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No Spend September Update

September 29th, 2023 at 06:26 pm

This was a mostly successful No Spend September. I did save money. I did decrease debt. And I think I have a grip on my Amazon habit. The amount of charges on our credit card is drastically reduced as before this challenge most of them were Amazon charges.

I became addicted to the convenience.  Instead of putting things on a list, and then maybe changing our mind, I just bought whatever came to my fancy. Not to mention, these were credit card purchases because you can’t use cash on the internet. I even had cash in our envelopes, but somehow the money never got moved around. Amazon has definitely been my weakness the last few months and I hope I will have more discipline after my No Spend September.  As of this blog post, the only Amazon charge on our credit card is parts for the brakes for The Husband’s car, which was a planned and saved for expense!

As far as money goes, some tracking got wonky. We went to visit our son over the past weekend and we did buy some fast food while traveling and we made a couple grocery store runs.  I think we spent about $60, of which $20 was at the grocery store. My husband spent more at Costco than I had anticipated and instead of close to $300, we are close to $400. With the $20 from this past weekend we are right around $420. We will probably do one more grocery store run this weekend and will most likely exceed my goal of $500.  We need a lot from Costco: eggs, milk, yogurt, tortillas, almond butter, tuna, canned chicken, and fresh fruits and vegetables. We will probably be closer to $600 than $500. After we shop I will do one final update on how much we spent on groceries for the month of September.

I will challenge myself again next September, but I will keep better track of our food budget and know exactly how much I spent on groceries instead of estimating. But, overall, I still feel like No-Spend September was a win and that we made some good strides!

Unusual Spending for October

September 28th, 2023 at 04:44 pm

Every month we usually have some unusual spending. I don’t call it unexpected spending because it’s not unexpected. It is just random expenses that don’t occur monthly but always occur. I used to track them each month so that I could budget for them and somehow, I got out of the habit of doing that.

In another effort to improve our financial footing I’m going to start doing that again and writing a blog post each month detailing any unusual spending that I can think of. In years past it has been things like soccer sign-ups, school pictures, or costume fees for dance. Going forward it will probably be things more related to birthdays, car registrations, and the like.

For October some unusual spending I have thought of is our daughter’s international trip starting on 10/6, a wedding we are attending on 10/7, and Halloween. More might pop up, but this is what I am planning for so far.

Our daughter is taking an international trip with her best friend’s family, and we are helping her. We are paying for half, and she is paying for half. We have already purchased and paid for her airfare. We will pay for half of her entrances to different attractions, but she has to pay for all her own food and any souvenirs or gifts she purchases on the trip. We have paid $1600 so far (of which she owes us $800) and I anticipate paying another $1000 (our contribution).*

The day after our daughter leaves, we will be attending a wedding about an hour and 15 minutes from where we live. We will drive home after the wedding even though most of our friends are staying in a hotel. We do need to budget for a wedding gift, however.

Lastly, Halloween. We always forget to budget for Halloween. Not this year. We will add $75 to our food budget so we can buy candy to give out to the kids who come through our neighborhood.

*I know this isn’t a very good use of our money and the money spent on her trip could help to replenish our emergency fund or be used towards debt, but we did budget and save for it. That’s why it is called personal finance.

Frugal-ish Wins

September 26th, 2023 at 06:01 pm

I am not especially frugal. I’m not a spendthrift (though I used to lean that way), but I’m not super good at saving money either… I fall somewhere in the middle, but I want to start trying to celebrate my frugal wins. Every so often I will write a post about ways I saved money, or maybe just ways I didn’t waste money. I think the more mindful I am of some frugal wins, maybe the more I will see.

I have 29 nieces and nephews and there is nothing frugal about that, but I do look for ways to cut costs. One of my nieces, whom I am very close to is pregnant. I wanted to get her a nice shower gift without having to pay too much for it. I went to her registry and picked out what I wanted to get her and put it in my Amazon cart – to the tune of $90! Eek! Before checkout, I realized I had points (from our insurance) that could be redeemed. We always redeem our points for Amazon gift cards. We had (more than) enough points to cover the entire cost of the gift! I know I still paid $90, but it wasn’t $90 out of my budget. To us it was “free” money.

I was given 2 large shopping bags of figs, which I love. But there was no way I could eat them before they went bad. We kept a few aside to eat, used 32 cups of figs to make fig preserves, and we dehydrated the rest. We now have 6-pint size jars and 9 half-pint size jars of fig preserves and a quart sized baggie of dried figs! They turned out really well and taste so good! I will be giving a couple jars to the woman who gave me her figs!

For Christmas this year, I am giving all the males in my family homemade wood butter, a wooden spoon, and a buffing rag to go with it.  I have several candle jars that I have been rinsing out and keeping and they are the perfect size! I don’t have nearly enough to exclusively use candle jars so I will put the rest in mason jars, but it is a good reuse of an item that would otherwise be thrown away and I won’t need to buy as many mason jars to fill.

We had to put our dog down about 2 months ago, but we still had all his stuff. Recently, our neighbor got a chicken and they needed a home for it. We offered them our dog crate. We were happy to pass the crate on to a new home and they were grateful for an immediate answer to their needs. It was a win-win, and we were glad it found a good home.

Every year we have a huge Christmas party open house. Planning ahead, I just ordered the invitations. My credit card had a special deal that if I ordered from zazzle.com I would get 10% back in the form of a credit on my credit card, so that is a savings of $5.40. There was another deal for Autozone of 1% cash back. My husband just bought some of the parts to replace his breaks from there so we will get another .60 back. (I know that’s not much, but when you are on a debt payoff journey, every little bit helps!)

Those are all I can think of right now, but I’m going to try to notice my frugal wins!

Some Extra Money

September 25th, 2023 at 05:32 pm

I bought something for someone a few months ago and haven’t see them in a while. My daughter actually delivered it to them last month but forgot to get the money. I finally saw them this past weekend and they paid us back…with a little interest. They owed us $237 and gave us $250. Because it is money already spent, for us it’s not earmarked anywhere, so it will go straight to the credit card! YAY! Payday is Friday and I will go to the bank and take out the money we need for our envelopes for this pay period less $250 and then I will schedule the payment.

Then, when we got home from our weekend trip and were going through the mail, my husband walked up to me and handed me something we had received in the mail: a refund check for $190. We overpaid for some medical appointments for our daughter way back in April. We knew we had overpaid and they told us we would get a refund, but we had forgotten all about it. I was super excited and deposited the check right away and scheduled a payment for $200 to go towards our credit card.

