Thursday, February 15, 2018

7 reasons why we are saying no to Public Service Loan Forgiveness

Some are predicting student loans to be the next financial crisis. Whether or not they will pose a problem in the future, many already feel their pain now. They prevent people from getting married, having children, or even buying a home. Yet they are also considered to be a norm when it comes to getting an education.

Before my husband went to law school in his 40's, we had been officially debt free for a couple of years. He and I both knew he needed to change careers, and as much as we didn't want to do it, we knew we'd have to borrow some kind of money to pay for it. After reading blogs of debt-free living, it was really hard to go into debt again, and it's been even harder to get out of it. But we also knew what we were borrowing and did our best to keep expenses down.

When he graduated, my husband continued working for the state and under the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, he could technically qualify for having all of his student loans forgiven after ten years of public service. I don't question the forgiveness program itself - my husband makes a decent amount below the going market rate in exchange for working for the state and has only seen one small bonus in his first year. My brother-in-law got a free ride to medical school in exchange for becoming a doctor in the Air Force. In my mind, working for the public or a non-profit and getting your loans cancelled in 10 years offers more incentive for professionals to serve those in need.

But we have talked over this several times and decided that we are not pursuing the Public Loan Service Plan. If an emergency happened that required all of our extra income, and did that for 10 years, we might consider it, but there are so many other reasons not to, like these:

1. It feels too long.
Even though the average repayment program is 10 years, there is something we really crave in being free of this debt in less time than that. If we spending the money on other things

2. It's too uncertain.
With the latest administration changes, it seems that many programs in the Department of Education are under scrutiny, including this one. Lawsuits have been filed over miscommunication on what type of loans qualify, or which months of work will count toward your 120 months of service. We have the type of loans that do qualify, but when I looked at the forms it wasn't something where you could sign up, get admitted to the program, and then start tracking your accrued months. They seemed to say that when you finally accrued your 120 months you could then apply for forgiveness. Allowing interest to accrue over 10 years just seemed to risky.

3. It would close off options for us that might open up in the private sector.
My husband is happy with his job, but things can always change, or he might decide to switch his focus in a couple of years - we don't really know. If he was locked into public service, it would become increasingly difficult to switch to something that might be better for him down the road.

4. We have debt, but not so crazy that there's no way we could pay it off.
There are other things we would love to spend our money on - a good private school for our kids, home improvements, or vacations. But we both feel a little bad spending extra money on things like this while letting our student loans go unpaid.

5. It's a good exercise to live with less, even when it's painful (and trust me, there are times when it's really painful).
Going through this process of living on a limited budget is nothing new to us, but there are many good lessons to learn from it. Once we are finished we will know how to sacrifice to reach a financial goal or cut back on spending if an emergency occurs. It also helps us to remember what the good life is all about.

6. We'd probably not spend it very well if we didn't put it toward debt.
Have you ever noticed that the more money you have in your bank account, the easier it is to spend it? This happens to us around Christmas when we get gift money or on our birthdays. I know that if we saved all of our extra income, more of it would be spent on impulse purchases or things we don't really need because we had the money. It's better in my mind to keep things lean so that we're not tempted to overspend.

7. As bad as it feels to pay so much, it also feels good to pay back what we borrowed.
I am looking forward to the day where we see zeroes in our remaining balances and knowing the hard work we put into our debt was worth it. We borrowed this money to go to law school and it will feel good to pay it back.

What about you? If you had the chance to get loan forgiveness after 10 years of service, would you take it?

Monday, February 12, 2018

What is the good life?

Lately I have been listening to Dave Ramsey a lot on his podcast as I prep dinner or fold laundry. Even though I don't subscribe 100% to his methods (we use credit cards and pay them off), I find the problems people call in with and his answers helpful. It is also good to hear someone say over and over, "You need to pay off your debt. This is important. This is a good thing."

One of the other things Dave Ramsey says is that we should live like no one else so that one day, we can live like no one else. It seems that he acknowledges that part of this "living like no one else" one day will involve generosity. But it also seems that some of the future "living like no one else" has to do with having nicer things because you can now afford them. I don't necessarily disagree with him, but in my own life, I have tried to be careful in this debt-free journey to not view myself as living a life that I can't wait to get out of so that one day I can buy a lot more or have a better life.

