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.

_RON0835               _RON0814 (1)

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.

unnamed (4)

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.

20170205_131259


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.

unnamed

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.

 

September 2016 Report: 6-Figure Debt Now Down to 5 Figures!

One risk of self-publishing? Boxes and boxes of books.

  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear 3rd daughter

Milestone: $100,000 barrier broken!

Our $257,400 debt from 2012 is now under $100,000. Consumer debt? GONE. Business debt? GONE. Mortgage debt? Down to $98,100. We have broken the 6-figure barrier! The finish line is still 3 years ahead of us. But I can see it.

Writing Goal #2

Last month, I wrote about my trial run at financial freedom in the summer, and the opportunity I had to write more. “I had three writing goals. And I’ve met each one. They’ll all take a bit of time to come to fruition, but I’ll share one for this month’s post.” The goal I wrote about last month had to do with my venture into public speaking about debt reduction. Ottawa Public Library, Main Branch, November 7 from 6:30-8:00. There will be plenty of nervous energy going into that event!

Goal #2 has nothing to do with debt reduction. Here it is:

Two children’s books

I wrote and self-published two children’s books way back around the turn of the millennium. The first, published in ’98, I dedicated to our eldest. The second, published in ’02, I dedicated to our second child. For each book, there is a personal connection to the daughter for whom I wrote it. From ’98-’02, I was either working part-time or I was home on extended maternity leave (I actually resigned in ’01), and it was such a privilege for me to be able to devote some time, energy, and money to these projects. For a few years, I marketed books. I sold about 5,000 of them (not bad for the Canadian market) and even went to local schools as a visiting author.  I can’t tell you how much I loved that.

An abrupt halt

In 2002, it was clear that I had to return to work, and that part-time would not be an option. DH had become a casualty of the NORTEL ship sinking, and his high-tech career – which  provided our family’s bread and butter – was spinning. We didn’t know it then, but there would be years of uncertainty and financial stress ahead of us. All I knew then was that I had to go back to work full-time.

Marketing the hundreds of books that I still had in boxes at home? Not even a remote chance. I hoped that our situation would be short-lived, but as the years passed, those books became a burden. I ended up giving away a few thousand of them to different school boards earlier this year.

DD3’s book?

If you have 3 daughters, and you write a children’s book for each of the first 2, there is no way that you are NOT going to write one for the 3rd. Since 2002, I have known that I had to write a story to dedicate to DD3. I trusted that the right time would come, but my time was swallowed up. And money was so, so tight for so long. The cost of self-publishing a children’s book with illustrations is significant, and we weren’t even close to being able to justify such an expense. Furthermore, with boxes of unsold books hanging around the house, there was some dread at the thought.

But the book had to be written.

DD3 never said anything about it, and I was grateful for her patience. Last year, though, she asked me frankly, “Mom, are you going to write a book for me before I’m dead?” OK! I felt an urgency to get going. It was DD3’s question that made me decide to stay home for the summer of ’16 instead of teach summer school in the name of debt reduction. As Laurie wrote in a recent post at Fruclassity, “Every person/family has things that cost money that are important to them; more important than dumping debt.” DD3’s book was more important.

Time and money: DH’s negotiation

Once I had decided to take the summer off, I got an idea for a story, and I was excited about it. It would be about a girl named Ella and how she learned to deal with a school bully. July came and my test drive of financial freedom began. I liked it! Rest, exercise, socializing, family visits, blog writing, preparations for my talk at the library . . . I just couldn’t focus on writing the book. July became August, and as the first and second weeks of the month passed, I became worried. What was my problem? Why couldn’t I just sit down and write the story? Why was it locked in my head?

Mid-August, I was sitting by the bar-b-q with DH, and he started to talk about the guitar he was saving up to buy with his discretionary money. “I don’t think I can wait until next year,” he said. He wondered if we could do a planned splurge with our common money – which would mean holding off on aggressive debt-repayment for  a while. The last time we had agreed upon such a splurge, it had been at DH’s request too. He wanted to go to Whistler for snow boarding a couple of years ago, and I had automatically been in support of it. We planned a few months in advance, and gave ourselves each a “bonus” for our discretionary allowance the month before his trip.

But then when I  – at the last minute mind you  – and because of my poor management of my discretionary money – wanted a mini-splurge of $200 to go away for a week-end with friends this past spring, DH had not supported the idea. “If you managed your money better, you’d easily be able to save up that amount and go.” He was right of course, but still . . .

“No,” I said. “You’ll just have to save up and wait for your guitar.” That felt good. I had the power. No more automatic agreement from me! “Isn’t there something you really, really want?” DH asked me. “There is nothing that I want more than debt-freedom,” I said in a burst of self-righteousness. But before the words were out of my mouth, I knew they weren’t true. So we struck a deal.

Knowing that I had the money to self-publish DD3’s book made all the difference. Within 4 days, I had written the story. DD3 loves it! I have sent the text and a proposed layout to the publisher. A former student is preparing the illustrations. It feels SO satisfying to be at this stage. After a wait of 14 years, DD3 will have her book.

