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Archive for December, 2007

A look back at 07 and resolutions for 08

January 1st, 2008 at 03:28 am

I never really took New Year's resolutions too seriously; I knew I was the type of person who has really good, exciting, creative ideas that I never followed through on. But since NT has joined the household, AS and I find that his organization has spilled over into our lives as well. Instead of putting things off, we face them head-on.

So now I see the New Year not as a time to make lame resolutions I won't keep, but an opportunity to clarify and define some goals that I've been thinking about for some time. And this blog will help me return to them from time to time and assess my progress.

My progress in '07 has been amazing to me. I finally stopped leaving leaks and loopholes for my money to escape through, and took control of it all. Beginning in March I weaned my household off credit. The only purchases not made with cash were completely planned, with plans on how to pay them off. Since July, when I started tracking this, our total debt has gone down more than $14,000.

A final note before I stop stalling and make with the goals: Some of these are going to be two-year or lifetime goals. Most of the things I've been thinking about lately are long-term goals, things that used to frighten and intimidate me, but now I see as very do-able in the long run.

1. Become personal-debt-free within two years. That's right, by Dec. 31, 2009, I want to see my nearly $70,000 of credit card and personal debt go pffft! Not sure how I'm going to do this just yet, so I'm going to start by paying the crap out of things, snowballing debt, and seeing where that gets me.

2. Look seriously at what it takes, character-wise and money-wise, to become a mom. I am 33 and almost (not quite) to a place where I want to have kids more than anything. This is a very new feeling for me, so I want to go slow, do lots of research, talk to some moms, talk to my doctor, and by, say, mid-2009, know whether this is the way I for sure want to go, and (if so) when.

Wow, putting that onscreen was rather intense! :-) Now for some "easy" ones:

3. Continue to work out almost 5 times a week. Been doing pretty well since September, taking a break for the holidays, want to come back strong Jan. 2 and continue, hopefully for the rest of my life. :-)

4. Grow my second balcony garden, and try for bell peppers this time!

5. Complete my debt-repayment "Ad Hoc goal" by 3/31/08 (see sidebar for info).

This is everything I've been planning anyway, but it feels good to write them all down.

Another small step

December 30th, 2007 at 05:51 am

$58 to a credit card.

$2399 to go for January!

Payments toward Jan. goal

December 27th, 2007 at 05:16 pm

Student loan: $55 to principal
UK CC: $13 to principal

Need to pay $2457 more to reach my Jan. goal.

$950 deficit on my Jan. goal

December 26th, 2007 at 10:24 pm

As predicted, the dishwasher I felt was the best value overall came to $950 with installation, haul-away, 5-year warranty etc. Soo, that's on a Sears card with no interest or payments for awhile. I'll leave it there and concentrate on other debts, then pay that one off before it starts costing me interest.

That means I'm $950 behind on my January goal, as expected. So to pay off $1575 of debt by Jan. 31, I actually need to pay off $2525 in principal. Should be manageable since that's what I generally do each month.

On the upside, spanking new dishwasher, and no worries about repairs or replacement for five years! They'll even come and give it a free cleaning and general tune-up once a year.

Also, it's ENERGY STAR-certified. Is there a tax break for that? I'll have to look into it.

Net worth update

December 23rd, 2007 at 02:14 am

NT's pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $359
AS's 403(b): $2,395
CJ's 401(k): $25,591
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $185,000
Total Assets: $509,295

Total Debt: $444,987

Current Estimated Net Worth: $64,308

11/19 estimate: $60,936
Change in net worth: +$3,372

Note: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested.

Things I wish I had known when I was in my 20s

December 19th, 2007 at 03:30 pm

1. Don't be in such a hurry.

When my girlfriend's education financing fell through due to various issues, I stumbled bravely into the fray wielding my meager credit history and no idea about finances. I took out unsecured personal loans and borrowed money against my credit cards. I was so afraid that if she couldn't go back to school in the fall, she'd never be able to. In retrospect, I should have asked her to take a job and save money for a year while we looked at our options. Those well-intentioned debts were the first few shovelfuls of the huge hole we dug ourselves into. When you're 24 and in love, take a few deep breaths before getting into something you don't understand, moneywise anyway.

2. Be moderate and reasonable, and do what you can.

This goes in two directions: Of course one was buying things I couldn't really afford, but in the other direction, I would get into really stingy periods where I tried desperately to get out of debt by cutting out all pleasures and even some basic necessities. This would lead to getting fed up from no fun and not enough progress, and making some wild splurges that would erase my progress so that I felt I had to go into extreme privation again. I think it was similar to the battle some face with food and their weight, only mine was with money. Had I tried going steadily, only paying off a little debt or even just aiming to break even at times, I think I would have gone into less debt overall.

3. Savers aren't all Scrooges, and a frugal life doesn't have to be miserable.

The two main people who talked about money were co-workers of mine. One was dead-set on getting debt-free, the other was debt-free and dead-set on saving money. Unfortunately, they were both grim girls who constantly (and vocally) resented that they didn't make more money. They were ungenerous of spirit as well as money, so I came to think the two went hand in hand. They made being frugal seem to me like a grim death-march, so it seemed a worse fate than being in debt. Had I known that frugal people could be upbeat and even fun, I might have tried harder. In other words, one of the main things I wish I'd known when I was in my twenties was the community of savingadvice.com (or MisersMisersMisers.com, as my girlfriend affectionately calls it)!

