Monday, December 29, 2014

The year in review

2014 was a good year. Not an earth-shattering one, but it was good.

First and best is that DS was not hospitalized. Not once. Not a single visit to the ER. No serious illnesses. Just run-of-the-mill-treat-it-at-home stuff. I'll take it. He also turned 21, surpassing his life expectancy by a full three years. We are so very blessed.

On the job front, things went well. DH got a raise and his current income is solid - more than we ever expected he would earn. I was offered some freelancing opportunities and now receive a small, but regular, monthly check. Some months, it is that little bit that provides the cushion we need to ease the financial stress.

Speaking of financial stress, I have come to a point where it doesn't rule my days. The debt is still there and I still want it gone. But I don't lose sleep any more because we've tamed it enough so that we are able to pay the minimums without issue and usually have a bit left over to throw a decent snowball every month.

On the other hand, I think we have also fallen into that nasty trap of having enough to cover the bills with some left over. While we are in no way extravagant about anything, I have noticed that we are eating out more and not thinking about it. We will aim to get back on track this year.

The downside of seeing such a good income is that I am reminded every paycheck how much money we would have in the bank if it weren't all going to pay off debt.

The upside is that I am more determined than ever to eradicate the monster before DH retires. He has 10 more years on the job before he can start drawing a pension. My goal is to be done with everything - mortgage included - by then. We have a written plan and are determined to make it happen. We've come this far - we can't stop now.

So, here it is. Drum roll please. In 2014, we paid off $27,619.08!! That means that in four years, we have dumped $75,514.83 of debt. At that rate, we really are on track to meet our 10-year goal.

Happy New Year everyone. Thank you for your support and cyber friendship. Let's make 2015 the best ever!

Sarah

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The gift of giving

More than 20 years ago, at the office where I once worked, a co-worker and I started a tradition. As we worked 2nd shift, most everyone went out to dinner every night. So on one night in December, we asked everyone to bring a potluck dish and donate what they would have spent on dinner out. With the money raised, we bought gifts for a needy family that we found through the Department of Social Services. By the second year, we raised enough to sponsor two families. This year, we had more than $1,000 to spend.

I left that job nearly 15 years ago, but the tradition continues. My co-worker (and friend) is still there and is still coordinating. We contact the families and ask about specific needs before shopping. We deliver the gifts without children seeing so that the parent can give them the gifts as if they are from them.

The mother of one family said her 9-year-old daughter needed bras and underwear. Not having the slightest idea how to buy such things for a 9-year-old, we picked up mom and daughter and drove them to the mall so the girl could get fitted and find something she liked. As we pulled in to the parking lot, the child said "Is this a mall?" Um, yes, sweetie. "I've never been to a mall." She lived three miles away. We gave them $100 and told them to get what they needed. It took some prodding, but they finally went on their way. When we met up with them later, the mom looked at us with tears in her eyes and said "Being able to shop with my daughter is the only Christmas present I need."

Family #2 is a grandmother raising 7 grandchildren. When speaking with her, she mentioned that two children go to a charter school that requires a uniform. They have one each. A woman who was with us commented that she must do a lot of laundry. There was a pause. "We do a lot of hand laundry." She doesn't have a washing machine.

Today, we wrapped gifts for 13 children and 2 women. Piles and piles of gifts for children who know little of the world that exists beyond the poverty in which they live.

My Christmas is complete.

Sarah

Friday, December 5, 2014

Tis the season

Christmas shopping - done. Paid for in cash.

Gifts wrapped and under the tree.

Let the baking and Hallmark movie watching begin!

Sarah

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Thankful for changes, big and small

I hope all my American friends had as happy a Thanksgiving as I did! We celebrated with family from near and far and, almost best of all, I didn't host for the first time in 20 years! I don't think I realized how much work it is to be the host even when the guests bring dishes to share. It was the most stress-free holiday I've had in many years and I think it will be quite awhile before I agree to go back to being in charge ...

This week, two things happened. First, DH received his vacation/personal day payout. His company does not allow employees to carry over days to the next calendar year so this time every year employees are issued checks for the unused days. DH has been with the company for more than 20 years, so he has quite a bit of time and because our travels are minimal while we are getting out of debt, he had quite a few left. The other event was a big check I received for some freelance work I have done recently. We don't put my paychecks into the regular budget because they are so very irregular. We let them add up in a separate account and every so often reassess what that money will be used for (that's how we paid for the $$$ transmission replacement on DH's car).

