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Paris, France: November 13, 2015

The French flag

I sat down at my computer this morning to write a post, but my fingers were paralyzed over the keyboard. The attacks in Paris yesterday, which left 129 dead and hundreds more injured, had left me numb. They were “soft targets” – a concert venue, cafés, bars, restaurants, a sports stadium. The victims were civilians – teens and twenty-somethings out for a rock concert. Working people kicking back with friends over a drink and a meal, ready to welcome the week-end. Families running errands at the mall.

The sick, cowardly hatred behind these co-ordinated terrorist attacks set off such shock-waves of anger and sadness that paralysis is, I suspect, the outward face of this day for many. There’s a sense of deflating hope. Deflating momentum. If it can all be taken away with one gullible sucker of a suicide bomber, what’s the point, right?

But that’s just the way the dark side wants us to feel. And I don’t want the dark side to win.

Let sadness be turned to love. It is unthinkable how many people in Paris today are coping with the devastating loss of daughters and sons and sweet-hearts and parents and siblings and friends and colleagues. It is true that not one of us is guaranteed another day with our loved ones. Make sure they know they are loved.

Let fear be turned to spiritual peace. There was nothing the victims could have done to protect themselves. The randomness of the assault made it inescapable. It is true that the possibility of death, though highly unlikely for most of us on any given day, is nevertheless ever-present. Make your peace with it.

Let hatred be turned to wisdom. I can easily imagine the backlash against Muslims that might happen in Paris in the days ahead. Even against those who have spoken out in horrified disgust against yesterday’s brutality and who would have given their lives to save the victims if they could have. It is true that there are twisted people who are capable of enormous evil in our midst – of all backgrounds and belief systems – who portray themselves convincingly as harmless. Avoid simplistic, broad-brush scapegoating. Get humble and real about your own dark side, and allow a vigilant awareness to develop.

Let paralysis be turned to purpose. I’m sure there are many in Paris who weren’t able to get up out of bed to face the day today. In the silence after the gunfire and bomb explosions, there are insidious whisperings of futility. How many dreams for the future were dashed in a matter of hours yesterday? How much accomplishment was blasted away in a few moments? It is true that no outcome for any effort is guaranteed. So be motivated by what is greater than the outcome. Be motivated by the underlying principles of your goals. They are impervious to criminal insanity. They are eternal.

Let cynicism be turned to outreach. There is a highly effective recruitment machine at work – with the specific target of disaffected young men in need of validation, a sense of significance, and a father figure. The minds behind this machine tap into screaming needs of seekers with a promise to offer “the answer”. Purpose. Power. Paradise. As far as we know, eight such seekers gave their lives to the cause of Friday’s destruction in Paris. It is true that there are daunting, seemingly limitless social needs in our world. And arguably, their most disturbing expression is in the form of violence at the hands of brain-washed, manipulated young men. As parents, grand-parents, aunts, uncles, community members and leaders – let’s face these desperate needs head-on and work constructively towards their fulfillment.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that.”

Love and healing, comfort and strength to the people of France. Que Dieu soit avec vous dans votre détresse.

Our First Investment Event & We’re Not on the Same Page

Giving Murray’s investment visual: “That is death!’

DH = Dear Husband

(Just to let you know, I didn’t write this post to advertise Nick Murray or Investors Group. DH and I attended an IG event at which Murray spoke this past week, and I’m sharing my understanding of his advice as well as the way it is impacting our journey towards debt-freedom and financial freedom. I’m not advertising Dave Ramsey either. His debt-reduction plan is the one we’ve been following for over 3 years, so I make frequent reference to it. But no kick-backs for me in either case.)

Our first financial planning event

DH belongs to a network group of self-employed men and women, and besides meeting once per week, they try to support each other’s businesses. The financial planner in the group, who knows that DH and I are interested in upping our investments soon, invited us to an Investors Group event at which an eminent financial planner was to speak. It would be the first financial planning function that we had ever attended.

We went on Thursday evening, dressed in casual jeans, and were rather surprised to find a room full of people in suits. “Those must be all of the financial planners,” DH surmised. If so, there sure were a lot of them. Most of the audience consisted of people older than we are – late 50s to early 70s and higher – with a few spiffy looking young people interspersed here and there.

 

Murray’s advice

The man of the hour, Nick Murray, was indeed impressive, with both the credentials and the powerful presence to command everyone’s respect. He spoke slowly, emphatically, and with dry, dry humour. Generally level and unhurried, he would occasionally belt out a point he wanted to drive home. Here are the 3 basic guiding principles for investing that he presented:

  1. We have longer life-spans than ever, and they’re getting longer. 50 years ago, retirement was a relatively brief period of time that lasted between the end of a career at age 65 and death at age 72. The average North American today retires at age 62. And the average North American couple retiring today is expected to have at least one in the partnership living until 91. Door #1: Your money will outlive your life. Door #2: You will outlive your money. Set yourself up so that you walk through Door #1.
  2. There is a very common, very wrong piece of advice floating around out there: As you approach retirement, change your investment portfolio so that it includes more “safe” investments, like bonds, and fewer stocks since they are more prone to the volatility of the market. “This is death!” yelled Murray. And he offered the right piece of advice: Keep your investments in dividend yielding stocks. Why? Because if you go “safe”, you’re essentially going fixed-income, and you’re setting yourself up for poverty in old age as the cost of living keeps going higher and higher through the 3 decades of your retirement. But if you stay invested in stocks, although there will be yearly volatility, there will also be an average growth that consistently outpaces the rising cost of living.
  3. Don’t panic when the downswings happen. When you hear, “This time, it’s different,” remember it’s not. Historically, and without exception, people stay ahead of the rising cost of living when they have a well-managed, diversified stock portfolio. “Diversification means,” said Murray, “that you’ll never get rich overnight when a company’s stock price suddenly soars. And you’ll never lose your fortune overnight when a company’s stock price suddenly plunges.”

“That is death” visual

Murray’s “That is death!” point was the one point he really wanted to drive home, and he provided a visual to reinforce it. Starting with the left arm bent at the elbow, forearm going straight across his rib cage, parallel with the floor, he said, “This is your fixed income.” Bringing the right arm into play,  he placed his elbow at the fingertips of his left hand and brought his right hand up to form a 45 degree angle (as I demonstrate above). “And this is your rising cost of living,” he explained. “That is death!”

My question: Debt-payoff or investment?

During the Question and Answer segment of the evening Thursday night, I braved a question. “If we have debt, would you advise us to lean towards paying it off or towards investing.” Murray responded with grace. “That’s a good question,” he said. “I would say it depends upon the debt. If you have a high interest credit card debt, for heaven’s sake, pay it off. But if you have a low interest mortgage of 3% and your average returns on dividends run around 5 or 6%, it makes more sense to invest – unless having a mortgage is really bothering you.” I wanted to say, “But Dave Ramsey says …” but I didn’t.

Impact upon our situation? Not on the same page

DH and I have been on a journey out of debt for the past 3 and a half years, and we’ve been on the same page in following the steps Dave Ramsey outlines in his book The Total Money Makeover. Having paid off all non-mortgage debt ($102,000), we’re now saving an emergency fund. The next step, according to Ramsey, will be to pay off the mortgage as aggressively as possible while investing 15% of our gross income. Our mortgage is now down to $120,000, and I’m fixed on the goal of having it paid off by June of 2019.

I’m committed to Ramsey’s plan. And having listened to Murray’s advice, I’m in favour of investing in dividend yielding stocks that will help see us through what will hopefully be decades of retirement, despite the rising cost of living. I say “help” see us through because, besides DH already having a small portfolio from his high tech days, we have my teacher’s pension ahead of us. We’ll be pretty well set up with that, but of course we want to be better set up, and of course DH wants to bring new life to his small portfolio.

He’s not so sure about prioritizing the emergency fund now. He’s not so sure about prioritizing the mortgage in a few months. He feels the waste of too little investing when times were good. And the waste of no investing after the high tech bust of the early 2000s. At this point, gainfully employed in his home business for over 6 years, having paid off his business debt, and having attended this IG event, he’s chomping at the bit to invest. Now.

So there it is. Ramsey’s plan has worked wonders for us over the past 3.5 years, and I’m committed to it from this point forward too. DH isn’t. We won’t be making any decisions immediately. We’re in the midst of renovations, and any week now, DH will be doubly swamped with the Christmas rush. But once the dust settles, we’ll be taking action. I’m dreading the possibility of locked horns on this issue. I feel really strongly about staying the course. I’ll keep you posted.


What do you think? Should we keep following Ramsey’s plan? Or should we make investing the priority now? Your comments (and advice) are welcome.

 

 

Frugality & Mindfulness (which isn’t always frugal) in Our Renovations

  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

See that floor up there? I wondered at first what the square thing in the middle was. It’s the reflection of the room’s window. The floor is so shiny, it reflects things! Isn’t that a whole lot better than what we had before?

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(I have to say it again because it’s so embarrassing: we didn’t realize how disgusting DH’s office carpet had become until after we had moved out all of his business furniture and equipment.)

Renovations while trying to become debt-free?

“Aren’t you trying to get out of debt?” asked a friend’s daughter when she overheard me talking with her mom about our renovations. It’s a good question, and here’s a recap of why we’re doing it now:

  • The room above had become too small to hold the paraphernalia of DH’s business.
  • Our combined living room and dining room area – more than twice the size of his old office – had become a storage area for his business.
  • We decided to let this larger space become his office.
  • His old office would become our new living room.
  • Our old family room would become our new combined dining room/sitting room.
  • In June, after the first three years of our journey out of debt, we finished paying off all $102,000 of our non-mortgage debt, so we have allowed ourselves a few “extravagances.” This renovation project is one of them.

The theory of relativity (of frugality)

I’ve come to the conclusion that frugality is relative. Are we being frugal with our renovations? Relative to early-financial-freedom badasses like Mr. Money Mustache (who retired at 30) and The Frugalwoods (who will be retiring at 33)? No. Relative to other people on our street? Yes. But I’ve also come to the conclusion that the answer to questions like these don’t matter. The question that matter is this one: Are we being frugal with our renovations relative to ourselves? How are we doing with our spending now in comparison with how we would have done things in our pre-money-smart days of growing debt?

