Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Debt Mountain Update Month 2

Still 17.6% less debt than 2 months ago, but
it doesn't quite feel like a 'win'... 
As you can imagine, this last month was a busy one. I've written several partial posts, but nothing I ended up publishing.

Between Christmas, a graduation, birthdays for 3 of the kids, two mid-week holidays followed by my entire crew calling in the following week for illness or car trouble... this was a rough month for me financially. I stuck to a pretty tight budget for all the kids and family this year, but it was still rough. No big numbers or exclamation points today... just the knowledge that this month was a failure in terms of numbers.

Month 1: Debts owed down 19.64%
Month 2: Debts owed up 2.06%
(% of original amount of debt)

I have been able to take a close look at this last month and learn more about our spending and how we can do this better. Or at least how I would like to do this better.

Part of the problem is that I said I wanted to do this without making Mike suffer the consequences for my debt, but it turns out that if we aren't both working towards the same goal, we aren't going to be able to make any progress.

Marriage is hard and we don't see eye to eye on finances. While it was my bad choices that put me in debt, I'm now the one who cringes every time we spend a dollar that I know we don't need to spend.
Still, his lack mindset and my abundance mindset seem to clash constantly.
In in the interest of not fighting, I often pay for things I shouldn't and don't ask him to pay me back for things I should.

I've also spent way too much time taking care of the household instead of my businesses. It makes him happy to come home to a clean house and to have meals cooked a few nights a week and to be able to play his trumpet with whatever band calls him on any given night. I like making him happy, but I've got to work on the businesses more.

I knew this would be a process when I started it. I knew there would be ups and downs. If I get my taxes done this week, I'll make great progress again next month. I'm having a hard time seeing how it is all going to be possible... but that has happened before and God has come through. 

Because God knew I would need a little encouragement, I found a couple things when going through paperwork last weekend. One was a copy of the $46,000 surgery bill from the time Lauren's insurance lapsed and it took 5 months to restore. It's a long story but it was a huge miracle when they decided to make it retroactive to the date it was cancelled, covering her surgery in full.

Second was a letter from the Illinois IRS telling me that they needed more proof of my income before they would send me my 2016 refund of approximately $700. I never followed through on that when I filed and when I called this week they told me that it was still good. I just have to send in some papers.

I'm looking forward to a better report next month...
and hopefully several more blog posts between now and then. There is a lot going on around here besides the quest to be debt free and I look forward to sharing that with you too. 

Sunday, December 15, 2019

Debt Mountain Update Month 1

This first month has been HUGE!

Our current balance is 80.4% of the original balance! 

The scholarship turned loan turned PAID IN FULL was a huge help with this. 

I also ran a Small Business Saturday through Cyber Monday sale for Hire A Housewife and put all
Finding one of these would help, but I'm guessing I should
stick to my current plan in the meantime.
the proceeds towards paying off a credit card, which will save me hundreds of dollars of interest every month.

One of debts I owe involves the IRS. When I first started running my own business I paid dutifully whatever the program said I was supposed to pay. Then, I started getting notices from the IRS saying "We don't know why you are sending us money." So, I stopped sending it until I could get it figured it out. Only, I didn't get it figured out until last year. Now I'm working on catching up those payments as well. I paid two months of pack taxes in addition to what was due this month. 

Thankfully, I'm not "in trouble" with them yet. I'm relatively small potatoes compared to others, I'm sure. I will be fully caught up and on track before we ever have an issue. Although I acknowledge there will likely be some interest on some of this that I'm not yet aware of. 

While I don't expect to know everything in advance, one of the ways I anticipate God helping us with this debt journey is through prospering Hire A Housewife.  It is doing better now than it has in awhile, thanks in large part to our newest customer service specialist who is doing a great job. 

I do not expect to make a dent this big every month.
.. I mean, 20% a month means it would be paid off in five months. But seeing the difference in this first month has helped encourage me to be mindful of my purchases, especially as Christmas comes closer. 