At any rate, between the two amounts, we were looking at more than $5,000 and we decided to take the plunge and apply every penny of it to our debt. This is where it gets good. We were able to pay off THREE debts!!! Three!! I am so excited to see the snowball finally rolling!

I am so very thankful.

Sarah

Monday, November 17, 2014

WE DID IT!!!!!!

It took 3 years and 10 months, but our debt is now below $100k!!!

Now, if you're new here you might think, big deal - you still have a boatload of debt. But let me tell you, this is a huge milestone. In January 2011, I wasn't even sleeping at night worrying about how I was going to pay the minimums on the gazillion bills. I was talking to collectors and talking my way into BLPs to make things more manageable. In the early days, some bills were being paid by other bills. There was precious little progress, but we stayed the course. We didn't worry about whether to spend anything on extras - because there was nothing there to spend.

And now here we are, having paid off $68k and inching ever closer to the halfway mark. We even have some extra each month to snowball.

We are proof positive that counting pennies DOES work. And the debt monster CAN be beaten back. I can't wait to see how quickly we can get rid of the rest of it!

Sarah

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Freebies and updated numbers

I love Kohl's. In recent weeks, they have sent me three cards in the mail worth $10. Not one of those "spend $50 and get $10 off." No, these are flat out $10. Each time, I've headed over to the store and spent some time searching for something that wouldn't cost me a dime. So far, I've gotten a picture frame and a Superman T-shirt, both of which will be Christmas gifts, and two much-needed hand towels for the bathroom. And I didn't pay a penny out of pocket. That's what I call a deal!

Yes, Kim, I've updated my numbers :) .... and I am inching ever so close to that monumental mark when I will be out of the six figures. You haven't updated yours in awhile. Are you trying to be sneaky???

Sarah

Monday, October 27, 2014

I am so mad

One of DS's night aides is a fine young man who drives 45 minutes to get to our house for a paltry salary. Last night, he texted DS that something had happened and he would be late. This morning, he told me the story.

He has to drive through a very small town to get here. Since June, he has been stopped by the police FIVE times at the same spot. Not once has he been ticketed. Because not once was he doing anything wrong. Last night, he was pulled over along with the speeding car behind him. The officer called for backup and approached our aide's car - with one hand on his unclipped revolver. After some time, an apology was issued and he was sent on his way. There are eight officers in this town. Every one of them is white. This young man is not.

I know racial profiling exists, but to see such an obvious instance of it against someone I care about had me shaking in anger. And our young friend was scared enough this time that he has decided to take a longer, out-of-the-way route from now on. All because someone apparently didn't think he should be out at night. America still has a long way to go.

Sarah

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Kim is calling me names

Yes, Kim is calling me a sneak for updating my totals and not posting. I'm just impressed she went and looked! You see, we are in a race to get out of six figures. I know we are going to make it ... and I know it will be sooner rather than later. Come on, Kim, we have so got this!!!

I haven't posted in awhile. I've been fighting battles to keep services for DS. He turns 21 next month and, apparently, the forces that be think that adults with disabilities need FEWER services than children who have parents to care for them. As of this morning, I appear to be losing the battle. Contrary to everything his new case manager has told us, he is set to have his caregiving hours cut in half tomorrow. I've talked to everyone under the sun and have gotten a different answer every time. Now, after months of paperwork to make the transition, it looks like a fire has been lit to get him processed today. And it leaves us in the dust.

You know, I see parents micro-managing the lives of their kids who are college age and older, and I wonder what the appeal is. I would love to be able to send my child off into the world and let him face it on his own.

Yeah, in my dreams.

Sarah

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

The ups and downs of an old van

So, two weeks ago I went to the drive-through at the credit union ... and my window wouldn't roll down. I mean, nothing. Might as well have been a brick wall. I waved to the teller and drove around to park and go inside.

Now, as soon as a window won't roll down, you want to use it. All. The. Time. And the little voice in your head starts telling you to just take it to the dealer and pay whatever they want to get it fixed.

But I haven't had time to pay attention to the voice in my head, but I did find myself pushing the window button a couple of times whenever I was in the van. And, believe it or not, yesterday I pushed that button and the window rolled down!!

I've decided this was a test. Glad I passed.

Sarah

Saturday, August 16, 2014

He paid what????

