Awakening

There is something about a new year that brings about a renewed sense of vigor.

In 2018 my husband and I finally paid off ALL the debt. It’s gone. BYE BYE!

We have all of these goals we’re trying to tackle with our house. Vacations. Our children. (I’ve had 2 since the last time I posted in this blog!)

The past 3 months have been an awakening for me in who I want to be. How I want to live my life. And I feel like instead of wishing I’m finally developing the skills to create my new reality.

But I actually had those skills all this time – this blog is evidence of it. Small Steps for Big Change.

I started applying small steps to my life. Creating new habits. Forming a new me by changing my routines.

Here is what I’m doing

  • Eating a protein rich breakfast
  • Making sure every meal has fruit or vegetables in it – every one
  • Being active (within the constraints of my body) at least 3 times a week
  • Spend 5 minutes picking up my house each day
  • Wipe down the kitchen counters and table each day
  • Sweep the floor each day
  • Empty the dishwasher each day (and fill it again)

Here are the plans for my future

  • Spend time listening to my bodies satiety clues
  • Pick up my office before I leave each day
  • Learn to keep the TV off and instead turn to books, board games, and conversations as a method to unwind
  • Plan a date with each of my children (individually) every month
  • Plan a date with my husband every month
  • Add journaling and gratitude to my daily routine (there is a reason I’ve come back to this blog, and it isn’t about money)

Is it easier to save?

Whenever I have needed to save money, like large sums of money, it has always been something that has been fairly easy for me. Many years ago I had two months to save $2,000 for a vacation with my grandma. I did that and then some, no problem. When I needed to save money to move to Kansas City, no problem saving up the money in a few months. Saving seems to be the easy part for me.

Even now, just a few days after my husband and I decided that we needed a hefty savings fund to pay for his lawyer and medical bills that we know are coming down the pipeline. ONE WEEK ago and already our savings account is at $3,929. (And Mr Woodpecker has another $1,500 check that is a wedding gift in his wallet that we need to cash – so there is easily our $5,000 goal and then some.)

What baffles me the most about all of this is how can I so easily save  money on one hand – and then be terrible at paying debt off on the other. Surely paying off debt is no different than saving money. It can’t be “compounding interest working in my favor” on these savings accounts. I’m looking at ONE WEEK at a 0.9% annual interest.

Perhaps it is just that I’m more encouraged by the total going up than a total going down?

Perhaps the immediacy of knowing that we WILL need this money? Paying debt is “saving” for purchases I’ve already made and purchases in the future that I haven’t yet planned. Saving right now has a very specific  goal: Keeping us from being crushed by medical bills in the next few months.

Instead of trying to analyze why saving money seems to have such a simple nature to it and paying off debt so difficult, maybe I should just say “interest be damned” and just save money until I get a pot big enough to pay off each debt in full. I’d still be paying minimums, of course, but perhaps if I can easily come up with $3-5,000 at a time using savings as a goal that I can just then transfer these amounts in huge chunks to my debt rather than just paying off the debt little amounts at a time.

Who knows… perhaps I’m not better at saving than I am at paying off debt. Maybe it is just easier to see because it grows, and debt just gets little chiseling and then BOOM monthly charges that work is gone.

Either way, I’m happy to report that our savings is growing. Our debt is remaining steady. And hopefully we’ll have enough saved to pay the onslaught of medical bills we know is coming.

Good-Bye Weight Watchers

After a year long relationship with Weight Watchers, I have finally ended my account. I joined last April to help a friend lose weight for her wedding in June. Well, I ended up losing 35 lbs, getting lifetime status, and I’m actually (a year later) at 40 lbs total lost.

The program itself was very useful to me. I lost my weight fairly quickly (thought not unhealthy-fast) by following the program to the letter. I ate within my point allotment, I tracked EVERYTHING I ate, I made sure to get all of my activity points. I did everything as suggested by Weight Watchers and it absolutely worked, and it worked really quickly.

Once I had achieved lifetime status I remember having this thought were I said “Well… am I really going to track what I eat FOREVER?” I was sold on the new lifestyle of eating fruits and veggies and working out. And now I had an idea of what an appropriate amount of food for me to be eating was… did I really need to TRACK it all?

