January 2017 Report: Personal Finance Goals and Winter Blues

  • DH = Dear Husband
  • DD2 = Dear Second Daughter

Lost on the golf course

About a month ago, I took our dog Rocky for a walk. We live near a golf course, and while we have to stay off of it during the summer months, through the winter, people are free to walk, ski, or toboggan on it. I took Rocky up onto an area of the golf course that was new to us. It was a mild evening, and  we walked for a good 20 minutes before turning back to go home.

I became alarmed after about 20 minutes. We should have reached the street, but we hadn’t, and it was nowhere in sight. As I surveyed the landscape beyond the hill we were climbing, all I could see were more trees (as featured above). Had we taken a wrong turn somewhere? I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, sensing the futility of continuing in this direction.

It wasn’t the first time I had become lost (I have a terrible sense of direction), and I accepted my situation stoically. I looked around for a recognizable landmark of some kind, and I saw three tall apartment buildings in the distance. If I could get to those buildings, I’d find my way home. The trek would add an hour to my walk with Rocky, but he certainly didn’t mind.

Winter blues

I have learned to accept that winter comes with its blues. This year, those blues came early and with greater than usual force. I don’t know why. If you’ve experienced it, you know what it’s like: every effort takes more energy than usual; and normal tasks become draining.

I remember reading some personal finance blog posts about New Year’s resolutions early January, and finding them oppressively perky. I read about a couple of no-spend challenges, and while my mind said, “I should join in,” I just didn’t have it in me. I felt as I did when I walked Rocky that evening – sensing a futility in continuing in the direction I was going: budgeting; tracking; blogging; budgeting; tracking; blogging . . .

Progress

But I’ve learned not to be led too much by feelings. When DH and I started our journey out of debt, I was high on purpose and determination. June 2nd 2012, I wrote my third post for this blog: “. . . DH and I are taking the proverbial first step on our journey out of debt.  Psyched by a vision of debt freedom, we feel a happy adrenaline – a hope-filled, united, optimistic energy.  At this point, I can`t even conceive of a time when we`ll hit a wall.”

That kind of new-beginnings-energy can’t last, and I knew it at the time. “At this point, we can allow ourselves to give in to the high of starting and to get as much mileage out of it as possible.” Through the years that have passed since that adrenaline-filled start, there have been “walls”. But perhaps because I have been on the look out for them, I’ve able to move forward in spite of their motivation-sucking force.

This month has been no exception. Our original total debt of $257,400 – a combination of consumer debt, business debt, and a mortgage – is now down to a modest mortgage of $86,900.

A matter of interest

I remember last January, DH wrote on our white board in the kitchen, “$297”. When he asked me what I thought it represented, I couldn’t say. “That’s the amount of monthly interest we’re down to now on our mortgage. We’re under $300.” That was a big deal because when we’d started our debt payoff,  we were paying over $600 per month in combined interest payments. This month, DH wrote “$192” on our white board.

An audacious goal

Seven years is the average amount of time it takes a household to become completely debt-free according to Dave Ramsey’s plan. So for a long time, our goal has been to become debt-free by June of 2019 – seven years after our June 2012 start.

This month, DH and I did some calculations. The maximum we can put against the mortgage on a monthly basis is $3,000. But once a year, we can put a lump sum to a maximum of $18,000 against it too. Last year, we made no lump sum payment. This year, we plan to. For the last year and a half, we’ve been paying $750 per month for DD2’s room and board as she studies at a university downtown. We’ll make our last payment in June.

If we continue to set aside the same amount of money on a monthly basis, we could save up for annual lump sums to speed up our progress. Our best case scenario is:

  • to pay the maximum $3,000 per month
  • to put aside an additional $750 per month, saved for annual lump sum payments, starting July 2017

In this best case scenario,  we’ll have the mortgage paid off January of 2019. So many things could happen to prevent this early pay-off date, but it is officially our new audacious goal.

Headed in the right direction

So the winter blues won’t steer me away from the direction we’ve been taking for almost 5 years now. Sure it would be nice to blow a few thousand on a trip south, but we’re staying the course.

Sunday morning, I took Rocky for a walk, and we went to the same section of the golf course that we’d walked on when we got lost. It was going to be a brief excursion, so I I knew I wouldn’t have the chance to take a wrong turn. After walking for about 5 minutes, we turned around. And I saw the same hill with the same trees beyond them that had convinced me I was lost a month earlier.

