Category Archives: debt maintanence

Our Path from WV to NY

A month ago we announced our move to Buffalo, NY and all the tribulations and feelings that go with such a decision. We heard back from several people about their own experiences and considered it all deeply. While we waited for Brent to wrap up work at Marshall we paired down our belonging, started boxing things up, looked into NY housing options, and pushed our house (politely) on anyone willing to listen. Now, with four days until the truck pulls away from WV, we have a place rented in Buffalo, sight unseen (thanks to new colleague), and a sales contract on our house in WV pending the usual inspections.

To run along side this, we are selling our home at a loss. We will need to payout cash at closing, which we found by selling our minivan (thanks to a friend referring us to a friend). There were several options for securing the funds, but we wanted to walk away from WV without additional debts. A clean break. I will give you all a numbers breakdown…

  • We financed $132,000 in 2006 for the home
  • Invested nearly $3,000 each of the 7 years we resided there ($21,000)
  • We agreed to sell the home for $125,000, minus our portion of closing costs (roughly $10,000)
  • We owe two banks a total of $120,000 to pay the balance of the mortgages
  • Therefore we will need $5,000 to close on the sale and the $21,000 in improvements combined with the $114,500 in P&I payments over the years are evaporated into the economy

This analysis tells me we are not very good with our money, home buying should probably include a lot more cash down and less financing, and we are presented with the opportunity to make some changes for our future. With the sale of our house we reduced our debt to only student loans and a pesky credit card purchase for a new work laptop for Brent. For the first time ever, we have a positive net worth (you know, in the financial world).

We are renting a single family home four miles from Brent’s new employer. We hope he can continue to bike commute. The NY rent is less than our WV mortgage. The space is also slightly smaller. The utilities are also projected to be less, thanks to the owners being savvy on insulation and new replacement windows. The land lords are also responsible for a portion of the utilities and maintenance. We see this as savings.

With the sale of our mini van we enrolled in Buffalo Car Share. There was a small Yaris within walking distance of our new home, and several other options (a mini van) we could reasonably ride transit or bike to. Brent’s employer has a discount relationship with BCS, and the membership includes insurance and gas for the vehicles.

Buffalo has a more extensive and timely transit system that includes busing and a light rail, at twice the cost of the one in Huntington (I hope not to compare everything, but it helps for those following along from “home.”) The airport is 7 FLAT miles from our house, downtown looks to be between 6-9 miles, but we will be between the city of Buffalo and the suburb of Amherst (where we could reasonable bike to a *gasp* mall). There are at least two pools, multiple parks, a library, bookstore, several groceries, coffee shops, yoga studios, zoo, and countless other unknown things within our comfortable 2-3mile radius. We will continue to bike. I am actually looking into a box bike now. I feel the timing might be right.

We are not committing ourselves to a car-free life. We will see how things develop. I keep hearing about these transportation prohibitive winters. Avery’s medical care needs might change. And then there is this; one of my first challenges will be the arrival of our exchange student two days (fewer than 36hours) after we pull into our new drive way. I don’t know a thing about this child, or how much luggage he will be carrying. He might not be able to ride a bike. Bringing our family up to seven members will add to many interesting scenarios. Stay tuned.

With all that said, I have more boxes to pack. More things to sell and give away, mail to forward, warmshowers and paperbackswap to put on hold, and appliances to clean.  My minimalist ways are not shared evenly with all members of this home. Those children have a lot of arts, crafts, legos, books, and goodwill.

Cheers from West Virginia to where ever you find yourselves.

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Community Benefit Events for Avery’s GBS Expenses

BikePancakeFundraiserSeveral of our friends and community members have worked together  organizing two fundraisers to apply directly toward the medical expenses incurred during Avery’s GBS this year. There will be a pancake breakfast on Saturday morning at Our Lady of Fatima, followed by a bike ride at Ritter Park led by our Critical Mass organizer, Joel, and bicycle raffle drawing thanks to a donation from Huntington Cycle & Sport. The generousity of everyone ceases to amaze us. We are indebted in gratitute to everyone. Even if you haven’t said as much, I know you are thinking of us, I can feel it.

