Food! ($83,584)

I had a really good morning, taking the dog to get a pedicure (a/k/a getting her nails trimmed, since I’m too scared to do it myself), then taking her out to play fetch, and generally ride around. We don’t have a fenced in yard, and live on a busier street, so we haven’t tried taking her out back without a leash. We have to get more creative to find more open places for her to run around. There’s a really nice park not far from us, but they can be strict about the leash policy. I would not be disappointed if they wanted to put in a dog park there.
After we got home, I went out food shopping. I haven’t gone food shopping by myself in a long time. I like to take my time and go down every aisle. The man — he doesn’t. I was good about my purchases today, and didn’t buy any junk food whatsoever. I’m trying to watch what we eat, specifically eating a lot more vegetables and less pasta. We eat a LOT of pasta, largely because I know how to make it. The man also has multiple rice dishes in his repertoire. But damn, trying to eat healthy can be expensive. Even more concerning than the expense: will all of that food go bad in my fridge when I inevitably don’t make it? I tried to get a good mix of easy things (grapes, blackberries and clementines for taking to work), cooking vegetables (cauliflower, a zucchini, peppers and onions for stir fry) and lazy cooking vegetables (frozen green and wax beans, frozen butternut squash). Tonight’s dinner was a success (meatloaf, mashed cauliflower and the beans)–I won’t be too upset spending money on all this food if we are actually successful about eating it.

I really want ice cream now.

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I Made Up This Number ($83,264)

Because I’ve still got some honeymoon spending to do, so I don’t want to post a lower number, only to see the negative number grow.

I listen to a lot of Dave Ramsey podcasts on the train home from work.  I definitely feel like he would tell me I need to pay off my loans on an even faster timeframe than I am.  I am paying for my wedding (in spite of the fact that we’re already actually married) and our honeymoon.  While I think we’re being pretty frugal, we are still going on vacation for two weeks.  But it’s going to be a looooong time before we’re going to be able to do this again.  It’s been five years since I’ve been on an actual vacation — and I think I’m enough on the path to paying off my debt that I can reward myself a little bit.

Should I be feeling guilty about this spending?  After my contract is up, should I be cutting my cable?  Should I be taking the $40 I round up my mortgage, and applying that to my next student loans (even though my mortgage interest rate is actually my HIGHEST–however that’s possible).  Should we stop any grabbing sushi about twice a month?  Should I be bringing PB&J to work everyday? (Full disclosure:  I actually love me some PB&J, as long as the right kind of jelly is involved).  Should I not be contributing to my retirement, even though we’re 31 and 32, and have less than $20,000 saved collectively?  Should I clear out my savings (the stuff that isn’t earmarked for something specific)?

I think it’s easy to follow simple rules, but I think everyone’s individual situation is a little different.  And because I’m making actual progress on my loans and have a drive and plan to pay them off, it makes more sense for me to enjoy life a little, and to address multiple financial goals (savings, retirement) while paying off debt.  I’m happy to pay off interest instead of more personal investing, but I’m not willing to turn my nose up at things like a 401k match.  Does anyone else feel the same?

February Goal Recap! ($87,482)

Here’s how I did 2 months into the year.  Just about $1,600 went to principal this month, which brings the total for 2015 to:

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That’s about 14.5% of the way there, with about 16% of the year past us.  I’m okay with that–I should  be able to put an extra $1,000 or so toward debt, not counting the rent money from our tenant that is scheduled to go towards loans alternating months.

For for the total debt payoff goal.  I painted the cardboard backing, so it would be easier to actually see the puzzle.  I didn’t actually have a paintbrush, so I used a paper towel, so please excuse the uneven paint job (but hey! more incentive to cover it up ASAP).  And you can actually see the puzzle against the background.

