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!

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?

The Start of a New Year!

Western Cider Co., a welcome new addition to Missoula that we checked out last night!

2019! Here we are! We are blessed to be able to make a new start in a new year with new beginnings. I’m glad we get this chance to wipe the slate clean every 12 months. Much like the turning of the calendar to the next month, I really do enjoy the feelings that a new year brings: optimism, new energy for creating and accomplishing wonderful things, a real chance to start over, whether last year was good or bad.

I would like to take a minute to thank those of you who have been reading this blog so far. I’ve had probably a dozen people reach out to me or comment when we meet up that they are glad this blog is here and that they have enjoyed the content thus far. Thank you for the encouragement!

Looking ahead at this new year, there is a lot to be excited about. This year, Josilyn will graduate in May with a Master’s in Speech-Language Pathology. I could not be more proud of her! She will be applying for jobs this spring, so we are excited to see what openings arise. We are hoping to move back to Montana in that process, likely in May or June. At that point, we will have the opportunity to continue living on just my salary and socking away money to pay off student loans. This year should be an excellent chance for us to chip away at a significant portion of that debt.

Goals are best pursued when others are aware of them. One of the reasons I don’t consistently find myself in the gym at this point is that I do not have an accountability or lifting partner. Definitely my own problem, but because I do not have that person it is much less likely that I can accomplish goals for physical activity. I’ve gotta work on that! This blog allows me to make our journey somewhat public, keeping me motivated to keep moving ahead. This is a financial blog so we are focusing on that for now.

Right now I’ve got a wager with my father in law that we will be 100% debt free by the time Josilyn completes her first full year of work as an SLP. This puts our timeline at about May or June of 2020, or about 18 months. It’s a lofty goal, but I believe we can do it! I am going to create a new page here on the site to track that payoff goal on a monthly basis. Feel free to check in with our progress here!

Today’s post is a bit less technical in nature due to my feeling a bit under the weather. But I will share one piece of financial advice for you that I’ve been considering myself. As this year begins, take a look at your social calendar and write out dates that you know you will have non-standard budget items. For us, this will be a couple of plane tickets for two different trips to North Dakota, wedding gifts for a couple of weddings we will be attending, and potentially saving some money for a moving truck. Giving attention to these things will save you from having to dip into your emergency fund and will lower any stress associated with spending that money since you will know it is coming.

Also, as a side note, please feel free to reach out to me via email, text, or Facebook message. I love hearing from people and giving advice where I am able. I’ve already learned a lot from others who are on a similar path of pursuing financial freedom!

2018: Debt Paydown Year in Review


Up until this point I’ve been a little sheepish about exposing real numbers in our journey to financial freedom. It’s scary to expose your financial self to the world. Some will disagree with this and say that these are personal matters to be kept to one’s self, but I think for this journey to have the most positive impact on others, transparency and honesty are both important.

In 2017, Josilyn and I got married. With it came a lot of changes. We shuffled through a couple of cars. She had a Subaru Outback that had some mechanical issues, so we ended up getting rid of that for the Toyota Prius she now has and we love. I finished my dance with car loans and other vehicle stupidity and landed in my Mazda Miata. We got married in July of that year. We made a multi-state move away from home to Oregon. We got our first apartment together. Jos started Grad school and I was unemployed for the first 2 1/2 months we were there. There were a lot of moving parts and a lot of “firsts” for us as a newly married couple. All in all, it was a financially volatile year. We made a bit of progress, but most of our time was spent just trying to keep our head above water financially.

2018 marked a new chapter and we began to turn a corner. Our budget settled down and settled in. We integrated tools on our phones and computers like Mint, Simple, Credit Karma, and a very cool, little know site called Undebt. We caught a vision for where we could be financially, with a sober knowledge of the not-so-great place we were. Basically, we started to pay attention to our finances. As my treasured and wise mother in law says, “You get what you inspect, not what you expect.”

During this past year, we’ve had ups and downs with finances. There were unexpected expenses here and there, and living on one income proves to be challenging as Jos continues in her studies. But we also had some major victories. During this year I received raises on three different occasions, two bonuses, and I started working in early October as a pizza delivery driver, all helping to bolster our income. We finished paying off our credit card debt in May of 2018, which was a wonderful feeling not being indebted to high-interest rate lenders. Another win came later when Josilyn received a settlement from a car accident she was involved in. Getting a lump sum of cash is great, but it can be very tempting to spend it instead of saving it or applying it to debt. I applaud my wonderful wife for her willingness to apply most of that to her student loan debt.

