LET’S TALK CHRISTMAS

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We just started using sinking funds this month, but we don’t have one for Christmas.  I am not sure we are going to make one for that category especially this year or even next.  We probably won’t make one for that category until we have kids.  Right now it’s just the two of us and we don’t spend a whole lot on Christmas.

We don’t buy presents for anyone on my side of the family.  Joe has a pretty big family (that’s only getting bigger) that we are extremely close to.  The last couple years we have drawn names for the siblings and there is a $50 limit.  We will get something for his parents, sometimes it’s a joint gift making it not as costly and we get little gifts for our nephews (and niece when she makes her appearance).  Our nephews ages are 3, 18 months, 2 weeks and our first niece will be born at the end of November.  But they are happy with whatever we give them.  Right now they love books, puzzles and monster trucks – all pretty inexpensive gifts and we already have one for our oldest nephew we got on roll back a month ago and we bought a book each for the two babes.  Joe and I also don’t get each other Christmas gifts (or birthday gifts either).  We like to save that money and use it on a trip or put it towards a goal we are working on.  We do pick out one new ornament every year together.  This year we already got our ornament on our honeymoon.  We also might surprise each other with something little like under $20 and it’s usually something we need, but don’t want to buy for ourselves. In past years it’s been new work socks, phone chargers, travel coffee mugs.

Besides getting a real tree, we also don’t spend money on decorations.  1. Because we don’t want to spend the money on that right now and 2. Because I’d rather wait until we have a house and know what kind of space we will have before purchasing decorations.  Although this year we are talking about buying a nativity scene to go under the tree.  We both had one growing up.  This is our first Christmas married and I am also going through RCIA right now to become a member of the catholic church (I married a catholic boy and we want to raise our kids in that faith).  I think a nativity scene would be something special.  The tree however is a tradition we won’t give up.  It started the night we got engaged.  We were on our way to get our first Christmas tree together and right before we left the house Joe proposed to me in our apartment.  We then went to Ted Drewes to pick our tree and spent the night decorating it.  We usually get a 6ft balsam and they cost about $50.

I do really enjoy cooking during the holidays, especially baking.  When I was on BS2 as Christmas gifts I made about 10 different varieties of cookies and bought tins from the dollar store and gave those as Christmas presents.  I would much rather spend extra money on food during the holidays than material items.

All in all Christmas won’t be that expensive for us at least not this year and we would rather put money into a personal property tax sinking fund for taxes that will be due in December. We are estimating needing about $600.  Merry Christmas to use we get to pay to own our two vehicles.

How do you prepare for Christmas expenses?

 

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One Year Ago

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One year ago.

It was a normal Friday.   I was excited it almost the weekend.  Jmr and I had plans to get dinner with some friends that evening and I wanted to relax over the weekend since the weeks before had been so busy.  I got to work and started my day there just like any other.  It was about 9:00 a.m., my boss, the Managing Officer of the law firm I worked at, had called a meeting with the attorneys that I paid no attention to.  I remember them walking back to their offices quietly.  One had tears in her eyes.  Still nothing alarmed me.  I was at the copier scanning some client documents when my Office Manager said that my boss now wanted to meet with all the support staff.  I wanted to finish the stack of papers I was working on so I didn’t stop what I was doing right away.  I heard my Officer Manager say “Jess, come on.”  Her voice firm, unlike how she normally sounded.  Still no alarm.  We all sat down at the conference table.  My boss started talking, mumbling, not making a whole lot of sense.  I looked at my Office Manager who was sitting across from me.  Her face blank and her eyes glazed over.  As my boss talked he said something about “this wasn’t easy for me,” and then I knew, I thought to myself, “he’s closing the firm.”  Then the bomb…”I decided to close the firm, I have a new opportunity…blah, blah, blah.”  The firm had been opened 30 years. I had just hit my 4 years there.  At first I thought “I’ll be fine;” then “I’m getting married in 6 months;” followed by internal panic and crying (cause I am emotional person.)

I remembered him saying the firm was closing officially on November 15, but the support staff (not the attorneys) could stay until December 31.  I was numb.  Afterward, I called jmr.  My voice was shaking and when he picked up my tears turned into uncontrollable sobbing.  Poor guy probably thought someone died.  He said, panicked, on the other line “what’s wrong?”  And I was able to get out “[enter boss’ name] is closing the firm.”  Jmr was calm as can be and so supportive, saying all the right things a person needs to hear when they are upset.