January goal

December 18th, 2007 at 11:05 pm

OK, I've decided to make my goal this month $950 less than usual, since that's how much my dishwasher might be [gulp!] with installation, tax and 5-year warranty. If I decide I can afford the one I really want.

So my January 2008 goal is to pay off $1575 in principal. BUT, to make sure I don't go off track for my overall goal, I'll be increasing my February and March goals. I would need to pay in a minimum of $2700 in each month to reach my goal by 3/31. I may make it a bit more aggressive than that if it looks like I can handle more. I'll cross that bridge when it's closer to February and I know more about our '08 net pay.

December goal reached!

December 17th, 2007 at 11:24 pm

A UK credit card payment posted--$194 went to principal, which means I reached my December goal!

Goal: $2525
Results: $2571!

I will wait a bit before posting my January goal--have to figure out how much this dishwasher's going to set me back!

PS: I just realized this marks the sixth month that I have set an aggressive debt-repayment goal and met it!

Payment toward the December goal

December 17th, 2007 at 07:22 pm

Personal loan payment hit: $432 toward principal. So that's $2377 down, $148 to go to reach my December payoff goal.

I'm pretty sure some other automatic payments have posted by now, so I may have hit my goal. I'm about to go through the UK accounts and see.

Since I'll probably buy a new dishwasher on credit next month, my January goal may have to be more conservative than usual--even though I have a plan to pay off the dishwasher, I do have to add it to my total debt until I do so. Probably what I'll do is figure out what extra I need to pay on the other months to make sure I reach my overall ad hoc goal of paying off $19,520 by the end of March. Better to make extra payments on those interest-charging debts while the dishwasher is sitting on a no-interest card!

I lied...

December 11th, 2007 at 09:40 pm

...in a recent post when I said I'd never buy anything on credit again. Well, I didn't lie but I was wrong.

Our dishwasher is seriously on its last legs; it barely even pretends to wash the dishes anymore. I figured out I'd be able to afford a really nice one by July. Then I went to sears.com and saw that I could get one now, with free shipping and some other perks, if I used a Sears card--and that there would be no payments or interest for a year.

That seems good--we could have it now and pay it off before it starts gathering interest. I went back and forth mentally--am I ready to do this sort of thing, when I'm a recovering credit addict? I decided it's safe because it will really bug me till it's paid off--I won't let it slow me down. And we do need a good dishwasher--we all work full-time, cook nearly every meal at home, entertain at home a lot to save money, so the time and manpower savings of a dishwasher are such a help.

I've also decided to go ahead and shoot for getting rid of all consumer debt in two years--Dec. 31, 2009, to be exact. I haven't worked out the specifics, so for the time being I'm just going to keep at my current pace, but starting in January I'm going to throw money at it as fast as I can!

Pondering really scary goal

December 4th, 2007 at 07:11 pm

Things have been going so well recently debtwise that I'm really itching to start investing and saving. I know I will probably have some expensive life changes in the next 10 years (possibly moving to England, possibly trying to have kids), and currently I have nothing in savings. My only "investments" are our two homes (neither of which are near paid for) and our various retirement funds.

I honestly never thought about saving for the long-term because I couldn't even imagine how I was going to get past all my debt. But now there's a greater income flow and my new disciplined approach to budgeting--the future is getting slightly brighter.

When I look at my debt, while I want to eventually get rid of the mortgages and student loans, what really bugs me is the consumer and personal debt. To date, that totals about $63K. Plus $7K that I still owe my dad for the down payment on my condo. (I think I'm going to move that to the "personal" category instead of the "home" category, because I want it to bug me more so I'll pay it off.)

If I keep to my current repayment plan, I should be able to pay all that off in a little less than three years. But part of me wants to push myself even more. We're expecting some pay increases; credit card monthly bills will go down gradually; expenses shouldn't increase much at all the next couple years. I'm wondering if I can make a goal to get rid of all consumer and personal debt in two years instead of three.

That would mean coming up with, on average, $900 more per month to put toward principal. Clearly I won't have that much even with pay raises, but I wonder if, by snowballing payments, I could actually do it.

I don't want to commit myself to the goal if I'm bound to fail, but I suppose even if I got closer as a result of trying it would be an accomplishment.

Still waffling...

More payments toward Dec. goal

December 4th, 2007 at 04:28 pm

Checked some online accounts, and the following amounts of principal have been paid:
US mortgage: $288
UK mortgage 1: $124
UK mortgage 2: $26
UK mortgage 3: $28
Credit card: $273
= $739

So that's $1945 down, $580 to go for December. I think I have at least $750 in minimum payments hitting later in the month, so we should make the goal, no problem. :-)

Paid off UK hotel

December 3rd, 2007 at 05:49 pm

I paid off the credit card that I used to reserve hotel rooms for our trip to England in May. The remaining balance was $1148. So for my December goal, that's $1206 down, $1319 to go.