That is a $450 swing in one day! I’m super excited!

Emergency Fund

September 21st, 2023 at 04:19 pm

My current emergency fund is very small. I have more than the $1000 baby emergency fund suggested by Dave Ramsey, but not by much. I’m starting to feel very anxious about it. We do have a little more money, but it is all earmarked for certain things like our daughters schooling and a tax bill do in early October. Our actual emergency fun is only about $2000.

Our daughter wants to be a personal trainer. She has decided not to attend college and to take a nationally accepted certificate program to become a trainer. As our contribution to her, we paid for her course.  We finally purchased it over Labor Day. (It has been a planned expense and we have been funding our “kids” and “education” envelopes until she was ready to begin the course. All along we had planned to use money from our savings account to pay the difference. We had $600 in cash and needed to use $1000 from savings.  (The $2000 we still have in the bank is independent from the money to pay for her course.)

Luckily September is a three-paycheck month, so we are splitting the third paycheck between savings and debt. After September we should have about $2700 in savings, but that still doesn’t make me feel comfortable. $2700 could cover most true emergencies but being a parent and a homeowner means the next emergency is always around the corner. I like to have a minimum of $5000 in our savings. We are trying to work back to that while continuing to pay down debt.

We could quickly replenish our savings account back up to $5000 in just a couple of months if we slowed our debt payoff. However, we are finally making some progress, so we don’t really want to do that.

We do have an entire regular month’s worth of cash at home that could be stretched into two months of bare bones expenses (that includes our sinking funds and some other cash we have on hand) if needed.

I’m very anxious over the small size of our emergency fund right now because I feel like we are just starting to get real traction in our debt payoff.  I will continue to stay the course and hope that the money we currently do have in our emergency fund will be enough for any future emergencies. We will also continue to add a little bit each month to our savings account. Right now, we are adding about $400 a month to savings. Hopefully we can get our savings built back up and pay off debt at the same time.

Debt Update

September 19th, 2023 at 04:10 pm

It took us a LONG time to truly get serious about debt payoff. At its highest point, our credit card debt was $24,905.68. Last month, our total credit card debt was $14,867.79.

Our credit card statement just closed and our current balance is $14,012.36. We decreased our credit card debt by $855.43. That is a total decrease of 6 percent.

I am excited by the decrease and am so happy to see continued progress, but I’m a little bummed that we didn’t make our goal of being under $14,000. We were so close. Having said that, we have already made our first payment of this billing cycle and are now under $14,000, but I really wanted our statement to show $13,something. We make payments on our credit card debt several times a month based on when we are paid and any time we have extra money come in.

We were paid on the 15th so scheduled a $200 payment to go on the 18th. We get paid again on the 29th. September is a three-paycheck month so a big chunk of that paycheck will go straight to our credit card, in addition to all our regular payments.

Overall, we have paid off nearly 44% of our total credit card debt from its highest point. More than anything, I want to see continued progress like decreasing debt and increasing our savings. Every move we make right now is improving our financial health!

No Spend September Update

September 14th, 2023 at 04:24 pm

I made another grocery shopping trip last night. I went to Winco and spent $126.68.  $20 of that was right outside the store to a man selling strawberries. They were the best-looking strawberries I’ve seen all year. (I tried them when I got home, and they are so good! Worth it!) I bought a lot of other fresh produce: lettuce, bell peppers, onions, cuties, and bananas. I bought 4 half gallons of almond milk, 7 boxes of chai tea latte mix*, 2 quarts of heavy cream, coffee creamer, mustard, peanut butter, 4 cans of tuna, sausages, one big can of canned peaches, and two cans of cannelloni beans.

It wasn’t a huge trip, but I picked up a lot of things that we have run out of and needed. Added to what we spent a couple of weeks ago, our grocery total for September is currently at $277.59. My husband is going to go to Costco tonight to pick up milk and bread, so we will likely be at $300. That is a little over where I would like to be right now, but we still might be able to swing $500 or less in total. It just depends on what we run out of in the next couple of weeks.

Other than milk and produce, I don’t think we will need much for the rest of the month, but time will tell.

(*It’s kind of pricey, but way less than Starbucks. Each drink ends up costing me about $1.43 which is much less than $4.95 at a coffee shop.)

 

Goal Check-In

September 12th, 2023 at 06:03 pm

Still doing pretty well on the No-Spend September front. We have had some necessary car repairs to make to the tune of $100, but those were necesarry and not in impulse purchase, so they don't bother me. I haven't been back to the grocery store but will make a trip this weekend and update my totals after. Last Saturday, my daughter asked me to go shopping with her and I did. She has an upcoming international trip and needed some things for that. I was proud that I only acted as her sounding board and didn't buy anything... even though I was tempted.

On to our 2023 goal check-in...

Our 2023 financial goals were pretty simple: decrease debt and increase savings.

So far, we have done really well on one front and not quite as well on the other. We have decreased our debt by more than I thought we would have by this point. Our goal was to have our credit card debt below $13,000 and right now we are on track to have our credit card below $11,000 by the end of the year! I am really hoping we can continue to decrease our debt as we are inching closer and closer to the most expensive parts of the year: holiday season.  I’m not unhappy with our progress and I definitely think we will make our goal!

As far as the other half of our 2023 goals go, savings, we have not saved as much as we would like. In fact, when I wrote our goals, our savings stood at $7500, now it is only $5000. We have, however, cash flowed a lot of unexpected or unusual expenses: putting our dog down, trip to Disneyland to watch our daughter dance down Main Street, all senior year and dance activities, and an exploratory trip to Tennessee (we are considering moving there) among other things. We are continuing to build our savings back up but realistically, I don’t think we will get our savings to $10,000 by the end of the year as I know we have some expenses coming up that will eat into our progress.

We will see where we stand in December.

Looking for Money

September 9th, 2023 at 12:50 am

I'm trying to come up with $175 by Tuesday. Today, when I got home from work I rolled my change and I had $55. I will deposit it in the bank on Monday so I can send it to our credit card bill. 

I'm really excited! I figured I'd have only $25... $55 is a good dent. I still need to come up with $120, but I'm a little bit closer now!

