Okay…new direction (again)

When I started this blog, my intention was to cover the theme of resolutions and other…well…stuff.  Hence the name of the blog.  My original idea was try out the various pieces of advice out there for making yourself happier and be the guinea pig for those pieces of advice and then write about my experiences.  Then as the new year approached, I decided that since I’m resolving to deal with my family’s debt situation, it would be fun to write about our experiences and efforts in our journey out of debt.  But I realized that our strategy for paying off our debt was not going to make for much writing material.  We’re going to stick to a budget and if successful, our bonuses and tax returns will gradually lower the debt.  An occasional blog post will cover that.  Then I thought…well, what other challenges do we face that I could write about?  Control!  We lack control over our lives.  We’re extremely busy and it is very difficult to get control over our chaotic lives.  So, I decided to write about our efforts to deal with that issue.  But…the control issue involves too many private details that I don’t want to discuss and to be honest, I wasn’t that enthusiastic about writing on the subject anyway.  So, after giving it some more thought, I’ve decided to write about……..silver linings.  Good things, positive things, the lemonade being made out of lemons.  What do I mean?

Our lives are filled with things to complain about.  We can each rattle off a list of irritants and hardships ranging from very trivial to very serious.  It is easy to dwell on these things.  In the midst of difficulty (and frankly, just plain ordinary life), it easy to miss the bright spots, the blessings and the good things all around us.  I am generally a happy person but I still fall into the trap of getting consumed with the bad things that are going on in my life and forgetting the blessings.  It is easy to go into a funk and see the world through a very narrow lens.  My goal is to keep my eyes open to the good around me and write on it.  I need this for my own mental health and perhaps you do too.  We live in troubling times and it is becoming increasingly important to maintain a positive, balanced perspective.

So, I’m going to write about good things.  Sound good? ;-)

And here’s the kicker…if I don’t have writing material for this subject, then I am in BIG trouble!!  Right?

Right.

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Control

There are two kinds of New Year’s Resolutions that I make each year – official and unofficial.  Official resolutions are the resolutions that I write down and follow the rules in the resolution tips that I posted in November and December.    Unofficial resolutions are ones that I make that I don’t obligate myself to – either because I’m not yet ready to commit to them or because I’m not really sure how to make it happen.  Dieting is one of those.  I’m a thin person and have never been in a situation where I needed to lose weight.  However, I’ve finally reached a point where I need to change my diet.  It is not for weight reasons but because I’ve recognized that my diet is just not that healthy.  So, why did I not make an official New Year’s Resolution to deal with the diet issue?  Because I honestly do not know enough about the subject to make a good resolution out of it.  I do recall making resolutions in two separate years to eat a certain amount of vegetables and fruits each day and did pretty well with it.  But a complete overhaul of the diet?  Need to research that one.   But another reason I did not make an official resolution out of it is that I will be doing this with my wife, who is also overhauling her diet.  So, you might say that I am joining her in her resolution.

Now, my point isn’t to talk about “official” vs. “unofficial” resolutions or to talk about diets.  I mention the above as a prelude to the overall subject of control.  The past few months have illustrated for both of us the need for control.  Control over our diet, control over our finances, control over our careers, control over how we raise our kids, control over how we use social media, control over the use of our time, etc.  We live in a crazy world where a million things are screaming for our attention from every direction.  On top of that, we have the responsibilities and demands of taking care of and raising young children.

This blog started as a blog about resolutions and trying out proven happiness-inducing ideas.  Then it became a blog that would chronicle our path out of debt.  Now it is becoming a blog that will not only cover our journey out of debt but will also cover our journey to free ourselves from all the things that are holding us in bondage.  How do we get control over our lives in a crazy world?  This blog will chronicle our attempt to do just that.  Enjoy!

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Gilroy, CA – Budgeting!

Well, we have regressed.  Well, not really.   As discussed in the last post, our credit card activity consists of a bunch of expenses followed by a lump payment.  So, our journey is going to be a little disjointed.  I’m trying to figure out a way to have the credit card payments keep pace with the expenses so that we have a better feel for our actual progress.  There will be a back and forth element to it, but when you start seeing cities from northern Oregon or Washington, you know that we have made some actual progress.

