Saturday, April 28, 2012

Necessary sacrifices

A couple of things happened recently that escalated the pain of our debt.

For starters, I keep getting older. Not that I mind that necessarily, but I've been a little shocked at how quickly my body turns on me. I mean, I know I haven't always treated it right, but hey, I didn't give up on it! Anyway, this month's culprit is my eyes. I always had excellent vision until a couple years ago, when I found myself holding my books a little farther away. And so I got my first pair of reading glasses. Lately, though, they just aren't doing the trick very well. I know I need a new prescription. I also know our vision insurance is crummy and I just can't spend the money right now.

Meantime, some obvious structural issues have surfaced in the shower stall in the master bathroom. This is a tiny, tiny (think barely one-person) room which I have hated for every second of the 17 years we've lived in this house. For starters, it is tiled floor to ceiling in baby blue. I would love nothing more than to gut it, fix the problem, and get a new bathroom. Ironically, because it is so small and we're not looking for top-of-the-line anything, a re-do would not be exorbitant, relatively speaking. But it might as well be a million dollars for us. So for now, DH and I trek down the hall and use the kids' bathroom to bathe.

It's the price we're paying for the sad shape of our finances. I don't like it. But maybe I should start using the time to plan the amazing new bathroom I'll get when we get out of this mess. I can dream, anyway. And check out my ticker - I made it below $150k!


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Laying low

I'm trying my best to hide from Murphy this week. Last week turned out to be an expensive one when the van door wouldn't open and it cost $346 to repair (necessary because of the wheelchair lift). So we are down to $82 until Friday - and we will likely spend that much in gas.

On the upside, we are getting very close to dropping below the $150k mark ... who would have thought that would be cause for celebration?!

I've stayed home for two days and gotten some much-needed cleaning done and worked on the cross-stitch stocking/wedding gift. So far, I've made it without spending a dime.

Two more to go ...


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Would we do it again?

College for the kids. It's one of those many things that we didn't plan for. I mean, we planned for them to go, we just never really thought through how we would finance the plan.

When the older two started working part-time and summer jobs in high school, we did tell them that they would be responsible for books and spending money for college, but it was presumed that we would be footing the bill for tuition, room and board. Our parents paid for our college educations and we both graduated without the burden of a student loan. We didn't appreciate then what a blessing that was.

When it came time for DD to start college, she had her heart set on a private school one city over. She received a sizable academic scholarship and pulled together a couple of other small scholarships, but we were still left with a pretty big bill. And that's when we started the slippery slope of college loans.

All of the student loans listed in our debt log are for the education of our children. The first two are Stafford loans in DD's name. The last two are dreaded Parent Plus loans. We made a deal with the kids that if they graduated on time and in good standing, we would make the payments on their Stafford loans. DD did just that. DS1 only lasted one year in school before deciding it just wasn't for him. As agreed, he has assumed payments on his Stafford loan.

DS3 will be able to cover most of his college costs with his disability payments, and he will live at home which will keep costs down. Still, we're left with thousands of dollars of student loan debt from his siblings.

Did we do the right thing? Should we have taken out loans to pay for their college? Should we have insisted they foot the bills themselves? I don't know. Our niece was not given any help financing her education and she worked 40-hour weeks while taking a full course load. After three years, she burned out and dropped out, leaving her with three years worth of loans and no degree to show for it.

Where do we draw the line? And is there such thing as good debt? My daughter has taken her degree, gotten a good job in her field and has been self-supporting since a couple months after graduating. I believe our investment with her was a good one. DS1 left us with a Parent Plus loan and has nothing to show for it, but he is working, paying his bills and finding his way. For him, college wasn't it.

It's a hard call. And even now, I don't know that we would do anything differently. But it sure would be great not to have those student loans staring us in the face every month. One day. One day...


Thursday, April 12, 2012

Lots to do before she says I do

Wedding fever has officially taken over. DD will be getting married in October, and we realized last week that it's going to be here faster than we realized. Since we decided on the biggies a few months ago - church, pastor, reception site etc. - we hadn't really focused on doing any more until recently. We're starting to realize how many little details we need to make sure are taken care of.

Because the budget is obviously tight, we're doing a lot ourselves. DD and her fiance, both of whom have been on their own and working for a couple years, are shouldering a big chunk of the costs - so DD is just as concerned with the bottom line as I am. She's making her own invitations and has called on friends to help out with the ceremony. A friend of her brother's will play the piano and a dear friend of mine has offered to direct. All of these little savings add up. The deeper we get into planning, the more I am amazed at how much people really do spend on weddings.