Our (Not so Good) History with Credit Cards

September 8th, 2023 at 04:38 pm

Our history with credit has not been particularly good.  Our credit score has always been very good, but our use of credit was almost always irresponsible. There have been times in our life when the use of credit was absolutely necessary to keep us afloat. There have been times that we used credit to live far above our means; and there have been times that we have been living just at our means. Currently, we are actually living “below” our means in that we are saving for both short and long term and decreasing our debt a little bit each month. However, while we are living “below” our means, we are still paying for all the times we lived above them.

When we bought our first house, we had a one year old and I was three months pregnant with our second child. I didn’t work much. I worked 2 days a week at a shoe store, making decent money and my husband was working in IT for Safeway. Once our second child was born, I took 6 full months off and then went back to working at the shoe store part time. At times, we had to charge groceries because we didn’t have enough money to cover all of our expenses. I wouldn’t even say we were living paycheck to paycheck because our paychecks weren’t cutting it. This is where our debt roller coaster really started.

Fast forward a couple of years and about $10,000 in credit card debt and I went to work full time and became a teacher. At this point, we could afford all our daily bills and then some. We could cover all of our monthly expenses, put some money aside for savings, and work on paying down our credit card debt. I said we COULD, not we DID. When I started receiving a paycheck, we used that as our excuse to spend even more money. We still lived paycheck to paycheck, and we started charging “stuff” and vacations we didn’t need and couldn’t afford. But we were paying cash for all our needs, and we could afford our minimum payments, so we just kept living that way.

That yo-yo went on for literally years. The lowest I remember our credit card every being was $8,000. However, it was at the end of this period (only 18 months ago) when we reached our highest credit card debt of almost $25,000. That was April of 2022. That was our wakeup call. We charged so much money that our credit card raised our credit limit because we had exceeded it. But, since they knew we were really good at making minimum payments, they were happy to allow us to dig our whole deeper. (To be clear, I don’t blame the credit card company for our debt. I’m just saying that we were their ideal customer, and they did appreciate that we always made our payments on time.)

April of 2022 our statement balance was $24,905.68. That was probably the scariest number I had ever seen! It finally gave us the kick in the pants we needed to work on truly decreasing our debt.

April of 2022 we finally started living “below” our means. We still contribute to our retirement accounts and put a small amount into savings, but our credit card bill is finally decreasing. We have decreased our credit card debt by $10,037.89… that’s 40% of our total. We still have a long way to go, but I feel like we are finally getting it. In addition to these wins, we are also working hard to fully fund our sinking funds. As envelopes becomes fully funded, we will take that envelope’s monthly allowance and add it to what we send to debt each month. Our sinking funds are one more step towards financial freedom.

It's sad that it has taken us until our mid-40s to get our financial life together, but we are doing it. We are decreasing our debt, paying more than the minimum payments each month, paying all of our bills on-time and with cash, slowly building our emergency fund, and contributing 20% of our income towards retirement. Small steps add up to big change.

We are on the right path and we are making progress. Currently, I am on a mission to find $175 by Tuesday, so that when our credit card bill closes, and after interest we will owe less than $14,000. As it is, we’ve brought the balance down to $13,925, but that’s before interest is added. I’m working every angle I can right now and trying to figure out where I can scrounge some extra money up from! Wish us luck!

Birthday purchases

September 7th, 2023 at 04:37 pm

I make exceptions for No Spend September, one of those is gifts. Two co-workers have birthdays this week, one today and one tomorrow. I am closer to the one with a birthday tomorrow, but she won't be here, so I brought her gift today. I got her Starbucks, a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, and a plant in a cute toadstool planter.  My other co-worker I just brought Starbucks.

I had $34 on my Starbucks app. (I rarely go there anymore!) I did get myself a drink as well because I had enough stars for a free drink, so I treated myself. The barista also let me know that I had enough stars left over to pay for the soy milk change for one of the birthday drinks. Total cost for three drinks: $10.60.

I also grabbed the peanut butter cups and plant. My original plan was to bring her flowers because she LOVES them. Then I realized she is not going to be at work tomorrow because shes going out of town. That means she wouldn't be able to enjoy the flowers for the first several days, and let's face it, flowers only last so long. Instead I chose a house plant in a super cute pot. The tag said $8.99. The peanut butter cups were on sale for $4.99. My father-in-law works for the same company so we get a small employee discount.  For some reason I got an additional $5.00 of my purchase. The receipt calls it a "basket discount". I've never seen that on a receipt before, but I will take it. The total for the plant and candy came to $9.27.

In total, I spent $19.87 and made a couple of ladies very happy! One couldn't stop thanking me and told me I literally made her day, which in turn, made my day. It feels good to do good things for other people and then to be appreciated on top of that is pretty awesome!

We do have a gift budget and today's purchase came out of that.

Otherwise, still chugging away at No-Spend September.  I haven't made any impulse purchases or bought anything from Amazon. It's only been a week, but I feel like that has got to be my longest streak since before summer, and the reason I'm doing the challenge!

Have a great day!

No Spend September: Shopping Trip 1

September 5th, 2023 at 07:02 pm

For my No Spend September, I will check in with my spend totals as the month goes on and I make purchases. In years past, No Spend September has been a great way to reset our spending habits and dig a little further out of debt.

My goals with this particular No Spend September are increased debt payoff and to slay the Amazon habit! I recently looked at how much we have been spending on Amazon and wowie was I surprised! And I am not talking about pre-planned expenses or even necessary unexpected expenses. I am talking about new clothes just because, or a new book, or new kitchen gadgets. I have been ordering from Amazon nonstop lately… and it NEEDS to stop! That is a place in our budget where we are bleeding money!

My husband has been ordering more from Amazon than he normally does, too. However, most of his items are needs, things needed for car repair or new work clothes. But either way, we have been spending way too much money on Amazon! I’m hoping this No Spend September will help reset my spending habits and make me think before I click “buy now”.

We did our first shop of the month on Saturday, September 2 and we spent $150.91. We shopped at Costco and only bought food items! I can’t recall the last time that actually happened. We mostly stuck to the list and only added one item that wasn’t on the list because we were low on them: eggs. All in all, it was a pretty good shop.

We got six gallons of milk, artichokes, bell peppers, a pineapple, a watermelon, apples, tomatoes, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, maple syrup, bacon, eggs, cheese, bread, and coffee beans.

We shouldn’t have to go to the grocery store for about a week. Hopefully we can stay within my $500 budget!

