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Playing Just Dance on the Wii at my neighbors house with friends Nicole and Ashleigh. Instead of resolving to lose weight in 2015, I resolve to play this game 2 - 3 times a week.

Playing Just Dance on the Wii at my neighbors house with friends Nicole and Ash-Leighh. Instead of resolving to lose weight in 2015, I resolve to play this game 2 – 3 times a week.

Women’s Magazines – Eat This Not That

Since we’re less than a week into 2015, I’ve been thinking about why so many New Year’s resolutions fail. It’s not because we set the bar too high. But if we could simply “resolve” to lose 10 pounds we would have lost them last year or perhaps 10 years ago. I think it’s because we set some broad goal for ourselves without any plan to get there. In the spirit of those magazine articles that suggest swapping this food for that to lose weight, I’ve come up with three of The No Drama Mama’s Resolve This Not That swippy swaps.

1. Swap This – “Lose 10 Pounds” for This – “Play Just Dance 2-3 Times A Week.” Thinking back to the year I was at my skinniest since becoming a mom and how I got there, it wasn’t because I joined a gym, it’s because I spent a summer pushing my two kids in a double stroller around my neighborhood and dancing with my baby in the living room. I think the key was that I was having fun with my kids. My personal resolution is to play Just Dance on the Wii till I’m good at it or at least having so much fun with my kids that I’m not focusing on my post-baby body. You can substitute any physical play you want.

2. Swap This – “Get Out of Debt” for This – “Pay All Cash For One Year.” I’ve been saying for years that I’m on a quest to get out of debt, but like losing weight crash dieting or financial dieting doesn’t work. Sure you can be good for a while, but eventually you fall off the wagon and decide there’s no point in getting back on. The best way to get out of debt is to stop using credit cards. I’m not going to lie, we have a small balance on one card, BUT I also have the cash to pay that card off right this second if need be. The first step towards getting out of debt has to be to stop packing it on. After this card is paid off, my goal is to not use any credit cards this year, hopefully allowing me to pay my last non-home related debt off one year early in 2016.

 

3. Swap This – “Yell Less” for This – “Create Love Banks.” Parenting kids, especially small ones, can be super frustrating. Like many parents, I wish I could contain my frustration better, but I am probably going to lose my patience and yell sometimes so I want to build my kids up so they know that no matter what they do that might make me mad I will ALWAYS love them. I’m going to find a small bank or jar for each child and fill it with strips of paper describing the many things I love about them. Everybody experiences anger and frustration, but the lesson I want to teach my kids is that those emotions are temporary, while love is permanent. While I may not like everything they do, I love everything that makes each of them special.

Do you have some swap this for that resolution ideas? Share them here or on my Facebook page The No Drama Mama.

You’re two days from pay day, have just enough money for gas to get to work, are pulling leftovers out of the fridge trying to invent dishes to last you till you can get to the grocery store, and you turn down plans to go out to dinner with friends. Everyone has been here, the scrape and scrimp survival stage.

Empty Pockets

You swear you’ll be better with your next paycheck so you don’t end up here again.  But then pay day arrives, you breath a sigh of relief, and then promptly forget everything you just went through, well until two days before your next paycheck anyway.

I’ve come to the conclusion that for most people, our financial habits when we are broke are NOT the problem, it’s our financial habits once we have money that cause our downfall. Now that it’s just about time for tax refunds here are 4 tips to use your refund wisely so you can avoid those survival days.

1. Start an Emergency Fund – Even if it’s small at first, $500 to $1,000 socked away in a savings account can mean the difference between an emergency and a financial disaster. If your car or a major appliance breaks you won’t be running to use your credit cards, getting loans, or worse trying to pay out of your paycheck leaving you with a huge shortage and unable to pay your regular bills.

