Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Digging Out

Snowzilla, Jonas, the Blizzard of 2016 - Call it what you want, baby, but we made it out on the other side!  This snow storm was truly unlike anything I've ever seen in my 37 years.  What was craziest is that the weather folks had this storm pegged for *days* in advance.  The models held steady, the path stayed true, and the snow predictions were pretty accurate, though we had a "boom" scenario with our totals (though they called those amounts, too!).  The DC area ended up with about 2 feet of snow, and out by me we ended up with a final total of 33 inches of snow.  :-o  Yeah, I still can't believe it either, but I have pictures to prove it.  

So I teleworked on Friday because they cancelled my Commuter Bus for the day in anticipation of the storm's arrival.  Luckily my office closed at one so I was off the hook after that.  The snow didn't really start until later in the afternoon, and it took awhile to get going, but once it did...WOW.

We were legitimately snowed in until Monday.  BF shoveled a couple of times on Saturday and we shoveled more on Sunday.  My office (and all the schools, Federal Government) were closed Monday and Tuesday as well.  Some of the schools are out today, too!  At this point we are just digging out. There's so much snow that there's just nowhere for it all to go.  We basically cleared out one lane of our driveway and the other half is filled with all the snow, plus the snow we shoveled.  Our front steps are buried so I'm going in and out through the garage at this point.  

My bus ride into DC was a mess, we got stuck because of it.  Again, there's just too much snow. Some lanes are totally MIA, some turns are just buried and haven't been touched.  Bus stops are a dangerous mess because at many you get out and have to walk in the street b/c there's a huge wall of snow between you and the curb.  

We are hoping for some serious melting for the rest of the week, but mostly holding out hope for the weekend when its supposed to be 50!  Melt, snow, melt!  It was fun while it lasted, but now it's just a pain.  My park and ride lot was full of snow and many parking spaces were missing as a result. Luckily, I think many folks were still staying at home.

We did venture out briefly Monday to go to the store a couple of minutes away.  Parking there was a disaster because of all the huge piles of snow and they obviously hadn't been restocked in the last couple of days.  Beyond that, I didn't get out of the house again for real until this morning!  Rescheduled trainer last night partially because of the snow and partially because I slipped down our staircase inside and missed a couple of steps, landing very hard on my ass and jarring my back a bit. It scared the hell out of me and I was home alone (BF went into work yesterday for a few hours), but some quality time with a heating pad helped, even though I think I was supposed to use ice.  :-o

I may aim to go tonight just to get back in the swing of it.  Also, I think I finally reached my breaking point as far as being homebound.  I was glad to get out this morning and come into the office!

I did get to watch a lot of fun stuff while I was snowbound.  We watched "Straight Outta Compton", which was amazing.  I also finally watched "The Jinx", which was so weirdly compelling and crazy. I watched some Gilmore Girls, the two new episodes of "The X-Files" and a slew of other random stuff.  I also read some magazines (no books :-o), cuddled with BF and the cats and just enjoyed the craziest blizzard I've ever seen.  :-)

Anyway, time to get re-focused back on work.  Cheers to a 3 day work week!  :-)

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Tempering Expectations

I'm a planner.  I'm a list maker.  I'm a mental organizing freak.  Each year in the days before we find out our raises and bonuses, I have to make a concerted effort to avoid planning how to spend money I don't have yet.  Once I get the numbers, though, I'm off and running.  I allocate that money out like it's a science immediately.  Yes, I do factor in more ambiguous expenditures like "Shopping-$200, Trip $500", but the point is that I know where it's all going by the time that money lands in my account.

This year, when I'm placing such a focus on paying my debt off, I'm having to fight extra hard against these urges.  My bonus money is all allocated and I'm very happy with what I've done with it.  I just sent another $800 bucks to a credit card today and it feels amazing each time I can make such a good contribution to rectifying my past mistakes.  I also checked my credit scores today via Credit Karma and my Equifax score went up 16 points in one week based only on paying off one credit card.  I have since paid off another as well as placing a major dent in two others, so I am excited to see how the scores continue to change in the coming weeks and months.  :-)

Right now my thoughts are focused on my taxes.  My W-2 should be arriving next week, and I always file my taxes via Turbo Tax within a day or two.  My mind is working in a million different ways trying to guess what the numbers will be.  I had a large bonus this year, I had an HSA account, pre-tax transportation benefits, etc.  I have no idea how it will all shake out and it's driving my OCD self a bit crazy.  I'm crossing fingers I still get a refund (and a decent refund at that) because that would just be more money to send to my debt, which would help me pay things off even sooner.