There have also been some other developments that won't likely have an effect on the overall balance for a couple of months, but that have been set off by what I started this month. That credit card that I paid off? They don't want to lose me as a customer, so they sent me an offer to transfer balances from my other cards at a 0% interest rate for 14 months... I'll only need 12, but I'll take it. :-)

With this post I'm over halfway through my "8 posts in one month" challenge from Toastmasters and I have a week to get in four more to pass this challenge.  

Friday, December 13, 2019

Intentionality in depression

"You're not on anti-depressants?" the doctor asked.

"Nope. It's been five or six years. My depression was mostly situational and once I learned how to get my mindset in the right place, I didn't need them anymore."

He looked at me skeptically. My previous doctor had left town and I had to see this guy before I could get a prescription refill for my Adderall back in September.

I continued...

"I'd actually like to stop the ADHD meds too at some point, but not yet. I'm getting ready to leave for a big trip, then my wedding, and the holidays... there are a lot of things going on right now and I don't want to deal with withdrawals and learning to rebalance myself in the middle of all of that."

He agreed about it not making changes now, but seemed annoyed that I wanted off medication altogether. "Adderall is perfectly safe for adults. You could be on it another 20 years before I'd start talking about whether it would cause heart problems if you continued taking it."

(Imagining going through all the hassles I have to go through to get this for 20 more years was enough to make me want to quit right there. It's a fight every month to get the prescription filled!)

Then he suggested that there were things that would replace Adderall that had different side effects, and he started naming anti-depressants with built in stimulants.

"No. I don't need anti-depressants." He just nodded and let me go.

I understand some people need anti-depressants. I did, when I took them before. My emotions were stuck in a cycle of bad choices resulting in bad feelings which led to more bad choices. I couldn't get myself out. I couldn't choose to walk towards the light because I couldn't see it.

Taken from cruise ship as we approached Spain.
It's still hard to believe we were actually there!
That's not my life anymore, and I'm proud of that. Some of my early blog posts are clear evidence of the hard work it took to get where I am today!

Last week though, as I sat on the couch, trying to get paperwork done and staring into space doing nothing, it dawned on me that the heaviness that had settled on me was recognizable.

In the last three months, I've planned and executed a move, taken my family on an amazing trip through Make-A-Wish, had a wedding and a reception... there has been something going on all the time. I was always under a deadline.  Life is starting to calm down. Post-wedding and post-vacation blues are a real thing... add that in to just regular life stuff and it makes sense that everything seems so difficult right now.

I've been burning the candle at both ends for awhile, and in the process quit exercising, eating well, or really even trying to do those things. I'm tired.

Writing this post has been difficult because there is a difference between recognizing depression and actually sitting in it, analyzing it, and reconciling it with who I am now.

God is good. My life is good. Good things are happening! It felt almost wrong for me to admit I was depressed... like I must be doing something wrong. As much as this blog thrives on my authenticity, my brain said, "If you know you are depressed and don't have an answer, then you must be doing something wrong. This is your fault. You can't write about that."

The thing is, God didn't say we would always feel happy. He never promised that we would always
I took this photo from our cruise ship one morning
have the energy to get up off the couch and do our work. He didn't even insinuate that it would be my fault if that happiness and energy were missing.

He did tell me to choose joy. He did tell me to rest in Him. He did tell me that He gives me everything I need to deal with the ups and downs of life.

My responsibility in this is to live with intentionality. I have to make sure that I am choosing joy when I'd rather sit in misery. When I am feeling too weighed down to move, I have to close my eyes and choose to ask Him for help... strength, energy, whatever it is I need to get through the next moment.

I don't need to get through the whole day, or the whole week, or the whole month in that moment. There likely will not be a complete emotional turn-around

or the sudden rush energy, but He gives us what we need to take one more step towards joy, knowing that it will get better.

When I started typing this, I didn't know where it was going. It seemed like a long complaint about how I'm feeling. But I know I am supposed to write. So, I intentionally choose to do it, asking God for wisdom along the way. Not for a whole book, not for a whole month of posts, but for the next paragraph... and then the next.