My total debts are $93,802.  It’s crazy to think about how recently I was celebrating being under $100,000. I’m not making the progress I used to make when I had two jobs, and no housing expenses, but refinancing my big loan to a lower interest rate has definitely made a difference.  Even though I was really close to the $93,800 mark, the puzzle only reflects $94,000 – 30 pieces.  My two undergraduate loans reflect interest when they show up in Mint, but I don’t think the others do, so it might actually be that my debts are a bit higher, but if I keep using Mint eventually the interest amounts will be so low that they don’t matter in the calculation too much (in a few years…)

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So that’s it for my recap!  Hopefully I’ll have plenty more progress to report in March when I finally receive my tax return, and maybe I’ll eventually even get better at budgeting!

Bigger Paychecks ($87,335)

I’ve been messing with my payroll deductions since the beginning of the year.  In 2014, I had HSA contributions taken out of each paycheck–a decent amount in an attempt to ramp up my account to cover at least the deductible.  This year I decided to move that down to $0 per paycheck, and just have a lump sum taken out of my bonus.  Because I’ve been used to living with a certain sized paycheck, I wasn’t looking to increase my take home pay, but wanted to increase my retirement contributions with the extra money (and largely keep with the theme of pre-tax payments). For my lump sum HSA contribution, I contributed what I had hoped would be the maximum contribution for the year, taking into account my employer’s contribution, and the fact that I’m hoping the man gets a job with better/cheaper health insurance (errr… that the better option is cheaper/more subsidized by his employer than the better option that I have through my work is now), which would render me unable to contribute to an HSA for that part of the year.  Depending on what our family timing plans are, I may keep myself on the high deductible health plan for a year, and keep contributing to the HSA for as long as I can.  I digress…

I had moved my 401(k) contribution up to 10%, then back down to 9%, with $100 going to a separate bank account post-tax, to be moved into the Roth IRA I opened.  The first paycheck I received in February, the 9% contribution was implemented, but the $100 separate deposit had not yet, so this looked like more money in my spendable paycheck.  This paycheck, the separate direct deposit was in place, but my paycheck was still higher than usual.  Could this be my raise? Nope–adjustments from the last minute changes to 2014 taxes (and how much is taken out pre-tax). This change brought me another $90.  I’ll take it!

I’m not sure if it will be in the next paycheck, but I am waiting on a significant raise to show up in my paycheck.  After taxes and deductions, I’m hoping it will be an extra $100 which should reduce my reliance on tapping into my separate savings more often than I’d like (as I have been doing).  I may also potentially increase my student loan payments an extra $50 a month each month, which would be another $450 in principal payments this year.  Every little bit helps me get closer to my goal!

Taxes *

Around this time last year (actually more like around April 15), I filed my taxes and had to pay over $2,100!  This was the second year in a row–for 2012 I had to pay $1,900!  At least last year, I was prepared for it.  Having two jobs in different states, I never quite figured out how to best do my withholding.  But with Job 2 ending in June, the withholding from (permanent) Job 1 would probably be enough that I shouldn’t owe, or shouldn’t owe too much.

But the man and I had our civil ceremony this year, so we can file together.  Seeing as he’s a full-time student, this is extremely beneficial to me because 1) the added personal exemption; and 2) the larger standard deduction.  Add to that some deductions for expenses for our house, and education credits, and we’re very happy with preliminary numbers on our federal return.  A good chunk of this will be paying for our honeymoon.  I also expect that I will be zeroing out UG4 when the return hits my bank account.  The only hold-up is that I’m waiting to receive my W-2 from former Job 2 — though my paycheck/withholding was the same every month, so I have a pretty good (if not exact) estimate in.

After elimination of UG4, I’ll be down to:

  • UG5 (the last one from undergrad!):  $4,410
  • Law School 1:  $6,056
  • Law School 2:  $13,145
  • Former Federal Loans:  $69,468

And with March’s payments, I’ll be under $93,000!  I’m pretty happy with that.  UG5 will soon be getting $225 a month.  It’s a little hard to think that I used to pay about $1,000 to the federal loans (the minimum if they were on a 10 year term instead of a 25 or 30 year), and another extra couple hundred (or $1000!) to my undergrad loans!  Damn I miss having a second job sometimes!  Damn I hate paying a mortgage!  Now it will take me four months of regular payments to get to a $1000 reduction in principal on UG5…but at least that’s an extra $200 a month, instead of just the minimum.  Hopefully we can keep some costs down on the honeymoon (even though I haven’t been on a vacation in FIVE YEARS), so they’ll be a bit more to loans!

