Goodbye Debt #2!

Started my morning as I have been since I started this blog about a month ago: by checking on our bank accounts and credit card balances. Color me surprised when I saw a particular payment went through:

debt2

Uh. WHAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAT.

I am blown away by this. This is debt number 2 that we have paid off- our first being a store credit card. I did decide to use that $200 in wedding gifts to pay off this card a bit faster than I would have without the incentive. Frankly, I just wanted to go ahead and use some of my personal credit to pay this off. 

I know that many out there understand what it feels like to pay off a debt completely. Seeing that zero balance is an awesome, nerdy high that will hopefully help me ride through the next credit cards (our two big dogs with over $3k in debt on each).

However, more than the freedom of not having the load of debt on my back, this card is a symbol of a time in my life that I would rather not have to carry around in my wallet.

Reebok

I got this card as a sophomore in college on a complete whim. There was some giveaway prize that if you signed up for a credit card, you’d get a free Subway or something. Seriously, I was that stupid. I’m sure that the application lady was basically salivating while I filled out the application.

When I told my mom that I had gotten a new credit card, she casually began mentioning money problems she was having. Being the sucker I am (Seriously. Subway.), I fell for it. I started letting her use it for gas for the car, for lunch at work, for trips to the grocery store… etc. It became less my card and more hers, and I was too stupid to keep track of it. Instead, I let her give me payments of $40 each month to “cover” her bills all the while she was spending more than $100 a month on it.

About a year later, my mom came clean that she had made the first steps to declare bankruptcy. I went straight to my dorm, logged on to my account, and checked the balance for the first time. In under 12 months, she had maxed out my credit card. The $40 payments only covered the minimum payment + $2 (no interest for the first year).

Taking away the “emergency” card from my mom was the hardest thing I ever had to do. It’s worth about 10 blog posts for the future. What was equally hard was getting serious about paying it back. At one point, I paid off about $500 with tax return money and was content with leaving it at that. Like most, I thought that I would eventually come back and pay off the rest. I never did.

Instead, I lost the card. Seriously, I lost it. It wasn’t stolen. It just got jammed under my car seat for a couple years. Yes, you read that right. A couple of years. I kept making the tiny monthly payments until I realized it was missing. The day after the replacement card came in, I went to the ER with a bad case of bronchitis. What did I use to pay my copay? Yep. That new credit card burning through my wallet. I was back at maxed out.

I wised up eventually and decided that I would pay double the minimum + interest on my monthly payments. For this card, it was about $100 each month. I paid it faithfully with the thought that it would eventually get paid off. It really doesn’t work that way, does it? I stopped paying attention to the interest. I started charging more. I forgot about what it was like to have a small balance. I failed at my plan.

So, here I am today. To let go of this debt, it was less about strategy and more about making the conscious effort to just let it go. Debt is often more than just the money we owe or fail to pay back. Debt can be a symbol of what we are too afraid to look back on. For me- it’s a eulogy for my young adult years, my inability to protect myself, and my failure to face reality. It’s time to move on. It’s time to say goodbye to this debt. And it’s time to kick another debt’s ass! On to credit card #3!

I want to hear from you: What was the stupidest “giveaway” you’ve fallen for? Or, are you more of a strategy or instant-fix person when it comes to debt? 


A Gift Card Holiday

I am a gift giver. I make notes of what people tell me that they want throughout the year. I start budgeting with google spreadsheets in July. I create shopping lists in September. I get pumped when holiday ads come out early. I research items relentlessly until Black Friday. And when the time comes to give gifts, I ride that high up until my niece’s birthday in January.

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My usual budget for the holidays for 13 people and some small gifts for friends and coworkers: $2,000. And how did I pay for it? CREDIT CARDS.

Obviously, that isn’t happening this year. I am on a mission to remove all credit card debt from our lives. (And we’re on track!) But with my husband’s unemployment, we are limited in what we have to work with.

Our new budget this year? $300.

How are we reducing our budget by 85%? Easy. We aren’t paying for the majority of the gifts. Husband and I are blessed to have been graciously showered by our friends and family during our engagement. And like most engaged couples, we were occasionally showered with the same gift several times (try 5 times for one lucky french press coffee maker). We returned over $500 of repeated, broken, or no longer needed items from our registries. Now we have a ton of store credit to spend.*

To top it off, we also have gift cards. We are not big shoppers, so when we occasionally got a gift card as a gift, prize, or reward, we stashed them. To diversify our gift card holdings, Husband and I also participate in online surveys where we earn points for rewards. Our favorite is YouGov. Through this process, we have been able to get countless of gift cards for restaurants, movie tickets, and shopping. And we cant forget about our credit card points. For my US Bank card that’s just about paid off, I was able to change my points in to cash to pay for a gift a gift card couldn’t get (ironically, it was for a different gift card!).

