Tag Archives: Plans

Plan: Balance Transfer That Debt and Get Through Winter

First, I want to congratulate Mr. Brickie on becoming an 80% apprentice! He had to take a test that consisted of building a wall and he failed it twice (once he was sick and once he was overconfident) but the third time was truly the charm! That’s the last test he will have to take before becoming a journeyman. Now it’s just a matter of working the hours and taking the training classes. (If all that is gibberish you can see more about how his bricklayer apprenticeship works at this link.)

So it’s great he got a raise and is now making a serious hourly rate that makes me blush to say out loud. Still, though, regardless of hourly rate a bricklayer has to work to get paid and now is the time of year where I try really hard not to whine about winter and the totally predictable lack of work Mr. Brickie is experiencing.

But wait! It’s different this year!

How, you may ask?

He’s working just enough that we don’t get unemployment.

Now, this is great on one hand because our tax return is hit hard when we use unemployment benefits (even though we have taxes taken out of his unemployment check it seems that 10% fed and 3.25% state isn’t enough) so getting through with a $200(ish) check every week is super unfun but I’m trying to think of how great it will be at the end of the beginning of 2018 when I file taxes and don’t have to put in unemployment benefits.

Does it sound like I’m grasping a little for a silver lining? I am, a little. Winter is always tough because we want to save and we want to have a savings account for this time of year. We do. January is when I sit down and make a plan for the year. As you know I’m a firm believer in spending the tax return before we ever see it so there is no temptation to spend that big check on something fun when we have responsibilities that need to be taken care of like rent and several small but annoying medical bills that have popped up on Mr. Brickie’s credit report.

This year’s big success is that we used ZERO credit cards for Christmas. I’ve been trying to achieve this goal for a couple years and this year we did it. Hooray!

This means every extra penny we make this year goes toward those darn credit cards. It’s time to pay them all off and get right with the balance sheet. If you like my page on Facebook you may have seen me talk about shifting 11k in debt from the Discover card to three other cards to take advantage of 0% offers and buy time to pay them off interest-free.

So, without further ado, here is the list of my credit card balances as of right now (balances include 3% transfer fees):

  • Chase Freedom $33.35 (This is the 5% gas rewards card. I pay it off weekly with the gas budget money.)
  • Costco Visa $2,220.16 (0% until Sep 2017 – This is the first one to be paid off.)
  • Citi Diamond $3,620.64 (0% until Dec 2017 – this card was only used for dental work.)
  • Chase Amazon $2,395.70 (This is one of the Discover xfer cards 0% until Feb 2018)
  • My Quicksilver $4,999.62 (Discover xfer 0% until June 2018)
  • Mr. B Quicksilver $3,999.49 (Discover xfer 0% until June 2018)

Don’t cringe. Don’t be sad. Don’t get mad. I didn’t use the cards to take vacations or buy drugs. We have a frugal lifestyle and I truly think I can get rid of this debt by – at the very latest – February of 2018.

I’ve even talked to the kids about it and they’re on board with a razor thin lifestyle to pay the cards off, too. They know the more we sacrifice now the better things will be in two years. Last time I asked them to tough it out for two years we moved and they are so much happier here, so this time it was easier for them to trust me.

I don’t want to let them down. I don’t want to let us down. I wish I could feel more secure in when things will be paid off but it’s almost impossible to do a proper financial forecast. The winter weather makes the paycheck lower and although he will start working full time again once the weather is getting nice he could get another promotion as early as June but maybe later, so there is no way to reliably have an idea when milestones will be hit in terms of paying down debt.

Last fall I was toying with the idea of sending the older two girls to fancy summer camps this year that teach things like electrical engineering and mobile app development. We’ve tabled that idea and they’re only going to go to the local nature camp. I refuse to increase our standard of living to match his paycheck or we’ll never get ahead.

Sometimes I think about how much farther along we would be if Mr. Brickie hadn’t broken his wrist. I’m sure he does, too. Five months out of work…who would have guessed that was in the cards? But the thought quickly passes because I felt about his injury the same way I feel about winter. Yes, it’s tough, and yes, it’s mentally exhausting but I love spending time with him.

What’s that people say about time or money? You have to spend one or the other? In our case it’s either we have time together or we have money and both are important to our long-term survival/success as a couple and as a family.

6 Ways to Spend Your Tax Return Wisely

This year I spent my tax return on 9 months of rent and paying off my car loan.

A lot of finance people want you to pick that magic number on your deduction form when you start a job so you don’t owe tax but you don’t have to pay tax so you get all the cash you can in your paycheck. That’s great for people who are willing to save money in small bits during the year but even when I was young, single, and making decent money I claimed zero because I’m better at doing things with a chunk of cash once a year than with four dollars a week more. Your mileage may vary but if you’re like me, this might help you out.

If you ran a business last year and found at the end of your taxes you owed the government money this year, I salute you. I’ve been there and it hurts when everyone else is getting a big refund check and you’re writing a check. I wish you well and wanted you to know I know you’re out there since most business owners get ignored or glossed over during this season.

Last but not least, I realize that because of where we are at financially we get a very large tax return ($9200 this year) because Mr. Brickie works but we are still below poverty level so we get a lot in Earned Income Credit as well as the Tax Credits for three kids. Here are some things you can do even if you get a smaller tax return. If you get a bigger tax return, you can do more of them.