I know this probably sounds dramatic, but I really was devastated.  You hear all the time about how millennials are not loyal and have no work ethic.   I had other job opportunities, that probably would have paid much more than I was currently making, offered to me that I passed up because I was so dedicated to my employer.  I naively thought something like this would never happen to me.

It only took me 11 days to find a new job (where I currently work), and although the new firm ended up being better opportunity than my previous firm (a pay increase, more responsibility, better benefits), it was still a really hard transition for me.  I wasn’t ready at that time to leave my old firm.  I was comfortable and happy there.  Fear and self-doubt became a daily struggle as I questioned everything I once knew.  It was hard to see this new chapter in my life as a step forward when so much of me wanted to stay in the comfort of what I was familiar with.  I had to let go of the “what if” mind frame that plagued my thoughts for months afterward. What if something happens with this job? What if I am not so lucky this time? What if we don’t have enough money saved?  I pride myself in being a person that plans everything 10 steps ahead, but sometimes even the best planner can’t foresee what is around the corner. I grew immensely as a person this past year in many ways.  I’ve felt so many feelings and pushed myself out of my comfort zone.  Sometimes things happen to us that we have no control over.  The only thing I was in control of in this situation was how I reacted.  I knew I had to push on.  It’s funny, but things always have a way of working out in the end. I just kept telling myself, life goes on, and it did.

One year ago, my life looked a lot different.  I have almost been at my new job one year and it’s hard now to even remember that time and how sorrowful I felt.  There is a saying that I love that goes “the days are long, but the years are short.”  How true that really is.

Whatever you are going through in life right now, just know one day this season will pass.  You just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

Your Fantasy Self

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Over the weekend I read a post about minimalism, your fantasy self and who you think you should be.  It got me thinking about parts of my life mostly high school and my early 20s.  For many years I was very unsure of myself – a very nervous person with low self-esteem and I made purchases based off of wanting to become someone else.  It was more than “trying to keep up with the Jonses.”  I wasn’t really trying to impress anyone, at least that wasn’t my thought process, I wanted make myself be someone else – someone that I loved and who was happy with themselves.

There was the time I became a shopaholic because I thought if I dressed better I would be accepted by other people and love myself.  No shoes, purses or new clothes fixed that.

There was the time I still lived at home and I bought almost every item Pampered Chef had because in the future I would start cooking and someone who cooked and baked would need these things.  No amount of stone cookware, stainless steel pots or pans and avocado cutters could make me love myself.

There was the time when I moved into my first apartment and felt the need to fill my home with furniture and décor items from West Elm or Target, because certain Instagram influences I followed had those same things and I wanted my home to look like Pinterest.  Gold silverware and an overpriced couch that I now hate didn’t make me feel like I was “home.”

Throughout my financial peace journey, I have learned more than just how to budget, pay off debt and save money.  I have learned to accept myself for who I really am.  I have figured out what I truly love and care about and I have gotten to the point where I don’t really care if someone does not agree with my life choices, thinks “I’m weird,” or doesn’t want to be my friend.  The more that I have accepted my faults, quirks and passions I truly have become a much happier, positive, and “wealthier” person.  Today I am not ashamed to say that I would much rather stay in because I’m an introvert.  I prefer lounge clothes over dress clothes and heels.  Personal finance and domestic travel are my two passions.  I only have 2 or 3 friends. I have a soft heart.  I used to think it made me weak or too sensitive but now I know that I was designed this way.  I feel more.  I experience things in entirety.  Having a soft heart has shown me that even though life can be tough, and sometimes painful, this soft heart of mine is strong and will not be hardened.  I don’t care that I cry at commercials – even happy ones.  I love my true self more than I ever could have loved my fantasy stuff and that has become the biggest blessing through this journey.

 

Wedding Talk

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Wedding talk:

I wish I had some unique or creative things to tell you about how to have a budget friendly wedding that you haven’t heard before, but I don’t think I do.  All I can tell you about is my experience and how we paid cash for our entire wedding this past April.

The average cost for a wedding is around $30,000.  We spent about $18,000 which still is a lot of money for one day, but far below what the national average is.  To be honest I didn’t love wedding planning.  Not even a little.  I found it terribly stressful and found myself thinking many times we should just elope, but getting married in the church was important to Joe and by the time I was at my breaking point we were too far into the process to turn back.  I also had my heart set on a particular venue that opened up just down the street from my old work.  That said, the day ended up perfect. And although I didn’t love the wedding planning process, I absolutely love being married.

