Elder Indebtedness on the Rise: Seniors of the Future, Be Proactive NOW

“Carrying Debt to the Grave? The Increasing Indebtedness of the Elderly”

Look what came to town last week: an international conference about debt among people aged 65+. What motivated the conference?

  • In Canada in 2012, 42.5% of seniors (aged 65 and over) still had debt.
  • This rate of senior indebtedness marked an increase of 55% since 1999.
  • The problem of debt among seniors crosses international borders.
  • People in different countries have been dealing with the issue, but there has been little international discussion about it.
  • Experts from Canada, the US, Portugal, and the Netherlands came together to share ideas.

What is causing indebtedness among seniors?

  • Gendered senior debt: Female seniors often don’t have a good pension. Many 65+ women who are single, divorced, or widowed are trying to get by on government benefits that don’t cover expenses.
  • Big mortgage: Many seniors are carrying a mortgage debt into their “golden years.”
  • Divorce: A recent Ohio state study indicates that divorce decreases personal wealth by 77% on average. Divorce is increasing among older people, leading many to resort to debt to make ends meet.
  • Illness: Health problems are often a double-edged sword for seniors. They can’t earn an income due to their illness, and this leaves them less able to meet the health care expenses related to their illness.
  • Taking on debt to help family members: Increasingly, seniors are supporting their adult children.
  • Elder abuse: Financial abuse of elders often involves bullying or manipulation by adult children. Many seniors who suffer from elder abuse cannot bring themselves to report it.

Avoid financial vulnerability in your senior years

Personal debt is going up overall, and more so among seniors than other age groups. The trend that saw a 55% increase in elder-debt from 1999 to 2012 continues. If you are “going with the flow” in your money management, there is a good chance you’re headed for golden years of financial vulnerability.

What can you do now to avoid it?

  • Women, don’t count on the prince. You are not going to be rescued from your finances via romantic love. Decide now that you will be your own hero. Whether you are married or not, whether you are perusing a career or are a stay-at-home mom, ensure that your future will be provided for (not just your husband’s).
  • Retiring with a mortgage? Think again. Crunch the numbers. Will your decreased retirement income allow you to carry this debt? Will your retirement lifestyle be compromised by it? Instead of bringing your mortgage with you into the future, consider renting – or downsizing to a house or condo that you can pay for outright.
  • Take care of your marriage. Nurture your relationship, and confront the issues that trouble you. Do not keep the peace. Do not grin and bear it – not even “for the kids.” One of the best gifts you can give to your marriage is to confront your spouse honestly. Will it be messy? Probably. But not as messy as the divorce that will explode later if you don’t. Do not assume that if you’ve made it this far, your’e home-free. People split up at all ages, and the financial impact for most is devastating. Nurture your marriage with both love and honesty. Learn to assert, listen, confront, and compromise. It’s ongoing. That’s what “happily ever after” is made of.
  • Face your mortality. I know people who assume that they will be able to earn an income until their dying day. “I love my work,” they say. “It isn’t even like work for me. It’s more like play. I don’t want to retire.” While it’s wonderful to find work you love, it’s terribly naive to count on being able to continue it through your senior years. There are examples of people who work right through their 60s, 70s, and even into their 80s, but there are far more examples of people who have to stop working in their senior years because of declining health.
  • Save for retirement. See above. Also, don’t count on the government looking after you. Government benefits are a great bonus, but they are not enough to cover all expenses through the senior years. Besides, they are not guaranteed. As governments deal with increasing national debts, they are stepping back from spending on social support. Adopt the mindset that you will finance your senior years.
  • Let your young children experience the consequences of their actions. When we step in to protect our children from the consequences of their actions – at least those they can withstand without harm – we rob them of the chance to develop strength and responsibility. They miss out on opportunities to gain resilience, to work towards their own solutions. They lose confidence. Allow their mistakes to help them grow up.
  • Let your adult children experience the consequences of their actions. One factor involved in the financial vulnerability of seniors is the debt many take on to help their adult children. Learn to love and support your adult children without bailing them out. Stand behind them as they face what life and their own actions throw at them. Don’t stand in front of them to shield them from it. And don’t weaken your finances in the mistaken belief that you’ll strengthen theirs. If you do, chances are they’ll be back for more the next time crisis visits. (Of course, there are circumstances when helping adult children financially is the best thing to do.)
  • Do not “save face.” Report anyone who is committing elder abuse. There is an oppressive compulsion to save face in so many families. The “shame” of family troubles – whether in the form of addiction, abuse, mental health, or broken relationships – is magnified as it is kept secret. If you know of elder abuse – financial or otherwise – brave the awkwardness and report it. Don’t “protect” the family secret.

Government policy vs. personal policy

I hope that the international conference on senior indebtedness last week was successful. I hope that the experts who participated will return to their respective countries with effective strategies to address the troubling trend. But I have more hope in the outcome that would result if the elders of the future – and that includes all of us under the age of 65 – committed themselves to personal policies against the grain of that trend.


What do you think? Is it the job of governments or of individuals to foster financial health for seniors? Both? What do you think should be done to address the growing trend of elder indebtedness and financial vulnerability?


*Image courtesy of Pixabay

Back to Prudence Debtfree (& Mourning Fruclassity)

I don’t usually write about my blog. I use my blog to write about the journey out of debt that my husband and I have trekked for the last 5 years. But every once in awhile, a shift happens for the blog itself, and I think it’s a good idea to explain it.

When I started writing as Prudence Debtfree in June 2012, I had three motivations:

  1. I love to write.
  2. I believed that writing about our debt-reduction would keep me accountable.
  3. I knew that debt-stress, although not talked about by anyone, was something many people faced, so I believed it was significant to share our experiences in overcoming it.