It's funny how addictive it can be to pay *off* debt instead of creating debt.  ;-)  With each pay cycle I get closer and closer to that big, fat zero that I've not seen since my credit history started.  The idea that I'm single digit months away from that huge victory is so tantalizing.  Now I just need to be patient and hope that the numbers shake out in a favorable way for my taxes again this year.  With my low ball guesstimating on my refund, I may be able to cut one more card's balance in half, that being the highest interest rate one.  After that it would take one more pay cycle to eliminate it entirely!

I've been using Credit Karma to monitor my progress, and today I downloaded an additional app called Debt Payoff Planner. It helps you to track your debt and gives you specific payment amount recommendations for each month depending on how you want to pay off your debt (highest interest rate method vs. lowest balance method).  I'm going with the highest interest rate because, while it is tempting to reduce my total number of cards I'm paying on, ultimately I feel like it's smarter to pay off the highest interest rate card first.  I am down to three accounts with balances and the lowest balance one is also the lowest interest rate by far.

I know these debt posts are probably super boring, but this is a pretty momentous experience for me and it makes it exciting for me to think about.  :-)  Forgive me, as this shall pass...hopefully sooner than later!  Though do expect a huge, happy dance post upon full payment of my credit card debt. Can't blame me there.  ;-)  My car has been paid off for a couple of years now, so the only debt I will still have is student loan debt, and my ex-H pays that loan since we consolidated them before things went sour, and he agreed to keep that debt in our divorce.  His portion is much, much larger than mine, so it seemed fair considering everything that happened.  So that debt is on my credit report, but it's always paid on time and that's good debt compared to bad debt.

I feel really, really good about what I'm doing right now.  I'm taking responsibility for my past financial missteps and paying for them with my own money.  I am righting my wrongs and taking away a massively valuable life lesson about how easy it is to misuse credit cards, yet how hard it is to pay them off.  By the time my birthday rolls around in June, I should easily be totally credit card debt-free, and that will be the best gift I could ever give myself!

Friday, January 15, 2016

When Logic Wins

So we changed our minds about Florida.  Go figure.  We had priced everything out and by the time we got the flights we wanted (ie not arriving at 1 am) and the room we wanted (an ocean view!) it became so expensive.  It was cheaper to book as a package deal on Travelocity or the like, but those deals required you to pay basically the full price upfront, which was a hefty sum.  We could have done it, but I just kept getting stuck at checkout, ogling that final number and knowing it was just the beginning.  There would be a car rental or other transportation (shuttle, cab), food, drinks, resort fees. We opted out of the cruise because it would have been too expensive, and this wouldn't have been a hugely cheaper option!

We ended up waving goodbye to our dreams of Clearwater Beach and saying hello to a more budget-friendly, local excursion.  It's not white sands and waves, but it will be MUCH cheaper (by more than half) for this girl trying to pay off her debt.  :-)  I plan to send some of the money I was originally allocating for the more expensive trip to my credit card because every little bit helps!

After less discussion and research than expected, we settled on the Poconos.  Does anyone go to the Poconos anymore? I  don't even know.  :-)  But we're going, and I'm actually feeling pretty good about it.  We're renting a chalet in mid-February from a Thursday to a Sunday.  The place is super cute- 4BR, 2 Bath, Fireplace with an outdoor fire pit and a hot tub.  It's an area I've never been to and it's about 4 hours away according to Google Maps.  We are also considering a pit stop in Hershey either on the way there or back since it's on the same route.  Hershey is such a cute little town, and who doesn't love a place that smells like chocolate all the time?!

So yeah, there will be no beach lounging, no fruity drinks at the Tiki Bar, no breathtaking beach view from our hotel.  But there will be more money in our pockets, and we've vowed to go somewhere really lovely for our honeymoon one day to make up for all the little trips we take when we really want to go somewhere more indulgent.  I fully admit to rather loving the little trips, too, though.  It was two years ago in May that we took our first trip to the Shenandoah Valley, where we stayed in a cute little cabin and where we also said "I love you" for the first time.  :-)

I'm glad to have something to look forward to so soon!  That trip will be a nice little belated 2 year anniversary/Valentine's Day escape for us.  We also have tickets to see Kathy Griffin on February 11th, which I'm super excited about!  Lots to look forward to in February, which is nice since it's always such a cold, dreary month.

