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Personal Debt Wrangler – Had my money head in the sand – but no more!


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7 Financial Lessons Learned from My Parents’ Debt

I am very happy to have a guest post from one of my blogging friends, Erin from Journey to Saving.  I’ve mentioned before about how I worried about the impact that our financial bad habits have had on our kids.  Erin shares her story about this below.

financial-lessons-learnedI am no stranger to debt. While I have only personally experienced student loan debt, consumer debt came knocking on my family’s door decades ago, and nearly destroyed us.

Debs is very open in sharing her mistakes and experiences when it comes to debt and her own family, so that others can learn from her. It’s for that reason I only thought it fitting to share my own story here, with all of you, along with some of the lessons I’ve learned from my parents’ debt.

Debt is a common enemy of ours, and even though it brings dark and trying days, I’ve been able to get a few things out of it after starting on my own financial journey. After reading this post, I hope you’ll be able to as well.

The Beginning

It all started when I was 7. My dad had been laid off. I suddenly began hearing the word “No” much more often, accompanied by frustration at the predicament we found ourselves in.

My 7-year-old brain didn’t comprehend this as I can now, but I knew enough to be scared. What will this mean for us? I often wondered, especially after hearing my parents speak in hushed tones.

Bits and pieces made their way to my ears: losing home, can’t afford, might not recover, and can’t keep this up, were just a few phrases that clued me in to what was happening.

The real warning sign was that my lovely grandma was showing up at our house more often, always with food and household products in tow. It was as if we didn’t have to go grocery shopping anymore!

My childhood self was more than a little naive, thinking my grandma was stopping by just to spoil me with goodies. While that was part of the visit, something deeper was going on, as I saw her attempt to hand my mom cash several times. My mom usually refused.

Thankfully, my family recovered in about two years. My dad worked part-time until he found a full-time position, which put us in a better place. On top of that, my mom began to work full-time once I turned 13.

We went on our merry way, and I was none the wiser to the increasing pile of bills that would slowly bury us in several years.

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.

financial-lessons-learnedIt was only at Christmastime that I was told money might be a little tight, but my parents always managed to get me what I wanted most. I never truly knew just how bad of a state we were in, until my dad lost his job again, this time, while I was in college. This time, I knew what was going on, and I wanted to run.

My parents had never gotten their financial act together. They had never saved, and they still hadn’t paid off their debt. I was angry at them. Why hadn’t they learned from their mistakes the first time around? Was I the only one that remembered those times? I didn’t know how they let history repeat itself.

What’s worse, my mom became resentful toward my dad. Without his income, we were relying solely on her income, which was only half of what my dad made. I should say that my parents were never extremely high-earners, so while we kept a mostly frugal lifestyle, losing my dad’s income was a huge blow that we never recovered from for many reasons.

My parents have always been prideful and unwilling to take “handouts.” As such, my mom shouldered the burden of making ends meet by herself, even when I offered to help. Likewise, Debs is the primary breadwinner in her family, and I know it’s not easy at all. There are plenty of mom’s out there who are shouldering this burden, and doing an amazing job of it. While it can be a thankless job, your children will grow up to appreciate and respect you for it.

To say this was a difficult time would be an understatement. I can’t even begin to tell you all how happy I was when we finally got through it. There were times I doubted we would. I took mental notes through everything, because I knew I never wanted to go through that again.

I wanted to make sure I could safeguard myself against debt. Student loan debt had been different in my mind, so I sadly didn’t avoid that, but you can bet I won’t take on any consumer debt after what I’ve seen it do. For that reason, I’d like to impart to you the financial lessons I learned from watching my parents suffer with their debt.

