Archive - January 2018

Frugality, Housework, Household Dynamics

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD3 = Dear Third Daughter

Giving up cleaning service for debt-reduction

When we first started our journey out of debt in June of 2012, one of the expenses we let go was a house cleaning service once every two weeks. It was a good frugal move, saving us $200 per month. It was also the most challenging move of our overall mission to get out of debt.

“Why?” you might ask. “What’s the big deal with housework? Everyone’s got to do it. Just do it!”

I’ve tried to give an answer to that question in various posts over the years. Here is one I gave 5 years ago:

“I hate cleaning. Most people don’t like cleaning, but what I’m talking about goes way beyond the general dislike. It’s a uniquely fierce loathing. I’m able to discern it in others when they have it, and I feel an automatic bond with them. But most people don’t understand. They have a ‘suck it up, Princess’ attitude to any whining, so I pick my audience carefully when the need to vent arises.”

A month later, I wrote:

“With DH’s constant work, I’m doing the grocery shopping, the driving of our children to their activities, the cooking, the dishes, dog-walking, logistical arrangements to make plans come together…  And all this on top of my day job… I brought this fact to DH’s attention last week, and he acknowledged it. ‘So why don’t we hire cleaners again?’ I asked. He recoiled at the thought and committed to house-cleaning on Saturday morning. We would both put in four hours, and get it done. I agreed and said nothing about my doubts. As I suspected, Saturday came and went with no house-cleaning. He had too much work to do. I did not take up the slack. And that’s how I plan to play it. Let the dust bunnies take over.”

What about getting the kids to help?

5 years ago, we had a 13-year-old and an 18-year-old living with us. (Our eldest was studying away from home.) Why couldn’t our daughters do the housework with me and get it done? That is a very, very good question, and the answer is not easy for me to acknowledge. There was some significant dysfunction in our family dynamics at that time, and DH and I could not make the whole “team work” thing happen.

Some parents manage to get through the teen years without upheaval. If you are in that category of parent, that’s great, and no doubt you did a number of things right to make that happen. We aren’t in that category. We had years of significant issues, and combined with DH’s career crisis and our financial mess it was tough. To-the-breaking-point tough. Could we have managed things better and avoided that chapter of hell? Certainly the money-stress had been of our making and it compounded all other stresses. Apart from that, I don’t know. What I do know is that at that point, we could not make family house-cleaning function.

Housework = something I wanted to outsource

So housework was a heavy burden for me. Something I didn’t like – that I resented – and that my energy levels were too low to do well. Just after the 3-year mark of our journey out of debt, we reached the milestone of having paid off everything except for the mortgage. We gave ourselves permission to hire cleaners again.

Another thing I gave myself permission to do after reaching that milestone was to stop teaching summer school. For the first 4 summers of our journey out of debt, I took on summer school as a way to earn extra income to bring the debt down. Now, since I was taking my summers off, we canceled the cleaning service for July and August because I had lots of time to do it myself.

Functional family housecleaning

Last summer, as September approached I decided I didn’t want to hire the cleaning service again for the school year. “Let’s try again to do it ourselves,” I said to DH. And we have. And it’s working! I think there’s a good chance we will never hire cleaners again.

The house-cleaning is divided into 3 parts:

  • I clean about half of the house.
  • DH and DD3 each clean about a quarter of the house.

Every weekend, I spend 3 or 4 hours cleaning. And it’s perfectly fine. It’s not the burden I found it to be 5 years ago. Why not?

  • I find it SO MUCH easier to clean when I know that other people in the household are doing their share of it too. When we happen to clean at the same time, it’s elevated to a strong bonding experience that verges on pleasant. (For real!)
  • Since I’m not doing it all myself, I’m not left with that depleted-but-still-not-on-top-of-it discouragement. I’m NOT depleted. We ARE on top of it!
  • The elements of dysfunction in our household have largely disappeared. There is no war to wage to make this happen.

I have a friend who has often pointed out that since DH and I started our journey out of debt, our relationship has so clearly grown stronger. I haven’t always seen it, but in this instance I’m really struck by it. When a couple can work together to keep the house clean, it’s a VERY GOOD sign. When they can lead their children to take part in the effort, EVEN BETTER. A whole lot has to be going right for household house-cleaning to be done fairly, consistently, and well.