Through this smart saving, we are able to slash our out of pocket gift giving dramatically. And the best part is that no one is getting a gift that they didn’t want or need. My Grandma certainly isn’t getting a Nintendo game just because we had a Best Buy gift card laying around.

How to have a gift card holiday:

  1. Come to the shopping season prepared. Take notes in advance so you’re not running around looking for a perfect gift for Aunt Edith. And while you’re at it, BUDGET. Don’t walk in to stores blind. Research items and sales, and try your best to not get sucked in to Black Friday or Cyber Monday rushes when deals are often better later or earlier.
  2. Have a return at a popular store? Get store credit and save it. Keep your receipts or ask for gift cards. And ALWAYS check how long that store credit is good for.
  3. Getting gift cards bringing you down? Turn it in to a positive and save them! Most people use those gift cards for things they do not need or want. Your trash may be someone else’s treasure. Hold firm! Or, use a service to exchange the cards** for something else if no one would want a gift from Tattoos R Us.
  4. Sign up for surveys or other reward programs where you can turn 5 minutes of work in to points for gift cards. It may take awhile to earn it, but it’s worth it in the end.
  5. Don’t use credit cards to pay for your shopping card. Instead use old points to purchase gifts or gift cards while you work to pay off that debt.

*I realize that using returns on wedding gifts to buy other gifts may seem odd or totally wrong to outsiders. But let me assure you that if the gift was money, it would most likely be used on similar items. We were able to buy everything on our registry that was needed with a good portion of that return money. Thanks family and friends!

**I was not compensated for linking to this service. I have used it three times and have had good enough experiences to recommend it on its own right. There are other services out there as well that offer similar deals. 


Reebok Sale

Accepting the Temporary

If you follow me on twitter, you probably saw that I had some good news to share as a follow up to “Scary Stuff.”


Husband just got off of the phone with unemployment. The entire call took all of five minutes. Basically, they asked him if he was given a specific reason why he was fired and if he had ever gotten any formal warnings regarding his performance. Thank goodness for bad surprises because his shock-and-awe-dismissal from his last job basically guaranteed that we WOULD GET UNEMPLOYMENT!

Not that it’s anything to brag about.

But you seriously do not know terror until you lose your main source of income two days after getting back from a lavish honeymoon and wedding.

Having the possibility that we wouldn’t receive any assistance threw us through a major loop. We are not able to budget or make the payments to our debts with certainty. We have been holding off on buying holiday gifts for our family. And my husband’s job search has been more of a desperate plea than a strategic plan of attack.

I know that we are not out of the woods. We still are waiting on some job interview follow-ups (including one which asked for a reference check yesterday), and there are a million pending applications and resumes floating out in cyber space hopefully being analyzed right now. We are obviously not giving up or hitching our bets on the long term government assistance train.

Instead, we spend today thanking the higher powers (or the great state of Illinois) that our world provides us with opportunities to live with the “temporary.”

I may not have yet mentioned it here, but I have been practicing yoga for the last 8 years, and one of the most powerful lessons I have learned (besides how inflexible my hip joints can be) is that everything is temporary. Pain, emotion, physical, and metaphysical. Everything will move on or away eventually.  Roads that we see clearly today will be clouded tomorrow, and we’ll be left to deal with the new or unknown paths.

I’m choosing to look at this state of our house as an exercise is the temporary. Instead, we will accept what life has put in front of us knowing that time will provide some form of answer. And while I do not know for sure how we will revisit this period in the future, I hope that we can eventually look back and say “We survived. We did our best. We are ok.”

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Pay, Save, or Spend?

We’ve had some scares come up this weekend. And with unemployment looking like it’s more and more of a pipe dream… I’m not going to lie and pretend that I am not scared for what is to come. Everyone said that marriage would be hard. But really, this soon? What happened to “newly wedded bliss?”

Textbook Rentals

Frankly, we’re still wading through the haze of the post-wedding blues. After 21 months of planning a totally lavish, expensive, and time consuming wedding, life hasn’t even settled down. Instead it has thrown us horrible curve balls. Despite that, we are still in the phase of “Do your remember that promiscuous bartender at the reception?” or “I will never forget our first dance…awwww.”