The truth is that we have made real progress in that we have come up with a budget.  I put it together last weekend with input from my wife.  It was basically an updated version of what we had before, but what counts is that it was updated and is currently providing a way to measure our expenses.  How are we following it?  On mint.com.  Check it out.  It’s a great site and I highly recommend it.  It also has an app that you can download to your smartphone.  I love the app!   Today I paid cash for a lemonade at Wetzel’s Pretzels and immediately entered the transaction into my phone.  So, are expenses are now being tracked and they are being compared to an actual budget.  This step will probably be the most significant step we take in our entire journey.

Also, I enlisted the help of my 5-year old daughter.  I explained to her as best as I could what a budget is and what we are doing.  She enjoyed typing in the budget amounts on the Mint.com website and enjoys sitting with me while we look at the recent transactions picked up by Mint and making sure they are hitting the right categories.

Well, that’s it for now.  On to Oregon!

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Williams, CA – Major Progress! Or was it?

Well, today is Sunday, January 5th and we have already made it past Sacramento!  We are cooking!!  We are on a pace to be debt-free by Spring!!!  This is great!!!!

Well, sort of.

You see, periodically my wife makes payments to our two credit cards.  They are substantial amounts but they are essentially covering regular costs that we incur.  And in many cases, they are recovering less than the expenses we incurred.  So, our “progress” is not really progress.  In baseball terms, it’s kind of like when the weak-hitting shortstop on your favorite team hits two home runs in the first week.  He is on pace to hit 52 home runs but you know that, unless he’s juicing big time, he ain’t gonna hit anywhere close to the 52.  In fact, he may hit only 5.  We are the weak hitter in this analogy.

So, the progress is fake.  But….but….I don’t want to go back to Camarillo!  I want to keep going.  Fake progress or not, we are in between Williams and Willow, CA and I do not want to go back.  This fact alone is motivating me to spend less or put less money on the credit card.  Why?  Because I want to see real progress.

Now, that brings me to a brief discussion I had with my wife last night over dinner.  She was coming down with a bad head cold so the conversation was indeed very brief.  And it was mostly one-sided.  I asked her if we could make a lot of little payments…or something along those lines.  Like a $1 a day or something like that.  In other words, I want to take those periodic payments and spread them out so that our progress is more consistent.  I want to go from 20 steps forward, 19 steps back to 2 steps forward, 1 step back.  I want to see our real progress on a day-by-day or week-by-week basis.

So, our first real step in this journey is to figure out how we’re going to deal with the credit card payment situation and how we can better monitor our progess.

Well, that’s all I have for now.  It may be awhile before we hit Oregon, but we will get there.

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Camarillo, CA – Let’s Go!

Well, the day has arrived.  The bags are packed.  We are ready to hit the road.  Today marks the beginning of our journey to financial freedom.  In this blog, I will be chronicling the process that we will take to get out of the debt trap we are in.  You will get an inside look into the trials and tribulations and the ups and downs that characterize the process of getting in shape financially.

Before we begin, let me tell you a little bit about myself.  My name is……well, I wonder if I should give my real name.  I will have to do some research on whether or not that is a good idea, especially in light of the fact that this blog will be discussing financial stuff.   For now, I am a male.  My wife is, well…good guess…female.  I have two children – a 5 year-old daughter and a 2 year-old son.  We live in Ventura County, CA.  That is key and you will find out why in a minute.   I am a financial analyst by profession.  Not the kind of financial analyst that tells you how to invest your money and manages your portfolio.  Based on the subject of this blog, I obviously don’t know anything about that.   I do like numbers and I know how to analyze, so there will be an element of this process that will be fun for me.  My wife works part-time and wears a lot of hats, so to speak.  My daughter is in kindergarten and my son destroys everything in his path.  We are Christians and so that will play a role because we believe God provides and will be a major factor in how this journey plays out.

We were debt-free when we bought our current home in 2007.   The prevailing wisdom at the time was to “just get into a house.  It may be tight for a few years but you will gradually earn more and more and you will gradually get on your feet in a house that will appreciate in value.”  Well, things didn’t work out quite the way we expected.  The economy tanked.  Annual raises stopped for awhile and have been minimal ever since.  We were hit with expenses that we didn’t see coming.  Shortly after we moved in, we were asked to put in a new fence in our backyard.  We were debt-free but we didn’t have savings, so that immediately hit the credit card.  The cost of having a baby was a lot more than we anticipated.  Before long, the credit card had inflated and continues to inflate to this day.

