Financial Update: January 2016


These debt-free journey updates are so very satisfying. Sharing our progress at the end of a long month gets me so pumped. So let's get to it!

I mentioned in my December update that, with our Citi card now paid off (YAY!), January would be our first month fully experiencing the debt snowball plan: that $50 monthly minimum payment to Citi automatically rolled over to our next debt, the Chase card. Our monthly minimum payment to Chase was also $50, but with that extra $50 from Citi, our new minimum is $100.

This happened at just the right time. Chase was our zero-interest credit card...until December 31, 2015. Yeah. For the first time since opening that account, our Chase balance is now racking up interest.

And simultaneously, for the first time, we are focusing all of our extra income and energy on demolishing said Chase balance.

Extra income for January included $100 in birthday money from my parents (I turned 27 on the 18th, yippee). I kinda wanted to take that $100 and buy myself something special, but my debt-killing ferocity outweighed that desire this time. I set 10% aside for tithes and put the remaining $90 on the Chase card.

Our regular "snowball money" (the monthly leftovers after paying all the bills and withdrawing cash for our envelope budget) for January ended up being $750.

So. When all was said and done, this happened:


WOOHOO!

January's biggest accomplishment? Dropping the total sum below $70,000! That means...so far, since September 2015, we've paid off $6,681.86 in debt!


Yep. Feels pretty good.

Making Goals: And Checking Them Off


It's been twenty-three days since January 1. If you set any goals for 2016, are you still focusing on them? Have you forgotten/given up/stopped caring already, or are you actively putting in the work to pursue them?

I am still pursuing. For the first time in a long time, I really am. 

Three weeks ago, I shared my list of goals for the year. (I called this list a work-in-progress, because the majority of my goals were so low-bar and basic, I know I'll need to step them up as the months pass. But they're my goals for now.) While a list of yearly goals is great, it's so...big. The goals in themselves may not be, but the idea is. We're talking about goals, resolutions, and changes for an entire year. It seems so intangible. 

Typically, 365 days go by before you check your progress on a yearly goal. Most of us who set goals on January 1, 2016, won't start worrying about whether or not we've actually accomplished them until late December rolls around. Unless you stay focused.

And here's how to do that.

The First Two Weeks: A Health Update


I'm immensely proud of these first two weeks of 2016. Matt and I have truly gotten serious about our eating habits together, and we're already seeing some benefits.

As I said at the beginning of the year, we've decided to follow a "Paleo-inspired" diet. The Paleo diet is ridiculously excessive in meat consumption, and, in my opinion, a bit too restrictive regarding nutritious whole foods like rice and beans, basic staples that have sustained human life for centuries. But, as the primary goal here is to control my blood sugar and prevent my prediabetes from becoming full-blown Type 2 Diabetes, I'm mostly concerned with limiting carbs, and the Paleo diet does just that.

However, we'd been accumulating a decent supply of white potatoes, pasta, and dried rice and beans, and with our tight budget, we aren't going to just toss food out. Matt did donate the pasta to his work project's field house for the technicians to eat, but the other things we are slowly phasing out and cooking as healthfully as we can.

But to set us up for success, I went shopping on December 31 and came home with all o' this:


Isn't it lovely? So much color! 

We've been meticulously planning all of our meals and snacks ahead of time, using awesome resources like PaleoGrubs.com to find meal ideas, and in doing so, we've found some really delicious recipes. Like this one for Spaghetti Squash Shrimp Scampi. That was a seriously impressive dinner to a true pasta lover like myself. 

For the past few years, Matt and I both have defaulted to oatmeal or whole grain cereal with almond milk for a healthy breakfast, but since those aren't exactly low-carb/Paleo options, we've had to get creative. We've been busting out all kinds of variations on the Paleo Grubs Broccoli Egg Bake. It makes six servings at one time, so it makes for the easiest, quickest breakfasts ever. And it's really warm and filling, which is a must for these wintry days.

Honestly, the biggest struggle so far has been making it work financially. Our current budget sets aside $400 a month on groceries, which typically gives us $100 per week. We'd just been getting the hang of it and were beginning to come in under budget regularly. But now we're buying meat. And we're in agreement that if we're buying meat, we're getting only grass-fed, antibiotic-free, good stuff. And unfortunately, the good stuff is crazy expensive. Like, $9.99/lb for chicken breasts expensive.

