We’re Debt Free!

Y’all, we did it.

We did it!

WE.DID.IT.

We paid off our entire $82,000 in student loan debt in 3 years + 2 months.

And we even did it 38 days before our goal {which was December 31st of 2016}.

There’s so much I want to share with you, so to keep myself organized, I am going to break this down into categories.

BUT, if you haven’t read our original story on our debt-free journey, please read this first. 

  1. HOW I FEEL. 

I made the final payment on Tuesday, it went through on Wednesday, I surprised my husband and told him on Thanksgiving {Thursday}, and today, Friday, it’s just now starting to sink in.

We’ve been working our butts off for the past 38 months.  At the beginning of this journey, there was no light at the end of the tunnel—nada—not a glimmer.  In fact, it was more like a black hole.  So, when the end actually started getting closer, it honestly didn’t seem like it was true.  I compare the thought of it to the dream of someday having the perfect body . . . you hope it will come true, but you know deep down it ain’t ever gonna happen. Now that this dream of ours is true, it’s hard to process.

When I made that last payment, at first I felt nothing.  It was like any other payment I’ve made toward our loans. Then I posted this picture to Facebook on Thanksgiving Day.  I had such an awesome response from my friends that when I was reading through everyone’s comments, I was overwhelmed with emotion and just started crying {happy tears,of course}.

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Right after I told my husband the news on Thanksgiving Day.

Today, I have just felt giddy.  All day.  I am sure that soon I will finally feel relief.


2. HOW WE DID IT.

I’ve gotten this question a lot since I’ve been public about our journey.  38 months ago we started Dave Ramsey‘s Financial Peace University.  This taught us how to reallocate our money and get on a budget.  I recommend that EVERYONE take this 9-week course.

Before, I thought I was doing the right thing by having our money going in every direction – college funds, savings accounts, retirement funds, and student loan debt {minimum payments, of course}.  Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps taught me that my good intentions weren’t working.

Here’s a bulleted list of all the changes we’ve made since September of 2013 to “find” extra money:  

  • We immediately stopped putting money into the kids’ college funds, the savings accounts, and retirement and started dumping that money into the debt.  That was super scary for me at first because I’m a saver.  This alone freed up about $400/month. 
  • We canceled our DirecTV which was costing us $125/month!  We invested in a digital antenna and an Apple TV instead.  We now watch local stations for free and pay a total of $17/month for Netflix and Hulu.  This freed up a little over $100/month.
  • We started paying cash for groceries.  Not only that, but I only budgeted $300/month for groceries and any other food.  This meant pretty much NO dining out.  I’m not sure exactly how much this saved us because I used to buy our groceries with our credit card and didn’t keep track, but I estimated this saved us at least $200/month.  
  • We changed our car and home insurance, which freed up about $50/month.
  • I was putting about $100/month toward my students loans, which had about a $6,000 balance.  We paid that off as quickly as possible by pulling money out of our savings.  That obviously freed up $100/month to put toward Randy’s student loans that had a $76,000 balance.

The minimum payment for Randy’s student loans were around $400/month.  By making these changes, we were able to put an extra $850 toward our debt each month {equaling $1,250} just from our teaching salaries.

Other changes:

  • I took a vow to pretty much not go shopping until we were out of debt.  I did get a few things here and there, but very little.  No new decorations for the house, no new clothes or new shoes, no new home appliances.  No fun.
  • I’ve always been cheap frugal, but I took that to a whole new level.  I figured out how to take advantage of Kroger fuel points, and I started making my own laundry detergent and other cleaning products.  I started getting rebates through the Ibotta app.  If you sign up using my code {fjovarx}, you’ll get $10 and I’ll get $5.  Yes!
  • We rarely ate out or did much for entertainment.  We watched movies on Netflix instead of going to the theatre.  We made sure to pack lunches every day.  We played games at home instead of going bowling or Chuck E Cheese.  I did workout videos from YouTube for free instead of going to a gym.

Extra Work. 

We could have just paid the $1,250/month toward our debt that we were able to “find” by simply reallocating our money.  In fact, that’s what we did for the first several months we started our debt snowball.  But this would have taken us about six years to complete, and I started developing a hate toward our debt that was so repulsive.  Like, if our debt was a person, I have no doubt I’d punch it so hard in the face I’d knock out half a dozen teeth.  I had to get it done quicker.  The only way to do that was to increase our income.

Here’s how we increased our income:

  • In January of 2014, I started my own cake pop business called Bondbons.  This has been a fun way for me to work from home and make an extra income.
  • My husband started a painting business in the summer of 2014.
  • I get “extra duty pay” through my school for doing things like subbing on my plan period, taking tickets for soccer games, supervising detentions on Saturday mornings, working on a curriculum committee, being a home bound teacher for students in the district, etc.
  • I supervise the ACT test about 4 times a year.
  • My husband used to be a mechanic, so he will often work on people’s cars from our home.  He will also find run down cars for cheap {or sometimes even FREE}, fix them up, then sell for a profit.
  • I taught summer school during the month of June.
  • We tried selling as much as we could.  We had several garage sales, and would also sell items on Craigslist or Facebook.
  • My husband donated plasma.
  • I started teaching cake pop classes and selling cake pops at vendor events whenever I could.

By doing all these extra things, we were usually able to pay an additional $1,800/month toward the students loans—making our payment around $3,000/month total.  Sometimes it was more, and sometimes it was depressingly less.


 

3. WHAT WE DIDN’T CHANGE.

Tithing.  I have tithed 10% of my income since I started making my own money as a teenager.  That was something I was not going to give up during this journey.  My husband and I still faithfully tithed to our church and other organizations we’re passionate about this entire time.  This whole time our debt was paid on 90% of our net income.  In my opinion, this is the most important thing you can do with your money . . . well, actually, it’s God’s money.  He just lets us manage it for Him.