Spending money saved vs. spending on credit

In the old days? We would not have set money aside in advance. We would have bought with our Visa, and if we hadn’t been able to pay off our card at the end of the month (and for October, we wouldn’t have), we’d have extended our line of credit.

As it is, we are not financing these renovations with debt. Any flooring we install, any furniture we buy, any electrical work we do is being purchased with money on hand. I taught summer school through both July and August of this year, and every cent of my pay went into our renovation account. All money earned from our garage sale and Kijiji sales went into that account. We’ve added different “slush” amounts to it each month since June too. We’re spending money we’ve earmarked for this project. Pass!

Taking our time vs. buying on impulse

We first decided upon this plan of action for our house over a year ago. In the old days, we would have followed through within several months of making the decision.

For flooring,

  • We would have gone with our first thought of hiring a contractor to install it.

For our new living room,

  • We would have ordered the cool hardwood-and-industrial-metal end-table on the spot.
  • We would have bought the small leather sectional sofa within days of seeing it.
  • We would have ordered the rugged cube ottomans, that with a flip of the top turn into mini-tables, on the spot.

For our new combined dining room/sitting room,

  • We would have ordered the gorgeous red Italian leather love-seat within days of seeing it.

As it is,

  • DH is installing the hardwood himself. Using a nail-gun borrowed from one friend and a table-saw borrowed from another, he spent last week-end putting in the floor you see above. Over the next few weekends, he’ll be installing the much larger floor space of what will be our dining room/sitting room.
  • Instead of ordering that amazing end-table on the spot, we kept looking. Our living room, we considered, was going to be a casual hang-out place – one that would be heavily used by the teenagers in our lives. Did our living room end-table have to be that spectacular? No. We bought one for a quarter of the price at a less expensive store.
  • We decided, for the same reason, that there was no call for leather furniture in the new living room. We bought fabric sectional sofa/pull-out bed for half the price.

These decisions taken together add up to $2,800 not spent. Pass!

Mindful splurges

I didn’t cover everything in that last bit. What about those rugged ottomans that turn into mini-tables? They were well over twice the price of the Wal-Mart version. We didn’t order them on the spot – as we would have in our debt-ridden days. But that doesn’t mean we’re not going to. Again, our new living room is going to get heavy use – by teens. Rugged will be good. After thinking about it, we’re going to order them.

And the red leather love-seat? We saw it when we first started to look around in May, and it sang angel music to us. It was the right small size we needed. It was the right red accent. It was perfect to sit in. And SO expensive. We’ve seen many love-seats since then, but when we saw this red one again yesterday, it sang the same song it had five months ago. It is the one. And it was on sale. Still expensive, but $500 less than it would have been in May. We ordered it.

Is this another Pass! – or is it a Fail? On the one hand, our combined dining room/sitting room is going to be our “nice” room, so we really do want it to look good. Also, we might move out of our house and get a smaller one once DH retires from his business in the next five to ten years. This love-seat is one we’d be able to keep through that transition for the long term. And we’re paying with money we’ve saved. So Pass! right?

On the other hand, in no way are these purchases – especially the love-seat – frugal. Despite the “savings” of $500, we could easily have found another one for half the price. But not one that sang to us. Hmmmm…? Is this a case of endorphins taking over? I don’t think so. We definitely got that brain rush in May when we first saw it, but five months later, it was more a case of – “OK, this is just a GREAT piece of furniture, and we haven’t found another one that comes close.” Is this a case of shallow materialism? Again, I don’t think so.  It would be a lie to say we ordered the love-seat just because it’s functional and comfortable. Aesthetics came into play big time. But I think that’s OK. I think it’s OK to get pleasure out of beautiful things. And I think it’s OK to allow spending to reflect taste – within the boundaries of budget and savings.

I feel like I’m confessing!  

Well, you can decide upon the Pass! or Fail of our mindful splurges in this renovation project, but I wouldn’t reverse any of our decisions to date. We’ve saved up; we’ve taken our time, reconsidering initial thoughts about everything; we’ve been mindful of each step. DH’s new office is so much more functional than the former space he used, and it looks like a techie’s space-aged dream. Our new living room is a warm, casual space that is rugged enough to withstand the heavy use it is already getting. (DD3 had two friends over to sleep in it Friday night, and she says it’s the first sleep-over of many in that room.) Our new dining room/sitting room will be inviting. With the TV out of the way, it will be a place for people to read, to visit, to eat. It will be set up so that whoever is working in the kitchen (usually me), will be able join the conversation easily. And it will be flexible enough so that when the big dinners happen, the table can be extended and the small sitting furniture rearranged to make way for it. And in the quieter times, it will just beckon. And if you listen closely enough, you’ll hear that song.


