Commitment made to be Debt Free – CHECK

Debt Freedom Plan – CHECK

Family on Board with Plan – CHECK

Workable Budget – CHECK

Bad Habits with Money Changed – CHECK

Preparation for Unexpected Expenses – CHECK

Patience for the time it takes to Pay off the Debt – FAIL

I see the light!  And I want to run towards it, out of this debt tunnel.  But for now, it’s just a waiting game.

The debt that seemed overwhelming in the beginning, has now progressed to an annoyance .  It’s the stain of our past poor financial choices.  The scarlet-letter “D” that sits there as we wait for the paycheck to put another chunk towards paying it down.  We get the paycheck, we pay the bills and then we wait, and wait, for the next paycheck to roll around.  And the cycle continues…

In the meantime we continue to do the right things, we stick to the budget and we forgo impulse buys.   What else is there to do when you’re saddled with debt?

Perhaps I’m being a tad overconfident but we just had a month where: one of our animals required a vet visit, there were three family birthdays (gifts), one christening (gift) and the TV Broke.   We made it through without resorting to credit card use, because we were prepared.

I feel invincible and impatient.  That scarlet “D” is still hanging around as a reminder of the past, but it is no longer representative of how we handle our money.

Our “reasons” for being in debt seem so pitiful now that I hesitate to even write them.  I can see, only in retrospect, they were the root of all our debt:

1)  We really didn’t care.

2)  We took the easy (irresponsible) way out of everything.

It was that simple. All of the excuses that go along with those “reasons” are just that, excuses.  So the “D“,  while annoying is rightfully deserved.

I take being debt free very seriously, but it is hard to keep solemnly caring about it.  We made financial mistakes, we rectified them, we are making slow and steady progress.  Wake me up when we get there.

Our dreams, like travel (paid for with cash), seem attainable.  I look forward to that time, while I begrudgingly wait patiently for that day to arrive.

To those just starting to get out of your money mess, it does get easier, in fact in gets downright BORING.  (But in a totally good way.)

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When you finally make a plan to get out of debt it is easy to succumb to irrational exuberance and put yourself right back where you started. 

This is my third attempt in two years to pay off our debt and this time I think I have it right.

Failure #1 –  A Sloppy Budget:

I never fully took control of expenses.  I basically just added up the bills and thought “OK – I’m done – There is my budget”.  But I underestimated costs of necessary reoccurring expenses.  For example – I’d budget $200 grocery shopping and spend $200 on groceries.  That’s all well and good but we’d run out of milk, bread or whatever and my budget never accounted for those in-between trips.   I also did not get rid of obvious money-suckers (IE premium cable).  Nor did I take the time to call my creditors/insurance companies/cable co. and request interest rate/premium reductions.

FIX – Why I hope the budget will not fail now:

I took a lot of time and many weeks carefully combing through the bank statements to find the true amount we really spend so we have an accurate picture for the budget.   I feel confident I’m not just blindly coming up with budget categories and sticking some number, any number in there. We cut a lot of unnecessary expenses.  We called every place we get a bill from and tried to get the payments or interest rates lowered.  And in MOST cases it worked, lower expenses = more money.

Failure #2 – Tried to do Too much too fast.

When the credit card bills rolled in I’d throw an $100-$200 at the payment.  I was so excited to be making a dent in amount we owe!  But days before payday when we ran out money (because of my sloppy budget) we would have to put diapers or a doctor visit or birthday gift (or all of the above) on the credit card.  We would be back to square one and sometimes in a even worse situation.

FIX  – Slow and Steady.

I am resigned to fact that it did not take a couple weeks to get in debt and it will be a marathon not a sprint to get out.  With careful and realistic planning being debt-free will happen.  Just not overnight.  If there is extra left over in the checking when payday comes THEN we can put that towards the cards.

Failure #3  – Not Expecting the Unexpected.

With no buffer in the budget or small emergency fund, unplanned expenses would HAVE to be put on a credit card.  These small setbacks were so deflating that this when I would often give up on the get-out-of-debt plan.

