“Magical Tidying” – Part One

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Recently, I read The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo. It was recommended by our real estate agent when we told her we are downsizing everything. She said she doesn’t agree with the spiritual aspects of the book, but that it is certainly a “kind” approach to going through ones things.

I tried to find the book at the library – no dice. So, I spent $10 on a little book I read in one afternoon and then set about to follow her method on Monday, February 5th. We decided we would donate anything that wasn’t trash during this “magical tidying” period for several reasons:

  • Giving is an area we have felt “behind” in since the debt became so oppressive.
  • The thought of “gifting” the things we need to release feels much more “joyous” than profiting monetarily.
  • Donating saves time, which we are short on at the moment.
  • Donating gets the items out of the house sooner rather than later.
  • Donating allows us to focus our energy on the “magical tidying” process instead of splitting it between tidying and listing/selling/shipping. This means we are releasing so much more stuff because we’re focused on only keeping what we need/use/love.

We do plan to have a moving sale once the house is under contract to offload the items we’re only keeping for staging purposes.

While the process is “kind” per say, it isn’t easy. The concept is to gather every item in the home in a single category and sift through it all at once. For instance, the first category is “Clothing”. You pile all of this in the floor and go through it one type at a time (tops, pants, socks…etc). The idea is to ask yourself “Does this item spark joy?” And then you make a decision based on your answer.

Currently, I’m only sorting my things or things that might be shared but that I feel able to make the decision without input from the rest of the family. I’ve made it through the following categories so far:

  1. Clothing (the whole family has sorted this category so far)
  2. Books
  3. “Papers” – documents we’ve been saving forever
  4. Miscellaneous (basically everything else except Keepsake)
    1. Office/School Supplies
    2. Stickers, Craft paper, Scrapbook paper
    3. Art/Sewing Supplies

The fifth and final category will be “Keepsake”, but I have a long way to go yet to complete the “Miscellaneous” category. I lost count of the number of trash bags we’ve disposed of so far. I know it’s more than 20 though. I also have over 20 bags/boxes of items set aside to donate as well. Yes, we have way too much stuff.

When you pile all the like items together, you are better able to tell how many you have of one thing. Does anyone need 22 extra pairs of scissors? Um, no. The count was at 20 extra but I found two more as I was going through other categories. My pen collection has dramatically decreased as well. I was shocked to discover how many pens I actually had in the house while never able to find one when I needed it before.

I have made some alterations to her method. The major one: I do not thank my things, but rather I thank God for blessing me with these things. I have also had to ask His forgiveness for not being a very good steward over the years. As the number of items I have barely (or never) used continues to grow, it becomes painfully obvious that I need a lesson from Him on stewardship. I am also asking Him to give me wisdom in future purchases and contentment with less. I do agree with showing gratitude for one’s things by taking care of them and giving each item a place to “rest” when not in use. That’s good stewardship of what God has given me to manage.

I’m sure I’ll post more on this subject over the coming weeks (hence labeling it “part one”). Overall, it has felt very freeing to release/gift things instead of clinging to them for a change.

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EveryDollar Plus – Update

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I could probably just say, “We decided to pay for the plus version of EveryDollar” and that would serve as an endorsement for the product. However, that would make this post the sum of one sentence and hardly long enough to satisfy my view of a proper “update”.

To say budgeting with EveryDollar has been easy these past couple of weeks would be an understatement. Our February budget is going along quite nicely as the “drag and drop” feature speeds up the process significantly over manually entering each transaction.

I have already built the March budget, although I am still struggling with how to handle three paydays falling in a single calendar month. The third falls at the very end of the month and would actually be used to pay bills in April. So, I’m grappling with whether I should list it in March or April. I’m leaning toward April. This is where my old “bi-weekly” method of budgeting conflicts somewhat with monthly budgeting. I’ll make it work though.

We haven’t added the app to our phones yet, but we will. We’ve had a bit going on and budgeting apps haven’t been top priority.

So far, I really like EveryDollar Plus. The amount of time and energy it saves me is well worth budgeting $3.81 per paycheck to cover the annual fee.

Added bonus? The husband hasn’t heard me gripe about my old spreadsheets for two weeks.