Debt repayment opens doors

I said that goal #2 had nothing to do with debt reduction, but that’s not quite true. Our debt repayment has allowed money stress to evaporate. And all of the good things that had been stifled by that stress now have their chance to breathe. Among them are DH’s guitar playing. And my children’s book for DD3. Passing the $100,000 mark is worthy of celebration, and I think we’ve chosen the best possible way to celebrate our growing freedom – by using it.


Do you celebrate financial milestones? Your comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading our report for September ’16! Please check out my weekly posts at Fruclassity.

August 2016 Report: Trial Run at Financial Freedom = WONDERFUL

The view (including my feet) while camping 

DH = Dear Husband

“Ikigai”

Mr. SSC (Slowly Sipping Coffee) recently wrote the post, “Will your retirement have an ikigai?” Ikigai (pronounced icky-guy) is a Japanese term meaning “the reason to wake up in the morning”, and in his post, Mr. SSC explores the idea of life purpose during retirement. (He and his wife are very close to achieving early financial freedom.)

My decadent summer of ’16

For the past two months, I’ve had the great privilege of test driving financial freedom. I’m a teacher, and for the first time in seven years, I chose to take July and August completely off. No additional qualifications courses (summers ’09, ’10, ’11). No teaching English through July (summer of ’12). No teaching co-op through July and August (summers ’13, ’14, ’15). Next summer? We’ll see.

The summer of ’16 has been the most decadent of my career. For every other summer that I’ve taken off to be home, I was on full-time mommy duty. It was wonderful for me to be able to spend all of those summer months with our 3 daughters, but it wasn’t “decadent” – it was super busy. This summer, we’ve only had our youngest at home, and as a seventeen-year-old, she has not required me to be on full-time mommy duty. Not even close. She has her part-time job and her social life. We’ve enjoyed some great times together over the past two months, but they’ve been more laid-back than “super busy”.

So no job to go to + no course to study + laid-back family life = My trial run at financial freedom.

Increased fitness in retirement forecast

If the summer of ’16 is any indication of what retirement will be like, I’m going to be a very fit retiree. Most weeks involved 6 workouts: 3 early morning bike rides with a neighbour – 30-40 km (18-25 miles), and 3 visits to the gym with DH for cardio kickboxing and weights. The benefits of regular workouts are so worth pursuing! Better sleep. Clearer head. More productive. Happier. What’s not to like?

Writing project #1: Debt-reduction talk at the library

More writing is also in the retirement forecast. As my summer of ’16 began, I had three writing goals. And I’ve met each one. They’ll all take a bit of time to come to fruition, but I’ll share one for this month’s post.

I was very impressed when Brian at Debt Discipline wrote about his talk on debt reduction at the local public library. Brian and his wife paid off $109,000 in credit card debt and then went on to save an emergency fund that saw them through a tough year of unemployment for Brian. “What a gutsy move!” I thought of his initiative to speak at the library. It’s one thing to share your struggles with debt online, and a very different thing to speak about them in a room full of strangers. I admired the combination of humility and confidence that Brian showed, and I had no doubt that his talk had been effective. Who better to motivate than someone who has been through the ups and downs of turning his own finances around?

Then I started to wonder if I could do the same thing. I had spoken at church about our journey out of debt. Why not follow Brian’s lead and speak at a local library?

I’m not much of an initiator, and so it took a real step out of my comfort zone to contact the Ottawa Public Library. When I did, things went remarkably quickly. I’d need to fill in a proposal form. Provide references. Indicate dates of availability. Summarize my topic of presentation. Within days, I was fulfilling a request to provide PowerPoint slides.

“A presentation from a personal point of view,” I was informed early in the process, “is a new approach for the area of financial literacy programs at the Ottawa Public Library.” So this was new territory for the library too – not just for me. There were a few weeks’ worth of back-and-forth emails about detailed edits . . . And then it was a “Yes.” As it stands now, I’ll be speaking at the Main Branch of the Ottawa Public Library (120 Metcalfe St. for any Ottawa readers who might be interested in attending) the evening of Monday November 7 from 6:30-8:00.

This opportunity means a great deal to me for many reasons:

  • From the start, I’ve hoped that my writings about our debt-reduction would encourage others who had the desire to turn their finances around – especially those who, like us, felt powerless or incompetent to make it happen. I know from experience that speaking about personal debt can be very powerful in breaking down walls that keep people isolated in their financial struggles. There can be a huge relief in witnessing someone else being open about a topic you’ve always experienced as oppressively taboo.
  • I feel a “cutting edge” excitement about being the first speaker in this venue to present from “a personal point of view.” An old friend – who has no problem speaking her mind – recently asked me, “What makes you think you have the authority to write about debt-reduction?” I got a chuckle out of the question, but I appreciated it and answered her. “I write as someone who is going through it,” I explained to her. “We have a history of financial mistakes, but we’re learning, and we ARE strengthening our financial reality.” I compared our situation to people in AA who had been sober for 4 years. “People who have never struggled with debt don’t have the same insight into everything that’s involved in dealing with it,” I said. My friend nodded her head. She got it.
  • Even more personally, I feel an “I can do it!” growth in confidence. That may seem a bit premature since the presentation is still 2 months away, but I really have overcome an anxious hurdle just in going through with my proposal of the talk. There will be plenty more anxiety in the coming weeks as I practice, refine, practice, refine . . . Mr. Money Mustache’s latest post deals with his preparation for a recent public speaking event, and it brought home to me the work that still lies ahead. Very different type of event! But the point is, there’s a lot of effort that goes into a good presentation. So here we go!