FIX – “Broken Window Fund”

Now that the budget is realistic and I am committed (but not irrationally over-eager to pay off the credit cards) we set up a small fund for all the little setbacks that happen in real life.

Plan Weaknesses – The “Emergency Fund”

It’s going to take a long time for us to save up the recommended 3-6 month living expenses most people say it smart.   I just have to cross my fingers here and hope for the best.   I put away what we can put away.  It’s the best we can do right now.  I think saving 1 month is worthy goal for now and if the “new plan” pans out I can revisit this later.

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You would think that the financial reasons as well as the emotional reasons to get out of debt would be enough motivation to simply get out debt.

But it’s not the case. Like the struggles and setbacks many people have with weight loss the road to financial freedom is much the same. There is no one to hold you accountable to the debt reduction commitment but yourself and (hopefully if you’re in a shared financial relationship) your partner.

I love reading Personal Finance blogs. Blogs like Get Rich Slowly, Frugal Dad and Dave Ramsey are some of the best known and deservedly most well respected. They are great places to learn tips on getting out of debt, how to cut expenses and are a tremendous resources for all things finance. Those blogs and other blogs like them convinced me I could do this. It could be done. They did it. They are proof.

But most of these people are so ahead of our family in the game that is hard not to feel like I’m at the starting gate and they are getting close to the finish line. It is sometimes frustrating reading how far they have come while I’m still working on getting a realistic and workable budget together.  And it’s extremely tempting to just give up at times.  No one said it would be easy, it’s not.  I don’t expect to be.   But…

I want someone to commiserate with, give me moral support and keep me accountable to the “get out of debt” goal. I know the financial things I need to do get out of debt but I’d love some emotional support as well. Someone in a similar boat. As psychologists know incentives help you reach your goals.

So here it goes:

Family of 5 in debt seeks fellow “debt buster family”. We have made many money mistakes but are committed to getting on budget. Looking for someone to share setbacks with and someone to cheer our successes. Will do same for you. We know how tough it is when you scrimped together that extra $100 to finally put away and your child gets sick and you need that money for the co-pay and prescription. Will not judge but will not enable either.

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Now that we are serious about knocking out the Credit Card debt (all $11,216 of it) we are faced with a really tight budget. I’m hoping it doesn’t come down to rationing toilet paper. It makes me sick to look at the interest we pay monthly on the credit cards, knowing that all those stupid purchases (and bad planning) over the years are why we are in this position now.

Saving extra money to throw at the credit card debt is good but is a slow slog and (in keeping with reason we are in this mess, the “I want it now!” mentality) ” I want this debt GONE NOW!”

I’m willing to do what it takes to get out of debt. But I don’t want to make stupid mistakes or miss smart opportunities. This got me thinking where is there “extra” money we can throw at this debt?  The 401k contributions?

Is it good idea to stop contributing to the 401k and use that money to pay off the debt faster?

This exact question was posed over at the Frugal Dad site.  The consensus seemed to be: If it will take more than 18-24 months to pay off your debt you should  contribute up until the employee match of your 401k.   Frugal Dad himself said, that is was a personal decision…

I already had lowered the contribution down to the company match last month to cover the Health Insurance Premium increase. I worry about retirement because as a SAHM I’m contributing nothing (monetarily).  No 401k, no Social Security, no pension – my husbands retirement contributions will have to cover two people. *sigh*

I’ve decided to leave it as is for now, everyone is allocated 5 squares a day…

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So all our debt adds up to $226,000, but how does it break down?

HOUSE – $177, 778

CAR (really an ultra-dorky minivan) – $8,555

STUDENT LOANS – $23,551

PERSONAL LOAN – $4,900

CREDIT CARDS – $11,216

I’ve heard people slice up their debt as Good Debt vs Bad Debt , but really when your paying out more in interest a month than you spend on your food budget for three months, it’s badder than bad debt……worser debt?  ha.