My father-in-law turned 80 this month. He lives on the other side of the country, but flew here for the occasion. DH and his brother decided to throw him a party - which, of course, means that I was the one throwing the party since all family parties end up being at my house. But that's OK. I gave assignments and it all came together well.

Since the men apparently lack imagination, I came up with the idea of making a poster with a timeline of his life and some fun facts - like what things cost in '34. I bought a cardboard trifold from Target and spent a bit of time printing out things to put on it. It turned out nice and FIL loved it. So much that he wanted to take it to display in his home (trust me when I say it probably fits the decor). I wasn't expecting this, though, and had to quickly scan MY photographs that were on it before letting DH ship it off. 

And that's where the happy story ends. It's the other side of the country and it was a sizable piece of cardboard. But it is cardboard. Wrap it up and send it off. I figured worst case it would cost about $35 and chalked it up to being part of his present. Yeah, so DH comes home and says - without blinking - that he paid $103 to ship a piece of cardboard. One. Hundred. Dollars. I cannot even fathom what was going through his head. I KNOW there were less expensive options.

But I'm sucking it up because it makes FIL happy. Even if I'm not. 

Sarah

Monday, July 28, 2014

And there goes the snowball ...

I'm at home, but my van is not. I got up early this morning to be first in line at the shop for an oil change/tire rotation etc. We also thought it might be leaking coolant so I wanted them to check that out. Of course the radiator needs to be replaced. And some work was needed on the brakes. One of the guys gave me a ride home and I'm waiting for a call that it is ready to pick up.

Total bill is going to come close to $700. Ouch. I have a check coming for a little over that amount for some articles I've written this month, so it looks like it will already be spent before it gets here (using the emergency fund in the meantime). So much for a snowball for American Express.

Oh well. The van is 9.5 years old and still chugging along. And it's still cheaper than a monthly payment!

DS's new glasses cost $350 - his eyes are so bad and his lenses so specialized that I can't use the cheapie places. .... Big expenses this month - I guess I should be happy it's almost over!

Happy Monday everyone,

Sarah

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Paying attention to retirement

When we started this journey, retirement was the last thing on our minds. While we had a 401k, we stopped contributing out of necessity and basically ignored it.

This summer has seen such a boost in our discretionary income that it occurred to me (duh!) that we might need to rethink our lack of action. So I finally went online and really looked at the account. Overall, it's in pretty good shape. Most of the investments we chose (and who knows how we picked those?) are averaging 11% returns in the long-term. One, however, only averages 5% and then there is the stable fund that we allocated too much to. So I spent yesterday doing some shifting of the funds currently there as well as future contributions.

We also decided to start contributing 2% from DH's paycheck. It's not a lot, but it's a start.

I'm so guilty of just putting financial decisions on auto-pilot and not checking up on them once in awhile. I need to be better about that. Next on my list is finding a lawyer who can help us with our will. While we have one in place, it's out of date and we need to make sure we are covering the bases for DS.

It's threatening to reach 100 degrees today. Hope you all are cooler!

Sarah

Thursday, June 26, 2014

A turning point

Three and a half years into this blog and we've reached a milestone: We are finally able to throw snowballs at this stupid debt!

Prior to this, the minimums have consumed all of our income. When we first started this, we didn't really even have enough to cover the minimums. We were candidates for bankruptcy. We couldn't keep our heads above water.

But thanks to putting several cards into Bank Liquidation Programs, with lower interest rates and a set monthly payment for five years, we kept up. Early on, that sometimes meant robbing Peter to pay Paul - using a balance transfer from one card to cover the payment on the next.

But here we are, several years later and tens of thousands less in debt, and we are finally seeing real progress. I attribute it to a combination of factors: I have picked up some small freelance jobs that are bringing in just enough to make a difference; and as balances have dropped, so have the amount of interest we are paying and the minimums due. The balances of our accounts were all so insanely high to begin with that we have only been able to pay off one account in full in all this time.

I think we can count on at least an extra $300 a month to throw at the debt on top of the minimums. The current target is the American Express card, because it is not in a BLP and the interest rate is ridiculous. I want to be close to getting rid of this one by the end of the year. We'll see how it works out.

I remember not so very long ago not being able to sleep at night worrying how I would pay this month's bills. I don't do that anymore.

For anyone ready to throw in the towel: Don't. There are better times ahead and I know now we are going to get there.

Sarah

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Can they do this?

Just checked my Union Plus account to make sure a payment posted and happened to notice that my credit limit had been raised ... $5,000!!