Happy Friday!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Of Illegal Space Heaters and Cold Winter Mornings

So I think my illegal space heater at work is on its last legs.  It's sad because it is my BFF in the winter, and sometimes in the summer when our building decides that the A/C should definitely be blazing even though I've dressed for the temps outside.  I will definitely have to purchase a new one if this is the case!

This has already been the kind of work week where a) I can't keep track of what day it is and b) all I know is that I'm so grateful a 3-day weekend is on the horizon.  BF does not get the day off, but he does telework every Monday, so I don't feel too bad for him.  ;-)  I'm looking forward to an extra day to sleep in, drink coffee in bed while catching up on some mindless TV.  I do plan to get to the gym that day as well, but mostly the agenda is relaxation!

I'm in the midst of trying to plan various instances of travel for the upcoming months.  I will likely buy my tickets to Omaha for May today for BF and myself.  I usually do this every year with bonus money, just to get it checked off the list.  I am also waiting for the final go ahead from BF about a mini winter getaway in late February.  Our current plan is to go to Clearwater Beach for a long weekend just to find some sun, some beach and some pool time.

We were originally going to go on an April cruise with BF's family, but that fell through in about six different ways.  They're still going, but the cruise they finally decided on is super expensive, Disney and is just not for us.  Then we talked about going to Puerto Rico for 4-5 days, and did a lot of research on the idea.  Ultimately, though, we realized that we were only considering Puerto Rico because it was somewhere new, but no passport was required.  We ended up deciding to save ourselves for the Caribbean vacation we truly want to go on at a later date.  I have dreamlike ideas of a honeymoon in the Bahamas....if we ever get engaged, ha! Anyway, that's our current plan.  The plus to doing Florida is that we can go earlier than we would have for anything else, hence the late February date selection.  BF and I are still planning on our (now) traditional week in the Outer Banks the week after Labor Day, too.  We do love that escape from the real world and I just really enjoy that area.

Beyond that, my gf, A and I have also discussed planning a little long weekend escape from DC sometime this spring.  We're thinking March or April, but we are in the very early planning stages of considering destinations.  I don't want to spend a ton of money since it will be an expensive first half of the year already, but I really hope we come up with something!  We need a cheap flight,  cheap lodging and fun stuff to do for a few days.

One final note is that I'm hopeful that my friend, T, may be able to come visit sometime this year. I got to see her in KC when I went for a friend's wedding, but a longer catch up period is definitely in order!  Cheers to much planning on all of our parts.  Sometimes the planning really stresses me out, but it is always worth it in the end.  :-)

So glad that it is Thursday, which means that Friday is right around the corner.  My Chiefs play the Patriots Saturday afternoon, so that's on the schedule, but I'm starting the day off with a late brunch/early lunch with a couple two girlfriends, which should be lovely.  Always nice to catch up! No plans on Sunday, though we did talk about going to see a newish scary movie called "The Forest". If we do that it would probably be mid-late morning Sunday since we will still want to watch the other playoff football games on Sunday.  ;-)

I hope everyone is having a lovely Thursday that's almost Friday!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

January Musings

It finally feels like winter in the DC metro area, and I'm not a fan!  It was in the low teens when I walked the multiple blocks to work this morning and it was quite miserable.  I put on some leggings underneath my work pants for layering, had on my new, heavy winter coat, gloves and a hat.  Brr. Our low tonight is 11.  :-o  Luckily, it's a fairly brief cold snap this time around and by tomorrow afternoon we're in the 40s.  One more evening and one more morning of freezing my arse least for this week!

We finally finished the last half hour of the last episode of "Making a Murderer" last night.  We'd been done with all the other episodes for over a week.  That show was so fascinating to me, but also maddening.  I've done a lot of online reading about the case since I discovered it and I'm a lot more torn than I was immediately after the show.  I highly recommend checking it out so you can decide for yourself, though I think that full education on the show requires additional research online.  There are lots of differing viewpoints on how the documentary was made and the like.

I watched the season premiere of "The Bachelor" last night.  Oh, those women are crazy, ha!  It's brainless entertainment and I definitely enjoy that after a long day at work.  It's a two hour show, though, and now they're doing an after show every week.  :-o  Too much Bachelor!!

