Alternative Energy and Our Future


This blog may be specifically about fiscal responsibility and stewardship, but more and more I am also drawn to other forms of responsibility and growing up.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of having my own car. Specifically, I wanted a red car. Sometime during my teen years, my Dad and I took to searching through the classifieds for a suitable, reasonable first car. Being a kid still, I wanted something that would be fun and make me look cool. One morning Dad came downstairs to where I was getting ready for school. He had spotted a 1999 V6 Ford Mustang with 115,000 miles for only $3,200… but more importantly, with a stick shift! I thought I had died and gone to heaven. We bought it that same day. Thus began my love affair with vehicles, driving, and the open road.

Since then I’ve had a handful of other cars. One of the themes of these cars has been power. My Taurus SHO made 365 horsepower out of a twin turbo six. My Mach 1 Mustang was the louder, more powerful version of my first Mustang that I always wanted. It truly was a dream car. I’ve always had a thing for American Muscle.

Two years ago, some big shifts happened for me and my soon to be wife. We made some vehicle changes and she was researching a new car to replace her recently wrecked Corolla. Much to my satisfaction, she did all her own research and came to a conclusion on the next car she wanted: a Toyota Prius. I was not thrilled.

In typical awesome wife fashion (technically fiance at the time), she showed me the used car reliability ratings of Prius’ (the plural of Prius has been a point of contention among car enthusiasts for some time now, so I won’t even try). I was blown away. These cars that were nearly a decade old were pulling down all green circles in Consumer Reports. Pretty much unheard of. I glanced at ratings for similar year Accords, Camrys, Civics and Corollas. The Prius beat all of them, fair and square. Crazy! My cold heart warmed up just a little to the idea of driving the antithesis of the cars I had grown to love.

Jos bought a 2008 Prius with 92k miles out of Seattle, WA. Our first hybrid vehicle. Since then, we’ve put on quite a few miles and are now up over 125k. The car hasn’t made so much as a peep. Filling up from empty at the gas pump is very rewarding as well; even when the little tank is totally empty a refill still costs less than $25. This car has brought out a new interest of mine. Instead of making a lot of power and making a lot of noise, I’ve been totally intrigued by the idea of getting around for as little as possible, emitting fewer pollutants into the air that we collectively breathe.

This brings me to the excitement that I have for what I hope is a more electrified future. Tesla has led the charge (no pun intended) with electric vehicles, but there have been plenty of other car makers that have made strides in introducing electric cars to a country that is otherwise in love with gas-thirsty trucks and SUVs. I would definitely not claim to be any kind of environmentalist, but I also see and acknowledge that environmental changes are happening around us, and I’m not sure that we can pretend much longer that we are not a big part of inflicting these changes on our earth.

One of the things that excite me the most about electric cars is the opportunity to use renewable energy to propel these vehicles. With a gas car, you are bound to one source for getting your car around: burning gas or diesel. Not only is this not sustainable forever (we will eventually run out of oil), but it is way dirtier. Living in the greater Los Angeles area for my college years showed me what a city with dirty air quality feels and smells like. It’s not pleasant. Southern California really is a beautiful place, but air pollution is a huge turn-off. People aren’t going to stop driving cars, so it is important that we change the efficiency and fueling method for those vehicles. With an electric vehicle, you don’t have to produce any emissions while driving around. I smile every time I watch an electric vehicle drive by me because I can’t smell it, and I know it’s not pumping any harmful substances into the air we are breathing.

Also, how cool is it that you can produce the fuel (electricity) that powers an electric vehicle? With the cost of solar panels and equipment going down all the time, it will soon be feasible for houses and other building to be modified with low cost solar. How awesome would it be if you could drive your car around using energy that your home or property produced on its own? Sounds awesome to me.

Right now, depending on where you live, your electricity comes from a variety of sources. You may live close to a big river and have access to hydroelectricity. Maybe you live in a desert area that gets a ton of sun, so you get to use solar-produced power. Or maybe you live near a windy area and there are large turbines overhead that makes the power you use. Sure, there is still a need for coal and other less desirable energy sources, but we are moving toward having a cleaner, more sustainable future for us and future generations. I know I am sounding a bit like a hippy right now, but it’s less the tree-hugging side of this and more the technology and smart-energy side of things that is so cool to me.

If I had my way, I would go out and pick up a used Nissan Leaf from 2012 or 2013. But my lovely wife hates the way they look, and I can’t blame her. They are not attractive. Instead, we will probably keep saving our dollars and cents and eventually replace our Prius with a used Tesla Model 3 if we are lucky here in a few years. I am excited to see good used electric cars continue to come down in price as this will allow the average Joe to drive and enjoy the all-electric experience. Here’s to a shockingly fun automobile future!

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.

Is it good to have a large tax return?

