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.


Credit Card Debt Whittling

Here’s a progress report of credit card debt since November, the very worst it had ever been. This is from $106k to $87k

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The madness hit me when I saw $106,000 in credit card debt in November. At first I had hare-brained ideas like, oh, I’ll just quit shopping. Soon I realized I needed to be on a serious budget and grow up.

Now three and a half months later it’s down $19k. Nice! Pat on the back!

But I can do better. And I will. I’m waiting for a consulting income check and a tax refund to knock it down further. Plus I’m going to start setting aside money to pay for kids’ college.

Oh, if only I’d had my head on straight 20 years ago. Regrets. But more important now is conviction and action.


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I feel like a drunk who just woke up in a car parked on top of a railroad crossing. My previous reality seemed so sensible. Go to a store, plunk down a credit card. Harbor a fantasy that I could easily pay for all this.

Every month when I opened the credit card statements I was in a bit of shock that all those little charges, many $10, $20, $30, could add up to thousands. And our $10,000 net monthly income never seemed to have quite enough to cover what we had incurred. So I paid as much as I could, but not all.

And that bit got added to the previous bit and folded into the next bit., which eventually added up to tens of thousands.

Clearly I’m not good at comprehending that small integers can add up to thousands.

And then I woke up on the railroad tracks.

And now I am hyper awake to every little expenditure. If feels so strange. But also it feels just right. No, I am not going to spend five bucks on some organic half and half. No, I’m not going to run off and get a manicure when I am perfectly capable of doing it myself.

I might even wake up enough to decide I can clean my own damned house.

Cash Money, Honey

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In a recent post I laid out three steps I need to take to get out of debt:

  1. Whenever I get a big splash of consulting income (about four times a year) or a tax return, push it to paying off debt.
  2. Every month after paying off bills and before paying any debt, leave enough money in our checking account to have on hand for the month’s spending needs, from groceries to music lessons to the yard guy to out-of-network doctors bills.
  3. Then put the remaining amount toward paying off the cards.

I’ve been doing one and three for years. But two? It never even occurred to me. Since way back, when we had some inheritance, we got in the habit of paying for everything with credit cards and then at the end of the month paying off every penny. Credit cards were simply a convenience. We were what’s known as transactors, though we kept dipping into that inheritance to pay off the cards every month. But then after 2008, that inheritance was gone, except for some retirement accounts.

And so we turned from being transactors into being revolvers, carrying debt that each month got bigger. Whenever I had an influx of income, whether from paychecks or consulting, I’d put as much as I could toward paying off the cards, leaving hardly anything at all in cash for groceries and other spending that month.

Cue the crashing sound of a ten-car pile-up an an icy interstate.

I was so intent on trying to pay things off that I didn’t leave enough for now—for not borrowing now.

On other things, I’m pretty smart. I’ve written lots of books and articles and given keynote speeches around the world. But on money I’m as stupid as can be.

So now, no matter how much I want to see that credit card debt drop in record time, I’ve started a little emergency fund and I’ve left more than enough money in the checking account to see us through the end of the month. Then with the next paycheck I’ll go back through steps one through three, and the next month I’ll do it again.

Patience and the lack thereof

I’ve been driving myself crazy…

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…checking my bank account and Mint every five minutes, seeing if the recent payments I’ve made—which should knock my credit card debt down another $7,800 have gone through yet. I even called the bank and they said that the transactions would go through tonight. Still I check obsessively.

Clearly I have zero patience—surprise! Isn’t a lack of patience a hallmark of someone who racked up so much debt?

Rather than the thing I’m supposed to be doing—actually finishing grading three last papers— and trying not to obsess on my own accounts, I’ve been trying to distract my self by perusing the debtor blogosphere. I love this post from Amanda Page on lessons she learned from paying off more than $42,000 in one year. She writes:

You know all those folks in the personal finance community that I mentioned? Well, a lot of them have done what you’re doing. When I first started my debt payoff journey, I thought, “What if I could pay off all $48,000 in one year?” I thought it would be unheard of. I thought that I’d have to field media calls and that I’d be featured on the TODAY show. (I might be exaggerating a little.) As I got more involved in both my project and the personal finance community, I discovered more and more inspirational stories to read. I realized that the story of rapid debt repayment is no longer novel. More people are taking back their power and paying off their debt. I read these stories and realize that I am not exceptional – and that is a VERY good thing.

I’m feeling kind of lonely with this mind-boggling task of getting out of all this credit card debt. Especially since the last person I’m going to tell is my partner. (Yeah, shoot me.) Why? Because he’d make me give up the cleaning lady. So long as he never cleans toilets, that’s just not happening.

At the moment, I’m not really worried yet about the mortgage or home equity line. There at least we’ve got equity in the house. But I will tackle those as soon as I’m done with this monster.

I’ll close with another snippet from another post by Amanda Page:

Debt Payoff is a Grand Challenge & You Are the Kind Who Pursues Such Things

“I think the folks who go after grand challenges are impatient.” – Peter Diamandus, American Businessman

It’s Okay to Be Impatient As Long As You Stay Disciplined (and keep going)

“I’m not patient – and I’m getting more impatient as I get older – but I am disciplined about writing, and I want that on my tombstone: ‘He wasn’t patient, but he was disciplined.’” – Douglas Coupland, Author of Generation X

How Best to Reduce Credit Card Debt?

I’ve read that there are two schools of thought on paying off credit card debt: (1) paying off the credit cards with the smallest balances first so as to get the satisfaction of seeing a zero balance sooner and (2) paying off as much as possible on the higher interest cards first and leaving just enough to make the minimum payments on the ones with a lower interest rate.

I used to do the first. Not smart, not smart at all. I am now paying on the ones with the higher interest rate first. (And this is after having called all the companies and asked for a lower interest rate. Often they comply.) We’ve got debt on nine credit cards. One with a temporary 0%; three at around 14%; two at 18%; one at 20%; one at 26%; and one at 29%. I’ve just got $800 left on that last monstrous-rate card. I’m about to pay it off in a minute. Next I’ll wipe out the other two in the 20 percentiles ($3,200). And then I’ll take on the ones in the high teens.

Focus. And I’m happy to report that as of this morning, I just got my credit card debt under $100,000.

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It’s highest was about $107,000 in November 2017 and now just two months later it is $98,342. Progress!


Did the Mirapex Make Me Do It?

That I have gotten myself into more than $100k of credit card debt is mortifying. I am ashamed of myself. According to debt relief websites, I seem to be in a very small class. The horror stories are usually with people having half my debt. I’m not enjoying being special.

While there are plenty things I can blame, I am prepared to take full responsibility. But it occurs to me that maybe there is something I am not entirely responsible for, though I don’t like that either.

The one thing in particular I need to consider is this: I have been taking Mirapex or, generically, Pramipexole, for many years for Restless Legs Syndrome (RLS) . I take .67 mg Read More »