I go back to my trainer tonight after two weeks off for the holidays.  I know I need it, and I know I will appreciate it after it's over, but right now I'm dreading it a little bit.  It will be fine, though, and it will be good to get back in the groove.  Last night I wimped out and only did 30 minutes on the elliptical at home instead of going to the gym.  I just could not fathom going out into the cold again on purpose.

So Sunday was the two year anniversary of my first date with BF.  Craziness!  In some ways it feels like I was single forever prior to him and in others it feels like I've always had him.  :-)  Since we are crazy people beholden by football, our celebration plans have been less than easy.  We originally planned to go out to dinner Sunday night, but then the KC Chiefs game got moved from 1pm to 4:25pm, so we had to stay in and watch that, of course!  By the time that was over, we decided to just grab an easy, in-town dinner and celebrate next weekend.  So we ate Mexican and it was OK, but not anniversary-worthy really.  :-)

We then decided to celebrate similar to how we did last year, which was to book a night at an area hotel with a pool, a hot tub and a room with a big, lovely whirlpool tub.  We were again waiting on NFL playoff scheduling, though, and we thought we got it figured out so we booked.  Then we learned that the Chiefs game is Saturday at 4:40 instead of on Sunday and everything got thrown off again!  That game will last about three hours, and if we wait to leave until after, we're not going to get checked in until around 8, then dinner will be another hour or so, and we'll be left with hardly enough time to take advantage of the pool and hot tub at the hotel!

We're currently trying to sort out our plan, which includes the option of watching the game at the hotel, but's a lot of decision making and I'm not sure it's worth it!  Worst case scenario is that we cancel the hotel and just do the game at home and then go out to the dinner we'd planned originally.  I'm disappointed by the prospect of that option, but at the same time, I'm very invested in my Chiefs and their playoff game, as is BF with the Skins playoff game on Sunday afternoon.  First world problems, I know.  :-)  I realize this makes us (me?) sound crazy also!

Anyway, back to real life, list making, and trying to make myself believe that new gym clothes will make my training session tonight better.  Ha!

Monday, January 4, 2016

New Year, New Beginnings

Happy New Year!  I hope everyone had a lovely New Year's Eve.  :-) The winding down of one year and the beginning of another is always an introspective time for me. I'm not really one for specific, rigid resolutions, as I don't think they often hold much past January.  I prefer to focus on general goals for myself for the future year.  This year I really just have three goals in mind.

Goal #1
Self-care:  Take care of myself.  This includes working out, making attempts to eat smarter, flossing every night, taking my vitamins, regular physicals and health maintenance efforts, and also taking care of my heart, my mind and my soul.  :-)  Yes, a part of me wants to vow to go to the gym X number of times a week, or to lose X pounds by X date, but those kind of specific goals often just make me feel like a failure.  I want to work on the whole thing, and whatever struggles that entails, whatever efforts I need to make, that's my focus.  :-)

Goal #2
Travel: I want to travel this year.  I want to go somewhere new for me, preferably outside of the country, and I want to go somewhere new for BF.  He's not done a ton of traveling, even around the continental US, and I'd love to get him to California this year.  It's a place I love to visit even if I don't think I'm built to live there.  :-)  We were considering a cruise with BF's family, but right now the odds aren't good.  It's a six day cruise, it's insanely expensive, and I'm just not sure it's the right trip for us.  Neither of us have ever been on a cruise and I'd love to go sometime, but this one may just be too long and too pricy.  I do want BF to get a passport so we're ready to go if we find something to do on our own, though.  I have one, but it has never been used, which is sad!

We still plan to do the usual trips like the Omaha visit in May for the family reunion and our Outer Banks beach trip after Labor Day, but I definitely want to focus on expanding our horizons a little bit this year.

Goal #3
Pay off Debt:  Most people don't know that I have a large amount of debt, and it's the bad kind.  I had some debt when I was married, but most of it was my ex-H's.  However, when we split I was used to living a certain way (beyond my means!) and I kept up with it on my own.  I racked up a LOT of credit card debt, and unfortunately, it has stuck around.  Up until last spring when I moved in with BF, I just didn't have a lot of leeway to make significant payments on the debt, so the balances didn't change much except for small lump payments around bonus time and tax time.  Quite honestly, until my move in with BF, I was still relying on credit cards to an unhealthy degree.  Bad, bad, bad, I know.