Murphy’s Law.  This isn’t something we controlled, but no one is exempt from Murphy’s Law of “Anything That Can Go Wrong . . . Will.”  During the last 38 months, we’ve had to owe more on taxes than we expected, we’ve had to get new tires on our van, my husband has had to fight former ding-dong employees in legal battles, we’ve had to make unexpected trips, we’ve had deaths in the family, and more.  Even though we’ve had an emergency savings fund, all of these events have put kinks in our pay-off plan, but we kept trucking.

Kids. I wanted to make sure that my kids {who are currently 8 and 10} didn’t have to suffer during this season of our lives.  I made sure to be available to help with homework, to attend basketball games and ballet recitals, and to take them out on dates.  I still had a lot to fit on my plate with orders to fill, essays to grade, lesson plans to make, and extra duty jobs to work.  Therefore, I tried to let that cut into my SLEEP more than my kids’ time.  No matter how hard we tried, our intense focus to get out of debt definitely took some time and attention from our kids, but we tried out best for it not to.


 4. THE NOT-SO-FUN PARTS.

I came across this quotation a couple of years ago, and it stuck: “Never envy the success of another.  You don’t know how much she had to sweat to get there.”

I’ve had so many people comment to me that they’re so jealous of the fact that we’re out of debt now.  I know this is probably meant as a compliment, and I don’t know everyone’s financial situation, but I just want to scream: YOU WOULD NOT BE JEALOUS OF THE LIFE I LIVED FOR THE PAST 38 MONTHS!” 

Seriously.

It’s all cute and awesome now, but the only thing that’s been fun about this journey is seeing the debt’s balance go down every month.

This did not “just happen.”  No one helped us.  We did not gain an inheritance.  We had to work and make sacrifices.

Here’s a little glimpse of the not-so-fun parts that we’ve endured to get out of debt so quickly.

  • On average, I got about 5 hours of sleep a night.  FIVE.  It’s a miracle I wasn’t constantly walking around like a zombie and actually functioned {most of the time}. Even on weekends I rarely had time to catch up on my Z’s.  Sometimes I would have to catch a cat nap on my lunch break or in the van before my son’s soccer games.
  • I gained about 20 pounds over the 38 months.  YUCK.  This was mainly due to stress.  I found that I am an emotional eater, and you can bet that I wasn’t snacking on celery sticks.  I also did not have the time or energy to really care what I was eating, cook healthy meals, or work out.
  • My husband and I were like two ships passing in the night.  One of us was constantly working while the other was home with the kids.  Babysitters, dining out, and entertainment weren’t in our budget, so we haven’t had much quality time in the past 3 years.
  • There were times my hands would be so sore from rolling cake pops that I could barely grip the steering wheel in my van. There were also times I would be up so late working on orders that I would start crying from exhaustion.
  • I’ve been driving the same {paid off} minivan for nine years with no plans to trade it in, and my husband has been driving piece-of-crap vehicles because nice, newer ones weren’t in the budget.
  • My husband and I tried to help each other out whenever one of us wasn’t as busy with our own business.  He helped me make cakes, put boxes together, made deliveries, and tied bows on cake pops for my Bondbons business.  Over the summer I helped him . . . paint.  You guys, I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: I. HATE. PAINTING.  And of course the days I helped were always super hot and miserable.  I seriously loathed every single second as sweat was coming out of pores it shouldn’t be coming out of.
  • We constantly had to say “No.”  No to our kids when they wanted to go someplace fun.  No to our friends when they wanted to dine out.  No to our family because we couldn’t afford to travel.  No to ourselves when we wanted to update the house or buy something new or . . . do basically anything.
  • We were constantly tied to a tight budget {side note: we will ALWAYS be on a budget, but this one was REALLY tight}.  As I mentioned before, I only allowed us to spend $300/month on food.  Many times toward the end of the month, we would run out of money.  We had to get creative and make some interesting casseroles out of the food we had in the pantry, and often we had to just eat cereal or Ramen noodles for dinner.
  • As much as we tried not to cut into our kids’ life, the extra work still did.  One of my lowest points was when I had to miss my son’s soccer game because I was scheduled to work a Saturday morning detention.  That was the only game he scored a goal the entire season, and I missed it to make an extra $60.  I vowed that when we got out of debt, I would try my best not to miss another game or activity again.

So, this journey has not been fun, but it was definitely worth it. I’d do it all over again to ensure the financial freedom we’re going to enjoy in the future.


5. WHAT ARE WE GOING TO DO NEXT?

I’ve also gotten this question a lot, and there’s so many answers.

Many people have had the impression that we are going to live it up, quit our jobs, or buy whatever we want now.

While we will have more freedom with our time and money, we will continue following Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Steps, so we will still be on a strict budget.  I’m sure that makes me sound like Captain No Fun, but don’t worry, we have lots of enjoyable things planned, too.

Here’s a list of what our future looks like:

Savings + Investing. 

We are now officially on Baby Step 3, which means we need to fully fund our Emergency Fund.  This will be a savings account that will have 3-6 months worth of our living expenses in case something tragic happens {a loss of a job, a horrible accident, etc.}.

As mentioned above, we’ve been driving the same minivan for over 9 years, which is getting close to 200,000 miles, and my husband has also been driving crappy cars to make do. We plan to drive these vehicles until the wheels fall off, but in the meantime, we’ll also be putting money into a separate savings account {called a “sink fund”} for “new” {to us} vehicles in the future so we can PAY CASH and not have to get a car loan.  We never want to go into any kind of debt ever again.  Ever.

We have also put off investing and retirement during this time.  My husband is actually only about 11 years away of being able to retire from teaching, so this is quite scary to us.  After our emergency fund is completed, we will be on Baby Step 4, which is to start investing 15% of our income.

