A Look at Our Best Debt Repayment Month EVER.

ID-10098169I mentioned a few months ago that I was going to be stopping the monthly debt repayment updates because they felt a little monotonous. We were just trucking along and much was the same month to month, but I did promise to update when there was news that was update worthy.

If you follow me on Twitter you would have seen that yesterday we dumped a bunch of cash on our debt this month. We managed to put $2,535 on a single loan this month for a September total of $3,510 in non-mortgage debt payments. This is 2.5 times the minimum required payments! It’s also a lot of cash. Though it actually killed a small piece of my soul to see that much money leave our accounts it was also so satisfying to see the debt go down. If all goes according to plan, within the next two weeks we’ll have one of our loans paid off and I. can’t. wait.

Being able to throw that much cash towards our debt was possible because we budget most of our bills monthly (some bi-weekly) but we both had a three-pay month in September. For us, two extra pays coming in is about $3,000 extra dollars. We used $1,300 of it for extra debt payments, $700 for my annual licensing fees + CPR (work) and the rest will be saved for Christmas. We’ve always had one of our ‘extra’ pays fall near the end of the year and this is always how it gets broken down, licensing fee, debt and Christmas. It works for us.

Though I’m super excited about having this loan paid off soon I’m still a little undecided at the direction I (we) want to move. I guess as long as the overall debt number is going down that’s all that matters until I figure out a more concrete plan. I definitely need to replenish the ‘ol ER fund so that will take priority, we’re living life on the edge right now :)

I’m hoping the next few months go well for us in terms of income/side income and sticking to budgets. We actually tend to do a really good job at making and staying within our Christmas budget and this is now something we need to establish and start thinking about (umm, didn’t we just do this? where did 2015 go?!).

Though I like the news reported in this post I’ll like it even more when I’m finally able to tell you we killed a $25,000 loan in less than 3 years while paying off our other debts at the same time!

How did everyone else do in September?

Changing Your Financial Vocabulary

Last week I went for a rare lunch out with co-workers. Rarely do I even get time to sit down and eat, let alone actually leave the office for an extended period of time. The two women I was having lunch with were in very different financial situations. One had just moved in with her boyfriend and was trying to find a budgeting groove that worked for both of them while earning drastically different incomes, while the other was married with a few kids she was admittedly unhappy with how they manged money.

Lady #2 (married mom) went into great detail about how they ”couldn’t” make a budget, or make one work when they did attempt. ”We don’t have time”, ” It’s easier to swipe the card and deal with it later” were some of the things she told us.

After myself and lady #1 (unmarried lady) went into detail about how much we love our respective budgets I asked Married Mom if having a budget was something she considered to be important. Her response? Yes, but again, it wasn’t something she had time to do as she was busy enough with work and two kids. Budgets, according to her were for people who had the time to establish them and see them through day-to-day. It didn’t take me long to debunk that myth.

How we talk and think about money, our repertoire of financial vocabulary if you will, can make you or break you.

If she would simply believe that should could in fact live by a budget, that a budget wasn’t a burden, or for people who live exclusively on cash, than she’d do it. It’s just that simple. Once I explained how our budget gives me a complete sense of control she became interested.

Sure I could think about ”only having X amount of money” to spend on whatever expense or I could choose to think about it as ”I only want to spend X amount of money” or ”spending X in this expense means I have more for another expense or goal”. You want to think about your money working for you, not your money running your life. If it is, regain control through changing the tone in how you think and talk about money.

It’s a lot like talking to a toddler. I’ve said it before but if you engage in an argument with a toddler, you’ve already lost so don’t let it get to that point. Same with money. By using a certain vocabulary to think and talk about it, you far reduce the amount of arguments or frustrations.

Managing money can be a big mental game for some, which is why your choice of vocabulary makes a big difference. If it’s filled with negative connotations you’re essentially setting yourself up for failure. Stop and think about how you view money, if its negative, try changing your thought process and see it makes a difference in your eagerness to reach your goals.

What words did you need to eliminate from your financial vocabulary to reach goals?