So. It's negatively affecting our budget, but we'll get it. This is a priority, so we will make adjustments to our budget to make sure we're putting out health first.

And like I mentioned, we're already seeing some results. Matt has lost around five pounds. And me?


Yeah, I'm pretty pumped about this.

I've been weighing daily and entering my weights into the Happy Scale app- a really cool (and free!) app that plots your weights on a nice little chart like this:

Isn't it awesome?!? Look at that trend line! Happy Scale also uses your data to make predictions on when you will reach your milestones and ultimate goal based on your current rate of progress. According to the app, if I keep up this momentum, I'll reach my first goal of 170 (4 pounds under my wedding weight) by March 18, 2016. That's pretty hopeful. And doable, I think.

So. Health and fitness goals for the rest of the month:

1. Continue eliminating sugar, breads, and pasta. Cut back a bit more on rice and beans. 

It's been working wonders so far. I already feel better, and it's showing up on the scale. 

2. Begin adding exercise into the plan.

I haven't done a single workout since January 1 (well...it's actually been waaaaay longer than that, but it's a new year; we're talking about 2016 now.). I'm blaming it on the cold weather, but I know I've gotta move past that excuse. From doing yoga to having a solo dance party to breaking out the ol' P90X videos, there are tons of indoor activities I can do, even without a gym membership. I just have to do it.

My workout goal for the year is to "just move" for at least thirty minutes three times each week, whether it's biking, running, dancing, whatever. That's such a low-bar, beginner-level goal; so far below where I used to be. But this is me starting over. I'm not doing any type of formal exercise now, so I have to start somewhere. 

My goal for next week is to get in at least one 30+ workout. That's as basic as it gets. I'll secretly aim to do more, but one workout is all I'm requiring for now. That's more than I've been doing. 

How are your 2016 goals going so far? 

#92: Write a letter to my 16-year-old self


(I've been putting this off since I made my 101 Things List. But as it is now the year 2016, and because I am, for six more days at least, exactly 10 years older than 16, this seemed like the appropriate time.)

Financial Update: December 2015


I AM SO EXCITED ABOUT THIS POST!!!

Oh yeah! I went all-caps, and I'm still using exclamation points! December was a big month for our journey to debt freedom. We were extra thrifty with the month's cash budget and impressively, unbelievably responsible with the money we received as Christmas gifts from our generous family.

First off, at the beginning of the month, Matt took advantage of the upcoming holiday and listed more of his old video game consoles and accompanying games on Craigslist. They sold within 24 hours and brought in a total of $340. We added this to our checking account and put it immediately toward the Citi card balance, which was, at the end of November, $853.33. This additional income lowered the balance to $513.33. And of course, we also paid our usual $50 minimum payment to Citi, which then brought the balance to $463.33.

$463.33. Such a measly, attackable number. Once we received our paychecks for the month, distributed our income to our cash budget, and paid all of our bills, we had $750 left to use in our snowball. We could totally take out the Citi card this month and have money leftover to start chipping away at the Chase card!

Then.

We remembered.

We have our auto insurance set to auto-renew itself every six months. And on January 2, 2016, it was time. For our two SUVs, it amounted to just over $394, which would wipe out over half of our left over snowball money. We wouldn't have enough to pay the full Citi balance.

*sigh*

But, 'twas the season of giving, and our family blessed us tremendously with loads of cash (on top of several large, expensive gifts, like a miter saw and a bike from my parents!). I'm too stunned and overwhelmed to even type what the total amount of money we received was. We were both near tears. (Well, I was in tears.) I'll just say that, combined with our leftover income debt snowball money, the cash from his grandparents and both of our parents gave us enough money to:

1) Pay our $394 auto insurance in full,
2) Deposit $100 into a savings envelope for unforeseen medical expenses,
3) PAY OFF THE CITI CARD!!!!
4) PUT AN EXTRA $300 ON THE CHASE CARD!!!!

Our debt snowball is officially rolling now!


This month, since the Citi card is history (YAY), that regularly scheduled $50 minimum payment will go straight to the Chase card, on top of it's already regularly scheduled $50 minimum payment. So there's $100 a month right there.

Paying off that first shared credit card was such a positive, hopeful way to conclude 2015!

2016


We've arrived in another new year. Another fresh start, 366 blank pages to fill in. For many of us, that means it's goal-setting time.