We hit the gold mine the other day when the friend who is directing asked if we would like to borrow any of the decorations she has collected. Not having any idea if that meant crepe paper and pinatas or what, we headed over to check out her supply closet ... and we came home with four HUGE boxes! We now have enough votive candle holders, larger centerpieces, decorative pebbles/gems/mirrors and other such goodies to turn the reception into a thing of beauty. I am so grateful for her generosity.

This weekend we're going to meet with a florist at the grocery store to talk bouquets. We've already decided to keep flowers to a minimum. We'll only be getting bride and bridesmaid bouquets and the boutonnieres made "professionally." We're planning to pick up some lovely mums at the farmers' market for the church and to make our own loose bouquets of seasonal flowers for the moms and grandmothers to carry.

It's so easy to go overboard. But I also know that this wedding will be even more special because we are putting so much of ourselves into every detail. I will say, though, I'm relieved I will only be the mother of the bride once. My hat is off to those of you with more than one daughter!


Wednesday, April 4, 2012

One-stop shopping

My big boy turns 21 next week. Sniff, sniff. He was such an adorable little guy. I wish I had believed everyone who told me those years would pass way too quickly. But I digress ...

We have a $50 budget for birthdays, but DS has not given a single clue as to what he might like to receive. When I don't get suggestions, it's off to the gift card rack I go. Younger DS had thought of a DVD he wanted to get for his big brother, so I agreed to trek to Target with him so he could make his purchase. While there, I passed the display of iTune cards. And right there in the middle was a pack of 4 cards of $15 each - $60 worth of tunes - priced at $51. I had no idea you could get gift cards for less than face value!

So that's what he's getting for his birthday. I came in $1 over budget and I can cross one more thing off my list.

Now I'm going to go enjoy this gorgeous day!


Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Home and happy!

We are back from an eventful weekend in the Big Apple celebrating DS's impending high school graduation. It was a good trip and many, many memories were made.

An added bonus to a great time is that we came in under budget - I didn't even know that was possible when going to New York City. We found gas to be cheaper as we traveled north, which was a nice surprise. We packed lunches for the trip up and breakfast items and snacks for our hotel room.

Speaking of the hotel room, therein lies the rub. We arrived early Friday afternoon to be told that the room with a roll-in shower that I had reserved was not available. This happens often to us so we were not terribly surprised. Still, having a teenage boy who cannot bathe for days is not pleasant for anyone. Then, after I had signed for the correct amount of our stay, the front desk person swiped my American Express card. We chose to handle this by funneling the amount of our stay from our tax refund onto the card, so we were pre-paying and weren't adding to the debt. We were told the card was declined. After two swipes, they insisted the card was declined, forcing me to hand over our debit card. This caused a rock to form in the pit of my stomach as various scenarios went through my mind. But we had no choice. Finding a hotel with an adequately accessible room is nearly impossible in the Times Square area.

We went up to the room and I immediately called American Express. It was then that I realized that the desk was overcharging my card by nearly $200 more than I had signed for. Back to the desk I went and explained the situation to the person who had just checked me in. She calculated and agreed with me and told me that a manager would have to call my credit union to release the hold and the funds would be available by Saturday morning at the latest. Not ideal, but OK.

Late that night, we found that the sofa bed was broken and there was no place for my son to sleep. A rollaway bed was finally brought in about 1 a.m. The next morning, when the CU had not released the hold, DH took charge. He found the manager and explained that we now had three major problems. (Turns out no manager had contacted the CU as promised and now it would be Monday before the funds were released.) DH was initially met with a combative, defensive manager (note to customer service people: a sincere apology and a little compassion will go a long way), but in the end won her over. He's much better at that than I am - I get too emotional.

The final result of all of this was that we were moved to a room with a roll-in shower on Sunday - for one night. We were also comped one night's stay and given free parking for the duration. So while I wouldn't have chosen to deal with all the aggravation and while we weren't looking for a handout, the result was that we came home with a few dollars in our pocket and no added debt.

The total cost of 4-day trip was $1,652. We had expected at least $2,000. And the Amex balance actually went down as we had pre-paid more than we were eventually charged.

All's well that ends well. And DS hasn't stopped talking!

On to the laundry ...