Well enough hoopla about victories, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty and the numbers (let’s be honest, the numbers are what I live for anyway). Here are some totals of who and what we paid off during the 2018 calendar year, and what we have left to accomplish:

Visa Credit Card – $906.77 – PAID IN FULL

Chase Credit Card – $2,066.86 – PAID IN FULL

Citi Credit Card – $3,399.00 – PAID IN FULL

FedLoan Servicing (Justin’s Undergrad Loans) – $13,880.56

Navient *cringe, I hate these guys* (Josilyn Grad Loans) – $19,542.66

*Side note, this Navient number is inflated a bit because we took out more loan than we needed, so we turned around and paid back some of that disbursement with that money*

Total Debt Paid in 2018: $39,795.75 – Which is probably about $30,000 flat if you subtract out the note above regarding Navient. Still, a bunch of money!

So where does this leave us looking into 2019? Thankfully we only owe student loan debt at this point. Here is the breakdown:

FedLoan Servicing (Justin’s Undergrad Loans) – $7,792.61

Navient (Josilyn’s Grad Loans) – $54,422.22

Projected Loans for final Grad semester – $12,500

Total Debt to Pay before Financial Freedom: $74,714.83

It is pretty intimidating to look at this total. But I look at the year ahead and I have to remind myself of a few key items:

  • This year Josilyn will begin working in May or June so we will have a second healthy income that will all go towards paying off debt.
  • I will work at Pizza Hut two days a week at least until May or June when we might have a potential move. I only worked there for 3 months in 2018.
  • With my raises last year, I will be working at a higher pay rate all of 2019, so my total income should be significantly higher than it was in 2018.

Moving forward, we are focusing on accomplishing this feat one payment at a time. We will apply our entire 2018 tax refund to our debt. We are not going to change our budget when Josilyn starts working, so that will help accelerate the process significantly. We will target our smallest loans first, knocking those out systematically, working our way to the larger loans.

Whew, this has probably been the toughest post for me to write thus far. Lots of emotions as I write this: feeling motivated yet overwhelmed, confident yet uncertain, hopeful but somewhat anxious. Thanks for reading, I hope this motivates you to begin or continue in your debt free journey this new year! Happy 2019!

Not By Mistake

In the big scheme of life, it’s easy to look back and see why some things turned out the way they did. Why did LeBron James become one of the best basketball players of all time? Why was Tiger Woods such a dominant golfer? Why was Peyton Manning so good at diagnosing defenses and putting the football right where it needed to be for his receivers?

We can talk about all the things that they did to get to where they were. But one thing is abundantly clear. None of it was by mistake.

Whether it is learning a new skill or trade, picking up a hobby, or trying to Figure Out Finances, there are steps that need to be taken to take you where you want to be.

When Josilyn and I were dating, I was managing a hotel in Missoula. The pay was good, but I had bad habits. I was eating out almost every day during the work week. I started doing it every once in a while, then three times a week, then almost every day. It became a habit for me. It should come as no surprise that I wracked up a healthy amount of credit card debt due to my lack of attention to the details of my financial life.

One day I was honestly just curious to see what I was spending. I printed out three months’ worth of statements from my credit cards and my checking account. It was bad. Really bad. Some months I was spending over $600 on dining out alone. OUCH. I knew something had to change.

Since then, eating out has become a once in a while nicety. Jos does an incredible job of cooking meal preps each week for both of us for lunch. She makes awesome homemade dinners. We eat a lot of cereal, eggs, and toast for breakfast. We almost always have coffee at home instead of going to pick it up at a coffee joint.

Intentionality is what gets us where we want to go. I realized I didn’t want to live with debt forever. It took some growing pains to get to where we are now, but the reward is great as we watch our total debt balance drop like a rock each month. Our choices matter, and where we end up is not by mistake.

My Big Car Mistake(s)

This is more story time than anything. I have always been fond of cars. I love the way it feels to be behind the steering wheel, changing gears and working the clutch. An open road is a place of peace for me. I love it.

