Saving for a House

Ah yes, the seemingly impossible task for Millenials. This daunting and elusive purchase has been looming over me for a couple of years now. I would love to get us into a house and into home-ownership. But man, property is expensive!

Reading the struggles of others in similar situations to us, it is clear that homeownership is a scary prospect for many. We hear it all the time from our parents’ generation and the generation before: renting is a waste of money! A house is your greatest investment! Easier said than done, unfortunately.

Over the past few months, we have juggled the two (well, really three) options on what to do with any money over and above our usual expenses. We can 1) pay off debt 2) save for a down payment on a house 3) increase our savings/emergency fund.

As it stands right now, we have about $53,200 left to pay off in student loans, and $9,000 to pay off on my newly acquired Chevy Spark EV (a car I love by the way, and is saving us money at the pump. But I digress and will surely need to justify my purchase in a separate post, so stay tuned!). We carry an emergency fund right now of only $500. I contribute 4% of my income to a company 401k since I get a 4% company match and want to max out that free money. In a nutshell, we are very cash poor at this juncture.

About a month ago, I talked to a large national lender just to see what kind of mortgage we could prequalify for. I let the loan consultant know that I didn’t want to take out any more than $300,000. He ran through some numbers and returned with a rate of 3.49% on a 30-year mortgage with only 3% (or about $9,000) down.

Then, about a week ago, we met with a family friend who is a local realtor and chatted with her about what we are looking for, and some of the costs associated with homeownership. One item that I didn’t know much about, but is an important expense, is closing costs. Closing costs consist of a number of necessary transactions that essentially increase the amount of down payment you need since all of the closing costs are due right around when you wrap up a new house purchase. In our $300k house example, closing costs in Missoula would be estimated to be right around $6,600.

Even with making a minimum payment, and closing costs wrapped into it, we will still need to come up with about $15,600. But getting into a house with that little money definitely has some drawbacks.

If you own less than 20% of a house and finance the rest, the bank wants to make sure that you are good for the mortgage payment each month. To make sure that you are, you as the borrower are required to basically insure the interest of the bank against your property. For example, a homebuyer who puts down 20% on a house is pretty well invested in the home. They are very likely to continue making their on-time mortgage payments. But someone who only puts 3% down has much less “skin” in the game, and are more of a flight risk. They may not make their mortgage payment on time, or at all.

This insurance that must be bought by homeowners owning less than 20% of their house is called PMI, or Private Mortgage Insurance. It is a hefty addition to the monthly mortgage payment. Some quick calculations from our $300k house example show that without PMI added in, that mortgage (with property tax and home insurance factored in) would come to $1,590 per month. But since less than 20% of the house would be owned, PMI tacks on an additional $249 per month, upping the total cost to $1,839 per month.

All of these costs aside, it is important to realize that with homeownership, anything that goes wrong or needs to be fixed on or in the house falls squarely on the homeowner’s shoulders. When you rent, and the water heater goes out, you just call the property management company or your landlord, and let them know it needs to be fixed. If you own property though, that fix is coming straight out of your pocket! Homeownership, the more I’ve researched, is anything but cheap.

So where does that leave us right now? Well, we are planning for a few things, and hoping for a couple more.

We are scaling down our debt repayment to make only minimum payments both on our car loan and our student loans. Any money on top of that will be set aside in a 2-2.5% interest rate savings account. The goal would be to save as much as possible for that down payment and hopefully save a few thousand more on top of that to cover any upfront costs of moving into a new home.

It is hard to justify homeownership over renting in a lot of ways. But looking at the housing market, it’s hard to argue the fact that housing will likely only get more and more expensive, and with it, rents will only continue to rise as well. As I’ve heard some experts say: the best time to buy a house is when you need one.

We have a lot to consider as we aim at homeownership. How much total should we save? Should we buy a small house now and then upgrade later as we start a family? How much money should we put down? Can we even afford to look into buying a house right now? Well, I’d like to think this blog is aptly named. Just like you, I am just trying to make sense of this all as we continue Figuring Out Finances.