5 Things We’ve Done to Pay Our Debt Off Faster

We are officially entering the countdown to paying off one of our big(ger) loans. Of our total debt, this consolidated loan started in December 2012 at just shy of $25,000. Our agreement was to have it paid off by December 2017 and here we are six weeks away from payoff, more than two years early.

It hasn’t been easy. There has been a lot of things that we’ve put off or totally eliminated from our lives to make it happen. The fact is if we want to get this debt paid off in a reasonable time frame, changes needed to be made.

Make More Money

This was, for us, the easiest thing to do to yield the biggest change. The first thing Mike did was go to his boss and ask for a raise. Since then we haven’t stopped. I’ve also received raises and we’ve both earned income though other avenues. We both blog and in Mike’s job he has the ability to earn overtime and travel expenses

Cut. Cut. Cut.

We started this journey, really started I mean, while i was still on maternity leave. We had limited options for earning additional money but I had time to look for areas to cut. Starting this journey while on maternity leave was a bit of a blessing because we were already living on a tight budget but that doesn’t mean we were doing everything right. With a few days worth of research we found substantial savings every month (approximately $200/month).

Meal Plan

This was something we previously didn’t do and it has made such a massive difference in how far our money goes. Before kiddo was born we’d mindlessly shop for whatever we wanted, then we were forced into a reduced income situation (maternity leave) and suddenly we had to make a conscious decision when shopping. This was one of the best thing that ever happened to us, debt or not. I estimate we were spending an easy $800 per month for the two of us for no reason other that we’d just buy what we wanted, when we wanted with no goal (meal) in mind. Now, the three of us spend about $550 per month with all (healthy) meals planned a week at a time.

Maintained a One Vehicle Household

I can’t tell you how badly we want a second vehicle. With Mike’s travel schedule it is majorly inconvenient to be a single vehicle family with a kid and I can honestly say, without the support of our family we wouldn’t have been able to make it work as long as we have. Now that we almost have this loan paid off the time has come that we will soon start saving for a second car but only having one car expense until this point has been a major help in helping us expedite our debt repayment.

Give up Travel (kinda..)

We love to travel, short day trips or long international flights, we love to explore. Our last big trip before starting this journey was a week in NYC with friends and it was great but we also quickly realized that there was over $3,000 we could have put towards debt. Other than family reunion trips (short, road trips for us), we have basically eliminated all travel. While it is hard watching our cohorts explore the world we know it’s not our time and saving big travel for when debt is gone will be much more satisfying.

When you get to the point that you really want your debt paid off you may be surprised what you’ll accomplish. I used to love getting my hair cut and colored but it didn’t take long to realized $120 every six to eight weeks wasn’t justifiable while we carry so much debt. Though individual small steps don’t seem like much, over time they add up and before you know it you’ve managed to cut off two years of debt repayment.

What did you do to make debt repayment successful?

Using YouTube to Review a Companies Reputation

Whenever you start subscribing to a particular company to provide a service to your home, it is always a good idea to check them out completely. You want to know exactly who you are doing business with. This is basic common sense. If you assume a company is going to give you a certain standard or service, you could be in for a rude awakening down the road. Therefore, the time it takes to research a company will be well worth it in the long run. It is important to research energy providers. Here are a few of the main reasons why.

1. What is their reputation?

If you are going to be depending on a company for your electricity needs, you need to know what their reputation is among current and former customers. Fortunately, this sort of information is relatively easy to uncover online. If you see complaint after complaint regarding how a specific energy provider does business with their customers, it would be a good idea to pass them over. You can save yourself a lot of frustration and headaches by reviewing a company’s reputation. ACN is an example of an energy provider with an outstanding reputation. You can learn more about them by visiting https://www.youtube.com/user/acnofficial.

2. How much do they charge?

You will obviously need to be completely aware of how much you will be paying for your monthly service before you agree to use any company. This will require you to contact all of the energy providers in your area and get all the information you can regarding the various rates that these companies charge for their services. After you have compiled all of this information, you will be able to make an educated decision regarding which company will be the least expensive for your particular energy needs.