We also need to start putting money back into the 529 Education Plan we have for our kids to save up for their college.  We don’t want our children to have to endure crippling student loan debt like we had to.  This is Baby Step 5, but it can be done the same time as Baby Step 4.

We still have a mortgage that we’d like to pay off early.  This is Baby Step 6, which can also be done at the same time as Baby Step 4 and 5.  Any extra money we have after investing and saving for college will go to the house.  Have you ever played around with a Mortgage Payoff Calculator?  Click here to try one.  For us, just by paying an extra $100/month {on a 30 year mortgage} will cause us to pay off our house 7 YEARS EARLY!  An extra $500/month would pay off our house 16 YEARS EARLY!

Reallocating the Money.

We have had a limited budget for groceries, gifts/giving, and entertainment. We plan to reallocate our money so we open up more room for all of those areas and can have a bit more comfort in our lives.

Work.

We will both continue to teach and do our side businesses. In order to accomplish everything we want, we still need to make some extra money.  BUT we can now limit how much we work.  Before we took whatever jobs or orders possible out of necessity, now we can pick and choose what we want to do.  We both like doing the businesses that we started, but neither one of us can keep up at the pace we were going.  I don’t know how this will look just yet, but I do know that I am going to get some more sleep at night.

Time.

As mentioned above, we won’t be working as much.  I plan to give my kids more undivided attention that they deserve and need.  We also want to volunteer more.  We just want to relax and spend more time with family and friends.  I plan to spend more time cooking healthier meals at home and working out.  I would like to blog more and maybe even write a book.

I also plan to facilitate Financial Peace University classes in the future to help other people get out of debt in our area.

Celebrate.

Before doing anything I mentioned above, we are going to celebrate first!!!  In fact, tonight we’re taking our kids to a nice, fun restaurant and to see a new movie in 3D.  We have rarely dined out since 2013, and we never go see new movies.  We either rent them, watch Netflix, or go to the cheap $2 theatre in town.

I also went shopping for fun for the first time in over 3 years.  I plan to redecorate our living room—something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’ve even gotten some new shoes and clothes.  Look out, world.

The most exciting thing we have planned though is a long, sweet vacation this summer out west.  Since we’re both teachers, we have the summer off, and we will probably be gone for a good 3 weeks.  We will even be able to afford a house sitter!  Woot! Details about that trip will be a post for the future.


Thank you to everyone who followed our journey and encouraged us along the way.

We have lived like no one else so that we can now live {and give} like no one else.

Love,

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PS – Share this post on social media via our Facebook page {click here}, and I will send a lucky winner a copy of Dave Ramsey’s book The Total Money Makeover to help you get out of debt. It will change your life.

 

 

 

Why Every American Should Take My High School English Class

In the early hours of of November 9th, 2016, our country started to spin into chaos.  This election was about as close as it could get, and it’s becoming more and more obvious just how polarized we are.  My social media feed blew up with comments full of hate, boasting, fear, name-calling, shaming, intolerance, entitlement, belittling, prejudice, apathy, assumptions, blaming, racism, swearing, stat-skewing, and whining from both my liberal and conservative friends.

I saw few calls for hope, prayer, or understanding.

I teach language arts at a diverse high school in northeast Kansas.  It’s known as the “rich” school in the area, but that’s a bunch of B.S.  It’s true that I have students who live in the most expensive homes in the county, but I also have students who have been evicted from their trailer park home.  In my 13-year career there, I’ve had approximately 2,000 students walk through my door and sit in one of my desks for a 47 minute class period. Among them have been kids who are Jewish, transgender, Muslim, homeless, Mexican, gay, Asian, homophobic, Catholic, immigrants, African American, orphans, Hindu, pregnant, Mormon, atheist, Wiccan, in foster care, National Merit Scholars, and drop-outs.

It’s about as a diverse as my collection of friends on Facebook.

Our school had a mock election on November 7th.  The results:

  • Trump – 44.87%
  • Clinton – 38.95%
  • Johnson – 9.96%
  • Stein – 1.87%

A school divided.

On November 9th, there were students flying Trump flags from their pickup trucks—high-fiving each other before the 8:00 AM bell.  There were others who wore black as a sign of mourning and were in a slump all day.

It was like watching a little microcosm of our nation right before my eyes—millennial style.

In this situation, what do you do with approximately 160 young, impressionable minds who come from all walks of life, who disagree, and don’t understand each other?

We didn’t talk about the election that day—I forbade it.  Instead, I did what I always do—I used the strongest weapon against ignorance.

Literature.

When students have me for a teacher, you can bet they’re going to learn where to place a semicolon, and they sure as hell are going to learn the difference between how and when to use good vs. well {come on, one’s an adjective and one’s an adverb—gah!}.

But literature is the heart and soul of the class.  It’s why English teachers become English teachers.  There isn’t another subject in school more powerful.  We don’t read literature because it’s fun, entertaining, or cute.  It teaches us about life, about others, and about ourselves. Through literature we also learn history, philosophy, and psychology.   And we don’t just read.  We discuss.  We listen.  Socrates believed that one truly gains understanding through dialogue, observations, and questioning.  When a class of 28 diverse students share their perspectives, new light bulbs go off, and the paradigm slightly starts to shift.

So, in my class . . .

We read Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” to learn about the perils of blindly following traditions.  Hmm . . . this is kind of like how it can be dangerous to only cast a party-line vote instead of researching each candidate.

We read Orwell’s Animal Farm and discuss the pros and cons of capitalism and socialism. We also study propaganda so that we are not easily fooled by the media or candidates.

We watch Lisa Gossels’ documentary My So-Called Enemy about six Palestinian and Israeli girls who work through their differences and actually become friends.  Seriously now, if these girls whose families have been taught to hate each other for thousands of years can build a bridge, surely Trump and Clinton supporters can, right?

