{Update} On Budgeting

It’s been a while since I’ve talked about our journey to becoming debt free and I’ve been thinking about what might be different, what I haven’t covered, what to tell you guys lately.

The beginning of the year I did a video and talked about how optimistic I was – that Aaron had taken over the budget and things were finally starting to feel possible. How excited I was for the cash envelopes and all that jazz.

A few weeks later I updated with how those envelopes were doing. A few were surprisingly pregnant. There had been some hanky panky. Naughty.

Now it’s almost April and I haven’t made a new video yet (about anything … {hangs head}). Where are things?

Some days it’s really confusing – because you think you have this untouchable idea, this rock solid plan to carry you through and then, oooops, you buy tickets for a plane ride.

Being busy and losing the communication it takes to keep our budget up to date is our worst enemy. We’re still on track to have our car paid off before summer and we just paid off a few small medical debts (large deductions for daughters tonsillectomy, left over debt from Aaron’s back situation, dentist bills).

We have a few things up in the air right now as well, which makes planning for anything a little difficult – so we’re doing the best we can.

I was reading through some of the Dave Ramsey calls (I have the iphone app, of course I do) and was struck by one of them that listed what they had “Bank rolled” while paying off debt … vacations, home upgrades, cars …

Which got me thinking … I’ve been tallying this number in my head for the day we call that show and scream we’re debt free!! (and yes, that will happen) and there are times when I think; Seriously? In all this time that’s it? Why does it feel like we work so hard then?

Here’s our rough to-date of what we’ve paid off in the last 2 1/2 years:

…….. $47,500 American Dollars ……..

In that total we have: The birth of our son, the loss we took when we sold our home, the above listed medical costs, and what we’ve paid off on the car loan so far. (I guess technically I could add the total cost of the mortgage in there but that hurts my head.)

That’s a big number when I see it like that. In order to accomplish that we built and sold another home, have no credit cards, became a one car family (sold a car for the cash) and are crazy serious about paying off our debt otherwise. Meaning when we make extra money or are given money as a gift or find extra money in our budget – it goes towards paying something off. We also no longer have a mortgage.

While paying off the debt we bank rolled:

# Five (or more) Vacations
# Numerous upgrades to our previous home
# The purchase of 2 used cars

This is not to brag but to let you guys know how possible this is when you have a plan. Our income changed only slightly for cost of living (actually just to cover the increase in our monthly health insurance deductible) and we’re not rich by any means. But we are focused.

I sold over $5,000 worth of STUFF on craigslist. For a while I was taking photos regularly for families and made extra money that way.

I’ve traded skills many times in order to get something that we need. So has Aaron.

We’re out of the box thinkers, and it’s not difficult. There are opportunities and ideas everywhere you look – but are you looking?

That’s what’s new for us: not much actually. Just keepin on keeping on.

How do you guys stay focused? What have you done that has helped your budget lately?

Like this kind of conversation? Me too. For more check out my series on becoming debt free.

{Disclaimer time! While this works for us we are not geniuses with money, we still run into issues with mismanagement no matter how hard we try – this has been a learning curve for us as well. So just because this is how we’ve decided to delegate and spend our money doesn’t mean you should too. Do I think being debt free is important? Um, yes. But that’s just us.}

Clear the clutter

It’s that time of year when we see garage sale signs popping up and flea markets start to happen every weekend and it’s very exciting. I subscribe to this membership of purging. I love it.

Just this last week I re-painted our daughters room and repurposed some household items in her room to better fit her needs. I stole a rug from our living room for her bedroom, used up extra paint we had for her walls and updated her bedding with money I had made from selling some pieces in our house that just don’t work for us any more.

However, I noticed another place in my life, specifically, where I could clear the clutter … digitally. Subscriptions, free trials, email lists, to-dos.

Like a lot of families these days we no longer pay for cable but have subscriptions to Netflix and Hulu. I had a free trial going for Amazon Prime (for the free shipping), and after listening to one of my favorite podcasts, started another free trail for a budgeting tool, You Need A Budget.

All well intentioned. Signing up for something for free to test it out is always a great way to see if I can really use something long term, but the kicker for me is, this generally means I have to add something else to my list of things to do or try to even begin making the decision about if I want it or not.

Case of the Monday's

And it works like a charm because suddenly the free trial turns into a paid subscription and I generally feel guilt over not using it enough, or “getting my monies worth”, if I don’t order from amazon frequently enough to cover the cost. Anyone else?

So I signed up for this budget tool and signed in, and got 3 more confirmation emails immediately. My inbox was flooded with “helpful tips to get started” and “remember your passwords” and all the things to go along with starting something new. But you guys, the entry (free or not) into this new budgeting tool was costing me time and energy I don’t have. We already use another free budgeting tool (Mint.com) and I love it. Everything is already synched up and it works just fine. WHY WOULD I TRY ANOTHER?

It might be nicer, more progressive, from what I’ve heard, it’s a great tool for budgeting. But the system I have in place works well for us. So why does a free trial sound like I’m missing out?