I do not remember receiving any notice of this change and, frankly, am irked that they did this. I checked my last statement and there was nothing there about raising the limit.

In fact, I have received several offers lately from other cards to have my limit raised and have ignored them. And while I would never deliberately agree to it, I'm tempted to just leave it as is and go on with my life. We don't use the card anymore - I'm not even sure we still have the actual card. The higher limit would, I imagine, be good for the credit score as it would lower the debt to credit ratio.

I don't know. Mostly it reminds me how much I hate credit cards and the game the companies play with consumers. I cannot wait until the day when I no longer have a credit card balance!!

Sarah

Friday, May 30, 2014

Spending the extra paycheck

Don't worry, it's not as frivolous as it sounds.

The back story: DH is in a union at work. A new contract was negotiated last summer with a start date of Aug. 1, 2013. It sounded good. The local union approved it. But this is a national deal and two segments didn't give approval until a month or so ago. Part of the new contract was a small pay raise, but it couldn't go into effect until full ratification. That means that all those months when DH should have been receiving a bit of a raise, he wasn't, and now he is due to receive it retroactively.

That check arrived this week. After taxes etc., it was just over $1,000. Funny how your brain immediately goes to "what can I buy with $1,000?" A few years ago, we probably would have just made a big purchase that we had been wanting but couldn't afford ... not bothering to note that we couldn't afford it then either.

I admit, we will not be putting it all toward debt reduction. We could, we just won't. So far, we sent $200 to American Express (on top of the monthly minimum payment) and put $300 in our 30th anniversary trip account. The other $500 is sitting in checking as a cushion until DH's next paycheck. I don't anticipate having to use it for anything, but I like having it there just in case. We will make a decision on what to do with it soon. We need to replace the light fixture in the hall bathroom, so $100 might go toward that. We'll see.

DS works for the same company and received a check for $1,800. He immediately set it aside for a planned trip to Spain next spring to visit his great-uncle. That's what you can do when you're young, single and have no debt!

Happy weekend all,

Sarah

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It's summer!

DS is out of school, DH is on vacation ... and schedules are out the door!

DH is working his way through the to-do list while home this week. Lots of little things around the house that don't get done because he works such long hours. (We took the afternoon off yesterday to use free tickets to the minor league baseball game :) One big project: replacing the vapor barrier under the house. He and our older son will tackle that one together. I'll serve iced tea.

It looks like DS really is going to get nursing care - probably starting the end of June. That's perfect timing as he/we can adjust before he starts back to school in August. One source will allow him 30 hours a week, which he is going to use for daytime hours. He is in the process of hiring several students for driving duties and general help while on campus. We expect the other source to provide many more hours which will be used for nighttime care and bathing/dressing etc. Home health aides will be hired for those roles. It's a lot to take in and will take some getting used to, but there are perks on all sides. DS will gain some independence from us, and we will suddenly have freedom that we haven't known since he was born.

We still need to see how it plays out, but right now he only has a commitment for a student to drive him home from school and to cover driving him to evening activities. That leaves him with a choice for getting to school. Either I can take him as I have been doing, or he can have the local bus service take him (they offer door-to-door service for disabled riders). Either of those scenarios would alleviate the need for a third car as I would still have the van for most of the day. The student would not pick it up until late afternoon.

In other good news, it's almost the end of May and we have not used a credit card this year and I haven't had a soda since early February. Who would have thunk??

Hope everyone is having a great week!

Sarah

Friday, May 2, 2014

Decisions to come

My life is about to change big time.

I've been the primary caregiver for DS for 20 years. As he has gotten older, that has not only meant helping with the obvious - bathing, dressing, feeding, turning etc. - but also being the on-call chauffeur for school, work, fun activities.

Now, however, he is in the process of working with two programs that will allow him caregiver services. His plan is to use one of them for overnight, more specialized care, and the other to hire students to shuttle him back and forth to college and other activities.

While all this sounds wonderful in theory, it means that I will potentially be losing my mode of transportation every weekday.

This leaves us to decide what to do about that. I do some freelance work that requires my being able to get around town. And there are the typical household errands that I take care of during the week. I'm actually rather torn about it. I am a homebody and don't go out just to go out. But I do want the option.

For now, we're just going to start putting away what we can in a separate account and see where we are at the end of the summer. We would only need a car that could get me around town, so we'd be looking at a beater car that just runs. We would only buy what we could pay cash for.

