Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Selling spree

I’ve been on a selling spree this past month, going throughout the house and listing unused and unneeded stuff on Craigslist, Ebay, and at a children’s consignment event. Things I uncovered to get rid of included old video games, furniture, my wedding dress, and all the boys clothes, toys, and items that they’ve outgrown.

After all was said and done we brought in $293 which is great since we had some unexpected medical bills and auto parts that were needed over the past month. $100 went towards buying the clothes, shoes, and coats the boys need to get them through the fall and winter which we picked up used at the consignment event.

Some of the stuff I uncovered, like my wedding dress, didn’t sell during the course of the last month and while I still intend on selling this stuff, it’s a ton of work to stay on top of all the listings and people contacting me for more info. For now I need to focus my attention elsewhere for a while and maybe I can do another month selling spree towards the end of the year or perhaps near the spring children’s consignment event.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Medical debt

Life has been moving along at warp speed and I haven’t been able to post as much as I’d like about what’s happening financially in my life.  Little financial things have been going on like selling off stuff on craigslist/ ebay and preparing for the big kids consignment sale this weekend.  But also one major thing has occurred that really puts a kink in the financial plan: medical expenses.

One of the twins had a trip to the ER (he’s fine, just a little infection) which means a $150 co-pay and I ended up needing a minor surgery (I’m also fine).   Since we hadn’t met any of my deductible yet for the year and have a 20% patient responsibility we owe a little over $2,000 for that.  Unfortunately, the need for these medical services were totally unexpected and since we still don’t have any money set aside in an emergency fund this all means we have more debt now. 

I’m really bummed out about the med expenses for a number of reasons.  The first is that it just drives home how important the emergency fund really is and it has been so frustrating trying to get money set aside for emergencies. All that debt consolidating/ shuffling and putting my student loan in deferment a couple months ago have only allowed us to cover some of the smaller medical bills and other unexpected expenses we’ve had lately.  And every time I bring a little extra in via my side businesses or by selling something off we have some unexpected expense so nothing makes it into savings.   

I’m also bummed because we were only two monthly payments away from paying off all the medical debt from the boys’ birth.  Now we’re right back in medical debt and almost as much as we started with.  Just feels like another big step backwards.

The biggest reason I’m bummed out is that we can’t afford to make additional debt payments on anything right now.  We’re on an extremely tight budget as it is and there’s nothing left to pay towards new debt.  When I tried to set up payment plans for the medical debt, the minimum payments to the three different accounts that make up the bulk of the balance were no were near affordable with our budget.  And even though the three accounts are all through the same umbrella company because they are from different locations and people they can’t combine the accounts to try and get a lower monthly payment.

After talking with the billing department for a while and explaining our situation the lady suggested we take another approach.  Apparently after the bills go unpaid for two billing cycles they will be transferred to the internal collections department (which is not reported to the credit bureaus).  She advised us to let the bills go to internal collections at which point we can consolidate those three accounts into one.  She said that the collections department also has a lot more flexibility on repayment terms so we can get a much lower monthly payment.  The only saving grace in this situation is that by the time these new bills go to collections we will have made our last payment on the birth debt.  Hopefully we can get a repayment plan at or lower than the medical payments we are currently paying but we won't know that for another couple months.

I certainly hope I can start posting more positive news soon and start seeing some debt reduction again.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Found change challenge

"Find a penny, pick it up, the rest of the day you'll have good luck"

A silly saying but good words to live by in my opinion.  I was out in the field for work the other day which involved me walking up and down a busy street in my town, cataloging the condition of the public right-of-way.  Over the course of the day I found a dime and three pennies.  The next morning I found a dime left over in the checkout at the U-scan and a penny in the parking lot when I went grocery shopping.  Yet another dime appeared on my walk around the neighborhood later that day.  It occurred to me that I find a lot of spare change as I walk around.

I asked S how much change he finds throughout the year and he says he rarely finds any. I don't think it's because I am extra lucky that I stumble across free money more than other people.  I think the following things lead me to find free change:

1. I notice it when I see it.  My sister used to call me hawk-eye when we were little because I could always find dropped earring backs, needles, and other tiny objects that get lost when dropped onto a busy backdrop.  But I don't think I have keener eyes than others, I think I just recognize the value in loose change where others would blindly pass over a spare penny because it is worth so little.