So if you are in the same boat as us and are paying for your own wedding here is my small list of advice for cash flowing a wedding:

1. Make a budget and stick to it.  We knew we wanted to stay under $20,000.  The first week we started planning I immediately made an excel spreadsheet to track our wedding expenses.  At the bottom of the spreadsheet I had 3 total categories (the total cost of the entire wedding, what we paid so far and what we had left to pay for).  We estimated what things would cost based off what quotes we received and what we were willing to pay for and put those totals in the spreadsheet so that we knew what to budget for.  The whole thing was color coated and very type A, but it was the key tool in our budgeting.  Look at your spreadsheet/budget monthly at a minimum.  You may have to adjust things as the planning continues.  If you would like a copy of the spreadsheet I prepared send me a DM I would be more than happy to email to you.

2. Make a list of your must haves and budget accordingly; cut out what you can live without.  I knew I wanted really good pictures.  I LOVE pictures so I didn’t mind spending a little extra on that.  Our photographer cost $2,000 which is around average for good quality photos (our package included a free engagement shoot).  One thing I wanted but didn’t have to have was a videographer.  We couldn’t find one in a price range (most of the ones we talked to were $2,000+), and since that was something I could live without we cut that out of our wedding budget.

3. If need be, have a longer engagement to save up cash.  Joe and I got engaged in November 2016 and didn’t get married until April 2018.  Having a 16 month engagement gave us time to save up.

4. Skip wedding traditions that don’t hold value to you.  It’s your wedding (don’t let people get in your head. They mean well, but love giving you their opinion) so don’t do something because you think you’re “supposed” to.  We don’t love wedding cake and found out mini pies were cheaper than wedding cake so we had those instead.  We loved them!  We also skipped things like wedding programs and party favors.  No one really wants those things anyway.

5. Same with wedding transportation.  You don’t need fancy cars to drive you to and from the reception. Don’t feel pressed by anyone to rent a fancy car or overpriced party bus.  We wanted to find a reasonable priced vehicle so that our bridal party could all ride together for pictures.  We had 3 hour window in-between our ceremony and reception to take pictures. Most of the party bus companies we found cost over $800.  We found a small company through a recommendation of an acquaintance that cost us $380.  The party bus ended up to be an old school bus converted into a party bus and was so cool!  We got exactly what we needed while paying half the price. Another option we looked into was renting a 15 passenger van from Enterprise or some other rental car place.  We ended up not going with that option because we didn’t want to drive it ourselves or have anyone from our wedding party have to drive it.  The timing of when we could pick it up was also an issue.  But hey, if you have a fun uncle or friend not in the wedding party that would be willing to pick it up/drop it off and drive you around that was another cheap option to traditional wedding transportation.

6. Sometimes DYI projects can end up costing more than you’d think, but one thing we did that saved money was making our own invitations. We found a template on Etsy for $20 that came with the invitations, response cards and info cards.  We just plugged in our information, bought some nice card stock and printed them at home.  They looked SO good and we got a lot of compliments on them.  It was so much cheaper than the average cost of invitations.  We couldn’t justify that price just for something people would eventually throw in the trash.

Whether your wedding is big or small, you have a fancy reception or decide to elope, I want you to remember one thing that my husband kept telling me throughout the process.  Whenever things would get stressful; whenever I had a hard time letting something go that didn’t fit in our budget he would say to me “does that thing prevent us from getting married?”  The answer was always no.  The most important part of our day was being together and the love we share.  And a close second was getting married debt free. Your day should be a special time, but shouldn’t hinder your future in any way.  Don’t start this new chapter in your life with debt.  Everything else just is the icing on the cake.

What is harder, paying off debt or saving money?

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If you spend any time reading personal finance blogs, you will eventually stubble across the age old question (and possibly a debate or two), what is harder, paying off debt or saving money?  I, myself, have pondered this question on more than one occasion.

Having recently spent 20 months paying off $40,103.60 worth of debt I would absolutely say that paying off debt is harder.  I hated, more like loathed, the feeling of owing someone money.  I wanted to free myself from that clutches of debt as soon as I possibly could so that I could start pursing financial independence.  I dreamed of a day that I wouldn’t have to owe anyone, or rely on anyone else for money.  So, the question is answered, paying off debt is harder than saving money.

