Look Kids, We’re on Uranus!

My family spent a couple of days in Kansas City for Spring Break. It was wonderful.

We rented bikes to peddle around downtown. The bike path took us one block off of Main Street, so we could still see the sights, but not be in direct competition for the road with drivers who have no time or patience for tourists.

We came to a red light, and I noticed this sign:

 

 

 

 

I yelled, “Hey, guys! We’re on Uranus!” and then laughed hysterically.
They both gave me the stare that kids give when their mothers try to make a dad joke.

 

 

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The “you’re not funny” stare.

They peddled away as I mumbled to myself reassuringly, “It was funny. Uranus – your anus. That’s funny. They’ll get it later.”

 

 

As to date, they haven’t acknowledged that it was a super funny joke, but it has given me a summer project idea. I just need to find a two-mile stretch of road that is safe in Memphis.

 

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Renew:Debt-free Living

debt-free

In the last installment of this series, I talked about routinely taking stock of one’s finances which is the first step in Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class.

Routine, routine, routine. It keeps my life from going off the rails and crashing, leaving behind a red, hot ball of firey flames rivaled only by the entrance to hell itself.

The next step in Ramsey’s Financial Peace class is gathering an emergency fund of at least $1000 as quickly as possible.

It sounds simple, but have you ever heard of Murphy’s Law? Hold on to your hat because there’s more than one law – there’s 8 actually – about things going wrong, and we experienced most of them.

EMERGENCY FUND!

Step #1 of Ramsey’s Baby Steps is to save $1000 as soon as possible.  He advises students to cut out extras and sell stuff to raise the money as quickly as possible.

We sold everything that didn’t have deep sentimental value, or we weren’t using.

We consolidated our children’s books into one case and sold the extra bookcase. We purged our daughter’s dressers, putting everything on hangers, and then sold the bedroom set. We also found some miscellaneous things in the attic that we put on the local Facebook swap page.

In addition to selling things, we agreed to cut out extra entertainment such as renting movies, going to movies, eating out, etc. until the emergency fund was in place. We pared down to the bare necessities. I even stopped using my Keurig and started brewing coffee by the pot again (lest you think otherwise, this is a BIG deal).

Within the month, we had raised $500. We were off to a good start, and we were excited.

To complete the emergency fund, we planned to use my income as a community college adjunct to pay off a couple of small doctors’ bills, and whatever was left over, would go into the emergency fund.   In the meantime, we were going to set $25 a week for the next 5 months to make up the rest.

We thought we had a good plan.

But Murphy had other plans.

Stupid Murphy.

Murphy’s Law

Almost immediately after we agreed on a plan to accumulate the emergency fund, the first and most well known of Murphy’s Laws kicked in right away with the second and slightly lesser known law following close behind.

1. If anything can go wrong it will go wrong.

2. If there is a chance of several things going wrong, the one that will cause the most damage will be the one to go wrong.

The list started with the refrigerator dripping water and refusing to cool, and continued with the front and back brakes on my car needing replaced, my molar chipping in half while eating popcorn, the TV in the playroom braking, the garage door rollers beginning to fall off, some of the windows in the house starting to lose their seal with white filmy yuck accumulating in them, and ended with my mind reeling with so on, and so on, and so on.

Well, craptastic! Which one to do we fix first?

The inside of my fridge had turned into the likes of the cavern behind Niagara Falls. At certain times, I could actually hear the water pouring out of the freezer onto the top shelf of the fridge. The poor girl was incontinent! Mopping up the mess was a daily chore. I put small pans in the back to catch the water, but if I didn’t empty them daily, there was always an overflow to clean up.

In the past, we would have run to Lowe’s and bought a new fridge on their “No money down/12 months same as cash” plan. Then we would have used some of the emergency money to replace the brakes.  But we had pledged on the first day of Financial Peace class to not make any new purchases until we had our emergency fund in place and we had saved the money to pay cash.

 Well, craptastic!  Stupid Murphy. Stupid pledge.

Okay, the pledge is actually not stupid. It forced us to either give in or buckle down. We decided to buckle down.

Determined not to break the pledge, we decided to try and nudge the fridge along with minor self-repairs so we could replace the brakes on my car. Having the brakes replaced was the most pressing to us because the safety of the family was at stake.

But what about my tooth? Wasn’t that also the most pressing?

Not exactly. Thanks to my atrocious pre-adolescent oral hygiene, the tooth was completely packed with silver amalgam, so I wasn’t experiencing any pain or sensitivity. Plus I hate the dentist (read about it here), so fixing the tooth was shoved to the back burner until we gathered the emergency fund.

After prodding the fridge along for a little over six months, the old gal gave up the ghost. She just stopped working. Not much we could do but get a new fridge.