7 Financial Lessons Learned from My Parents’ Debt

  1. Save, budget, and track spending. Keep an emergency fund. Please. It kills me to know my parents would have been fine had they actually taken the time to save money. Because they didn’t have anything to fall back on, any unexpected expenses would go straight on the credit cards. It was a vicious cycle they were unable to break out of. My parents also thought they had a good hold on things, but I guarantee that a budget or spending sheet would have opened their eyes.
  2. Communicate. According to my parents, there was a bit of miscommunication going on. My dad believed that they were paying the cards off in full every month, when in reality, they were paying the minimums. This was because my mom balanced the checkbook and paid all the bills. I know Debs has mentioned a few times that she didn’t realize how bad things were because her husband was doing the same. Even though I handle all of our finances, I always keep my boyfriend in the loop. Your other half needs to be included.
  3. Perseverance pays off. I want to inject a little happiness into this post! I’m glad to say that my parents fought the battle and won, in their own way. They are still in debt, but they were able to retire and move to a place that is much more affordable. They purchased their house outright and no longer worry about a mortgage. With the sale of their old house, they were able to put a large chunk toward their consumer debt, and they now have a good buffer in their bank account should they need it.
  4. There’s more to life than possessions. Having a little less than my peers made me realize early on that there’s simply more to life than having the newest gadgets, prettiest clothes, trendiest accessories, etc. My parents never purchased name-brand anything, and they always shopped frugally. They’re both deal-finders. I got a hand-me-down car (from my grandma to my mom, then to me) and only replaced it once it was unreliable to drive. Even though it was a funky teal color, I didn’t have to pay for it, and that made it valuable.
  5. Experiences matter. I’m an only child, and many of my memories growing up involve my parents. None of these memories revolve around things, though. Yes, I can remember the gifts they’ve given me over the years, but what matters most to me now is spending time with them. No one lives forever. So the next time you feel pressured into buying something for your children, remember that prioritizing experiences is the way to go. They will thank you for it some day. Remember to enjoy the little things life has to offer.
  6. Keeping up with the Joneses? Nah. I never got the sense that my parents were trying to keep up with anyone, even though there were plenty of people around us that were clearly questioning our priorities. They were never phased by it. Sure, it’s a little sad to see people from college “living the life,” (or so they want us to believe?), but I’m happy where I am. I have a great boyfriend, two adorable cats, and supportive friends and family.
  7. Don’t give up hope. This has to be the most important lesson I’ve learned. My parents went through a lot in a short span of time, twice. Yet, they’re still together. They pulled through. And I turned out fine. Looking at my student loan balance can make me feel hopeless at times, but I know I’ll reach a $0 balance someday. Being in debt has taught me things I never would have discovered about myself, and for that, I am thankful.

 

financial-lessons-learnedI want to close this out by saying that things could have been much, much worse. Compared to some people, my family had it easy. I am very grateful that my grandma was there to help us through everything, because I’m not sure we would have survived without her generosity.

Don’t let debt take away from you any more than it already has. I know it can be soul-sucking, and that the journey is a long one, but you’ll make it through if you choose to fight. And I know you want to, otherwise you wouldn’t be here!

What are some of the lessons that debt has taught you? Did you grow up around debt? How has it affected you?

erinmauthorpicErin M. is a full-time personal finance freelance blogger and virtual assistant. She’s passionate about helping other millennials get started on their financial journey. She blogs about frugality, being happy with less, and tackling student loan debt on Journey to Saving.

 

PART OF

brokeGIRLrich
debtdebs.com-debt-graph


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Debt Deliberations

debtdebs.com-debt-graphI said I would do my debt updates on a regular basis to have good comparatives, so since it’s been a month since the last update, I aim to please!

Speaking of which, I wasn’t too pleased about the chart format that I’ve used in my debt updates so far.  I decided to change it up, but what with getting distracted analyzing the numbers, having 2 (only 2!) glasses of wine last night and spending time researching alternatives for front lawns (other than grass!), I’m still not sure if I like what I’ve got.  But anyhoo, here goes…. and I may exercise my women’s prerogative to change her mind later.

Debt Decline

The colourful graph above is based on the figures in the chart further below for actuals this year up to June, combined with a projected forecast for the remainder of the year. Since I just created this forecast by type of debt today, I don’t have any past forecasts, but I plan to chart the actual achievement against the above forecast, so I can see if we are on track for debt repayment.

We actually averaged just over $60K annual debt repayment for the two years ended March 2014, which was pretty awesome.  I wanted to compare how we are doing so far this year, and was wondering if we will be able to similarly, pay off $60K for this year.