Ripple effects of debt-reduction

How have we managed to get from Point A to Point B? Just as I don’t have a complete understanding of how Point A happened in the first place, I can’t say definitively what has made things get better. But I do believe this: In facing our debt head-on, DH and I have had to deal with many of our respective character flaws, and we’ve had to confront areas of miscommunication and misunderstanding. As we’ve worked on these things, ALL areas of life have improved – not just our finances. Our household relationships are better. And we make a fine house-cleaning team.


Do you hate housework? Or is it not a big deal for you? How did your family deal with housework as you were growing up? If you live with others now, does everyone do their share of the housework? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of Hyperbole and a Half

Commuting Blues = Early Retirement Goal

It’s Sunday evening, and there’s a lovely view outside. The snow is falling, and since it’s been falling for a few hours, everything looks like a Christmas card. This is the kind of scene that makes winter look inviting. The caption could be, “Get out your toboggan!” Or, “Time to get your skis on!” Or, “Walkin’ in a winter wonderland!”

But for me, and for thousands like me, the message is this: “Tomorrow’s commute to work is going to be brutal! Leave at least an hour early.”

3 commutes from hell in one week

The second last Tuesday before holidays, I left the house at 7:20, trying to stifle a nagging thought at the back of my mind that I’d blown it: I was going to be late for work. The snow was falling rather gracefully, so I tried to convince myself I could still make it in to my job – at a high school – by 8:00. In a burst of proactive decision-making, I chose a different route – one my colleague had sworn was always reliable. Within 10 minutes, I knew something was up.

It took another two hours for me to find out what that something was: a lane closure at about the half-way point, caused by an accident. I pulled into work at 10:15, my soul sucked dry by the 3-hour commute. “I NEVER want to go through that again,” I thought.

The next day, a Wednesday, snow still falling, I was on the road just after 7:00 … And I walked into work just before the 9:00 bell.

Thursday, I left for work at 6:45. “Not taking any chances,” I thought. But even then, my normally 40-minute commute to work more than doubled to an hour-and-a-half.

FIRE types blast commuting

Early retirement bloggers have nothing good  to say about commuting. They live close to their places of work, and they bus, cycle, or walk to get there. In a post from 2011, Mr. Money Mustache itemizes the evils of a 40-minute commute over the long-term – wasted money, wasted time, stress, danger … And he doesn’t even include snow storms.

Whenever conversations about work-life balance arise, I speak as the FIRE types do, and argue for intentionally setting up close to work to avoid long commutes. But for me, it’s too late. The costs, financial and otherwise, of moving out of our home don’t make sense – especially since DH is established here in his home business. And the idea of trying to find work at a school closer to home? I am so much happier at my current school than I have been at any other. That counts for something, and I’m not willing to give it up – especially this close to retirement.

Retirement miscalculation & MMM’s less-$-needed

I recently realized a huge oversight I had made in calculating my retirement year and income. The upshot of it was that while I correctly identified June of 2019 as the earliest I could qualify for a pension, I overestimated that pension by $8,000 annually. My pension income would actually be only half of my current income if I took that 2019 retirement date. “You might have to work longer,” DH said. I agreed.

But when I was sitting in traffic for 3 hours that Tuesday morning, I thought it would be worth at least $8,000 per year NOT to have to commute anymore.

Another Mr. Money Mustache concept is this: if you get used to frugal living, not only can you retire earlier thanks to more money saved and invested, you can also retire earlier because your expenses, having become lower with a simpler lifestyle, can be funded with less money.

My financial freedom date: still June 2019

My $8,000 per year miscalculation is no small deal, but I believe we can set things up so that the lower-than-anticipated income will be more than enough. If we play it right, I should be able to say “Good-bye” to the morning commute in another year and a half. That thought helps me face it for the short term.

As the snow continues to fall outside, I’m mentally preparing myself for a very early start tomorrow morning. My plan is to leave by 6:15.


Do you have a long commute to work? Is there something you can do to change it? Or do you feel stuck with it until retirement? Could you live on 50% of your income in retirement? Your comments are welcome.


*Images courtesy of Jeremy Jenum via flickr and Freephoto.com

 

 

 

2018: Our Year of Debt-Freedom

DH = dear husband

As I looked ahead to our journey out of debt in May of 2012, I wrote, “According to my rough calculations, it will take just over five years for us to get there.  But I’m not very good at math, and I know that the unexpected will happen, so I’m not committed to the timing – just the direction of the journey:  out of debt.”