Making the Switch to EveryDollar

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Old Habits Die Hard

You simply cannot listen to or watch the Dave Ramsey show without encountering an ad for EveryDollar. Several years ago when it first came out, I was so excited to switch from the budget spreadsheets I created a long time ago based off of a zero-budgeting worksheet I found in one of Dave’s books (Total Money Makeover) to an online version of the zero-budget… but the functionality just wasn’t there for me. My little spreadsheet did more than the early versions of their program, so it actually cost me time to switch.

I don’t remember the name of the first version put out by Ramsey Solutions, but it’s come a long way since then, so I tried the free version again in September of 2016 when we joined the FPU class. Still, I just could not seem to make the switch from my spreadsheets to EveryDollar. I know this was largely due to the fact that I have been budgeting bi-weekly for about 15 years and EveryDollar is set up for monthly budgeting.

Periodically, I would gripe about how much I hated that my spreadsheets took so much time (especially when I accidentally broke something that took me hours to fix). At least once a year I would get so fed up and go on another hunt for a better budgeting tool only to return to my old method when I became frustrated.

Choosing to Jump Ship

So, it came as a shock to me last month when I decided to look into EveryDollar again. I thought, “Am I just a glutton for punishment? I just tried this thing (for the second time) a little over a year ago and didn’t even make it a week.”

This time though, I changed my mindset. I decided to focus on the goal of saving time, reliability, and streamlining my budget process as a whole. Instead of expecting EveryDollar to fit my customized view perfectly, I went in looking for ways it could improve how I do things, even if that meant I needed to change how I do things to take advantage of the benefits (less time, fewer glitches).

At first, I just watched a “how to” video on using the service. I’m definitely a visual learner because this made it seem so easy I actually got excited about budgeting again. Then, I scanned through some help questions to see what other information I could glean and before I knew it I was playing around with the application. Lastly, I looked for ways to manipulate it’s features to accommodate things that are important to me… like rolling over amounts from one month to the next.

Within a couple of hours I had what appeared to be a working budget for the upcoming month (February). My only goal was to get it set up early so I could have a trial run once the first check of the month arrived. The husband and I talked about subscribing to the Plus version and decided we would try it for the first 15 days (free trial). I’ll admit, I was very interested in being able to “drag and drop” transactions into my categories, I just wasn’t sure I wanted to pay for that feature.

In making the decision to give this an honest try, I knew I would have to completely jump ship and abandon my old spreadsheets if I had any hope of this working for me. I chose to take a leap.

All Systems Go!

On February 1st, I signed up for the free trial of EveryDollar Plus. I was so excited until I realized I only had one transaction to “drag and drop” into my brand spankin’ new February budget… We made four whole cents on our baby emergency fund – woohoo. Still, as advertised, it was easy to use.

The husband came up from his office an hour later eager to see it in action, but alas, there was nothing more to “watch” because it was done. He suggested he could run to the store really quickly and purchase something, to which I chuckled but thought, “Good heavens, we’re so excited about a shiny new toy we’ll consider spending money just to make it do something.” He did not go to the store.

It was difficult to keep myself from also updating my spreadsheet, but I refrained nonetheless. I did have to use the spreadsheet to complete my January budget and transfer updated amounts into the February EveryDollar Budget, but then I closed it without touching my February sheets.

The First Week

For the initial few days it really bothered me that the transactions were’t “real time” like my bank. It seems to take a few days for them to show up, and I’m not used to that. One week in, I’m still adjusting.

I do really like how easy it is to drag and drop transactions into the different categories. I also like the “split transaction” feature as this was something that wasn’t as automated in my spreadsheets. Something else I’ve noticed is how quickly I’m done. Before, it would take me about an hour to update my spreadsheet with the transactions (plus, I would end up playing with the numbers and moving stuff around). Now, it takes minutes. Drag, drop, done.

So, that’s where we are right now with making the switch to EveryDollar. I’ll update again at the end of the 15 day trial for the plus version.

*Update

My 2018 Reading List

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I usually have a book going, but it’s been a while since I consistently kept a reading list. I tried to recall what I read in 2017 and came up with 18 titles I completed (there may have been more).

So, this year I decided to make a list in advance of the titles I’m planning to read and update it as I go.

Completed:

Remaining:

I plan to add to this list as the year progresses – for now, this is a fine place to start.