3. How is their repair service?

During the course of your service, something may go wrong. It might be a problem at your house. It might also be a problem nearby that is impacting the service of many other customers in your area. In either case, you need to be sure that your energy provider is going to always stay on top of such matters. If your service is interrupted, waiting two or three days for repair technicians to come to your home is completely unacceptable. Your energy provider needs to dispatch repair technicians to your home within no more than 12 hours.

We’ve Outgrown Our Current Budget System

picYou know how some memories are so vivid when recalled you feel like you could relive them perfectly.

That’s how I feel about the first time Mike and I sat down to do our budget, together. I can remember everything down to what PJ’s I had on. I had been doing my best until that point to keep on top of things but was quickly losing control. Then he, and his amazing project managerial skills, came in and saved the day. He created the current budgeting system we use still today, three years later.  It works and I literally can’t live without it!

Though how we have been using our DIY Excel spreadsheet has worked well for us until this point, the time has come to change it up I think.

Budgets aren’t meant to be static, they’re meant to be put in place to accommodate the ebbs and flows that come with life and ours has been static too long.

I have to clarify first, we don’t have a ”true” budget, but rather a money monitoring system. We figure out how to get all required bills paid and what is leftover is what we buy food, gas, clothes etc with. The problem is that we don’t have enough definition with the ”leftover” money. We always make sure we buy groceries and gas but how the rest gets divided is more complicated. Sometimes there are things Mike wants, or I want, or Maria needs and because there is no clear use for this money we don’t have a system to decide who gets what, when… and this needs to change.

We’ve never really given each other an allowance of any kind and I think it’s high time we do. I don’t want to think about how I may want to spend a few dollars, nor should Mike. If I want to go out and buy new sneakers (something I currently need) I don’t want to think or figure out how that may affect the rest of my families finances, same goes for Mike if there’s something he’s eyeing he should have more access to an allowance he can draw on.

We currently plan everything based on predicted two week increments (we’re paid on the same day) for upwards of six months at a time. Every two weeks we usually end up with approximately the same amount of ”leftover” money which we play with. Sometimes it lasts the two weeks no problem and other times things get tight and I think if we moved to a better monthly budget we’d have more breathing room.

Now that we’re at a point where we’ve nearly paid off our next big loan, once this is done (within the next month), I think it’s a good time to rearrange how and when things are budgeted and paid, including money for us. We’d be using the same amount of money just rearranged differently (since our debt repayment is being rolled into next goal). We now just need to sit down together and decide how much we each get, including Maria’s needs to.

How much do you budget for personal wants and needs (clothes/personal care/occasional wants etc)? How often do you totally change your budget?

Infographic: A Fresh Face on Branding

A Fresh Face

If You Want to Reach That Goal, Lose the Yoga Pants

I, like many woman, am a lover of all things in the black, stretchy, yoga pant form. They’re comfortable, they’re versatile (I pair them with scrubs for work), they’re cheap (Costco for the win), and they look pretty decent on anyone. There aren’t many things I can buy without overthinking and black yoga pants are one of those items.

They make my life stress free in some ways. As long as I have the comfort of knowing I have a few laundered pairs of those infamous black pants in my life I’m ok. I don’t have to think about what to wear, because chances are if it requires dressing up more than those pants I can’t go (only slightly kidding). As someone who hates shopping for clothes they make my life easy, but it has to change.

They are, without a doubt one of the biggest crutches I have in my life. I don’t think about how comfortable/uncomfortable I am when I’m wearing them because I simply don’t think about them at all, they just are. Unlike other outfits that I try on 21549 before deciding I’m decent enough to leave the house, with these infamous pants I can pretty much do anything. Anything except lose the weight that I’ve been holding onto for the last three years and when I get content with one thing in my life (weight), other things follow…like budgets…and future goals… all because I allow myself to wear uber comfortable pants.