If you would like to participate tomorrow, June 8th, more information can be found below:

Saturday’s events follow two other fundraisers held while Avery was at Children’s Hospital. The first, a benefit concert at Marshall University was organized by Ella Clark and helped us with over $200 in transportation and lodging expenses. The second was a gaming marathon sponsored by the Marshall University gaming club that successfully raised enough money to present Avery with an Xbox Kinects system and several games to use as part of his home phsical and occupational therapy.

All of these compliment the many personal care packages, gift cards, meals, and child care provision provided by countless people while we were in the hospital. I think I have sent out 50 thank you cards to date, with so many more to go.

The feelings behind these gestures and sentiments fluctuate between embarrassment and heart pounding love. With so much need and travesty in the world all these people have chosen to spend their time and energy on us, on Avery, on our community. It’s inspiring and motivating and overwhelming. It’s also difficult to be on the receiving end of such gifts. Perhaps it’s just me, but I flush with embarrassment for being in this situation, some how feeling that perhaps a series of different choices would have avoided such hardships, hardships that in the “big picture” are nominal. Please know, as I have tried to convey with a lot of sincerity, that you may never know how much all of this touches us deeply and we are grateful. We hope we can continue to give back to you all with our work and our efforts within the community and amongst the world.

Avery is getting stronger every week. He continues 2.5hours of therapy twice a week at Milestones Physical Therapy in Hurricane, WV (30miles from our home). He gets to Challenger Baseball at the LL3 fields as often as we can take him. He does his home therapy as we can get it worked in, and he is enjoying a mostly typical summer break from school. Having missed almost half of Kindergarten didn’t set him back, thanks to having an onsite teacher at Children’s who worked with our school, his tutors, and his own resolve to stay on top of his work. Avery is walking with the help of his AFOs, and has some time out of them as well. He has some foot-drop issues, but we feel those things are slowly resolving as well. The EMG showed continued signal delay in his nerves at the end of May but ruled out his condition as being chronic. He is continuing to take 50mg of Lyrica twice a day for nerve pain.

We tell our children that we won’t give them a hand unless they are showing effort to help themselves. It’s not a hard and fast philosophy, but it works for many scenarios. I wanted to let you know some of the things we are doing to help ourselves through this year financially. Our emotional and physical efforts are another story.

To start, Brent took on a summer job with a company as a contract employee. His chair also helped him secure his summer class at Marshall, which pays above his regular teaching position. We also applied for financial aid at the hospital and other medical facilities that offered it. We are still waiting to hear back. We set up payment plans where we could and double check every EOB with every bill and call back to our insurance if we are in doubt about the coverage provided (or not provided). It’s messy, but overall our health care insurance has picked up a substantial portion of our costs. The Lyrica is only $150 month, they approved most of our Ohio doctors and stays as in-network, and they covered our wheel chair rental as well as other equipment costs so far. The tricky part is going to be when the fiscal year ends June 30th and we have to start over with our deductibles while continuing to go for follow ups and therapies. Yet, we did this in 2010, with a newborn, and we will do it again in 2013, with all of you at our side. Thank you.

No-Spend Holiday

We used to have family spending freezes to get us to the next income check. I’d tell Brent, don’t buy coffee, there’s not a coin left in the bank and we need to sell something if the next auto draft is going to clear. Something as trivial as a cup of coffee would send me into tears and leave me grouchy for days, concerned over every minute detail on our accounts.

We took some interesting measures (I still think choosing to ride a cargo bike is interesting, don’t you?) to reduce our overall expenses, pay down some debts and realign our family values and priorities. I may go weeks without checking an account now. It’s one of the most gratifying feelings. The fear has subsided. The anger and sadness, the doubt and feelings of worthlessness are waning. Money, or our spending habits, were waging a war on our marriage, on our family, on our sensibilities. Perhaps it was more akin to an occupancy we barely noticed moving in.

