Saturday, December 31, 2011

Adios, 2011

2011 wasn't a complete bummer of a year. Our daughter was married in a beautiful, simple, fun wedding to someone we're crazy about. They're doing well.

Our son started a teaching job early in the year and lost his appendix four days before the insurance kicked in. The surgeon was competent, and the hospital folks were understanding, helping him wend his way through a bit of red tape in reaching a very acceptable payment plan.

We see our son often and have seen our daughter and her hubby several times this year, tho they're 5+ hours away. And we all survived our recent babysitting stint of their two dogs!

Despite a few more aches and creaks than last year, our health has been good.

Surely there's more. Hmmm....

On the flip side, however, 2011 has been a year I won't mind seeing come to a close in a few hours. It started out with a bang when our income dropped with a thud last winter (which started December 1 and didn't let up for months) while the bills rushed in at breakneck speed. It was the first time I had to deal with credit card folks - then collections - to explain our circumstances. Repeatedly. Like Sarah, it wasn't nearly as bad as I thought, mostly because I DID communicate and because our credit had previously been good. Still, I dreaded making the calls.

While that was going on, hubby's job provided enough migraine moments for a lifetime. His firing from the coaching part of his job last month was a relief in many ways, and we feel certain a change in teaching location will happen soon. After that? No clue what God has in mind, but we think we're ready!

Stress was the norm during 2011, with enough panic thrown in to keep me tossing and turning in what little sleep I got and during waking hours, too.

Having spoken the word bankruptcy numerous times over the past month has eased the realization that short of finding a winning multigazillion lottery ticket, it's the only option we have left to escape the debt quicksand we've been fighting. I am eager to see the light in 2012 in both money matters and hubby's job situation, which will free up time to clean up and out around here and boost our income with several projects. Brain paralysis isn't good for much, and I'm looking forward to escaping its clutches in more ways than one.

Like Sarah, I've been inspired by all of you as you strive to beat the $$$ demons! May 2012 be one of even greater success for you. For all of us.


Year-end wrap up

Well, I guess it's time to pay the piper and check on those goals I set last year. Here they are:

2011 Goals

1. Build and sustain an Emergency Fund of $1,000. Current balance: $200

2. Aggressively pay down Discover.

3. Reduce grocery spending.

4. NO new debt.

I guess it's a good thing that I don't run screaming when I look at these four goals. That must mean there has been some progress. And some adjustments along the way.

1. The Emergency Fund is still sitting at $200, not the $1,000 I wanted it to be. But there is an EF, so that's something.

2. Discover has not been paid down. In fact, it's increased. Priorities shifted and it is what it is.

3. Grocery spending has been a huge success. On average, I've reduced spending here by $100 a month. At the very least, I'm way more aware of every purchase and I try to think through its necessity, rather than just tossing it in the cart as in days of yore.

4. No new debt. There are two ways to look at this. We did have to pull out the credit card on occasion this year. And some individual totals have climbed a bit (i.e. Discover). But overall, we are ending the year owing less than when we started it. In fact, we owe more than $11,000 less. I'm going to call that one a win.

All in all, I feel good. This time last year, I had quit paying two credit cards and was wondering how I was going to get through the next month. We absolutely still live day-to-day and paycheck-to-paycheck, but I feel more in control. I spent the early part of 2011 making those dreaded calls to the credit card companies. While they were emotionally painful, they really weren't that bad. Each time, I hung up with my dignity intact and often with a payment plan in place. Those payment plans have been the single best thing to happen to our financial picture. With them, there is an end in sight. Granted it's not for four more years, but it's there. A five-year payment plan ends in five years with the debt paid in full. We're almost 20% done with those plans!

The year took its toll emotionally, physically and every other way, but we survived. (Ironically, when I crunched the numbers I found that our out-of-pocket medical expenses this year equalled our debt repayment, almost to the penny. We're praying we get a little relief on that end this year, though it's not likely.)

So I'm bidding 2011 farewell feeling as good about things as I can. 2012 will not likely be much different, but I am going to think about the goals and update them here soon. Maybe that's what I'll do tomorrow :)

Thanks to all my new PF friends for sticking with me through this journey. I'm very happy not to do it alone.

Happy New Year!


Friday, December 23, 2011

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Something worth saving for

Our daughter is engaged! That's the good news. The flip side is that, gulp, there's going to be a wedding. And we all know how much those can cost. We're going to be in serious DIY mode - from invitations to decorations - to keep things reasonable. DS1 has already come through with a friend who will play the piano and whose mother has offered to be the director at no charge.

The big day will be in October. That means we've got 10 or so months to save enough to make this a cash-only event. That's the goal. It's a big one given our situation. But I think we can do it. Wish us luck!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Light at the end of the tunnel

Don't faint! Life has been 'full' for the past few months, as Sarah wrote earlier. I'm a firm believer in the effectiveness of prayer, so thank you for them!

There is no way to recap the entire insanity our family has embraced, so I'll hit the highlights.

Our daughter got married in June. We are blessed that both of our children are practical and that our daughter's new father-in-law generously took care of almost all the expenses.

My husband endured year #2 of an incredibly rotten teaching/coaching experience. He was relieved of the coaching part of his job last month and is trying hard to find another job pronto, as the 'powers' want him outta there. He hasn't done anything wrong; he just isn't a good ol' boy and never will be. Looking for another teaching/coaching job has been challenging for a number of reasons, not the least of which is his age (61 next month) and job security. He has tenure in the county where he is now (50 miles away); being closer to home would be fantastic for gas, time, and energy savings (and the drop in income from head coach to assistant wouldn't be so traumatic), IF he were able to land a job closer. With the economy like it is, however, tenure speaks volumes, and a transfer within the county is the most practical way to go if he can swing it. He'll hopefully learn before the holidays begin next week that a switch is possible with a teacher at the feeder middle school. He'll do whatever he needs to do there, but he wants to continue coaching at a different (i.e., rival) high school. He's already been asked to fill an assistant coaching position there, but they won't have a teaching position until the end of the year (it's not in his field, but he could do it). If the current 'powers' will back off until then, that would work, too. Thankfully, the superintendent really likes him and will surely do what he can to make the transition as easy as possible. What a huge boost it would be for hubby to have fun coaching without the responsibilities and headaches of being the head coach... and NOT have to worry about the reduction in income!!!

