Taking the Defeats with the Victories


Have you won at everything you’ve ever done? If so I would absolutely love to meet you, because I can say that I certainly have not.

Blogging is more fun when there is progress, when things are going well and when we are riding high’s of life. Aren’t all these the same things that we try to post to social media to give off the rosy facade that our life is nearly perfect and that we are always “moving forward, growing, winning”? Eh, let’s be real. Life usually deals us way more defeats than victories. It is perhaps the way in which we absorb these defeats that say more about who we are than when we win. If you were reading to see how we would rise up and dash debt to the ground in one fell swoop, well, sorry to disappoint.

We were cruising right along for the past few months, even the past year has been pretty steadily awesome. Making consistent debt payments, watching the total loan balance continue to fall, and getting more excited at the thought that in the next year or two we would be debt free. I’ll admit, I was starting to feel pretty good about the progress we had made. But life often has different plans for us.

I got fed up with my second job delivering pizzas, so I stepped down from that position. Around that same time, Jos lost a bunch of her work on her aging MacBook. I did my best to recover the files that I could, but there were many files and folders that simply could not be recovered. I felt responsible for this loss, being the in house IT pro, so I decided it necessary to go out and buy a $250 file backup solution and get that installed. Not cheap. Meanwhile, the old laptop continued its dysfunctional ways, and we got to the point that we decided to get a new(er) laptop for Jos. $340 in total on a 2013 MacBook Air that had a battery that needed replacing. So now she has a little bit better computer to get through the remainder of graduate school, comps, and eventually the Praxis. If that was not enough, the driver’s side mirror broke on our Prius, so I had to order that $40 replacement and had a weekend project swapping out the broken one yesterday. That I actually enjoyed.

Beyond all of this, we are staring down our 6-month car insurance premium coming due later this month, and we have a number of weddings we are both standing up for and attending, all of which will require travel expenses and wedding gifts. We likely have a move coming up in the next few months. All things we are overjoyed to do, but all of which will cost extra money.

Okay, why am I sharing all of this? Not very glamorous is it? Well, if you set out to do anything worth doing in life, you will fail. And then you will probably fail again. And then again, at least a few more times. I guess I am wanting to bring the human aspect to this topic of Figuring Out Finances. We are not figuring it out on our first try. There must be trial and error. Hopefully, this encourages you if you have thought about getting out of debt but have felt like it is an impossible task and so far you have only thrown up your hands in disgust and declared that you’ll “figure that stuff out later.” I would encourage you to start working on it today! Go ahead and fail, it beats doing nothing.

Defeat is not fun or easy. But it is necessary.

We will work in the next few weeks to get our emergency fund boosted back to it’s $1,000 level. From there we will again begin making steady payments as we are able to on the remaining debt we have. If you’d like to see where we are at in our journey, click here.

For those of you who have reached out regarding articles you enjoyed or topics this blog has helped you with, thank you! Hearing how this blog positively impacts others is likely my greatest joy in writing, so thank you!

The Dwindling Power of the College Diploma

The student loan crisis. We hear about it almost every day in some way, shape or form. As each month passes, the problem looms larger. There are about $1.5 trillion loaned to around 44 million people in the U.S. right now. Of that, $166 billion of that is delinquent. This is obviously a huge issue with no easy solution, but I did want to weigh in on one trend that helped us get to this terrible financial state we collectively find ourselves in.

When I got ready to go to college, I looked at five or six schools,  half of which were in-state, the rest out of state. What I did not comprehend at the time was the financial burden that moving out of state would lay on my parents in both the short and long term, as well as what it would mean for me long term. I definitely was not considering any consequences in the short term while I was in school.

I chose to go to school in southern California at Azusa Pacific University. I had an incredible time, got a great degree, had the chance to study abroad twice on two different continents, and got the opportunity to make life long friends and connect with professors who truly cared about their students. I have nothing bad to say about APU, I am very proud to be an alumnus of that school. But there have been costs tied to that decision.

For my parents, I’m not even sure of the full impact for them yet. I know it was expensive, the portion they covered was whatever I didn’t take out in loans or received in scholarships. For me, I am still paying off my loans to this day. I graduated in early May of 2014. Fast forward and I am a couple months from the five-year mark of receiving my diploma. By the grace of God, I’ve almost got it all paid now. When I walked off the stage that day, I was ecstatic to have achieved my goal of completing a bachelors degree. But I did not realize at that moment that there were an invisible ball and chain of almost $30,000 (after interest was paid) strapped to my leg that I would take half a decade to free myself from.