2. Skip The Fancy Vacation & Pay Down Debt Instead – Sure you really want to go on vacation and you so deserve it for working hard all year, BUT you’ll be working so much harder for so much longer the more debt you carry year to year. Go camping, visit family or plan a few staycations instead. Check out myfamilytripplanner.com for great family-friendly destinations in the Hudson Valley. Once you’ve paid off one debt, snowball that monthly payment into your next debt. Once you’re free of debt, you’ll be shocked at just how far your paycheck can really go.

My Family Trip Planner

3. Stop Getting Refunds – Yes this sounds crazy right? Who doesn’t want that nice sizable chunk of change? It makes us all feel a little like we won the lottery. But that money is yours and you’ve just lent it to the government interest free for a year, while you struggled month to month.

We tend to view lump sums as “extra,” “fun-money” or a “win-fall” that wasn’t earned, when nothing could be further from the truth. You earned every penny of that money and you should put it to work as rigorously as you would your paycheck. Talk to your accountant and human resources department about increasing your withholding so you have more money per paycheck and a smaller or no refund at the end of the year.

4. Pay Yearly Premiums – You often get discounts for paying car, home, or life insurance premiums yearly rather than monthly so why not use your refund to pay cheaper rates for insurance and eliminate these monthly expenses from your budget.

You could also check with other service providers to see if you can prepay your bills for the year for a discount. My husband and I switched our home phone provider to a VOIP (voice over internet provider) and paid $200 for 2 years of service which works out to $8 a month, which is far cheaper than any other plan I’ve found and it has eliminated this monthly expense for the next 2 years.

What do you plan on doing with your tax refund?

A strange phenomenon happens sometime between your late 20s and early 30s. You start watching shows on HGTV where home envy runs rampant. Buying homes, selling homes, renovating homes, and on and on. Once you’re a homeowner you find yourself drawn to these shows either for purely voyeuristic purposes (doesn’t everyone want to see what houses on the Island of Tahiti look like?) or you’re looking to cure your home woes.

House Poor

I remember distinctly the moment I knew for certain I was house poor. My husband and I bought our townhouse at 24 and 25 respectively when all the rentals we looked at made our two bedroom apartment with black mold lining the wall look like the Hilton. Six months after we bought and winter settled here in the mountains, I came home from work one day, exhausted, frustrated and positively broke. I stood crying in my living room because I knew my house was making me poor.

The cost of the heating and utilities was a shock since our apartment had included all of that in the rent. Slowly over time we started to earn more money and it wasn’t so bad, but boy did it made me realize just how much we suffer for the biggest purchase of our lives – our homes. Buying a house is like marriage in many ways. It takes a LOT of work to maintain and some people find it difficult to hold onto that loving feeling they once had for their homes.

Love It or List It

Love It or List It

On that note, enter HGTV’s show Love It or List It. Home owners work with both a designer to renovate their existing home so it better suits their needs and a realtor who shows them new houses in the hopes of convincing them that moving is really the answer to their problems. I’m completely drawn to this show and I see the two hosts in my head like the proverbial angel on one shoulder and the devil on the other. I don’t know if I’m the only one that watches the show, and wants to punch out the homeowners every time they whine and complain to each of the two hosts trying to help them. It takes the term ungrateful to a whole new level and sometimes I wonder if they are told to act like that to build the show’s drama.

Who Doesn’t Want Their Dream Home?

There are very few episodes in which the home renovations meet every item on the home owners wish list, even though the renos are absolutely breathtaking and often solve some of the biggest issues for them. The homeowners often give the designer a budget of $40,000 – $50,000 and at the same time give the realtor a budget of a good $60,000 – $100,000 over what their current home costs and I sit back and watch transfixed until the last few minutes when the couple must decide to love their home with its renovations and also some flaws or choose a brand new home that checks every item off their wish list.

Home Ownership Is Like Marriage

I find myself cheering when the couple decides to love their home again instead of going into debt to get that bigger, better dream home. I know in my heart how the spin off show to those who choose to list it goes.  Fast forward a few years and that loving feeling they had for their dream home has faded and flaws are found where they once only saw perfection. Yes home ownership is a sort of marriage. Without the commitment to love what you have, imperfections and all, you’ll never be happy.