We’ve been following Dave Ramsey’s steps to debt-freedom, and in his book The Total Money Makeover, Ramsey says it takes the average household seven years to get there. As we progressed along our debt-repayment in those first couple of years, it became clear that we were falling in line with that 7-year average. Our projected debt-freedom date: June 2019.

The numbers from our starting point of June 2012:

  • Consumer Debt – $21,400
  • Business Debt – $80,800
  • Mortgage Debt – $155,000
  • Total Debt – $257,200
  • Emergency Fund – Non-existent
  • Investments – Not happening (except for my automatic pension contributions through work)

Our progress as of December 2017:

  • Consumer Debt – Paid
  • Business Debt – Paid
  • Mortgage Debt – $60,000
  • Total Debt – $60,000
  • Emergency Fund – Full
  • Investments – Happening on a regular monthly basis

Inheritance

My mom passed away in November. I remember how heartened and relieved she was when DH and I became focused on debt-reduction. She and my dad (who passed away in 2007) had always been frugal and money-wise, and my many years of financial mismanagement had bewildered and often frustrated them. Our turn-around was of satisfying significance to Mom, and she cheered us on. My sister who lives out west told me that when she would talk with Mom on the phone, Mom would often happily share our debt-reduction progress as part of her newsworthy family updates. I don’t think we ever get too old to enjoy making our parents proud, and a big part of the encouragement I’ve felt over the years in watching our debt numbers drop was in knowing how pleased my mom was about it.

So I write this next part with mixed feelings. The inheritance that I am receiving will move our date of debt-freedom up by about 8 months. Instead of June 2019, it will likely be September 2018.

We can put one lump sum against our mortgage once per year to a maximum of $18,000, and while we had planned to take advantage of that option for 2017, we had no illusions about being able to make the maximum payment. But we have. So to update our update:

  • Mortgage Debt – $42,000
  • Total Debt – $42,000

Of course I’m grateful. Of course it wouldn’t be this way if I had the choice.

Resolutions for 2018

No mortgage penalty

We’re not going to wipe out the mortgage and incur a penalty – no need to waste a cent going that route. We’ll put another maximum lump sum down and pay off the balance with regular monthly payments. That intention in itself is an indication of how far I’ve come. Impatience was a major root of the financial chaos in which I operated for years, and for me, it has been the biggest challenge of our journey out of debt. But I’m not giving in to it. The wisest thing to do is to take our time, pay off the mortgage without penalty, and invest the rest. So that’s what we’re doing.

The moving plank analogy

A less S.M.A.R.T goal that I have is to fine-tune the self-discipline that I’ve been building over these last 5 years. For 2016, my resolution involved a planking analogy. At the end of 2015, we had recently finished Ramsey’s Step #2 (pay off all non-mortgage debt), and were adjusting to steps #3 and #4 (save a big emergency fund and invest regularly). I had found the change difficult. For me, it was more satisfying to attack the debt full-on, with no diversions into savings and investments. I wrote: “I need the core strength – the stability and balance – of patience in my approach to our shifted financial goals. Muscles in the human pelvis, lower back, hips and abdomen ideally work in harmony. Efforts towards our savings, investments, mortgage payments, and giving can also progress towards an ideal of harmony. No rush. Slow, steady, progress. Balance. Stability. Just breathe, and hold a little longer … like a plank.”

At the end of 2016, I managed to hold a 5-minute plank. And DH and I also succeeded in reaching a strong, steady habit of saving and investing as well as paying off debt. But I’ve learned something about planking: It’s much better to vary your planking position every 10-30 seconds than it is to hold a single position for several minutes. And I’d like to work that concept into the new steadiness of our personal finances.

I’d like to take another step away from the “all-or-nothing” financial compulsion that I’ve always had. This compulsion has moved from spending-max-out to intensive-debt-payoff to strictly-budgeted-savings/investments/mortgage-payments. The moves have been made in the right direction, and  we have healthier finances as a result. But now, while I want the same level of strength, I also want more flexibility – less “strict”. No surrender to chaos, but more ebb and flow within a strong, steady effort. Less set-in-stone, and more room to adjust … like a moving plank.


Do you have a New Year’s resolution? Your comments are welcome.


*Image courtesy of Pixabay.