At that time, the emergency fund almost had the required $1000. The 12 months same as cash idea was very tempting. We could get a fantastic fridge if it wasn’t for that pledge. We talked it over, each of us playing devil’s advocate to the other until we landed on the solution.

Sticking to the pledge, we went to Lowe’s with $500 in hand and bought a small fridge that would get us by for two years until we were debt free and had saved the money for the fridge of our dreams. At that point in time, we can either sell the $500 fridge or retire it to the laundry room to hold water bottles and such.

The Lowe’s attendant was flabbergasted that we not only refused to finance, but we also had the cash in hand. When I asked him if something was wrong, he remarked, “No. It’s just people don’t usually pay with cash.”

That’s when I remembered Ramsey’s mantra: Live like no one else, so one day you can live like no one else.

After that purchase, I started approaching our purchases with stricter boundaries between needs and wants.

a. We haven’t replaced the upstairs television. We have to share the one in the living room. Gasp!

b. My molar still isn’t fixed. It still doesn’t hurt, but it is next on the “fix-it list”.

c. My husband contacted a garage door company and they sold him new rollers for little to nothing. He Googled how to replace them himself.

d. We had one of the windows on the front of the house re-sealed and decided to install new windows when – you got it – after we are debt free.

Most of the emergencies we call emergencies are really not emergencies. They are just real life we didn’t plan for. We knew we were going to have to replace the fridge at some point; we just didn’t plan for it. Brakes need replacing, too. We just didn’t plan for it.

Now we not only have an emergency fund deposit each paycheck, but we have a home/auto replacement account as well. That’s a topic for a later post.

How difficult has it been to grow your emergency fund?

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Monday Morning Coffee and A Quote

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Renewal: Debt-free Living

debt-free

 

Taking Stock

It’s Thursday, and that means one thing at my house: budget day!

There are a few things that I do before diving into the budget.

First, I pay tithe

Second, I take stock of the finances.

I am going to save what I mean by paying tithe for a later post and first discuss what it means to take stock.

As mentioned in the first post of this series, we did all of the homework assigned in Financial Peace no matter how brutal. The first assignment was to take stock of our finances.

Taking stock as described by Ramsey is totaling one’s “non-mortgage debt,” including “any money [one] owes on anything.” This means listing totals of credit cards, student loans, bank notes, car loans, outstanding doctor/dentist bills, home equity loans, etc. Everything one may owe outside of the first mortgage and monthly utilities.

This assignment was probably the single most eye-opening assignment of the class. I knew in my head how much we owed and to whom, but I never actually added it all together. Listing our debtors by name or title and the amount we owed to each brought a new level of seriousness to our situation. When I calculated the list and wrote down the total in the workbook, it brought me to a shocking realization: we were in debt more than $50,000. It took the wind right out of me.

What the heck? How did this happen? We can’t possibly own that much?

So I added it together again. The total was the same.

What the heck? None of the bills seem that large! Well, except the two car payments, but that couldn’t be helped. You can’t plan for a deer jumping out of the ditch and totaling your car.

And on and on went the week-long conversation I had with myself.

By the end of the week, I was mad. I remembered going into the first class hopeful that we would learn to live debt free. Now I was determined. It wasn’t a regular type of determination. It was fire and brimstone determination. I walked into the second class ready to get to work and pay off all the debt.

After that class, every Thursday I have taken stock of our finances. I make a grid on a simple sheet of writing paper, write the debtors on the lines, how much we owe, what is paid that week, and how much extra we can afford to pay, and then I total everything up.

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A template of the grid I use. As you can see, I am not highly technical. I am positive that using a spreadsheet program would be easier and less time consuming; however, writing it by hand and calculating it myself forces me to pay closer attention to the details.

 

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This is an example of what it looks like filled in. The grid is designed according to Ramsey’s signature “Debt Snowball” – listing debts from smallest to greatest by the balance owed. The amount listed in the “Payment” column is how much is being paid out that week. The “Extra” column is for any additional payments I can make that week.

I do this weekly because we get paid weekly. Plus we make weekly car payments and bi-weekly mortgage payments (I’ll explain why in a later post), so it helps me to keep track of how much we pay and when.

It may seem tedious, but I do this every Thursday for three reasons:

  1. It reminds me of the reality of our situation. By writing it down every week with my own hand, I am forced to claim it and take responsibility for it. That’s is my handwriting. That is my debt.
  2. It reminds me from whence we came. Each week, I am reminded of how much has changed for the better.
  3. It encourages me to not give up. As I see the gap grow between where we started and where we are now, I take pride in writing down a smaller number each week, not to mention the great satisfaction I get from crossing a debtor’s name off the list.