Any tips on buying a very low-cost vehicle that won't turn out to be a nightmare?

Sarah

Monday, April 28, 2014

Tired of tires ...

A week or so ago, I had to get 4 new tires put on DS's wheelchair. Today, I had to get 4 new tires put on my van. Would you believe the van's tires were cheaper? The tires for the van were $88 apiece. The wheelchair tires cost $125 per.

At any rate, I decided I wasn't going to moan and groan about either. Had to be done and we had the cash. That's life. 

I did allow just a bit of self-pity, though, when DH announced this morning that he needs new tires, too. I mean, really? Twelve new tires is taking it a bit far, don't you think?? I guess it's like ripping off a Band-Aid ... you do what you gotta do. 

To make myself feel better, I ran through our debt numbers and updated those that have changed. The numbers keep going down, so tires be damned, we're doing something right!

Sarah

Friday, April 18, 2014

Afraid of the upsell

I scheduled a maintenance check on our A/C this week in advance of the warmer months. We are on a service plan so there would be no charge for the visit. I have had mixed feelings about this company, but not knowing of anything better I've stuck with them. A couple months ago, when our heat went out, they sent a serviceman within an hour and he stayed all day trying to figure out what was wrong with it. He fixed it and we were charged $800. He felt good about the repair and said the furnace was in good shape.

Fast forward to yesterday and a different serviceman did the maintenance call. He spent about 30 minutes at the unit. I heard him cleaning coils etc. When he came back in, he told me that there were all kinds of things wrong and that we just needed to replace both the furnace and the A/C. He mentioned that the furnace is rusted (the previous guy didn't say a word about rust) and that the A/C is not in good shape. He then wanted me to schedule something right then to have a salesman come out and show me what deals they had. He also said the crawlspace is damp, but they could fix that for $3,900.

Call me a cynic, but it just didn't feel right. I thanked him and sent him on his way.

Maybe the units are on their last legs, but I'm not getting rid of them until they have breathed their last. And I think DH will be replacing the vapor barrier in the crawlspace on his vacation next month :) 

Times like this, renting sounds awfully appealing ....

Sarah

Thursday, April 10, 2014

They like me again!

I know my finances are looking better. Know how I know? Because I signed on to the Discover account and a screen popped up saying I was eligible for an increase in my credit limit. Because that's what I need .... more credit.

In case there's any doubt, I declined.

This has been a week of Mondays. One thing after another. Yesterday, I drove DS 45 miles to an appointment, only to find out the appointment is next week. My fault. I read the reminder wrong. And since one of the people we are to see is coming from out of state, we couldn't be squeezed in.

Today, I'm going to work from home. As long as I keep the windows closed and the pollen out, all should be good.

Sarah

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Lots going on

The days have been passing in a blur lately. Appointments, bills, family obligations - and at some point we finally bid farewell to winter and hello to glorious spring ... Of course, for me that means allergy season, but I'm willing to grin and bear it to not see any more snow or ice!

We ended up with some extra funds in March and after much discussion, threw an extra $500 at the American Express card. Of course, two days later, our medical equipment provider called to say insurance wouldn't pay for a needed adaptation on DS's wheelchair and we were on our own to the tune of $327. They kindly did not charge us labor or shipping. We have the cash, so we paid it. That is such a huge improvement over past years. We wouldn't have blinked at putting it on a credit card. Medical expenses like that are a big part of our current debt. It's a relief not to be adding to it.

One of the reasons we had some extra to spare is because the grocery bill was considerably lower. I attribute that to two things: all the meat I was able to get for basically free with some awesome coupons and the store's doubling. The second is my giving up soda. I figure that is worth about $15 a week. No kidding. I could put away some diet soda. Haven't touched the stuff since Feb. 14 and I no longer think about it.

Jane suggested I do something with that soda money and I've decided she's right. So I've set up an automatic deposit into a separate savings account - $15 a week. I'm earmarking that account for a 30th anniversary trip. We've been married 28 years and the past 10 have had precious little time alone because of DS's needs. But if the nursing care we are pursuing works out, it might be possible for us to get away for a few days. Just dreaming about it has done wonders for my attitude and knowing that I'm actively saving for it makes it seem like it might one day become a reality.

