Debt Free Scream

I have to pop in here to let you all know how geeky excited I have the chance to yell “We’re Debt Free!” on the Dave Ramsey show this afternoon.

I just did an interview with Jon White on our Debt free story and you can hear that here. And I was also recently featured on Babble with our story to financial freedom.

For more on our story to becoming debt free click here or search “debt free” in my side bar.

Guys!

Jodimichelle

I’m very excited.

{Life List} Becoming debt free

Stick with me here, I’m going to go in about 100 different directions to get this post to make any kind of sense. Don’t you love it when I do that?

Here’s some reference points for you, if you’re new to this conversation, on how I got to where I am today.
Life List
What I’ve said, so far, about becoming debt free – a list of posts I’ve written here to outline our journey, give some tips and hopefully inspire some of you as well.
Most recently, dropped this bomb on a key ingredient to how we’ll be debt free by Christmas.

That feels weird to say out-loud. It involves some continued hard work and probably the sale of our mini van, but we’re 110% committed to this.

We sold our house this past summer and sold it for less than we paid when we bought the home in 2004. We carried over debt from the sale of the home, and dot-to-dot game led us to building a new home, which we are currently in the process of selling (before it’s even finished – this is that aforementioned bomb we dropped) – the sale of the new build isn’t official until mid December some time so we’re sitting tight until them to make any huge proclamations and claim SOLD. We’re being as careful as we can at this point. Nothing is for sure until there are signatures. And the ink is very, very dry. But we’re 98% there.

Since we’ve been saving for a down payment on this new build and our monthly obligation to housing (we’re renting) is less than $500 right now – we’ve been able to knock this one out of the park. The debt that we carried over from the sale of the first house, earlier this year, will vanish mid December. As in ZERO. As in, WOW. As in, Thank you God. As in, We’re more than half way there.

The only other debt we carry is a car payment (hence the probable sale of the van) and taking everything into consideration (and hoping for a sale) we’ll be completely 100% debt free by Christmas. Which means we need to get serious about the van situation.

Now. Here’s what happened today.

I’m clicking around my Google Reader to read through blogs I love and I came across this guest post on The Lettered Cottage.

Insert frantic clicking, sharing and spreading of this link.

You guys … I want that story. I want to be able to feel that freedom. I am in the midst of writing this very story for our lives and I cannot wait to share the day with you when this is a reality and not something I’m reading from someone else’s home.

Food is a huge problem in this house – I try and try and just cannot figure out how to spend less. I menu plan, I coupon clip, I watch the sales, I stock my pantry but I’m missing something. I don’t know what it is yet. I will learn. I’m getting there.

So I plan to buy the ebook (or maybe get it as a Christmas gift?? hint! hint!).

I am on fire.

Other helpful links I came upon:
Rara Bakes and read through the archives of Grocery Shrink to find uber helpful tips and links, recipes and free printables as well.

Other favorites:
Simple Organized Living
Food on the Table Blog

My brain hurts a little bit. Time for a nap.

What do you got, though? Any tips you follow religiously, websites you always walk away from feeling like you gained more the time lost to read it?

Planning: Debt Free

We’re back with some more money talk. Let’s be debt free, friends!

I talk quite a bit about how unorganized I am. How I struggle with the piles of paper and staying on top of menu planning and list making. It’s not a strong point of mine. It’s a weakness I’m very aware of.

Menu Planning

But I also know and understand the power of planning. Having a small note pad with me at all times to keep on task, remember important information or to tell me what’s next … it’s like a brain.

I’m also a very visual person. Reading patterns is for the birds in my opinion. Sticking to a recipe is like following all the rules. I prefer to pretend there are areas in my life where rules just need not apply.

Thinking on paper - Quilt for Jessica

However … money is one of those things I’ve learned over and over and over and over and over and OVER again that not planning it will always result in losing it.

Always.

There’s not a family friendly leash to put on your money to make it stay where you want it. There’s a budget and that is what works.

It’s a good thing I married someone who knows how to handle details.

Aaron working on his presentation

Only – the details of our household? Are left to me. (He pops in for a hello every once in a while and more often lately after starting the FPU class)

So, for the tips:

Obviously here – let’s get on a budget shall we?