Should Student Loans Be Forgiven?

If there ever was a hot-button topic recently in political debates, it is student loan forgiveness. Some Democratic candidates are riding high on the idea of sweeping forgiveness for loans. There are a lot of ways to slice it, fund it, and sell it to the public. But would student loan forgiveness really be doing the right thing?

Here’s the thing about student loans: they are ultimately the borrower’s responsibility. I know there might be some that read this that will strongly disagree. There are outlying cases. Perhaps you really were the victim of predatory lending. Perhaps you were promised one thing and then delivered another. I get that, and I sympathize with those situations. But right now, I am speaking to the average, everyday borrower.

When I graduated from Azusa Pacific University back in 2014 with $25,000 in student loans, I wasn’t looking around for someone else to pay those off. It was my responsibility. I had gotten a good education, my market value had risen because of it. That debt included two study abroad semesters, great learning in the classroom, and an experience that I would not trade for anything. But I was the one that signed for those loans. I was responsible.

Fast forward a couple of years, and I finally – by the grace of God – was able to free myself from those undergrad loans. It took a long time, and it wasn’t fun. Every time I made a $1,000 payment, I cringed at the thought of what I could have done instead with that money. But the fun had been had, the education had been provided, and it was time to pay the piper. And that’s what I did.

2017 rolled around and I found myself newly married to the most amazing woman in the world. During our courting, we had discussed in depth the prospect of graduate school for her. It was going to be expensive, there was no doubt about it. We may have picked one of the most expensive options in the list of schools she was interested in. But we went in with eyes wide open that the final debt bill would be well over $70,000. She signed up for those loans with expectations no lower than “we will pay these off.”

That graduate school loan balance is now down to $55,000. We both make decent money, but we don’t spend a bunch of it. More than half of my most recent paycheck went straight to student loans. Her paycheck was just deposited yesterday. Today we will pull out taxes and tithe, and the remainder will go straight to loans. It is gut-wrenching, and it sucks. It’s not fun. I don’t like it, she doesn’t like it. But we chose it. We knew what we were getting into and taking on. And we will pay back those loans.

There are massive problems with the current lending system for higher education. Lending is careless. Prospective students are not properly evaluated for their ability to pay back loans. Going to be a social worker? Excellent! The world needs those! But taking out $100,000 in loans to become one? That is irresponsible both on the side of the borrower, and it is borderline predatory on the lender side. Did this future social worker have other options? Probably. There are community colleges everywhere. They could have stayed in-state to lower their tuition price tag. They could have lived at home for a while during school. There are always options.

I do need to take a moment and say that Capitalism is really ugly when certain light is shed on it. Student lending is one of these places. Colleges and Universities have jacked up the prices to match the reckless lending that goes on by both public and private lenders. They are simply getting top dollar out of the system that is in place. Lending needs to be reigned in and regulated to some extent. It is out of control and is in most cases somewhat if not totally predatory. Those who lend money to those they know can’t afford to pay it back should have a nice long look in the mirror and ask themselves if they are loving their neighbor as themselves.

Whew, off the soapbox now. What would student loan forgiveness teach people? It would not teach reality, that is for sure. When do you ever get to spend money and not pay it back? Never. Unless you go delinquent on payments, wreck your credit score, or worse, file for bankruptcy.

It makes me sad that people have recently pressured their idols or role models into paying off their student loans. Being rich does not mean that these people owe anything to anyone else. I am all about equality whenever it is possible. But blaming the rich and asking them to pay debts that we have incurred is pretty ridiculous.

This post may not make you very happy. But just keep in mind that if you are a borrower buried under student loans and other debt, I am quite literally right there with you. Is it hard? Yes. Do I wish someone would wave a wand and wipe away our remaining balance? Some days. But I also believe in taking responsibility and paying off every dollar that you borrow.

If you find yourself hoping that the federal government will bail you out of your situation, I would encourage you not to. You would be better off working on getting out of debt now instead of waiting for the next President to arrive in office. Politicians promise the world to get to the Oval Office. I have yet to see one that has fully delivered.