I don't want to live these years of paying off debt as quickly as possible so that I can get through them. Even if our budget is limited, even if we actually do eat beans and rice once a week, even if my shoes have holes in them and I hate my curtains and wish I could buy new ones, I want to truly say that today, right now with unexpected medical bills or uncertain work situations, life is good.

It is good because even if everything were taken away from me, I would still have God and His gracious love.

It is good because I have four rambunctious children who are eager to learn and can't go to bed at night without asking for a big hug, kiss, and tickle.

It is good because I have a husband who is an involved father and is steady when I am not.

I don't want to miss the beauty of today while I am working to get to tomorrow. Every day is a gift. Today is just as much of a blessing as the day we will get out of debt, it's just that the blessings sometimes look a little different ;). There might be the blessing of having limited resources so that you learn to be creative, or the blessing of not being able to go out as much so that you get to spend more time with your children.

Sometimes we can't see the blessings for what they are until they are behind us. I just don't want to look back and realize that I wasted them.

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Ditching Our Debt is now on Instagram!

Well, the weekend is in full swing here. My husband and our 3 boys got flu shots which were 100% covered by insurance, I've done my grocery shopping for the morning, and we're getting ready to go to a roller skating party tonight put on by a local church. It's much cheaper because it's being sponsored, but our kids have never skated before, so I'm hoping that there are no accidents requiring ER visits! I think that the last time I was in a roller rink was when the background music was Michael Jackson and Cyndi Lauper. It should be interesting!

I have had a personal Instagram account for awhile, but I'm excited to share that I'm also starting one for this blog! There are lots of little tidbits to daily life and my thoughts about them that I would like to share but don't always have time to write a full blog post about. So if you'd like to follow me, you can go here.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

7 goals I have BESIDES paying off my debt

When you are tackling a big goal like paying off $90,500 on a one-income budget, sometimes the end can seem so far away. And sometimes, it can even feel like nothing else is really happening until you get your debt paid off.

But I know this isn't true. And it got me to thinking about other goals I could work on while I am paying off my debt. These goals don't involve spending money, but rather they involve spending my time more intentionally. Since I have found such motivation from posting my financial goals here, I am going to post my other goals here as well.

1. Work out 3x a week with videos that I already have.

I have been feeling like a slouch lately, and I know that some of it is because I haven't been working out consistently. I have a nice collection of workout dvd's and weights and a step, so I'm going to make use of them. I did have to buy an extra pair of weights but I used my Christmas money to do so.

2. Complete a 24-hr course on that is available for free through our library.

Have you checked out your local library lately? Ours is awesome and has free memberships to different learning websites. I'd like to work through a course on becoming a graphic designer first and then work from there.

3. Blog 2x a week consistently.

This is one I struggle with quite a bit, but I'm determined to do better!

4. Go to bed and get up earlier to re-set my mornings.

When you have four kids waiting for you to be "on" as you husband leaves for work, it's critical to have some morning time to yourself. I have been lazy lately in getting to bed on time, and often don't get to bed until 11:30 or sometimes even 12! But my mind is so much more clearer in the morning.

5. Organize our house from top to bottom.

Taking what I have and arranging it as logically and beautifully as I can brings me peace and joy. I actually like organizing over shopping and don't have to spend money to have a nicer home!

6. Read 3 pages a day from Wayne Grudem's Systematic Theology.

This is for a plan my husband is leading with some of our friends. This book is over 1,000 pages and they're trying to get through it in 2018. I'm already behind, though, so I'm just going to pick up where everyone else is and try to keep up from now on.

7. Lose 10 lbs by my birthday in July.

Even though my "baby" is turning 4 this year, there is still that nagging weight hanging on from my pregnancy with her. I hesitate to get new clothes when I need them because I don't feel good at my current weight, so I'm going to work toward giving myself a birthday present this July :). Through our health insurance, we are able to participate in a program called "Naturally Slim" which begins next Monday. Thankfully it is after the Super Bowl!

Being debt-free will be wonderful, but I don't want to waste that time until then just longing for the day when I think I will have a "real life" again.

I will try and check in here monthly to post my progress. Do you have any goals? I'd love to hear them in the comments!