It’s not set in stone and both parties involved (if there is more than one party TO involve) should have a say. The best thing about a budget is that you’re in charge. You get to change it if needed. You get to say where extra’s go, where less than extra needs to come from. You’re on top of it.

It takes a couple months to really figure it out and make sure that you’re allotting enough money in your needed categories. We’re learning that we just need to add a little more into our food budget. I’m actually embarrassed about that because I want so badly to be able to live on less where food comes into play – but trying to wear a size 3 shoe on a size 8 foot is just painful. So this month, we’re adjusting and we’ll see how we come out on the other side.

Slow and steady wins the race.

Patience? Who me? Just because you don’t have hundreds of dollars to set aside each month for saving doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be saving SOMETHING. $10 a month grows slowly … but all of a sudden you look and there’s $2,000 there that wasn’t before. It’s powerful.

Maybe I’m just in the the middle of learning this lesson and it’s just starting to take hold … but there’s something to be said about the way my grandparents lived. Literally picking up pennies from the sidewalk to take into the bank to pay down their mortgage. That’s powerful.

Every penny, literally, counts.

Closet

Cure what ails you.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I’m not a shopper. I love to bargain hunt and I’m a deal finder – yes. That’s a hobby. But shopping for clothes? Shoes? Not interested.

That didn’t happen over night and I wasn’t always like this – but here’s how it happened for me. When I was 18 I had a breast reduction, before that clothes weren’t appealing to me. They didn’t fit my body well, my body didn’t fit me well – so I stayed away. After the reduction? All of a sudden I could buy tshirts in the junior section of the stores and I was ALIVE! I owned cute underclothing for the first time in my entire life. No more “minimizers”. I was working full time so I could afford to buy myself clothes when I wanted – but back then?

I was making small amounts of money and then very large amounts of money – it wasn’t consistent. I was on a budget at 16 and I really liked the percentage break down. I saved 30% of everything I brought in. I didn’t touch it. The rest? I gathered and divided so I could pay for gas, car insurance and my phone and tithe. Then there were left overs. I could spend that if I wanted but it was really hard to part with it because I knew how hard I worked to get it.

So I didn’t buy too often. The feet and shoes? I have freakishly small feet and it’s just not fun to shop for shoes. They rarely fit my foot. So I don’t even look.

From there it just turned into the way I lived. Now I have kids to shop for and it’s so much easier to buy them an outfit than spend money on myself. I rarely have child free shopping experiences so I just don’t have time to fit items on and preview a look or style.

I think this is hard for a lot of women – the shopping. After I became a stay-at-home mom I had a REALLY hard time not spending money every single day. I lived at Target for a few months. I had a very good baby who slept wonderfully and I was bored out of my mind. So I shopped. Alot.

We froze my debit card in a block of ice in the freezer. True Story.

You just have to do what’s right for you in this situation and you need to be honest about it with an accountable party.

That’s what I’m thinking about today. Next up? How to hunt for bargains, how to score great deals.

There’s water in my basement but everything’s ok.

I rushed home this afternoon after a workout to shower and get to a 1pm lunch appointment. I was cutting it close but I love the race against the clock and I would make it. Until I ran downstairs to change the laundry and find something clean to throw on and run out the door …

There was a sound of water running and the wash machine wasn’t on .. and then I stepped on our rug and it was soaking wet, and now so were my feet, and then I looked around more intently and yes; our water heater must be leaking. Must have BEEN leaking – there’s standing water in my basement. Coming up through our Hickory hardwood floors, just dancing around the grooves of the wood as water might do, when it has nothing else to do. I will have to contact Full Spectrum Plumbing to fix it.

Raindrops: spring rain

I thought if I could figure out how to stop the leak and clean it up, I could still make it to my lunch a little late. I had been daydreaming about what I was going to order. I was so excited. A frantic call to Aaron, an email off to our insurance agent. I thought I would just have to wait … so why not wait over lunch?

But then the phone started ringing. The insurance agent, then the clean up crew, then the plumber. Everyone could come right away, or shortly. And all of a sudden I wasn’t going to be ordering lunch. Or washing my dishes, or finishing the laundry, or cooking.

