Sunday, May 9, 2021

FINAL Debt Elimination Update: April 2021

Some major things happened in April 2021, yet the month really felt like it just FLEW by.

April is really the month for flowers.

First, my husband is now fully vaccinated, and the kids have returned to school and one activity each in person (H 4 days/week + gymnastics and J 2 days/week + taekwondo). They have missed it so much. While I am still nervous about their unvaccinated status, transmission rates are low and mask/mitigation measures compliance high in my state, which makes the return less risky. The Covid pandemic is by no means over, but life feels a bit more full and less "on hold" than it did at the start of this year. I am very grateful for this progress in our lives. I am trying to let go of the anger I feel for the disgusting misprioritization of resources that made in person schooling unsafe for so much longer than it needed to be.

Second, I have been admitted into Frostburg University's doctoral program in Educational Leadership. I am very excited to begin this three year program, but a little nervous about the intensity. I feel very lucky to have the support of my family, friends, and coworkers as I begin this process. Classes begin in June. Financially, this changes some of my thinking around my student loans. I will be enrolled half time, so my student loans will go into deferment again. Most are subsidized, so they will not accumulate interest, and I will not have to make payments for three years. Additionally, while my employer has a very generous tuition payment benefit for this degree, I will be responsible for about $15,000 in tuition, books, and other expenses. This is more money than I have saved so far for this doctorate, so I am considering taking a Direct Loan for a portion of this expense. I will write more about this decision if/when I get there--for now my summer and fall tuition will be completely covered, so I have some time to think about it. I just feel differently about finishing paying off my student loans now that I'm going back to school.

Happy to head back to school in-person, not so happy to be photographed.

Finally, we have paid off the last of the credit card debt!  WOWOWOWOWOW! Just a little over three years since we looked at that number larger than $30K and almost cried, it's GONE. I wrote about it every month. Sometimes it felt like we made almost no progress, sometimes we got lucky and made huge forward progress all at once. Boy, does it feel really good. NEVER AGAIN!

Since I no longer have ANY credit card debt and am not aggressively paying off student loans, I will not be doing a monthly Debt Elimination Update; instead I will shift to a financial update. I like the accountability of writing it out, & still believe sharing about finances (a normally taboo subject) demystifies the process for others. I hope you will enjoy reading our efforts to save money for different goals!

Financial progress from April:

  • Mortgage Escrow Refund Check and Leave Cash Out. April featured two "windfalls" that enabled us to finish paying off our remaining credit card debt and buy two things that we really value this month (see next bullet). We got the refund from our previous mortgage escrow, and I was able to use my annual leave cashing employer benefit to get paid out for 8 unused vacation days. The next few months will be weird since we've had so many windfalls in this first part of they year. It will feel like progress is slowing, when really, it's just back to normal.
  • Paid upfront a late summer vacation rental & clothing. My mother had a stroke in August 2020 and her recovery has been challenging. We decided to rent a small house near one of her favorite beach destinations over Labor Day weekend for our family, my Mom, and my sister's family to celebrate a) her anniversary of recovery and b) our parents' wedding anniversary (It would have been 52 years!). It was so exciting to be able to pay for us to celebrate still being here. I also bought myself three dresses to make me feel better about going back to work. I love them!
  • Closed more credit cards & set up a default cashback optimization system. We now have a simplified system and can maximize our card cashback benefits. Of course, my credit score is now in the over-800s club, so that's cool.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of April:
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through August 2021):  $0 CELEBRATE--ALL CC DEBT DONE!
    • Grad School 1 (5.5%): $1,463.01
    • Grad School 2 (5.5%): $3,884.93
      TOTAL Remaining: $5,347.94
      Amount paid off this month: $3,083.25
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $38,907.84

From now on, I will be tracking overall debt reduction (mortgage and student loans), retirement and giving contributions, and other stuff. I don't quite know how I want to visualize it, but I know I do better when I'm tracking.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me! It's been wild. Onto new things!

Friday, April 2, 2021

Debt Elimination Update: March 2021 (and Financial Goals for 2021)

I turned 40, both my mother and I are fully vaccinated against Covid, Congress sent us a bunch of money, and the weather is looking up. All in all, March 2021 was VASTLY superior to March 2020. I allowed my blog-business experiment, Free Fun Family, to lapse & it feels good. Kept the domain b/c I like the name. Don't know if I'll use it. Still haven't brought over all my old posts, but I'll get there.