My love of cars has its pros and its cons. On the one hand, my interest in cars has given me a pretty decent knowledge of how they work, which makes and models are reliable, and how to do general maintenance and fix a few things here and there. But like any good thing, it can take you for a bad ride.

One thing I’ve learned about cars is that they are a depreciating asset, meaning, they lose value over time. At one point I bought a 2004 Mach 1 Mustang with my first every auto loan. I picked it up for $9,500 in great condition. It was a ton of fun! Unfortunately, the payments were a stressor. That payment comes around each month and kind of kicks your butt. I eventually realized I didn’t like the high insurance rates, poor gas mileage, and the constant stress of writing a check to the bank each month. If only I had learned.

Later, I made the mistake of having two cars at the same time as a single guy. Dumb, right?! Yeah, it was. I had a 1998 Buick LeSabre while having the Mustang. The Buick was paid for, but I had to pay extra for the insurance, gas, maintenance, you get the picture.

At this point in my infinite wisdom, I sold the Mustang for $7,000, taking a hit on that depreciation we talked about. I sold my perfectly good Buick as well to one of my best buddies and roommate at the time. Let’s just say he figured out how to steer his finances in the right direction before I did. That car is still serving him well today.

After having two cars at the same time, one on a loan, I figured I “deserved” a nice big, comfortable car. It had to be fast though. So I got a 2010 Ford Taurus SHO. Really cool car, a great sleeper (for you car folks out there). My loan for that was almost $300 a month. I was shelling out money left and right to the bank for interest on an asset that lost value every day. Buying it for almost $17,000 with an “extended warranty” (please don’t ever get one of those), I ended up parting with it a year later for $12,500. Ouch.

Why do I share all these personal details about car deals gone wrong? Well, I share them because they were mistakes that I hope others don’t make. If you don’t have the money for a car, don’t buy it! If you want it, save for it. In that time of saving, you might just find that you didn’t want that car after all, or you might realize that what you are driving now is just fine. At the end of the day, it’s not about getting there in style, it is about getting there.

As a funny wrap up to this post, I now drive a 1993 Mazda Miata. Yeah, one of those small little convertibles. Got it for $5,000. This time it is paid for. The best part is, I always thought that my Mustang and SHO were super cool cars. I’ve gotten way more compliments on the Miata as it turns out… life has a funny way of making us laugh at ourselves sometimes.


Fed Up

What’s up world. Let me introduce myself. My name is Justin. I am 27 years old, am recently married, and most days I feel like I don’t know what the hell to do about my financial situation. Glad we could get that intro out of the way.

I qualify as one of “those millennials” that so many people like to talk about, good or bad. We get a bad rap for a lot of reasons. We don’t know how to save. Employers don’t know how to deal with us. Most of us have side hustles. We can be insanely irresponsible and cleverly cunning all in the same day. One thing that I have found to be a common thread among us is the feeling of being overwhelmed by our financial situations.

Our generation is facing a huge student loan “crisis”. I think I read that the total student debt in the US is now at $1.4 trillion. Honestly, that’s pretty insane.

One of my buddies, who I graduated college with, made a long post on Facebook the other day. He was really upset about where he found himself financially. The job doesn’t pay enough even when I work my butt off. Cost of living is too high. My bills always eat up anything I make. I have crushing student loan debt. How the hell am I ever going to pay this off? The feeling can be summed up in a word: hopeless.

This guy made the post that I have wanted to make, but I’ve always felt such things should be kept to one’s self. After all, finances should be kept quiet, right? I think this is another shift that millennials are making. We are more transparent than our parents or grandparents when it comes to more taboo subjects like income and finances.

What is my purpose in writing? A few things I suppose.

  1. I owe a bunch of money, and I hate the feeling.
  2. Some days I feel like I will never achieve my financial goals.
  3. My wife is sick of hearing me talk about budgeting/making money/finances in general. I don’t blame her.
  4. I want to help others out there that are like me.
  5. I am a lifelong learner, and I know I have a ton to learn.

Posts here will vary a lot, from rants to budgeting ideas; saving suggestions to real-life struggles. I just want to take the “scary” out of finances for myself and others. Fear often comes from ignorance. The best way I figure I can overcome that fear is to grow in knowledge and experience. Thanks for joining me along this journey!