I was (am) literally stuck here.

——–

Aaron and I had just talked about our plans for this summer. We need to replace a roof on a portion of the garage, we need a new door and the cement steps are giving way. It’s time to refinish our main-floor flooring. We are slowly and surely making our way towards a replacement car for our van. All the things, right? All. The. Things. Clearly we should have been planning to replace a water heater, too. Possibly a furnace. This is an old house, and while we remodeled her and gave her a new dress, she is still standing on the same 80 year old bones.

And sometimes I forget that doing something once doesn’t mean we’ll never have to do it again. Buying a car once doesn’t mean that in 230,000 miles you won’t need to buy another. Replacing floors doesn’t mean you won’t have to refinish them. Taking hot showers and doing your dishes doesn’t mean you won’t wear out the mechanics that deliver that hot water to you.

Northern Michigan

———

A couple weeks ago at church there was a young man who got up at the end with a word for the congregation. This happens in our church – people listen for the Holy Spirit and often get images, dreams, or words of encouragement to share with everyone else – and he shared something about tithing. He had felt God convicting him to tithe $60 but all he had to give was $30 and he kind of went back and forth with himself for a while trying to justify his need vs conviction. After a bit he drove to the bank and got the amount he felt he was supposed to give and experienced overwhelming peace in that obedience.

That same morning I said to Aaron, a little off the cuff, I think we should be tithing. We haven’t for a while, and at the time that felt like what we were supposed to be doing. There’s obedience in all kinds of different ways with our time and our resources. But for some reason, that morning, I just felt like we needed to start again. Aaron said to add it to the list of things to discuss and then we kind of dropped it and went on with our morning. But as soon as the pastor called up the volunteers to take the offering, I whipped out our checkbook, wrote a check and dropped it in the bucket. Not knowing any of this young mans own conviction over tithe that same morning.

Weekend up north with Penelope

——–

Earlier this month I felt God hammering me with the word “Provision” – defined as “the action of providing or supplying something for use // An amount or thing supplied or provided” and I tend to think of provision as strictly financial.

I’ve chronicled our financial story on this blog for a long time. Becoming debt free and selling and buying homes, how we budget and even most recently – how we plan, financially, for vacations. Provision is a large part of our daily life, belief in God or not.

But when I started looking for more what that word really means, in a spiritual sense, I found some amazing things. In Philipeans 4:9 It talks about God supplying (providing) all our needs according to His riches in glory. In Matthew 6:26 it talks about the birds of the air – how God feeds them without their sowing or reaping … and aren’t we worth more than the birds?

Around the house and in the garden

I learned that Provision, in the sense that I felt God was hammering me with it, is a word for His economy. There’s an all encompassing feeling to being “provided for” rather than just putting money in the bank.

God wants to provide me with love, rest, assurance, knowledge, intimacy, joy, purpose, and satisfaction. He wants to care for my hunger, fill my emptiness, call me “daughter, sow seeds of intimacy into my life, save my marriage, equip me daily to parent and instruct me to steward my gifts well.

——–

It’s not that I’ve felt a lacking in provision, but I’ve been missing the point. Mostly in my personal life. I’ve felt the need to continue to work harder for relationships, for success. I’ve felt the pressure to perform and rush and run. I’ve felt guilty for the time available to me in order to pour into women, children, our family. I’ve measured myself against the world with a yard stick that is always only too short. But by centimeters. So the recognition was just in front of me, almost there. Just a little more. A little longer.

And I failed. Every time.

Windmill Island

But this word provision brought with it an understanding that God will provide my comfort. Not Aaron, or success, or recognition, or financial gain, or even being debt free, not my plans or expectations or need for control. None of the labels I want for myself or seek in this life are ever going to provide me lasting comfort.

When I have unmet needs, God reminds me to turn towards him. When I’m dying for connection, God reminds me to take my disappointments and unmet expectations to him. He is the giver of all good things.

——-

So we had our hot water heater replaced, floors are ripped up and broken into pieces in our basement, tomorrow the washer and dryer get moved to assess any damage underneath. We might need new floors. All things. All temporary things, fixable things.