 Did we Pass! or Fail on that love-seat? Have you ever made what you might call a “mindful splurge”? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Dear Mr. Trudeau: A Reformed Debtor’s Plea

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

Congratulations on the stunning majority that you and the Liberal Party of Canada have won as the result of Monday’s election. There is something larger than life about this victory. You brought your party from a distant third place to a decisive first. You did so against the backdrop of relentless negative attack ads aimed at you. You have summoned the richness of history with your name. Trudeau.

But I’m worried.

You have been refreshingly honest in stating that you intend to increase our national deficit in order to finance your promise of positive change. Honesty is a good thing. Positive change is a good thing. But debt isn’t.

I am among the majority of Canadians who have contributed to our nation’s record levels of household debt. As you know, our average household debt-to-income ratio has skyrocketed in the last few decades. In 1990, it sat at 93%, meaning that for every after-tax dollar earned, 93¢ was owed. Now it sits at 163%; we owe $1.63 for every take-home dollar earned in some form of debt. And the options are limitless: credit card debts, lines of credit, student debt, car loans, mortgages . . . Most of us don’t even notice the precarious situation in which we’ve put ourselves. We carry our debts comfortably, easily able to make minimum payments and always welcome to borrow still more to “make our dreams come true.”

But some of  us know better. When income is suddenly diminished through job loss, divorce, death of a spouse, or illness – and when expenses suddenly surge with the unexpected – those minimum payments aren’t so comfortable anymore. That’s why our record breaking personal debt-to-income ratio is accompanied by our record levels of personal financial distress and personal bankruptcy.

Some of us are trying to change. To turn our financial reality around. To pay off debt and increase savings. To recognize the siren call of marketers and to ignore it. To turn our knee-jerk “yes” into a sobered “not yet”. Delayed gratification. Frugality. Budgets. They don’t seem like the stuff of “dreams come true” still marketed so effectively by those whose interests are served by our debts. But they are.

I woke up Tuesday morning to what really felt like a different country. I could sense the change despite my reservations. There was a boosted energy and the hope of new beginnings. I want to share in your optimism, and I want to believe that your promises are attainable.

One of my earliest memories is of holding up a sign that said “Trudeau” in 1968. I was four years old, and my parents were utterly inspired by the entrance of your father onto Canada’s political scene. Intelligence, wit, boldness, charisma – he had it all. And he captured the imagination of a nation with his vision of a just society, leading us to a broader and deeper embrace of the French language, to a celebration of our multi-cultural composition, to forward momentum in our assertion of women’s equality, to new freedoms, new rights. And debt. Lots more debt.

The past and the present are intertwined, but that doesn’t have to be a point of contention. It is possible to rise above condemnation, to build upon all that is good in the foundation that history has provided us, and at the same time, to face all that is harmful in it and declare a resolute “Not this time around!”

The normalization of debt has crept upon individuals and governments with the same insidious deceit. Pervasive financial distress is the result. Weakened nations are the result. Margaret Atwood’s book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, timely in its 2008 publication, identifies debt as society’s latest addiction. Deeply rooted in systems of faith and law, the force of payback is one that we must not ignore. In disregarding it, we sabotage our financial present. The entitlement and the taker’s attitude that fuel indebtedness damage more than our money. With a broader understanding of debt beyond finance, and an application of payback to a pillaged planet, we must also recognize that by maintaining our state of denial, we threaten our future.

With a fierce wake-up call, a plan, and three years of working it, my husband and I have changed our financial reality significantly. We have faced our past errors with humbling honesty, and we’ve changed our direction with intention. We don’t finance our vision for our future with borrowed money, and that vision is becoming more and more attainable as our debt drops bit by bit by bit.

And so I can’t help but urge you, as you take on your new role and work towards the vision that has won your leadership of Canada, that you apply fierce and fearless honesty to all that must be corrected in our country. In pursuit of the social imperatives, yes, but also with respect for the financial imperatives that are so stubbornly connected to our well-being. Debt requires payback. My plea is that you approach it with caution and that you work with a zealous mission to reduce it.

I wish you well in the days ahead. I look forward to the fruits of your leadership. And although my optimism is cautious, I believe in you. Balance you passion with reason. Balance the books with honest, tough choices. Forge ahead with clarity. With prudence.

Sincerely,

A Reformed Debtor

 

 

 

 

Frugality Misapplied: Delay Getting New Prescription for Glasses

A visit with the eye doctor

I knew I needed a new prescription for my glasses. Distance was still OK, but I was having trouble reading. I already had progressives (for the under-40 crowd, that means glasses that accommodate for troubles in seeing both near and far) – they just needed to be modified. And sure enough, the results from my eye test indicated that change was in order.

New frames or just new lenses? The inner-battle

New frames or just new lenses? The truth was, I wanted new frames. Mine were getting outdated. The young woman who was helping me navigate the frames on display smoothly slipped in a reference to the ones I was wearing as “old lady glasses.” Ouch! So new frames and new lenses? And the price would be . . . another ouch!

An inner battle started to rage within me. You need new glasses! Just get them. Of course you want them to look good. They go on your face! said one part of my brain

But another part answered back.  She said “old-lady-glasses” just to get you to buy new frames! You don’t need to have the latest style! You’re on a frugal mission to get out of debt, and you have to rise above marketing pressures. Get new lenses and keep the old frames.