I had too many of these mind-cluttering systems holding me hostage. I even checked our Netflix and Hulu subscriptions knowing along the way I bumped up one of the subscriptions from the most basic to the next level for convenience. I canceled all the trials (pro tip, when you do this within your free trail period, you still have access to the membership until the end of your trail period and you won’t get billed accidentally beyond it.) and I downgraded the subscriptions I know we used and wanted to keep and suddenly the mental space I was occupying trying to get the best deal just vanished. Because I’m already getting the best deal for us by not buying in to the free trap on everything that sounds remotely interesting.

I follow AndreaDekker.com and love her mindset on so many of these organizational tools and systems. Often what we’re buying is the idea, not the ability to keep it all organized. We think we need more systems, more boxes, more labels to actually be organized when really – we often need so much less to stay organized. Less stuff, less things to have to clean or label or keep track of. Less.

Any way, it’s Monday and it’s Springtime and most of the time the lure to “save money” is actually spending it. Which is totally fine, I spend money and you should definitely spend the your money however you see fit. It was just really helpful the past few days to realize what it is I find helpful about what I’m spending money (and time, or energy – all equally valuable to me) on.

Free trials, I’ve found out, aren’t valuable to me. But buying flowers at the Farmers Market and spending a lot of time in our yard and on our yard – is extremely valuable to me, so I just won’t say no to perennials. Yet.

What would you add to the list of things to clear the clutter?

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.

often

I think I’m often too busy to notice I can do better on less.

The conversation around budgeting/debt freedom/finances has been one I’ve been having lately. (more here and some more here) And it’s not even about money most of the time, it’s about food, time, commitments, things in my home, ideas that clutter up the thankfulness … and on and on and on.

We have a very small fridge in our kitchen.

Oh hai! Adorable miniature new fridge.

And an even smaller stove.

The 1950's called - they want their miniature appliances back. And their cabinets. And counters. They said the exhaust fan could stay though.

I’ve been planning and searching for the new, BIGGER, versions of these appliances for a year now. And yet, it’s odd that we’re still fed healthy, homemade meals – almost every night. That this tiny little stove works like an army when we can whip out dozens of muffins, cookies for lunches, breads of all kinds and meals to fill our freezer. That I’m constantly amazed at the room we have available in our little fridge. It can get pretty full, but it’s never been empty.

I can't stop. #freezing #freezer #food

And, this could be trying to tie too many strings to one conclusion, but I wonder if I’ll notice how full we are when we do have “more room”. This beautiful little house is actually more square footage than the home we sold in 2010.

SOLD

(Photos of saying goodbye to that house here)

It has more walls, more stairs and a few other interesting elements that we didn’t have in that Ranch on Ardmore. A dead end street, the house that built our family. And our kids still talk about that house – there are things about that home that will be magical for us for the rest of our lives. First steps, first words. About a dozen paint colors on our master bedroom walls in 6 years (we could never decide) and the fire pit in the back. The place we came together as a family of friends. As marriages were celebrated and babies hoped for. We cracked open bottles of wine and fed each other over a fire. There were marathons of favorite shows, bridal showers and family get togethers. That house was like a glue, a glue we haven’t found again (yet) in this house.

And it wasn’t because we lost it or gave it away when we sold the house and almost everything else we owned. We’ll find it again. But it won’t be in a renovation. Opening up walls and new carpet won’t automatically make this home our new glue. It makes it more comfortable, that’s for sure, and maybe even a little easier to show people, if we’re being honest. But it’s not what matters.

And I can get all kinds of caught up in the things that just don’t matter. Stainless steel appliances, an island a mile long! Tile and drawer pulls and rugs and clapboard walls. Hardwood flooring, french doors, a bedroom without a washer/dryer hookup in it (and a functional closet that could possibly, just maybe, be bigger than 2X2) … the list just gets longer, the finances never grow faster, the disappointment, like a sour dough imbedded in yeast, can just grow larger.

This hasn’t been easy for me. Buying a home was always the goal of our debt free journey. We weren’t sure where that would be (nationally) and we tried and failed so many times in the 2 years we were renting. The first year we spent in an apartment on 15th St, with a huge porcelain one bowl sink and a view of the tree tops was our second beginning. Not that our first was something to forget or wish away, but it was our first grown up house. We stopped playing house and decided to own it. But we had to start like everyone else, with nothing.

Which happened to actually be everything.

20100811-DSC_6138

About me

A short history of my life online or: An indepth look at the layers that make up jodimichelle.com.

Like so many websites started 10 years ago I began writing online as a way to just have a place to put my thoughts. Poetry, current projects with photography or print design. I was the go-to geek in my family, always playing with photoshop and being the tech-head in our house. Until of course I met and started dating my (now) husband. At the time he was light years ahead of me.

I stopped blogging for a time – finished school, started working … kept dating, bought a house with the guy – got engagedgot married and 9 months later found out we were pregnant!