For the first couple of months, I wrote once per week essentially as a diary. I was completely unaware of the personal finance community. A radio interview with CBC Ottawa Morning in October of 2012 (no longer accessible) meant more readers, the occasional comment, and my growing awareness that there were other people writing about debt and finances in general.

Feeling pressured to monetize the blog

As I started to read and comment on other bloggers’ posts, I learned that some people were actually making money off of their blogs. I remember once reading this about blog-writing, “It doesn’t make sense if you’re not making cents.” I wasn’t sure how to go about it, but a seed was planted, and I allowed myself to feel a pressure to monetize.

As part of an effort to grow (and eventually monetize), in 2014 I started to include guest posts once per week. I learned that I loved to interview people! And I came to realize that everyone has a financial story to tell. The subjects of my guest posts were very often people I happened to know – colleagues from work in particular. A great side-benefit of this effort was that the people in my life started to open up to me more and more about their finances – and they continue to do so. One colleague sent me a message after the New Year saying, “… we paid off $10K of debt this year, so thank you for making that socially acceptable to talk about.” Yes!

Running up against my limited bandwidth

I couldn’t keep up with the twice-weekly posting schedule. I was burning out from it.

I’m no superwoman, and as I pursued the goal to monetize, I ran into three significant roadblocks:

  1. I work as a high school teacher and I have a family. Writing once per week was what I could manage happily. When I tried to do more – more writing, more learning about monetizing – I became stressed out.
  2. My tech-phobia and lack of business sense stressed me out even more.
  3. One of the ways bloggers monetize is through advertising, but since I’m writing about debt-reduction, there’s a conflict. There are very few products that I would feel right about advertising. (The Visa Debit card and books on debt-reduction are two things I would gladly advertise, but I don’t have a big enough audience to do that.)

Fruclassity

In July of 2014, I wrote “MMM’s Subculture of ‘Badassity’: Is It For Me?”. The answer to the question was “No.” Much as I admired extreme frugality advocates, I didn’t want to be one myself.  I loved it when I could pull off a badass move, but “… ultimately,” I wrote, “I have to conclude that I’m a mere visitor in the land of Badassity.”

The post proved to be significant because of a comment left by Laurie of The Frugal Farmer:

“Ok, LOVE this!!!!!! We live the same way, and I think we should figure out our own name for it. 🙂”

To which I responded:

“Thank you, Laurie. OK, so our subculture won’t have a swear word in it. Agreed? How about Fruclassity – for frugal yet classy?”

8 months later, in March of 2015, Fruclassity launched. I can’t adequately convey the “dream-come-true” rush I felt when Laurie and I started that site. It meant SO much to me.

  • First of all, it was an honour for me to partner with someone of Laurie’s stature on this new blog site.
  • Secondly, the core values that Laurie and I hashed out before launching were EXACTLY in line with everything I had come to believe about debt-reduction, financial health, individual differences, and the need to create safe spaces for people feeling vulnerable about their finances.
  • Laurie and I often expanded upon each other’s posts. There was good synergy happening.
  • A small but steady readership visited the blog. The comments section was rich with discussion.
  • Thanks to Laurie’s business know-how, it even made a bit of money.

But only a bit. Not enough for someone actually relying upon blog-income to make ends meet and pay off debt. I have a full-time job that has nothing to do with blogging. Laurie’s job is blogging.

This past week, we sold Fruclassity. “Congratulations!” some people commented. For me, it’s not a matter of congratulations. It’s a matter of practicality. And it’s not one that I like.

Back to Prudence Debtfree

So I’m in a bit of a state of mourning right now. Although I am completely convinced that it was the right and even necessary thing to do, it’s still a real loss for me.

While I was writing for Fruclassity, I found I couldn’t keep up a weekly post at Prudence Debtfree. I tried, but that limited bandwidth issue became apparent before too long, and I scaled back to monthly updates here. As of now, I’ll be posting once per week again.

So, the numbers for July:

Quick recap. In June of 2012, we had:

  • $21,400 in consumer debt
  • $80,800 in business debt
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt
  • Emergency fund – non-existant
  • Investments (besides my pension) – not happening

In July of 2017, we were down to:

  • NO consumer debt
  • NO business debt
  • $72,000 in mortgage debt
  • Emergency fund – full
  • Investments (besides my pension) – happening

Looking ahead …

I remember reading this blog advice once:”Nobody likes a negative Nancy.” I don’t mean to sound negative here! I’m just telling it like it is. In many ways, I’m back to where I started – writing once per week about our journey out of debt – on my non-monetized blog.

But it’s not really where I started. We’ve trekked over 2/3 of the way to debt-freedom, and we’re nearing the home stretch. I hope you’ll join me to the finish line.


Your comments are welcome. (In fact, they are particularly welcome this time.)


*Image courtesy of Pexels 

June 2017 Report: Financial Confidence

  • DH = dear husband
  • DD2 = dear 2nd daughter

“A hundred bottles of beer on the wall…”

Do you remember this song? “A hundred bottles of beer on the wall / A hundred bottles of  beer / You take one down and pass it around and there’s 99 bottles of beer on the wall / 99 bottles of beer on the wall / 99 bottles of beer / You take one down and pass it around …” I won’t write out the whole song, but it goes all the way down to 0 bottles of beer on the wall. And by the time you get there, everyone is glad the song is over.

