Category: MONEY

Debt Snowball Progress: May 2018

We have now completed two months of the new family roles with our finances. There are still some growing pains with our new roles. As is typical for things around the house I prefer to get things done early and often, and Brian prefers to wait.

He keeps reminding me he is in charge of inputting the receipts and that we shouldn’t worry about moving money around in the first week of the month (from one budget line to another). He is sure money will come in and will negate some of the need to transfer money from category to another.

I disagreed and assured him money wouldn’t just show up.

Well, guess what?

It did.

And not just once, but three times. Seriously, it got to the point that I was disappointed when I saw what appeared to be a check in the mail because it just proved him right yet again. I would call my sister and share how I was so mad at my husband because he was right.

I suppose it’s a sign that he should be in charge of the budget. He makes money appear.

I know you’re wondering where this money came from and how do you get some. Well, there are entirely legitimate reasons for this money, it’s just coincidental it showed up this month when he was in charge.

We got money back from three doctor appointments where we had to pay upfront for service. The cash back was from the portion that was later covered by insurance. We got a small refund on our car insurance, and then I sold the jogging stroller.

Yes, I thought about (but not seriously) pocketing the checks he didn’t see and the cash from the jogging stroller sale. I didn’t want him to be right.

So May was a nice month for getting us back on track towards paying down the student loan. With extra income in the month, we were able to put a little more towards the debt this month.

Our exciting news was that Brian’s union contract was finally agreed upon by the university. It only took two years to come to a resolution. It will mean back pay and a raise, which will help our debt snowball. We did agree at our last budget meeting that he could use the backpay first to finish off the garage. He is working on electrical and insulation so he can work year round in his new woodshop.

I expect that we will begin making considerable progress on the debt snowball in the coming months though Cassidy’s summer bucket list does include some activities that will necessitate us allocating more money to our family entertainment line item for the summer months.

Income report from May:

Total extra income                                   $ 200

Current outstanding student loan debt        $28,000

Debt Snowball Progress: April 2018

We are already one-third of the way through 2018. I cannot believe that and neither can our debt snowball. We still owe over $28,000 towards student loan debt – YIKES.

Although the other day when Brian guessed how much we still owed he said $60,000. That made the $28,000 feel much more exciting. He remembers us being stuck at $60,000 for a long time. Perhaps every $30,000 is just a sticking point and we will get over this hump soon and gain momentum through the finish.

For our April budget, we tried something new, and it was not a small change. Brian and I switched roles when it came to budgeting. Be sure to check out how that turned out and how it’s changing our budgeting going forward

This month we didn’t plan for the extra $250 towards our beloved dog, Cookie’s medical bills. They are finally all completed and barring any new illnesses we just had to update our budget going forward to plan for more expensive dog food.

We also had to pay Cassidy’s school registration for next year and the co-pay for Amelia’s surgery. Those were not cheap expenses, but I am glad we have medical insurance and that our kids don’t go to private school. We only have to pay a one-time school registration, which is much better than monthly tuition.

Needless to say this month we did not pay any extra towards student loans, but we did cash flow all of these expenses. That is one reason it is important to us to live below our means. We can cash flow most expenses in a month without dipping into our emergency fund or we can pay extra for the student loan.

Income report from April

Total extra income $ 0

Current outstanding student loan debt $28,200

 

Be sure to check out previous debt snowball updates

How Giving Up The Budget Helped Our Family

It is not news to anyone who knows me that I LOVE budgets, money and everything to do with organizing finances. Seriously, in another life, I was probably an accountant. I have been the primary budgeter in our family since our first budget together – our wedding budget.

money on computer

I could go on and on about budgeting, ways to save money, and my latest great buy.

My husband, Brian, on the other hand, does not feel the same way. He agrees to live on a budget and he will discuss it briefly if he has to. But for the most part, he wants to live life and know our bills are getting paid.

I’m sure it goes without saying that I’m a bit of a control freak. Hence the tagline “control your controllables.” Pair my need to be in control with my love of everything money, and it was fitting that I would take the primary lead of our budget, bill paying, etc. once we were married. This has been our way of life for the nearly 13 years we have been married, until recently.

It all began on an uneventful March day when Brian informed me we needed a new grill. I’ll save you the details of that heated argument, but the main point is he thought we needed one, and I disagreed and didn’t want to spend our money. He went to work and after the kids were in bed, I got to thinking. I had a great idea, but I knew (given our heated argument) that I needed to present it in the right way.

I would entirely relinquish control of the budget for the following month.

money and phone

We would switch roles – I would put my receipts in the “HOME file” and he would rectify them, along with the credit card statement, checking account, and update Every dollar.

I was not suggesting this as a way to prove a point or see him fail, though I knew that is how it would appear. I honestly thought if we switched roles we would be able to communicate about the budget and our spending better.

