Saturday, March 26, 2011

No Magic Wand

So how did we save a lot of money in one month to start paying down our debt? I'm going to bullet this post since I'm going to be talking about a lot of different topics, but I should start off with a couple main points. One, Mr. Jaguar and I knew we had to bring in more income but wanted to spend as little time away from BabyJaguar as possible. Bottom line....the cub is only going to be a cub for a brief time and we don't want to miss out on it. Two, I always thought that in order to make a real difference in my debt, I had to make a big splash. Like I had to find a way to make a big dent in what we owe to make any real progress (remember back to how I said I was trying to pay a little bit extra on everything but felt like I was spinning my wheels? That's what I'm talking about.) However, I didn't think about the impact of saving a little and bringing in a little extra. If I save $20 on what goes out of my account, but bring in an extra $20, too, that's actually $40 we're talking about. So anyway, without further ado, here's what my family has been up to.

  1. I am tutoring on Monday and Wednesday mornings as well as Wednesday afternoons. I haven't been paid yet for the morning tutoring (will happen soon) but I brought in some extra cash for my afternoon tutoring already. I also took a part-time job distributing free prescription discount cards. I set my hours for that, work from home and move at my own pace. It will take me a bit to make any money on that though. Still, I'm happy that I'm doing something where I can not only make a little extra money, but help others in the process.

  2. Mr. Jaguar found some extra work on a couple Saturday nights per month. He has not started yet, so the money is yet to come in. He won't have to leave for work until 5:00 or 6:00. BabyJaguar is in bed by 8:00, so it's minimal time away from the boy. He will have to work late, but will nap when our son does.

  3. We bumped every single bill down to minimum payments to allow us to focus all of our extra cash on just one debt, our smallest one. This made a huge difference!

  4. One bill is actually paid ahead a few months (so I guess I was making a little progress before!). We made no payment to that debt this month and instead put that money towards our smallest debt.

  5. I called my cable company to talk about my bill. They knocked off $20 a month for the next year (just because I asked) and then I returned a cable box for a TV we never watch, saving myself $5.

  6. I called my car insurance company to discuss my policy. We updated my policy (only made very minor changes) and knocked money off that bill.

  7. I finally got my butt in gear and switched to mail order prescriptions. It was so easy and I should've stopped procrastinating about it a long time ago. This did not save me money this month but now I don't have to purchase my regular scripts in April or May.

  8. I cleaned out my freezers. What does this have to do with my budget? I got rid of old food. Now I know what is actually in there that I can use to make my family a meal and I have space to stock up when there is a super awesome chicken sale (was that too much enthusiasm about chicken?).

  9. I switched to store brand or cheaper brands on a few products. I use the Target brand Cetaphil face wash and switched to Tresemme shampoo. Some stuff I tried to switch to the cheapo brand and there was no comparison but where I can switch fairly painlessly, I am.

  10. I make a shopping list and stick to it. I really stop and think before I put something in my cart. I kind of hate it, but it does make shopping easier.

  11. We really worked so hard this month to stick to the budget. When we did something outside of the budget, we discussed it first. Here's where we strayed this month: Wawa $11.63 (I was at the ER with Mr Jaguar that night. At 2 am, we agreed to splurge on dinner so we could just get home and go to bed), Children's Place $3.18 (bought BabyJaguar 2 shirts with store credit, this amount was the difference in price), Wendy's $8.28 (this was a night we worked super late and just wanted the family fed), Mucinex $9.51 (it was needed), TurboTax $64.15 (did the taxes), propane for grill $18.00, watch battery $18.00, J.C.Penney's $2.75 (pants for BabyJaguar), McDonald's $2.14 (I had to go from work to physical therapy to the dentist and didn't bring any food), donation $12.84 (local homeless shelter was in need of streamers and balloons). That's it: $150.48 worth of straying. Still though, that's $150.48. All that little stuff added up.

  12. We use the Target Red Card. We have the debit version, meaning no monthly bill. It gets us an instant 5% off our order every time we shop.

  13. I'm really studying the grocery store circulars. Generally, I make a small list of sale stuff from Shop Rite and my husband and BabyJaguar go take care of that while I do the big shop at Target. Both places are very close to my house so I don't feel like we're wasting money on gas.

  14. I cancelled my gym membership. Seriously....who am I kidding? I can't even pee by myself let alone get to the gym. I take plenty of walks with BabyJaguar and that will do just fine for now.