To leave a heavy subject on a more positive note: you can do this. I can do this. We can work hard, make better choices, and dedicate ourselves to adjusting our lifestyles in order to achieve a goal. I am excited for the day when Jos and I can say “we are debt-free!” I hope you would join us in that endeavor.

What is student loan grace, anyway?


What a nice word that is. We all want grace in life from friends, family, and strangers on the road when we make the occasional questionable lane change in traffic. Who doesn’t like grace?

If you have ever taken out student loans, you’ll know that there is a grace period for repayment. This is typically a six-month period of time where you do not need to make any payments on your student loans. The clock for grace usually starts ticking right as you graduate. The idea behind it is to help new graduates have space and time to find a new, steady job so when the first round of payment does become due, that new professional should have had ample time to get financially stable to start making those payments on time and in full. Sounds like a great system, right? How nice of those loan providers to provide ‘grace’ to these new graduates! If only life were that good.

The problem with the grace period in student loans is that it does not save you any money. Quite the opposite. Say you’ve got $50,000 at 7% interest in loans when you walk across the stage at graduation in May. You’re feeling good because your first payment isn’t due until mid-November. You’ve got all kinds of time, right? Well, this is what your balance will look like in the following months:

June – $50,291.66

July – $50,585.02

August – $50,880.09

September – $51,176.89

October – $51,475.42

November – $51,775.69

And look at that. While you were enjoying your time of ‘grace’, you now owe an extra $1,775.69 to your student loan provider! What a ripoff! How can you avoid this?

Well, you can’t stop the hands of time, and you also can’t stop the effects of compounding interest. However, the best way to combat growing interest on your loans is to pay early and pay what you can afford.

If you are fortunate to get a good job right away after graduation, you’ll probably be thrilled by getting your first few paychecks. After living on a shoestring budget, you feel like you can finally breathe! And you should, you’ve accomplished a lot. But instead of spending your entire paycheck, take honest stock of your budget and figure out what wiggle room you can come up with and pay that towards your loans, even during your grace period. This will make a big difference in the interest that we saw racking up in the above example! Even make a payment of $100 or $200 during grace can help tremendously in your road to getting that debt repaid.

When it comes to student loans, grace is far from as good as it sounds. Keep an eye on your loan balances even during the first six months after graduating, and try not to splurge on purchases. Be realistic about your budget and what you can contribute each month or each paycheck toward debt repayment, and be faithful in doing so. You will see the results with your persistence!

Picking Up Steam

My apologies for being generally absent from posting. Summer has been crazy for us, basically since we moved back to Missoula at the end of May. Weddings, family events, and a few more weddings. It’s an exciting time!

On our financial journey, Jos and I are finally picking up some good momentum. It was tough living on one salary for the last two years, but we are finally almost out of the woods with that stage. Jos got her first paycheck from her new job a week or two ago, and it has already made a big difference for us! It is simply amazing what a second income stream can do for the debt repayment process.

As I’ve shared before, we are keeping our exact same budget from our single-salary days and just chunking all of Jos’ earnings at the debt snowball. We’ve had some big travel expenses and have had some wedding and baby shower gifts to pick up here and there, but having the extra income makes all the difference in the world.

I think the biggest challenge at this stage in the debt repayment is not getting complacent about where we are at. I think it would be easy to loosen the reins and get a little lackadaisical about where our money is going. But we have other goals in mind, including a down payment for a house, and hopefully a newer car soon, so we are staying motivated in order to achieve those goals.

I logged into my student loan portal yesterday just for kicks, and it was incredibly refreshing and encouraging to look at all those zero-dollar balances. What a relief it was to shed my student loan debt! I can’t wait until we got Jos’ taken care of and then we both rejoice in the feeling that we don’t owe a dollar to anyone. That we will need to celebrate, big time!

Looking ahead, we may still be on track with our original, lofty goal of being debt-free one year after Jos got her first paycheck. It will be right around our anniversary, July 8th, next year. I think we can still get there if we are persistent and make good choices along the way. It’s encouraging to see how far we’ve come, and it gets me excited to think about what we will be able to accomplish once that weight is gone.