Honestly, I shocked myself with this idea.

Remember I LOVE budgeting, and I LOVE control, and I was going to give both up for a month completely. I knew it was the right answer, and I figured if nothing else it would be an interesting experiment that should at least allow us to communicate better. Plus, how much damage can be done in one month?!

Brian agreed immediately, even though I continued to justify why I thought it would be a good idea. He didn’t need any convincing. I said I would answer any questions he may have and offer assistance throughout the month as needed.

Okay, I tried to offer some unsolicited assistance throughout the month, but it was hard to let go. In my defense, the budget had been my baby for 13 years.

The outcome was . . . AMAZING!

He asked very few questions, and we stayed within budget for the entire month. Then at the beginning of May, I said we needed to have a budget meeting. It was time to review our current year spending and plan for the rest of the year and set some goals.

For the first time, Brian was agreeable to this meeting.

I credit five things to this change:

  1. I gave him warning that we needed to schedule a budget meeting. He knew it was coming and it was a proactive rather than a reactive meeting.
  2. I prepared all of the documents that we would need to review to have a productive meeting. This included annual budget reviews from 2016, 2017, 2018 thus far, and an estimated budget for the year to come.
  3. He was more invested and knowledgeable about the budget because he had been in charge of it for the previous month.
  4. I met him where he was at, literally. Brian was relaxing in the hammock in the backyard, and I suggested we hold our budget meeting right there. He agreed, and I quickly ran to get the materials before he changed his mind. I pulled up a lawn chair, and we hashed out our finances right there comfortably in the backyard.
  5. It was Mother’s Day. Can he say no to his wife’s simple request on Mother’s Day?!

hammock

After April came and went Brian approached me with an idea for how we could divide and conquer budgeting and financial management moving forward. I was shocked that he wanted to keep doing some of it, and I was surprised that I was okay giving up the control indefinitely.

Now we both have a role in the family finances, which allows us to keep each other accountable and understand the process better. He still has to remind me to let him do his part and not interfere or micromanage.

Brian was able to bring a fresh perspective to the budget and suggest positive changes about how to streamline some of the processes I was doing.

He asked some of the tough questions, “Why are we doing it that way? Do we need to do that twice? Why are we spending so much on XYZ?”

Sometimes you get stuck in a rut of doing something one way because that is the way you’ve always done it. I did get a bit defensive. I’m trying to get better at accepting his insight and appreciate the fresh perspective. He has challenged me and the process to ensure we were efficient and effective.

The best part about this is it will be easier to convince Brian to have a monthly budget meeting. He doesn’t love having them, and in the past he rarely had questions. He just wanted to make sure there was money for what we wanted to do. Now that he’s the primary on the budget we have to meet so he can explain things to me. I have lots of questions, and he would much rather meet once a month than have me ask questions every single day.

After this last budget meeting, I was energized. It felt great to have a conversation about financial goals, plan our spending and even be challenged in our past expenditures.

Similar to parenting we may do things differently, but both ways get the job done.

Our budget just like our children is better because of the different styles we bring to the situation.

11 Easy Ways to Save Money on a Disney Trip

Whether you are planning your first trip to Walt Disney World or you’ve been going for years, there are some easy ways to save money on a Disney trip. Of course, there are ways to save money on hotels and airfare, but I’m going to focus on how to save money at Disney.

main street in Disney World

With a little planning ahead you can save hundreds of dollars while on your trip. Use that cash savings to stay an extra day, buy the giant Mickey Mouse your kid has been eyeing, or put it away for the next vacation.

Save money on a Disney trip with these 11 Disney money saving hacks

1. Buy discounted Disney gift cards before you go

There are many ways you can get Disney gift cards at a discount. The simplest one is to purchase them at Target by using your Target Redcard. This entitles you to 5% savings. So you will get every $50 card for $47.50.  Other options are to purchase them on Raise.com, Giftcardgranny, or cardkangaroo. If they are out of stock on these websites, they will let you set up an alert that will notify you when they are back in stock. I have purchased gift cards from all of the above locations and had zero trouble.

If you are staying at a Disney resort, your magic band will be used to charge all of your purchases. Then you go to the front desk of your resort and pay off your balance. You can also give the resort your gift cards at the start of your trip, and the amount will be reflected on your account.

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Debt Snowball Progress: March 2018

We’ve hit a plateau with the debt snowball. We don’t seem to be gaining any momentum at the present time and it is downright frustrating.

I know, I need to live by my new mantra, “progress not perfection” even when it comes to our finances, but it’s hard. I HATE this dumb student loan. Seriously, it never seems to go away and every month we pay approximately $120 for the privilege of having it.

That’s over $1,400 every year out of our pockets to the Department of Education just for interest.