2. I go out of my way to pick up spare change.  It's one thing to notice dropped change, it's another thing to walk over and pick it up if it's not in your direct path.  I always go out of my way to pick up spare change.

3. There's no shame in my game.  I'm not embarrassed to pick up a penny on the road just because I happen to be walking with a co-worker or because it's on the floor in a busy grocery store.  

Sunday evening I decided to do a little found change challenge.  For the next year I'm not only going to pick up any loose change I randomly come across, I'm actually going to start looking for it (I'll do some posts along the way on ways to find spare change).  I'm going to set aside all this found change in a jar.  Next July I'll count up the change and see how much free money I can find in a year.  I've even convinced S to participate so hopefully he'll start keeping his eyes open for loose change too.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Doing some late "spring" cleaning

Rounding up all our spare change last week put me in the purging mood and got me wondering how much money we have lying around in things we don't use/ need.  Over the next month I plan to go through the house with a fine tooth comb rooting out these unneeded objects and selling them via Ebay, Craigslist, and a large kids stuff consignment sale I will be participating in next month.  

I made an initial sweep this past weekend and currently have the following stuff listed on Craigslist and Ebay:

- Baby stuff including a large automatic swing, a floor mat entertainer, a carrier, and some maternity stuff: this is just the big ticket stuff, I have boxes and boxes of smaller value stuff that I will sell at the consignment sale a month from now.
- A futon frame: we're keeping the mattress but honestly it's so much more comfortable on the floor than on this metal futon frame... besides the mattress on the floor just adds to the Japanese motif the guest room seems to be taking on.
- Video games: yep, I like to play video games (which I buy used) but with two toddlers I almost never get to play and the likelyhood of me going back and replaying ones I've already beaten is pretty slim.
- Wedding dress: not going to use it again and I had two boys soooo... do I really need to hang onto it?

Obviously I don't know if all of the stuff listed will sell or how much it will sell for but if everything sold for a price around what I expect there is $450 in unneeded stuff lying around the house.  I'll be keeping track of everything I "find" over the next month to get rid of and how much it sold for.  Once the kids consignment sale is over I'll write a post on how much money we had lying around in unused stuff.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Counting the coin jar

Last week I was catching up on one of my favorite blogs, http://www.bloggingawaydebt.com/.  In one post the writer mentioned it was time to go around the house and collect all the spare money which he estimated would be between $60-90 bucks (accumulated over the past few months).  My initial reaction to reading this was “Yikes, how could someone have that much lying around and not know about it!” $90 (even $60) seems like a lot of money to me these days and I feel like over the past few years I have become so much more aware of where my money is, how much is being saved/ spent, and what every nickel is working towards.  But then I started wondering… how much money do we have just lying around in coin?  Is it possible we have that much in loose change?

This past weekend I went around the house collecting all our change.  There’s a bowl in the kitchen and on S’ dresser for collecting spare change.  We also have two little piggy banks in the boys room that we got as party favors at a baby shower that we sometimes put change into as a demonstration to our boys the importance of saving.  I dumped my coin purse and the little stash of quarters I keep in the cars for meters.  I also rooted through the cars, couch cushions, and picked up a few stray pennies randomly located throughout the house as I cleaned.  On a roll, I went through all our coat pockets and extra wallets/ purses.  

The final tally $33.08 plus a shiny golden 20 cent Euro.  I was honestly surprised that it came to that much.  I always try to use exact change and even empty my coin purse into the self scan checkout whenever there's not a line behind me.  S' dips into the coin jar for a gourmet coffee treat every once in a while and we always use quarters up at the meters downtown.  Also we only use cash for our discretionary spending, the small amount of pocket cash we get each week and for our monthly household random expenses.  Everything else is paid for either through online auto pays and bill pay or by debit card.  I can imagine if we were an all cash family that number would easily be double, possibly even triple.