We're so close to paying off the debt I set out to tackle three years ago. In fact, with an expected escrow refund check from the successful completion of our mortgage refinance (2.875%, 30 year, baby), we'll have the credit card portion paid off in April. I have participated in a generous state tax credit program for people with outstanding student loans for the past two years (Marylanders: Check it out), so I think it would be beneficial to shift some of the most urgent financial goals for the remainder of this year.

Hiking was great this month. Here is Wolf Rock!

Here are my NEW 2021 financial goals:

  1. Build out the emergency fund to 3 months expenses. We built a full one month e-fund last year to last through the end of debt repayment, but now I'm ready to increase this before finishing the last of the grad loans. Eventually, I would like this to be 6 full months to cover unanticipated employment, home and auto repairs, and potential unpredictable crazy stuff like, oh, say, another pandemic. (Please let it not come to this).
  2. Max out my and my husband's Roth IRAs. I have not been able to do this since back when contribution limits were $2,000 (they are now $6,000 per account) in early 2000s. This will be a stretch goal for us, as we are only just over 4% of the way there at the end of Q1. (Note: I am the only income-earner, so my husband's is a Spousal IRA).
  3. Increase donations by 1% of income. Last year, not including the money we gifted to family members hit by the shutdowns, we gave 4% while paying off debt. I'm aiming to increase this each year until we are at 10%--I only really started giving substantially a couple years ago. Then I'll hold steady until some very long term financial goals are met. (I do include some of this unexpected stimulus stuff as "income" for my percentage purposes).
  4. Stop penny pinching the grocery budget. We love to eat high-quality, local , and organic food. Mingi likes to get stuff that reminds him of home from HMart (the Korean grocery store). I will continue to be extremely conscientious of food waste and unhealthy or environmentally harmful buys, but I already went up one size and egg order for our CSA.
  5. Save for a really nice trip for next year. We want to really travel again when the kids are vaccinated. It's a delight and a joy.
We've also got some long term thoughts now that we are almost credit card debt free. We are interested in slow, longer-term travel, my out of pocket Ed.D. expenses, including a sabbatical half-to-full year, and a kitchen remodel. Trying to decide how to prioritize these goals now.

Welcome, Spring!

I am seriously burnt out at work, so I decided to take some annual leave to coincide with my children's Spring Break. This was a good idea. I also am watching more dance movies. This helps, too.

Financial progress from March:

  • WOWZA Stimulus Check and State Tax Refund. Largest check to date (I hit under the income limit for single full amount, so yes, we got the full amount for a family of four) and my tax refund both allowed incredible payoffs for this month. We also donated a bit more, increased monthly contributions to the Roth IRAs, and bought my husband a back massager that mounts on his chair, like he has always wanted. Good times.
  • Finally signed off the Mortgage Refi. Much lower interest rate and monthly payment. Paying it off early is still a long term goal, but it is not more important than the goals mentioned above at this time.
  • Closed some credit cards for simplification purposes. I used balance transfers to keep my interest low while I paid it off, but now I'm hoping to simplify back down to a handful of cards.
  • Debt Progress: Here are the numbers for the end of March:
    • Balance Transfer 2 (0% through April 2021): $0 CELEBRATE--one more gone!
    • Balance Transfer 3 (0% through August 2021): $3,000
    • Grad School 1 (5.5%): $1,485.78
    • Grad School 2 (5.5%): $3,945.41
      TOTAL Remaining: $8,431.19
      Amount paid off this month: $6,339.45
      Amount paid off TOTAL: $35,824.49

Look at that crazy 2021 cliff--the debt is just melting away!

Considering that the entire YEAR of 2020 netted a $3,000 (and 87 cents!) payoff on this debt, a single month paying more than double that speaks to how powerful direct giving can be for individuals' finances. The stimulus payments have met some political controversy over concerns that people who didn't "really need" it might get extra money. And we certainly are in the category of not "needing" this money; however, it made a huge difference to our financial picture and will allow us to help more people through community poverty alleviation and direct giving.

While I'm no Andrew Yang enthusiast, I do appreciate what he did to bring the conversation of Universal Basic Income to the national stage during the his presidential bid. I hope that we in the U.S. can divorce ourselves from the inhumanity of equating income with worth.

Hope you had a good March!