2015 was the year goals went out the window for me. I was newly engaged and celebrating New Year's at Disney World. Resolution-list-making wasn't exactly on the agenda. Having fun was. And then, when I came home, finding a dress was. Planning a wedding was. Finishing my last semester at Ashford was. All the crazy, exciting events of 2015 caused me to lose sight of many things, very important things, that I had previously been focused on.

2016 is the perfect opportunity to revisit these areas, to explore the damage my neglect has caused, to pick up the pieces, and create some new goals for myself.

Starting with my faith.

This is the lowest slump I've been in spiritually for a long while. I feel cut-off from God. I'm finding it hard to see Him from day to day. My work environment is filled with people who mock Christianity, curse regularly, and live all-around unclean lives. I work every other Sunday morning. I have basically zero contact with other believers. And I have no chances to get out into nature, which is one of my favorite ways to connect with the Lord.

When I make time to read the Bible lately, it just seems...lifeless. Words on a page. Difficult and confusing words on a page, at that. Even if I pray first. And on that note, my prayers are repetitive and dull, and honestly, I often fall asleep in the middle of them.

I just feel detached. So, in hopes of rekindling my relationship with the Lord, I made the following pathetically simple goals for 2016:

1. Make time for daily prayer and Bible reading, even if it's only 5 minutes.

The prayer has to be intentional, and I can't wait until I'm lying in bed at night to get started.

2. Make a real effort to visit and attend church as regularly as work allows, 
with or without my husband.

This is so hard. I was raised Baptist, but as an adult, I align with no particular denomination. I just want a real, honest group of believers who use the Bible as their guide, not the Southern Baptist Association or the "General Overseer." Matt, however, remains strongly rooted in the Church of God, and the differences there are becoming a real problem. I've been noticing myself subtly blaming Matt for my spiritual problems when I know I am responsible for myself. I have to do what I feel I should do. Further, I can't make him do anything he doesn't feel that he should do. I am responsible only for myself. 

3. Read at least one Christian living classic.

From C.S. Lewis to Max Lucado, there are so many books out there that I know will re-energize me spiritually. "Mere Christianity" has been on my to-read list for about five years now, but I still haven't gotten around to it. It's on my shelf. 2016 is the year.

4. Increase exposure to worship music, Christian radio, and sermon videos/podcasts.

If I don't go to church, I can still watch or listen to a sermon somewhere online. As far as music goes, I know what goes in comes out. I lost my giant case of CDs at our wedding (something happened to them at the reception; IDK). My entire music library, gone forever. As devastated as I was to lose my Coldplay collection and The Essential Johnny Cash, it was a disguised blessing to rid myself of AC/DC and the like. I want to begin rebuilding my music with not only clean music, but Christian music. Real, simple, worship music, like Matt Redman and Chris Tomlin. (Suggestions?) And of course, dcTalk. 

5. Write out and post a verse each week.

I'm not getting as complicated as verse memorization. All I'm aiming for here is to write a verse that speaks to me on an index card and stick it on the fridge.

Pretty basic, right? So is my next area to work on.

*sigh*

I haven't touched on this subject here in a long time because I pretty much threw in the towel when I started working at the nursing home. The stress just got to me. Oh, did it get to me.

My weight as of January 1, 2016?


I've gained 15 pounds since our wedding day. I haven't been in the 180's since 2013.

But there is so much more to this issue than my increased body fat.

*siiiiiigh*

I've been having a lot of health issues the last few months.Nausea, fatigue, weakness, dizziness. Skin issues. Chronic infections. I've ended up seeing three doctors since we moved to Missouri. THREE. And it turns out, some of my lab tests revealed problems. I had low hematocrit, low red blood cells and low vitamin B-12. Due to my vegetarian diet, the doctor said.

But then. My new OB-GYN gave me a huge shock. (It's not what you're thinking.)

My Hemoglobin A1C was high. Really high. (Hemoglobin A1C shows your blood glucose levels for the past three months; it is far more revealing than a one-time glucose test which only shows blood sugar at the time of the drawing.) How high?

I'm prediabetic.

If I don't act drastically right now, I will develop Type II Diabetes in the future. If I become pregnant in the next couple of years, I will quite likely develop Gestational Diabetes during my pregnancy.

When I heard this news, I almost fell out. I felt like I had been making such good choices. No high fructose corn syrup. No preservatives or shady hard-to-pronounce ingredients. No meat.