But … (there is always a but)

Having also recently spent the last 5 months strictly saving, I am not so sure paying off debt is harder than saving money.  Lately, I have been trying to live by the mind frame of “the biggest payment you should make every month should be into savings.” And it has been!  But the more savings goals I have the harder I find it is to stay focused.  You see, the feeling of owing someone money, the thing that I desisted about being in debt, was also the thing that held me accountable every month in paying it off.  Even if I decided not to accelerate payments on my debt, I was still responsible every single month to make the minimum payment.  However, when it comes to saving money, the only person holding me responsible is… you guessed it … me.

I also have a bad habit (I should say had an old habit) of knowing I have money in my savings account and justifying spending it.  Example:  “These shoes are $100, but I have $10,000 in my savings. I can afford it. I’ll just take it out and replace the money later.”  It’s this type of mind frame that can get me in trouble (and has many times in the past). Even after all the things I have learned through bad money mistakes and paying off debt, I will always have challenges to my frugality. I just love shtuff! I love pretty home décor items. I love old houses that I can put life into again and make my own. I love the idea of a cabin in the woods. I love interesting new recipes, restaurants and traveling. And even though I have learned from my past mistakes and don’t mindless spend anymore, the struggle not to is eternal.  Debt was temporary.

Another difference between the saving and paying off debt is time.  I worked myself to the bone for almost 2 years to pay off my debt, which was a long period of time, but now I’m in savings mode, ad infinitum. One was time limited and the other is forever. And after doing both, the limited one seems easier.

Right now I have so many savings goals pulling me in different directions.  I’m saving for a wedding, building up my “Money to protect your other money. Oh, and also potential reckless behavior” aka emergency fund, saving for a house and retirement.  I also go back and forth on if I should make accelerated payments on a car that I have a 0% interest rate on. (Yes, paying off the car is paying off debt, which I’d like to do, but not accelerating the monthly payments allows me to save more money, see the problem here… so many decisions.) I’m not sure which one gets priority and I tend to flip between them. And although I had multiple forms of debt to pay off in the past (13 student loans and a car) and should be used to balancing multiple money goals, using the snowball method, I focused solely on paying off the debt with the highest balance off first.  It didn’t matter if I had 13 student loans, my goal was fixated on which loan had the biggest number attached to it which made it easier to hold my attention – I only worried about one loan at a time. That was much easier than having multiple savings goals that I deem equally important.

So what is a girl (or boy) to do?  Well, here are a few tips for anyone who has decided saving is harder than paying off debt like I do.

1.Break down your “saving goals” into mini goals.  I have found it is much easier to stay focused when you have one particular goal you are working toward at a time (but if working on multiple goals at a time works for you, that’s fine too).  I need strict order in my life much like when I was paying off debt. Instead of bouncing around from goal to goal, I have now calculated out how long it will take me to save for each one.  I focus all my attention on that particular savings goal in that timeline until it is reached and then I move on to the next one*.

2. Have a solid number you want to hit.  With each mini goal, set a particular number you want to reach.  For example, after calculating what everything will cost for our wedding, jmr and I have a set number we want to save for.  Once we hit that number (should be there next month. Woot woot!), we will move on to our next mini goal.  Keep in mind, like paying off debt major saving milestones can’t be done within a day or week. Remind yourself it takes time.

3. Document your progress.  I am an extremely visual person.  I need to see my “wins” to feel confident in the progress I am making and ease the stress of the process.  I love looking back at my spreadsheets to see how far I have come. This is also the best way to keep me accountable for my spending.

4. Revisit your goals.  It is totally okay to change the direction of your savings goals. I have done it multiple times already.  Just the other day I was looking at my spreadsheets and decided I would sleep better at night if I upped my emergency fund from 3 months of savings to 6. I would suggest periodically reevaluating your goals to make sure they are still working for you.

Whether you are in the saving mindset, paying off debt mindset, or both, how you go about it is a deeply personal decision.  I don’t think there is a right way or wrong way, just ways that you can make it easier on yourself.   And if you’re trying, I think that’s really all that matters.

What do you find harder, saving or paying off debt?

*retirement probably doesn’t work for this tip, and should be saved for monthly on top of your other savings goals.