My siblings and I used to sing it in the car during our family’s 1 hour 30 minute drives to the campground each summer. That was way before the time of i-pads for children’s car ride entertainment. It was also before the days of mandatory seat belts in the back seats. So there were the 5 of us, free ranging and either yelling or singing in the back, with our parents in the front. When I, the youngest, started to feel nausea from car sickness, we’d pull over, and I’d sit on Mom’s lap in the front. Dad always had balls of wax to stuff in his ears for those trips.

75 bottles of beer on the wall!

The connection to our journey out of debt? For the last few months, I have found myself breaking into song after our mortgage payment has gone through and our debt has reached its new low. To quickly recap, our starting point in June of 2012 was:

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000
  • TOTAL: $257,000

In the five years since we made it our mission to become completely debt-free, we have eliminated all debts with the exception of the mortgage. We’ve been paying it down aggressively, and in June 2017, our mortgage – our total remaining debt – was $75,000.

And yes, I did sing, “75 bottles of beer on the wall …”

Debt repayment vs. savings/investments: A shift

We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s advice for debt-repayment, as outlined in his book The Total Money Makeover. (And no, I don’t get paid for saying that.) After we had finished paying off the business debt – the last of our non-mortgage debt – we moved on to steps 3 and 4 of his 7-step plan.

  • Step #3: Save an emergency fund to see you through 3-6 months of expenses.
  • Step #4: Invest 15% of your gross income for your retirement.

If I had been left to make the choice, I would not have followed those steps. I was high on debt-payoff. Who even knew that was possible? But it’s true. My old quasi-addictive spending had morphed into quasi-addictive debt-repayment, and I felt frustrated by the slower repayment-pace that savings would entail.

3 old posts about impatience and financial sabotage

I came to recognize that the primary personality flaw behind my initial money mess was impatience. As I have just discovered in a search through old posts, two years ago, I wrote at least 3 that touched upon the role impatience has had on our finances. ” I say it without disrespect,” I wrote in Debt Repayment & Impatience. “There is something childish about a debtor’s impatience.” But “childishness” is a bit harsh. It’s not simple immaturity that is at play when impatience sabotages finances.

Anxiety is not something I really understand, but I definitely see it playing out in different areas of my life – including finances. And in the way of vicious cycles, when finances become messed up, anxiety spikes. In a post on Debt-Reduction and Anxiety, I wrote this: “once we started our journey out of debt, I came up against a recurring obstacle that had nothing to do with money: my impatience. Anxiety screams, ‘The problem has to be fixed NOW!’ But it takes the average household 7 years to go through all of Ramsey’s steps to financial health. ‘7 years? Ugh!’ And it’s not a smooth ride. All along the way there are roadblocks, like unexpected expenses, and they test your patience every time. 7 years is a long time for anyone. For a person with anxiety, it’s an eternity.”

Whether it stemmed from immaturity or anxiety, I wanted to get the better of my impatience. In a post on my  resolution to Build up Core (Personal Finance) Strength, I compared healthy finances with planking. “I’ve come to recognize in this journey out of debt how impatient I am. Impatience played a big role in getting us into our debt-ridden state (‘I want it NOW!’), and I don’t want it to sabotage the financial health we’ve been building… I need the core strength … of patience in my approach to our shifted financial goals. Muscles in the human pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen ideally work in harmony. Efforts towards our savings, investments, mortgage payments, and giving can also progress towards an ideal of harmony. No rush. Slow, steady, progress. Balance. Stability. Just breathe . . . and hold a little longer . . . like a plank.”

Leaning more towards savings/investments

In June, DH and I showed evidence of progress in that quest for financial balance. When we started steps #3 and #4 two years ago, I in particular did so grudgingly. I followed the plan though – not because I liked it at that point, but because I trusted it.

As we approached June this year, we knew that we were going to be coming into some extra money. DH and I agreed in the summer of 2015 to fund DD2’s rent, utilities, and groceries for 2 years as she studied downtown and trained for track east of the city. Those 2 years are now over, and that monthly payment needs a new direction.

At first, we decided that we would save it all to make the annual lump-sum payment we’re entitled to make against our mortgage. That would bring our debt-free date to as early as January 2019. But as we continued to discuss things, our priorities shifted. Yesterday, we made it official. We’re investing all of it – surpassing the 15% recommended by Ramsey. This will mean a later debt-free date, but somehow, that’s OK now.

Confidence in personal finances

Here’s my analysis: For the first few years of our journey to debt-freedom, we were motivated by a negative desire – the desire to get away from the financial stress that had made us miserable.  As we paid off debt after debt, that stress was decimated, and we gained an unaccustomed confidence. And now, we are becoming more and more motivated by positive desires – the desires of financial freedom. It’s no longer about what we’re getting away from. It’s what we’re moving towards. And ZERO bottles of beer on the wall is just the beginning.


Are you more motivated by what you want to get away from or by what you want to move towards? Your comments are welcome.


A big “Thank you!” to Femme Frugality and Life, Love, and Dirty Diapers. Both sites featured book reviews for my children’s book, Ella Builds A Wall. 

Image courtesy of Pixabay.

May 2017 – 5th Anniversary of Debt-Reduction: $180,000 Down!

DH = Dear Husband

Our debt in June 2012

“Now it’s June, and DH and I are taking the proverbial first step on our journey out of debt.” That’s what I wrote almost exactly 5 years ago, and I can now say that it was one of the best steps we’ve ever taken.

Back in June of 2012, our debts looked like this:

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000
  • TOTAL: $257,000

At 53 and 49 years old, DH and I knew that we weren’t in a good place financially, but it wasn’t until we read Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover that we realized what we had to do about it. A friend had dropped off the CD version of the book, and I listened to it during my morning and afternoon commutes one day in mid-May 2012. “I allowed myself a vision on that car ride to work … In my mind, I fast-forwarded to the day my husband and I would make our last mortgage payment, and we’d be completely debt-free. It was glorious! I’ve known for years that our debt load has been a burden, but I didn’t realize how life-sucking that burden was until I envisioned it gone.”