Ooooh...no meat. What had I been eating that is super easy to turn meatless? Pasta. Pizza. Stir-fried rice or lo mein. Beans and cheese in flour tortillas. Beans and cheese over corn tortilla chips. Grilled cheese sandwiches on homemade artisan bread. CARBS. CARBS. CARBS!!!

You can't really understand where this put me. I felt like I was doing the right thing by going meatless, but apparently, I screwed up. I got my body all out of whack. I gorged myself on carbohydrates- fresh, homemade, non-GMO, organic carbohydrates- and put my health, and consequently, my future kids' health, in serious danger.

The solution? Basically, the Paleo diet: no sugar, no breads, no pastas, no rice. Just lots of vegetables, meat, fish, and eggs. I don't like it. But I suppose I like it more than pricking my finger and giving myself insulin injections multiple times a day for the rest of my life, all because I like bread so much.

So. Goals.

1. Eliminate sugar, breads, and pasta. Severely restrict rice and beans. 

Technically, the Paleo diet does not allow any grains, not even rice or beans. I don't see anything wrong with having one or the other from time to time; they at least provide more nutrition than breads/pastas. And um, consuming as much meat as Paleo requires is not only a challenge for me, it is outrageously expensive. I think going "Almost Paleo" is a decent balance, at least for now.

2. Don't eat (or drink) anything I wouldn't if I were pregnant.

This occurred to me after the whole Gestational Diabetes talk, and it seems like a pretty good rule to follow. If something isn't good for a human fetus (like, say, deli meat), there's a good chance it's not all that great for a human adult. Plus, if there are any unplanned pregnancies, I won't feel guilty about what I had to eat three weeks ago when I thought I was only eating for myself. (After a pregnancy "scare" with all the nausea, dizziness, and fatigue, this means a lot more than it used to.)

3. Bike, run, walk, do yoga, dance, just move three times each week.

Seemingly impossible after working the floor on my feet without a break for several hours, but I've gotta figure out how to get in some exercise again. 

So yeah. Obviously, I'm bummed about weighing in 188.8. But this goes far beyond my weight struggles. I have to get my diet straightened out. 

Next. 

As you may have noticed (Matt sure has!), this job has wrecked my positivity and optimism. I've become a whiny, stressed, sardonic pessimist who dreads going to work every day, and I do not want to be that person. The journal I had on my wish list for Christmas? I have plans for it.

1. Write down three things I'm thankful for daily.

Time to Pollyanna it up. I kept a gratitude journal for a while once before, and it completely changed my attitude. Definitely need to go there again.

2. Light candles, do yoga, do facial masks, take lavender-infused showers as needed.

Pretty self-explanatory. These are all self-indulgent sorts of things that I rarely do, but I'm going to allow myself to for the sake of my sanity/attitude.

I've talked about this one a lot lately, so it's no surprise. I won't spend much time here, because you've probably already figured out my goals for this one.

1. Continue preparing a monthly cash budget and planning for all spending.

2. Find some kind of "side gig" to really ramp up the debt snowball.

3. Save up and pay cash for an anniversary weekend getaway.

4. Save up and pay cash for another trip for just the two of us.


1. Call/write/text/mail a card to someone back home every week. 
Make a true effort to stay in touch with family/friends.

When work scheduling is as it has been, this gets so stinking hard. But I really want to let people I love know I miss them, care about them, and think about them. If I don't make an effort to contact them, they'll assume the opposite.

1. Pursue a job opportunity that will make use of my bachelor's in English.

2. Stick it out in this position until at least March 2016.

March will be six months. I've seen a few nursing positions that looked more promising that require "at least six months experience in a skilled nursing facility." Boom. 

3. Post monthly blog updates about debt, diet/fitness, and weigh-ins.

This feels weird under the "work" category, but as an aspiring writer, it counts. On a related note,

4. WRITE SOMETHING.

In addition to blog posts, that is.

There you have it. A somewhat brief summary of my goals so far for 2016. I feel like it's still a work in progress, though. I'm so dissatisfied with who I am and where I am in life right now, I have the urge to make so many changes. It's just too early to tell which other changes I can make, specifically. And this list is already kind of long. I don't need to go overboard and overwhelm myself. 

What are your goals for 2016? Can you identify with any of these? What are your plans and strategies for making it happen?