A wrench in anyone’s plans for sure. And still a mountain of unknown ahead. But the sun is shining and everyone who’s been in our home helping this afternoon has been kind and friendly, professional and quick and most important, understanding.

I feel completely at ease in all of this. No rushing or fretting. No amount of planning can undo the surprises and no amount of planning can keep the surprises away, either. We’ll do what we’re able, when we’re able. And not just financially, because if I’ve learned anything here it’s that provision is far deeper than creature comfort.

Cherry blossoms

——–

As I was wrestling through this idea of Provision over the last few weeks, God kept asking me this question:

“Are you more worried about what people think of you, or what I can do through you?”

And I’d have to say that mostly I’m more worried about people, but slowly I’m learning to swim.

South Haven Pier and Lighthouse in the fog 2014

House Keeping: Building a life

** It’s a little weird to publish this, I know I was the one who said she wanted to talk about budgets but now that I’ve been sitting on this and revising this for the past couple weeks, it’s hard to not sound like a know-it-all or just a princess. Which there will be a number of you who come to that conclusion and thats ok. The three things you’re not supposed to talk about; money, sex and religion, are basically what I eat for breakfast so here’s where we call a truce. In relationship these topics are met with vulnerability and understanding. They’re fragile and solid, invisible and fully formed. They’re complex, and I love discussing them. Which is hard to do as a one-sided digital essay. I don’t know it all. I’m not the person you want to ask for stock tips or investment opportunities (unless you’re talking real estate and then I’m your girl) and I’ve screwed up many times with our budget and finances. This essay is an over all snap shot of the bigger picture and not a soap box for me to stand on and complain (there is NO complaining). We have everything we need and we value resourcefulness over resources. Want to skip this one entirely? I don’t blame you, here’s a sleeping kitten.

If you’re new here you might not know that 6 years ago we sold a house, started building another one, sold that one, tried to buy two more homes over the course of two more years in 2 different rentals and finally, four years ago, bought the house we currently live in with the help of real estate companies as Property Corner online. Over the last 3 years we’ve gutted this home and made it our (hopefully) forever space.

There’s a specific reason for this run-on sentence of a decision.

We wanted to be debt free, yes. But with Aaron’s job there’s a lot of personal risk involved. If Aaron would have gotten into an accident or died unexpectedly our income would have stopped with those tragedies and I wouldn’t have been able to afford our house payment. The decision to move and lessen our monthly output was a very tactile decision for our future.

putting the sign up

There isn’t a ladder for Aaron to climb as a business owner. He doesn’t work at a company where someone else just hands out raises or promotes him based on his performance. That’s his job, he’s the ceiling. So if our life requires more cash, we can’t knock on a bosses door and ask for it. Yes, there are perks to owning our own business and yes, sometimes there are good years of plenty and there might be profit sharing, other years we lose everything and start all over. Not only do we live a debt free life, personally, but also professionally. Aaron is the sole owner of his companies and it’s a core value for us to operate them without debt, partners, or venture capital.

Office of Elevator Up

Now, here’s my disclaimer. Please take this with a grain of salt. We started out very differently than so many of other business owners/professionals. Neither Aaron nor myself had any debt of any kind when we got engaged (We didn’t go to college, ergo no school loans). We bought our first house together before we were married and I “rented” it from Aaron until after the wedding.

We were a dual income household when we bought our second house (the house we sold in the beginning paragraph). I was pregnant with Jessica but working full time with health insurance and Aaron was employed full time as well. On paper we could afford the house but 6 years later with two kids (one of which we ended up paying for the prenatal care and delivery to the tune of almost $30,000 out of pocket), a start-up business and only one income; we were selling everything and then some to keep our house above water.

We took a substantial loss when we sold the house, twenty-thousand to be exact. Rolled that into our new build loan but when it sold before it was finished it sold for an appreciated cost and cut our initial debt in half. We rented for 2 years to save money and pay-off the remaining debt from the sale of our house. We had sold cars to pay our hospital bills and somewhere in there bought our minivan with a small loan and paid that off in those two years of renting as well. (Are we still on the same page?? Anyone??) We saved everything and our goal was to buy another house but with 20% down this time, no questions asked.