That's all I can think of tonight. If anything else comes to me, I'll post it later. There were definitely glitches during this first month. We went over what I anticipated for groceries but I'm not holding that one against this time because I really was taking a shot in the dark when I budgeted for what to spend on groceries. I had no idea what we usually spent. Also, BabyJaguar went up a size in clothing and we realized we needed a few more items for him. Finally, Mr. Jaguar discovered a blood clot in his leg a couple weeks ago (hence the ER visit). That brought in some unexpected doctor's visit and prescription copays beyond what I had budgeted for unexpected copays. No worries, the husband is improving and should be okay. Oh, and we needed a box of diapers this month. I had less stocked up than I thought. Which reminds me....we also switched from Pampers to Target brand diapers.

So what's next? Well, we have started working on our second smallest debt so we keep plugging away at it. The husband should start his Saturday night job soon. He also has several old comic books we are looking to sell and we're going to go through BabyJaguar's old toys to get rid of a few things we are not interested in hanging on to. Those are our goals for April. Oh yeah, I forgot to mention that there's a section on each monthly budget to list goals for that month. Giving this post a final read before I hit the "publish" button, I realize that people who aren't interested in debt and budgets are going to be seriously bored with this read.

Cinching the belt

I mentioned in a previous post that my family has gone on a debt diet. Actually, I prefer to think of it not as a diet, but a lifestyle, because the goal is permanence and the word diet seems temporary in nature. However, given my adoration of alliteration (did you catch that?), I will refer to it as the debt diet.

Almost two months ago, my neighbor and friend, Angie, told me that there was a book I had to read. In the past months and over the course of a few long walks with our boys, she and I had confided in one another about the challenges and stress of our finances....feeling like we're living paycheck to paycheck even though we make decent money, worrying what would happen if something catastrophic (or even relatively minor for that manner) struck that would impact our ability to work, stressing about our retirement, just generally wondering what we could do to get ourselves into a better place financially.

Prior to this conversation, I had set a goal for 2011: to reduce our family's debt. I had previously been focusing on this, but while I was working hard at it, I couldn't for the life of me figure out why I seemed to be spinning my wheels. The credit card was never used for recreation or luxuries. All of our credit debt was basically from situations where we needed money right at that very moment for something essential: dental work, vet bill, new roof (CHA CHING!). There was not a whole lot of fun in our budget, so I couldn't figure out where to trim the fat. We were already quite lean. Nonetheless, I worked furiously to pay extra on our bills. It was getting me nowhere.

You may by now be wondering, why does she keep saying 'I'? Well, the finances are my gig. I'm in charge of the bills in the house. No worries, I still have a husband.

So anyway, Angie rushes out of her house one Friday when she sees me walking by and thrust this book at me, The Total Money Makeover (why is there no underline feature for blogger??? Irritating) by Dave Ramsey. She tells me that I need to She knows how to solve her debt issues. She has a plan. It's not that hard. The book makes it simple.

I read it right away (I can take a hint). I blew through ninety pages that night (usually I get through about six pages of reading before I pass out) and skimmed the remaining pages to have an idea of what was to come. My husband came in later that night and I basically tackled him. I know how to solve our debt issues. I have a plan. It's not that hard. The book makes it simple. He needs to

Mr. Jaguar and I had a long talk that night and he got right on board. We took the second half of February to get everything in order so that we could get this debt diet into full swing come March. The first two goals were to create a monthly budget and make a list of our debt (I made a poster. What up, overachievers?) The next goal was to save $1,000 as a mini-emergency fund. By the start of March, we had $283.44 set aside and got started on month #1 of the budget.

March is coming to a close in just a few days and I'm proud to say that our emergency fund is complete and our first and smallest debt, Kohl's, is paid off. Beyond that, it looks as though we will save about an additional $400 towards our second smallest debt.

This would be a good spot to mention that, unlike many other financial advisors, Dave Ramsey recommends paying off your debt from the smallest amount to the largest, rather than paying off debts with the highest interest first. This allows you, as debts are paid off, to take what you would have paid to those now satisfied debts and put it towards your next debt more quickly. He calls it the snowball effect. My husband and I made a couple minor tweaks to this (we moved our two credit card debts up a smidgen on the priority list), but for the most part we are sticking with Dave.

Back to what I was saying about saving money, I am shocked that we were able to save that much money. Shocked. But we did it. And I can't wait to do it again next month. Are you wondering how we did it, especially when we were already on a super lean budget? More on that later.....

Friday, March 4, 2011

First sentence!

Today, I was driving through town when I saw my husband and BabyJaguar in the park. I quickly pulled to the side of the road and waited impatiently for an opening in the traffic so I could open my door while my husband worked to contain my son who was frantically trying to get to me from across the street. And then, BabyJaguar, through tears, cried out his first full sentence:

"I want my mommy!"

I'm sitting here trying to come up with the next sentence that captures how happy those four words make me, but there are no words. You will instead have to visualize me with a huge grin on my face, my eyes all squinty from the big smile and my shoulders all scrunched up in squishy, love filled joy.