“I had a sinking feeling in my stomach, sensing the futility of continuing in this direction.” But it wasn’t futile! I wasn’t lost. I was headed in the RIGHT direction. If I had just climbed that hill, I would have seen that the trees beyond it were across the street  – the street that would bring me home.

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Have you ever hit a “wall” in trying to reach a goal? Do you get the winter blues? Your comments are welcome.


 

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16 CommentsLeave a comment

  • I can identify with this. I’m really not a fan of winter (or cold weather in general), and I definitely get the blues this time of year. It hasn’t helped that a number of unexpected expenses have just reared their ugly heads, and changed the landscape of my finances for the year. So while I may feel a little lost right now, I still know the overall direction I’m heading. It just feels like I’m trudging through snow to get there at the moment!

    • Unexpected expenses are indeed very ugly. You’re headed in the right direction, Gary. Your situation parallels strongly with my walk – even the uphill part. You’ll make it to the top – and the view will be reassuring. All the best, my friend.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever come down with the case of the winter blues. I do wish/dream for warmer temps after an extended cold spree or after shoveling snow. 🙂

    There is something to the highs/lows or peaks/valleys we go through when paying off debt or any goal for that matter. We were very focused/determined when paying off our consumer debt, but eased up a bit after. We are looking to regain that intensity with college costs looming. At least when you have achieved some level of success, you have that experience that you can draw from when you attempt to reach a goal again.

    • You certainly do have college costs looming with the twins about to start! I think that intensive debt payoff is a good training ground for the more diversified effort that follows it – short-term savings & long term savings & continued debt repayment for the mortgage. All spread out like that, it’s less satisfying, but it’s still so important to stick to it. All the best in regaining that determination, Brian.

  • I understand. I get the winter blues, though I’ve noticed they are much better on the days when the sun is out. I started off the new year excited and full of energy for what we could accomplish (financially) this year. And, though I still want to stay on track, we’ve been hit with some health related issues that make the money goals seem, well, not so important.

    I love following your family’s debt-free journey! It’s great you are paying so little in interest and have a plan for reaching debt freedom earlier than anticipated! Congrats! 🙂

    • It’s true that the sun makes a difference – but the sun has been hiding around here. I’m sorry to hear about your family’s medical issues, Amanda. You’re right about money goals not being so important when concerns over health arise. I hope that complete health and healing are in the near future. Take care.

  • You are almost there keep up the good work! I know how you feel. When my wife and I were paying off our mortgage I felt worse at the end then I did at the beginning, even though the balance of debt was obviously higher in the beginning. The best way to help get over the blues is to revisit your purpose for getting out of debt. Refocusing on my why helped be kick the minor depression :). That’s not to say you’ll still feel crappy for a while, but it will help to move you in the right direction.

    • I suspect a good dose of sun is what I need – and that will come in a couple of months : ) Interesting that you felt worse at the end of your mortgage payoff. Did winter blues have anything to do with that? Or was it impatience? We are committed to our focus of debt-freedom, and you’re right – it keeps us going in the right direction – even when we don’t feel like it. Thanks, Donnie.

  • Thanks for the update about your new audacious goal, as well as sharing about your winter blues. I can relate. This year I am trying to read my way through it–and I’m reading more books than blogs lately. It’s doing wonders for my mood. I couldn’t take all the “oppressively perky” New Year’s posts, either. I’m excited to hear when you are 100% debt free! You’ve come so far.

    • Thank you, Kalie. My book reading has really suffered since I started to blog, but I too have read more books in recent months. It’s a great way to fall asleep at night. And it definitely falls into the category of “frugal”. Let’s get through this winter!

  • Winter season gives me that feeling too. But, I have to keep positive that one day I will overcome all these challenges and achieve financial stability and debt freedom.

    • My guess is that winter blues will strike even after we’re debt-free and financially free. It’s just that then, we’ll have the option to fly south : ) All the best in getting there, Kelly!

  • Oh man, I feel for ya Ruth! I ended up with my dad’s sense of direction. Fortunately he was an aircraft mechanic, not a pilot. 🙂 Congratulations on getting down below $200/month mortgage interest. That has to be such a great feeling at this point in the game. 🙂

    • It took me a while to figure out the benefits of your dad’s being a mechanic instead of a pilot – but I got it! And yes, it does feel good to see that interest payment decrease. I’m looking forward to it being at $0 : )

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