No Spend September

September 1st, 2023 at 06:57 pm

For many years, from 2013 to 2020, as a family we chose to do “No Spend September”. As we all know, 2020 was a crazy year that we still haven’t all quite recovered from. It changed the way we looked at life and money. And somehow, we fell out of the habit of No Spend Septembers after Covid. This year I suggested to my husband that we do another No Spend September and he really wasn’t on board. I’m okay with that. Like I said, we did it for 7 years and our kids saw our example of spending fasts. We also always told the kids why we were doing a no spend month and what our goals were to get out of it.

Even though my husband doesn’t want to participate in a No Spend September, I decided I still want to. For me, a no spend month resets the way I look at and treat money. Every family (or in my case, person) needs to determine what rules work for them. Obviously, I will continue to pay all my monthly bills: mortgage, utilities, water, credit card, etc. I just won’t be buying any extras. I will still buy gas as needed and, of course, food.  I won’t be buying new clothes/shoes, household décor, or cleaning products. I really try to stick to the basics and trim my budget as much as possible.

We both still need to get to work so we will buy fuel as needed, as well as any other necessities for the car. Our normal grocery budget runs about $700 a month. During the month of September, I will try to spend $500 or less on groceries. That might be a little harder than in previous years because my husband is not on board this year so when we grocery shop, he will probably still add in lots of “extras” and things not on the grocery list. In years past I have noticed I am never so good at sticking to the list as I am during No Spend September.

My one exception for No Spend September (that I already purchased) was eye cream. I ran out yesterday and planned to go grab some at Target, but I forgot my in-laws were coming over for dinner last night, so I didn’t have a chance to get some. I ordered it on Amazon this morning because they actually have it for a better price than anywhere else. I was able to order it with next day delivery for $15.40 including tax and the cheapest I could find it at a store in town was $21.99 plus tax.

Hoping for a good financial month!

A Step Raise!

August 31st, 2023 at 10:19 pm

I just started year 18 of teaching! I can’t believe it. I teach in Northern California at a continuation high school, and most days I love it. Year 18 means I get a step raise. It is not a traditional merit based rase, it is purely based on years of service. If I have done my math correctly, it looks like I will be taking home an additional $300 per month.

Most times when I get any sort of raise, we increase the amount I contribute to my 403b, but not this time. As we are trying to become more financially solvent, we are seeing where we have some holes in our budget. We have sinking funds for many categories, but we have inadvertently ignored some possible big budget busters: home repair/furniture upgrade, new car purchase, and appliances.

We do have a general savings account and a small emergency fund, but none of these things should be emergencies. We know we will need to upgrade our furniture at some point. We also know that when you are a homeowner you need to maintain your investment. Likewise, cars don’t run forever, and we have not been putting away for a new car like we should have been. Appliances fall into that same vein. They don’t last forever, so we need to plan to replace them.

We plan to carve a little bit extra out of our budget and add that to the additional $300 from my step raise to start sinking funds for those categories. I know $100 - $150 a month isn’t much, but it is a start. Eventually, as we fully (to us) fund other sinking funds and pay off our credit card debt, we will be able to increase the amount we contribute to each sinking fund each month.

Baby steps. I always have to remind myself: we did not get into debt over night… It was over a period of many years, so we won’t get out of debt over night either. We need to be patient, stay the course, and be responsible.

These new sinking funds will put one more step between us and financial disaster!

Today is payday for my district. We get paid on the last working day of the month. It was so very satisfying to go to the bank, pull out the money for my envelopes, and then start three new envelopes! Each one doesn’t have much, but I’m so glad we started them! And I’m glad we are making a plan for the money I’m getting from my step raise and not just nickel and diming the money away.

Murphy Decided to Pay us a Visit

August 29th, 2023 at 07:22 pm

Murphy decided to pay us a visit. UGH!

We are strongly considering moving (I will do a full post on that eventually), and during the course of packing some stuff up, I walked across an area of carpet and it felt a little damp. I thought I was imagining things and I didn’t really think much of it. About 10 minutes later, I walked across the area again and it again felt damp to me. Just slightly damp, but damp. This time, I had my husband come check if it felt damp to him… and it did.

We have bookshelves lining the wall where we felt dampness, so we pulled the books and three shelves out and lo and behold, there was some wet drywall and baseboards and damp carpet. The other side of this wall is our fridge. We pulled the fridge out and saw that there was a hose leaking from our fridge. We don’t know how long is has been leaking, but it’s been long enough to damage the baseboards on both sides of the wall and about a foot of drywall too.

It sucks! Especially because we are trying to get our house ready to show in the event that we do move. This is a pretty major setback. We have fans set up on each side of the wall to dry out the water and then we will really be able to see the damage and what we will need to do to fix it.

This fridge has been nothing but a nightmare since we bought it brand new almost 7 years ago. We remodeled the kitchen in our old house and got all new appliances. The fridge we chose had an ice and water machine. The ice/water stopped working within six months of getting the fridge.  Also, things on the left side of the fridge freeze. (We have had to throw out sour cream more than once because it got shifted to the left side of the fridge and frozen. Sour cream just doesn’t defrost well.) Items also freeze in the crisper drawers. I have hated this fridge almost since day one… and this just gave me cause to hate it more.

On the bright side, my husband is very handy and he will be able to do all the work himself. It will just take time and money. It won’t be a super expensive fix money-wise, but it will be pretty costly timewise. Dry wall repair takes a while. The timing of this is not ideal, but it never would be. Hopefully we will be able to repair it relatively quickly and get back to getting the house ready to show.

Baby Emergency Fund

August 28th, 2023 at 07:05 pm

In February, inspired by another blog I read, I decided to start saving all my $1 for an emergency fund. The blog I was influenced by saves all of her $5 bills, but I don’t feel like we are in a financial position to take so much out of our daily budgets right now, but maybe someday.

As we primarily use cash, a fair amount of $1 bills go through our hands. We take them and put them in a separate envelope marked “emergency”. Each time we get to $100 in singles, I bring it to the bank and change it out for various larger bills. Currently we have $300 in the envelope, all in 20s. We are past half way to another hundred dollar mark and we will probably turn that into a hundred dollar bill when the time comes, and maybe after that we will change the singles in to fifties. We like the idea of having the money in different denominations so if we ever do have to use it, the money is actually useable and convenient.