And so in June of 2012, after almost 20 years of marriage, DH and I prepared our first monthly budget together. We would stop hoping that things would get better and start making them get better. Debt is something that many of us wander into, but (as Ramsey says) nobody wanders out of it. A plan is needed, as is an attitude of focused intention. We had our plan, and we were intent on using all extra money to focus on one debt at a time, starting with the smallest.

Our Debt in June 2017

Nobody pays off debt in a vacuum. Life continues to happen, and it’s not easy to stay focused on a long-term goal like debt freedom in the midst of it. We have 3 daughters and a large extended family, and I can think of a few times over the last 5 years when urgent family matters have taken over and made debt-reduction seem like the lowest priority possible – and rightly so. But here’s the thing: when you make a habit of things like budgeting, tracking expenses, and really thinking about every purchase, they start to become automatic – even through the times when “focused intention” is not so focused and not so intense.

And in a 5-year period, there are going to be significant financial road blocks too. We’ve had to deal with vet bills, car repairs, appliance breakdowns, slow business months, a dangerously rotting tree, and a new roof to name a few. But not once have we gone back into debt. For the small, unexpected expenses, we maintained our mini-emergency fund of $1,000 right from the start (as per Ramsey’s plan). And for the larger, planned expenses like the roof, we saved. Such an obvious thing to do, right? But we had always used debt for the big purchases, and this was a first for us.

So after 5 years, where do we stand?

  • Debt #1 – New Car Debt: $8,600 GONE
  • Debt #2 – Old Car, Dog, & Course Debt: $12,800 GONE
  • Debt #3 – Business Debt: $80,800 GONE
  • Debt #4 – Mortgage: $155,000 $77,000
  • TOTAL: $77,000

My children’s book

I find a cool symbolism in the fact that my children’s book has come out in the same week as our 5th anniversary of  debt-reduction. You can read the story behind Ella Builds A Wall over at Fruclassity (and if you’re interested, here is a trailer of the book). For now, I’ll just say that my children’s book represents to me the “Why?” behind our efforts towards financial health and freedom. We spent far too many years in a place where freedom was stifled by obligations to creditors. Now we have so much more room to breathe. Compared with the “life-sucking burden” of debt that I first recognized 5 years ago, writing and self-publishing Ella Builds A Wall has truly been a life-giving breath of fresh air.

(If you’d like to purchase a copy, you can go either go here or let me know in the comments, and I’ll email you about it.)

From here?

Looking ahead, I see two more years to the finish line. I hope you’ll check in to see how we’re doing. And even more, if you’re facing a debt-load yourself, I hope you’ll draw hope from our experience.

We were “normal” for far too long, maxing out. Our household debt-to-income ratio rose steadily along with the national average – until it went off the chart with my husband’s job loss, and long-term financial stress set in. We’re in a debt-normalizing era, and so many of us are surprised to find ourselves trapped. And we feel a mortified shame for it. But there really is a way out, and while it’s simple, it’s not easy. It means going against the grain – of society at large, of family dynamics, and of our own individual patterns of thought and behaviour. But it can be done. We’re doing it, and so can you.

Join us for the remainder of our journey, and be encouraged to start your own.


Your comments are welcome.


 

April 2017 Report: Inspiration from Malala Yousafzai (& A Debt Milestone Reached)

Malala Yousafzai speaking in our high school auditorium.

Malala Yousafzai’s visit to our school

I’m a high school teacher, and on April 12, our school had the most incredible honour. In advance of a special assembly to recognize the importance of girls’ education, we were told that Sophie Grégoire-Tudeau, the wife of our Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, would be speaking to us, along with two cabinet ministers. We understood that they would be responding to questions and concerns raised by our students about education for girls, and that they would pass these concerns along to Malala Yousafzai, who would be made an honorary Canadian citizen later in the day at Parliament.

The speakers were amazing. Maryam Monsef, Minister of the Status of Women, and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development were clearly passionate about their work and vision. There was thunderous applause when they introduced Grégoire-Trudeau, and she connected so warmly and powerfully with our students. It became clear as she spoke, however, that she herself was introducing someone.  “Could it be . . . ?” I wondered, along with everyone else in the auditorium. “I think you know who I’m about to introduce,” Grégoire-Trudeau said after a meaningful pause. “This is a day you will remember.”

When Malala Yousafzai stepped onto the stage to a standing ovation, there were many tears. Some were mine. An outspoken advocate for girls’ education in her native Pakistan, she was targeted by the Taliban and shot in the head on a school bus at age 15 in 2012. Miraculously, Malala survived the attack, and she was catapulted into a position on the world stage, a symbol of the movement for girls’ rights to education.

She carries that mantle with an understated power and gracious humility, and her talk to our students was marvelous. Grégoire-Trudeau was right. It was a day we will all remember.

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Grégoire-Trudeau introduces Malala Yousafzai.             Malala speaks to our students.

The importance of a supportive dad to a daughter

In her talk, Malala honoured her father. She said that on the day that she was born, neighbours came to visit her parents – not to congratulate them on the birth of their girl, but to offer them comfort on the disappointment of having a female child, and hope that the next one would be a boy. Her father, however, valued Malala as much as he eventually did the two sons who were to follow. He included her name on the family tree – the first female name to be written in its 300 year history. He ran the school for girls that Malala attended, and championed her right to an education.

In a TED talk, he said that when people ask him what he did to foster such power in his daughter, his answer is this: “Don’t ask me what I did. Ask me what I did not do. I did not clip her wings.”