Are you onboard yet? Maybe you’ve read a post or two of mine and have thought that this debt-free journey isn’t for you. It’s just too much to take on. But let me tell you, you can, and you should! It is worth the time and effort it takes to make a plan and stick to it. Putting off a few nice things today can mean being in a much better place in a few years, maybe even a few months. If you are having a hard time knowing where to begin, I would be happy to help. Please feel free to reach out to me at if you have questions or just want to chat about where you are in your journey, I would love to hear from you.

Cheers to you.

The Value of DIY

Actual picture captured of real-life Do-It-Yourselfer! Yours truly from this weekend.

Hard to believe it’s taken me this long to write about this topic, since I love projects and fixing things myself, but here it is! An excellent way to help your budget and save money.

DIY, or Do-It-Yourself, covers a vast array of topics. There are tons of ways to save money by fixing things, building things, doing things for yourself.

I’ve had my 1993 Miata for about two years now. It’s hummed right along with very few issues so far. For a 25-year-old car, it’s been very reliable. But over the past few weeks, I noticed the clutch pedal start to soften up. It also became tougher to shift the car into gear, even with the clutch pedal fully depressed. I knew something was wrong, I just didn’t know what.

Here we come to a crossroads as car owners. Do you just do the easy thing, and take it down to the shop? Or do you take a deep breath, take a few minutes and do a little research yourself? I chose the second of the two roads.

Looking online, I found that high resistance at the shift gate was not uncommon. What you’ll usually find when looking through forums is that you are rarely the only person on earth that has had a specific issue. This is reassuring both in that you are not alone, and someone else has probably figured this out before you. In my case, the issue described appeared to be a problem with the clutch hydraulic system. After a few more searches, I found that the two parts I needed, a slave and master cylinder, were $50 – combined.

I found a video shortly after on YouTube about how to swap out the slave and master in a first-generation Miata. I got lucky and had a friend in town to give me a second set of hands (thanks Sean!). I opened the hood, located the parts that were needing to be removed, and started the process.

The biggest issue I ran into was not having the right parts. I had to use an adjustable crescent wrench instead of a specific wrench size, but it did end up working out. After a beer or two, some grunting and groaning and getting our hands completely covered in oil and dirt, the parts were swapped out. My lovely wife assisted me with bleed the clutch hydraulic system, and as she kept depressing the clutch pedal, it continued to firm up, which is exactly what we wanted! We finished bleeding the air out of the system and took the car for a short drive around the block. Success! The Miata shifted even better than it had when I first bought it!

DIY is great on a couple of fronts. It gives you the satisfaction of a job well done. It increases your knowledge about things you didn’t know about before. It is a good workout for your mind. And maybe most importantly for this blog, it saves money! I am not sure what I would have been charged for labor had I taken it to a shop. But I can guess it would have been around $500. Turning a few wrenches myself and about two hours of my time was enough to get the job done.

Next time you find yourself about ready to pull out your debit card or checkbook to shell out for a service or product, think to yourself, “could I maybe do this? How hard can it be?” You’ll be surprised to find that the Internet has a wealth of information and other fellow humans who have encountered the same problems you have, and have overcome those obstacles. I challenge you to find something this week or month that you can do yourself!

A Brief Freakout

I am going to be 28 years old in three weeks. I’ve got some gray hair, which seems to grow in number each month. I do not have any kids. I rent an apartment. I drive a car built in 1993. I’ve got a smartphone that is four years old. My total savings – retirement included – totals less than $8,000. From a financial perspective, I am completely broke. This is not where I thought I would be.

Recently, I’ve been increasingly frustrated by the odds that seem to continue to mount on our path to financial freedom. I am all for delayed gratification, but some things are getting ridiculous. I am also generally positive in my posts. That being said, I think it’s okay to be more on the realistic side of things instead of always being “rah-rah”. Life is tough sometimes! It’s important to recognize when it is.