Although it is not a huge emergency fund, it is a little extra money that might come in handy one day. And as it continues to grow, it will be more and more substantial. We don’t currently have a goal for our $1 bill emergency fund, other than to watch it grow, but have talked about different things we can use it for: appliances suddenly breaking, unexpected car repairs (that we can’t fund with our car envelope), unexpected medical bills, or maybe (once the numbers line up) we will use whatever is in the envelope to pay off the last of our debt. (That would be a dream come true!)  At this point it is all speculation, but it gives me a little peace of mind to know we have a small stash of money that isn’t already designated to somewhere.

We do have a small emergency fund in the bank, but we are nowhere near a fully funded emergency fund. Like I said in my last post, however, we are working hard at maxing out our sinking funds, so emergencies will be fewer and farther between, but a little extra insurance never hurt anybody!

The Way We Use the Envelope System

August 24th, 2023 at 03:54 pm

It's been a long time since I’ve written about it, but we use the Dave Ramsey envelope method for budgeting. We don’t follow Dave religiously, but we do like the envelope method for our sinking funds and it seems to work pretty well for us. Twice a month I go to the bank and take out anywhere from $800 - $1500 to fill our envelopes. This works for us and helps us to keep from charging on our credit cards and increasing our debt.

We have several different envelopes, as well as one separate savings account where we budget for car insurance (annually), car registrations, and tithing/giving to our church. Many people have told us we “have too many envelopes”, but we have what works for us.

Recently, as we have a little more money now because our kids are getting older, we went through and determined maximum amounts for our envelopes. Although we’ve never been destitute, we’ve never been in a place to max out our sinking fund envelopes and barely fully funded them each month. Now we are starting to see little surpluses each month and it’s exciting! It’s another sign of progress towards better financial health!

We have 9 envelopes: food, gas, car, household, hair/nails, kids, education, clothes, health/gym. We determined that food will never have a maximum because we buy ½ a cow every year and any excess in food will go towards that. We allot $600 a month towards gas and determined that the maximum we will put/keep in there will be $1000. We’ve never reached that before, but right now that envelope is sitting at $715, so we are getting close. Car is another envelope that will never max out. Car repairs come when you least expect them and can often be expensive! We have $440 in our car envelope right now. Household to us is shampoo, soap, paper goods, cleaning products, etc. and we set a maximum of $500. We’ve never gotten anywhere near $500 and usually that envelope is running at a deficit, but I’m hoping with fewer expenses and that we are now funding our envelopes with higher values, we will get there. We just did a big Costco run and got toilet paper (X2), deodorant (X2), ziploc bags, and dish detergent, and because of all that, we have $0 in that envelope, but will be filling it with our next paycheck. Hair/nails will max out at $500 as well. I actually only get my hair cut about once a year, but I’m going to be honest and say I love manicures and pedicures, although I don’t get them as often as I used to. This envelope currently sits at $290 so I could see us maxing it out in the near future. Both The Kids are now high school graduates and adults, but we decided to keep our “kid” envelope for various and sundry things. We will max “kids” out at $500. This envelope has $180. Our education envelope doesn’t have to be used to pay for senior year anymore, but as I am a teacher I am constantly paying for things for my classroom. The money in that envelope will be used towards mainly that. (The Daughter has decided she wants to be a personal trainer and as she has decided not to pursue college, we will pay for her certification course for personal training. Much of that will come out of the “education” envelope.) Once we have paid for The Daughter’s personal training course, that envelope will top out at $500. We have $0 there now as I just bought pens and pencils for my classroom and paid for my Sunshine Club membership; but we will keep plugging away at that envelope. Clothes and shoes can get expensive. This envelope currently sits at $390 and will top at $1000. Our last envelope is health/gym. We pay $160 per month to see a personal trainer. That envelope will top out at $320 which is two times our monthly cost. Currently, that envelope has $280 in it. We will only budget $40 toward it this month as that would bring us to our maximum.

Our sinking funds (not including car registration and insurance, which is directly deposited into its own savings account) sit at almost $2500. We are happy about that and feel like our sinking funds are another barrier between us and sinking further into debt. Of course we hope to only use the envelopes for their prescribed categories, but in a pinch this could function as another emergency fund.

These are the envelopes that work for us right now and as life changes, so will our envelopes. In the past, we have had envelopes for pets, dance, sports, etc. Each season of life leads us in different directions and with different financial responsibilities; there is no one way to do anything and this is what works for us right now!

"Saving" Money This Year... Sort of

August 21st, 2023 at 04:10 pm

The last couple of years have been very expensive for us and made it difficult to pay down our debt by much. I’m not complaining, just explaining. We didn’t decrease our debt by much and we were able to cashflow a lot of expenses! Going forward, things should change.

We have had two “senior years” in a row. Our son graduated in 2022 and our daughter graduated in 2023. Senior year is expensive. There are all the normal school expenses that everybody has: yearbooks, ASB, PE clothes, school supplies, dances and winter ball, sports, etc. But on top of that there are: senior portraits, prom, powderpuff football, senior trip, senior sunrise, senior sunset, senior beach day, senior movie night, senior ditch day, and that is just what I can think of off the top of my head!

Senior year was expensive for each kid but having to do it back-to-back was brutal! (I feel so sorry for parents of twins!) Quite honestly, just not having a senior this year (or a kid in school at all) is going to help our budget! It’s crazy to me how expensive public school has become. (And just to be clear, I am saying this as a public school teacher. Overall, I think there is great value for money, but the cost of extracurriculars has skyrocketed!)

In addition to not having a senior (YAY!), my daughter aged out of dance last year. We spent a TON on dance. I understand we could have told our kids no about any number of things to get ourselves out of debt faster, but we decided our kids shouldn’t have to suffer because of the financial mistakes we made, so they were able to do most activities that they wanted. (No judgement on anybody else’s choices either!) We paid about $1000 per month for dance, and it was always paid for in cash. We never charged anything for dance. Some of that money is going to be absorbed into our budget, but over half of it is going straight towards debt. Dance is, quite honestly, prohibitively expensive, just like so many elite sports in America are. We feel very luck that we were able to pay for dance, all while making slow progress on our debt, and contributing heavily towards our retirement.

Dance was so expensive. We had to pay monthly tuition, competition fees (which have skyrocketed since Covid), choreography fees, costume fees, and for food, gas, and sometimes lodging at competitions. We always brought snacks and drinks with us, but the costs still added up. I’m very happy to not have dance to pay for anymore. That’s going to help us pay down debt and fatten up my envelopes.