This isn’t to say we now spend money however we see fit. We have managed to briefly give ourselves a bit of cushion and relief. We bought some experiences, a vacation, a business trip, a weekend away with friends. There were beds, shoes, stainless steel straws, surgery, violin lessons, food, cell phone/service, soccer season, dance class, printer, clothes, another bike, bike basket, coffee pot, toaster oven. There have been donations to our local food market, the food bank, United Way, our alma maters. The money was there in the account, so we spent it slowly, and as it crept away, and I transferred funds from the back up account, to the primary account, I smiled. We had the means to do this and it felt good.

After we returned from our trip to Charlottesville, where everything except the bus, was nearly double what we were accustom to paying, I said, no more. The habit of spending needed to be culled. It had to be reigned in. How were we going to be able to finish paying off the debt, save for the new business, celebrate the birthday season the way we desired, pay off the children’s tuition, visit with family when we chose, support more organizations, and still eat, if the dollars and cents kept trickling outward? More importantly, how were we aligning our values?

We believe in making do with what we have first, looking to borrow/share, buy used, or do with out. We try to make new purchases when we truly need something, succumbing to wants often enough to feel indulged, but not gluttonous. Seemed we had gotten off track.

After two weeks with the iPhone I begged Brent to return it. I started combing the house for things to sell to lighten the visual baggage and return some of the funds to the pot. I was looking for ways to beef up the accounts as if there were nothing left, when in fact there was still a ripe sum. Not enough to endure a month without an income, but enough to pay the bills with a bit of overage, which was leaps and bounds more than we had a year and half ago.

Then I said to Brent and the children, no more. Spending freeze. This time, the whole month of November. It started out ok. Then I left town for a long weekend, purchasing gas, clothes for London, and Brent picked up a sandwich. Then we fell back into a good no-spend routine till pay day, mid month. This past weekend we bought a birthday gift for a classmate, purchased food for the food bank during Cranksgiving, and treated the Kidical Mass riders to hot cocoa. Today I made the donation to United Way to help boost their university fund drive. I bought flash cards for my daughter who doesn’t know her basic math facts. I bought her erasable pens for school. Needs or wants? Hardline or just succumbing to the desire to solve perceived problems with money instead of creativity?

I tried to buy my son shoes for school. I went to three stores. One of them had what he needed (uniform policy) and in his size, but for $75, I passed. I am going to attempt to glue the sole back on his current pair and hope he can get to January, or perhaps I can find something less expensive. I feel it is a matter of priorities. Shoes he needs for school were not important enough for me to shell out money on, but cocoa for Kidical Mass was? Ever make decisions like these and wonder what you were thinking?

We had another spendy moment these past couple weeks that we also didn’t expect. Our five year old has some pretty serious behavioral issues as school. We wonder if some of those issues are related to hunger. Without the long story, we let him get hot lunch at $3 a piece without milk. A sizable chunk of money when it adds up, and something we previously wouldn’t pay for. We wondered if a $3 meal might help what has become a priceless struggle for us all.

Tomorrow I am having $1300 in dental work done. I had a $25 repair made on Friday and it didn’t hold through the weekend. Necessary or desired? Insurance says it’s cosmetic.

While we set out to only spend money on what we needed; food, medical, the regular bills and payments; it seems we are stretching the definition of need to fit our wants too. Or are we? We are very intentionally spending each penny. Returning the control to our conscientious decision making, instead of habit and routine, is valuable. Setting up a spending vacation, might not be perfect, but it was launched with good will.

First Quarter 2012 Transportation Finances

Several weeks ago Sarah at Full Hands referred Amanda Lilly from Kiplinger to my inbox. Kiplinger was writing a story for bike to work day, May 18th, that highlighted the saving benefits of cycling. While my financial records are not pristine, they have been a decent guide. In order to give Ms. Lilly the most up to date information I pulled all the charts for the first quarter this year, shown below.