SO. You guys – we did. We bought our house that we live in now with 20% down and our mortgage is under $300 a month. This is why we did this. We can also now (and only now) afford to send our kids to private school.

Kitchen AfterKitchen After

We live differently on purpose. Now if catastrophe hits the fan, our family won’t crumble. We finally have better health insurance and this is the first year in the last eleven that we haven’t ended the year paying out of pocket almost double what we’re allowed to contribute to our HSA. This might be the year we actually carry a balance to be able to save up for emergencies where insurance is concerned.

I really like to budget, I love numbers. I get jazzed about this stuff and yes, with our low monthly output and no debt (aside from the mortgage) to our name – we can do more with our income. This is how we’ve given ourselves “raises” through the years. We reduce the amount going out so the amount coming in looks like it’s growing even though it isn’t.

But it’s still hard because money is still money and it buys really fun things and we still have to say no and save and work and have goals.

My eyes are a little bonkers. I realize this is either really interesting or completely irrelevant to you, I get it. I wish more people would talk about this because it fascinates me.

As a teenager I set myself up on a budget based on percentages. So, when I got a paycheck (or cash from babysitting) I would automatically calculate 30% of what I earned for savings, 10% towards gifts/tithes, 15% towards gas/car maintenance, 30% towards spending and the other 15% went into a slush fund of sorts to build up for things like insurance or my eventual cell phone bill. I changed the percentages when needed (like every 6 months if my expenses changed) but I was pretty strict with my self and how I managed my (very little) income.

Alllllllllllll these years later I’m still doing a version of this. Only it’s not based on percentages and instead of me calculating the amounts for our categories, our direct deposit does it for us.

EASIEST THING IN THE WHOLE WORLD.

I wanted to talk about this for a few reasons, one because I’m a geek and setting up budgets for automatic saving or spending (automatic bill pay anyone? Oh my gosh, now we’re talking. You’re so naughty) is one of my secret powers that I want to share with you but also, as it turns out, not a lot of people think the way we do about this kind of stuff.

I realize that if you find yourself in a similar situation to where we were six years ago your train of thought might not lead you to the hop-scotch selling and building and renting as it did us but I guess I’m weird? It’s like walking into a house and seeing the walls come down. I can just see it.

Aaron took some convincing, he sort of just expected to have a car payment and house payment and credit cards. Not to abuse, just because thats what he thought it took. Only, I don’t know … I disagree. We don’t have to have it all, I’m not interested in more stuff. Experiences? Yes, lets do that. Let’s travel and see and taste and explore. Let’s put our dollars to work in our kitchen, on our table, and in our hearts with our memories. Lets build a life worth more than counting numbers.

🍅🍅🍅

So I guess a budget is like really good boundaries, if we want to bring it from tactile to emotional because this girl loves a good metaphor. I love boundaries. There’s more freedom within them than outside of them. If I have absolutely no boundaries then I have no direction. Wide open spaces are only fun for so long and then you start wondering where you can put things. Where does this go? And what if I had a place for that?

I’d argue that I am not Type A. I’m creative and messy and full of feelings and I cry easily and laugh loudly and I like to giggle whenever it bubbles up and I love surprises and adventure and being a free spirit … who also can get down with a budget, a repeatable file system, grocery shopping and menu planning. I’m kind of different.

But thats what I hope to bring to you in this mini-series of “House Keeping”. My slightly bent, what-works-for-us routines. One last thing? There aren’t short cuts. It’s a lot of work to stay on top of menu planning and budgeting, there isn’t a quick fix, that I’ve found, that lasts. There’s just doing the next right thing. And then the next thing, and then the next. If ordering take out is the budget saving solution to eating at home, then do that. Next month maybe you’ll go to the grocery store on the weekend, and the next maybe you’ll menu plan too … 3 months into small changes you might be cooking your own food from your kitchen and adding up the savings towards a vacation. Or maybe towards the debt you might carry, or the eventual car replacement headed your way.

Whatever it is, doing nothing is actually doing something.

With that little nugget of gold, brought to you by inspirational posters every where, I’m out. Peace.