We read Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Wife’s Story” to make us realize that sometimes we are considered someone else’s enemy, and we don’t even realize it.  We also discuss how it is difficult to empathize with others who are different from ourselves.  So, when those minorities from the cities and the blue-collared rural citizens tell you they’re scared, hurting, or frustrated—they are.  And they have a right to be.  Don’t discredit one just because you can’t relate.

We read excerpts of Reading Lolita in Tehran and Persepolis 2:  The Story of  a Return to understand the oppression women face in the Middle East, which leads us into a discussion on Maslow’s “Hierarchy of Needs.”  Why would someone care about bettering themselves or their community when they have no sense of safety?  Now do you get why people who aren’t like you might be protesting?

We read Romeo and Juliet—not from the perspective that it is the greatest love story of all time {because it’s so not};  we read it to understand the detrimental harm of prejudices, stereotypes, and learned hatred.

We study the life of Gandhi.  We analyze Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech and his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.”  Take note, kids, these men were real leaders who changed the world without violence.  Peaceful protests work, and there is a time/place for civil disobedience.

We then read Robert Kennedy’s eulogy for MLK and soon realize the power of words. Kennedy urged the crowd that night not to riot in response to King’s assassination because that would go against everything he stood for. As a result, Indianapolis was the only major city in America that didn’t.

We study the case of “Texas v. Johnson” from 1989 and the paradoxical idea that our First Amendment rights permits the burning of the American flag.  Is it okay the burn the flag? Do you understand why some people would want to?  Do you understand why it can be offensive to veterans if you do?

We learn through Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird that “Folks are folks.”  Thank you, Scout. You’re like, six, and wiser than all of us.  Through her wisdom we realize that when you take away the labels, we’re all way more alike than different.  We all just want to be heard, feel loved, and be accepted.

We read the poem “Without Title” by Diane Glancy and discuss the difficulty of having your heritage stripped away from you.  Is it okay to impose your “progressive change” on others who don’t agree with you?  Is it okay to require immigrants to adopt our “American ways”?  Do you understand the issue with a certain pipeline right now? 

We read Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 to recognize the dangers of censorship and the manipulation of information.  This isn’t just a creative dystopian sci-fi novel; this is a book that allows us to look into the future of what our world could be if we don’t do something first. Heck, half of the plot has already come true!

Most importantly, we study “The Allegory of the Cave” from Plato’s The Republic.  We all live in a “cave”—some are deeper than others—but it’s essential to get out as far as possible, kids, because knowledge is power.  Travel. Read.  Talk to people who are different than you. Learn everything you possibly can.  Let the “light” hurt your eyes and recognize the shadows around you.  Don’t be comfortable in your ignorance, and don’t be hostile when others point it out to you. And when you get out of the cave, don’t neglect your duty to go back in, and pull the others out, too.

So if it’s of any encouragement to you, please take heart knowing that while it seems the world around us has gone mad, scores of 15 and 16 year olds in my English classes are having deep, life-altering lessons and discussions through the power of the written word. We don’t decide who is right or wrong.  We ask ourselves if we are right or wrong.  We learn how to think, not what to think.  We try to see life from different perspectives, and we try to value other opinions.

It’s not just my class.  I have no doubt my colleagues and other English teachers around the country are doing the same.  I’m not implying that we’re changing the world, but we’re at least attempting a stamp out a bit of ignorance and encourage understanding.

So, to the rest of America, let’s stop acting like we’ve lost our ever-loving minds.  Let’s not preach fear, name-calling, or bigotry. Pause. Breathe.  Shut out all the media and dig into an eye-opening book instead that’s going to challenge you—then talk to your family about it around the Thanksgiving table.

Oh, and if you’d like to join in on one of my classes, I have a few open desks.

 

Love,

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“You should never read just for ‘enjoyment.’ Read to make yourself smarter! Less judgmental. More apt to understand your friends’ insane behavior, or better yet, your own. Pick ‘hard books.’ Ones you have to concentrate on while reading. And for god’s sake, don’t let me ever hear you say, ‘I can’t read fiction. I only have time for the truth.’ Fiction is the truth, fool! Ever hear of ‘literature’? That means fiction, too, stupid.”
― John Waters, Role Models

“When I look back, I am so impressed again with the life-giving power of literature. If I were a young person today, trying to gain a sense of myself in the world, I would do that again by reading, just as I did when I was young.”
― Maya Angelou

“The books transported her into new worlds and introduced her to amazing people who lived exciting lives. She went on olden-day sailing ships with Joseph Conrad. She went to Africa with Ernest Hemingway and to India with Rudyard Kipling. She traveled all over the world while sitting in her little room in an English village.”
― Roald Dahl, Matilda

 

 

Paying Down Debt – October 2016

Oh my gosh, you guys.

Oh. My. Gosh.

We are SO close to being debt free {other than our home}.  Click HERE to see our current balance.  Eek!

I am hoping this is the last post I will ever write as a person who is enslaved to debt.  And if you have debt, a slave is exactly what you are.  The Bible even says so:

Proverbs 22:7b – “The borrower is slave to the lender.”

Debt ties up the financial freedoms you could have to give, invest, retire stress-free . . .

So it is my dearest hope that I click and clack on this keyboard as a FREE woman next month.  I already have what I want to share with you all drafted in my mind.  It’s been drafted for months, actually.

Today I want to focus on how it feels to be “Almost There.”

First, it’s hard to grasp the concept that we are “Almost There.”  For the past 12 years of our marriage we’ve been drowning in debt.  It seemed like it would just always be around. Actually, if we would have paid the minimum payment on our student loans, it would have taken 30 years!  No, thank you.  When we got serious about paying off our debt, we figured we could get it done in five-six years instead.  The mindset changed from feeling like we would just be in debt forever to: “Man, I guess we have to work our butts off for a long time . . .”  We did work our butts off, and after countless nights of only getting about five hours of sleep in order to make extra money, we have gotten “Almost There” in just three short years instead.  It kind of snuck up on us, so it’s truly difficult to believe.