Student loans have pushed back a lot of things for us. We won’t be buying a new car for a few years at least since it isn’t a top priority. The priority right now is becoming debt-free, which is a goal we find ourselves a dizzying $67,900 away from. In order to do that more quickly, I’ve limited my retirement contributions to the 4% I get matched by my work. We have no money to invest anywhere else. How about saving for a house, the ultimate America Dream? Well, with decent houses in Missoula being pretty expensive, we’d likely have to get a house right around $250,000 even for a starter home. For a 20% down payment, that would mean we’d need to have $50,000 saved. By that time, we will need to replace a car. Beyond that, we want to start having kids here in the next two years or so. To be honest, at this moment, this all simply doesn’t seem possible.

Some would argue that we should just make minimum payments on our loans for the next ten years and move onto our other financial goals. That is simply not an option in my mind. I refuse to pay out interest to Navient for a full decade. Also, this line of thinking is how people end up financing two cars, a camper, their new bed that they couldn’t live without. Hell, people finance phones! (Just because you don’t pay interest on it doesn’t mean it’s not debt, don’t kid yourself on that $1,000 smartphone). With this lifestyle, you would be effectively drained of your financial future one tiny interest accrual at a time. No thank you.

Ugh, so here it goes, I feel like I just need to list out all these goals and milestones just so it doesn’t continue to internally overwhelm me:

  1. Pay off $67,900 of student loans.
  2. Save up an emergency fund of 3-6 months. We’ll just say $10,000.
  3. Save $50,000 down payment for a $250,000 house.
  4. Ramp up retirement contributions from 4% to 15%.
  5. Buy a newer, safer car in anticipation of having a child. Conservatively we’ll say $15,000 for that, could be a lot more at that point.
  6. Have said child. This gives me cold sweats imagining the costs associated here.
  7. Try not to have a panic attack thinking about retirement, paying for kids’ college, having more kids, funding my inevitable mid-life crisis… haha you get the idea.

I know I am just freaking out a little bit here, but gosh, that is just pretty discouraging to look at!!

Eventually, once we have kids, I would love for Jos to be able to spend most of her time with our kids. We’ve talked about how two days a week working outside the home could be a good amount. But that too would push us down to a lower income level, making ends meet a more challenging task.

To get to the point of buying a house (step 3 above), this would require in excess of $130,000 to be saved in addition to all of our ongoing expenses. Essentially, we’d need to cash flow $130k. Freaking brutal.

Okay, I think I’m done having my freakout for now. I was going to post about how our generation has had to push back all of our major life events and financial goals to later times due to a number of unfortunate external circumstances, so hopefully, I’ll be able to refocus at some point to get more coherent thoughts rolling in that direction.

Taking a deep breath here at the end of this post, I’m reminded that none of this will be accomplished overnight. We will get there eventually. But man, delayed gratification is not fun. 🙂

Remember where you’ve been, and Stay Humble

Credit LowCredit High

What a difference 611 days can make.

Nobody says that, but that was the magic number in my credit score equation. As you can see from the two scores above, I’ve come a long way in handling and managing money well. In September of 2017, my wife and I were just married, freshly moved to Oregon for her graduate school, and I was scooting around the greater Portland area in our Prius trying to hustle up a few bucks working for Uber and Lyft. The consequences of my poor financial planning were taking their toll, as my 614 credit score indicated, but we were getting on the right track at that point, beginning to budget well and make better decisions about what we bought and what we passed on.

Fast forward those 611 days and the story looks much different. My wonderful wife graduated with her degree in Speech-Language Pathology, has a new job back in Missoula, MT, I am student loan debt free, we have no credit card, car or other debt other than what she has left on graduate student loans. We have a ways to go, but we are white-hot on the path to being debt free. The goal is in sight and we are excited about where we find ourselves going.

Moving back to Montana after these two wonderful years in Oregon is a dream come true. We weren’t sure that Jos would be able to find a good SLP job in Missoula, so she went with the shotgun approach when applying for jobs, looking for anything from Kalispell to Hamilton, Missoula to Billings. God provided an excellent opportunity for her to work as an independent contractor for a great organization, and I could not be more proud of her.