Baby Steppin’: January 2018

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Fall of 2016, we went through a Financial Peace University Class… and then life hit hard from April 2017-September 2017. So, we’re picking up the pieces and resuming the journey by working through Dave Ramsey’s list of Baby Steps. We’re waiting to find out how changes in insurance premiums will affect us. Yep, the insurance company we filed the house claim with is changing our policy – lovely. Plus, all of our health insurance rates went up.

We also set some big goals for 2018 and you’ll find that progress listed as well.

Baby Step #1 

We replenished this as quickly as we could and our “baby” emergency fund is currently: $1,002.86

Baby Step #2

Starting Debt Amount: $53,285.44
(original projected payoff – December 2019)

As Of:
September 2016: $52,035.26 (-$1,250.18)
October 2016:  $50,243.99 (-$1,791.27)
November 2016:  $47,627.15 (-$2,616.84)
December 2016:  $45,352.38 (-$2,274.77)
January 2017:  $43,814.66 (-$1,536.52)
February 2017:  $36,084.65 (-$7,730.01)
March 2017: $34,056.58 (-$2,028.07) – projected payoff at this point was – Feb 2019
During the chaos the debt increased:  $62,211.73 (+$28,155.15)
December 2017: $47,172.13 (-$15,039.60) – projected payoff was – Mar 2020
January 2018: $45,587.13 (-$1,639.05)*

*Current projected payoff (without selling the house) – Feb 2020

Speed Bumps Encountered

  • Broken Glasses – Fluke thing. Our youngest is really careful and this was totally not her fault. – $50

Things We’re Thankful For

  • Annual Bonus – We received a bonus in January but we’re hanging on to the money till we see what happens with our taxes and how much we need out of pocket for home repairs to list the house.
  • Hard working kids – Our kids work very hard and we are so proud of them.
  • Merit Raise – Was more than we were expecting.

FINANCIAL GOALS FOR 2018

  • Increase giving by another 2% 3%
    • Time: By March
    • Will use part of our annual merit raise to accomplish this. 
  • Build our initial 2018 budget spreadsheets through August. – done!
    • July – Complete through December.
  • Have monthly budget meetings with husband. – 1/12 done
    • Will set an appointment for these each month.
  • Reduce the debt using the debt snowball and current payments (ave. reduction of $1,200/mo) – on target
    • Time: till house sells (see below)
    • Will accomplish this with bi-weekly zero-budgeting.
  • Downsize
    • Time: By August
    • List house on the market by June.
      • Purge stuff from every corner of the house – First floor 50% complete
      • Sell and donate as much of our stuff as we can – have already begun.
      • Cash flow repairs and home preparations – waiting for bonus & tax info to set budget for these.
    • Find a smaller place and pay cash to replace furniture.
  • Pay off remaining debt, fully fund emergency fund, and invest 15% in retirement accounts
    • Time: @ closing – hoping to reach baby step #4 no later than August
    • Getting t0 baby step #4 is more important to us than whether we rent or buy for our next dwelling. 
  • Cash flow college expenses for two kids.
  • Rework budget and set new goals once we move – update this list as we go!

Well, that was January… on to the next billing cycle.

 

Shred it and Forget it

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Over the Christmas break, one of our college age kids received a credit card offer in the mail. They went through Dave Ramsey’s Foundations in Personal Finance twice in High School (the second time we had them teach it to a younger sibling), so they had already heard they might receive these invitations to join a life of captivity.

We handed the envelope to him and said, “This came in the mail for you today.” He looked at it, opened it, and grinned.

We said, “You know what to do with that, right?”

He gave us his characteristic mischievous grin as he pretended to read the contents. “This is very interesting.”

“Um, son, don’t give your mother a heartattack?”

“I know exactly what to do with this.” With a sly grin, he tapped the document then turned and sent it through the shredder.

Goals for 2018: Counting the Cost

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As I’ve mentioned, I subscribe to Dave’s YouTube channel, and just as he did last year, this year he talked about goal setting. I printed out the Goal Tracker worksheet again and began writing in my goals for 2018. Last year, we didn’t reach all of our financial goals, but we did reach some of them:

  • Build our initial 2017 budget spreadsheets. – goal met Dec 2016!
  • Pay off at least one of our five remaining debt balances.Paid off two of them before the flood hit and then added one back
  • Increase our giving category by at least 1%. – increased by 2%

Even though this isn’t the progress I was hoping for, it is still progress despite the 2017 we had. We’re moving on and praying 2018 is better.