“We have to get a new snow blower,” my husband tells me and immediately I think “Um NO.” New snow blowers run between $500 – $800 for a gas powered model and the only way for us to pay for it would be on a credit card. As I’m trying very hard to pay off the last bit of credit card debt this year, I knew there had to be another way. For the record I’m totally for buying used instead of new. He actually bought his used snow blower about 3 or 4 years ago for $175 off of craigslist.

When It Comes To Money – Don’t Blow It

After talking about it for a little while he agreed to try to fix it instead of buying a new one. He took it to a repair shop and they wanted $100 just to take it apart to see what was wrong with no guarantees they could fix it. He decided just to tinker with it himself and in an afternoon he and my brother-in-law were able to tighten the belt and now it works fine. So a little bit of effort to shake the urge to buy new saved us $500 – $800 of would-be debt.

Shake The Spend Instinct

The moral of the story is that our first instincts are always to spend, to replace, and to buy new. These are the fun side effects of all that lovely media urging us to “Buy, buy, buy.” What they should have is a disclaimer warning us that if you follow their suggestions then that is exactly what you can say to your paycheck – “bye, bye bye.”

Life Hack 1

Recycle More of Your Income – Buy Used, Fix It & Hack It

To me, buying new is usually a bad investment as new items are almost always instantly worth less the minute you get them home. If you buy used, you pay significantly less for an item, don’t worry so much about wear and tear as it’s already broken in, and you usually don’t incur debt for an item that will lose it’s value before you can pay it off. I also love the fact that it gives items new life instead of adding to our landfills.

My husband came across these life hacks to make life easier using items you probably already have lying around the house. Since I love the idea of reusing items in new ways I thought I’d share.

Repurpose crib

What things do you buy used? Share your life hacks here as well. Follow me on Facebook.

To the frugal warrior practicality is king. My husband knows this and that’s why I pretty much know that whatever he gets me for the holidays or my birthday is going to have some practical purpose.

Diamond Bracelets Vs. No-Barf Bands

PSI Bands
This year, he scored a home-run gift with a set of Psi bands. For those that don’t know, these acupressure bracelets are used to relieve nausea from motion sickness or in my case morning sickness. For the past few days I’ve been wearing them I haven’t prayed to the porcelain god even once and for that reason I couldn’t love his gift more if they had been diamond tennis bracelets.

If you didn’t get what you wanted for the holidays, here are four strategies to make the most of your exchanges or gift cards.

Save Money By Skipping The Sexy Items

1. Get Items You REALLY Need – It’s not a sexy choice to redeem gift cards or use store credit from gift exchanges on things you need, but it’ll certainly benefit your budget. I used some store credit from a return on a pair of maternity pants. That is pretty much the definition of an unsexy gift, BUT my belly is much happier not having the circle from the button on my jeans tattooed on my skin.

Use the money you would have spent from your budget on that needed item wisely. You can put it toward your emergency fund, toward that big purchase you’ve been dreaming of, or toward paying off debt. Frugal warriors like myself know that there is nothing sexier than freedom from debt.

Shop Like A Frugal Rock Star

ClearanceLogo

2. Hit The Clearance Racks Hard – Now that the holidays are over, stores will be clearing out winter merchandise that didn’t sell so there are some great opportunities to save big by hitting the clearance and sales racks. Plus that store credit or gift card will go that much further when you can get twice as much stuff.

One Man’s Trash Is Another Man’s Treasure

3. Re-gift It or Sell It – Got a gift card to a store you never shop at or a gift you can’t possibly use? Then why not re-gift it to someone who can use it? Or you can sell it online, think ebay, craigslist, cardpool and the like. But keep in mind you aren’t going to get the full retail value, but something is definitely better than nothing.

Recycling With HEART

Salvation Army

4. Donate Unwanted Items or Gift Cards –
Consider donating unwanted gifts to charity. It’s like recycling with heart. You can get a tax credit for gifts made to IRS registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations, just be sure to ask for a receipt.