For me, I am fortunate to hold onto my remote IT job, enabling me to take a strong wage back to a state with lower living expenses. And speaking of those expenses, we find ourselves even more blessed in regards to those.

My father and mother-in-law have been generous enough to take us in for at least a few months while we get our feet under us and get settled back into Missoula. Their generosity will help us expedite and catalyze our debt repayment efforts. With any bit of luck, we are still on track to have the remaining $67,850 in student loans cleaned up by next summer. You’ll have to stay tuned to see if we make it.

One thing that strikes me as I sit here this morning is that to win, you need to be willing to be humbled. At nearly 28 years old, I honestly did not think I would reach this age and still having lingering debts, little to no savings, and still be renting. But that is okay. If you look around in the news, millennials and student loans are in the headlines everywhere. Whether you think we millennials are a bunch of screwups, or you empathize with the trying circumstances we find ourselves in, there are plenty of us out here that are doing something to pull ourselves up and out of our slow-start situations in life. Our education and loan-issuing systems need to be fixed, but perhaps that topic is for another post.

My point here is that for those of you that are fighting to get out of debt, don’t be afraid to humble yourself. Take the pizza delivery job a few nights a week, even if it seems like the position is “below your pay grade.” Be willing to say no to trips or friends that want to go out all the time, blowing through your would-be budget. Say yes and “thank you” to those who are willing to help you get a hand up on your situation, just like my wonderful in-laws. Don’t be too proud.

What was a humbling experience you’ve had in making your way out of debt? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below. As usual, thanks for reading as we continue to Figure Out Finances.

Tools I Use – Credit Karma


One of the craziest things to watch as you are in the process of paying off debt of any kind is your credit score. Some people will tell you that credit cards are awesome for racking up points, getting free flights, cashing in on “sign up bonuses” and the list goes on. On the other end of the spectrum stands Dave Ramsey with scissors in one hand and soon-to-be-dismembered credit cards in the other. You know his gig.

I would say I stand somewhere in the middle with credit cards. I got my first one about a month after I turned 19. It had a pretty small credit limit – $1,000 from what I remember. I bought gas on it and usually paid it off on time. College started that fall and I found myself “needing” to use it for little grocery runs or for the occasional burrito at the local Santana’s taqueria. I was only working part-time as a student-worker so I wasn’t bringing in much for fun money, so the credit card was a way for me to spend a little more than what I had.

After college, I picked up another credit card when needing to buy flights, food, and other things while working abroad. I moved to Quito, Ecuador only weeks after graduating from college. I wasn’t making much with the organization I worked for, so once again the credit cards were an in between to get me by.

Things leveled out a bit when I came home and started my first “real world” job at a tech company in Bozeman. I was living with my parents and found I had a surplus since I wasn’t paying rent. I actually paid off all my credit card debt at that point. I still had over $24,000 in student loans, but I decided I could afford my first car loan – a $10,000 chunk I took out for my dream car at the time, a 2004 Mach 1 Mustang. One step forward, six steps back. But that is a story for a different blog post.

The height of my credit card stupidity hit when I moved to Missoula a short time after this. I had quit my job and had taken a long road trip in my Mach 1 through western Montana, northern Idaho, all the way through Washington, down the Oregon coast and eventually all the way to Redding, CA and then San Jose, CA. I didn’t have any savings so gas started going on the cards again. After that trip, I called Missoula home and I moved in with one of my best friends and his two roommates. I started my own LLC repairing computers. I had some small startup costs related to that, and once again the credit cards came into play. I always thought you had to “spend money to make money.” While business creation was an excellent experience, my financial decisions continued to be disastrous. I maxed out the couple of credit cards I had and was forced to get a part-time job working front desk at a local hotel for $9/hr. I was barely making ends meet, my credit limit almost topped out and barely able to make rent. It was a scary time.

I was blessed to get offered a huge promotion in four months of working at the hotel. I went from bringing in a couple hundred dollars a week to a full-time, $45,000/year job as a 24-year-old. I finally had the money! Or so I thought.