Back in Debt, and Why I’m not Worried About it

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Since day one I met jmr he has been 100% debt free – no student loans, no car loan, no credit card or medical debt, nothing. He was like a rare Pokémon card*, you know they’re out there, but you’ve never seen one with your own two eyes.  Dating someone who is 100% debt free is abnormal these days, especially for millennials.  I feel extremely lucky to have found him (for more than one reason besides being debt free).

And for that reason I wanted to obtain that goal myself.  I knew one day we would get married, and I didn’t want to be the one burdening us with a large amount of debt.  I wanted to start our future with a blank slate.

February 15, 2017 I scheduled my final payment on my student loans and with that one last payment, I ended my 20 month journey and broke up with all my debt for good, at least until I bought a house…so I thought.

It’s been a nice 4 months being 100% debt free, but after many long talks jmr and I decided it was time to buy him a new car – and we decided to do it jointly.

Why jointly?  We recently got engaged last fall and are planning a wedding for next April.  And because we are completely committed to being together for the rest of our lives, we are going into this marriage with the idea that we are now one.  We make decisions together.  And since paying off my debt, we have combined all our finances.  There is not a “yours and mine.”  It’s our money, so we will pay this debt off together.  I am of the opinion if you start your marriage with the idea of keeping everything separate (i.e. bank accounts), it seems like you already have one foot out the door.  Like, you are already planning for it not to work out.  And while I am not trying to tell anyone else how to live their lives, this is just how jmr and I decided to live ours.

We knew that one day jmr’s car was going to need to be replaced.  I was hoping it would have been years from now, but things started to deteriorate with it quickly – the last straw being the air conditioning going out just in time for the good ol muggy St. Louis summer.  We didn’t want to spend the money to fix, especially knowing we eventually wanted to get rid of it.  So we decided it was time to get him a new one.  After many talks about what we wanted, how much we were willing to spend, plans to pay it off quick, many nights of research, 4 long trips to the dealership we finally put pen to paper and made it official and bought a 2017 Subaru Forester.  Jmr has wanted a Subaru for as long as I can remember so he is over the moon.

When we first started looking for a new car we wanted a used one, but we had strict requirements:  it had to be no less than five years old, only have one owner, low miles, no accidents, and preferably a certified preowned model.  (My car is a certified preowned Ford Escape that I have had for 5 years and still runs beautifully.)  We want this car to last a very long time and we were going to keep it until the wheels fell off, so we wanted to make sure we bought the very best used car we could find.  Unfortunately we couldn’t find one that met our requirements.  That’s when we started looking new cars.  While I am sure Dave Ramsey would have something to say about buying a new car, we were pleasantly surprised to find one that was within our comfort level and the best part about it was we were able to get 0% financing.  After putting down a little more than 20% we were super confident in our decision and immediately put a plan in place to have it paid off in the next two years (or sooner) and hopefully before we buy a house.

So while I am kind of bummed that I now have debt again, it ultimately was for the best of our future family.  And with 0% financing, the extreme thought put into buying it and the accelerated payments we are going to make, I’m not really worried about it. I’m super comfortable with the decision we made.

Jmr also keeps joking that now I have something to blog about again.

*90s kids will remember this well. Only analogy I could think of. Ha.

Crossroads

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It’s better a little over a month since I paid off my student loans.  Every day since February 15 feels like a breath of fresh air.  I took a short hiatus from blogging to take everything in and decompress for a while, but I’m back now!  And although, I am feeling slightly directionless at the moment about where I want to take this blog next, my fingers have been itching to start typing again.  I’ve said from the beginning of this blog that I want it to transition with me through my life events.  I named it “Wildest Dreams” for that sole reason.  I want this blog to be almost like a diary of some sort, where I can look back at my past and see how far I have come.

At some point through my debt journey I felt like that last payment day was never going to come, I knew focusing on my future goals would ultimately be what I needed to push myself forward to make it to the end of my debt journey.  Paying off debt was a huge goal for a long time, but it does not define me as a person.   While I still plan to talk about money here and there it probably won’t be my primary focus anymore.  That beginning said, I feel like I am currently at crossroads.  There are so many things on my mind right now that I want to start accomplishing; dreams that I have pushed aside while I paid off my debt.  The possibilities seem endless now that I am 100% debt free, and I feel like I can finally start focusing my attention on working on that dreams list I wrote at the beginning of last year.