On a fiscal year 2014 annual basis, my forecast shows us just shy of this at $56,871.   The next topic will give you a little clue as to why that is.  Still, it’s in the ballpark, so I’m not going to fret about it too much.  So we will push to meet the $60K and also set a stretch goal of $65K.  Now wouldn’t that be awesome?

Debt Increase

See the little dip up in March?  You almost missed it, didn’t you?  That is due to an extremely large credit card bill of $5K which included $3K for The Irishman’s annual insurance premium.  This, coupled with the fact that due to his lower than normal income in Q1, meant we could not pay as much debt off as planned.

But looks like we are back on track!  After only one week in June so far, he’s earned $900 which is only $300 short of his biweekly target of $1,200.  Any extra that he makes above the monthly minimum of $2,400 goes into debt repayment, over and above what we have already planned.  If that works in our favour, the future graphs that you see like the one above should show the forecasted debt repayment diverging from the actual debt repayment.  One can only hope!  And pray!  And work hard!!!

Spending impacts on Debt

I also watch our monthly spending against budget, as this is one of the key elements to be able to make debt repayment as planned.  I’m not going to do a budgeted expense analysis here today, but that could be something I cover in the future.

Bugs-expert-adviceI got  a lot of great feedback in my last post asking about what we should focus on next in our debt repayment journey.   Thank you all for your responses!  :-)    I really appreciate you taking the time to do so.  Sometimes, you just need an outsider’s perspective, when you get so embedded in the muck and can’t see the forest for the trees and start floundering, as I like to say.

So many said to lower the grocery bill and cut the cable.  My investing buddies were also big on opening our own investment accounts and managing our portfolios on our own.   Well guess, what?  We’re going to do all three of them!!  Look for more on these topics, which for us, will be quite challenging for various different reasons.  Of course, some will take more time than others to execute, but that’s why we call this a journey!

Detailed Debt Analysis

We’ve paid down debt to the tune of $28,771 this year so far and the trend of decline of debt continues since we first started our debt recovery journey.  The figures below show every month this year and the first column is from our D-Day.   Yesterday was the 70th anniversary of D-Day and I had it on my mind all day.   There’s nothing that can be done about the past, but we need to learn for the future, and remember all those who fought for our freedom.  I mean no disrespect calling our Debt Discovery Day our D-Day.  It feels both catastrophic and liberating, which could also be said about June 6, 1944.  For this reason, I felt it fit, and, let’s face it, there’s a whole lotta double ‘D’s’ going on here and that’s all I’m going to say about that.

Onward to the analysis, our freedom awaits us!

debt-repayment-journey

Notice there is a big time gap between Mar 2012 and Dec 2013. I wasn’t tracking in the same manner so I don’t readily have those figures. It was only when I started this blog in March 2014, that I pulled together the ‘big picture’. It was quite satisfying actually to look back at the progress.

Normally we are scheduled to pay approximately $1,600 biweekly towards debt.  Although not all of it goes to principal, it’s all at low rates, the highest being 2.89%.  In addition, we also pay $177 biweekly for a car payment at 0% interest.  So I guess you could say we pay in total about $1,750 every two weeks.  In addition, we try to pay an extra $2K per month, on top of that, but that is being extremely aggressive and assumes that The Irishman makes more than the minimum $2,400 budgeted per month.  So in a low month we would pay $3,500 towards debt and upwards to $5,500, but even as I write this, that seems surreal, so don’t quote me (yet! :o )  Notice how in February and March the reduction was not even meeting the $3,500, due to the lean Q1 period!

Diversion

I know that some of these figures may seem quite high to some readers, and you may think, gee, I wish I had that much money to throw at my debt.  I even wince sometimes when I present these numbers, because I think that people will say “Meh!  First world problems”.

Let me just say this, it’s all relative.  Meaning that my debt numbers are a lot higher than most of what I’ve seen publicly out here on the internet.   In addition, I think at $2,400/month, The Irishman is more middle to lower income, or certainly is not paid enough for how hard he works!