It wasn't till I went to roll up the loot and couldn't find our coin sleeves that I realized that there's a gallon ziplock baggie still packed somewhere with all our pre-move coins (and the sleeves).  Eventually we'll get the rest of our stuff unpacked (why we even have so much stuff that we can have it sitting in boxes for three months and not need it is a whole other story) and we'll find the mystery money.  But for now, I just walked over to the bank on my lunch break to get some more sleeves... and found a dime on sidewalk, bringing our total to $33.18!  

Update: Found the missing bag o' change... add another $1.72 to the total loose money tally we had lying around our house.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

2nd Quarter 2014

Starting point:

Student Loan 1 (My fed loan): $38,339
Student Loan 2 (S' state loan): $21,719
Student Loan 3 (S' fed loan): $5,454
Car Loan: $11,684
Credit Card 1: $10,577
Credit Card 2: $3,635
Credit Card 3: $0
Misc. small debts (S' small debts in collections): $5,443
Medical expenses: $3,672
Parents: $600

Total: $101,123

And here's were we are today:

Student Loan 1: $35,251
Student Loan 2: $19,511
Student Loan 3: $295
Car Loan: $0
Credit Card 1: $0
Credit Card 2: $122
Credit Card 3: $6,212
Misc. small debts: $4,284
Medical expenses: $300
Parents: $0
Consolidation Loan: $9,865

Total: $75,840

Paid off to date: $24,402 paid off + $5 in savings

This past quarter was by far the worst we've had since we started the debt reduction journey. Not only did we increase our debt by $1,695 over the last three months but we also drained what was left of our emergency fund.  As bad as it looks to see it all laid out like this there are some positives coming out of the past quarter.  First and biggest, is S' student loan (#2 in the list) has officially been rehabilitated and is no longer in default.  The number shown was from his last statement but we don't know for sure what the current balance is because we are waiting to hear from the lender that bought his loan from the collections company.

Secondly, we consolidated the credit card debt we accumulated during the move on the 15.99% card with S' student loan #3 with a private 8.39% loan from Lending Club.  With a $300 loan fee, it cost more up front (and contributed to the increase in debt) but it will cost us less in the long run by not paying 15.99% interest on that credit card debt.  Unfortunately, I forgot to factor in that fee when requesting the amount of the loan so we still have a couple more payments on the student loan and credit card before we will be done.

It was a rough 3 months financially but as I posted recently, we've finally gotten our act together and should be back on track to continue our debt reduction journey.  Our first step is to build our emergency fund back up, which is targeted to be back to $1000 by the end of the next quarter.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Morale booster from unexpected source

It's no secret that I've been a little down on the debt front since we moved.  In my last post I talked about how we were getting back on track which was immensely helpful in regaining a positive feeling about our debt reduction efforts.  Something else happened last week that was also key to my turnaround in attitude...

Someone left me a comment on one of my posts!  The comment went something like this:  "Dear Person in Debt, I want to inform you of an amazing opportunity to borrow money at an insanely low interest rate from my top notch international firm."  Except the actual comment was full of improper grammar and misspellings. Sounds a little too good to be true and a little too much like the e-mails I get from time to time from royal foreigners who would like to send me millions of dollars for helping them with some small task.  (I did not publish the comment if you were wondering or looking for it, btw)

Anyhoo, why did that give me a morale boost, you ask?  Because it reminded me that my bottom was not as bad as it could have been.  I realized I had a problem before the problem got so out of control that I had missed payments, bankruptcy, ruined credit, collections, turned to cash advance places or shady loan propositions, or started hitting up relatives for loans (minus the small $600 my parents lent me).  Looking back I know I was on the brink of those things when I started this journey back in 2011.  I could have just as easily stayed on the path I was on.  In many ways staying on the path I had been on would have been way easier, changing my long ingrained habits and discovering uncomfortable truths about myself has been a difficult journey.  

It reminds me of something a friend once told me about struggling with addiction, she believed you didn't have to hit bottom to make a change, that the struggle was more like an elevator where you could choose to get off on any floor instead a free falling all the way to the sub-sub-basement.  Although her situation was different than mine, that analogy has stuck with me and seems fitting of my journey.  I'm thankful that I got off the elevator three years ago and have been "climbing the stairs" back up to the top floor ever since.  There will be times that I have to stop and take a breather but eventually I'll make it!