We have attempted numerous times to make a budget and stick to it, but things happen.  We get busy and gradually forget about it.  And then something will happen to make us get serious about it again.  Life has been a bit crazy the past couple years and it has been very difficult to focus on the financial side of things.  Maybe we weren’t meant to focus on it. Maybe it was the right thing to just trust God for a couple years and take care of other things – “other things” including a very active toddler.  But, right or wrong, it is time to take action.  We are ready to tackle this thing.

So, that is the background.  How long is our journey going to take?  Who knows, but I can tell you at the minute that our credit card debt is currently at $20,790.  Some of you will say, “Wow!” and some of you will say, “Big deal!”.  But due to income restraints and the ever increasing standard of living (especially with children), we have never really been able to make a dent in our credit card bill.  We were able to refinance our house last year (well, its New Year’s Day, so that means it was technically the year before last) and so that is how we have been able to stay afloat.

Now, I’ve decided that I am going to translate our journey into geographical terms.  The starting point will be the middle of Ventura County – Camarillo, CA.  Our end point will be the Statue of Liberty in New York.  Why the Statue of Liberty? Because it represents freedom.  The route that we will take there will not be a straight shot.  We will travel to the northwest corner of Washington and then all the way to Miami, FL.  From Miami, we will make our way up to the Statue.  After we have arrived in New York, we will travel back home.  The route home will represent everything you are supposed to do after getting out of debt – saving, investing, etc. (i.e., the 3rd through 7th baby steps in Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover).  Were there 7 steps?  I can’t remember.  Anyway, that is the plan.  And according to my calculations, each dollar will represent 3.48 miles.  So, every time I make a blog post, you will be able to see or envision geographically where we are in our journey.

Well, I believe I’ve said enough for now.  It’s time to head out.  Financial freedom, here we come!

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Preparing For The Journey

Well, 2013 is coming to a close and so this is probably my last post of the year.   There are two things I need to talk about before we head into 2014.  First, is to give you an update on my Christmas resolution, stopping to smell the Christmas roses.  Second, is to remind you of what this blog is going to be about in the coming year.

Regarding Christmas, I do not have a day-by-day recap to give you but I can tell you that most days had something Christmasy in it.  My parents live in a neighborhood that has turned into a Candy Cane Lane and we enjoyed walking/driving through that neighborhood on several occasions.  We attended a Christmas program and a Christmas Eve service.  We listened to more Christmas music than we ever have before – to the point where I was starting to get tired of it.  I had a holiday luncheon at work.  I played Christmas songs last weekend as part of the worship band at my church.  I attended two Christmas programs at my daughter’s school.  And today I enjoyed one more family Christmas get-together.   When I take down the tree this year, I will have no regrets over having let Christmas fly by without enjoying it.  What I’m coming to realize is that with two kids, Christmas is getting bigger and bigger each year and harder and harder to ignore.  In retrospect, there was no need to force anything.  You see?  Sometimes resolutions are easy!

The second thing that I need to mention is that this blog will be changing next year.  Beginning in January, this blog will take you on a journey into the life of a family trying to get out of debt and get financially healthy.  I have deliberately avoided discussing the topic with my wife and have not made any plans for budgeting during the new year.  All of that will be done and documented during the next year.  I’m not sure how this is going to go or what my motivation level will be. I do not know how busy I will be next year, but I’m going to take a crack at it and we’ll see what happens.

Now…..on to 2014!!!

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Resolutions And Stuff – 2014

In my initial blog post and in at least one other post, I mentioned that this blog was going to be dedicated (at least for awhile) to trying out all the things that are supposed to make you happy.  Newspaper articles or columns, internet articles, books, etc. all have great advice and tips on how to be happier or how to make your life better.  Instead of reading those things and saying to myself, “I’ll have to try that” and then doing nothing, I wanted to actually follow those little pieces of wisdom and then write about what I experience.

Well, there has been a slight change of plans.  I mentioned in one of my resolution tips that my resolution for the next year was going to be to get my family out of debt or to at least make good headway in that direction.  After giving it some thought, I thought it would be a great idea to blog about the process that we will be taking to get financially healthy.  I believe that such a blog will allow people to see the process it takes to do something big like this and it also holds us accountable to staying on track with our goal.  And being that financial freedom is a huge source of happiness, I am technically following my original intent for the blog.