Which brings me to the third big development.

After trying to get our pitiful financial affairs in order by trying to refinance, talking to debt management reps, working out plans with some credit card folks, applying for a state grant, and checking on mortgage assistance plans at the credit union, we have landed smack dab at the end of the proverbial line and have begun the bankruptcy process. Last Friday I talked to a paralegal at the office of a bankruptcy attorney, and I felt almost instant relief just talking about our situation to someone who could provide much-needed guidance. This is what has happened in less than a week's time:
1. The first move was to close all our bank accounts and open new ones because several years ago I started making online payments at the respective creditors' sites. THEN I discovered Dave Ramsey, who said do not EVER do that. I felt enormous relief knowing that no one had access to our accounts any more, nor do I have to worry about making sure there was somehow money in the special account for credit card 'plan' draft payments! That account is HISTORY.
2. The paralegal said to stop paying all credit card bills NOW. I couldn't believe it and asked her to confirm what I thought I'd just heard. My husband's coaching supplement had come at the end of November, and I had proceeded immediately to pay bills - LOTS of them. While I hated to think I'd already paid them after just hearing to stop, I also felt a tiny bit more responsible in putting out effort until the last minute.
3. By paying a portion of the attorney's fees yesterday (which I had because I wasn't using it to pay credit cards), I am now to direct all creditors' calls to the attorney's office. What a freeing experience to not only not dread the phone's ringing, but to hope it's a creditor! As one of the cards had advanced to 'prelegal' status and another was in collections, I feel about 99% freer already.
4. Because of our debts, the paralegal said at the initial meeting that we qualify for Chapter 7. Since I had been thinking Chapter 13, I had to wrap my mind around the likelihood that all the credit cards will be discharged as opposed to our paying them out over the next 5 years. The paralegal explained that Chapter 13 is becoming less successful because of the economy, that if our income dropped again, we'd be in trouble if we couldn't maintain our repayment agreement.

Bankruptcy isn't what we had planned and certainly not what we wanted. The embarrassment and feeling of failure and irresponsibility is hard to shake when we've worked hard and tried to fulfill our obligations for years although it's never been easy. But life hits with a thud sometimes, and we don't always get our way. This won't be a fun process, as the paperwork is grueling (I've already prepared 3 batches of grueling paperwork for previous attempts to get us straightened out and will have taxes after this), and it will be a black mark on our records from now on. I must say, though, that I already feel more optimistic than I have in a LONG time that we'll get back on our feet and learn mightily from this experience.

Will we be debt-free if the credit cards are discharged? Not by a long shot. We'll have the mortgage, the second, our daughter's car payment (to be paid off shortly after her husband is hopefully able to land a teaching job), the balance of medical bills for hubby's blood clots last year, and school loans, which have been in deferment and forbearance until a winning lottery ticket blew into the yard. When it's all done and I know what we have, I'll have Sarah tutor me on how to do the debt ticker.

We are thankful for the chance to start over - sorta - and look forward to a much brighter 2012 when this process has been completed.

I won't be posting nearly as often as Sarah (shocker!), but I will update along the way.

Thanks again for being here for both of us! Best wishes to all for a happy, blessed, frugal(!) Christmas and new year -


Monday, December 12, 2011

Debt round-up

I finally added up the numbers for the first time in awhile. We went through a rough stretch there and hit a plateau with repayment. But, I'm happy to report that we've now reduced our debt by another $877.41. That means that so far in 2011, we've shaved $11,148.98 off our debt total! There's still a long, long way to go, but I sure do like seeing that ticker move. Hope everyone else is seeing progress, too!


Friday, December 9, 2011

The Christmas tree came ... and went

The day after Thanksgiving, DH and DS1 went out and spent $45 on a freshly cut tree. They carted it home, wrestled it into the stand, filled it with water and then did what they do every year. Left it for me to decorate. By the time I was done, it looked quite lovely.

The next day I went to water the tree and ran into a problem. The water was at the exact same level as it had been the day before. Given that I'm used to a tree gulping down water at an impressive rate the first few days it's home, I found this rather upsetting. I mentioned it to my hubby, who said I worry too much.

Three days later and the water mark was the same. I knew we were in trouble. The needles were already starting to shed way too fast. About that time, DS2 started coughing and showing signs of congestion. His chronic health problems put me on high alert. The timing was a bit too coincidental for me. So on Tuesday, a little over a week after it went up, the tree came down. I cleaned up the needles, mopped the floor and aired out the house.

DS started feeling better almost immediately. I guess that means our days of a real tree are over. Ironically, the day before I decided to ditch the tree, my Mom mentioned that she had decided not to put up her artificial tree this year - she was just going to use a tabletop one. I called and she was happy to offer up her tree to us. So tomorrow, DH and DS1 will go get a Christmas tree - again.

All's well that ends well, I suppose. And I'm warming up to the idea of not having to string lights ever again!


Thursday, December 1, 2011

It's December!

And I've finished Christmas shopping - in CASH!! This is huge and it means I don't have that stress hanging over my head. The house is decorated and now I can concentrate on baking ... and eating ...

I hope everyone's month is off to a good start. I'm going to enjoy today and put off paying bills until tomorrow. Tis the season :)