Voice #1 came back with, You didn’t like the frames to begin with. You’ll regret the compromise if you stick with the old frames, and you’ll resent your choice. That resentment will just end up sabotaging your frugality in the long term. 

A third region of my brain interjected with, It’s not THAT bad the way it is now, is it? You still see fine for distances, and you can just adjust for reading. Wearing your old frames for a while won’t bring on any resentment if you don’t spend anything on new lenses either.

I managed to work my decision-making faculties into a state of paralysis, and that final voice won the day. I left the optometrists with a new prescription, and the same old frames and lenses, feeling an uncertain sense of victory for my frugal move. I was no marketer’s pawn! More money to put against the debt! And I could tough out the sight thing. Hmmm….

That was my eye doctor visit. In 2013.

As the months went by, it became more and more difficult for me to read with my glasses on. Eventually, I got into the habit of taking them off to read books, newspapers, and magazines. This is a bit odd, I realized. But it worked.

There was a gradual change in my ability to read on a computer screen too. “You look so serious. Is something wrong?” asked a colleague one day as I checked my e-mails. “No,” I answered. “I’m just focused.” I had to hold my head at unnatural angles to be able to make out the words in front of me. My neck started to bother me.

This past summer, I realized that I had allowed things to go too far. I needed new glasses! And my frames, now even more outdated than they had been two years earlier, would have to go. No indecision. No opposing voices battling in my brain. I was moving forward with single-mindedness. I would just have to wait until November for an appointment. Ugh!

I asked to be contacted in the case of a cancellation, and October 2nd, I had my appointment. Not surprisingly, my prescription had changed yet again. I selected the frames I liked best – the very ones I had considered two years earlier. The price was high, but I knew it would be. Measurements taken, details decided upon, order made. Mission accomplished. I’d just have to wait for two weeks until the new glasses came in.

Shock and an eye-opener

This month, I’ve been struck by the speed at which the days have been shortening in nature’s march towards winter. It happens every year, but somehow, it has seemed more dramatic a change than usual this time around. Dark so early in the evening. Dark when I start my day.

This past Tuesday, I was in my car by 7:00 am. Light rain made conditions less than ideal. A little slippery. Overcast skies combined with my rain-splattered windshield and shimmering, light-reflecting roads to create poor visibility. The red traffic light seemed to last forever as I waited to make my left-hand turn. Finally green. I put my foot on the gas and steered – until an umbrella waved urgently in front of me. Hit the brakes! Through a mind fog, I became aware of indistinct words flying out of the mouth of the angry man who had appeared out of nowhere in front of my car. The moment passed, and I drove on in shock. I had almost hit him!

My face said it all when I came into work. I told the first two colleagues I saw about my near miss. “I just did not see him,” I explained, still absorbing the horror of what could have been. And what was their response? One of them asked, “Is the prescription for your glasses outdated?”

“Yes!” I answered – horrified again – at how obvious a mistake I had been making. I just didn’t tell him how outdated. “In fact, I’m getting new glasses this week.”

If I had made another choice after my visit with the eye doctor in 2013, would I have seen that man walking across the dark, rainy street under his umbrella two years later? If I had bought the new lenses – with or without new frames – would the visibility of the morning have been as bad as my experience of it was? Thank God it didn’t turn out worse!

I picked up my new glasses two days later – on Thursday after work. The difference is pretty significant. I can read both print on paper and digital text on screens without difficulty. Distances are sharper too. Only a few people have noticed the different look of the glasses, and while there might be a moral in that story, I’m still happier with what I see in the mirror.

As I continue on this journey out of debt, I believe I’ll be wiser in my application of frugality. There are times to say “No.” There are times to say “Not yet.” But there are also times when the best thing to do is to make the purchase. I won’t forget the shock of that umbrella waving me to a sudden stop any time soon. Another lesson learned. A real eye-opener.


Have you ever misapplied frugality? Have you ever experienced the shock of an accident – or a near-miss? Your comments are welcome?

 

Roadblock to Frugal Renovations: “We can’t clean that carpet.”

Our embarrassing old, worn, DIRTY carpet. Much worse than we realized

DH = Dear Husband

Frugal living with old, worn stuff

I just did a search to find out when I first mentioned our carpets on this blog. It was three years ago – in the post “Mickey Mouse and His Broom: Debt Illustrated in Fantasia”.  “After fourteen years, a household shows signs of wear,” I wrote. “I’m noticing stains on our carpet . . . The furniture in the family room is visibly worn . . . DH and I have no shortage of material wants.”

We ended up getting some of our carpets cleaned – but not the one in DH’s home office. A 10′ by 10′ space, it was filled up by desks and chairs and the equipment he uses to run his business. It would be impossible to clean that carpet – with the exception of a small area in the middle where people actually walked or sat on chairs. We could see that area was in need of a clean, but it didn’t seem worth the expense to have another “room” cleaned, when it would only be a fraction of that room.