Connection to debt?

This is a blog about debt-reduction, and so I’ve got to make an abrupt turn here. How many of us clip our own wings? How many of us clip our wings with the debt we take on? How much of our collective potential is being drained by the obligations of our indebtedness?

Another debt-reduction milestone in April

Our personal journey out of debt can be seen as a patching of those clipped wings, and we hit another significant milestone in this patching work during the month of April. To recap, when we started out in June of 2012, we had:

  • $21,400 in consumer debt
  • $80,800 in business debt
  • $155,000 in mortgage debt
  • For a grand total of $257,000

The road to debt-freedom is a long one, and so it’s important to recognize milestones along the way. By this point, almost 5 years later, we’ve passed many milestones:

And for April 2017? Our mortgage – our only remaining debt – is now less than our business debt originally was. In April, we slipped under  the $80,000 mark to $79,200.

Using my patched wings

And what are we doing with our patched wings? At Fruclassity this week, I wrote about the guitar that my husband bought and the children’s book that I’m self-publishing. Ella Builds a Wall is now being printed, and it will be in my hands soon.If you’re interested, you can see a trailer of the book here. It’s something I didn’t have the freedom to pursue for years and years, and I’m so glad to have this opportunity now.


How about you? Does your debt “clip your wings”? Is it draining your potential to do the things that are important to you? Your comments are welcome.


 

What Is of Value in The End: My Elderly Mom & Family Photos

14 grandchildren and 1 great-grandchild

Sometimes our journey out of debt loses a lot of significance because of big life events. Up until a month ago, my 92-year-old mother lived independently in her own condo, drove her own car, made her own plans, and lived her own full life. But in March, she suffered a steep decline. We were very fortunate to be able to move her into the assisted living facility of her choice within a couple of weeks of our first alarm. March was all about doctor’s appointments and the logistics of getting her settled into her new home. April will be about selling the condo, but that’s less urgent.

Please read the post I wrote about my mom over at Fruclassity.

February 2017 Report: Steady Debt-Reduction (& Shining A Light on SAD)

DH = Dear Husband

Steady debt-reduction & savings

Yesterday, I had trouble starting our 18-year-old van. It took me 4 tries, and while there was some “Oh no!” stress, it was tempered by a confidence that is new to me: “If it dies today, we’ve got more than enough on stand-by for a good used vehicle.” A life-time first.

Our ’99 Dodge Caravan lived to see another day as it turned out, but how great not  to be overwhelmed by dread or panic at the thought of it biting the dust! In our poor money management days,  DH and I experienced that soul-sucking stress on a regular basis – every time an unexpected expense came up. My hope is that our faithful old van will serve us at least until its 20th birthday in February 2019 – which might just be our first month of complete debt freedom.

February  2017 was the 57th month of our total money makeover. Since June of 2012, we have:

  • paid off all of our consumer debt ($21,000)
  • paid off all of our business debt ($81,000)
  • saved up an emergency fund (to see us through 3-6 months in case of income loss)
  • made more and more aggressive payments against our mortgage ($71,000 and counting)
  • ramped up our long-term savings and investments

From our original total combined debt of $257,000, we are now left with a mortgage of $84,000.

Frugality misapplied

In October of 2015, I wrote a post about frugality misapplied. Two years earlier, I’d been having trouble with my vision, and  I’d gone to my eye doctor. Sure enough, he’d had to update my prescription. But when it came time to decide upon the purchase, “I managed to work my decision-making faculties into a state of paralysis, and [I stuck with my old glasses.] I left the optometrists with a new prescription, but the same old frames and lenses, feeling an uncertain sense of victory for my frugal move.”

Just before writing that post in 2015, I finally did buy new glasses – but not before my compromised vision had contributed my nearly hitting a pedestrian while I was driving to work. “I told the first two colleagues I saw about my near miss. ‘I just did not see him,’ I explained, still absorbing the horror of what could have been. And what was their response? One of them asked, ‘Is the prescription for your glasses outdated?’ ‘Yes!’ I answered – horrified again – at how obvious a mistake I had been making. I just didn’t tell him how outdated. ‘In fact, I’m getting new glasses this week.'”

Frugality misapplied again

Every year since I started blogging, I’ve had something to say about my “winter blues”. Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) is a real thing that can be effectively addressed, but my default was to just get through the blahs of late winter and hold out for spring. One winter a couple of years ago, I went to see my doctor about it. Besides giving me a list of vitamins and supplements to purchase, she recommended light therapy and told me where I could buy a SAD lamp.

Can you guess what I did with that information? That’s right. Decision-making paralysis again. I bought some vitamin D, but that was it – and it wasn’t enough.

Do you ever find yourself thinking, when embarrassing videos of the rich-and-famous go viral, “I’m sure glad that nobody recorded me when I . . .” whatever mortifying moment happened in your life? I had a moment like that last weekend. I had a melt-down – in a way that was completely out of proportion with what triggered it. And I’m glad nobody recorded it.

SAD lamp and supplements

I said my apologies, asked for and received forgiveness, and I took ownership of it. This past week, two years after it was given (I’ve clearly got a pattern of 2-year delay), I followed my doctor’s advice. I bought the SAD lamp, and I’ve been using it at least 15 minutes each day. I bought a higher-dose vitamin D (10 times higher) as well as St. John’s Wort. It’s too early to say if it’s making a difference, but it feels right to be taking these steps, and to be setting myself up to be proactive from the get-go next winter.

I went to see my doctor again, and just like our visit of two winters ago, she half-jokingly, half-seriously added this recommendation: “I’ll prescribe a trip to Hawaii for you every winter.” A yearly trip south will definitely be a part of our financial freedom plan! Until then, the SAD lamp will be my Hawaii.