Once I have taken stock of our bills, I am ready to dive into the budget. Taking stock before doing the budget strengthens my resolve to live debt free, and I start cutting out unnecessary spending with a renewed vigor.

As Dave Ramsey says, “If you live like no one else, later you can live like no one else.”

That’s the goal.

This is an example of what it looks like filled in. The grid is designed according to Ramsey’s signature “Debt Snowball” – listing debts from smallest to greatest by the balance owed. The amount listed in the “Payment” column is how much is being paid out that week. The “Extra” column is for any additional payments I can make that week.

Note: I am not a credit counselor, nor am I or this blog affiliated with Dave Ramsey or Financial Peace University in any capacity other than a student. The following post strictly a testimonial designed to encourage debt-free living.
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Monday Morning Coffee and a Quote

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Renewal: Debit Free Living

debt-free

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Note: This blog or blog post is not in any way connected to Dave Ramsey or Financial Peace University other than being written by a student of Financial Peace classes. This blog is not being reimbursed for this testimony. 

 

Living with debt is sheer nincompoopery (the bad kind, not the funny kind), and believing there is no way around living in debt is sheer nincompoopery (still the bad kind).

My husband and I actually started the journey to becoming debt free two years ago. We were both on the verge of turning 50 and started to look forward to retirement. We needed to dump our debt. The first year, we tried some conventional ideas: paying off the card with the highest interest rate first, making a stricter budget, reduce spending, etc. However, we just weren’t getting anywhere. We didn’t make a dent in our debt.

Feeling a discouraged, some of our friends and family told us about Finacial Peace University, a system not only for getting out of debt but to also live debt free.  We signed up, paid the minimal fee, and started the classes.  It was a bumpy year. A very bumpy year. It taught us more than we had anticipated about debt, finances, and teamwork.  That is why I am adamant that living in debt is sheer nincompoopery.

Living in debt is sheer nincompoopery, and believing you have to live in debt is sheer nincompoopery.

We paid down over 20% of our debt last year, and with renewed focus and motivation, we are ready to be debt free by the end of 2017.

From Whence We Came

This time last year, we were looking at a debt of over $230, 000 (including two mortgages). Without our mortgages, our debt was a little over $50,000. Ouch. Just ouch.

After making a slew of mistakes, false starts, and restarts, we buckled down, made some hard choices, and finished the year with a total debt (including one mortgage) of a tad over $200,000. Without the mortgage, our debt is a smidge over $40,000. Better, but still ouch.

A $10,000 difference in our non-mortgage debt doesn’t seem very substantial; however, when we did pay off is taken into account, it does turn out to be a pretty good start.

We moved across the country in 2008, leaving us with two mortgages on two houses in two different states. By following the steps we learned in Financial Peace, we were able to pay off the mortgage on our first house effectively moving that from the debt column to the revenue column.  On top of that, we were able to pay down our unsecured debt.

It doesn’t look like much, but it puts us in a good position for the start of 2017.

Debt Free by the End of 2017

Starting today and continuing every other Thursday in 2017, I will be journaling our road to renewing our financial lives. Some posts will highlight memories of last year’s journey, and some posts will run concurrent to this year’s journey.   It is one way for us to stay accountable and at the same time encourage others.This is how we started:

If last year taught us anything, it taught us that walking this road is not easy, so blogging is one way for us to stay accountable and at the same time encourage others

First Steps

This is how we started.

  • We enrolled and attended a Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University class near us.
  • We went to the class every week without exception.
  • We did all of the homework no matter how brutal or exhausting, and it is brutal and exhausting.

No Regrets

My husband and I do not regret starting down the path of debt-free living. We do regret allowing ourselves to fall into debt in the first place. We both turned 50 in 2016 and are more determined than ever to cut out all debt.

If you are facing retirement, come along on this journey with us. If you are newly married, learn from our mistakes and don’t fall for the debt trap (there’s a reason why it sounds like “death trap”). As Dave Ramsey’s says, “Live like no one else, so you can live like no one else.”

No matter if you are young and single, married and set to retire, or somewhere in between, come along with us on this journey. The more the merrier!

Who’s with us?

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Monday Morning Coffee with Kloefkorn

Mowing the Lawn for the Last Timekloefkornphoto

I do it shortly after sunrise,

after the first hard freeze,

each swath a shredding

of leaf and of blade and of frost,

each swath so green, so perfect

I pause time and again to look

down the row to inhale as well as

to see it, to take it all in.

And the sound of the mower: a red

Piper Cub against a blue sky,

circling. Which is why I do not hear my wife

at first when she calls me.

We sit on elm stumps drinking black coffee

from thick white porcelain cups

left from the days of her dead father’s

café. I remember the waitress

whose face, it was said, could sour

milk, how the regular customers

loved her. We hold the cups

with both hands, leaning our faces

into them. The morning

for a few moments with us

stands still. We are very happy.