What are you going to do with those gifts that really didn’t fit the bill?

In church this week, we agreed to make a pledge to have a debt-free Christmas this year and I thought this was a great idea. I had already made a silent pledge of this sort to myself, but it definitely keeps you honest when you declare something publicly. I wonder how many more people would make a similar commitment if they did it with the support of friends and family.

The Credit Culture

It seems so culturally sanctioned to overspend and use credit cards during the holidays that it feels almost un-American not to.  I think we can all agree that it sucks to still be paying off presents when Christmas comes knocking again next year. This pledge can be made for all holidays or occassions. So here are some tips I’m using to keep costs down and the credit cards away.

Piggy Bank

1. Set Clear Limits on Gift Giving – For the past several years my immediate family has instituted a Kid’s Only presents policy. Adding up $60 per couple for brothers and sisters and brother and sister-in-laws, not to mention aunts, uncles, etc. decidedly takes a huge financial toll on a family. Even with all the kids in our family it can still get pretty expensive. You could set price limits for kids gifts or do a Secret Santa to keep costs under control. You could let each kid draw a name and let them help make or pick out the recipient’s gift to get them excited about it. White Elephant is also a really fun gift-exchange game. If you know of others share them here.

2. Have a Budget – So this goes hand and hand with number 1. Know what you can truly afford  to pay for presents (in cash) and don’t go over it. If you do, chances are you’ll end up packing on the debt or struggling to pay your other bills in December. Let your friends and family know that you have a budget. Chances are good that your family won’t care if you don’t shell out big bucks on gifts. It’s really us who put the pressure on ourselves to buy expensive gifts that will (in our minds) adequately convey how much we love the recipient. But a gift is just a gift and can in no way quantify our feelings, so let’s all agree to stop trying to make this round peg fit into a square hole.

presents

3. Gifts of Self – If you’re crafty and even if you’re not, you can find thousands of presents you can make yourself for relatively little money. A simple google search can yield tons of possible DIY gift ideas. If you can’t make something, offer something. You can create simple cards with coupons or offers to house sit, dog walk, babysit, clean, cook a meal, mow a lawn, shovel snow or a hundred other things that cost you only some time and maybe a little sweat equity. I myself would love some babysitting since I only leave my kids with family or really close friends and don’t get out without the kids very often.

Stay tuned for more tips on how to have a debt free holiday this year. Follow me on Facebook.

Nothing gets my blood boiling more than credit card companies. My husband and I, no matter how hard we work to get out from under their thumb, seem to find ourselves battling them. When we lost both our cars in one week, despite having a budding emergency fund to cover most of the replacement expense, we had to finance about $2,400. Now that we’ve been sharing a car for a few days, I’ve realized that, especially in the summer, I absolutely need a car of my own so that my kids and I aren’t trapped at home all day.

One good thing that came out of this financial detour is that during the application process for a loan at our credit union we found out my husband’s credit score had dropped 40 points since last year. I asked myself, “What the hell happened from last year to this year?” We had paid off his credit cards in April. Being the Discount Diva I am, I simply couldn’t let this slide. I told him that he had to get on the phone and find out what was going on.

The Dangling Finance Charge

So, my husband called Experian. He found out that although he had paid off his Capital One card, there was a $2 finance charge that was applied after his final payment was processed. So, he was going about his business thinking, “Great, I have a $0 balance on that account. That’s one less thing to worry about.” Boy was he wrong. He didn’t think to check the account after it was paid off and never knew he had this dangling $2 finance charge. Then they hit him with late payments on this $2 charge and subsequently sent a report to the credit bureau when he was 90 days past due, which is a major blow to your credit score.