 

 

 

*I’m temporarily excluding my net worth, as I’m shuffling some money around accounts

Cutting Costs ($89,601)

In January I really started noticing my excessive spending. I haven’t been updating my budget like a good Doobie, so I hadn’t included any wiggle room, so I was going way over. I didn’t have a lot of room to expand my spending categories, while still saving what I wanted to, so I decided to see what fixed costs I could cut:
Cell Phone: My contract is up at the end of February. I’m thinking of switching to Ting or Straight Talk, and giving it a shot for three months with my existing phone. I’ve definitely noticed that my phone is slower, and losses battery quickly, but I could spend a lot of my train time reading my kindle (library books or Prime rentals?)
Taxes: Our house is a two family, and the couple we bought it from didn’t live here when they sold it. Our town has a homestead exemption, which reduces your taxes, if you live in the home. Because the sellers didn’t have the exemption for this house, we couldn’t grandfather into their exemption, but we did file as soon as we could this year. I expect the tax portion of our mortgage payment will go down at least $50 a month once the new tax year starts (first payment is due in July). I’ll have to call the mortgage servicer on this to let them know once we officially have the exemption. I will probably continue paying the same amount on the mortgage, with the extra going to principal.
Car Insurance: I haven’t driven my car in two weeks. The reason for this is twofold: 1) My car needs some fixing, particularly new brakes, so I don’t feel too comfortable driving it now, particular in snowy conditions (and it’s harder to do the needed fixing in said conditions, as we don’t have a garage) and 2) My man brings me to and from the train (in his fuel efficient car) to save the $4 a day in parking charges. In spite of this, I still pay over $70 a month ten months out of the year for car insurance! The good news is that the two months I don’t pay are February and March (first and last months of the policy). The bad news is I called the insurance company, and they said they couldn’t reduce my rate any further, and that it was so high because of an incident in May 2012. But that incident will drop off in May. I asked if they could reduce my rate in May, but she said I’d have to wait until the next policy year. Two things I got from this: 1) it doesn’t hurt to ask and get the information, and 2) I will likely be switching my insurance company in late May.
Credit Report: I’m signed up for freecreditreport.com. It’s not free, y’all. But I’ve really liked tracking my progress, and it cost me $10 a month. Lo and behold! The charge was $20 this month. Apparently I had been reduced down to the $10 fee for a promotional period of two years (the last time I went to cancel), and that period is up. So I called to cancel, and thought, “I don’t really need to spend $10 a month on this anyway.” They offered to further reduce to $5 a month going forward for another time period. I gladly said yes, and added a notice in my phone calendar to cancel/renegotiate to keep my rate before it goes up again next time.

Credit Cards: I have a trusty Capital One card that was my first ever credit card. I went to cancel it in college, and was convinced not to because of the potential effect on my credit score. I’ve put another reminder in my phone to call and either: 1) get my annual fee waived, or 2) cancel. I have one charge on this card a month, which gets paid off monthly (so don’t even bother trying to reduce my interest rate instead of waiving the fee, C1), and the card has no benefits to it (no cash back or miles, nothin’). This one will save me the annual fee that surprises me every. single. year.

Proactiv:  Sad news–in spite of the fact that I’m over 30 years old, I still have the skin of a teenager (and I don’t mean I don’t have wrinkles).  I’ve cut this one out before, and my skin immediately started getting much worse, so I’m resigned to using it, oh, I don’t know, FOREVER.  That said, I have plenty of product from my last two or three shipments, that I can live without paying for it for a few month, and sign up again when I’m running low.