We are a lot older than most personal finance bloggers and should be retiring soon.  He is 61 and I am 54.  Yes, I know, with our income level, we are stupid to even get into this mess that we’re in.

But here’s the thing.  If we can get ourselves into this state, there is a whole lotta other people out there who are probably dancing at the devil’s door too.  Lifestyle inflation, wants not needs, call it what you want… but I’m here to tell you that if you take your eye off the ball and say “I deserve”, you will be facing the music at some point too.   My message is to prevent people from making the same ridiculous mistakes and help those who have fallen like we have.

Delta Dialogue

Okay, sorry for that diversion.  I just felt I needed to get it out there.  So back to my analysis.  The decrease from March to April, was due to payment of the big credit card bill mentioned above ($5K).  In April, The Irishman got a big commission, so we were able to play catch up and pay down our low-rate credit card to the tune of $6K, which is why the May figure is so much lower.  In May, we were able to ramp the payment back up on the low rate balance transfer credit card to $2K, on top of our normal debt repayment of $1,750 biweekly.  There is also one extra $1,600 mortgage payment in the June 6 balance, as our mortgage was paid yesterday.

So all in all, I think we are back on track.  The annual target of $60K is not in the bag by any means at this point.  We’ve still got 4 years to go.  My planning has us at May/June 2018 having it all paid off.  My stretch target is December 2017, but that is only a pipe dream at this point.

Diatribe on Dialect

I was cleaning up some things on my blog and noticed I should review my SPAM folder in case any legitimate comments got unintentionally put there.  But, nope, all SPAM and I decided I should delete all comments there because there was getting to be quite a few, and it would make future reviews much easier.  Before I did, I saved a few gems that are pretty representative of most of them, but some genuinely more humorous than others.  Url’s provided have obviously been removed by moi, some pointing to running shoe sites, or lewd sites and other things I can’t even recall.  It’s so obvious with most of these comments that English is not their first language, and some genuinely try and are better than others.  Anyways, I will dissect these comments in my own snarky manner, just because.

how to grow taller when your 14

An intriguing discussion is definitely worth comment.
There’s no doubt that that you ought to write more about this topic, it may not be a taboo subject but generally people
do not speak about such issues. To the next! Kind regards!!

how to grow taller when your 14”  Oh, the poor guys who googled this phrase.  Doesn’t your heart just melt for them?   This English in this one is actually probably the best I’ve seen in SPAM, even though the words and sentence structure is rather awkward.  I just love the the second last phrase though “To the next!”  Like ‘onward and upward‘ or ‘high ho cheerio!’.  Had me giggling. :-D

Richardsamuelmd.com/2011/11/22/how-to-treat-mild-Eczema/

It is the best time to make a few plans for the long run and it’s time
to be happy. I have read this publish and if I may just I want to counsel you few fascinating things or advice.
Maybe you could write next articles regarding this article.

I wish to learn more things approximately it!

Oh, a medical related one.  I’ve probably googled “How to treat mild eczema” myself once.  Oh, I hope I don’t invite the SPAMLORDs in now.  Again, this one is not too too bad, until the end when he says “I wish to learn more things approximately it“.  Good sword, I can’t even think what word the good doctor even meant to use here.    Anyways, you keep learning new things there on your {internet} rounds there, Dr. Samuel.  Don’t come by here though.  Nothin’ to learn here.  Glad I’ve got my good buddy akismet on my side!

Lop Bunny


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Debt Update – The Bears are Beating the Bunnies

Is this how you feel while clawing your way up while paying off your debt?

*To view this video on YouTube Click here

Sometimes it does for me too.  When it does, what better time to do a recap and look back at your progress?

This gives me a lift.  Plus, I get to write snarky comments for each of my piles of debt which is funny in my head.   They have taken on animated caricatures as I wrestle with them month over month.  They cannot try and hide and multiply like a bevy of rabbits anymore.  Not that I don’t think these are adorable, but I know because my daughter has one, rabbits can do a lot of damage.

So ya, I’m da boss now, clawing like a bear.  Bunnies go forth and multiply somewhere else.  :D
Lop Bunny-debt-update*Image courtesy of SOMMAI / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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