The Call to Fix It

So, having already gone through something similar, I said to my husband, “You have to get on the phone and fix this. Otherwise it’s going to mess up your credit score.” He called them up and explained that because he paid off the account he believed there was a $0 balance. He told them he had no knowledge of the finance charge because he’d gotten no notice from them. He pointed out that he was a good customer and had never made a late payment to them in all the years he’d had the card, but he was going to cancel the account if they didn’t remove the late payment fee and send a report to the credit bureau to expunge the delinquency report. I stood in the room pacing, going “Atta boy.” I’ve been there and done that. He felt like he was being harsh, but I reassured him that he had to fight for his good credit score.

He was nice, yet assertive, when talking to the customer service rep and in a matter of minutes both the finance charge and the late payment were removed and a report was filed with the credit bureau to expunge the original delinquency report. It’s going to take a few months to be entirely removed, but it was definitely something that had to be done.

The Lesson Learned

So here’s what I take away from this whole situation. YOU alone are the only one who is responsible for your credit. The credit card companies love to make money off of you, but they sure as hell aren’t going to look out for your best interests.

I used to be the girl that was afraid to ask for anything. I wanted to be seen as nice, but I’ve learned that you NEVER get what you want when you don’t ask. So I say, if you run into a dangling finance charge, the dreaded annual fee or any other discrepancy, call your credit card company IMMEDIATELY and insist they fix it. I ditched my Capital One card when they wouldn’t remove my annual fee. Why should I have to pay anything on a card that has a $0 balance? I refuse to pay a fee for the “privilege” of carrying their card. You need to let these credit card companies know that they are a dime a dozen.

I always call my creditors, whether it’s a credit card company or the cable company, and ask for a better rate, a new due date, or whatever else it’s going to take to keep my financial ship afloat and moving forward. Never be afraid to remind them that you always have other options (even if you don’t – bluff). The worse they can say is “No.” If they say no, then you have to decide whether or not to stick with a company that isn’t willing to work with their customers or give another company your business. The choice is always yours. I like to think of it as reverse telemarketing. Companies work very hard to get your business so we should make them work just as hard to keep it. My advice is to keep your existing companies on their toes, keep new businesses in mind, and check your credit report once a year to make sure there are no discrepancies.

And One More Thing…

Something else that helps me stay focused on my mission to get out of debt is to get really stinking MAD! Get MAD at the unfair practices, crazy interest rates, fees and penalties, and yourself for getting into debt in the first place. I’ve learned that when you get complacent you get nowhere, so get FIRED UP to make a change. This is YOUR FINANCIAL PEACE at stake so defend it come hell or high water!

Share your battle stories with credit card companies and maybe we can collect enough rage among us to get out of debt for good.

So, this past week was a bad financial week in my household. We had a car accident that totaled our mini-van last Tuesday and then as we were driving up to Lake George for our camping trip our remaining car over-heated and the engine blew. So, now we are stuck having to replace both cars at the same time. At first I was panic-stricken, as is my worry-wart nature. Then I said to myself, “You know what, this is life.”  Time to let go and let God (as they say). I sometimes hold on so tight to the purse strings that they start to cut off my circulation. My husband often tells me that whenever he asks me any question, my first response is “what’s it going to cost?”

Although I can’t pretend my budgeting OCD will ever go away, I’m trying to see financial setbacks as just detours on the road to financial freedom. There was a time, when I can honestly say that I had no idea where my money went and I had no financial goals. Now, I know that I want to be debt-free and I have made a plan to get to that destination. I have to learn that financial setbacks and mistakes are going to happen, but that I can learn from them.

What I can do now is try to prepare as much as I can and listen for my internal GPS to recalculate my route. One day I’ll hear those beloved words, You have arrived at your destination.”  Lamenting my mistakes for too long would be like standing by my smoking car on the side of the highway crying instead of getting on the phone to call for a tow-truck. Does it stink having to pay for a tow and two cars right now? Yes. Does lamenting my situation move me forward on my journey? That would be a big NO.

I’ve decided to share my top 3 financial detours with you and what I’ve learned from them so that maybe you can learn from my mistakes too.

