Where was that millionaire’s manual?

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I peered over my youngest child’s shoulder as she opened a financial aid letter from the private college she’ll be attending in the fall. It was a notice about the student loan offer that was part of her financial aid package. (There’s an oxymoron.) “No, we’re not doing that,” I said to her. “But then,” she asked, “how will we afford my college?” “I’m saving our pennies,” I said. “You are not going into debt.”

My oldest had already accrued some debt before I woke up to our financial nightmare and started getting it together. I’ll pay that at the end of the line, after cash flowing both their college costs, paying off all our credit card debt and car loans. Then there will still be the HELOC and the mortgage. Still, we should be totally debt free in a little over five years.

Yep, I’m hell bent on living on a budget, paying cash for college, and paying off the nearly $662,000 in debt we accrued over the years.

I can’t believe how stupid my fella and I had been. As I’ve written, two decades ago we inherited a million bucks. An inheritance like that should come with an owner’s manual. It would include tips like these:

  • Put the money in mutual funds.
  • Don’t touch the principle except to buy real estate.
  • So don’t take out a mortgage.
  • Live on your income, not the proceeds from the investment, much less the principle.
  • In fact, live on a budget so you can still add to your investments.
  • And don’t borrow a dime.

Well, there was no manual, but we should have had enough sense to seek out some good advice. Fortunately, we did roll over a good amount into some IRAs so we weren’t left with nothing after all our stupidity.

As Dave Ramsey says, now’s the time to stop looking in the rear view window and start look ahead. It’s going to be fine.  I found me some sense before it was too late. I’ve written my own manual. If all goes well, we’ll get back that million and then some.

 

En Route…

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Greetings from another airline club, a leftover perk from my pre-austerity days. I am heading to a small eastern European country for a conference. In order protect my secret identity I can’t tell you where. Suffice it to say that the cost of a meal out is about the cost of a New York diner. That should narrow things down.

At this point in my academic year, with all the traveling I’ve been doing, I’ve got less than $1500 left in my research account. And I’ve got this European trip and one more. Airfare is already covered, so that leaves hotel, food, and taxis.  In years past, I wouldn’t blink an eye and just say, well, whatever exceeds funds can be a tax write off. I have tax-written-off expenses to the tune of tens of thousands of dollars. Good-bye to that rationalization.

So for this trip I have budgeted $280 of my own money for a week of inside the city travel and meals. Even though it’s a work trip, I’ve used miles to make the most of my diminishing research budget, which can still cover my lodging. That lodging includes a lovely breakfast which is oh so much better than what is billed as a “continental breakfast” in the United States. American hotel goers, rise up in discontent over that sad bowl of pastries! Maybe I’ll snap a pic and share.

So, yes, I’m traveling for a week in Europe on just $280 of my own money, which I will deduct from my taxes as a business expense, but not a dime more. Instead of hailing Ubers, I plan on walking a lot. Instead of picking up the tab for my colleagues, I’m going to order modestly and pay just my part. I’m going to make use of the local markets to keep food in my fridge for mid-day and late-night snacks, including maybe some cheap eastern european wine.

I am hoarding the rest of my research funds for my next trip in June to another European country, this time on the Mediterranean. More on that later.

P.S. So that the family would not go crazy in my absence by shopping at Whole Foods, I cooked ahead and bought cheap stuff with meal plans tacked to the fridge. I thought of installing a secret camera to spy on them but ran out of time.

Dear Blog…

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I am trying so hard but not trying so hard. I confess that today I bought a bottle of 12-year-old Macallan whiskey, a deal compared to the 18-year-old. Even I am not going to chuckle at that. It seemed so necessary! After all, I can’t go shopping for new clothes so the only way I’m going to get any different clothes is to drop a pant size so I can wear all those other clothes hanging in my closet that I bought knowing full well that they didn’t fit but maybe they would — and they’d be so fabulous — when I lost five pounds. So now I am trying to lose those five (ahem, maybe fifteen) pounds to get into all those fabulous clothes in my closet. I’m doing keto, that is, scant carb, so Macallan at zero carbs is perfect.

This, dear blog, is how one rationalizes things when one is off one’s rocker. It really does seem like I need that Macallan since wine, however cheap, racks up the carbs. Maybe that bottle will cost less per night than wine does. Maybe, maybe not. The point though is that I am losing my resolve. I just spent 62 bucks on a bottle of booze that could have fed my family for nearly a week. No wonder that the credit card debt keeps hovering at the same place.

Still, the one good part of this is that I am putting this all on my debit card, not a bit on credit. The piper has to pipe right now and not pay later. So that’s a very good thing.

But still I need to stop rationalizing away my insanity.