Our evolving renovation plans

Three frugal years later – three years of accepting the old carpets and worn furniture in the name of debt-reduction – we’re making changes. I’ve written about our renovation plans – and about the evolution of those plans – a few times over the past six months. In a nutshell, DH outgrew his 10′ by 10′ home office space, and we’ve moved it to what used to be our living room and dining room – an area more than twice the size at about 24′ by 11′. His former office space is going to become our living room. Our family room is going to become our dining room.

Initially, our renovation plans gave me the kind of shopaholic, dopamine-release brain-buzz that I hadn’t experienced in a long time. “I was high on visions of tile, hardwood, and leather furniture,” I wrote for that first post about our renovation project. “I don’t even care how shallow that sounds!” I’m so glad we didn’t act upon it immediately! We would easily have spent twice as much has we needed to. No exaggeration there.

Four months later, we had a “sobered” renovation plan. Among the ways we were going to cut back on our initial ideas was this one: “Instead of installing two new floors, we’re going to install one – in what will be the new dining room. The new living room? We’ll have our old carpet cleaned and keep on using it. That’s about $500 not spent.”

The carpet cleaners

When we moved everything out of DH’s old home office, we were shocked by the carpet. With all of the furniture and equipment gone, the still-pristine areas of carpet – covered for years and protected from feet and rolling office chairs – were now exposed for comparison, and only then were we able to see just how bad the rest of it was. It was disgusting.

Thursday of this past week, the professional steam cleaners arrived. They took one look at that carpet and said, “We can’t clean that. We don’t perform miracles.” So they left.

Back to Plan A – with a difference

So much for our “sobered”, frugal plans! We’re back to plan A: We will rip up the carpet of the old office and install hardwood. DH wondered if it might be less expensive to go with new carpet, but since he wouldn’t be able to install it himself – and he can DIY hardwood installation – hardwood it is. We’re going to buy it today.

What’s the moral of this story? I think there are a couple:

  • Life doesn’t always unfold according to the plans we make. Even the frugal plans.
  • Sometimes, in our efforts to be frugal, we set ourselves up to need to pay more later. Three years ago, we chose not to have that small area of carpet cleaned. If we had taken on a minor expense then, maybe we wouldn’t have to take on a major one now.

But it’s hard to say. Maybe we would still be ripping the thing out. And in the end, although our current intention looks more like our original “high” plans than our modified and more frugal plans, they’re not the same. The dopamine isn’t there. We’re looking forward to getting rid of that gross carpet and to setting up a new living room, but not under the influence of a brain-buzzing rush. It’s Plan A sobered up.


Have you ever “saved” money – only to set yourself up to need to spend more? Does furniture removal in your house reveal dirty carpets? Your comments are welcome.

 

Budget “Date”? Not Even Close!

DH = Dear Husband

Budget meetings and bickering

I was relieved to read Hannah’s post at Unplanned Finance this past week. “It gets worse first” gives a little peak into the not-so-pretty reality of her initial budget meetings with her husband. “Although Rob and I were ostensibly on a team, we were barely putting up with each other’s financial eccentricities,” writes Hannah, “and our monthly budget meetings were our first opportunities to voice our frustrations . . . I remember seething with anger when Rob told me he wanted to buy new socks and underwear (he has expensive tastes in socks and underwear). I remember when I told Rob that I just wanted to be able to buy a $.75 soda, and he had spent all our fun money on windshield wipers. Windshield wipers are not fun!”

Why relieved? It was a reassurance that DH and I are not the only ones whose budget meetings are less than romantic. This morning, before going to church, we looked at our numbers for October. Our finances have become a mess since the beginning of the summer. DH’s off-the-chart business in June, his home office renovations, my taking on summer school, our de-cluttering mission – it all led to chaos on more than one front. We knew this was going to be a “clean up the mess” budget meeting. And it ended up being – well – messy.

I won’t go into details, but at a particularly low point, I said, “Now you’re just being an a**hole.”  As soon as we had finished with the budget, I marched upstairs in stony silence to get ready for church (the irony does not escape me), and when DH came up to do the same, we just looked at each other and laughed. When will we get this budget meeting thing right?!

“So, it took a year for us to be a team,” Hannah says. “Our budget meetings are now something I look forward to, but it took a year.” I wish I could say the same! We’re over three years into our journey out of debt, and we have yet to enjoy a pleasant budget meeting. They’re not always as bad as today’s, but they have never been something to look forward to. I believe that our budget meetings have been the single most important agent of our debt-reduction to date. They’re just so fraught with tension and irritability.

Financial Peace University

Church was particularly great today, and after the service, I spoke with a man I’ll call Andy. Right after DH and I spoke at church last November about our journey out of debt, Andy told DH how much our testimony had moved him. He’d had years of financial struggle, and he wanted to take the road to debt-freedom too. We lent him our copy of Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover, and he read it with intensity, sharing it with his wife.

In a conversation Andy had with his mother a few weeks later, he mentioned his intention to start getting out of debt by following Ramsey’s steps. As it turned out, his mother had purchased Ramsey’s Financial Peace University kit, and offered to give it to Andy so that he could lead a class at church. “I’m not ready to do that now,” he told his mom, “but I will some day.” Andy told us that he wanted our support in leading the course, and we told him he would have it.