So, looking back, here are a few things to consider if you are planning on getting a degree, be it an associate’s, bachelor’s, or master’s (doctorate if you are one of those nerds. Just kidding I’m just jealous of smart people).

Do you REALLY need to study out of state? I thought as an 18-year-old that I needed to “get out” and explore another place, another state, another part of the country. That was probably true. But looking back, the reality is that I probably didn’t need to live in California for four years to experience it. I could have had a great in-state school experience and would have saved a bundle of money, some of which I could have used to do a month long trip to see all of California had I wanted to and had plenty left over.

Do I REALLY need this expensive a$$ degree? This is one to consider that some do not. What is the income potential of whatever field you are planning to study in? If you are wanting to go to some school and dig yourself a $100,000 hole of student loans then you sure as heck better get a degree that is going to get you a job that pays you more than poverty level wages. I don’t want to pick on any field of work. I’m sure you love whatever you do or whatever you plan to do. But going into debt requires that you dig yourself back out. And if you don’t have a very big shovel (your salary), that dig is going to be painful and will take a long time. Consider the ratio of the amount of debt you are taking on and what you will really be able to make to pay it off afterward. Can you pursue what you love without a degree? Could you knock out prerequisites at a community college first before moving to classes at a university? Things to consider.

My parents and grandparents always told me to get a college degree no matter what. It seems that this past wisdom no longer holds as true as it once did. When my parents went to college, the costs were reasonable. Many were able to go to school while working and could pay their way as they attended a university. I’m not saying that isn’t possible now, but the times they are a-changin’. Getting a college degree no longer guarantees anything. It doesn’t necessarily mean you are more hireable than someone else, doesn’t guarantee a certain level of pay, and is not the key that unlocks all professional doors as some from past generations may imply. There are many industries now that look more at experience, skill sets, soft skills, certifications, and whether or not you are good at doing a certain set of tasks. Information Technology is a good example of this. You don’t need more than a high school diploma to get a good job in IT. If you know your way around computer, server, and network hardware and software, and have experience setting up or managing technology, a potential employer will likely not bat an eye if they don’t see a “strong college degree” on your resume. When I interviewed for my current job as an IT Help Desk Engineer, my college degree didn’t come up as far as I remember.

Anymore, having the right skills means more than a degree in many cases. Don’t get hung up on getting a degree. If you can do what you want to do with some less intensive training, or a technical program, or something like that, and get to work sooner, do it!

This is not meant to be a jab at colleges or universities. Rather, a call to use wisdom and discernment in deciding when and where higher education is relevant, useful and economical. Take it from someone that is still digging out right now: student loans are no fun. Getting out from under them is a great goal. But if you could avoid them in the first place or at a discount, explore all of your available options.

Making Progress: Fighting Instant Gratification

A rough-skinned newt we met on a recent hike near our home.

Instant gratification is a great luxury. With instant microwave food meals, nearly instant drive-through food and coffee options, we are all getting a little bit spoiled.  Hell, Amazon’s speed on shipping items is getting ridiculously fast! Everything around us seems to be speeding up all the time. Wouldn’t it be great if we could apply this wonder of instant gratification to paying off debt or getting rich?

I wish it were that easy. If you do any Google searches related to paying off debt or making money fast, you’ll be swarmed by a host of websites with all kinds of suggestions and “click here now” prompts. It really would be great if these were quick things to accomplish. Unfortunately, the reality is that they are not.

Paying off debt takes time and effort. Not just today, but tomorrow, and the next day, and next week, month, maybe next year even. It takes consistency and hard work, dedication, and focus, sacrifice and courage. If I had my way, I would just ignore our debt as a couple. Wouldn’t it be easier that way? Perhaps in the short term. But the debts that we don’t come to grips with today only grow with each day that we let them slip by unnoticed.

When I first started looking for a second source of income I dove deep into web searches to see if there was an easy way to become debt free. I wanted to put in minimal effort and receive maximum results. But once I spent more and more time pouring through these websites and suggestions, I got discouraged by the reality that almost all of these options were scams or uncommon windfalls that were not easy to repeat or duplicate in my own life.