Debt-reduction milestone

The summer of ’16 leaves me with no doubt that there will be plenty of “ikigai” in my retirement.

August brought our mortgage down another $2,000. So of our original grand total debt (consumer, business, and mortgage debts) of $257,400, we have paid off $156,600. If you’re good at math, you’ll quickly calculate that we’re on the verge of a very significant milestone. Our 6-figure debt is about to become a 5-figure debt.

That kind of milestone is worthy of celebration, and DH and I have been wondering how to mark it. But that ties into Writing Goal #2. And you’ll have to wait for next month’s post to find out about it : )


Do you ever wonder what the “ikigai” (reason to wake up in the morning) of your retirement will be? Have you ever had a practice run at financial freedom? Your comments are welcome.

Thanks for reading our report for August ’16! Please check out my weekly posts at Fruclassity.

 

 

July 2016 Report: Olympic Inspiration Squashes Mortgage-Payoff Complacency

I’m finding it really hard to pull myself away from the Olympic Games coverage! Ever since my early teens, I’ve manifested symptoms of Olympic Addiction Disorder (not a real thing – at least I don’t think so). So I’ll make this quick!

Here’s a recap of where we are in our journey out of debt since June of 2012:

  • Consumer debts of $21,400
  • Business debt of $80,800
  • Mortgage debt of $155,000
  • Grand total debt of $257,200

Following Dave Ramsey’s strategy as outlined in The Total Money Makeover, we attacked our two smaller consumer debts first, and then moved on to our business debt. It took us just over 3 years to pay off all non-mortgage debt. In July of 2015, we were left with the mortgage to tackle, and the new step of saving up our big emergency fund (to cover 3-6 months of expenses in the case of job loss).

From June 2012 to July 2015, we paid about $27,000 off our mortgage just by our regular monthly payments. Starting in August 2015, we put extra against our mortgage, and in the last year, we have paid off almost another $26,000.

  • The grand total of our debt (just the mortgage) now sits at $102,800

Psychology of debt-reduction: Focus on what has been paid off, not on what’s left

In June, I made the discovery that it is better for the psychology of our debt reduction to focus upon what we have paid off rather than what we still have left to pay. In the first few years of our debt reduction, it was natural to think in terms of how much we had paid off. Once we got past the half way mark of our grand total, it became natural to think in terms of what we had left to pay off. But that had a discouraging impact, so I’m trying to focus again upon how much we have paid off.

In July, we paid $2,000 against our mortgage, bringing our total mortgage reduction since June 2012 to $53,000.

2 significant milestones

  1. Our emergency fund is now full (I should be more excited about this than I am), but we will continue to save at the same rate for big upcoming expenses as well as for retirement.
  2. The mortgage that we have left is roughly equivalent to the total amount of non-mortgage debt that we paid off from 2012-2015.

A wall of exhaustion? Or a wall of complacency?

Ramsey talks about people “hitting a wall” when they reach this stage of debt reduction. Consumer and other non-mortgage debts are gone; the emergency fund is saved; and all that’s left is the mortgage. Ramsey compares this wall-hitting stage to a marathon runner reaching mile #18 out of 26. Exhaustion sets in, and every muscle in the body screams, “Enough already!”

I think I might be facing a wall, but it’s not of exhaustion. It’s of complacency. We are at the point now where we’re “normal” – even for people in our age group (in our fifties). No longer do we have a debt-to-income ratio that is way above the record breaking household national average. We’re well below that average. While we felt a sense of urgency about our non-mortgage debts, it’s hard to muster that same urgency for a mortgage – and a pretty modest one at that.

Refocus

Hold on here! We were never going for “normal” to begin with. We were going for complete freedom from debt. When it comes time for us to retire, we don’t want to fit in with “normal” – which is to retire while still in debt. So time to refocus, to stare down that wall of complacency, and to attack our mortgage debt like champions. The Olympic athletes, whose competitions I’ve been watching, strive for way beyond “normal”, and they certainly don’t give up before they reach the finish line. My finish line still lies ahead. The course has changed, but it still needs to be covered. On to the next stretch of the race!


Do you have a lower sense of urgency about your mortgage debt? Do you have Olympic Addiction Disorder? Do Olympic athletes inspire you – either towards physical fitness or some other pursuit of excellence? Your comments are welcome.

Image courtesy of PublicDomainPictures.net.

Thanks for reading our report for July ’16! Please check out my weekly posts at Fruclassity.