But I think this weekend finally snapped us out of it. We were given what will most likely be our final wedding present- a check of $200 from a relative of my Husband. My first thought was, “HELL YEAH! MONNNNNNNNNNEEEEEEYYYYYYY!!!” And then I remember that I am trying to be responsible and an adult about these things. So then I changed my tune to, “HELL YEAH! DEBT REPAYMEEEEEEEEEENNNNNNNNTTTTTTTTTTTT!”

And then we got that letter from the unemployment office in the mail.  

I’m back to the old conundrum. Knowing that our future has a good chance of falling apart at the seams- what do I do with this bit of extra income?

Do I put it towards our credit card repayment plan knowing that we may be dipping in to that emergency savings ASAP. Or, do I just put it in the savings account and be cautiously proactive? Third option- since giving Christmas gifts must be done with my family, should I use it to buy gifts?   

Part of me wants to continue on our debt pay-off track. We’re doing so well for total newbies with zero background on debt. I’ve been diligently reading blogs and following along with inspirational people on twitter. I feel like I am truly setting myself up for success and delaying our repayments is just going to hurt us in the long run.

On the other hand, I’m a total wimp when it comes to making these decisions and I often get caught up in how it’s “ok right now” without really thinking about how it’s not ok right now. We are paying over $400 towards our credit cards each month and even more on our student loans. We were essentially paying 20% of our hard earned money on paying minimum balances on cards and loans! NOT COOL!!

Now that you’ve heard me rant and go back and forth on my options, I want to know your opinion. What should I do with my extra $200? Repay some debt, fluff the emergency savings, or spend towards Christmas?

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Upgrading WordPress

Just a quick Sunday blog while I’ve got a moment. My yoga mat, a good book (“Discovery of Heaven”), a bowl of popcorn, and Amazing Race is waiting for me to put some thoughts down and get back to the real world.

Anyways, I’m thinking about upgrading my .wordpress.com site to a .com site. At $18 a year, that isn’t much of an investment and would allow me to build a better community. Mainly, I’m annoyed with the limited commenting service that doesn’t really identify my readers or allow them to share their blogs. Oh! And the inability to change color schemes- as someone who is very color and design sensitive, having the freedom to change fonts and colors is HUGE.

My  worries are that I am not sure if I actually have the content for this blog. I have already shifted my focus from weight loss and healthy living to more about financials and our struggles with unemploymentAll I do know is that I have used this blog for about two weeks and have produced content that I am proud of. It’s been personal and real, and I hope that any reader out there (no matter what the number) appreciates honesty and openness.

I have several blog posts scheduled that should reveal a bit more about me and my state of mind, back story, and hopes for the future with my new family. I hope to share all of that with you- the good and the bad. And I hope you can share yours with me whether it be here, on twitter (@fitisthenewpoor), or on your own blogs.

So, anyone out there have an opinion about when is the best time to make the investment in a blog? Would love to hear everyone’s opinions on timing, value and return!

The Scary Stuff

After a night of post-Halloween parties and a day spent in bed watching West Wing on Netflix, I got up from my stupor to read the stack of mail that’s been sitting on our dining room table for the last couple of days. In between the mountains of credit card applications, Christmas catalogs, and restaurant fliers were two letters for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.

I was hopeful that this was finally the letter that told us how much we would get for unemployment. We’ve been low-ball estimating the number for the last couple of weeks. Whatever the money was, we guessed that it would pay our rent and car payments until we could find that open window. It would hold us over for a little while. It would make things ok.

We were wrong.

The letter wasn’t a note about how much he would be getting. No, it was a letter asking for a follow up interview regarding the rules of unemployment. Apparently, there is a good chance that my husband actually doesn’t qualify for his benefits.

Cue freak out.

My husband was fired two days after returning from our pre-approved honeymoon. While he struggled at his job (which he had for about six months), he was never given any written warnings or was told that his job was in jeopardy. So, all in all, his firing was a complete surprise to everyone. His colleagues all seemed shocked.  And, of course, they gave him zero time to collect or document anything that may have been said or sent (email or phone call) regarding his employment there.

I’ve been searching the web for any info on eligibility interviews but I have come up with pretty much nothing definitive. The consensus is that being “discharged” or “fired” from a job will automatically raise red flags. Got it. But there is zilch about what the interview is actually about or if it is a sign that the employer has or will fight the unemployment claim. Knowing this job, they will.