The “What If’s” are starting to creep in.  We are only $2,426 from being debt free, y’all.  Now I’m thinking back to every unnecessary purchase we’ve made in the past three years.  Like: “If I hadn’t bought that package of Ramen Noodles, we’d be $0.20 closer, dangit!!!” Seriously though, we’ve cut out so much from our lives the past three years and we’re like practically the poster children for the word FRUGAL, but it does make me think: “What if I wouldn’t have traveled to Ohio over the summer . . . ?” or “What if we wouldn’t have dined at that restaurant . . .?” or “What if I hadn’t taken the kids to that amusement park . . .?” All of those expenses could have added up to almost $2,500 over time, and we could have been done already.  Meh.

On the other hand, by being “Almost There” I’ve noticed that the desires to be more lax with my budgeting/spending are so strong it ain’t even funny.  We’re miraculously slightly ahead of schedule, so I constantly have thoughts like: “Oh, it won’t be a big deal if I buy those shoes . . .”  I have to really watch myself.  Don’t be alarmed if you see me slapping myself in the face as I walk past department stores at the mall . . . drooling at the cute outfits on the window mannequins and uttering, “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!”  Have no fear – I didn’t buy the shoes . . . but I do have a small bruise on my cheek {wink}.

Lastly, let me tell you about interest.  This part always fascinates me—probably because I love crunching numbers.  When we were $82,000 in debt we were dishing out $11.79 just in interest A DAY.  That’s $353/month and $4,246/year.  Now that our balance is a wee $2,426, our interest is only $0.35/day.  It’s super fun seeing more and more of our payments go to the principle instead of down the drain.

Anyway . . . let’s get to the hard work.  In the month of October we paid off $4,220!  Here is how we did it:

  • I had an unusually profitable month with my Bondbons business again.  That included catering two weddings.
  • My husband continued painting and working on cars for people.
  • I supervised the ACT test bright and early on a Saturday morning.
  • I supervised several Saturday morning detentions and subbed during my plan period.
  • We referred a friend to the school our kids attend.  The school was doing a special offer this year {thanks to an awesome donor} that gave a HUGE credit toward school tuition for referrals.  Because of that credit we didn’t have to pay any tuition in October, so that money went to the debt instead.  We also won’t have to pay for November or part of December.  Talk about perfect timing!

Please stay tuned for our update next month.  Like I said, it’s already drafted in my head.

Love,

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Paying Down Debt – September 2016

The daily Facebook “memories” are a funny thing.  Most of the time they remind me of adorable pictures I posted of my kids from when they were itty bitty, or a super funny moment that I had since forgotten.  Sometimes the “memories” show an old side of me that doesn’t even exist anymore.

This past month, I came across something I posted back in 2009:

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I remember “that girl” from 7 years ago.  Even though she was frugal, she didn’t have a budget.  She put everything on her credit card—she made sure to pay it off each month, but when that time came, there was little room for groceries or anything else.  “That girl” from 7 years ago was in denial that she and her husband were racking up $25,000 just in INTEREST on student loans because they didn’t “have” the money to pay on it, so they annually deferred it.  Because of that, they were ignorantly accumulating over $80,000 in student loan debt to pay back.  “That girl” from 7 years ago saw no hope of ever getting ahead financially.

“That girl” from 7 years ago felt stuck.

I’m not “that girl” anymore, and I’ll never be again.

Just over three years ago, my husband and I started our Financial Peace University class. I learned to get on a budget, how to reallocate our money for our benefit, and we never turned back.  Bills are no longer stressful for me.  To be honest, paying them is kind of fun (did I really just type that?).  I especially love seeing the balance of our student loans go down every few weeks.

Speaking of that, in the month of September we paid off $2,976 (just $24 short of our monthly goal).  You can click here to see our current balance and progress.

Here is what we did to make that possible:

  • I supervised the ACT on a Saturday morning.
  • Randy’s painting business has slowed down quite a bit, but he was still able to do some painting jobs to contribute.
  • I subbed several days during my plan period, line-judged for volleyball, completed some curriculum committee work, and supervised Saturday morning detentions—all of which I received “extra duty pay” from my school.
  • Our gas and water bills were both lower than we have budgeted, so that extra money went to the debt.
  • My Bondbons business had a ridiculously good month.  Part of this is due to the fact that I catered 80 dozen bondbons for a wedding at the beginning of September.   That’s 960. Just take a look:
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Almost 1,000 bondbons for a beautiful wedding in September.

That’s covering my entire kitchen table, by the way.

This.  All this. The wedding catering and the current balance on our debt are true testaments of patient endurance.  When I started Bondbons almost three years ago, no one would have placed an order this enormous.  It took time for me to prove myself to others, to build up clientele, and learn how to take decent looking pictures from my phone.   And the debt.  It’s been a long, stressful road, but it’s almost over!  Every amount of money, small or large, that was thrown at the debt has made a difference and gotten us to where we are.  If we never would have buckled down and got serious, 90% of our monthly payment would still be going to interest, and I’d still be “that girl” from 2009.

I like “this girl” from 2016 better.

Stay tuned for our next update from October.

Love,

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Paying Down Debt – August 2016

Y’all.

I am pretty excited about this update because we are finally down to only FOUR DIGITS of debt!!!!

FOUR.

Do you realize how close that makes us?  That feels like almost nothing after we started with $82,000 in the hole.  And after our April and May, I wasn’t even sure if we’d get to this point by the end of the year.  Our goal is so near and we still have almost four months left.

This month moved the needle more than any other month.  Just in August alone we were able to pay off $6,289.  I can’t believe that was even possible.  That’s more than double a typical month for us.  Click here to see our progress.