So where has been attention been focused on this last month?  Besides continuing to work at my side hustle and working on my savings goals, most of my attention has been focused on wedding planning!  Last November jmr proposed to me, and I have been in wedding planning mode ever since.  There is nothing I love more than planning and organizing (I’m super type-A) so even though I was still finishing off paying my student loans when he proposed, wedding planning gave me an outlet. It was so nice to have something to focus on other than debt for once.  Marrying jmr was my number one dream I wrote down after becoming debt free.  I wanted to start our life together both beginning debt free.  (He was already debt free.)  I know there will always been big expenses we will have to pay for like a mortgage and costs related to kids, but I wanted to make things slightly easier on us by limiting all my debt prior to getting married.  Since paying off my debt we have been able to put down deposits on big planning items and so far have booked our church, venue, DJ and photographer.  This past weekend I also bought my wedding dress…

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I feel like it is also bringing us closer as a couple since it is a project we are working on together.  We are having so much fun with it and can’t wait to see the finished product next year, and to finally be married of course.

Besides wedding planning I also started working out – Pilates at home mostly.  (Trying to work on that #weddingdiet. Ha!) The wedding may have a little to do with it, but honestly it has been making me SO good. Not just physically, but mentally too.  We’ve also been eating super healthy as well, not that we didn’t eat healthy before.  We’ve always had a pretty good diet.  We avoid processed foods, I cook most nights at home and I try to make everything we eat from scratch, but I really felt like we could be a little better when it came to dinner choices (example: cutting out pasta dishes even though the sauce was from scratch).  We now try to stick to a completely whole-food plant based diet.  I’ve also been drinking a green juice every morning with jmr (he’s been juicing every morning since July 2015) and I have been trying to drink 2 litters of water a day.  I bought a 48 oz. water bottle from REI and I take it everywhere. It’s huge. (I drink 1 ½ of that bottle a day).

Lastly, I have been spending a lot of time focusing on something I’ve always had a passion for but had to limit somewhat when I was paying off my debt – travel.  Jmr and I have a goal to visit all 50 states.  So far I’ve been to 18, with the plan to add at least 4 more this year to my list (see map below).  Last fall we wanted to take a long weekend trip to Minnesota, but ended up pushing it off because I didn’t want to sacrifice making my normal accelerated SL payment.  Now that I don’t have any debt, all the money I was putting towards it a month goes straight into a savings account which allows me to book a random weekend trip whenever I please.  We decided on Memorial Day weekend and have already booked our hotels and bought tickets to see a Twins game (this is my first time seeing a baseball game not at Busch Stadium).  We also are going to spend a night in Iowa and visit Wisconsin during that trip as well.

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In July jmr and I are taking a week trip to Tybee Island, Georgia with his family and in October I’m going on a five day trip to Lockport, New York with my Aunt (we are going for a murder mystery dinner on a train, but also are going to see Buffalo, New York, Niagara Falls and spend a day in Canada).

And if I am REALLY lucky I’ll be able to talk jmr into taking (separate) weekend trips to Oklahoma and Nebraska this year.  We both need to mark them off our list and they are drivable from St. Louis.  He’s not as thrilled as I am about these trips. I woke up this morning and told him I had a dream about Nebraska, to which he replied “You are probably the only person in the world to say those words.” HA!

Next year we have planned (separate) bachelor/bachelorette parties to New Orleans and, if we can get the time off work, cross your fingers and toes, we want to take a two week honeymoon, flying into LA and then driving all the way to Canada using the Pacific Coast Highway, stopping in multiple cities in California, Oregon and Washington.

Becoming debt free was an amazing feeling in itself, but it’s even more amazing to start seeing all your dreams come true – because of that ONE goal you accomplished.  I may be at crossroads at the moment, not really focusing on one particular goal, but I also like the freedom of circling around multiple things the interest me.

Payment Day – 0

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Isn’t crazy to think about all that happens in a year?  This time last year I was getting ready to move into my new apartment, I had just started working at my side hustle, I had 3 student loans paid off and had been driving a paid off car for over a month.  But, I still had $28,673.32 in debt.

I have thought about this day so, so, so many times, and it’s finally here!  This morning at 7:10 a.m. I scheduled my FINAL student loan payment.  In my past couple payment day posts I talked about how I would still have a small balance after I made my payment today, but I was able to make it happen.  I paid off all my student loans.  I am now 100% debt free! (And I was able to accomplish my goal 5 months and 16 days before the original end date I set for myself.)