One thing I have learned and observed in this Figuring Out Finances journey is that poor money management is scaleable. I had made $9/hr. part-time and then was making almost $22/hr. full-time and I still had the same problem: I was spending more than I was making. Poor choices are indifferent to your race, your socioeconomic background, what state you live in or the kind of car you drive. Poor choices result in poor consequences, financial and otherwise.

I don’t want to drag this credit history story through the mud too much, but things got worse before they got better. Despite my much higher income (and a great raise a few months later, even!), I continued to outspend my income. Another credit card or two was opened and I was making minimum payments, making a car payment and scratching my head as to why I was so broke. By the grace of God, the tide shifted as I got engaged and realized I had to figure things out in a hurry if I was going to be able to take care of myself AND a wonderful new wife. The stupidity in my decisions subsided as we budgeted and turned things around, day after day, week after week, dollar after dollar. And here I am today with all the credit card debt in the rearview mirror as well as those student loans.

I almost forgot what the post was about, so forgive me. When I was making my worst decisions, my credit score was a wimpy 640 or so. As the debt was paid off and accounts closed, my score kept rising. I used the Credit Karma app to track it every step of the way. Once a week, you get a credit score update that reflects payments you’ve made recently and it helps you stay motivated. You have to game-ify debt payment sometimes to keep it fun, and watching my credit score rise is a lot of fun. Today, mine is knocking on the door of 800.

Credit Karma is free to sign up for and does not cost anything to use. The iOS app is awesome, and I’m sure the Android version is great as well. Beyond the gratification of watching your credit score go up over time, keeping an eye on your credit is wise in case someone tries to steal your identity or open up accounts or cards in your name. Credit Karma pushes you notifications to let you know when your score is updated, when an account is paid off or closed, or about any other credit-related activity that you may need to know about. It gives you a bird’s eye view of all that you owe in one place, keeps you safer from fraudulent activity, and it’s just plain fun to see your credit number!

The last word I will leave you with is that having a good credit score is only something to be proud of if you manage your debt well. Spending more than you have on credit cards, student loans, and car loans are all not advisable. As you work through whatever financial position you find yourself in, it is important to realize that a credit score is only a number that shows you how good you are at borrowing money… not a great thing to shoot for in life. Keep that in perspective and stick to that budget. You can do it!

Phase 2: Complete (APU debt fully paid!)

Bald Peak near our home in Forest Grove, OR. Less than 24 hours after becoming APU debt free!

I wrote a while back about taking the losses with victories in life, and vice versa. Thankfully today I’ve got a great victory to share! I’ve finished paying off ALL of my student debt from my undergraduate degree from Azusa Pacific University! It’s a huge win, and it feels great to finally be here.

I graduated just under five years ago (May 2014). I walked across the stage with $25,000 in student loans. That ballooned to $25,810 by that November (2014) when I made the first of my minimum payments. I gave little to no attention to the loans I owed on and figured I would make those minimum payments for the 10-year term they were set up for. I was oblivious, broke, and naive about my financial situation.

Fast forward a few years. I was getting ready to start a new life with Jos as a new husband, preparing for a move to Oregon with no job and a lot of question marks about our life in a new state as she began her graduate program for Speech-Language Pathology. When we moved here in July of 2017, my loan balance was $22,400. I had hardly made a dent in my principal balance even though I had already been making minimum payments for over three years. It was truly disheartening! Would this debt thing ever come to an end? Not at this rate.

In the month leading up to our wedding, God brought a startling realization to me: I was now responsible for the well being of not only me, but a young, wonderful, beautiful new bride to be. I had to get my act together! For me, the fire was lit with the idea of wanting to provide a better life for my new wife. I didn’t like what I had accomplished financially up to that point, and it was time for a change.