Financial Detour #1: Where the heck are we? Before we got married, my husband and I split bills down the middle without actually co-mingling our money. After we got married we kept this arrangement because it seemed fair. Bills would be divvied up based on our separate incomes and any money we had left in our individual bank accounts was ours to do with as we pleased. Unfortunately, my husband and I didn’t get on the same financial page till we found ourselves moving to a single income when my daycare business failed. By then, we each had a fair amount of credit card debt the other didn’t know about and neither of us really could say where our money was going every month.

Lesson Learned: Get on the same page with your significant other and do it now, before an extreme change of circumstances forces you to do it. You can’t move forward toward financial independence if you and your partner are driving different cars. Once we combined accounts and got real about our debt, we were able to make a budget and design our road-map out of debt. Happily, we are continuing to move out of debt, albeit slowly, but all that matters is that we keep moving forward together.

Financial Detour #2: Not having AAA. Only once you’ve broken down do you regret not having AAA. I know I did as I sat on the side of the highway with my family waiting for a tow-truck last Friday. The financial equivalent of AAA is an emergency fund. Sure, you may not need a financial cushion this minute, but boy will you regret not having one when your bank account hits the red and is hemorrhaging money. Before we went down to one income, I didn’t give an emergency fund much thought. I lived in the moment, crossing my fingers that nothing bad would happen. Then every car repair or unexpected expense felt like the end of the world because I didn’t have money to cover it.

Lesson Learned: Now that I’m a stay-at-home mom, I know one of the most important things to have is an emergency fund. Financial experts like Suze Orman and Dave Ramsey recommend having at least a starter fund of $1,000 and then build up to roughly 6 to 8 months of your monthly income. Luckily, we had an emergency fund in place when we lost both our cars this past week. Although we were just starting to grow our fund, we did have enough to cover most of the purchase of two used cars. We’ll still have to take a small loan to cover the difference, but it won’t be nearly as devastating to our budget as it would have been if we had nothing.

Financial Detour #3: Calculating my self-worth in dollars. I suspect that I am not the only stay-at-home mom that has struggled with doubting my worth because I don’t have a pay stub that places a dollar value on my time. Perhaps I might have felt differently if my husband and I made an advance decision that I would stay at home with our kids rather than having it thrust upon us by circumstance. As it was, going from work-for-pay to work-for-family (a.k.a. for free, mostly 24 hours a day, and mostly unrecognized), I had a hard time recognizing my value without a way to quantify it. Let’s face it, in our society you are defined by your work-for-pay job. When people ask me what I do, I say I’m a stay-at-home mom and I sometimes feel a little self-conscious, wondering if that somehow makes me a less valuable person in their eyes. After all, there is nothing in that job description that would indicate to people that I have a BA degree in English and a minor in Creative Writing. Nor does it say that I’ve worked for nearly 10 years coordinating marketing and special events for various non-profits.

Lesson Learned: I had to change the way I viewed myself (sans paycheck). The world is going to think what they want about me. They will try to quantify my worth based on my paycheck (or lack thereof). So I have to know how important my job is – I am responsible for two little lives and the way they turn out will be a result of how good of a parenting job I do (along with my husband of course). I can’t afford to wait around for society to recognize how valuable a mother’s work really is, I have to know it for myself. I am CEO of our family finances. I am my children’s first teacher. I am my husband’s anchor. Without me, his life would not be the same and the same goes for me. I can’t feel guilty that I don’t contribute dollars and cents to our budget. Frankly there’s no time for guilt on this road; not if I ever hope to reach my destination.

Staying at home with my kids has been amazing. The things I can do for and with my family is invaluable and it’s given me the chance to pursue my dreams. I’m finally working on writing that book I’ve always wanted to. I used to say to myself, “I can’t do that because I’m too busy with work and the kids,” but really, I just used my job as an excuse. You can’t fail if you never try, right? Well, I’ve learned that you can’t afford not to pursue your passion even if you never get a dime for it. Money is important, but it does NOT define you.

Hopefully you can learn something from my financial detours. If you’re feeling brave, share your financial detours with me and the other HV Parent readers and we can all help each other on the road to financial independence.

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