Making Slow Progress

August 16th, 2023 at 10:24 pm

Hi there… I know it’s been a while, but like happens to everybody, life got busy. My daughter was a senior and graduated last year plus it was her last year of dance, so we had a lot to do. I am also a teacher and the summers are always busy… but in the best possible way!

I am back to work now, so in some ways our life is going to slow down.

The last time I posted our debt we had $19,167.74 in debt. It has decreased, but not by as much as I would have liked. Our debt today stands at $14,867.79, so a total decrease of $4,299.95. And interestingly, $1000 of that came in the last month. I can’t wait to get our debt down below $10,000. I’m hoping maybe by the end of the year as we have some good months coming up as far as debt payoff goes.

In September, I will get a small paycheck for some work that was performed in July and August. I will split it in half, half will go towards debt and half will go into our savings. September is also a three paycheck month for The Husband so we are able to send more to debt with that. A little over half of his extra paycheck will go to some various expenses we have to cover and savings and a little under half will go towards debt.

In my last debt update (months ago) I was excited because our minimum payment was finally under $500. On our next statement (in literally a month) our minimum payment should be under $400 as this month’s minimum is $400. We just keep plugging away knowing that slow and steady wins the race. I have to keep reminding myself that we didn’t get into debt overnight so won’t get out of debt overnight.

I am happy we are making progress, but I wish our progress was faster! Hahaha!

I’m really hopeful about getting our debt under $10,000 by 2024! I think it’s doable if we are diligent with our spending over the next few months!

The End of Therapy Payments and Financial Goals

April 28th, 2023 at 07:10 pm

My daughter has been having chronic headache issues for about 16 months. We have seen doctors and specialists, had MRI's, tried prescription medications and vitamin regiments... nothing has worked. As a last resort, her neurologist suggested therapy. She said sometimes our bodies will do anything to not deal with painful things.

Finally in January, we were able to find a therapist that would see a minor. Very few we talked to would see minor's and even fewer still woudl accept insurance. Nearly all of them required cash payment. The therapist we found shared our faith (which was important to us) and sees minors. She did not, however, accept insurance. 

It was worth it to us to pay out of pocket if it would help relieve our daughter of her headaches.  But it wasn't cheap! We paid $140 per session, and she had sessions weekly for almost 3 months. As her headaches started to improve, we were able to space her appointments out more. Today is her last appointment!

I'm so glad her chronic headaches have disappeared! Two days ago, my daughter and I were at our eye appointments, and she was so happy to mark "rarely" when it asked if she had headaches. The therapist has been a God send to us and we are so thankful that her headaches are gone, and she was able to deal with "unresolved issues". 

We still have a ton of debt, but we are making baby steps toward improving it; but slowing our debt payments so we could cashflow her therapy appointments was worth every penny! There is nothing worse than seeing your child hurting and having no way to help them! With today being her last therapy appointment, I am excited to have an additional $500 a month to put back towards our debt and maybe be able to ramp up our progress a little bit, especially knowing my daughter has relief from her pain!

My financial goals for 2023 were to increase savings to $10000, which I may or may not make (but I am still trying!), and to decrease our debt to $13000. Assuming my progress continues as it has been, I'm on track to make that goal by October.

 

Bits of Money

April 18th, 2023 at 08:28 pm

I have been working really hard to pay down debt and have not felt like we have made any progress, but over the last couple of weeks, we have had little bits of money come in (some bigger than others) and I have applied all of those towards our debt.

My son received a tuition reimbursement for his junior college. That was a $690 drop in the bucket! And so unexpected!

 The Husband also received a raise of just over 4% and that has made up a small shortfall we were going to have because of tax adjustments with a little bit of money left over to send towards debt.

 I receive a small extra payment on the 10th of each month for any extra services I do at work. It's usually below $100, but it is extra. I was able to send that to debt.

 My daughter was named editor of her high school yearbook because of how hard and diligently she has worked on the yearbook this year. As her reward, she got a refund for her yearbook that we paid for at the beginning of the school year. That was another $80 to send towards debt.

The last one I haven't actually received yet, but it should be coming soon-ish. I coached intramural soccer at my high school this year. I did this as a volunteer job and was happy to do it! But it was exhausting and a lot more work than I anticipated it was going to be. But I'm still glad I did it. The week after our tournament, I found out I am going to get a 4% stipend for coaching! It was so unexpected and I'm so excited! 10% will go to my CalSTRS account and then of course they will take out taxes, but after all is said and done I'm hoping to walk away with an extra $2500! I will probably split that evenly between savings and debt as my savings account has taken several hits in the last couple of months!

 I'm just hoping to stay the course and that each small drop will help fill the bucket.

My Husband Got a Raise!

March 23rd, 2023 at 08:33 pm

My husband got a raise! He received a 4.26% raise! It’s the largest raise he has gotten since he has been working for this company. He’s worked for the same company for 12 years and he has gotten a raise every year, but this year was the biggest he has ever gotten.

I’m so happy for him because he works so hard this past year, and he did not feel he was compensated appropriately at work; he wasn’t upset with his salary, but with certain bonuses that were handed out. However, after his 1 on 1 meeting with his boss yesterday and his raise, he feels a lot better about it. He was able to see his boss’s review of him and he feels like his boss really went to bat for him to receive fair compensation. It is always nice to fell appreciated and valued at work!

In a lot of ways we have worked to avoid lifestyle inflation, but I think we are going to fold this raise into our regular budget. We have a lot of upcoming expenses that this money can help us with in addition to debt that we are still trying to pay down!

The Husband has already set his 401k to max out for the year, so we don’t need to add to his retirement. My 403b is not maxed out and we are considering increasing contributions to my retirement account for at least some of the extra money, but we are waiting to see what his actual paycheck looks like before making any changes.

Hopefully, it will be enough of an increase that there will be a little more money we can throw towards debt and a little more money we can put away towards retirement!

Small Emergency Fund

March 14th, 2023 at 07:52 pm

We mainly use cash and the envelope system to budget. We do occasionally use credit cards for certain expenses, but we primarily use cash. Starting with our last month’s money, we started taking all our one-dollar bills to use as a small emergency fund.  Since February 1, we have put $125 into our newest envelope.