That’s all the cuts I can think of now (I’m in a two year contract on my cable, and getting a pretty good deal if we want to keep it), but I’m open to any other ideas! I’d also like to work on my grocery and food budget, but that one may be a little harder to plan, organize and execute.

January Goal Recap! ($90,455)

So here’s how far I am into my 2015 goal to pay $20,000 in principal to my student loans this year:

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This is only 6.5% of my goal after 8.3% of the year has gone by, but I’m really hoping a lot of progress gets made in the last third of the year, so I’m not going to stress about this too much, in spite of the fact that I paid extra from the house account this month.  Aside from that extra $700, I also only made a $150 payment on my UG loans, instead of the usual $225 monthly payments.  So it’s essentially a smaller amount than most months when I’m putting the extra $700 in.

As to my overall goal to pay off all of my student loans (hopefully by the time I’m 35–I’m currently 31 and a half).  This is the puzzle visual. I checked out what my total debt as of today, per Mint, and my grand total of student loan debt is $95,406.36.  Subtracting this from $100,000, I get $4593.64, and dividing by 200…22 pieces into the puzzle!  And really really close to 23!  Next month will likely add another 4 through normal payments, since I’m so close to another piece now.   I may also put a little bit of my bonus money towards UG4, so that it will be paid off by late March or early April.

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I’m going to have to work this out so that neither I, nor HGTV, are visible.  But for now, here’s the limited 22 pieces of progress.  I might have to paint the cardboard backing white so that the pieces are more visible, but I’ll start filling in that corner instead of the edges.  You know, so you’ll be able to see actual progress.  And also, because I totally have pieces in the corner assembled in the box…

Attempts to Be Responsible with Bonus Money… ($90,455)

FULL DISCLOSURE:  I wrote this post Friday morning on train into work.  I planned on posting last night-ish, after cleaning it up and adding a picture or two (because who wants to look at just words?)  Buuuut I was told my bonus number at work on Friday, so they’ll be a post to follow on that next month.  But until then, here’s some ramblings on retirement:

We had to make our 401k and HSA elections for our bonuses. The thing is, I have no idea how much said bonus is, so I’m not really sure how I should be electing.

My idea was to put my estimated maximum into my HSA (assuming I move to a better plan in September, which would mean I would only be able to contribute the pro-rated maximum for the year), and nothing into my 401k. I have since realized the my company matches 3% of compensation, and not 3% of salary…so I assume this means a match on the bonus too? I might lower my 401k contributions for the rest of the year (or at least until September) to balance it out, as I was planning on saving “the rest” to pay for the wedding. Whatever “the rest” might be. Hopefully I’ll find that out next week. And, even more so, hopefully it’s a big number.

As much as I was planning to use all this money for the wedding, I can’t say no to the match, right? I try to calculate approximately what it might be, and I think, “a 3% match isn’t that much…” But I’m 31 now, and didn’t start contributing to retirement AT ALL until 2014. I need all the compounding I can get. I’m not yet contributing 15% to retirement because of all my bills (including my desire to pay off student loans), but I think at last check I’m at 9% into my 401k, 1% into a savings (to be put into my newly opened Roth IRA), and my company puts in 2% into my 401k per year, on top of the match. So, assuming it all gets vested, at least 15% will go towards retirement.

Realizing I’m starting late, I want to make sure that we have a comfortable retirement. As in, not just making sure we have enough to live on, but enough to travel. Including going south for the winter. I can’t handle all this snow (though the man may take some convincing on this point). I’m not going to be one of those people who retires really early–it’s a little late for that–but could 55 be doable? Maybe?

Can you see the two feet of snow?  Do you understand why I want to be a snowbird?  And I obviously was not going outside to take this picture…
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Not Much to Report ($91,944.27)

As the subject says, I don’t have much to report. I just had five days in a row off of work, and that was awesome. I had kind of a rough day yesterday, and I’m still kind of down about things, but they’re completely non-financial. Whatever.