Brighter days to come

Brighter days really are coming. Despite the unseasonably cold temperature of this particular time and place (-19C /-2F), the days are getting longer. Furthermore, the calendar doesn’t lie: spring will be here soon.

And an exciting development happened with the children’s book I’m self-publishing: The illustrator, a former student, has completed her work, and the illustrations are on their way to the publisher. I was so thrilled to go over them with her Thursday evening that I missed a little correction that needs to be made on three of them. Can you see what it is? (The publishers say they can fix it.) In this illustration, Sensei Jordan is giving Ella a high-five just before her karate class.

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I’m hoping this is the last mental health post I’ll be writing for some time to come, but I can only promise to tell it like it is : )


Have you ever used a SAD lamp? Have you ever neglected your own self-care? Are you looking forward to spring? Your comments are welcome.


 

January 2017 Report: Personal Finance Goals and Winter Blues

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

Lost on the golf course

About a month ago, I took our dog Rocky for a walk. We live near a golf course, and while we have to stay off of it during the summer months, through the winter, people are free to walk, ski, or toboggan on it. I took Rocky up onto an area of the golf course that was new to us. It was a mild evening, and  we walked for a good 20 minutes before turning back to go home.

I became alarmed after about 20 minutes. We should have reached the street, but we hadn’t, and it was nowhere in sight. As I surveyed the landscape beyond the hill we were climbing, all I could see were more trees (as featured above). Had we taken a wrong turn somewhere? I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, sensing the futility of continuing in this direction.

It wasn’t the first time I had become lost (I have a terrible sense of direction), and I accepted my situation stoically. I looked around for a recognizable landmark of some kind, and I saw three tall apartment buildings in the distance. If I could get to those buildings, I’d find my way home. The trek would add an hour to my walk with Rocky, but he certainly didn’t mind.

Winter blues

I have learned to accept that winter comes with its blues. This year, those blues came early and with greater than usual force. I don’t know why. If you’ve experienced it, you know what it’s like: every effort takes more energy than usual; and normal tasks become draining.

I remember reading some personal finance blog posts about New Year’s resolutions early January, and finding them oppressively perky. I read about a couple of no-spend challenges, and while my mind said, “I should join in,” I just didn’t have it in me. I felt as I did when I walked Rocky that evening – sensing a futility in continuing in the direction I was going: budgeting; tracking; blogging; budgeting; tracking; blogging . . .

Progress

But I’ve learned not to be led too much by feelings. When DH and I started our journey out of debt, I was high on purpose and determination. June 2nd 2012, I wrote my third post for this blog: “. . . DH and I are taking the proverbial first step on our journey out of debt.  Psyched by a vision of debt freedom, we feel a happy adrenaline – a hope-filled, united, optimistic energy.  At this point, I can`t even conceive of a time when we`ll hit a wall.”

That kind of new-beginnings-energy can’t last, and I knew it at the time. “At this point, we can allow ourselves to give in to the high of starting and to get as much mileage out of it as possible.” Through the years that have passed since that adrenaline-filled start, there have been “walls”. But perhaps because I have been on the look out for them, I’ve able to move forward in spite of their motivation-sucking force.

This month has been no exception. Our original total debt of $257,400 – a combination of consumer debt, business debt, and a mortgage – is now down to a modest mortgage of $86,900.

A matter of interest

I remember last January, DH wrote on our white board in the kitchen, “$297”. When he asked me what I thought it represented, I couldn’t say. “That’s the amount of monthly interest we’re down to now on our mortgage. We’re under $300.” That was a big deal because when we’d started our debt payoff,  we were paying over $600 per month in combined interest payments. This month, DH wrote “$192” on our white board.

An audacious goal

Seven years is the average amount of time it takes a household to become completely debt-free according to Dave Ramsey’s plan. So for a long time, our goal has been to become debt-free by June of 2019 – seven years after our June 2012 start.

This month, DH and I did some calculations. The maximum we can put against the mortgage on a monthly basis is $3,000. But once a year, we can put a lump sum to a maximum of $18,000 against it too. Last year, we made no lump sum payment. This year, we plan to. For the last year and a half, we’ve been paying $750 per month for DD2’s room and board as she studies at a university downtown. We’ll make our last payment in June.

If we continue to set aside the same amount of money on a monthly basis, we could save up for annual lump sums to speed up our progress. Our best case scenario is:

  • to pay the maximum $3,000 per month
  • to put aside an additional $750 per month, saved for annual lump sum payments, starting July 2017

In this best case scenario,  we’ll have the mortgage paid off January of 2019. So many things could happen to prevent this early pay-off date, but it is officially our new audacious goal.

Headed in the right direction

So the winter blues won’t steer me away from the direction we’ve been taking for almost 5 years now. Sure it would be nice to blow a few thousand on a trip south, but we’re staying the course.

Sunday morning, I took Rocky for a walk, and we went to the same section of the golf course that we’d walked on when we got lost. It was going to be a brief excursion, so I I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to take a wrong turn. After walking for about 5 minutes, we turned around. And I saw the same hill with the same trees beyond them that had convinced me I was lost a month earlier.

“I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, sensing the futility of continuing in this direction.” But it wasn’t futile! I wasn’t lost. I was headed in the RIGHT direction. If I had just climbed that hill, I would have seen that the trees beyond it were across the street  – the street that would bring me home.

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Have you ever hit a “wall” in trying to reach a goal? Do you get the winter blues? Your comments are welcome.


 

December 2016 Report & New Year’s Resolution for 2017

The dress behind the resolutions.