If this is your first year doing something boring responsible with your tax return, do one or two of these and use the rest to have some fun like your normally would.

  1. Pay your insurance. Monthly fees range but are usually around $7/mo. to pay monthly. You can save $84 if you set the cash aside and pay that auto insurance twice a year or your home/renters insurance once a year. (Shop around now and then for better rates, too. You might be surprised at how much less you can pay for the same coverage.)
  2. Make an emergency fund (or fill yours up a bit!) If you don’t have an emergency fund (or it’s not big enough) you can choose not to spend your tax refund at all and set it aside in case you need it. The relief you feel at having backup money might be worth not going shopping for a new pair of shoes.
  3. Pay off a credit card. If you’re working toward being debt-free, pay off a card. This is the first year I haven’t wiped out all my credit card debt with my refund. It made me sad but paying off the car was too important to pass up.
  4. Clean up your credit report. If you have a bill you owed to AT&T or Comcast years ago that’s still hanging out on your credit report and it might keep you from getting a car or a house or an apartment … get rid of it! Call and see if you can negotiate a deal to get the overall amount you owe reduced. A chunk of cash gives you negotiating power.
  5. Prepay utilities. If you know you’re the type of person who can’t have an emergency fund without spending it, send extra money to your gas/electric company or pay a few car payments in advance. It can give you some breathing room to get the rest of your finances on track. Put $20 in an online savings account and practice not spending it. Like exercise, you can’t become a budget ninja in a minute, you have to start with baby steps. Once you can keep yourself from spending that $20, bump the amount up to $40. Eventually your discomfort will fade and you’ll enjoy seeing that number sitting there, waiting for you, just in case.
  6. Get an Oil Change! If there is some routine maintenance you have been avoiding on your car because it’s not that important or it’s just a little too expensive…now is the time. If you google your car year/type and routine maintenance you should be able to find what’s recommended and get your ride spruced up. If your car is already running it’s usually cheaper (and a hell of a lot less expensive) to get that routine maintenance and keep her running right instead of ignoring the little things until they become a big thing that costs a big chunk of cash.

I try really hard to keep it classy and not judge people who buy name brand accessories or phones or whatever instead of doing the above super-responsible stuff for the future. If I did judge it would be out of sheer jealousy and I don’t want to be that person. Seriously, I would be lying if I told you it was easy and fun to pay off the car instead of going on vacation somewhere warm and swimming in a pool with my kids while we relax, laugh, and order copious amounts of room service. I feel like a crap mother most nights because my children don’t directly benefit at all from paying the rent in advance or paying off the car. Sure, you can tell me (like I tell myself) that giving them a stable childhood is the most important thing but you and I both know that’s not something they can feel or touch. It’s difficult to choose the intangible option, even when you know it is the best possible decision for the whole family.

If you need me I’ll be laying out getting a tan next to the pool in my mind palace ordering an imaginary Bellini from my imaginary butler, Jarvis.

The I in Team

I poke my arm out from the comforter, reach behind me, and tap-and-feel the top of the nightstand until I feel the familiar shape of my phone. My fingers curl around the familiar rectangle and I bring it close to my face, squinting, and tap the little part of the screen that quiets the alarm for a few sweet, silent minutes. I should know it by feel but I don’t want to accidentally turn the alarm off so every morning starts with me squinting into a screen.

All set for a few more minutes of solid rest, I snuggle a little deeper under into my comforter. My eyes fly open when I hear a phone ringing like the one from my childhood (or any episode of Mad Men) and scan the room for what caused the noise. It’s not my phone’s ringtone, which means Mr. Brickie is getting a call at 7am. I make a mental note I know I will forget to have him stop changing the rintone because unidentified noises freak me out…especially first thing in the morning.

My eyes find him – a blur pulling on a shirt – and I croak through half-awake lips, “Just answer.” I rub my eyes and make a first-thing-in-the-morning effort to quash the hate I feel toward his habit of trying to figure out who is calling before answering the phone. It’s not a bill collector. Those calls are years in our past but he still acts like the ringing phone holds something awful. He answers in time (thank goodness) and it is work. He starts again tomorrow (Tue. April 28th) at 7am.

Tomorrow is Tuesday and that’s fantastic. The day after is Wednesday, which is my daughter’s doctor appointment he really wanted to be at. We have waited over a month for this appointment and I want him to be there, too. I want the doctor to see the adult version of my daughter. I feel it would inform her decision. Of course I don’t know that for sure because I am not a doctor.

Work means he can’t be there with me. I will have to go alone with my daughter and be her rock with no rock of my own. I am disappointed, sure, but understand this is just the way things are and I am going to have to go through this by myself. It’s okay. He will be there after work to tell what happened. That will have to be enough.

It doesn’t stop my mind feeling tight as a tourniquet.

Everything is going to be alright, sacrifice along the way was always part of the bargain. He doesn’t have a job he can “call off” from. We do not see that as a negative because he gets a giant chunk of winter off to be with us. When the kids have snow days, they spend the day with the whole family.

These are the memories I hold on to when I have to do Very Important Things™ alone.

The big picture is worth it but the fear of the unknown with my daughter is something that scares me deeply. I feel like the teammate making the free throw shot. Sure, I have a team and they have my back but this shot I have to take and make by myself.

Let’s hope it’s nothing but net.

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