Before I got too frustrated and gave up altogether on adding extra income to our bottom line each month to help pay off debt, I returned to an idea that Dave Ramsey often throws around as an example when he talks about listeners getting extra jobs: delivering pizzas. I think he kind of uses it as a placeholder for entry-level jobs, but it got me thinking.  It is not glamorous, it does not make you money hand over fist, and it is not a “get out of debt easy” plan. But it is having results for us.

After a long day of solving IT issues for our clients at my primary job, I throw on a Pizza Hut shirt and baseball cap and hop in our Prius and scoot around town from about 5:30PM until 11 or 11:30PM serving up hot cheesy goodness. These are long days, no doubt, and it is difficult to stay the course. Some days are great, with a handful of tips, and others are very slow and uneventful. But with each shift that I work, each hour that I make that rather low wage, each time a generous customer hands me an extra few dollars as a tip, I am thankful because we are a few dollars closer to reaching our goal of becoming debt free.

I am not saying that everyone should go out and deliver pizzas, it is most certainly not for everyone. But instead of trying to find your next big break, the next big get rich or pay off debt quick scheme, consider doing something that is predictable, consistent, and may require some good old fashioned hard work. We are blessed right now in our country to have a very low unemployment rate. One benefit of this is there are generally more jobs available than there are capable workers to fill those positions. When I walked into Pizza Hut and told them I had a reliable car and would always show up on time, I was hired almost without a second thought. It won’t be a dream job, and you probably won’t want to do it for very long, and that’s okay! You don’t have to do it forever. The important thing is that you are making that extra effort to help free yourself or your household from that icky debt that keeps hanging around. Every dollar does count. The day when we make our last debt payment, I already know that I will be able to look back on all the little odd jobs that Jos and I have done and will be proud to say that we put forth our best effort in order to be a better steward of the money and talents that we have been given, both today and in the future.

Don’t think about it too much, my friend. There may be awesome, ordinary opportunities waiting at your door today.

The Top 1%

How much do you think you would have to make to be in the top 1% of income earners in the world? $1 million a year? How about $500k. Surely $200k would put you in the top 1% globally. Nope! According to this intriguing article from Investopedia, only $32,400 per year puts you in the top 1% of income earners in the world. I was shocked too!

While this number stunned me with how low it was when I read it, it also made me think about and focus on what wealth means to me. We often throw around the questions, “what would you do if you had a million dollars?” This is a good, thought-provoking question if you really think about it! Go ahead, you can think about it right now. What would you do if you had a million dollars?

Many of us would go get a nice car, buy a house, take a sweet vacation to somewhere tropical. The opportunities feel endless! What about helping people? Maybe you would give part of the money to your high school so future students could play on a nicer football field, or the music program could purchase some new concert equipment for their performances. Maybe you would pay off your parents’ mortgage as payback for all that they have given you. Or maybe you would donate part of it to an organization who you believe does great and vitally important work.

We may not have $1 million. But if you are reading this and you live in the United States, there is a good chance that you or your household combined makes more money than that $32,400 figure above. We are blessed, friends, beyond belief. What are we going to do about it?

Our journey out of debt as a couple is the first big step for us to be where I would like our family to be financially. Sure, I am looking forward to the day when I don’t have to make a student loan payment. It will be nice when I am not accruing any interest against me, and instead, I only have investments churching interest for me. But for me, the greatest joy will be in the surplus. Not because of what material possessions it may bring me, not to see the number on my bank statement grow, but because I will be able to more actively and generously bless others. Being rich is not a sin. 1 Timothy 6:10 is often misquoted and misused to say that “money is the root of all evil.” However, in the NIV it reads: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” Money is never the problem, our hearts are.

If you find yourself a citizen of these United States, we find ourselves in rare financial air. We get to call home one of the richest, if not the richest civilizations of all time. What are we going to do with that responsibility? For me, I always hope the focus can be off of myself and on Christ and others. What can I do for my fellow man or woman?

I hope that one day I do have wealth. May it never be about the money, but rather, may it always be about the good that can be accomplished with it.

What are you working for today? What are you going to do with your important position? What would you do with a million dollars?