And while you're reading the end result and (possibly) thinking these were words you needed to read... know that these were words I needed to read today too.

God is cool like that.

And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times,
having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.
2 Corinthians 9:8

Sunday, December 1, 2019

Recognizing the bad habits

James 1:5-6
I'm partially through a one month writing challenge for Toastmasters, so I'll have a few more posts than usual this month.

Figuring out how grace plays a role in getting out of debt is tricky. In the big picture I understand it, but I don't want to twist scripture into something that looks good on paper.

As I go through the steps to get where I need to be, I know everything will come full circle and make sense in the end. It's another part of this journey I'm looking forward to.

I've purposely taken stock of my bad habits over the last couple of weeks, thinking a bit about how I built my own debt mountain.

Of course there are student loans and a car loan and lots of charged business expenses for my main business on top of the debt from two businesses that haven't brought income. (One no longer operating.) But there are also a lot of little things that have added up over time.

Fear of over-drafting.
I can pull into a gas station, knowing I have $20 to get gas in my checking account, but still use my credit card, "just in case" I need that $20 for something else. Do that three times for the same $20 and even if you haven't used the $20 and can make a payment, you've got $60 on the card to pay off. I will do anything to avoid a $32 overdraft fee from the bank... even pay 27% interest on the charge, apparently.

Bad planning. I would have called it exhaustion before. It is easy to spend $40 on pizza or $30 on Chick-Fil-A when the kids are hungry and I'm just too tired. But the fact of the matter is, dinner happens every day of the week. There are few instances where kids are hungry and I didn't know that I had to feed anyone at some point that day.

Subscriptions. A few weeks ago I spent 2 hours turning off every subscription I had... most of them not even being used., Audible (I use it, but not fast enough... I had to use 6 paid book credits before I could shut it off!), Spokeo (used for a search for a family member and forgot to shut down), Amazon music, etc... I turned off $75/month of recurring charges for things I didn't even need and rarely used.

Giving. I know. This one will be difficult. I have a hard time not justifying giving to others with the knowledge that God wants us to be generous and will make up for whatever I give. I may still continue to give as much as I have been, I don't know. This is something I have to consider, at least questioning myself each time.

I don't doubt other bad habits that will come to light too eventually. I'm taking it one step at a time.

Some will tell me that I have to work hard to pay off these debts. I got myself into this mess, I should get myself out. Do the work. Make the sacrifices. Many will hear me talk about grace being what gets us out of this mess, and assume that means I am not planning to do anything different.

Really, it's a little bit of both.

It would be easy for me to ask God for a miracle and expect one through grace, all while continuing
my bad habits, or to rely on my husband's income to get me through while I continue paying down debt. But I know that doing those things does not help me learn how to handle money better and won't keep me from making similar mistakes in the future.

For me, a huge part of my thankfulness to God for helping me get out from under this debt mountain is making sure that I learn from my mistakes so that I don't end up in the same place again. Do I think I could turn things around and then make big mistakes and God would help again? Yes. But I don't want that to be the cycle my life follows. I believe He has better plans for me (and my money!) than that!

And by taking responsibility for my debt issues and asking for grace each day to help me not use the same bad habits over and over, I'm stretching my faith and bringing myself a step closer to those better plans.

In the same way, instead of relying on a huge miracle of a windfall to pay everything off, I need to make smart choices that open up the streams of income God uses to take care of and bless my family. I mean, I have two businesses for goodness sake. I definitely have the capacity for an increase in income that will help pay off these debts and give us future stability.

But, I'll save that to write about for next time.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Moving Debt Mountain

The hardest messes to clean up are the ones we've made ourselves. 
I found this while cleaning 
yesterday just before I got the call
I mention below...

Combine guilt with worry about the outcome, and add all the work that needs to happen... it's a formula that can be motivation-zapping. Plus, there is often the little voice in the back of your head, "You are just going to do it again... so why work so hard?"