We put each of our dollar bills in the envelope and then once it reaches $100, we trade it out for a one-hundred-dollar bill and start over. It’s not much, but it will provide another small cushion for when an emergency arises.  On the front of the envelope, we have a square post-it note and each time we add any dollar bills to the envelope, we update the post-it note, that way we have a running tally of how much is in there.

I’m hoping to have close to $1000 by the end of the year.  Regardless of how much money is in there, it will function as another small safety net, at least until we get out of credit card debt.

It’s been fun to watch the numbers grow. Our debt is going down VERY SLOWLY, and it has been hard to keep our motivation up to pay off debt, but this has been something that has made me a little excited about our finances again. It’s a small thing, that is giving us a surprisingly big morale boost.

2023 Goals

January 5th, 2023 at 07:47 pm

For 2023, I have decided to make only a couple goals. I will flush them out in a little more detail but essentially, they are decrease debt and increase savings.

Our credit card debt is hovering right around $20,000 and it has been difficult to get it below that level… this is the year! My goal is to decrease our debt (by the end of 2023) by $7000.  After interest, I want our debt to be lower than $13,000. Still high, but it would be progress. We will need to send roughly $900 a month to meet that decrease (including interest).  More importantly, we would need to not charge any more on our credit card. (*I guess that is a side goal of mine… to stop using our credit card unless it is absolutely necessary and to make sure we have the cash to pay for any charges we do make.)

My second goal is to increase our savings. We currently have $7500 in our savings account. By the end of the year, I want that to be at least $10,000. $10,000 is 2 months of (absolute) bare bones expenses. That would cover our mortgage, food, gas, utilities, and not much else. Eventually, once our credit card debt is paid off, I would increase our savings even more. Meeting our goal of $10,000 should be doable. Currently we are adding $500 a month to our savings and The Husband will have 2 months during the year that are 3 paycheck months. From each of those, I will add an additional $500. Should everything go according to plan, we should actually be able to reach this goal by the end of April. (That is of course assuming we don’t need to take any money out of our savings and are able to contribute the same amount each week.) But, realistically, I’m giving myself until the end of the year to meet the goal, because no matter the best laid plans… things happen!

Once we reach our savings goal, we will have to rejig our budget. But that’s another conversation for another time.

That's it... 2 main goals: decreasing debt and increasing savings. It sounds so easy on paper, but real life is hard! I know these are the goals everybody has, but I feel like this year I don't have much mental bandwidth to make more, or more specific, goals. 

Wish us luck for our goals this year! I want to experience the kind of freedom that you can only get from being debt free! Hopefully we can be credit card debt free in 2 years! If we make a good dent this year, 2 years is a real possibility! 

Debt Update

October 17th, 2022 at 06:02 pm

Our credit card statement came yesterday, so I guess it’s time for a debt update.

We were very close to our goal of an $800 decrease in our credit card debt after the addition of interest.

Our current debt total is $19,167.74. We decreased our debt by $775.73. Next month I am hoping to do a little better and even out our progress to at least $800 per month.

We had an unplanned for expensive month and had to cash flow the expense. The Daughter is going to Tennessee for Thanksgiving break, and we totally forgot to plan for the plane ticket! That was $750 after taxes and fees.  If we hadn’t had that expense, it would have been an awesome month, but I’m still happy with our progress. Our goal is “around $800 per month” and we were right there.

They raised our interest rate… AGAIN! I think this is a combination of two things: one, they “see” we are trying to pay off our debt and two, the Fed is raising interest rates. Our interest rate went up to 17.74%. Despite this, we had some wins this month. For the first time since April, when we really decided to buckle down and work on paying off our debt, our minimum payment due is below $500. I know that doesn’t sound like much, but to me it feels like a win. It’s below $500 because we have paid down our debt. Obviously, it is a win that our debt continues to go down. That is a trend we need to continue. In the past, we were very much yo-yo debtors. Our balance would go down only to go back up the next month. Currently, we are on a downward trend… for six months in a row! That is a win! That is progress!

With the holiday season coming up, I need to plan well to stay within budget. I am almost done Christmas shopping but have a few more things to buy. We host a Christmas party every year and it can be expensive if I don’t plan well.  I need to order invitations and buy food. Generally, we have about 75 people come throughout the day. (I know I could not do this and save money or do it differently. I enjoy my Christmas party and this year I budgeted for it and will host it. Please don’t tell me that not hosting it or doing it differently will get me out of debt faster.) I just need to stick to the plan and remain in budget. If I can do that, then my debt will continue to decrease as planned by about $800 per month.

Next month, our debt will fall into the $18,000s. I know it’s still A TON of money, but I need to count every little win!

"New" Truck

September 19th, 2022 at 06:34 pm

We are so excited! Last night, all The Husband’s hard work finally paid off when The Daughter got to drive her truck off to church! The look on her face was PRICELESS! (It actually cost us right around $3000, but it was so worth it!)

The Husband has been working tirelessly most nights and weekends to get this truck back on the road! This is the truck he took his drivers test on 28 years ago! The truck itself is 32 years old but has sat for almost the last 10 years and so needed a lot of love.

He replaced, cleaned, and rebuilt so much on this truck! There are still a few things that need to be finished or fixed, but it is safely drivable. Yesterday, he and my daughter finished fixing the windows (they didn’t roll up or down) and fixing the door locks and actuators.

Although fixing the truck has been costly, at about $3000 so far, it was still less than if we had bought her a reliable used vehicle.  She helped a lot during the whole process, and she feels such a sense of pride in “her” truck. She drove off to church last night and school this morning grinning ear to ear! She kept running up and hugging her dad last night and thanking him for all he’s done!

Although this truck does bring some added expenses, like insurance and gas, it also brings a ton of convenience in that we don’t have to juggle cars around or arrange rides  for her to get her where she needs to be. YAY!

Our Credit Card Debt

September 16th, 2022 at 04:52 pm

I am finally ready to share our debt numbers… and it’s scary! (Both the amount and putting our real numbers out there for people to see.) In April of this year, our credit card debt reached a total of $24,905.68, which was $1105.68 OVER our spending limit at the time. Amazingly, we weren’t charged any fees for being over our limit, other than our monthly interest. However, our interest rate has increased literally every month since then, so that’s how they are getting their extra money. We went from 14.99% interest to 15.49%, then to 16.24% to our current interest rate of 16.99%.

Our credit card “very graciously” saw that we were getting in over our heads, so instead of suspending our credit card (which was over the limit) or denying transactions, they increased our limit by $5000! We now have a credit limit of (ridiculously!) almost $30,000! It took us a long time to wake up, but I think we finally did! We still have a TON of credit card debt, but we are working on it.