Here’s what we did in August:

  • I had an unexpectedly awesome month with my Bondbons business.
  • My husband worked his tail off painting.  He was given an awesome opportunity to paint apartments for three weeks.  He was seriously gone for about 12-14 hours a day, but it obviously paid off.
  • I did some curriculum work for my school district {always a super fun way to end the summer}
  • Our water and gas bill were lower than expected—the extra money was put toward debt.
  • We have money allotted to go into our emergency fund every month should we have to dip into it, but we haven’t had to for about three months.  I was going to leave it in there to help cover next summer’s expenses, but decided to go ahead and pull it out and throw it at the debt.  We can save up that money after our balance is $0.

I’ll close with this:

You know those memories that pop up on Facebook?  I came across this post {which was actually from July . . . but we’ll apply it to August, okay?}.

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I remember that night of July 25th, 2013.  My husband and I had one of the biggest fights over money in our marriage.  We were desperate.  I put this question out there as a plea for help, and thanks to the comments I was made aware that our own church was hosting classes for FPU.

Just a few weeks later, I posted this in August:

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Three years later, we have paid off over $72,000 simply by living below our means, budgeting, and putting in extra work.  CRAZY.  I had no idea we would be this close to being done so quickly {I was thinking it would take us six-ten years minimum at first}.

I’m so glad we made the decision to take those classes together three years ago.

Looking forward to posting about September.

Love,

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Paying Down Debt – June+July 2016

I recently started using the MyFitnessPal app in order to better track my caloric intake.  I was a bit depressed when it was discovered that to lose any weight, I could only consume 1,200 calories a day.  By the way, my husband is allowed over 3,000 calories {and I hate him}.

So . . . 1,200 calories.  That’s it.  I quickly realized that I had to make conscious efforts to meal plan, measure portions, research, and find healthier alternatives.  Oh, but fun news! If I exercise, I can eat more.  Like, if I walk about 300 steps, I can have an extra cup of kale.

Yay . . .

Dieting is so much like budgeting.  It’s no wonder that so many Americans are overweight, broke, or both—it’s way easier and fun just to eat and spend how you want.  But weight isn’t going to magically come off and debt isn’t going to magically go away.  You have to be proactive about both.  My 1,200 allotted calories is like my budget.  I can’t “spend” more than that or I’m not going to see results.  But if I want to eat a little more, well . . . I’ve gotta take a few laps around the block.  If I want to see my debt go down, I have to live within my means and work some extra hours.

Working extra hours.  That is something my husband and I have done nonstop since we started this journey to become debt-free almost 3 years ago.  Luckily we have a lot more time over the summer since we’re both teachers.  We’ve cut back so much on spending the last few years, but the key to our success has definitely been a lot of overtime.

I am happy to report that June and July have been way more auspicious than April or May. We were able to pay off $6,966 of student loan debt in those two months!!!  This does not even include all the business debt my husband had to pay off as well.  To see our current balance, click here.

Here is what we’ve been doing over our summer “break”:

  • I worked on a curriculum committee for several days
  • I taught summer school during the month of June.
  • Randy has been painting nonstop {like 12-14 hours a day at times}
  • I helped Randy paint, again, and it was horrible, again
  • I supervised the ACT on a Saturday morning
  • Randy fixed up a couple of vehicles and sold them {he used to be a mechanic}
  • July was extremely busy for my Bondbons business.  Not only have I had a lot of orders {when summertime is typically slow}, but I’ve been hired for several future weddings.

I thought I’d share a strategic move I made for those of you number-crunching-nerds like me.  One reason our payout was so high in June {which in and of itself was not an awesome month} was because my husband and I both received our June, July, and August paychecks at the beginning of the summer {well . . . after the Kansas legislature decided it was important to adequately fund public education}.  Anyway, I took the amount that we pay toward student debt every month from our salaries and made one big payment in June instead of making those payments in July and August.  I did this for two reasons.  1) April and May were so horrible that I needed to see that balance go down in a big way to get me motivated again. 2) By paying a large chunk sooner allowed our lovely interest that accrues daily to go down.  We ended up saving us around $25, just by making those payments one and two months ahead of time.  Not a ton, but every bit helps.

Oh, and by the way, since starting MyFitnessPal in late May, I’ve only lost about 2 pounds. I’m clearly better at budgeting the checkbook than the snacks.  {wink}.

Stay tuned for our August update.

Love,

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Paying Down Debt – May 2016

Well, last month I bluntly proclaimed that April sucked but had high hopes that May would be better.

It wasn’t.

{Insert incredibly frustrated sad face with one small tear trickling down the cheek}.

In order to pay off our student loan debt by our goal date, which is December 31st of 2016, we have to pay off about $3,000/month.  We allot $1,218 from our teaching salaries each month to go toward the debt {we were able to “find” that much money from canceling cable, limiting our grocery bills, putting a hold on our kids’ college funds and our retirements funds, etc.}.  The other $1,782 has to come from extra work we do.  Because of many different factors in April, we weren’t able to put any extra money toward our debt, so we were only able to pay off $1,211.

This past May we were only able to pay off $1,158.  You can click here to see our current balance.

Despite making little progress, we’re still working our butts’ off.  That’s what is so frustrating.  It feels like being someone who only eats kale and works out 16 hours/day, but is still fat.

Here were some of our roadblocks this past month:

  • May is typically one of my busiest months for my Bondbons business.  People order for Teacher Appreciation Day, Mother’s Day, graduation parties, and Memorial Day. For whatever reason,  I had few orders this year and May ended up being one of my slowest months since the inception of my business.
  • Remember that huge house I mentioned last month that Randy’s painting crew was four weeks behind on?  Yeah . . . they’re STILL not done.  Because of the rain and other personal issues, they’re now eight weeks behind.  No one gets paid until it’s finished.
  • We still had some extra summer expenses that had to be paid.  The little extra we made had to go toward that.
  • Randy had some unforeseen business expenses that have actually put his business in debt.  I thought about adding that to our debt total, but decided not to since I feel it is a separate matter.  However, a large chunk of his business profits will be going toward the business debt instead of the student loans for the next several months.