Every changing of the calendar to a new year brings the end to the personal fiscal year, and introduces one of the least exciting, and often most dreaded times of the year: tax season. Even in 1789, Benjamin Franklin was well aware that “…in this world, nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” The tax man always comes around, and you do have to pay him what you owe. But you do have some control over what you pay him and when.

While tax season may not be smiled upon by most, a tax return is certain to make most grin from ear to ear, especially if the refund is a large one. But is a large tax refund really something to be excited about? Let’s take a closer look.

The rate at which taxes are withheld from your paycheck is calculated using the number of allowances you claim on your W-4 form. This form is filled out for the first time when you begin working for a new employer. But you are usually able to change or re-submit your W-4 if you need to make adjustments. Let’s take a personal example.

For 2017, I claimed two (2) allowances on my W-4 form with my employer. I had a higher amount of taxes withheld for that year since I chose a lower number of allowances (fewer allowances = more taxes paid upfront), and because of that, we got back a pretty big chunk of change in the form of state and federal tax refunds. Here is the issue with a big payout, however.

When you are paying more than you owe in taxes, and you get a big refund, you are overpaying. Basically, you are giving an interest-free loan to your state and/or federal government. When you get a tax refund, they don’t pay you any interest on the money they’ve essentially borrowed from you. This is a bad investment for your money! An adjustment needs to be made here.

If you do get a tax refund that is relatively large, you may want to revisit your W-4 allowances. After we got our rather sizeable tax refund in 2017, I resubmitted a W-4 to my company’s accountant, upping my allowances to five (5). Doing so lowered the amount of taxes that were withheld, or set aside for taxes, each paycheck. Doing this is going to result in a much smaller tax refund, which may seem like a bad thing at first glance. But let’s remember, if we are paying less in taxes on each paycheck throughout the year, then that is more money in your pocket with each paycheck. If you are getting out of debt, this extra could be applied using your handy dandy zero-balance budget.

In order to be tax efficient, you will want to pay attention to your tax refund this year. If it is a decent percentage of your take-home pay, you will likely want to make an adjustment. Back to our example, our tax refund in 2017 was around 6-7% of our gross take-home pay. This was WAY too large an amount. This year, we are looking at our refund being closer to 1-1.5% of our gross income instead. There is a balance to be struck here, as you don’t want to OWE a lot of extra taxes when tax time rolls around, so be smart. I used to do our taxes, but since marrying into a wonderful family full of talented individuals, I now have an uncle-in-law who is a CPA and is WAY better at this tax stuff than I could ever be.

My last point I would like to make ties into that. A good CPA (accountant) is worth their weight in gold. They will always be able to maximize your refund and find tax breaks for your situation that you likely would not be aware of if you just used TurboTax or some other tax software. Unless you are an accountant yourself, handing over the task of taxes to a true professional is the right move. Any cost associated with having them handle your tax filing will not only pay for itself, but it will also often give you back more than you pay them for filing your taxes in the first place. An excellent investment indeed!

Sustaining a Reasonable Food Budget

If you are new to budgeting and intentionally living within your means, you may wonder if it is sustainable to live on less than you make and not totally hate it. After setting up how much you are going to spend on each category, how do you continually make choices to move towards the financial life that you desire? How do you stay consistent and remain unwavering in your decision to make some short term sacrifices to enable you to succeed in having long term financial success?

If you listen to Dave Ramsey for any length of time, you will hear him regularly talk about living on “rice and beans, beans and rice.” The concept is that while you are paying off debt, you should not “see the inside of a restaurant unless you are working there.” You should not go out to eat during this time frame. I do understand where he is coming from, and where he is trying to get his listeners to. I can relate to this, and did go this direction early on in our debt repayment journey. I was stingy in my allocation of money for nights out or having a bite to eat at a restaurant. And the logic behind it does make a lot of sense.

Spending money on restaurants and drinks out can be a huge drain on your budget. When Jos and I were dating early on, I was eating at restaurants regularly, especially for lunch and dinner. Heck, I even got in a routine for a while of stopping at a place on my way to work in the morning to get a bagel sandwich and a coffee to go. Money, money, money. I wasn’t even eating extravagant meals, I don’t have very expensive taste when it comes to food. But it was adding up. At one point we sat down together and I highlighted on my bank and credit card statements (sadly a lot of this was ending up on credit cards) all of my dining out expenses. It was staggering. Just an example from one of my average months showed I was blowing over $650 just on food. It was out of control.

In light of this, Ramsey’s approach made sense for someone like me. If I wanted to make a change, I need to do some drastic changing. Food was one of the areas where I needed a major wake up call. After we got married, we ate out very little in our first few months as an overcompensation to the large spending I had done in this category beforehand. Little to no spending at restaurants for us. But here’s the thing: extremism applied to any good cause is likely to fail.

After a few months of our fairly stiff frugality, we both became a bit miserable and a bit resentful toward this standard that basically banned restaurant eating from our budget. To make matters worse, we had just moved to the greater Portland, OR area which is notorious for great places to eat. It was a bad combination.