Dave says, “You’re gonna go where you look”, and he’s absolutely right. I wasn’t a competitive water skier like Dave, but when I was young, my dad set about to teach me to ride a bike. I hit every mailbox on our street because I kept fixating on them (afraid I would hit them). Finally, my dad said, “Stop looking where you don’t want to go and start looking where you do want to go!” I did end up learning to ride a bike, but I had a lot of bruises and scrapes till I listened and changed my focus.

Well, we’ve changed our focus. With bruises and scrapes in tow, the flood was a wake-up call and we need to get radical about some things. With the added debt incurred last year, our initial goals were pushed back even further. Then, when we moved back into the house, it made us sick how much extra space and extra stuff we have. Something about living in a tiny hotel for months on end will do that to you.

Still, we wanted to keep the house because it seemed “easier” to put off our goals a little longer. Then, we decided to run some numbers and realized putting off retirement investing for even another year could potentially cost us hundreds of thousands of dollars… and two years, well, the number was ridiculous! We weighed three options – two of which would allow us to keep the house, but would mean we would spend the last couple years of our teenagers’ high school careers working two jobs in a big house with all our stuff sold off… and would still cost us hundreds of thousands in retirement savings potential. The third option is to sell the house and take advantage of the equity to catapult us ahead in the baby steps. Of course, all three would come with their own set of sacrifices and we needed to weigh what was most important to us from every angle.

Dave says you should have a big why. Seeing the numbers and writing up the pro/con lists really changed our perspective. We want a different legacy than the one we’ve been careening toward. Hanging onto the house does not take us where we want to go. In fact, it potentially keeps us stuck in old patterns. It isn’t worth the mental, relational, emotional, physical, or monetary costs to keep it. So, we’ve written a new plan:

Write the vision; and make it plain… [Habakkuk 2:2]

FINANCIAL GOALS FOR 2018

  • Increase giving by another 2%
    • Time: By March
    • Will use part of our annual merit raise to accomplish this. 
  • Build our initial 2018 budget spreadsheets through August. – done!
    • July – Complete through December.
  • Have monthly budget meetings with husband.
    • Will set an appointment for these each month.
  • Reduce the debt using the debt snowball and current payments (ave. reduction of $1,200/mo)
    • Time: till house sells (see below)
    • Will accomplish this with bi-weekly zero-budgeting.
  • Downsize
    • Time: By August
    • List house on the market by June.
      • Purge stuff from every corner of the house – have already begun.
      • Sell and donate as much of our stuff as we can – have already begun.
      • Cash flow repairs and home preparations – waiting for bonus & tax info to set budget for these.
    • Find a smaller place and pay cash to replace furniture.
  • Pay off remaining debt, fully fund emergency fund, and invest 15% in retirement accounts
    • Time: @ closing – hoping to reach baby step #4 no later than August
    • Getting through baby step #4 is more important to us than whether we rent or buy for our next dwelling. 
  • Cash flow college expenses for two kids.
  • Rework budget and set new goals once we move – update this list as we go!

I plan to continue posting our monthly progress updates, so stay tuned!

 

 

Baby Steppin’: December 2017

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Fall of 2016, we went through a Financial Peace University Class… and then life hit hard from April 2017-September 2017. So, we’re picking up the pieces and resuming the journey by working through Dave Ramsey’s list of Baby Steps. I cannot believe a new year is upon us – kind of feels like we skipped most of this one.

Baby Step #1 

We replenished this as quickly as we could and our “baby” emergency fund is currently: $1,002.86

Baby Step #2

Starting Debt Amount: $53,285.44
(original projected payoff – December 2019)

As Of:
September 2016: $52,035.26 (-$1,250.18)
October 2016:  $50,243.99 (-$1,791.27)
November 2016:  $47,627.15 (-$2,616.84)
December 2016:  $45,352.38 (-$2,274.77)
January 2017:  $43,814.66 (-$1,536.52)
February 2017:  $36,084.65 (-$7,730.01)
March 2017: $34,056.58 (-$2,028.07) – projected payoff at this point was – Feb 2019
During the chaos the debt increased:  $62,211.73* (+$28,155.15)
December 2017: $47,172.13 (-$15,039.60)

Speed Bumps (rather, cliff diving into a canyon) Encountered

  • Flooding, Dishonest companies, Complementary overcharges, Car trouble, Medical bills, Graduation, and Stupidity, Oh My! – Not going to rehash this yet again… very stressful seven months that I hope to never relive.