Time and again God has shown me what HE can do if I just take a step back and stop worrying. And what He does is always just so amazing! But trusting Him for help can be difficult when you are stuck on the thought that "I made this mess, so I have to clean it up."

Even though I understand grace, it's hard to get through my thick head sometimes that God cares about what I'm dealing with, much less that I can ask him for help with it. When I do though, cool things happen!

Now I've got another one to give Him, and this one is huge...

Last week I said to myself, "I've decided to be debt free." and then I didn't tell anyone else.
I just kept it to myself and prayed about what the next steps should be. 

Side note: stop formulating your Dave Ramsey comment in your head right now. He's great... but what I've got going on here is bigger than that. I don't want you to miss the point of what I'm saying. 

I've decided to be debt free by the end of 2020.

If you knew how high the debt mountain is, or how small my shovel is, you wouldn't think it was possible. In fact, you'd be tempted to tell me to stop being illogical. And that's okay. You don't have to believe this will happen. Let me show you.

But if we're talking about being logical, I have to ask... what kind of silly person asks God to help them with things that are completely humanly possible?

Mike & I eating wedding cake. 
Some will assume this might be an easy task these days, now that I'm married. To be honest, my debt has been a point of contention with Mike since we met. It wasn't enough to keep us apart, and I love that he trusts me as much as he does, but I want to be very careful that I continue to contribute to this household in ways that keep those kinds of thoughts from even entering his mind.

Yes, I will have to cut back and plan ahead more. Yes, the month before Christmas is a hard one to start this. Yes, I will be cutting up most of my credit cards and choosing not to keep a balance on any I do keep.

No. I don't know how it's going to work out exactly.

Don't worry about me though, I have a plan.

The plan is... faith. I'm not doing this on my own. And actually, we have a plan. Mike and I are in agreement that if this is going to happen, God has to not only be IN it... but He has to do it.

God has got our backs and I have no doubt that the story that comes from this will be amazing.

Not convinced?

Let me share with you what happened yesterday...

While at Knox College, I was awarded a Minority Teacher's Scholarship that was to be repaid by teaching for 2 years in a qualifying school. 

Once I got out of school, I never taught full time and I didn't verify if the schools I taught in were qualifying or not.... I just needed to work.

Then I pretty much forgot about it because... life happened.

Sixteen years later that $6500 had turned into over $10,000 including interest. (Think about that before you encourage your children to take out student loans... those can be worse!) 

I'm telling my debt mountain, It's time to go...
I recently started getting phone calls that began with, "This is an attempt to collect a debt." The Illinois Student Assistance Commission (ISAC) wanted their money.

They said if I could prove I met the terms of the agreement, they may be able to waive some or all of the fees. The problem? I'm terrible at record keeping. And apparently, not all of the schools keep their records this long either. Plus, I was fairly certain that few of the schools were "qualifying"... if any.

One district, who I called repeatedly, informed me that those records are in another building and nobody has time to look for them.

So, yesterday morning I faxed what I had to ISAC, hoping they'd at least cut it in half and set me up with a payment plan. In the afternoon they called and said it was being marked "paid in full" and I'd receive a letter in the mail.

They decided to accept and credit me with all the days worked at the one district I sent records from.

Over $10,000 off my debt mountain, just like that!

Praise the Lord!

And that's when I decided some others might want to join me on this journey.

Are you ready? Every month on the 15th I'll share what percentage of the debt is gone... and eventually a number. 

Thanks for your prayers and support. 
Despite all the parts of this that will be difficult... This is going to be fun.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

Experiencing Turbulence

My tray of food jumped up off of the table connected to the seat back in front of me, and my wine sloshed dangerously close to the edge of my clear plastic cup.

Ah, turbulence. I had forgotten it existed, really.
Photo taken by Ella
as the sun set while flying.

We were headed out of the country for the first time ever, on the trip of a lifetime. Lauren's Make-A-Wish trip would start in Rome when we boarded our cruise ship in a few hours, and take us through several cities between Italy, France, and Spain... ending again in Rome, seven days later.