Fast forward again to May of 2018, about 10 months ago. My balance lingered at $21,200. But this time, things were different. Since getting married, we had dispatched around $15,000 in credit card debt. That was a victory in and of itself. Our sights were now set on my college loans. The minimum payments kept getting applied each month, but we began chunking away at it with large payments in between those minimums, and we started to see results. Each month the total balance would slide a little more. The $15,000 mark felt good to reach. Then $12,000. We had a goal to be under $10,000 by the end of December 2018, just this past Christmas. We came in at $7,500 left instead, way ahead of schedule. I continued the breakneck speed of both a demanding full-time IT job and driving to deliver pizzas a few nights a week. I got a bit burnt out, but it was too late for the loans, the damage had been done.

Three months later, on Friday, March 29th, 2019 I clicked “submit payment” for the last time. We made our FINAL payment on my loans. Victory! We had done it! $29,751.04 paid in full!

There will be other posts as we continue to the final Phase 3 of our debt payoff journey as we pay off Josilyn’s grad school loans. But is important to celebrate the wins, so that is what we have done this weekend. We are able to breathe a little easier, walk a little lighter, and smile a little more. We have a lot to be thankful for. God has blessed us mightily and He deserves credit for his continued provision.

Wrapping up this particularly joy-filled post, I want to reiterate as I have in the past that if you are in this boat of owing more than you could even imagine paying off, YOU CAN do it. You can do this too! We are normal, average Joes (technically Justins and Josilyns but you get the idea). If we can do this, so can you. If you or someone you know is struggling with debt of any kind and feeling hopeless like there is no good place to start, let me know! I love talking about this stuff, and I love the chance to encourage others to make good financial choices. As usual, thanks for reading, friends. Onward and Upward!

Additional Shoutout – Josilyn finished her last internship on Friday, making this a particularly wonderful weekend for us. She has worked so hard at her graduate program and is clearly going to make an excellent Speech-Language Pathologist! Graduation in May for her – so much to celebrate!

An Ode to Excellent Wireless

You’re not gonna believe what showed up in the mail today…


Yes, yes that is correct. You are gazing on a swag box of free goodies from none other than MintMobile! I was surprised a few weeks ago when I got a direct message from them asking for my street address. You won’t be surprised to know that this is the closest thing I will ever get to being sponsored by a company. Pretty funny stuff!

I guess I had made just enough noise about our excellent experience with MintMobile that they decided to give a little shout out. Up to this point, I’ve referred four new people to MintMobile. What’s awesome (and even more valuable than this bag of awesome goodies) is that they offer $15 off your next phone plan recharge when someone signs up using your referral code. With just the savings from these referrals, my next year of service will cost more than 30% less than the regular cost. And we are already talking low costs for mobile service from this awesome carrier.

The MintMobile movement is pretty awesome because it gets rid of things that you don’t need from a phone carrier. Some of these things I’ve already gone over, but they are worth repeating.

You don’t need a brand new phone. I am still rocking an iPhone 6S Plus from a few years ago. I bought it used for $180 and have had zero issues with it. The only thing it doesn’t have? A notch ; )

You don’t need a store to walk into. Walking into a wireless store is just a trap to get upsold on things you don’t need and services you’ll make little use of. Also, let’s be real. Even if you aren’t that great with tech, surely you know someone that knows how to swap out a SIM card on a phone. That is honestly the “trickiest” part about the whole thing, and it’s not even remotely difficult.

You don’t need to pay extra. Unlike cars where someone may notice if have a really nice ride or if you drive a beater, nobody cares what cell phone provider is delivering texts to your phone and routing your calls. Anymore, it doesn’t matter that much. My biggest fear of moving to MintMobile was getting back into Montana with it when we visited home. Those fears were quickly dashed as we traveled in and around Missoula and Bozeman, always having blazing fast 4G service wherever we found ourselves. This has proved to be a non-issue.

I’ve asked it before and I will certainly ask again. What has you so in love with your current phone provider that makes you not want to switch? Loyalty? To a company that takes more than their fair share of your paycheck each month? C’mon. There’s a better way to do this wireless thing. Give MintMobile a spin, and use this link to tell them I sent you:

Saving money is a big part of this blog, and saving on wireless is a simple and easy first step. Let me know if you have questions or concerns, I’m happy to ease the anxiety where I am able!