While March did prove to be a little warmer and sunnier than February, it didn’t bring as much hope and optimism in our finances as we had wanted.  We again only paid the minimum on the student loan. However, we also used the majority of one of Brian’s paychecks towards our goal of budgeting a month in advance. In order to do this successfully, we had to be able to use our March paychecks for our April budget.  This will make budgeting easier as well as ensure we have enough cash in our accounts to pay our bills before they are due.

March did bring with it an unexpected expense as well.

Our beloved dog, Cookie, had to visit the vet. Luckily, what I feared may be diabetes was actually just a bladder infection. The entire ordeal still cost us over $300, which we weren’t planning for at the beginning of the month. Plus we now have to purchase prescription dog food indefinitely. I guess we’ll have to allocate more money to the dog’s budget line item moving forward.

cookie relaxing in the sun.

I didn’t realize a dog could get a bladder infection and I certainly didn’t know how to collect a dog urine sample until now. I’m sure it was a funny sight to see me chasing our dog around with a soup ladle as she tried to find the perfect spot to pee on a crisp March morning.

This month we did plan for extra money in our family entertainment so that we could take a one day trip to Chicago over Cassidy’s spring break. She’s been longing to go back to the American Girl Doll store. Since Amelia has never been there, we are all going for a day trip together. Otherwise, spring break will be hanging out at home and hopefully enjoying some outdoor play if the weather is nice enough.

the girls at the American Girl Doll store with their dolls

Next month, an additional challenge to our budget will be Amelia’s surgery. With that will comes a large co-pay (thank goodness for insurance) and prescriptions, follow-up appointments, etc. It was almost one year ago that she got her adenoids out and tubes put in. Unfortunately, she has to go back in to get tubes put back in and her tonsils out this year. We are hopeful that this will solve all of those issues and she can avoid surgery again any time soon.

Income report from March:

Total extra income                                   $ 0

 

Current outstanding student loan debt        $28,200

 

Be sure to check out pervious month debt snowball updates.

Debt Snowball Progress- February 2018

I am so glad February is the shortest month of the year, and not because of our finances — though I won’t complain about the positives of that. It’s because I’m sick and tired of the weather. By February in the Midwest, most people are done with the winter. We’ve hit our max of cold days. We no longer want to be couped up inside with dry skin and germs. It seems everywhere we turn people are coughing, sniffling and complaining about being sick.

March, while still cold and dreary, is a month of hope. We’re almost out of the dreaded winter. Even if we get a big snowstorm, it’s not likely to stick around too long.

So good-bye February and hello March.

February is also a good month for most people’s budgets.

With February being the shortest month there are 2-3 fewer days to spend your hard-earned money. This should mean savings in food expenses, gas, electric, water, etc. For some of those utilities you don’t see the savings until March, but still, something to be thankful for.

However, it is not a good month for everyone’s budgets. Year after year Brian shares stories about his co-workers who get in a bit of a bind because they don’t plan. His job is hourly, and they are paid twice a month on the 15th and the last day of the month. His co-workers are not dumb people, but it seems that every single February they forget that their paychecks will reflect the shorter month. With 2-3 fewer days an hourly person is going to make less money.

So the hourly employee who is paid twice a month needs to either set aside money in the good months (those with 31 days) for the shorter months (February).

Otherwise they need to be willing to cut their expenses in February.  If you are struggling with your budget this February, think about ways to not let that happen next February, because I have a secret for you. February is always going to be the shortest month, even in Leap Year, it’s still the shortest month.

The way that we budget Brian’s end of February check will not impact our budget until March. We are fully prepared for the smaller paycheck and plan accordingly.

We also received our tax refund this month, and we used that money to essentially increase our emergency savings. I want us to move to a system of budgeting where we use the previous month’s income to dictate the next month’s allocations. For instance, starting in March, our March budget will be created using all of the income from February. The only way to make this happen was to temporarily beef up our emergency fund.

This way of budgeting will allow us to better allocate our money at the beginning of the month.

This can be a difficult change to make because you must have an extra months worth of income to be able to do it. Between our income tax refund and one month of not paying extra on the student loan, we were able to make this switch.

Due to this switch, this month was slow and steady in the area of our budget snowball. We just paid the minimum due but will be back on track for extra payments next month.

 

Income report from February

Cashback from credit card                 $200.55

Cash back from Ebates                      $ 69.41

Total extra income                               $ 269.96

 

 

Current outstanding student loan debt        $28,400

 

Be sure to check out our complete debt snowball progress month by month.

Simple Ways to Make Extra Money

Need a little extra money?

I know there are a million ways to make extra money, but these are a few of the ones we have done to get our debt snowball moving.  I’m usually on the lookout for more, but I have also discovered that time is money, and I have to consider the return on investment. Meaning: is the amount of time I invest worth the money I earn?

