Jun 15, 2013

Thirty Seven

This photo was taken after an entire day of unpacking
and organizing. It is going to be a long week.
After a wonderful and exhausting trip to the midwest where we saw family and friends, packed up a uhaul with all of our belongings, and said goodbye to our house, we got back into town less than 48 hours before my 37th birthday, which was yesterday. And then I began unpacking.

Today, as I continue to unpack box after box and try to fit our lives and memories and necessities into our one-bedroom apartment, I am (of course, and as always) thinking about my debt and my future financial security. I enjoy thinking about this now because I have a plan—which is so much nicer than when the thought of our debt load made my heart race. My snowball says if I work hard and be very careful, we will be out of debt—completely—by the time I turn 40. That is my goal, my 40th birthday present to myself: to pay everything off between now and then and enter my next decade owing no one.

While moving (and then moving again) hasn't been cheap—particularly because we moved so far away—I feel like we have made some excellent choices that are going to pay off in the long run.

1. We sold our house and rented a cheaper apartment.

We haven't closed quite yet, but it appears that we have sold our house in Minnesota. This is HUGE. Since January, we have been paying both mortgage and rent, so dropping one of those payments frees up a lot of extra money to pay down debt each month. Our apartment has character, feels fairly spacious (although I do think that it likely has less square footage than our small house), is within walking distance of a lot of great places including the bus line, and has ample natural light. It also happens to be nearly $400 less per month than our mortgage payment was, and there will be no monthly repair or upkeep costs for us like there were in the house. I estimate that going forward our cost of living will go down at least $500 per month compared to where we were last year.

For us, there are two other benefits to renting. First, it has helped us reduce our stuff even more than before. We have no garage, and just a small space in the basement for storage. There is just not enough room for anything that isn't both functional and beautiful. Second, we are not tied into a specific payment for the next 15 to 30 years. If we find ourselves with a reduced budget, we can look for a place that fits that budget and move. While I don't see this happening, it relieves a lot of stress just to know that we have more short-term control over our housing costs.

2. We bought a stainless-steel rice cooker.

That seems contrary to everything the green gazelle is about, doesn't it? Spending money on another kitchen gadget. But, boy oh boy, was this a good move for us. For $30-40, I now have a safe and easy way to cook a very filling and cheap grain (especially when you buy in bulk, which we do) without wasting half of it by burning it to the bottom of the pan (which I do). This will cut down our burrito filling needs by half. Since we eat burritos of some kind probably 4-5 times per week, I think the rice cooker was a good investment with significant money-saving potential. (We bought this one from Amazon for our 2-person household. It's pretty small, but there's a larger one available too.)

3. We've (mostly) stopped making random purchases of stuff.

I love (LOVE) me a good rummage sale. But as I began to get overwhelmed by clutter a few years back, I stopped finding anything I wanted to buy at those sales. And eventually, I pretty much stopped going. This also applies to big-box stores, for the most part. Yes, I go when they have something I need, but I try to make do with something else or go without first. This didn't really take a whole lot of effort to be honest. I just began asking myself where I would put it once I got it home, did I already have something that did the same job, and would I really use it often enough to make it worth the cost and space? As I visualize actually living with the item, my disdain of clutter makes it so much less appealing.

Our move really helped with this too. I think for me having a house, basement, and garage made it really easy to pick up stuff that we "might want/need someday" just because we had the space to store it out of sight. For those items that weren't free, but I perceived as a really good deal, that actually meant putting it on a credit card and ultimately paying more for it in interest. (And even if I paid cash, since I hold a credit card balance, any cash that I spend on stuff reduces what I can send to pay down my debt, so I'm still paying interest for the ability to make the purchase.)

Packing and moving so much stuff (even after getting rid of a ton) was the first step to the cure. Moving into an apartment was the second. Keeping a really close eye on our finances was the third. I'm not saying that I never make impulse purchases anymore, but I'm definitely making many less. More often, if I find myself in a big-box store with a few items, I'll reassess their cost and worth to me and often end up putting the unnecessary items back before I check out.

4. I got a part-time job... have you heard of Care.com?

I've mentioned that I just got a new degree. Unfortunately, the job market isn't great right now and there appears to be a saturation of folks in my new field. As I contemplated more volunteer experience, I also knew I needed to be bringing in at least some money. I found a few pet care job postings and noticed they all linked back to Care.com, which is a site a bit like LinkedIn that allows providers and seekers of pet care, child care, elder care, and more in a given area find one another. I realized that if I was going to spend my time doing anything, hanging out with people's pets would be a really fun thing to do. The site allows you to make a profile, where you can also list the hourly range you are willing to work for and the days/times you are available. Thanks to this site, I'm going to be doing some part time pet care and personal assisting for a respectable hourly rate. As a bonus, the job will not be stressful and I won't have to think about it when I am not there... which will add to my mental well-being.

If you are looking for a side gig to make a little extra money for debt repayment or bulking up your retirement savings, you might want to check out the site.

Summer always helps things look a little better, a little brighter, doesn't it? My plan is to utilize that positivity to hone my budget system, so that when it starts getting cold again I'll already have good habits and proven progress.

We can get out of debt. We can become more financially secure. All of us. Me. You. We can do it. But it doesn't happen by itself. I'll continue to evaluate our expenses and stick to our pay-off plan.

Because this work toward financial security isn't sacrifice. 

This is freedom.

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