DH = Dear Husband

Happy New Year! I don’t know about you, but despite the weirdness of our time – Brexit, Trump, a nervous sense of imminent but unpredictable change – I feel optimistic about the year ahead.

My New Year’s resolution for 2016

“And I will. Every day, I will do a plank. Every day. I’m putting that stake in the ground. I’ll start at 2 minutes, but each month, my goal will be to increase by 15 seconds so that by the end of 2016, I’ll be holding a 5-minute daily plank.”

And why did I resolve to focus on planking through 2016? Two reasons:

  1. A dress that DH had given to me as a Christmas gift made it clear that I had a “baby-bump-without-a-baby.” I couldn’t wear it without slipping on some gut-flattening shapewear underneath, and I wasn’t happy about that. I proclaimed, in bold font no less: “For Christmas of 2016, I will not have to resort to ‘shapewear’ to put on that dress.
  2. I used the plank to symbolize the steady, patient balance that I knew I needed to develop in my approach to money-management.

The plank: an analogy for personal finances

At this time last year, we had just finished renovations for which we had saved and paid up front. (Yay us! We never used to take on big projects without using debt.) These renovations had been a sort of reward that we allowed ourselves after having paid off all $102,000 of our non-mortgage debt. $21,000 in consumer debt + $81,000 in business debt were gone! But as I looked ahead to the next steps of our money makeover, I recognized that they required a shift  – in me:

“Past the point of putting all of our focus upon debt-repayment, we now require more balance. Short-term savings; emergency savings; investments; mortgage payments; and an increase in giving. I felt more directed and sure when it was all about paying off our consumer and business debts . . . I’ve come to recognize in this journey out of debt how impatient I am. Impatience played a big role in getting us into our debt-ridden state (“I want it NOW!”), and I don’t want it to sabotage the financial health we’ve been building . . . I need the core strength – the stability and balance – of patience in my approach to our shifted financial goals. Muscles in the human pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen ideally work in harmony. Efforts towards our savings, investments, mortgage payments, and giving can also progress towards an ideal of harmony. No rush. Slow, steady, progress. Balance. Stability.”

My planking progress

You can read the full story of my planking progress for 2016 at Fruclassity. Here, I’ll give a short overview: The “every day” part of my resolution did not last. Injury in the last half of January was followed by gradual lapses in determination. And as the months went by and my plank-time increased, it just became so HARD! After achieving one plank of 3 minutes 45 seconds in August, I decided I’d had enough and gave it up. But in early December, at a staff Christmas party, a colleague asked me how my plank challenge was going, and that conversation led to . . .  an impromptu plank-off.

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Two other colleagues joined us. And the result? Each one of us attained a personal best plank time! Including me. I held for 4 minutes that night – even though I hadn’t tried a long plank since August. The power of community support! We committed to a weekly plank-off, and at our last one on December 23, I hit 5 minutes! That’s a life-time best for me. So while I didn’t actually fulfill my resolution – “I’ll be holding a 5-minute daily plank” – I did hit my goal time and I did gain core strength.

But what about the dress?

Can we skip this part? No. I still can’t wear that dress sans shapewear. Clearly, it takes more than strong core muscles to flatten a belly. Which leads to my resolution for 2017 . . .

Resolution for 2017

I eat ravenously – always have. When I get hungry, it’s not pretty, and I often resort to quick carbs to take away the edge. This metabolic demand plays into both my finances and, I believe, my tummy.

My New Year’s resolution for 2017 is to learn to manage my personal food intake. And it is personal, isn’t it? Just like personal finances. By that, I don’t mean “private”; I mean “unique to the individual”. We all need to find our own way towards balancing the budget as well as balancing the weight scales. One of my personal challenges lies in what I can only call food addictions.

It’s no secret that the food industry uses salt, sugar, and fat in an intentional effort to make consumers addicted to their products. They’ve succeeded with me, and I want to overcome those addictions. Why? Two reasons:

  1. Management of discretionary money has been the stumbling block in my efforts to get my money act together since our journey out of debt began almost 5 years ago. In the last couple of months, I’ve finally started to track my discretionary spending, and this tracking reveals the extent to which I spend on food. It’s never expensive as an individual purchase  – $4.50 for a coffee and tea biscuit at Tim Hortons – maybe $9.25 if I’m treating someone else – and the occasional lunch or dinner for around $10 – but it adds up to so much that I invariably end up in debt in my discretionary account. If I get my food act together, I’ll get my discretionary spending act together.
  2. There is definitely a vanity thing going on here too. I really would like to be able to wear that dress without having to resort to shapewear, and it’s possible that a reduction in unhealthy carbs will allow that to happen. But it’s also possible that it won’t, and if that is to be the case, then long live shapewear.

Getting your finances in order: facing character flaws

“The deeper side of debt reduction is that as you work on the practicalities of budgets and tracking, you’re going to bump into character flaws that you didn’t even know you had.” That’s what I said as part of my talk on debt-reduction at the local public library in November, and it’s what I continue to discover.

For me, impatience is one such flaw, and in 2016, I believe I addressed it well. DH and I are steadily bringing the mortgage down. In December, it was at $89,700 – our only remaining debt from an original $257,400 of combined mortgage, consumer debt, and business debt. At the same time, we’re maintaining long-term savings, building up short-term savings, and giving more. We’re well balanced and strong. The plank analogy works.

I don’t think that a demanding metabolism can be called a character flaw. That’s beyond my control. It’s my management of it that reveals a fault: I tend to be reactive rather than proactive. In the area of food, I too often set myself up so that I’m hungry and have nothing to eat. Maybe I’m at work and haven’t prepared a lunch – so I “have to” go to a restaurant. Or I’m out doing errands and it takes longer than I’d planned – so I “have to” get a snack at the coffee shop.