We extended our trip by one day so that Mike and I could get married while we were there. It was going to be amazing, more fantastic experiences than I could have ever imagined that I would get to do with my family in my entire lifetime, much less over the course of 9 days!

My food jumped again and this time some wine did spill.

Deep breath in. Deep breath out. It would be fine.

Then came what felt like a 100 foot loss in altitude... although it was probably only 5. It was enough. Passengers screamed and everyone scrambled. Just about everyone was trying to figure out the best way to keep their drinks from pouring all over their food, clothes, and each other. Others tried to comfort those around them.

One elderly gentleman took off his seat belt and stood up. I'm sure because he or his wife had spilled on themselves. A flight attendant yelled from her seat in the back in an “angry mom voice,”  “Sir! Sit down right now!”

He complied immediately.

One young woman held her cup out over the aisle, trying to anticipate the drops and keep as much wine in her glass as possible. I set mine inside my tray for a brief moment and then decided before any more of it was spilled on my pants, I should drink it. So I did. All of it.

I'd like to say it helped, but it didn't. My children were 11 rows ahead of me, separated from my line of sight by a wall. Fear began creeping into my mind and taking over.

I started to cry.

Mike & I before take-off.
Mike grabbed my hand and told me it was going to be okay. I nodded, but the tears didn't stop. I've experience major turbulence once before, on a trip to LA to visit my brother. There were no tears then. I tried to recall what was different, but in that moment, all I could think about was that my children were on the plane with me, and that I couldn't get to them to comfort them.

I looked out the window, straining to see anything that might give me some clue as to what was going on. The last bit of land underneath us had disappeared not long before and the only things I could see were the wings of the plane, lit up by the plane's lights, and total darkness beyond.

Mike kept trying to comfort me but wasn't sure how. So he just held my hand and waited for the turbulence to end.

After what seemed like an eternity, the pilot's voice came across the speaker.

“Ladies and Gentlemen,”

I held my breath

“We were warned that this was coming, but we climbed to a level that we thought was above it. It turns out that's not high enough. Unfortunately, we aren't able to fly above 39,000 feet and that is right where we are now. We should be through this in about 20 minutes.”


20 minutes? I could do this for 20 minutes. The bumps were still the same, but I was calmer after that... and I'm fairly certain it wasn't just the wine I had recently chugged.  I worked on eating what was left of my food and went back to my in-flight movie.
At O'Hare, waiting for our flight out.

(My kids were fine, by the way, when I checked on them later. They were laughing about the turbulence for the most part... although my oldest lamented some about the amount of wine she lost in the aisle of the plane.)

In retrospect I realized what was different about the turbulence on this flight...

The pilot.

When the turbulence started on the flight to L.A., the pilot came on almost immediately. He informed us that we were going to experience some turbulence for awhile and the flight attendants had been informed they must sit down and buckle up as well.

It's amazing how much it helps to have the words of someone who knows what the outcome is going to be...

It's the same when life gets turbulent. The sooner we hear from the Pilot, the sooner we start to feel better. That's true even if the answer we get isn't the one that we want.

In the moment, I would have rather the pilot told us he's pulling up so we could fly above the turbulence, and we'd be out in a few minutes. But, I had no idea what would happen if we flew above the approved 39,000 feet. Could we hit another plane? Would it be too cold for ours? Would the pressure be too much for our engines? In reality, it doesn't matter.

Sometimes all we get is, “There are reasons this won't change that you don't understand, trust Me.”

Would you accept that answer if a pilot said that to you? Of course!

How about when God says it to you?

When I was getting upset on the plane, there was no way to talk to anyone in charge. I couldn't knock on the cockpit door and ask what was going on. I couldn't flag down a flight attendant to see if she had any insight. I just had to wait.

In life though, I don't have to wait to hear from God.