All I can do is just sit back and wait for Tuesday when he is supposed to call. Or hope one of the last couple of jobs he interviewed for will pay off in the long run. Either way, all I know is that the holidays are coming. Our bills are getting closer. And we’re already living on the edge. We cant wait much longer for a decision either way.

Friday Blog Round Up

This week has been absolutely inspirational. I have been able to reanalyze our debt in whole new ways, make a plan for the future, and even pay a bit of it off. Oh! And I saved a crap ton of money by switching (back, sorta) to Geico! Combine those accomplishments with having my first Halloween with actual trick or treaters– and I’d say this week goes in the win category!

Part of my motivation and successes come from getting inspired from the stories of others. With that being said, here are my 4 favorite blog posts for the week:

Now, I’m off to a long night of several post-Halloween parties. Husband and I are going as generic Little Mermaid characters. He’s going as Ariel. I’m going as Eric. Yes, we are generic Little Mermaid characters in drag. This is only because I couldn’t fit in the small girl’s costume we found at Salvation Army yesterday. But, it did keep our costume costs down to $14 for two! Ha!

A Look at Husband’s Debt

My partner is a fabulous, wonderful man who is a talented writer, editor, and makes a mean steak.

But he sucks at managing money or understanding financial jargon. 

Me taking over the money management for our new family has been quite the trip. In one week, I moved our money to a shared checking account and a money market emergency savings account. I increased my 403b contributions by 1%. And as of yesterday, we knocked out Debt #1 of 4 credit cards. All in all, I’m feeling like I can handle this responsibility a bit more as the weeks pass.

One of the hardest things I’ve had to do, however, is look at my new husband’s debts with an open mind.

Before we got engaged in late 2011, Husband and I lived together for a year and a half. Throughout this time, we split our financial responsibilities pretty evenly. I vaguely knew how much he was paying for his student loans and credit cards. But besides a random mention here and there about how much student loan debt sucked, we failed to really address it.

When we got engaged and started planning our 30k dream wedding (budget breakdown to come in later blog post), we had to get honest. We both laid out estimated amounts of what we owed. I was excited to hear that it was a pretty even playing field.

Monday was our first time sitting down and laying everything out on the table with exact numbers. So, for your consideration, I present my Husband’s debt. (You can read our plan to pay it off on my DEBT TRACKER page.)

Credit Cards: US Bank- $3,853

This card kept him afloat when he was unemployed previously for over a year. He has been good at paying more than the minimum off, but had emergencies and financial pitfalls that masked the larger monthly payments

Student Loans: $27,604

In all honesty, he has less student loan debt than I do and this is for both grad and undergraduate degrees.

Total debt: $31,457.

Wow. That’s hard for me to handle. Here, I thought that he brought the most debt to the table. But the numbers do not lie. He actually contributed 46% to my 54%. Mind blown. I guess I’m the one who should be concerned about my partner judging me for my high debt load. I should be at least 8% more guilty than him. Frack.

Time to hide in my debt hole and work on digging myself out!

Goodbye Debt #1

As you may have seen, I’ve been hard at work sprucing up my humble little corner of the web. One of the pages I’ve added is my DEBT TRACKER page which will hopefully help chronicle where we are in paying off all of our debt.

After a long discussion on Monday night regarding where we were financially, we decided that our best course of action is to focus on paying off our credit card debt first with a snowball method. (Side note: I seriously hate Dave Ramsey, but occasionally even crazies give good advice).

So, with inspiration and motivation, we decided to tackle our first debt. 

Part one was easy. We laid out our debts from smallest to largest based on balance. Our smallest debt was my Best Buy store credit card. Early on in my young adult life, I remember hearing that you should never, ever get a store credit card for any reason. Everyone warned me about the high interest rate, stiff penalties, and major hit it would be to my credit.  But then, in 2008, I was a poor, but working, college student with a broken laptop.

I was desperate. 

I will give myself credit and say that I was pretty savvy about the first year not having interest payments. I insisted on paying triple the minimum payment. Doing this for about 6 months, I paid off about half of the debt. But having a $25 minimum payment made this my “forget about it” card. And that’s what I did. I set it to autopay and put $25 in my monthly budgets.  But of course, the balance loomed and follows me today.

Oh wait. Not anymore! 