On two positive notes, I should start seeing retirement contributions from my company in my paycheck on Friday. I won’t be vested in any of this for another year, but I’ve never worked anywhere where I’ve gotten so much as a 401k match before this. The amount is a percent of my salary, and isn’t at all contingent on my contributing my own funds.

The other positive point is that we received our rent check from our tenant earlier this month (rent is due on the 15th–he’s always early). We just did a mobile deposit, so once it clears I’ll be sending that $700 to UG4, bringing the balance to right about $2,000. I’m not planning on making a similar payment next month–we used up $1,200 from the account to pay a contractor for something we needed to take care of for the house, and I’d like to replenish the account a bit. Ideally, I’d like to keep a balance of at least $5,000 in the account, but I think I’m going to keep alternating rent checks in the account, until we get to the $5,000, and use the others for student loans.

One thing I’ve found frustrating, is that I haven’t been able to set up a goal in Mint on paying off student loans. But I did realize that I can at least view the total amount of payments in a given category for this year. I’m at a mere $600ish this month, for a two reasons: 1) my big payment went through two days later than normal, because the normal payment date fell on a Saturday, so two more days of interest accrued and were paid, 2) I only paid $150 on my UG loans, instead of the usual $225 because of the hangover from December. Hopefully this chart will look a whole lot better in a week (and more so a month) from now!

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The 2015 Goal ($91,493)

This is a big goal, but here it is: I want to pay off $20,000 in student loan principal in 2015. In 2014, I only reduced by about $8,600, but here’s why I think it may be possible:
– Now that I’ve refinanced my largest loan, I’m paying less interest, and a higher monthly payment each month (because I switched from a 25 year term to a 15 to get the lower interest rate). Of my $555 monthly payment, over half goes to principal. For all of my loans, my current payments reduce principal by about $700 a month. ($8,400 for the year)
– My balances are, slowly but surely, going down. I hope that my bonus is big enough that I can pay off UG4 and (fingers crossed) a chunk of UG5 in February. This will free up $225 a month to start going to my “law school loans” at 5% (the refinanced loans are also from law school, but aren’t services through ECSI). Lower balances–especially reducing them towards the beginning of the year–mean marginally lower interest payments. Even if this results in only $10 more a month going to principal, it’s still something–I’m never going to pay more interest than I’m currently paying because all of my rates are fixed.
– I’m hoping for a small raise. I may bump up my 401(k) contribution a little, so I’m not expecting much more per paycheck, but maybe for the year this will mean another $500 towards my loans.
– My mortgage payment gets rounded up to $1,400 a month. I pay this whole thing from my paycheck, and have been saving the $700 a month we receive from our tenant as a “House Emergency Fund.” Now that the fund is a decent size, I’m going to start putting some of this money towards my loan. I hope I’m being conservative in figuring I’ll be able to put $4,200 of this towards my loans.
– We’re having our wedding ceremony this year. I’m putting a lot of money towards this that could instead be going towards my financial goals (but not planning on going into any further debt). My tax return, most of my bonus and some savings are earmarked for this. But everyone tells me I can expect to receive a bunch of monetary gifts. I’m not planning on relying on any kind of number here, but I will say that most of any gifts we receive here will go towards my loans.
– Lastly, since we bought the house and moved in together, we’ve been a one-income household. I’m optimistic that this will change in September. The man agrees that paying off my loans is a big priority, and we’ve successfully been living off one income this whole time, so I expect that about half of his take home will go to my loans. Because we both had chunks of time where were weren’t contributing to any kind of retirement plan (him while he was either not working or in school, me while I was either irresponsible or in school), I’d like to really step up both of our 401(k) contributions once he’s working again to try to make up for some lost time. Again, because we haven’t been relying on this money, I’m hoping we won’t miss it.

So that’s my goal, and I’m now accountable to the whole blogosphere. I might look into adding some kind of progress tracking bar to the bottom of my posts throughout the year. Any thoughts on how to do that are welcome!