Hanging over our heads, though, is yet another piece of medical equipment. DS has become considerably weaker in the past year or two and is no longer to lift his arms at all, making feeding himself or even adjusting his glasses on his own impossible. At a clinic visit, his neurologist suggested a mobile arm support that allows some range of motion. DS was able to try it out this week and absolutely loved it. In fact, he wants one for each arm. Just being able to touch his face made him light up. (We able-bodied folks take so much for granted!). DH says he looks like Doc Oc - I think that's the bad guy in one of the Spiderman movies. Of course, the technology comes with a price tag - $5,000. Per arm. Did I mention they are powered by rubber bands. Seriously. So now begins the process of convincing insurance that they are necessary for DS to be independent. The vendor is optimistic and so I'm going to share his optimism for now. Obviously, we won't be able to provide them for DS if insurance doesn't come through. Lots of prayers going up around here.

And now I'm off to update the April numbers.

Hope everyone is having a great weekend!

Sarah

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

I love Super Doubles week!

Today starts Super Doubles week at Harris Teeter - meaning they will double coupons up to $2. I have a stack of $2 meat coupons which will double to $4 - yippee!

Harris Teeter is one of the priciest grocers around here, but their meat is excellent quality and I can often find some good deals on their marked-down items - $4 off already marked-down will be a steal! I'm going to do some serious stocking up over the next few days.

Happy Hump Day ...

Sarah

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Oh sleep, how I've missed you

It's been a long week with several big medical appointments for DS and long nights as DH was out of town and I was on my own for the nighttime treatments/turning routine. We even had a day of sleet thrown in there. (Am I the only one who is totally over winter?)

On the very bright side, we may have made significant progress in getting DS approved for overnight nursing care. I hesitate to be overly optimistic, but the thought of DH and I being able to get some rest after 20 years of not sleeping through the night has gotten me pretty excited. The person I spoke with last even said we wouldn't be responsible for handling any of the finances and wouldn't even owe a co-pay. Lots of prayers have been going up around here this week...

And now I'm going to get ready for what promises to be a beautiful day before winter returns tomorrow.

Hope everyone has a wonderful day!

Sarah

Monday, March 10, 2014

Spring has finally sprung!

It was a catching up kind of weekend. I was running low on cleaning essentials and some grocery items. Target had a great coupon in last Sunday's paper that was good for a week - spend $50 on cleaning supplies and get $20 off. Plus, you could use manufacturer's coupons on top of the big one. I was able to get 2 big packs of paper towels, 1 pack of toilet paper, Cascade dishwasher tablets, 2 large bottles of Dawn, mega bottle of PineSol and Clorox wipes. Final cost was $24.78.

Next up was grocery shopping. I do my big shopping at Wal-Mart and then pick up miscellaneous items that are better prices at the other stores near me. I'm lucky that I have so many choices within a 2-mile radius. I went to get a gallon of milk at Wal-Mart -  $4.08!! I couldn't do it. Just couldn't. I checked Food Lion: $3.89. Better, but then I remembered seeing something on the weekend deals at Harris Teeter. $2.79 - score! While I was at Food Lion, I picked up some ground beef marked down to $2.59. I had a $2 coupon for meat, so ... 59 cents. Woo hoo!

It's the little things that make my day :)

DS is on Spring Break, which means I won't have to fill up on gas twice this week. Oh, and today it's going to be ... wait for it ... 76 degrees!!!!

For a Monday, this one is shaping up to be OK.

Sarah

Sunday, March 2, 2014

... And the new month starts out on a low note

Hubs' car died. Kaput right there on the interstate. He had a hard time willing it to make it to a safe location. Called AAA for a tow (I don't know about you, but we get every penny and then some out of that membership) and me for a ride. The shop called the next day and the news wasn't good. It needs a new transmission. If you know anything about such things, that's about the priciest thing to replace. We're talking about $3,500. Ouch.

You might remember that I mentioned some time back that I've been doing some freelance work the past few months and have been throwing that and other miscellaneous money into a separate account with no particular use in mind. Some readers thought that was a mistake and I should be using it to pay down debt. Guess what it's going to be used for? I'm sorry that I'm having to spend it on car repairs, but glad I didn't let it get absorbed by the household budget.

Mostly, I'm ticked off that we're having to replace a major part on a Toyota Corolla with 110,000 miles. Those cars are supposed to last longer, aren't they?

Life happens. Sometimes not the way we planned ...