Currently, our credit card debt stands at, $19,943.47. Still way too high, but less than it was.

We have not been able to pay off quite as much as we would like for a couple reasons. First, like I talked about in a previous post, we were given a truck that cost several thousand dollars to get running. (But was still less than the price of a used car!) We paid cash for all of the repairs. Secondly, our dog had an unexpected vet bill. He is 12 and we have been very lucky that he hasn’t been very expensive, but last month he cost us $1000. We were able to pay cash for that too. We also took a long weekend away as a family to Pismo Beach. We hadn’t done that in years and because we paid for that in cash, I consider it money well spent; but I’m trying to be honest in saying why we didn’t pay off as much as we would have liked.

Most importantly, we haven’t added to our debt, and in fact, have made a little headway. As of our September 2022 credit card statement, we have paid off $4962.21, which amounts to 19.9% of our total credit card debt. Honestly, could be better, could be worse.

Going forward, I am hoping to be able to payoff around $800 per month, after interest. At that rate, we will still be in debt for almost 2 more years. Again, it’s longer than I would want, but I think an $800 decrease per month is realistic. I don’t want to set unrealistic goals because then I will just be depressed and discouraged when I missed them.

We don't have any student loan debt or car loans. We have a mortgage and small solar loan in additional debt.  I am really focusing on our credit card debt as that is what is weighing us down.

As I said in my last post, I am expecting a lump sum payment this year equal to 6.5% of my salary. I haven’t yet decided what I’m going to do with it, but looking at these numbers, it is mighty tempting to send it all to debt and just live with one month of expenses in my emergency fund and to work on building it back up, slowly. But I don’t have the money yet so I don’t really have any decisions to make, yet.

Options

September 9th, 2022 at 07:18 pm

I am a teacher and so don’t get raises the same way people in the private sector do. I don’t receive merit raises but do get step raises. This year I am not moving over a step, so was not expecting any kind of raise. However, California gave a hefty (but still below the rate of inflation) COLA raise to school districts of 6.56%. For the first time in my entire career, our school district is giving us the entire COLA plus a tiny bit extra. With the step I’m at, this should make for a take home difference of $4000 for the year, or around $335 per month – a decent increase after taxes!

The union also negotiated a one-time lump sum payment equal to 6.5% of my yearly salary. After taxes, I’m expecting to net right around $4000. I have not yet decided how this is going to be spent. I would love to throw the entire balance towards credit card debt, but with some of the spending we had to do this summer, our savings account took a hit.

My comfort zone is at two months’ worth of bare bones expenses in our emergency fund. Currently, we only have one month of expenses. $4000 would almost replenish our emergency fund. Plus as we won’t get the money for a several weeks up to a couple of months, that money coupled with what I would contribute to savings, would top off our emergency fund.

I could also split it up and send half to the emergency fund and half to debt. Clearly, I’m torn. I guess the bonus is that we are going to be getting the money and that I have options!

"New" Truck

September 8th, 2022 at 10:41 pm

We were given a truck for our daughter, but it needed some major repairs before she could drive it.  It is actually the truck my husband took his drivers test in about 28 years ago. It has been sitting in the driveway at his parent’s house for 7 years and hasn’t been moved since. Not to mention, it wasn’t taken care of very well before that either.

Over $1200 was owed on it to the DMV for overdue registration and fees. The DMV took off about $400 in fees and that brought it down to about $800 to bring it current. (We did not pay this. It was paid by my BIL to whom the truck was registered.)

My husband has put about $3000 and many, many hours into getting the truck drivable. He has put on new breaks, new valve seals, a new fuel pump, replaced the EVAP, new tires, and so much more.

Our original plan was to purchase a decent used car for our daughter when she got her license and was able to drive. But as everyone knows, the price of used cars skyrocketed. My car bit the dust back in March, but my mom lives with us and I have been able to drive hers. The Husband’s car is 7 years old but he maintains it well, and The Boy’s truck is old, but reliable. We have been able to get by, but it has been a pain. I will be so happy when the truck for The Girl is drivable!

We are almost there. After two months of work, it passed SMOG on Tuesday. Then, once it passed SMOG, we were able to finish the registration and get it insured in our name. Now we just have a few things left to do before she can start driving it daily. Once it passed SMOG, we ordered new tires for it, to the tune of $600. We also got a new windshield because there were multiple cracks in the old one.

We are getting there!

When The Husband was given the truck, he made a list of everything he thought needed to be done. Item by item, he has been crossing things off as he has completed them. He is also keeping track of how much money he has spent on each part or tool he has needed. The list has been added to since his initial assessment, but he has way less left to do, than he has already completed. Most of the parts have been bought and now we just need to find the time to finish the last repairs. The Girl should be driving the truck to school daily in about two weeks!

Wish us luck!

Credit Card Debt

June 17th, 2022 at 04:31 pm

 

Two months ago, our credit card debt was the highest it has ever been! In fact, we were over $1100 over our credit limit! We had NEVER gone over our credit limit before. We'd gotten close to it, but never over, and certainly not by more than $1000. 

It was a much needed wake up call for us. Since then, we have topped off our emergency fund savings account (2 months of bare bones expenses), rejigged our budget to send more money to debt, and decreased our debt by $3278.26. I don't know what took us so long!

In our first month of serious debt payoff, we decreased our debt by $640.55, after interest, and were still over our credit limit. But it was a decrease. The first time our debt had decreased in months. In our second month of serious debt payoff, we decreased our debt by $2637.71. (This was an abnormal, but exceptional month!) We are firmly below our credit limit and still making progress.

Our goal is to decrease our debt by $1000, after interest, every month. In order to do that, we have to send at least $1300 towards our credit card debt every month and account for any charges we may make on our credit card in our budget. I think this is doable. It will just take planning and discipline. We have to pay attention to our "extra" expenses every month and actually account for them in our budget. It would be better to send less money towards debt and pay cash for all of our expenses than to forget and charge expenses on the credit card.

Every month has irregular expenses; those expenses that crop up once in while but aren't monthly deals. We need to pay attention to what they will be each month and make sure we set aside money for them in our budget spread sheet.

I’m very happy to be under our credit limit again and to be making some progress on our debt. $3200 is a great decrease and a great start! Now we just need to keep it going!

 

 


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