Today, Andy said he felt ready. So in the next few weeks, there’s a good chance that we’ll be helping to lead a class at our church about getting to debt freedom. Andy made it clear to me that he is still struggling to change his ways. “It can be so hard,” I said to him in understanding. “We just had a budget meeting this morning, and we got into a big argument. It’s been three years, and we still argue when we make our budget!” Andy’s face showed some cheer. “That’s actually encouraging for me to hear,” he said.

I knew what he meant. Just as I felt relief in reading Hannah’s account of her (at least initially) unpleasant budget meetings, Andy felt relief in knowing that DH and I had argued about our budget this morning. He felt an assurance that he and his wife were not the only ones struggling with the ins and outs of finances.

I’m looking forward to seeing what Financial Peace University is all about. I’m ready to support Andy in presenting it to others who are looking for guidance to eliminate their debts. A few imperfect leaders is probably just what is required. I’ll keep you posted.


Do you feel relief when you realize you’re not the only one struggling with something? Have you taken part in a Financial Peace University class? Your comments are welcome.

 

 

Metacognition in Personal Finance

Great food on our anniversary camping trip: Proof that metacognition works. 

DH = Dear Husband

“I find that I loosen up my spending when things are going well financially,” wrote Amy fromDebtgal  in response to a recent post here at Fruclassity. “For example, if my husband gets a bonus check and I’m having a good month for sales from my Amazon store, my mindset shifts, and I feel less urgency to save.”

“metacognition”

Amy was engaged in metacognition when she wrote that comment. A simple definition of the word metacognition is “thinking about thinking.” Dictionary.com says that it means “higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes (thought processes), especially when engaged in learning.”

Spending triggers

I know that for all of those years when I maintained and deepened our levels of debt, I wasn’t using metacognition at all. I definitely did as Amy did. When times were extra good financially, I felt a giddy compulsion to spend that extra. I also spent more when things were extra busy. And I spent more when I felt extra anxious about something. I spent more in accordance with bursts of extra love too – especially when it came to one of our children – and at times of celebration.

Click to continue . . . 

 

 


 

Surprise B-Day Plans // Debt Reduction: Keep Eyes on Prize

Birthday girl hugs Granny after the big “SURPRISE!”

  • DD2 = Dear second daughter
  • DH = Dear husband
  • DD3 = Dear third daughter

“I’m a bit worried about you,” said my colleague Cam last spring. “You’re connecting your debt reduction to EVERYTHING else.”

“It IS connected to everything else!” I said. And it’s true! Whether there’s a direct link or a connection by comparison, it’s there.

DD2’s 21st surprise birthday party

Yesterday was DD2’s 21st birthday, and we held a surprise party for her. I’m basking in a bit of a high as I write this. She was genuinely surprised – shocked even – and all of our efforts paid off in an afternoon that she won’t forget.

The plan

The plan was that I would invite DD2 over for a birthday dinner Sunday night, Sept. 20 – one day after her birthday – because “I would be out of town” Saturday at a convention for personal finance bloggers. (FinCon ’15 is a real event, and I really was considering taking part in it, but I decided not to go for a number of reasons – one being DD2’s 21st birthday.) With Saturday the 19th – her real birthday – clear of any family commitments, DD2 would be free to go out with friends. Her BFF Alannah, a fellow track athlete – and in on the surprise – was going to make arrangements to “meet downtown with friends” Saturday night. The idea was that Alannah would have to swing by our neighbourhood first to “drop something off” at our house. And that’s when the SURPRISE! would happen – 7:00 in the evening on Saturday September 19.

  • Obstacle #1

DD2 mentioned to me that she’d be running a 5 km road race Sunday morning at 7:00. There was no way she’d agree to go downtown with friends the night of the 19th if she had to be up at 5 am on the 20th to run a road race! We had to change things up. Alannah would “organize an afternoon at a restaurant” for DD2 on her birthday. They would have to swing by our house first to “drop something off”. And the SURPRISE! would happen at 3:30 instead of 7:00. Alannah posted invitations via FaceBook for friends from high school and track, and I sent out invitations to family via e-mail. We were aiming for 20-30 people.

  • Obstacle #2

My phone started to ring just as I was walking into the grocery store the weekend before the event. It was Alannah. DD2 had gone ahead and organized her own get-together Saturday afternoon at a pub downtown! Before Alannah had “organized” the fake restaurant get-together! At 3:00! Messages went flying out via FaceBook and e-mail. People would have to be at our house at 2:00 because the SURPRISE! would now be at 2:30.

  • Obstacle #3

3 days before the event, Alannah sent me a text message. The track coach was holding a practice Saturday morning and a boot camp for newbies Saturday afternoon! The more seasoned track athletes (including DD2 and friends who had been invited) would have to stay and help with the boot camp. Ugh! How could we get around this? And keep the secret? We begged the coach to end the boot camp early so that people would have time to go home, shower, and get to our house by 2:00. He changed the schedule so that boot camp would end at 12:30. Would that give people enough time? Would someone say something that would give it away? Was DD2 going to figure it all out?