As of yesterday, Husband and I paid off our first debt. We decided that our saving and checking account balances were enough for three months of emergency funds (rent + minimum payments on outstanding credit cards = $4,500). When we took out our bills due before our next paychecks, we actually had a surplus of about $2k. So, off to slashing our debts we go. The BB card was the easy one to pay off in full (but a pain in the ass to do given that their website has less functionality than the Obamacare site).

Now, that $25 minimum payment will go to paying off Debt #2- My US Bank card. And the rest of the surplus will be squirreled away for Christmas gifts.

I think it’s time for a celebration gif.

An Ode to Geico (Or Why You Should ALWAYS Check Your Insurance)

Given all my financial faults, I think that one of my worst qualities is that I am lazy and loyal at the same time.

Despite the fact that I’ve been picking up tips on how to reduce our debt months prior to our wedding and loss of job, the one that I have glossed over is “Get quotes from different auto insurance companies.

Husband and I have been looking more seriously at our debts and bills lately. You can see my breakdown of what I owe here. So, like all good shell-shocked 20 somethings, I began to research what I could do to reduce my debt.

We have already done away with cable and even cut our Xbox Gold account. We are pretty frugal in grocery shopping. We are cutting our CTA card. This weekend, we bought a space heater and window protectors with our leftover Bed Bath and Beyond store credit to reduce our gas bill. All in all, I think we are doing good.

But the bills still didn’t fall where I wanted them. So I gave in and cheated on Geico. I’ve been with Geico for 6 years. I find their customer service to be the BEST of any company I’ve ever worked with.* The catch is that I am paying $95 in car insurance, for my one car, and that’s not the top of the line coverage either.

I decided to get quotes from two highly recommended insurance companies: State Farm and Progressive. When I got the quotes, I asked for the same or equal level of coverage and I also requested to bundle my renter’s insurance (I currently pay $12.40 a month with Geico’s affiliate).

Background: My husband had a DUI (yes, I know…) 5 years ago so I knew that should receive significantly reduce quotes from what we are paying now. But I also have two tickets in the last two years and we had one not-at-fault accident. We have one car- a 2012 Hyundai Accent leased in 2011 with under 18k miles. We drive maybe 8k miles a year on average. Most of it is for leisure and in city.

Here’s what we got back in quotes:

  • Geico (online): $83.80 + $12.40 renter’s
  • State Farm: $88.29 + 11.30 renter’s
  • Progressive: $59.60  + 14.90 renter’s

Progressive was the clear winner! From what I was paying currently, that was almost a $30 savings per month or $360 per year! Hallelujah! I was overjoyed to call Geico and cancel…

Until…

I actually called them. As soon as I said I was canceling, the sweetest customer service rep practically begged me to let a specialist take my call so that he could run the numbers again. Being the sap I am for good customer service, I said I would be willing to let him try.

The specialist first asked me about my online quote and he mentioned that Geico auto-fills in my old information. So, if you do not update your profile with them from time to time, your quote is inaccurate. We both realized that because of my laziness, my address wasn’t up to date, and apparently in bizarre-o insurance world, living in the city is much less of a liability than living in the middle of nowhere. Also, being married to the second driver also changed everything.

Geico’s second quote: $65.80

Good, but no cigar. This + renter’s insurance would put me pretty close to Progressive, but I was pretty content with moving on.

But wait! He tried again. This time he gingerly asked me if he could look up my credit score as that may get me some more discounts.

He laughed as he said the third quote: $40.30 and my renter’s insurance was now down to $10.80. 

In less than 5 hours and a lot of maneuvering on my part, I saved myself almost $55 a MONTH on car insurance. That’s over $650 a year. I didn’t change my coverage at all. I didn’t beg for him to reevaluate me. I didn’t really even negotiate.

Lessons learned:

  1. Don’t trust online quotes. Call companies and speak to a human who may know more discounts and tricks.
  2. Clear your cache. I learned this from another blog and it was true for State Farm where my quote was $2 cheaper when I cleared my cache (I had previously gotten a quote from Geico’s online about 10 minutes before).
  3. If you tweet, tweet! As soon as I found out about Progressive’s quote, I tweeted and instantly heard back from a Geico rep in a PM and public tweet asking me what they could do to help.
  4. Leverage, negotiate, and be honest. It’s worth the money.
  5. Any life change is worth making a call with your insurance company. Once I said that I had just gotten married, the specialist kept dropping little hints that if/when I have a baby, to call back and get it reduced a bit more. Ha!

*I was not compensated by Geico or an affiliates to write this post. I just love my customer service experiences!