Things We’re Thankful For

  • God’s mercy is new every morning – Thank you, Jesus!
  • Surprise Bonuses – We received two surprise bonuses during this period of mayhem. This is not normal for the company and totally a God thing.
  • HSA Account – It took almost every dime we had in HSA, but it covered the medical stuff. Now we’re trying to rebuild the account.

Well, that was that… on to the next billing cycle.

*Does not include everything – some stuff we were able to “cash flow” or “trade labor” as it came up.

Working the Plan Doesn’t Make You Bullet Proof

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Obviously I’ve been away for a bit. Two days after my last post, all three floors of our home flooded due to a pipe fail in the middle of the night. The water ran for about two hours before it woke one of the kids.

We would spend four months in a hotel dealing with insurance adjusters, contractors, and a long string of other unfortunate events, all of which cost money (of course).

At first, we clung to our newly acquired Financial Peace skills. We were determined to keep going, even though the thousand dollar emergency fund wasn’t even close to enough to cover the deductible, much less the other emergencies which occurred during that time (seriously felt like we were being used for target practice).

About a month in, exhausted from arguing and pushing back against the onslaught, things began to unravel. It seemed everyone wanted money. Did you know people swarm (and charge more) when they hear “insurance claim”?

We felt like a dying animal, sideswiped on the side of the road… the vultures circled and picked us apart… finally, we gave up because we didn’t have any fight left. We just let go. Our motto became, “It costs what it costs, and there’s nothing we can do about it.” Out came the credit cards and with them, our old spending and eating habits (hello, take-out).

We gained debt and extra pounds.

We’re finally back in the house… and we hate it. We upgraded some things in the process of the rebuild that we thought we just had to do while everything was ripped apart. It felt ridiculous at the time not to, but now we are saddled with even more debt and a house we can’t stand the sight of.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s gorgeous. It’s just that, the things we thought would “make us happy”,or were a “must”, have actually ended up contributing to our misery. We feel more suffocated than ever, which is ironic after living in a hotel for four months and now being back in a house with more room than we know what to do with…. especially now that we have another kid away at school.

Thankfully, God has helped me immensely with my anger. I’m beginning to see some purpose and I’m finally able to say I’m at least thankful we had insurance (they paid well over $100K total in this whole mess – ouch). I’m also very aware that if we’d had a fully funded emergency fund this probably would have gone way different – even more incentive to reach that baby step as quickly as possible.

I’m sure I’ll be unpacking more lessons in the months to come, but the husband and I have realized it’s time to face the financial music.

Eeek!

We know it’s bad, we just aren’t sure how bad (which is what happens when you go into denial). With what I do know, I don’t see any way we’ll meet the goals I had set for this year, but hopefully we can at least stop the bleeding.

So what’s our next step? Give ourselves a financial check-up, do our zero budget, and replenish the baby emergency fund.

A Bag of Change

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There’s just something a little embarrassing about counting out pennies and dimes at the register – at least, that’s how I felt till a trip to the hardware store the other day.

I always hated using cash because, like writing a check, it felt like it held up the line to count it all out. It feels like people are thinking, “What era are you from? Where’s your card?” I didn’t want to be lumped in with those crazy couponers (used to be one of those too) who would take an hour to check out on triple coupon day.

Well, the other day we needed to wash the cars (don’t want to leave salt on them), but the only hose we had that reached the driveway busted over the summer after many years of service. So, we counted the cost of taking the cars to the car wash or buying a new hose. We decided to buy the hose, but where would we get the money?

Enter the giant bag of change. That’s right, we stood at the self-checkout and deposited about $20 worth of change (several dollars of that in just pennies) into the register one coin at a time. Thankfully, they weren’t busy, but it was so humbling to be standing there with the husband as we took turns dropping in the change.

No one made fun of us, but we got some pretty huge grins on the way out. After that experience, I don’t remotely have a problem digging change out of my purse when I go to the store. I’ll say, “Hang on, I’ve got the 38 cents.”

Kind of brings new meaning to the title of this blog.