It would be easy for me to say that I should do everything that I come across that earns or saves money because we still have debt to pay. I’ll be honest, it is very difficult for me to say no to some money-making and money-saving ventures, but it is necessary. I am, just like all of you, given 24 hours in a day, and I cannot run myself ragged just to save a dollar. Our debt snowball is a marathon, not a sprint, and I need to treat it as such. My time is worth something, and therefore I carefully consider the money making and money saving ventures I partake in.

Below is a list of the things that I have done and am still doing to make extra money. Getting a smartphone changed my ability to deal shop. I think my deal shopping now will pay the additional price per month for my phone. I can’t believe I had a flip phone until December 2015, seriously even the Baby Boomers are more tech savvy than me.

Coupons:

This one ebbs and flows. It depends on how much time I have. We do a lot of grocery shopping at Aldi, which doesn’t take coupons, but prices are so good there you don’t even need them. For more information about how to organize your coupons check out Coupon Clipping for Ordinary Moms.  I do not spend much time organizing or cutting coupons at all, and I do NOT (usually) buy things we don’t need.

Ibotta:

This is super easy to use. Some items you have to scan the item and the receipt and for some items you just scan the receipt. Then once you earn $20 you need to send the money to your PayPal account. The more friends you have on your team, the better, plus you can earn referral bonuses. You refer a friend to save money, and you get money too. Win-Win.

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One Easy Way to Save Money on Diapers and Pull-ups

One of the single largest expenses you will have after welcoming a new baby into your home is diapers. You will find yourself wondering how in the world one little person can go through so many diapers in a single day.

You’ll be amazed at how easy it is to save money on diapers.

There were times that I looked at my daughters and told them (not that they understood a word I was saying) that I was going to take the 25 cents per diaper from their college fund. It was most frustrating when you had just changed them and they dirtied a new diaper before you even finished putting it on.

You will start by buying newborn (or preemie if your baby is born early or just small like Amelia) then onto size 1 and 2 and 3 or even larger. As they get bigger the price per diaper or pull-up increases.

You’ll play the game of how much longer do I have to buy diapers. Okay, I’m going to stock up one last time and then I’m sure they will be fully potty-trained and I won’t need anymore, right?!?

Wrong.

As my girls got older I tried to rationalize with them.

They needed to be potty trained so that we could stop buying diapers and save money for our next vacation. It never worked.

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Debt Snowball Progress- January 2018

This month I learned something that just might be a game changer for realizing our financial goals. We need to treat them like one big game. That helps to bring out our competitive side.

If it’s a game, we will find every which way, without cheating, to win.

We Gerkens, don’t like to lose!

Remember we’re a gamer family, so friendly competition is our thing.

Mid-January I entered receipts from our Sunday basket and was surprised to see the amount of money we had left in our food category (eating out and groceries). It’s no secret that I have a serious love/hate relationship with menu planning. I hate to do it, but I love how much money, time, and headache it saves us at dinner time.

I knew we could come in under or at budget for the food category if we seriously buckled down.

This meant sitting down to figure out what we were going to eat for dinner for the remaining 12 days in January. After deciding on a menu plan, I made my grocery list and figured out what stores would have the best prices.

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Teach kids to save money, even if you’re still learning

Kids learn more from what we do than what we say. This is no different when it comes to money management. Modeling good money saving in your own life is the easiest way to teach kids to save money.

It seems that in our world of instant gratification, no one has to wait for anything. Patience is something that adults and children alike don’t get much practice with. You don’t have to wait for commercials on television. You can buy something and have it delivered in a day thanks to Amazon Prime. We are shocked when someone doesn’t respond immediately to our communication since email showed up on phones and text messaging became a thing.

Why in this world of instant gratification would we be shocked that kids are having a hard time learning to save money?

I want my kids to understand money management and I want them to know how to save money.

teach kids to save

There are definitely money decisions I wish I had made differently years ago, but there are far more things that I am thankful I did know about and did wisely.

Even if you are struggling with money management yourself, you can still help your kids learn to save money and overall money management skills.

In fact, watching you learn how to save and pay down debt can be a great lesson for your kids. Our debt snowball started after we had kids and our oldest, Cassidy understands our goal on a basic level. She knows that sometimes we say no to things because we are working on paying down debt. She also knows that nearly 10 years after her dad finished law school we are paying off the money it cost for him to go.

This is and will forever be a lesson in how student loans and student loan interest can impact your life for years to come. His student loan is older than she is!

cassidy counts her money

How to teach kids to save money:

Be open and honest.

Share some of your financial goals – age appropriate. I do not advocate for sharing all of your financial information with your children. This is an important part of explaining money to a child. It is okay to tell your kids they can’t have something at the store, because you don’t have extra money for it. However, you don’t want to share so much that your kids are worried that you don’t have enough money to live. In our family we talk openly about our debt snowball and how we are paying off a student loan. If you can’t afford a family vacation now, but it is a financial goal- share that information.

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