Sarah

Friday, February 28, 2014

Ending the month on a high note

We got our annual escrow review today, always enough to make me sit down before I open it. Last summer, our lender decided to start paying our property taxes three months before they were due, thus sending our escrow into the negative and our payments soaring. I was told it would even out within a year once everything was adjusted to the new schedule. Call me a pessimist, but I didn't believe it.

But ... today's mail brought the news that our mortgage payment will be going DOWN $85 a month! All I can say is ...

WOO HOO!!!!

Soda update: Two weeks. No soda. Not a drop. Hold on, because I think the earth just shifted.

Sarah

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Want a good laugh?

Submitted a FAFSA for DS. The government says my family can contribute $16,182 toward his college expenses this year.

HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!!

Good thing he has a full scholarship. Seriously good thing.

Day 4 with NO diet soda and no replacement caffeine. And I haven't killed anyone. I never would have believed it.

Temperature is 64 today. I feel like I should be in shorts ... except that I would scare small children and grown men :)

Sarah

Saturday, February 15, 2014

That's a big number!

As of this morning, we have paid off ... drum roll please ... $50,002.28 in nasty debt! The 50k mark is big for me. It is a mental thing if nothing else. While we still have a long, long way to go, seeing that number is motivating. It means what we've been doing for three years, one month and 15 days is working.

This week, we got hit with the big storm that's making it's way up the East Coast. It created an unusual situation for these parts and brought everything to a standstill. DH works 30 miles from home and by the time his workplace shut down there was no way he would make it. He ended up finding a hotel room and hunkering down for the night. In the past, he would have handed over his credit card. But he doesn't carry a credit card anymore, so he paid with the debit card. I realized that not so long ago that would have been disastrous, if not impossible. But there was enough money in the account to cover the bill and he was safe. I will skip the weekly grocery trip and we will scrounge from what we already have on hand to make up the difference. What a great feeling not to go into panic mode over every unexpected expense.

Soda update: I'm only drinking one a day ... trying to work up the courage to give up the caffeine boost altogether. I think it might be possible... maybe....

Next goal: getting below $100k. Might have to have a party when we reach that one!

Sarah

Monday, February 3, 2014

Aiming for a healthier me

I'm overweight, don't exercise much at all. No real health issues. BP is good. Except for the scale, all the numbers are acceptable. But I am 50 and post-menopausal and I can feel the changes. I know I need to stay ahead of this. But there's no need to go gung-ho. It would never last. So I've decided to focus on one thing.

I am a diet soda drinker. I drink a lot of it. A lot. When I'm home, I almost always have a glass beside me - year-round allergies and daily Claritin leaves me with a dry mouth. I don't drink coffee, so soda gives me my caffeine boost. But I drink too much. Way too much. For the past week, I've been drinking much less soda and replacing it with tap water. I've gotten down to two glasses a day. Today I've only had one. I can't even begin to describe how huge this is. Just trust me on that. It's big.

I am going to try limiting to one a day for awhile and see how it goes. Who knows? I might even give it up altogether. I know I would be healthier. And it certainly would help the grocery budget.

Wish me luck.

Sarah

Saturday, February 1, 2014

It happened again

I was buying weekly groceries and had a bag of chips for tomorrow's game. I happened to look up from loading bags into the cart when the cashier was ringing them up. I thought I saw a 2 beside the chips on the register, but I wasn't sure. The cashier didn't miss a beat. So I asked her if she would please check and see if the Lay's rang up twice. She never acknowledged my request, but at the end of the transaction I saw her scrolling the items. She subtracted the amount of the chips and went straight into entering my coupons. Never said a word.

And now I'm off to finish gathering tax stuff. I do live a fun-filled life.

Sarah

Monday, January 27, 2014

My $20 pepper

I usually watch the cashier at the grocery store - well, as much as I can while I'm unloading my cart. And I almost always glance at the receipt before I leave the store. But last week, I was tired and in a hurry to get home. I stuck the receipt in a notebook and didn't think about it until I pulled it out to see if I could use it for a rebate I was sending in.

As I was scanning the numbers, I saw $20.72. I couldn't imagine what I had bought that cost that much, so I looked left. And there it was. Fourteen red peppers. Right between the one green pepper and the one onion I had bought.

Of course, I had only bought one red pepper, but somehow it had been rung up as 14. (I have not been able to come up with a plausible reason for how that happened.) I took the receipt back to the store and, to their credit, they didn't ask a single question. Just gave me back my $19 and change.

The moral of my story: ALWAYS check your receipt!