  • Obstacle #4

The 12:30 end to boot camp did not give people enough time. At 1:14 Saturday afternoon, Alannah sent another text message. “I’ve pushed the time because people from track were going to be late. We will be arriving at your house at around 3:45.” Meanwhile, extended family members – and a couple of friends who had not seen the last minute FaceBook update – started to arrive at our house. They would have to wait an hour and a half for the SURPRISE! instead of the thirty minutes they had expected. “So sorry!” I said. But they were gracious. There were good munchies and drinks on hand, and everyone just hung out. Eventually, the track athletes and a few friends from DD2’s high school started to arrive. Many were not going to be able to make it, and some would be late. But we had 20 people ready to go.

SURPRISE!

At 3:05, a new text message came. “Hi! This is Priya. We just left Alannah’s so we’ll be there soon!”

It was finally time to put things into action. DH pretended to be weeding outside. He would ring the doorbell twice when Alannah’s car pulled up. On the pretense of “dropping something off” (which both Alannah and her father had made completely believable for DD2) they came into the house. At the entrance, DD2 commented on DH’s new home office space. We’re undergoing some renovations now (great time for a party!) and DD3 said, “Come and see what the old office looks like.” The few footsteps it took to get to our hiding spot passed, and DD2’s stunned face was our cue. “SURPRISE!”

A great afternoon

The high of relief for me and everyone else who had struggled to make this work just got elevated by the genuine delight of DD2 as she gradually took it all in. “I’m still in shock!” she laughed after several minutes of hugs and “Hi!”s. A few more guests arrived just after the surprise, and a steady stream of stories from behind the scenes came out: the plans, the obstacles, some close calls that had happened – right up to within minutes of the party . . . With 20/20 hindsight, DD2 had several “aha” moments – “Oh, that’s why you said that! I wondering why you  . . .”

Then it was time for my 90-year-old mother to give a speech. DD2 LOVES her. She has a tattoo of her grandmother’s birth date – in Roman numerals – running down the top of her spine. I have learned to count on great things whenever my mom speaks, but she really outdid herself this time. Funny, moving . . . just brilliant! One of the track guests actually cried on the shoulder of her boyfriend (who is almost certainly going to the Olympics in Rio next summer). “Her grandmother loves her so much,” she whispered through her tears – as we all found out later. And THEN, it was time for the video of DD2’s life – a product of more hours than can be conveyed – beautifully put together by DH. 17 minutes capturing her life from birth until now. Photos and home movie clips through the years, set to music that has meaning for DD2. More tears, lots of laughter. Just a rich, rich moment in time.

And what does this have to do with debt?

My concerned colleague Cam would be pleased to know that I haven’t thought about debt-repayment or budgets or emergency funds or savings at all over the last week. I’ve been all absorbed by DD2’s surprise 21st birthday party. But there ARE comparisons to make. I bet some of you have already thought of them:

  • A surprise party doesn’t happen on its own any more than debt freedom does. You have to set a plan and be vigilant about making it work.
  • We came up against plenty of obstacles in our quest for a surprise, and the same is true in our trek towards debt freedom. Unexpected expenses; a rise in grocery prices; a lower-than-usual business month (meaning lower-than-usual income) . . . And each time, we just have to rework that plan.
  • Just as DH and I were both convinced that DD2 would “find out” about our plans for her surprise, we have also been convinced at times that our pursuit of debt freedom was just not going to materialize. But just as we held on to hope for DD2’s surprise, we hang on to hope for debt freedom.
  • The focus, planning, reworking, trouble-shooting, hours of work, and periodic spikes of anxiety were all worth it for our daughter’s party yesterday, and we know that the same is true for all it is taking to become debt-free.

Have you ever planned a surprise party? Or had one held for you? How did it go over? Did you go to FinCon? How was it? Your comments are welcome.

 

My First Podcast Interview

Talaat and Tai from His and Her Money. My first podcast interview. 

His and Her Money

“Your Podcast is Live!” I received the e-mail notification Thursday morning. Almost a month ago, Talaat and Tai from His and Her Money interviewed me for their site. They had heard of our debt repayment, and since their mission is to encourage people to who feel overwhelmed by debt, they contacted me to see if I’d be interested in being featured as a guest. Of course I was!

I won’t lie; I was nervous. They assured me that they’d be able to edit, but still … AND it was my first time using Skype. I ended up feeling very comfortable talking with Talaat and Tai. “Just pretend we’re sitting on a couch, chatting,” they said. And it was like that. Have a listen if you’re interested by clicking here.

At Fruclassity this week …

I also wrote a post at Fruclassity this week about my sister Elly. She started taking up tennis in her 40s. Now 60, she’s playing at the National level. Some people say that “It’s too late” once you hit your 40s and 50s, to make significant changes in your life – whether in terms of physical or financial fitness. It’s NOT true. For the antidote to “It’s too late,” click here.


I’d love to hear your feedback. Your comments are welcome.