Right before jmr left for work this morning I logged into Navient and just sat there staring at the computer screen.  He asked if I was going to schedule the payment, and I told him I needed a few moments to gather my thoughts and process everything.  It took me another 10 minutes to schedule the payment.  With one click and a payment of $1,501.41 I became 100% debt free!!  I’ve been pinching myself all morning.

After I scheduled my payment, I called jmr to let him know and to share my excitement with him.  I then got off the phone with him, and my morning really proceeded as normal. I spent way too long lying in bed taking Snapchats of my cat, Chip, who was having a real attitude problem this morning, got ready for work, made my lunch and coffee and ran out the door late, as per usual.  I don’t know why, but when I pictured this day I thought it would look a little different, like I would feel different.  But really I am just the same person as yesterday – just a little bit happier and now debt free.

There was no parade, or confetti, or flower peddles laid at my feet as I walked to my car.  Dave Ramsey didn’t pop out to have me do a “debt free scream.”  It was just me, smiling like a fool all the way to the office.  When I got to work my boss asked I got some sun.  I said “no, why, do I look red?”  He said “no, you look, I don’t know, like glowing.”  Maybe I am.  I am so beyond proud of myself.

In 14 months I paid off $31,803.85 (interest paid included) in student loans, which is an amazing accomplishment, but my journey really started in July 2015 when I set out to pay off my SUV (pre-blog).  I accomplished that goal in 6 months and then started on my student loans in January 2016.  I can proudly say I have paid off $40,103.60 in 20 months.

So what’s next?  I guess from here on out my focus will be on saving – saving for our wedding, for an emergency fund, for retirement, for a house and all the other things in life that cost money.

While I’m sure unforeseen expenses will come up in the future, I want to be as prepared as possible.  That is one HUGE reason I wanted to become debt free.  I want to make things easier for my future self. For example, I’m 26 years old. It will be literally decades before retirement for me. And that’s exactly why it matters. Sixty-five-year-old Jessica is still Jessica. What I do today affects me in 40 years. I want to be comfortable in my golden years, and saving today helps to ensure that.  And since I am now debt free (and so is jmr), we have the ability to take our time and plan out our next big purchase or savings goal, because none of our money is going towards debt.

If I can teach you anything or you have gotten any value from reading this blog, it’s that paying off your debt now is the stepping stone to have the life you want.  I read a quote a while ago that said, “the best time to plant a tree is 10 years ago, the second best time is today.”  I’ve applied that quote to multiple aspects in my life over the past year.  I could have started paying off my debt when I graduated college, or even when I was in college, or when I got $10,000 from an automobile accident I was in, but I didn’t and that’s okay because I made the decision to start one sunny summer day and I never looked back.

A year ago looked very different, and a year from now can look different for you too.  A year ago I owed $28,673.32 in student loans, a year before that I had $39,263.95 in debt and didn’t think about it once.  The best time to start is today.  Every drop contributes to a puddle whether it’s raining hard or not.  Never give up.

Now is now.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  13 loans paid off, debt balance $0

Payment Day – 1

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We are officially in the final month of my debt repayment!  What does it feel like when you’re 26 days from reaching a goal you have working on for the last 20 months?  Well, I guess I’ll let you know when I figure it out, because right now I think I am in denial.

I have been working on becoming debt free since July 2015 (when I started paying off my car) and for over a year and half all I have thought about was budgeting, scheduling payments and planning my “next move.”  Of course I have thought about the anticipated end date, but it always seemed so far away that I have never really thought what it will actually feel like to get there or what it would be like afterward.  It was nothing more than a target end date.  I never thought of it more than “I should be done in ______, 2017.”   After all, I have changed my end date so many times in this process, first it was July 2017, then April, then March now it’s in 26 days.

Lately, I’ve had people asking me what I am going to do to celebrate being debt free.  The first couple times I was asked that, I just kind of stared at them.  The question totally caught me by surprise.  It still does.  It is the weirdest feeling to actually start thinking how I should celebrate.  I almost don’t want. I don’t jinx it.  I’m leaning towards going to dinner, but I don’t want to do anything too fancy.  Through this journey whenever a special occasion would come up, like jmr and I’s anniversary or a birthday, we’d say “let’s go to dinner where you have to tip” which really meant let’s go to a place like Stake n’ Shake or a similar place.   Dinner would cost like $20 and we’d have coupons.   And if we didn’t want to go to a “tipping” restaurant, we’d usually go to the food court at the mall where we could each get something different and then we could walk the mall, window shop and just spend time together.  Or the occasional, swing by Burger King for the 2 Whooper meals for $10, and we’d take it to Art Hill in Forest Park and watch the sunset.

