular bills. The exception is a handful of medical bills. They have all been sent to collections companies eons ago, so the damage is done. The plan is to build up a comfortable emergency net in savings and then tackle them one at a time.

I’ve recently decided to alter my strategy. I had been aggressively paying down our credit card debt using the snowball method. In 2 weeks, another card will be paid off and we will only have 3 cards left. (We started with 14!) The minimum payments total $320 for all 3 cards. Instead of snowballing the next card in line, I’ve decided to take the “extra” cash and put it in my ING Direct savings account. I know, I know. I’m not giving up. I’ve decided that it would be better to build up our emergency coffers for the remainder of the year.

Being a type A personality, i fret over the unknown. Even though we have some savings, a larger cushion would help me sleep better at night. We only have 1 month’s worth of expenses in savings. If we need to dip into savings between lawn and snow seasons, it’s all gone. Not cool. And since it will be quite a while until the next card will get paid off, i’ve decided to take a break for a while. We’ve paid of 5 cards this summer. That freed up over $250 in monthly payments to snowball with. The remaining balances on the 3 cards are large enough that adding $250 to the payment won’t reduce the minimum payment significantly. I’d rather have $750 in savings than a $25 lower minimum payment. I’m sure the personal finance gurus are foaming at the mouth, but right now it feels like the right decision.

ugh………

Getting out of debt sucks.

It definitely does not happen overnight. So easy to lose momentum…

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Are we there yet?

This update is long overdue, but here goes…

Jan 2011 – July 2011

  • CC1:   14,350        13,250   
  • CC2:   6,325             5,800
  • CC3:   1,025                 950
  • CC4:   4,910             4,650
  • CC5:   390                          0
  • CC6:   485                          0
  • CC7:   515                          0
  • CC8:   520                       90
  • CC9:   5,225              5,225
  • CC10:   4,150           3,650
  • Total CC’s:   37,895          33,615
  • Family: 10,000                  7,000

So, drumroll please……….. we’ve paid off $7,280 since the beginning of the year! Get out of the way, HUGE snowball rolling downhill! LOVE seeing those ZERO balances!

Thanks to landing some nice contracts and a snowier than usual winter, we have been able to knock down a large chunk of debt. We are also CURRENT on all of our monthly bills, including the mortgage. A small emergency fund is in place for both personal bills and business bills. Ahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh…… What a wonderful feeling.

The physical aspects of unloading such a burden are positive as well. I’ve been able to shed 15 lbs since March. My periods (I know, TMI) are pretty regular now. I LAUGH again. I have friends again. I have a good time whenever we go out with friends/family.

Work has improved for me as well. I’m back up to 40 hrs/week plus a $1.25/hr raise. That really helps get caught up. I’ve been throwing extra money each month at the vehicle payments trying to pay them off sooner.

Did I mention we took a VACATION in march? It was hubby’s idea. Surprise of all surprises. Of course, i wanted to pay off as much debt as possible, and maybe stash some aside for the inevitable unexpected expenses. Hubby convinced me that we NEEDED a vacation. It had been more than 5 yrs since we spent any money on ourselves, and we needed to enjoy the fruits of our labor and not be miserly. It took several days to sink in, but he was right. As long as we didn’t accrue any additional debt, and were still able to keep on pace with paying down our debts we needed to spend our money in a positive way and see money as a good thing, and not as evil incarnate. Besides, our 10th anniversary was coming up and he thought we should do something more special than spend a weekend a few hours from home in a so-so hotel in some lame town, arguing about what to do.

So we went on a cruise. Neither one of us had ever been on one before. He found a great deal through his parent’s travel agent. We spent 5 days in the caribbean. It was awesome. We had a BLAST. In fact, we had so much fun, that we decided to work extra hard and save money and do it again next spring. Who would have ever thought? That $1500 splurge allowed us to really RELAX and re-align our senses. It was good for our marriage. Honestly, i didn’t know what to expect. I worried that it could go the other way. It was a good deal, but still a lot of money in what -i felt- was still a fragile personal economy and we hadn’t spent that much time alone together since we’d been married. It paid off ten-fold. He’s still telling everyone what a great time he had and recommending them to go.

So, are we there yet? Have we made enough progress to call it a victory? I mean, everybody has bills, right? Just 6 months ago, my only financial goal was to be able to pay the bills on time every month. We’ve accomplished that. And it feels great. But, it only seems natural to set the bar a little higher.

Discretionary income. It’s one thing to be able to pay your bills, it’s another to MAKE CHOICES on how you spend the money left over when the bills are paid. That concept terrifies me. What if something happens and I need that money later? Was a trip to the movies this weekend really worth it if the electric is in danger of getting shut off again in 6 months? What if an appliance suddenly dies and my small e-fund is wiped out? And then another appliance dies, or the car needs to be repaired? I never thought about these things before because i just couldn’t. I was strictly in survival mode. Food, shelter, clothing. Now that those needs have been met, there’s a whole new set of things to worry about.

So, are we there yet? Or when are we really “there”?

 

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big baby steps

Next week we will be receiving a rather large payment from a customer. Every fiber of my being wants to take every last penny and apply it to our regular monthly payments and other debt. It would feel SOOOO GOOD to knock out a good portion of debt and have that weight lifted.

But…. that would not be the responsible thing to do. Money Management 101 says that you should always pay yourself first. So even though i WANT to pay down a chunk of debt, i know that i NEED to set some of that money aside for an emergency. That would be the responsible adult thing to do.

So, before i even have that money in my hand, i went online today and scheduled an automatic transfer to my ING savings account for the day after i will deposit the large payment. I also set up very small automatic transfers on a weekly basis to my personal ING savings account. Now that i am pretty much caught up on monthly bills, I really need to focus on setting aside $$$ for the leaner times. $15/week goes to my E-fund account, and $10/week goes to Christmas account. This is not very much money, but it’s a start. I don’t want to take out too much and have to transfer it back. As Hubby’s receivables start coming in and our bills are stabile, I can increase the amount or start another sub account, like vacation or vehicle expenses.

In other news, Hubby and I had the baby talk again the other night. I told him that we both need to lose weight and save up some money, because it’s probably going to cost us a lot of money to try to get pregnant. Surprisingly, while I was at class the next evening, he hit the weight room with a couple buds. Sounds like this might finally be the year we start our family!!