Sounds insane right? But it’s not. See for some, myself included, one of the things I look forward to when we get this debt paid off is having a little more fun. Yeah, I said it, we will be partaking in some lifestyle inflation when this debt is finally gone and I’m looking forward to it. I want to buy clothes and look presentable, beyond a ”oh good, she’s not naked/wearing shirt and shoes so I’ll get service” kind of wardrobe. Nothing insane but for the love of God I’d love to dress like a woman who gives a crap about herself and her life.

As long as I sit here convincing myself that I can take over the world in these yoga pants I’ll keep putting my goals off. I convince myself that it’s ok we might not reach that November loan pay-off goal, that I really will be ok with a wardrobe of black pants and cheap t-shirts and that my life is exactly where I want it to be. None of which is true.

My life isn’t where I want it to be, nowhere close and in my future vision I’m wearing real, grownup pants. As the saying goes, if you want change you have to get uncomfortable so I guess I should go find my old jeans and try them on as a reminder to where we want to be :)

What crutches do you allow in your life?

7 Tips for First-Time Investors

Are you intimidated by the world of investing? If so, you aren’t alone. Many people shy away from investment opportunities because they can’t stand the thought of losing their money if something goes wrong, but what they don’t realize is that with the right research and a plan for success, those chances can be very slim indeed. Here are just seven tips for ensuring that your first investment is also a profitable one.

1. Know Your Niche

Try to avoid jumping into a market that you don’t know anything about. For example, if you have no interest or passion for diamonds, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to invest in fine jewelry corporations. A better alternative would be a franchise that you’ve worked in all your life.

2. Start Small

Even if you’ve done your homework and know what to expect when you invest your money, you’ll still need an adjustment period when your dollars are actually on the line and your decisions are actually affecting your net worth. Start small with your investments and work your way up to a bigger payday.

3. Decide How You’ll Invest

Do you want to trade in cash or commodities? Do you want to deal with stocks or avoid them entirely? There’s no right or wrong answer when it comes to how you choose to invest; the only thing that matters is your own comfort level with how things proceed. You want to feel fully confident in your decision moving forward.

4. Join an Investment Group

Investment groups are great for first-time investors who are maybe a little uneasy about doing things on their own. The good news is that an investment group will minimize financial risk to you; the bad news is that even if your investment pays off, you’ll be sharing the profits with everyone else in the group. For this reason, investment groups should only be used as a stepping stone and not a long-term investment strategy.

5. Take Calculated Risks

Once you’re comfortable with your ability to track the market, you might want to shake things up with a bold move or two. Many people have made their fortunes by thinking outside the box and taking a chance on something new. For example, businessmen like Pete Briger like to scoop up assets that no one else wants and then turn them into gold.

6. Diversify Your Interests

This is also known as the “don’t put all of your eggs in one basket” strategy. Broadly speaking, it means that you won’t invest all of your money in the same commodity or with the same percentages each time. You have to be willing to branch out if you want to become a successful investor.

7. Let Go of Your Losses

No one can hit a home run every single time. If one of your investments tanks, the most important thing is not to become obsessed with your failure. Failures happen, and they’ll probably happen to you again if you become a long-time investor. Just learn from your mistakes and keep going.
These are just a few tips for first-time investors. Whether you’re ready to spend money right away or you’re just conducting some preliminary research for future investments, these tips should be enough to get you started in the exciting world of investing.

Happy New Year! Let’s Make it a Good One!

Even though I haven’t been in school for many years, and my kid isn’t in school yet, September always feels like a new year. Much more than January for me and I love it.

Like many people, the summer is always chaotic for us with vacations, more time away from home, bad eating (for me anyway!) and more potential to bust out budget. I look forward to so much the fall offers- cooler days (and nights!), more time at home and routine. I thrive on routine in all aspects of my life. I eat better when I have time to plan and am in control, our budget does better in the fall and winter (fewer trips away from home) and we sleep better which has a profound effect on all aspects of our lives.

This month I’m competing in another DietBet with my sister-in-law, something I have tried before but never won. I came close once, losing by less than 0.5 lbs but this time I’d love to win and throw any earnings towards our trip to Nashville in March (post coming soon!). I cannot believe how hard it is for me to lose weight now compared to even 10 years ago…maybe it’s because I’m in my 30’s or since having a kid but my God it’s HARD…any tips?