Day after we found out we were pregnant with Jessica

^^ That’s me pointing to a baby in there. I was all of like 4 or 5 weeks pregnant. Thanks to good old early detection pregnancy tests. Also? I was ecstatic!

And thus began the very beginning of what this website has turned in to. Here’s the very first post published by Aaron (my husband) on an extension of his website. My part of the site was called “A Schaap Baby.” I began writing about my pregnancy so family and friends (out of state) could be up to date on the baby news.

I’ve never looked back. šŸ˜‰ While pregnant we decided to upgrade in housing. (Moving from first house together to new house, New (second) home as it looked when we bought it, Home as it looked when we sold 6 years later)

January 2005 we welcomed Jessica with waiting, open and loving arms to our family. We were that annoying couple who was so in-love with each other and our daughter that we passed out barf bags while walking down the road. (Here are some first photos of the munchkin.)

I continued to blog about motherhood and life, dealing with the death of my {step}dad who passed away while I was pregnant with Jessica. A day before my one year wedding anniversary.

In August of 2007 we found our we were pregnant again. I knew it was a boy right away – claiming to our daughter that mom just took a baby brother test and he was on his way šŸ™‚

Schaaps 2007

In May of 2008 we brought home a healthy baby boy, Oliver. Healthy being the operative word as I was diagnosed with Gestational diabetes weeks before my due date. (More on that here)

We were complete.

Mothers Day 2008

Aaaaaaand get ready for it because our life since baby boy came home has kind of exploded.

The first year of having two kids is kind of blurry. Oliver didn’t sleep through the night until I weaned him off breast feeding at 9 months old. Jessica started pre-school just three months after Oliver was born and I used to set the alarm after I dropped her off, feed Oliver and lay down until it was time to pick her up – only 2 short hours later. I was running a parental marathon of staying awake on no sleep and still keeping a house clean and bellies fed. It was “the adjustment period” in our lives.

Then Aaron’s job turned a corner and affected us in ways that began to pile up on me. We’re still reeling from this “adjustment period” in our marriage, home life and living situation. We’re not shy to admit we’ve been to marriage counseling more than once. I love the guy and definitely want to have a healthy, lasting life full of laughter, happiness and growth together.

Here’s a look at the beginning of the “major business period” in our lives.

I’m a self described wife of a Serial Entrepreneur. There needs to be a support group for women like me. Like no other time in history – the families of this Start Up decade are affected, stretched and often broken because we’re no longer working with boundaries for our lives. The office is always available, the job or website, app or software always beckoning to be fixed.

So obviously I started my own company too. In January of 2010 I started Gleek Retreat with another local blogger and friend, a conference for bloggers by bloggers.

I also began my Life List the year before and actually sold the conference as a company the year after it began (so, if we’re following along – started it 2010, sold it 2011) and when the purchaser of the company rescinded on the contract Stacey and I regained ownership of the franchise and are once again planning and running the conference. I have never been happier.

You might have also seen me here:

I’m writing for Turnstone and you can see about that here and read my articles here and here.

I’m a contributor for Curvy Girl Guide and you can see my article here.

Not only all of this. ALL OF THIS. But in July of 2010 we sold our home. And from here I’ll bullet point the process for you:

Selling our home was a huge decision. One that turned our life upside down. We went from owning to renting with the intention of building a new home, all the while becoming debt free. I tackled the topic on a regular basis in order to keep everyone up to date on our living situation and while we were building the house to move in to … that house sold too.

More on that here, here, here, here and here.

I recapped a bit of our journey on living without credit card debt, bank rolling purchases and getting close to being able to be completely bone dry debt free and then we tried to buy a little house.

Tour of adorable bungalow here.

Months after quotes, offers, acceptances and meetings we had to announce that we were not buying the house after all.

And since then? I’ve been daydreaming of a home we might some day get to live in. I’ve made wish lists of what I want to gain from this experience. We’ve lived in this apartment for a roller coaster 12 months. It’s anyone’s guess what’s next for us.

I get paid to write. You can contact me if you’re interested in a unique partnership with jodimichelle.com. I also co-own a Media company: MediaTreats, LLC: which executes retreats, conferences and think tanks. We’re connected and we specialize in extending the invitation to companies and individuals to bridge the gap between “you” and “them”. Representing Awesome on a daily basis.

My photography is a huge part of what I do – and if you hire me, it’ll be a huge part of what I can do for you.

Other opportunities to get involved with me:

Sponsor my Life List.

Become a Sponsor for Gleek Retreat 2012.

My rates are as follows:

I do monthly retainers beginning at $1,000/mo for up to 3 blog posts for your site.

For a How To post with photos rates begin at $300 per post and go up depending on time, topic and involvement.

I love collaboration – contact me for those rates.

Beginning Sponsorship on my Life List starts at $1,000 plus any possible travel accommodations.

I’ve also been known to work for trade. Got something you think I need? And you need my expertise? Let’s chat. Thinking outside of the box is my specialty.

Thanks for taking the time to get an in-depth look at me, what this space is all about and how I found my calling through my passion for writing. Living my life is never dull, welcome to the ride.