– William Kloefkorn (1932-2011), Nebraska State Poet (1982-present)

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2015 in review

The WordPress.com stats helper monkeys prepared a 2015 annual report for this blog. Moral of this story: write more and be consistent. 🙂

Here’s an excerpt:

A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 1,400 times in 2015. If it were a cable car, it would take about 23 trips to carry that many people.

Click here to see the complete report.

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Monday Morning Coffee and a Quote

phot credit: photosynthesis.theboulderstand.org

– Lorali Gilmore “The Gilmore Girls” photo credit: photosynthesis.theboulderstand.org

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Collecting Coffee Mugs

I’ve decided to collect coffee mugs. The other day, I was standing in line to purchase a coffee mug and some other merchandise from the Choose901 pop-up shop in Memphis when I decided that I am going to start collecting coffee mugs.

901 mug

Choose901 in Memphis

My mother collected coffee mugs. She had a make shift shelf where she displayed them at one end of the kitchen in the old house.

“The old house.” My siblings may have other names for the beloved, big house in Stanton, but that’s what I call it: the old house. It was almost a hundred years old when we moved into it. It was over a hundred years old when the folks moved out of it. It was well over a hundred years old when a June tornado swept it away.

I call it “the old house” because the house that the folks eventually moved into seemed like their new house; although, it was neither new nor a house when they moved into it.  I call it “the old house” because it’s where I grew up. I spent all but one year of my childhood there, all of my adolescence, and quite a few years of my adulthood living there. A lot of years drinking coffee in the kitchen of that old house.

My mother’s kitchen was rectangular. At one end, a window opened to the neighbor lady’s massive flower garden that, I like to think, my mother enjoyed, wishing she had the time and the energy to cultivate one of her own. She had too many children, too much to do to spend her time whiling away in a flower garden. My mother was practical like that.

At the other end of the kitchen was the make-shift coffee mug shelf where a door used to lead into a bedroom. When my father made the extra bedroom into a over-sized bathroom, he closed the door in from the other side with a piece of faux blue marble wood paneling. When in the kitchen, the door frame was left, but the opening was covered by the drab brown back of the paneling. My mother had Dad nail some left over 2x4s horizontally, making the doorway into a pocketed shelf to display her mugs. It wasn’t pretty, but it was useful.

I miss that kitchen. It wasn’t pretty, but it was more than useful. Life happened there. Sistering happened there.

Sisters around table

From left to right: #5, #8, #4, and me, #10. #7 isn’t pictured.

During family gatherings, usually Thanksgiving and Christmas, my sisters and I gathered around the brown, formica table drinking coffee or tea and talking about inappropriate things. From the looks of shock on my face and our body positions, #4 must have said something uproariously inappropriate for which I punched her in the shoulder. #8 is amused but keeping it to herself (no doubt a little later in the day one will be able to find the two of us sitting in a corner of the house discussing this exact moment) as #5 enjoys the moment.

The door directly behind #4 and me eventually was made into the pocketed shelf, but for this moment it is just a door. And we are just sisters.

It’s interesting what time will do. A door turns into a pocketed display shelf that one day disappears and is only now a memory.

We, the sisters, have changed with time, too. In this picture, we are younger versions of ourselves, some with husbands and kids, some without, connecting through advice, opinion, laughter, and coffee.

But soon, over time, the living of life changes relationships. There aren’t many pictures of this time. Advice is not sought. Opinions hurt. Laughter fades. Coffee cups are left empty. Pain is the tie that binds. We remain just sisters.

Then time does what time does best. It marches on. Each of us has to learn individual lessons about ourselves and about each other. Each of us has to learn how to reconnect with one another; how to let by-gones be by-gones and to let love be love. We can do it for others, so we learn to do it for each other.

This past Thanksgiving, we came together again over coffee around #4’s round oak table, my mother’s formica table long since lost but not forgotten. We are all a little nervous, but soon fall into an old familiar routine of chatting about inappropriate things, giving advice, offering opinions, and much missed laughter.

sisters 2015

Thanksgiving 2015                                                                                                        From left to right: Me (#10, #7, #4, #8, and #5)

 

It’s much easier now, being sisters. We have settled into our lives, dreams met, dreams deferred, perspectives solidified, perspectives changed. We have settled into knowing and accepting each other, understanding rather than judging and forcing change.  We have settled into relationship with one another, choosing it rather than just being born into it.

This circle of coffee ushered in a new phase in our sistering, a more mature, satisfying relationship. A relationship based on respect, honor, and love, not treading on areas where uninvited. I like this phase of sistering. It took us awhile, and many times I mourned it, believing that we would never have it. But now it is here.

Now, we are sisters.

 

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