However, I am proud to say that since moving in March last year, I haven't charged to those credit cards at all.  The only card I have used is the American Express, and that gets paid off in full each month.  I've been able to throw an extra few hundred at my debt each month, and it's made a difference!  Beyond that, I was lucky enough to get an incredibly generous bonus from my Firm on New Year's Eve.  It was above and beyond anything I could have hoped, and even after getting gauged on taxes, I have quite a bit leftover.

As sad as it is to send so much money out to these credit cards, it is amazingly satisfying to watch my debt decrease so significantly.  I paid a couple of the cards off this month, and it was so rewarding!  I also get to decrease the remaining debt a great deal, and I spent a lot of time doing subsequent calculations.  I've determined that my debt can be totally gone in six months maximum, but most likely it will be gone in four months.  :-o :-o

I cannot begin to explain how spectacular that knowledge is.  Reducing the number of creditors has meant increasing the money I can send to the remaining ones.  This bonus has been huge for me and has allowed me to get ahead in ways I never could have otherwise.  I paid my car insurance for the next six months, I paid off all my Christmas spending on the Amex, and I've set money aside for a couple of upcoming expenses.  However, most of it is going to this debt, and that's awesome.  The idea that I could be fully debt free in 4-6 months is so exciting!

I'm hoping for a good tax refund again this year, which will also help and be used for the debt.  If it is like last year, it may actually wipe out the rest of the debt remaining at that time entirely.  However, I never assume anything with taxes, so who knows what will happen.  My calculations were based on this bonus and my current salary (not factoring in the raise I got).  I figured that was the best way to go because then anything extra would just be an added bonus if I got to pay things off sooner.  :-)

BF and I have entirely separate finances.  I have a ballpark idea of his salary and vice versa, but I don't know the specifics.  We have a joint account where we basically just transfer money to one another for various expenses, but our money is separate otherwise.  Even if we get married I intend to keep this arrangement, though I do plan to utilize the joint account a lot more at that time.  However, one thing I learned in my marriage and subsequent divorce is that it is a mistake to not be in control of your own finances.  To each their own methods, but this is mine.

Regardless, BF also doesn't know how much debt I have.  I figured that if we got engaged I would tell him at that time because then it would be on the verge of having an impact on him.  He knows I have debt, but would probably be shocked at the numbers, especially when we first met.  Anyway, one of the very best parts about paying off my debt is that in this scenario it will be long gone before we ever get married.  We aren't even engaged yet, ha!  My not telling him has not been with the intent of deception, but we've just maintained very separate finances for the most part, and I decided that for the time being, this was only my business. I carry a great deal of shame about the debt I accrued, and I feel like it really discredits me as a responsible adult.  I cannot wait to be able to say that yes, I made mistakes financially, but I dug myself out of my hole and here I am now.  :-)  For the record, I've never had a late payment or done debt consolidation or anything.  I paid on time every month, just not enough.

Today I checked my credit score on Credit Karma to get a frame of reference for the coming months. It gets updated every week, so I plan to check every week or two for the next couple of months to see how this debt diminishing so much affects my score.  I used to have excellent credit, but have fallen solidly into the "Fair to Good" category depending on where you're reading.  I am confident that paying off certain creditors entirely and reducing my debt to credit limit ratio significantly on others will increase my score in the coming months.  Then once all of it is paid off, I plan to re-focus on using one or two cards for monthly expenses and then paying it off in order to keep my credit score in good shape.  :-)

Clearly, this is the biggest goal for me right now.  It has been a weight on my shoulders for years, and I cannot wait to set it aside as lessons learned.  I also did more calculations and figured out that once the debt is gone, I can save a really reasonable amount in a year to put towards a down payment on a house when we move.  I love knowing that I will be able to contribute in a meaningful way when that time comes.

This post is hard for me to write out, as again, I have so much weird guilt and embarrassment about the debt I carry.  However, I'm trying to focus on the fact that I'm finally making huge strides towards dealing with it, and that victory should weigh more than the failures of the past.  Cheers to 2016 --- the year that I finally rectify the financial mistakes of my past and start moving forward like a real grown-up. Next year at this time, I fully expect to have the credit score of a financial rock star!  :-)