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Easy and delicious red enchilada sauce

Enchiladas are a big favorite in our house, and even though I don't make them every week, when I do, they are quickly devoured by our family. If you asked my kids, their preferred style would probably be "white" enchiladas which are made with a combination of sour cream, green enchilada sauce, and cilantro for the base. But every now and then I get a hankering for a good red enchilada.

Earlier this week I had an extra bag of cooked carnita meat left over from the freezer. My husband was out of town and I didn't want anything complicated with four kids to manage, so I decided to try my hand at homemade red enchilada sauce again. I sometimes buy the canned stuff from Aldi (which my mom loves so much that she has bought extra to take in her suitcase back to Alaska) but it's not my all-time favorite. Because you know, when you eat enchiladas, your mind should be thinking, "WOW."

I started with a basic recipe for fast enchilada sauce from America's Test Kitchen Family Cookbook and tweaked it a little. This book is hands-down one of my go-to cookbooks, and while my edition is older, there is a new one available from America's Test Kitchen's website for around $24. Be sure to go there instead of Amazon, because at the time of this writing it looks like the price for new ones on Amazon are in the +$70 range!

Easy and Delicious Homemade Red Enchilada Sauce

Makes 3 cups of sauce

1/2 onion, finely diced
2 Tbsp. cooking oil, divided
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 cups crushed tomato puree
1/2 cup water
3 Tbsp. chili powder
2 tsp. cumin
2 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. chipotle chili in adobo sauce, minced
salt to taste (I use about 1/4-1/2 tsp)


1. Sautee the onion in 1 Tbsp. cooking oil for 5 minutes or until translucent and slightly carmelized. Add the garlic and stir for about 30 seconds until fragrant.

2. Add the crushed tomato puree, water, and seasonings. Cook over low heat for 10-15 minutes. If you like, add one extra tablespoon of oil at the end for texture (this might be unnecessary, but it's what I did when I made the sauce that turned out perfectly, so I'm leaving it in - feel free to tinker!).

Tip: You can find cans of chipotle chilis in adobo sauce in the Mexican section of your supermarket. A little can goes a long way, and you can process them in the blender or food processor and dollop out 1 tsp. servings on a plate or tray and freeze. Then simply store them in a freezer bag and add to recipes when needed. I use these a lot for my blender salsa!

Saturday, January 27, 2018

January 2018 Debt Update: $53,176.07

Debt update
Hey everyone! Our debt this month now totals only $53,176.07. There were a few unexpected events that took place which I will get into below, and one set us back by about $85 so we didn't get to put as much as we would have liked toward debt, but I'm still happy with the progress that we have made. This month we put an extra $1,100 toward our auto loan, and I'm now hoping that by the end of February (long shot) or early March (more likely) we will have paid off our van.

Unexpected illness and house stress
Remember how last month I set our new goals with the caveat that we have four kids and are homeowners? Well, sure enough we had to face issues on both fronts this month. Thankfully our kids and house are okay in the end, but we had an urgent care visit and an ER visit in one week and a radon scare right in the middle of that week. One of our sons stabbed himself with a pencil to the point that the lead broke off underneath the skin and required urgent care, and another developed a bad cough and low oxygen that prompted a visit to the ER (we were worried about pneumonia).

I don't know why I thought that January would be a no-brainer and easy. While we don't have a crazy schedule due to sports, there is always the reality that it's freezing cold and flu-viruses flying around like crazy. I'm a little nervous now to take my kids out too much in public places for a few months!

The radon scare was due to another housing disaster that we mercifully averted. We live in the Midwest and it has been really dry this winter to the point that people were watering their lawns in December so that they wouldn't die. I thought it was odd, then, that I noticed water trickling into our exterior drainage pipe that comes into our basement when I did laundry. Usually that only happens during heavy rains. I thought that maybe it was from melting snow, even though there was only 1 inch on the ground. Then one day I was out front with one of my sons and noticed that the front flower bed was saturated. The first thought that came to my mind was that the city water line comes into our house at this point, and suddenly I realized it could be a broken pipe underground. Hmmmm . . . digging up our frozen front lawn in the dead of winter? Now that should be fun . . . but after a little research it turned out that my husband had left the water on for more than a week when he had watered a rose bush, and the hose had then frozen so water wasn't running until it started to thaw out again.