Sadly, the future may look worse.  Randy and I are both public school teachers in Kansas, and as of right now, Kansas schools may not even be able to open in the fall.  We’re praying that the government is able to solve this and everything will be fine, but for now, we will be socking away as much money as possible just in case.  If a solution isn’t figured out by June 30th, we won’t receive pay checks after July.  Until then, we will only pay the minimum payment on our student loans, which is $218.

Guess how much of that will go to interest.

$101.00.

Sigh . . .

As I mentioned earlier, we still have been working extremely hard.  Here are a few things we did in May in addition to our teaching jobs to generate more income:

  • I supervised every Saturday detention we had in May {I usually do one or two a month}.  There was not a Saturday I got to sleep in.
  • Randy has been working on some painting jobs on his own.  There were a couple of nights in May he didn’t get home until 4:00 in the morning and then turned around and taught the next day.
  • I put in over 30 hours of working with two home bound students through my district.
  • A friend of ours started building custom tables and hired Randy to do the finish on all of them.
  • I subbed as much as I could during my plan periods.
  • Since my Bondbons business has been extremely slow, I started helping my husband paint.

Y’all, that last one . . .

Let me tell you something.  I loathe painting.  I would seriously rather pop the pimples of a stranger. {By the way, if anyone would actually pay good money for that, let me know}.

When you paint a house, you get sweaty, messy, and there’s like . . . bugs and stuff outside.

Nonetheless, I told the husband that if I wasn’t going to be busy fulfilling cake pop orders, I might as well help him get painting jobs done to help speed up the process.  The first time I helped him, I painted outside for five hours straight.  I thought my entire arm was going to fall off the next day.

I will continue to do it though—I refuse to sit at home and do nothing while we’re wallowing in debt.  I just keep thinking of how sweet our life will be once we’re debt free. The freedom we’ll have for ourselves and the ability to give outrageously will be priceless. That is worth a summer of getting sweaty and messy.  Oh, and even the bugs.

When we’re out of debt, I vow to never touch a paintbrush again.

June looks grim, but I pray it will be better.  I’ll update regardless.

Love,

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Paying Down Debt – April 2016

I am going to be blunt.

APRIL SUCKED. 

Even though Randy and I still worked our butts off, not one extra dime was able to go toward our debt {other than what we already budget from our salaries}.

Because life.

Here are just a few things that life threw at us this past month:

  • We unexpectedly owed on our taxes {when we expected a return}. Blah.
  • Our “tax guy” who we’ve used for the past eight years charged us almost double what we’ve paid in the past without warning {he unfortunately lost a  loyal customer . . . I’m not about that kind of inflation}.
  • Even though we usually budget well for all the everythings in life, I did not do a good job of budgeting for our upcoming summer expenses—summer camps for the kids, a family reunion, swimming lessons, etc. It’s a lot and most of it had to be paid right then.
  • We had to pay the tags and taxes for our vehicles {I usually use our tax returns to pay for this  . . . but that didn’t happen}.
  • Randy’s painting crew was supposed to be finished with a large job four weeks ago, and they STILL ARE NOT DONE!!!
  • I had a fairly slow month with my Bondbons business.
  • Randy dropped his brand new cell phone in a cup of coffee {of all things} and had a pay a pretty penny to have it repaired.
  • Our children had to attend child care before and after school—something they rarely have to do {and each time costs money}.
  • ‘Tis the season for those dang baby ants.  Anyone else have those? We had to hire the exterminator to come out.
  • And the worst: Randy’s sweet 93-year-old Grampie passed away.  This not only emotionally took a toll on us, but extra time and money went into trips to the hospital to visit him before he passed, the visitation, funeral, burial, etc.

So, yeah . . .

To meet our goal of being debt-free by the end of 2016, we have to put at least $3,000 toward our student loans each month.  This month, we were only able to do $1,211.

That’s not even half.

Amid my grumblings above, I am thankful that we at least still put a dent in the balance. It could be worse.  We could have made no progress at all, or even gone further into debt. It’s still incredibly frustrating though.

Like I said, we still worked our butts off.  I was not able to sleep in one Saturday in April because I was either supervising the ACT or a detention. During one detention, a detainee called me a “bitch” for asking him to remove his hat . . . so . . . that was nice.

My husband and I also catered a wedding at the end of April.  The bride and groom ordered 65 dozen bondbons {that’s 780!} for their big day.   I love doing weddings.

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The Bonds catering Bondbons.

We weren’t the only ones who worked hard.  Our kids did too.  They had to pull some weight into raising money for their summer activities.  One thing they did was go door-to-door around our neighborhood and sold candy bars.  They did pretty well and, in my opinion, were the cutest solicitors our neighbors have ever encountered.

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My kids selling candy bars to raise money for summer camps.

Oh!  And one more thing to add to the list.  I found $0.35.  That was definitely put to good use. {wink}.

I’m praying that May will be a much better month.

Love,

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7 Everythings I Learned from My Mom

For this “7 Everythings I’ve Learned” post, I wanted to honor my momma for Mother’s Day and share what she has taught me through the years.   Everyone says that their mom is the best.  Well, that is not even a thing—there are no perfect mothers.  There are, however, some dang good ones, and I will argue that mine is one of them.

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With my mother and my daughter.

I’ve been in public education for the past 12 years, and I’ve witnessed some down-right crappy parenting.  Every year I am more and more appreciative of how my mom raised me.  A decade ago, I became a mother myself and realized how challenging this thing called mothering actually is; that has deepened my appreciation for my mom.  As a parent, I have consciously attempted to mirror the positive experiences and lessons I had with my mother with my own children.  