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View from the top of Art Hill in Forest Park while enjoying our Burger King picnic.

When you spend all this time changing your mind frame about spending money, debt, saving etc. it becomes a way of life.  I’m not going to go back to my old ways of spending money just because I will be debt free.  Even thinking about going to eat at a nice restaurant to celebrate seems odd.  Not, that there is anything wrong with going to a nice restaurant or buying something expense that you really want, I just learned experiences are better than things, gratification purchases are a thing of my past, and I decided I always want to have the fewer, better things, mind frame.

(But, in case you’re wondering I did pick a place to eat as of last night to celebrate.  You do have to tip and it is better than Stake n’ Shake.)

Before I get to that celebration dinner though I have two more payments to make.  I have officially paid off $30,302.44 (includes all the interest too) in student loans, and I now have $1,499.60 left.  My next payment should cover around $1,200, meaning I’ll have a balance of $200ish left.  That will make my last payment on February 28.  I previously talked about trying to find ways to come up with the extra $200 so I can make my final payment on February 15, but besides selling something I don’t have any more ideas.  It is, what it is.  $200 is way better than the 30,964.24 I started with on January 1, 2016 and way better than $39,263.95  I started with in July 2015.

 Until next time…

Current Progress:  12 loans paid off, debt balance $1,499.60

 Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 26 Days

Payment Day – 2

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We’re only 19 days into 2017 and in these first few weeks of the year, I have officially started wedding planning (jmr and I had our first meeting with our priest and was able to book the church, book our wedding venue and booked a DJ), we celebrated our 3 year anniversary and also welcomed our new baby nephew into the world.  If this is any indication of how the rest of the year will be, well, I am just ecstatic to see it unfold.

I am also excited because I am SO close to being 100% debt free.  This last payment marked the one year anniversary of my first accelerated student loan payment.  I can vividly remember that first large payment I made.  It was on a Saturday.  I sat in my living room by myself and scheduled the $886.67 payment.  My heart was racing – it was such a large amount of money.  I hit the submit button and stared at the screen thinking “that’s it?”  I guess I thought confetti would explode out my laptop.  I had a balance of $30,964.24 at the time and the payment I made paid off my first two loans.  That Saturday was the weekend before MLK Day and the banks were closed that Monday.  The rest of the week I was so anxious because it took 6 days for my payment to post due to the holiday and in general long payments take to process.  Little did I know then what a journey this would be, and how I would have to fight that “anxious” feeling off many, many times.  In one year since that day I have paid off $29,426.44.  My new balance is $2,372.67.

I have come to terms with my final payment being on February 28.  I wanted to try to make it happen on February 15, but after applying all my side hustle money and paycheck, I would still be $200 away from that $0 balance.  I thought about finding things around my house to sell, but that is a job all in itself.  I also don’t have any large items that would make that much money in a sale.  (I did a lot of selling and purging of things last year.)  It would have to consist of little items, and I honestly don’t have the energy right now to obsess over it.  So I will wait the 2 weeks to the end of February, pay off my meager $200 balance, pay off my credit card for the month (Yes, I have a credit card.  I love it and I’ve had it for years.  I have paid off my balance every single month since I’ve had it), close all my bank accounts and hop on over to share one with jmr.  I am truly looking forward to that.  It will make things SOOO much easier since we live together.  No more splitting all the bills and groceries 50/50.  It will all come out of one account.* It will also be beneficial when we start writing checks for our wedding.

I have a little more than a month and three more paychecks to go until I make that final payment.  It feels so surreal and real all at the same time.  I can’t quite explain it.

Until next time…

Current Progress:  12 loans paid off, debt balance $2,372.67

Count Down Until Debt Freedom: 1 Months, 9 Days

*Since we are going to share accounts, I am not entirely sure the direction this blog will go.  I’m still trying to figure it out. Everything on this blog has been about my finances and my money.  It becomes touchy when another person is involved.  While I have no problem spilling all my money secrets on the internet – jmr is very private.  We will have joint finances and those will be his numbers too, not just mine, and I don’t feel comfortable sharing them.