What I have learned after being on both sides of this fence is that there must be a healthy compromise. Beans and rice would be great from a pure spreadsheet point of view. And sure, on the flip side, I would love to say that we have tried every trendy eatery in town. But we haven’t. Somewhere in the middle lies the sweet spot between frugality and gluttony. We mustn’t punish ourselves with the budget or blindly swipe plastic aimlessly at any joint that looks like it’s worth trying out. Find that sweet spot and embrace it.

For us, our number is $80 every two weeks. This allows us to eat out a few times at cheaper places, or once or twice if we try something nicer. It would be a crime to have lived in the Portland area for 18 months and to have not tried some of the awesome food it has to offer. And it would be foolish to think that we can afford a steady stream of food prepared by someone else, outside of our home while paying off student loans. So what is your number? This will probably take some trial and error. Maybe you really do have a tight budget and you need to stick to eating out once a month or less. Or maybe you do have more flexibility as you pay off debt, but you know that you are spending too much on food. A budget is a flexible, fluid tool that is designed to serve you and get you where you want to go. Try a number, and then re-evaluate. Then try again, and see how it goes. You will find your happy medium.

My last thought on this is to identify and embrace that food is a huge part of our social lives. We are blessed to eat three meals a day, and each of those meals offers a chance to break bread with people we love. It provides an excellent environment to share ideas, laugh, catch up, and grow our social and relational connections. Food is important. With a proper perspective on it, we can allow food to be the wonderful gift that it is!

Tools I Use – – Account Tracking


Not to be confused with MintMobile, our cell phone provider, has been around in some form since its inception in 2006. It is a finance and budget tracking app and website. It has a number of great uses, but for the last few years, I’ve primarily used it as a one-stop hub to keep track of account balances, both positive and negative.

When managing finances and getting out of debt, it can be very easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged by all of the accounts you may have open, and how to keep track of each one of them. You may have three or four credit cards, all with different websites and logins. You may have student loans with multiple loans bundled within them, or your loans might be a combination of government loans and private. Maybe you have a couple of checking accounts or savings accounts, and those too require continual logins (and remembering those credentials) to access balances and other account information. Wouldn’t it be great if all your balances could be clearly listed out and updated without you having to keep track of some insane spreadsheet or checkbook? Mint flexes its muscle in this area, making the complex process of tracking balances quite simple.

When you first create a Mint account, you can start adding your accounts one at a time. For example, you can start with your main checking account. You are prompted to sign into it once, and then whenever you sign into Mint again, voila, there is your updated account balance for your checking. You can then add your credit card accounts, one at a time, by logging into them and letting Mint import all of your transaction and balance info. Say you get logged into your four credit cards. Next time you want to know how much total you owe on your credit cards, just sign into Mint! It will have your grand total neatly listed out with all of the credit card account balances beneath it.

Another great use of Mint is to track student loans. Jos and I each have our own login portals for our loan providers. Instead of having to access each set of loans separately, we just added them both to my Mint account. When we make one of our big loan payments, we can log into Mint and see the Loans section drop by whatever amount we paid on. It’s very rewarding watching that balance drop over time.

Lesser used and less important for our stage in the game are the Investments and Property portions. Here you can add your investment accounts to track your account balance there, very similar to how you track student loans or checking accounts, for example. And with Property, you can add things like cars or a house. We have our two cars added in this section. Mint reaches out to KBB (Kelley Blue Book) to get approximate values for private party value based on the car’s age, make, model and mileage. A nice feature, but not super useful day in and day out.

One last feature that Mint added not too long ago is a free credit score monitor. I have another favorite app dedicated for this (spoiler alert: it’s Credit Karma), but it is a nice freebie that lets you keep an eye on your credit score and track its trends, as well as giving you some advice on how to raise your credit score. Just be aware, they do try to sell you things from some of their affiliates.

Some of you may be wondering if it is safe to have one site handle all of this important financial info. That is up to you, but I find it to be just as safe as logging into any other financial institution through a web browser. The site is secure (it uses encryption technology) and has the same if not better security standards as the other sites you would access anyway for banking and account information. As usual though, never log into any sensitive banking site while using public wifi or from a device that is not yours. Also, always use secure, long and complex passwords.

Mint can also be used as a powerful budget creation and tracking tool. They have an excellent app for iPhone and Android alike, and the website is pretty streamlined and easy to use. We do not use it for budgeting (we use Simple bank, another tool you’ll hear more about later), but I know many people use the budget features and enjoy them.

Mint is a great way to view your zoomed out, “big picture” financial standing on one site. It minimizes the need to log into multiple sites. Its interface is easy on the eyes and easy to navigate. Everyone can find value in what Mint has to offer its users. Did I mention, it’s free? Happy budgeting, friends!

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!