The only thing left unresolved was our radon mitigation system which had been gurgling due to all the ground water under our house. I was used to that but had noticed a hissing sound (not natural gas) coming near the system from our exterior wall. I did a bit of research and realized that we probably needed it to get looked at, so we ended up having our radon tested and the hissing sound repaired. That was $85, but I can truly say it was "only" $85 compared to a huge repair bill we might have had for a pipe to be replaced in the dead of winter in our front yard!

It is funny how many things are not really working that well or at all in our house. Our washer's transmission is going out and makes these grinding noises that we can hear from upstairs, and our 30 year-old dryer sounds like it has a mouse in it as it squeaks and turns. Our dishwasher has been broken for over four years and it won't even close. We have a piece of tape that we use to keep it shut so I have more room in the kitchen.

In homeschool, we studying the Civil War and I've been reading about the miserable conditions men had to march and live in in order to fight the war. It reminded me first that my life with all of its hassles is still not that bad, and also that when you're willing to fight for something you believe in, it requires a great deal of sacrifice. For us, we are fighting a war on our loans, and we have to live without a few luxuries for the time being in order to rid of this debt once and for all, it will be worth it.

And besides that, am I really that bad off? Are any of us that bad off in the middle of the 21st century in one of the wealthiest societies on the planet? I made a list last week of all of the things I have already and as it grew longer and longer I realized that while our bank account is not stellar, we are not broke by any means. We have electricity, running water, a roof over our heads, a huge backyard, good neighbors in a safe neighborhood and more. We have an Internet connection which allows us free ways to learn skills online, more tablets than we probably need and a computer, a comfortable living room, tons of books to read and a great library, proximity to work and shopping so we can save on gas, tools to build and sew with, a lovely old upright piano . . . well, you get the idea.

So even though this month had its bumps and bruises, I am ending it grateful that we were able to make a decent debt payment and that in the grand scheme of things, everything really went okay.

Saturday, December 30, 2017

December 2017 Debt Update and Year-End Review: $54,445.60

Hello everyone!

Our debt this month is down to $54,445.60 after having put almost $2,400 toward debt. This is well above our normal amount. Because my husband gets paid on a bi-weekly schedule, we end up having an extra paycheck every six months, and this month is one where that extra paycheck occurs. Usually we set the entire portion aside for extra expenses we will have during the year, but I decided this year to set only part of that aside and add more to our debt payment. If we need more during a particular month then we can lower the debt payment for that month.

Although there were a few unexpected repairs we needed to make to our car and a trip to take to New York City for a family member's wedding celebration we were still able to drop our overall debt by around $15,000. In the previous two years we only dropped it by about $10,000 a year so increasing that by 50% was really encouraging! A lot of it was due to my husband getting two raises very close together, but even so, his salary is not outrageous for an attorney (currently around $62K).

As for the coming year, I truly hope that it will be one where we have one of our biggest years yet in terms of debt repayment. I don't know what expenses might arise, however, with being homeowners and having four children ;). I am hopeful that we can pay off our car by the end of February and then focus entirely on student loans. A few other landmarks that I'm hoping we will hit are to get below $50K by the end of March, below $40K by my birthday in July, and below $30K by next December.

Aside from debt, I also hope that I can make better use of my time and energy. I have felt convicted lately that while I am good at making the most of a dollar, I am often more than wasteful with my time, energy, and attention. I am looking forward to a one-month digital decluttering experiment that Cal Newport will be leading in January. It will involve avoiding social media as well as surfing on the Internet for entertainment, and while I expect it to be painful, I also think it will open up a lot of unexpected time for me to work on other creative endeavors, pursue personal goals, and manage our home life better. I look forward to sharing what I learned with you in February!

Even though I don't always blog consistently or have a huge readership here, I do enjoy sharing my debt updates and hearing from people who are also on a journey like mine. Thank you for following along and I hope that your next year is one of great success!

* note: With all  posts, I strive to be as accurate as possible with debt numbers. Sometimes I have scheduled a payment but it has not gone through yet, and with these numbers I report the debt as paid.
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