I often say out loud, “It's You and me today. We've got this.” and then I go about my day, trusting that God's got this and He'll let me know if I need to do something different. I always intend to start my morning with that thought, but often it takes something frustrating popping up to remind me.

When I say it, I don't always get the answer I want or expect. Sometimes it's just a calmness that settles, and I know it's going to be okay.

Try it, next time you need some direction.

It's You and me today, God. We've got this.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

We're getting married...

Depending on how long you've been reading this blog, and whether or not you follow me on social
media, you may or may not know that I'm about to get married after 16 years of being single.

God has blessed Mike and I in so many ways and we look forward to spending the rest of our lives growing closer to each other and God.

I have so much more to say about that, but I just wanted to let people know first.

I'll write more later... because there is so much more. God is so good... and always does things bigger and better than I can imagine they will be... Yes, I'm getting married to an amazing man. And, it's going to happen in Rome, Italy... on October 9, 2019.

I don't know how long our wedding website will exist. So here is the link, but it may not be there if you are looking back a couple of years from now. So I'm sharing the information below as well.

My favorite part of this site is that I get to tell everyone some of the story us...

How We Met

TLDR: We Both Swiped Right (But really, read the rest!)

Mike loves to see me squirm when people ask how we met... 
so I'll just put it out there up front. lol. 

We met online. 

We talked for a week or so before he asked if I wanted to meet up. We met at Chick-Fil-A and chatted for about 45 minutes and then went our separate ways. 

Our first official date was 6 days later - at Kenny's Westside Pub to see the Central Illinois Jazz Train, followed by Open Mic night at Office on Main in Morton (to watch, not participate.) As we were driving that night, I told him a story that involved having faith for healing and seeing it happen right away. As I was saying it I thought, "Oh man, he's probably going to drop me off at home and tell people about the crazy girl he took out." Instead, he responded with a similar story of his own. That was a pretty big sign for me. 

The dates after that all sort of run together because if one of us wasn't out of town, we were together. There was a lot of live music and a lot of laughter every time.

The Proposal

He proposed twice...

Mike doesn't really consider the first one a proposal, but I do. It was spontaneous and heartfelt. We were sitting in his car in the parking lot of his apartment building a couple of days before Christmas, and he turned to me and said, "So, how does a guy find out what kind of ring a woman wants without ruining the surprise?" 

I told him I'd send him an email with a link and he could open it next week or he could open it in six months... completely up to him. On Christmas Eve he downloaded the Zillow app and started looking for houses. 

That's when I knew he was serious. 

Fast forward to this summer... He saved up the money for a ring, but used it on the down payment for a house. Then he saved up the money for a ring again and this time used it to pay for his ticket to join us on Lauren's trip in October. He told me hadn't done a formal proposal yet because he didn't have the ring yet. I told him the ring didn't matter and the how didn't matter... it was the why that was important. 

Then, for my birthday, he went out and got a "for now" ring, wrote Marry Me on my birthday cake in Icing, and stuck the ring in the frosting flower. 

I'm so used to being the one taking video at birthday parties that it didn't even click what was happening until someone said something about the cake. Once I saw it, he got down on one knee and proposed in his kitchen, with our kids and a few friends there. 

I said yes, by the way.

God Winks

Before we even knew each other...

When he friended me on FB between the time we met and our first date, I noticed we had no mutual friends. 
Then he messaged me, "How do you know Pete Smith?" 
"That's my dad. How do YOU know Pete Smith?" 
"We worked together in the produce department at Hy-Vee in Macomb 15 years ago. He taught me how to juggle oranges." 
"Yep. That's my dad!" (He taught me too!) 

But think about the chances of that... He worked with my dad NEARLY TWO HOURS AWAY from where we live... FIFTEEN YEARS before we met. 


For those of you who don't know, Mike is an insurance adjuster for a large insurance company. They employ 900+ people in the area. A few months in we realized that he had handled a claim of mine, four months before we met. He had no idea in February of 2018 that he was talking to his future wife, who he wouldn't meet until June... and I certainly didn't! But God knew. <3