Sunday, August 16, 2015

Time To Start Paying Down That Debt

I've been thinking a lot about our credit card debt this year. As much as I hate the idea of using credit cards, they've been a necessary evil for so long that I'm not sure we even know how to live without them.

When we first married, my husband and I used credit cards to fund "fun activities" that we'd pay off within 30 days—you kind of had to when you owned an American Express card. Then life happened and those "fun activities" were replaced with financial hardships: pay cuts, cut hours, job relocation, job layoffs, car repairs, medical expenses, and anything else life could throw at us.

To pay for those financial hardships, we said good-bye to the American Express card and hello to credit cards that would allow us to carry a balance for as long as necessary to pay off our debt. Once we got back on our feet, we used every bit of spare change we had to pay down those credit cards (we even sold our junk) and become debt free. The problem with this approach, however, is that when something unexpected happened—and it usually did, we had nothing to fall back on but our credit cards.

And therein lied one of our BIGGEST problems. Feeling defeated, we gave up and started using our credit cards for more than just our financial disaster(s)—we used them for little pick-me ups, too!

From a budgetary standpoint, we looked good. We could pay our bills on time every month and we could put food on the table… but we didn't have any spare money to save for a rainy day.

Understanding that not having a cash reserve to bail us out of unexpected financial hardships caused a financial burden that snowballed into emotional spending was a huge eye-opener. We could no longer deny the fact that we'd have to do some serious penny-pinching if we wanted to stop using credit cards once and for all.

So this time, as we work towards becoming debt free, we're trying a new approach:
  • allocate x amount of money to a savings account,
  • allocate x amount of money towards enjoying life, and
  • allocate x amount of money towards paying off our debts.

If everything goes as planned, we should be out of credit card hell in four years.

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Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Time To Start Emptying That Bucket List

I've had a mental bucket list for as long as I can remember. Some items on that bucket list have seemed more like wishful thinking than actual "can do" achievements while other items have been replaced with new dreams… Still, I've often wondered why people even bother with a bucket list when more often than not it never gets emptied by the actual "doing" of the things on that bucket list.

Take my bucket list for instance… I had four major "wishes" I wanted to achieve during my lifetime and not a single one of them came true. I didn't get to take my kids to Las Vegas on their 21st birthdays, I didn't get to take an annual cruise in remembrance of the daughter I lost, and I didn't get to spend my 25th wedding anniversary in Hawaii while we renewed our vows in a traditional Hawaiian ceremony. And now, those milestones are gone forever.

It sucked to realize that the main reason I couldn't bring those "wishes" to fruition was money. We just didn't have it. And why didn't we have it? How hard could it be to save for something as important as that, I wondered.

Then I was reminded why we didn't have it… For the first 24 years of my marriage, I was living the biggest "wish" on my bucket list. I was a quintessential housewife/stay-at-home mom. I even got to live that dream during financial hardships and job layoffs! And though I eventually started a homebased business to help out with the family finances… I always got to put being a mom first!

Now, with the children all grown up, and me working outside the home, I feel as though I finally have a shot at emptying some of the other things on my bucket list, like…

  • becoming completely debt-free,
  • learning to live within our means (without credit card debt),
  • saving for an annual vacation (one year with just the family and one year with my best friend's family… eventually moving up to doing both in one year),
  • buying a refurbished airstream for all those vacations we want to take,
  • getting physically fit so my husband can finally have that professional family portrait he's always wanted and I can enjoy a more active lifestyle,
  • taking dance lessons with my husband,
  • reading a book a month (we hear it helps ward off Alzheimer's),
  • making eating-in more exciting and eating-out a once a month treat,
  • hosting monthly board game nights (cheap bonding experience),
  • moving the home videos to disc before they completely deteriorate,
  • scanning negatives of family photos before they degrade any further,
  • creating more art (improving my skills while defining my style),
  • spending less time on the Internet (it's so easy to waste away the day), and
  • spending more time unplugged and enjoying more "real life" moments.

Mostly, however, I want my bucket list to be less about achieving goals or grand adventures and more about living a life that makes us feel safe, content, and happy… a life that is rich in love, good health, family, and friendships… a life full of little moments that make us smile when we look back on them.

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