Getting Sloppy

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I went into a consignment store today to consign a couple pairs of expensive shoes I never wear. Good, But then I started flipping through the racks of clothes. What am I doing, I thought, but I kept doing it. I pulled out a matte gold jacket, like I would ever wear such a thing. I tried it on and it fit, but it wasn’t fabulous. I put it away. And I got out of there real fast.

This is my year of no shopping, damn it. No shopping for clothes, bags, jewelry, or shoes.

A few weeks ago I was visiting my mom, who knows about my k’bosh on shopping so she said she’d buy me something. No, you don’t need to do that I said, hoping she would anyway. We went to Macy’s. I hate Macy’s. The second floor is less tawdry than the first. There I found a very serviceable blouse that I thought could see me through a lot of travel. Strangely, I kind of fell in love with it. But mom balked at the $89 price tag. Really? So I said never mind and we played guilt trips all around until we went to TJ Maxx where she bought me three nice tops for less than the price of that Macy’s one.

I’m humiliated. My year of no shopping needs to include no one shopping for me either. And I need to hold fast. No passing my hands over the clothes at the consignment store. Mind my own closet.

I’m also getting sloppy about grocery shopping. I’ve stopped eyeing and comparing every single price. I do it about half the time, but the other half I let it slide. This is dangerous. Danger, Will Robinson, I’m getting sloppy.

The Good Life

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I am living better. I don’t have to freak out when a big bill comes, cause I’ve got some money set aside. Yes, I still have more than $80,000 in credit card debt. But I am making progress. When I started this journey at the end of December, I had $107,000 in credit card debt, not to mention all the other consumer and kids’ parent loan debts. All told, I’ve paid off $27k in credit card debt, and a total of $34k in all non-house debt — in less than five months! And I’ve got enough in the bank to pay for May’s expenses and enough in the college fund (which I only started in March) to pay for summer and then fall tuitions for two kids, one at a state U and another at a small liberal arts college (and both with decent scholarships to offset the cost).

And I can still hang out at the airline club for about the cost of what I will charge the company for dinner.

The big difference between before — when I was getting poorer and more in debt every day — and today, when I am getting more out of debt and more awesome every day, is this simple thing called….

BUDGETING!

Those letters that before I’d run away from screaming, letters that seemed to spell out misery and DEPRIVATION. Dear readers, these letters are your FRIEND.

Before every month begins, give every dollar a duty. Every single dollar. (Thanks Dave Ramsey.) The name for some dollars could be a week of debauchery with your besties on a Greek island. (So long as it is with money in your bank, never on a credit card.) That can fit perfectly nicely in a budget. You decide. But you need to decide and not let the vagaries of life rob you of your money. A budget puts you in charge. Then the good life is yours.

____

Pic above: me at the Delta Club at Laguardia using the cool Waterlogue app.

Growing Up

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This is the hard part. The agonizing slow part. Socking away money to cash flow kids’ college — and we are smack in the middle of that — and still trying to pay off debt. I made a promise to myself back in December that I was going to get out of all this debt and stop incurring any more. And with our income it would be obscene to let the kids rack up student loan debt.

So we are on a budget. The fella is getting the message — don’t put the beer you grab on the way home on a credit card! — but he still uses credit cards for business expenses, eventually reimbursed, but this makes my bookkeeping self go crazy. (I have a separate corporate card.)

Saving to pay cash for college has seriously slowed down the debt payoff. But praise be that come July I can send a big fat payment to both kids’ colleges, including the small liberal arts college my youngest has just decided to attend. This is huge. I never imagined I’d be able to do this. I was in such denial I never even thought about how we were going to get the kids through college. What was I thinking? Why, I wasn’t even thinking!

Even with the slowdown, I think I can get us out of credit card debt by early 2020, less than two years from now.  And the kids will be debt free.

It is nice to finally grow up. Me, I mean, not them.

Broke

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Broke is a relative term. Us, broke? How can we be broke with over $18,000 in the bank and a net worth of almost $400,000?

Because despite that net worth we’ve still got about $620,000 in debt, including house; two kids to get through college right now, not later; and only a bit over a decade before retirement. The only way we’d see any of that net worth today is if we gave up our house and our retirement accounts. So I’m living like I’m broke, which brings me to how I got on this journey.

A year of no shopping! No more clothes, shoes, bags, or jewelry. That led me to realize that our troubles were much worse than the occasional shopping spree. I was spending upwards of $2400 a month on groceries. So no personal fashion shopping has been the easy part. The serious part has been living on a budget, paying off credit card debt, and setting aside money to cash flow college.

But now as spring approaches my closet is looking kind of sad. Everything is black. The t-shirts are kind of ratty. I’ve got white blouses I’ll never wear because I never wear white blouses. My jeans are sad. My little Eileen Fisher pants are losing their elastic — for the third time.  I’ve replaced the insoles on one pair of flats two times already. Whine.

I need to stop complaining. I’ve got over $18,000 in the bank and a net worth of nearly $400,000.