Our budget also needs a check-up. It’s been a few months since I’ve done a good revision of it and with only a few months left in the year we need to make sure we have everything in place. I’m still hopeful we’ll have our goal reached by end of October/beginning of November and then move onto our next goals. I usually have our budget done at least six months in advance but I’m going to wait until we pay this next loan off before changing everything up. I also think I may change how I allocate how we spend our discretionary money (for groceries, gas etc).

Though we’re not done 2015 yet, I already know the next 12 months will be a great year, we have some pretty big plans, which I’m not ready to share quite yet, but it will be epic. It’s funny how we have moved from a time in our lives when money would dictate everything we did to a time where we’re choosing to allocate our money a certain way, in full control. As I spoke about last week, changes aren’t scary anymore because we have a plan and our plans are pretty big!

Does anyone else feel like September is a new year? What do you do differently?

Getting Healthy On the Cheap

fitness-594143_1280One thing that’s always going to be more important that your financial health is your physical health, but there’s no reason you can’t stay healthy on the cheap! The world of health and fitness can get expensive – in fact, here’s an article filled with ideas to save on expensive gym memberships! It doesn’t need to be expensive though, and careful choices can make looking after your health affordable and fun.

From food and fitness to your medical care, chances are there are a few costs that can be cut to help reduce your bills.

Healthy Eating

Eating healthily is often misconstrued as being the more expensive choice, but that’s definitely not the case. While you’ll need to invest some of your time to prepare your meals, working with fresh, unprocessed ingredients is inexpensive and will do wonders for your health.

By sticking to a handful of regular meals you can save money by purchasing in bulk, and you can also save plenty of time by preparing meals in advance.

Build your main meals around fresh vegetables, as they are far cheaper than meat and can help you fill up for less. Pulses can be used to bulk up some meals, such as adding beans to chilli, to help add more healthy calories for very little expense.

There’s a useful guide to cheap, healthy cooking here.

Saving on Medical Bills

Few things hit your savings quite like an unexpected medical bill, but planning in advance can make a huge difference to how it impacts on your finances. An illness like cancer, for example, places huge pressure on your health and relationships, but it affects your finances too. Research shows that 83% of people with cancer are around $570 worse off each month.

You can mitigate some of the costs involved in treating an illness or medical condition if you have a comprehensive health insurance plan, but make sure you know it inside out. Check which treatments are covered, which hospitals and clinics are in the treatment network and if complimentary therapies are included can help save you a small fortune in the event you need to make a claim.

Many healthcare providers are providing advice on health and wellbeing, diet, and the management of long term illnesses, so take advantage of the information that’s available.

For things like dental treatment or physiotherapy, it often pays to shop around. Rather than simply going to your nearest provider, call around the practices in the area and compare treatment prices.

Frugal Fitness

Saving money on staying fit will depend on your goals and the training you enjoy, but there’s almost always ways to cut your costs. The price of gym memberships can vary drastically from place to place, so again it’s worth shopping around.

If you only train with weights, look for specialist powerlifting or bodybuilding gyms. They tend to be much cheaper than commercial chains and you’ll have equipment better suited to your goals. If you have the space it can also be much cheaper in the long term to build a home gym, as you’ll often recoup the costs in a matter of months.

If you spend most of your workout time on the treadmill or the exercise bike, why not pick up some decent running shoes or a bike and head outdoors? Not only will it save you money, but you’ll have a more interesting and challenging workout than you would at the gym.

For those attending exercise classes, try YouTube to see if there’s any similar workouts you can do at home for free. While you might be missing out on some of the fun, social elements of the class it can be a good way of saving some extra money each week.

Staying fit and healthy is all about making smart choices on a consistent basis – much like managing your money effectively. By cooking more at home with real ingredients, being mindful of your medical costs and making sensible exercise choices you’ll be able to stay fit and wealthy!