Sarah

Monday, January 13, 2014

New week, new optimism

Fast on the heels of the furnace going kaput, we had a big storm blow through on Saturday afternoon. We lost power at 2 p.m. and didn't get it back until late Sunday morning. It wasn't that cold here, so had it just been us we would have toughed it out. But DS sleeps with a ventilator, so about 9 p.m. we finally packed up and moved to my folks' for the night. With all the medical equipment we brought as well as the food from the freezer and fridge, you would have thought we were staying a week! We were glad to get home and even happier last week is over!

Since I was having such a fun week, I decided to go to battle with a mouse. I knew the little rodent was spending time in my kitchen (he left evidence) and it was getting annoying. Set a couple of traps with peanut butter as the bait. Next morning, one of the traps was sitting there just where I'd put it with the peanut butter licked clean. Figures the smart mouse would move in with us. That night I was sitting at the kitchen table and could actually hear that little beast moving the trap around in the cabinet trying to find more peanut butter. That was it - the war was on! I switched the two traps, added more peanut butter and outsmarted him. Sarah: 1, Mouse: 0.

It's been almost two months since my van was rear-ended by a speeding bus. It's been about a month since I got it back from the repair shop. Since then, it's been back to the shop twice and is scheduled for a third visit next Monday. The lingering problem is the fuel gauge ... which doesn't work. It falls to about half a tank and then sticks, leaving me to guess how much is left and when I'm going to be stranded by the side of the road. The men at the shop think I'm the crazy lady. "It works for us. Shoots right up when we fill the tank." Yeah, buddy, it goes UP, it just doesn't come DOWN! I'm wondering whether the van will ever be restored to its former glory. It has 130k miles on it and we were planning on at least 200k before we seriously started thinking about a replacement. It's sure not in the cards right now. Sigh.

Happy Monday everyone. Here's to a new, uneventful week!

Sarah

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Feeling the chill ...

It was 9 degrees outside when I got up this morning. A couple hours later, I started thinking it was awfully cold inside, too. I glanced at the thermostat and then peaked outside to the pipe that should be spewing smoke when the furnace is on.

It had icicles on it.

We just had the furnace inspected for winter last month. Fat lot of good that did. I called the heating company. Thank goodness for that service plan that I hate paying for but am afraid to give up. Because of that, a repairman was at the house within the hour on the coldest day of the year. But that's where the good news ends.

It took about three hours to figure out what was wrong. It took another three to find and install the replacement parts.

And 60 seconds to clean out our emergency fund. $819.

I know, I know. I should be happy I had the emergency fund. Sorry, I just can't find it in me to be happy about spending nearly $1,000 two weeks after Christmas. Bah, humbug.

Sarah

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

2014!

Not a very original post title, but my retired hubby has run some errands, and I'm trying to zoom thru a LOT of tasks before he returns. It's been great having him around because I've had a cranky hip for a while, but I'm having to learn to work with more distractions. My aging brain needs fewer of those, not more!

At any rate, I'm glad Sarah has continued to update on HER impressive progress! We're still here, over a year after the bankruptcy was finalized. As with Sarah, things are not easy (courtesy in large part of school loans that came out of forbearance/deferment - ugh), but we have survived some relatively significant medical bills (for me), followed by a wedding for our son (we provided and prepared all the food for the rehearsal and reception for about 30 guests), followed by an unplanned $450 plumbing bill, followed by a $300 gas line replacement for our '98 car, followed by Christmas, which was not over the top in gifts as much as food and toilet paper to accommodate our visitors (NOT complaining there!). Our savings account took a major nosedive and will likely be fumes after paying taxes this month, but we HAD savings after so many years without one. We are determined to build it up again.

We haven't used a credit card in over two years. We've been getting plenty of invitations for new ones, but the thought of even applying for one makes me ill, which I think is a good thing. If only chocolate would do the same....

Retirement for my husband came earlier than we'd planned, thanks to the political games of education, but when we realized that holding out three more stressful years would bring only $300/month more, it was a no-brainer. While our regular income dropped significantly with the retirement, it's now for 12 months a year instead of 10, and the LONG commutes are gone.

What has been particularly encouraging is to see how financially responsible our two grown children and their spouses are. I'm hoping that our own experience will serve as a wake-up call for them for a long, long time... even when their families start expanding.

And with that, happy, healthy, and prosperous 2014 to us all!

Jenny