Please read the Kiplinger article here, it covers a wide range of people from all over the country and bits of their bike commuting stories, from a financial angle of course.

The chart above shows the auto transportation expenses from January through March 2012. The auto category includes fuel, insurance, parking, and maintenance. I have been paying $40 a month in insurance, but I received $40 refunds from my company twice, so I must have over paid.

This chart illustrates our fuel expenses only. Sometimes you can’t change your car payment or your insurance but you might be able to control how many times you fill up your tank. This is where we started. We knew we needed to cut somewhere, and keeping our vehicles parked, saved us on fuel. March happens to be the last time we put gas in the van.

In comparison, here’s what we spent on bicycle related items, listed as sporting goods. $200 of the $283.26, was for three used bikes Brent picked up at Positive Spin in Morgantown, WV.

Lastly, Kiplinger was wondering what have we spent our savings on? Where did we put those dollars that we were previously burning in our tank?

This chart is intended to compare 2011 first quarter (blue) with 2012 of the same time period (green). January through March of last year we had begun to cut back on expenses more drastically and travel, but had not moved into a full car-lite phase. We have spent more on food and travel (NYC trip in February, other longer distance driving in the region for work, trip to Ohio for my cousin’s funeral) in 2012. We have spent significantly less on health care, auto & transport, and housing.

The housing savings is simply because we are not repairing or enhancing our home in anyway to put it on the market, like we were last year. Last year we were considering the sale of our home as the only way to unburden ourselves from debt and the struggle to keep afloat each month. Then we discovered car-lite living, and well, you have read our story here!

It is difficult to say whether we are healthier this year because of our lifestyle change, or because the children are older and we have all been exposed to more over time. Some of last year’s medical expenses may have been payments from the 2010 year, a year that had us drowning in medical bills.

Overall, we are eating a healthier diet, because it’s no longer a numbing decision to buy whole wheat pasta and brown rice, even though they are more expensive for less in the package. We are able to put more whole, real foods in the cart and I have relaxed about Brent’s eating out and coffee purchases.

We are living within our means monthly and paying back our debts (currently mortgage and student loans at approximately $190,000, or $1500 each month). We have a small cushion in the bank for things like ER visits, travel, clothing needs, and some charitable giving.

October, November, December Auto Expenses

In 2011 I set out to do a significantly better job of tracking our every expense. We came out of 2010 wringing our hands in financial worry. It was a rough year. I can’t say I managed to track them all. Between cash, Scrip and computer-human errors, some were lost or mismanaged. I was successful in doing a significantly better job. We were also successful in many of our efforts to reduce spending overall and pay off debts. Goodbye car payments! Audios credit card bills! I hope to carry this momentum forward.

In October I wrote up our third quarter review on auto expenditures and here are the fourth quarter numbers.


I reported in December as having put fuel in the van in October, but I can’t find the transaction for this anywhere. It’s a very good thing I am not a CFO. The above shows all auto related expenses for each of the three months. October and November’s expenses illustrate insurance payments only. December was insurance and gas as seen below in our fuel expense report. I would estimate we filled up in October with about $45 in fuel. I will keep searching for this missing number as I am also unable to locate Brent’s mtb purchase. Perhaps I accidentally deleted them?

These charts are showing a great deal of savings, but I am aware we have paid out a significant amount for our bicycles and bike accessories. As best as I could categorize all our shopping expenses, here are our full 2011 expenses. All bike related purchases were placed under sporting goods. If there were clothing purchases that doubled as snow pants, winter hats, gloves, or running shoes, they remained in clothing. Helmets, lights, panniers, locks, fenders, and others were sporting goods.

The $600 Brent bike purchases is missing from this total, making our 2011 bicycle related expenses approximately $3,100 compared to our auto expenses of $10,744 illustrated below.

I will continue to blog about our expenses. I feel these are good examples and real numbers. Our expenses on the bicycle did not reduce our overall transportation costs, but long term they will. We still foresee bicycle expenses, but I don’t think they will consume $10,000 of our annual budget. Time will tell and I will report.

 

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