When thinking of what all she has taught me, it was extremely difficult to narrow this down to only seven areas, but I guess that leaves me with more material for the future {wink}.  Here are the 7 everythings I’ve learned from my momma and what I strive teach my own kids.

  1. Talk Openly with Your Kids
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Circa 1989.

My mom talked to me about all the tough topics: sex, drugs, rock + roll . . . {okay, not so much the latter}.  Studies show that children whose parents talk to them regularly about these uncomfortable topics are more likely to make better decisions in life.  My 13-year-old-self may have rather had math homework every night for the rest of my life instead of enduring these awkward conversations, but seeing that I was mildly rebellious in both high school and even college . . . it must have paid off.

She also didn’t just tell me not to engage in certain activities; she explained WHY I shouldn’t.

There’s a huge difference.

In addition to discussing these topics.  My mom simply talked to me.

A lot.

There are still times I call her up and we have a two-hour conversation.  I know she is a safe person to vent to, to gain advice from, and to bounce ideas off of.  That has been invaluable to me.

2. Do Something Nice for Yourself

Being a mom is exhausting and requires copious amounts of sacrifices.  I am incredibly frugal, so it is difficult for me to splurge or to pay for something I can do myself. Sometimes, you just need to take a break and pamper yourself before you go stark raving mad.  So, every once in awhile, hire a cleaning lady, have pizza delivered, or get a massage.

Oh, and for heaven’s sake, never highlight your hair with a store-bought kit.  Pay good money to go to a professional at a salon.  {I may, or may not, have been traumatized by such an attempt when in the 8th grade . . . }.

3. Go Above and Beyond for Your Kids

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With my mom after I graduated with my master’s degree.

First, let me be clear that I think it’s important for moms to have their own life and identity other than just “mom.”  With that said, for the first 18 years of your child’s life, a large part of your life should be focused to them.  Each child should have at least one person in their life who is dedicated to their well being, who loves them something fierce, and who constantly makes them feel important.  If you have a child, that person should be YOU.  If it’s not, they will most likely seek love and attention from the wrong people and places.

My mom never missed a sporting event or a parent-teacher conference.  She was always a working mom so that my parents could afford to send me to college.  She helped me study and sought out resources when I struggled as a student.  She made a point to know my friends and my friends’ parents so she knew who was involved in my life.  

Having a parent who went above and beyond gave me a deep sense of self-worth, and it greatly enriched my upbringing.

4. Choose Your Friends Wisely

Jim Rohn said, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with,” and if there is one piece of advice that I continually remember my mom giving me, it was that I needed to choose my friends wisely.

Are your friends kind?  Are they bullies?  Do they have strong morals?  Are they loyal?  Are they going to peer-pressure you?  Can they keep a secret?  Are they going to challenge you to be a better person?  Are they catty?  

These questions were always on my mind.  When I was in high school, some of my friends started making not-so-awesome choices.  Because she had instilled this advice in me, I knew I needed to start distancing myself—and I did.  My life was better because of it.  As an adult, the above questions became second nature as I started meeting new people from college and work.  I can say that I for sure have some life-long friends who have been wisely chosen.

Oh, and one of the most important questions to ask when choosing a friend: Are they fun?

My mom has the greatest friends {one of whom has become my mother-in-law}. She and her girlfriends from high school still keep in touch almost 45 years later.  She also still has slumber parties and most of her friends are in their 60s or 70s.  

Now, that’s fun.

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My mom {front, center} with her friends in high school. Circa 1971.

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My mom with her high school friends over 40 years later.

5. Live the Example

“Do as I say, not as I do” is one of the worst parental philosophies.  

Ever.  

Rachel Cruz coined the phrase that more is caught than taught.  My mom raised me to have strong morals and to live a Christian lifestyle.  She also lived it out herself.  Many-a-mornings I have walked in on her while she was praying or doing devotions.  She has been faithfully married for over 40  years.  She has helped those in need.  I’ve never witnessed her cheat, steal, or lie.  I’ve never seen her drunk.  I’ve never heard her tell someone off. In fact, I’ve never even heard her cuss.  

Well, maybe I did hear her once.

Okay.  Twice.  

She is by no means perfect, but she knew the kind of character she wanted me to have, which was set pretty high.  She lived the life herself by example and taught me through my observations.

6. Let Your Kids Spread Their Wings

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Momma and me.

I am my mother’s only child, so she was always overly protective of me; however, she never held me back from being my own person or crippled my ambitions.  I ended up going to a college that was two hours away.  That may not seem very far, but I know it was difficult on her.  She never asked me to change my mind and attend a closer university for her sake; she let me go.  

When I turned 20, I had one of those “Oh-My-Goodness-I-Don’t-Even-Know-Who-I-Am-I-Need-to-Find-Myself” moments.  I decided to live in Texas with a friend for the entire summer of 2002 to get away from everything.  I drove the whole 15 hours by myself from Ohio to the Longhorn State for the three-month adventure. The next year my mom encouraged me to pursue student teaching assignments on a Navajo Reservation in Chinle, AZ and later an inner-city school in Charleston, SC. Then I was gone for good when I married and moved 700 miles away from home.

All of these experiences were vital in shaping my independence. While I’m sure many of these decisions of mine scared the crud out of her, she sat back as I spread my wings.  

And without my wings, I would have never been able to fly.

7) Grammar is Important

Since I can remember, my mom has corrected my grammar for fear that one day I would grow up to sound like an imbecile and shame the family.  All the nagging paid off since I now make a living off of having proper grammar {AKA – English teacher}.

 

Momma,

Thank you for your wisdom and love.  I owe so much of who I am to you, and I hope to raise my kids as well as you raised me.   Happy Mother’s Day.

Love,

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