For 2017, it’s going to be all about becoming more proactive – getting a grip on my food issues, and thereby finally getting a grip on my discretionary spending. And who knows? Maybe I’ll be able to ditch the shapewear too.


Do you have a New Year’s resolution?  Your comments are welcome.


 

October & November 2016 Report

Sorry for missing October’s update! I was in over my head through the fall: big project at work early October; a niece’s wedding the next week; first debt-reduction public speaking engagement early November; and ongoing developments for the children’s book I’ll soon be self-publishing.

Where our debt now stands

For each month – October and November – we paid $3,000 off of our mortgage. That means that our June 2012 original debt of $257,400 has now been reduced by a total of $164,700.

  • Our $21,400 consumer debt is gone.
  • Our $80,800 business debt is gone.
  • Our emergency fund is saved.
  • Our mortgage, which in June 2012 was $155, 200, now sits at $92, 700.

Here’s a fact: As our mortgage gets lower and lower, the temptation to quit our intensive focus on debt-reduction increases. At this point, our debt and our debt-to-income ratio are significantly lower than most people’s – including those in our age group (50s). I know a few people who hover around $50,000-$100,000 in mortgage debt who stay there for a long time. It’s not a debt load to get anxious about, and it’s often casually extended by a trip or renovations.

DH and I are feeling a growing sense of, “Is it really worth it to make such a fuss about getting to zero? Nobody else seems to think so.” In fact, without my blog reading and writing, there’s a good chance we would have taken our eyes off the prize by now. Fortunately, I am still reading and writing about debt reduction, and despite the temptations to change focus, we’re still committed to reaching zero.

Where this blog now stands

I’ve been on a bit of a blog journey for the past couple of years. When I started Prudence Debtfree in May of 2012, I wrote once per week. In the last half of 2014, I gave the idea of biweekly writing a try – including mid-week guest posts. That ended up feeling like a stress though, so I stopped it.

I was unsettled. I had a nagging sense that after more that 2 years of blog writing, it was was high time for me to find a way to make it a source of income – as so many other bloggers had. And although I sought out and got advice to make this happen, I never developed much of a clue about it. In part, my problem was limited time, but at least in equal part, my problem was that ever-present tech-phobia which made each little step towards writing-for-income seem too daunting a task.

In March of 2015, I joined Laurie from The Frugal Farmer in creating Fruclassity.  I felt SO fortunate to be working with someone like Laurie. We were two debt-bloggers with different life experience and in different situations, but we also shared a lot in common, and we were on the same page when it came to our outlook on personal finances. Laurie was better connected, more widely read, and in command of better business sense than I was, and unbalanced as the partnership was, I was determined to give it my best.

Writing a weekly post at Fruclassity and another one at Prudence Debtfree proved to be too much for me. It’s been a messy transition, but I’m satisfied that I’ve found a new normal: I write at Fruclassity once per week, and I give a monthly update at Prudence Debtfree.

Writing goal #3

You might remember that in August, I wrote about goals for writing that I’d had for my summer off work. “I had three writing goals. And I’ve met each one. They’ll all take a bit of time to come to fruition . . .”

  1. Goal #1 was to step out of my comfort zone in writing and to give a public presentation about debt-reduction – which I did in November.
  2. Goal #2 was to self-publish a children’s book. The book is on it’s way. I’m waiting for the illustrator to finish her work so that it will be ready early in the new year.
  3. Goal #3 was finally to break into paid blog writing. And it’s happened!

Early in the summer, I received an email message from a magazine editor who asked if I would be willing to allow the publication of a post I’d written a few months before – for a small payment! I was thrilled! It will be another 7 months before it’s published, so I’ll give more details later. The point is, my very fist paid blog writing fell into my lap.

My next few were the result of Laurie’s connections and business savvy as well as both of our work. Fruclassity has hosted and written its first few paid posts.

It’s a modest beginning, but it IS a beginning – one that was a L-O-N-G time in coming. I’ve earned my first few hundred dollars from blog writing!

Thanks to mentors

Again, I can’t emphasize enough how absolutely clueless I was to start with, and how slow I’ve been to begin catching on. I’d like to thank a few mentors who have helped me to navigate my way to this goal.

  • Thank you, Travis Pizel from Enemy of Debt.  Your mentorship got me into the online personal finance community and gave me an understanding of social networking. I was essentially in my own bubble of blogging until you extended yourself out to me.
  • Thank you, Melanie from Dear Debt Blog. Besides letting me write a Dear Debt letter (which I really loved doing!), you confronted me about an obstacle I didn’t even know I was imposing against my writing goal. I felt guilty about my desire to earn an income from writing. I don’t know if you’re aware of it, but it was you who brought that false guilt to light.
  • Thank you, Catherine from Budget BlondeYour mentorship to this technically-challenged learner was one of great patience. I was a slow student, but I did learn. I remember you emphasizing the range of writing niches in the personal finance community and the importance of finding the right fit. I believe I’m getting there : )
  • Thank you, Laurie from The Frugal Farmer.  It is an honour to run Fruclassity with you! You’re the one who brings the savvy to our site, and I’ve been a beneficiary of your know-how. I believe that we’re getting somewhere with our mission to offer hope and a safe place for those stressed by debt and poor financial health. There is supportive community between the two of us, and that’s a great foundation for a broader community of people who need support.

Do you think we should keep our focus on zero? or should we let up a bit? Does guilt play into your relationship with money? Your comments are welcome.


 

Image courtesy of Pexels.