And so, beginning in January, you can check in to see where we are in our journey to financial well-being.   Looking forward to seeing where this goes!

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Christmas Update

In my last post, I talked about how I was going to “stop and smell the Christmas roses”.  I decided that I was going to do something unique each day to take in the season.  I don’t want to take the decorations down after Christmas and lament that I let the busyness of life keep me from enjoying this once-a-year time period that I look forward to each year.  So, how did I do this past week?  Let’s find out….

Saturday December 7th: Took my family to the 2nd Annual Dickens Christmas Festival at Simi Covenant Church in Simi Valley, CA.  The church grounds inside and out were decorated to look like 19th century England.  Had fun, although we got there later than we would have liked and it was colder than what we are used to.  Now, I need to mention that we had this event on our calendar long before I made my enjoy-the-season commitment.

Sunday December 8th: Sang Christmas songs at church.  Hey, it counts.

Monday December 9th: Listened to Christmas music in the car.  I do this everyday but did nothing else Christmasy this day.  Today I will play the Christmas music-in-the-car card.

Tuesday December 10th: Sorry.  December 10th was a non-Christmas-acknowledging day. Did listen to music in the car but already used that.

Wednesday December 11th: Workdays are proving to be a challenge.  I did do a little Christmas shopping for a work gift exchange.

Thursday December 12th: Attended my daughter’s Christmas program.  She and the other members of her kindergarten class did a great job.

Friday December 13th: Christmas luncheon and gift exchange at work.

Saturday December 14th: Took my 2 year-old son to see our city’s Christmas parade.  We weren’t able to be there for very long but it probably was long enough to fit the attention span of toddler.  His favorite thing in the parade was the trash can being wheeled behind the horses to pick up the poop.  Yep.  Afterward, it was off to a day of Christmas shopping with my wife.  I don’t mean stopping by the store to pick up a couple of things.  I mean, real Christmas shopping. Later in the evening I showed my two kids Charlie Brown Christmas.

It wasn’t a perfect week, but all in all I think Christmas was celebrated this past week.   We’ll try to keep the momentum going into the next week.

 

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Stop To Smell The Christmas Roses

As I mentioned in my very first post, I am going to be trying out all the happiness-inducing tips or suggestions that you would find in magazine articles, newspapers, blog articles, etc. and then write about my experiences with them.  You’ve run across these articles from time to time and so you know what I’m talking about.  But before I sit myself in front of the Google pond and throw out my line to catch my first piece of advice, I am going to just make one up and write about it – you know, as kind of a practice round.  Because it is the season, I figured I would make my first happiness-inducing step related to Christmas.  What I am going to do is…stop and smell the Christmas roses.

What do I mean by that?  Well, I am going to take some time each day to do something, watch something, hear something, related to Christmas.  In other words, I am not going to let the Christmas season go by without taking time to enjoy it.  I am not going to take down the Christmas tree with regret wishing I had done a little more to get into the spirit of the season, that I had watched…..hold on, the gate outside my house is open and squeaking as the wind blows it back and forth.  I don’t mind it, but it’s probably driving my neighbors crazy.  Give me a second………………………………….all right that’s better.  What was I talking about?  Oh yes, I do not want to regret not doing the little things that make Christmas memorable such as sitting down with my kids to watch a Christmas special, walking around the neighborhood looking at decorations and other such things.  So, during the Rose Parade on New Years Day, I will stop to ask myself…did I smell the Christmas roses?

 

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Resolution Tip #6 – Get It Into Writing

The last thing….well, I shouldn’t say last because I might think of something else later on but it is chronologically the last step in making resolutions…the last thing is to get it (or them) in writing.  I’m sure a psychology professor could give you a detailed explanation of why getting a commitment in writing is important to following through on that commitment and cite a number of studies to back it up.  All that this financial analyst knows is that it works.  There is something about writing your resolutions down that increases your sense of obligation to see your commitments through.  That sheet of paper bears witness to your commitment and is a tangible reminder of it.  A commitment that is strictly in your mind can be forgotten or ignored more easily than something tacked to a bulletin board or taped to a bathroom mirror.

Once you have written or typed everything out, sign and date it.  That essentially makes it a contract – a document making your commitment(s) official.  Easy enough, right?  Great!

Well, in the words of Forrest Gump, that’s all I have to say about that.

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