So I decided to go on an experiment and see if I could live healthily and not track. And sure enough, 9 months after obtaining lifetime I’m still below goal weight. I’m not gaining. I’m doing just fine. So I stopped weighing in and using the e-tools from Weight Watchers around February of this year. Still, no issue. I do weigh myself every morning and take note of where I am. I still try to compensate those high calorie meals that happen with low calorie for the next one or extra activity points. I’m still living the Weight Watchers diet, I’ve just decided there really isn’t a point to having an account with Weight Watchers because I have to stick to their rules which also means if I slip up I owe them money. I’m not a huge fan of THAT.

So I’ve canceled my Weight Watchers account. But I have also made an agreement with  myself that if I ever get to the point where I’m 5 pounds above my goal weight and I find that I can’t take care of it on my own, I’m going back to Weight Watchers immediately to get my weight back under control.

But, for at least now, this is good-bye Weight Watchers! It was wonderful knowing you!

Disability

About a year and a half ago my husband was in a pretty serious car injury. He was taken to the hospital unconscious. It turned out he had a blown to the head, which has been exasperated by the fact that it was not his first head injury (he can cite at least 4 other concussions before this point).

Immediately after the accident he slept constantly. He would watch TV with me and not remember the next day that we had watched anything. We would have a conversation and a few hours later he would have no recall of the conversation. He had, and still has, massive migraines constantly, dizziness, and soreness and pain in his neck and back.

Initially he tried to go start back to work, which was a big mistake for his recovery. But he believed that what he had would pass quickly.

He quickly used up all of his PTO time leaving work early due to massive headaches.

Eventually his boss told him he needed to fill for FMLA or if he missed anymore he would be fired. So he did. Within about six months he had used up his FMLA and was told that he needed to apply for short term disability. He did this.

He’s been seeing two different neurologists, a speech therapist for memory issues, a chiropractor and massage therapist and physical therapists to deal with the back and neck pain, an ENT and vestibular therapist for his dizziness. And while time has seemed to help him with his memory and cognition, though he isn’t perfect according to our neurocognitive analyist, he has definitely improved. But his headaches and dizziness have seemed to have gotten worse despite all the different treatment plans that his two neurologists have put him on. He still, a year and a half later, can’t drive because he can’t focus on the road and moving his head left and right causes his vertigo while driving. The few attempts that he has made have nearly resulted in other accidents.

Well, at the end of February, his short term disability ended and we also found out that the first review of his long term disability was denied. So here is a guy who WANTS to work, but can’t because he can’t mentally and physically hold a conversation (required by his job) for longer than 10 minutes… and he is denied? Anyway, so now we’re having to pay for COBRA for health insurance because he is now technically on a leave of absence at his work and since we only get one appeal for the long term disability we also have to hire a lawyer. Combine that with about 40% less income than we had previously – and well, things are financially tough over here.

I’m still working my part time job, so that is helpful. But right now we’re making *just enough* to cover our daily expenses. The medical bills we’re just working on one day at a time and chiseling them out with the $100 I get each month from my HSA (here’s $15 to you, $15 to you, and $15 to you… we know it isn’t enough, sorry).

In other words, things are stressful financially here. His appeal is due by the end of July. So we just keep hoping that one way or another that will settle things. However the lawyer keeps talking about suing if he gets denied again and then there is of course the next option of public disability (right now we’re applying through the long term disability benefit from his job benefits).

Because we don’t know what will happen next to us financially except that we know there WILL be expenses and that we WILL have to pay for them. We’ve decided to stop paying down debt. Paying down debt assumes a luxury of not getting in to more debt. We don’t have that luxury, we HAVE to incur medical debt right now.

Instead we’ve decided that our best method of debt prevention is to build a healthy savings of the extra money we do get so that we can pay for the “unexpecteds” that come along the way. When/if the disability gets approved, he’ll be getting a back payment of enough to pay off the majority of the debt that we have except for student loans, so it isn’t like we’re just giving up on paying it.

We’re essentially going back to Baby Step #1 and saying: “For us, $1000 isn’t enough. We need more because we know that big emergencies are likely in the next few months.”

So instead of my extra money at Kohl’s going to debt, it is now going to savings. Instead of my overload money at work going to debt, it is now going to savings. Instead of some of these wedding checks going to debt, they’re going to savings. Instead of the tax refund going to debt, it is going to savings. Instead of my summer teaching money going to debt, it is going to savings.

As strange as it may sounds, money and debt and finances have taken a second seat. It used to be my main focus, my drive. But now it is about getting my husband out of pain. Or at least helping him find a way to manage his pain so that it doesn’t get to the disabilitating levels that it has achieved recently.

However, money stress doesn’t help his recovery, so that is my “job” in helping him get better. I just have to make sure the money stuff is taken care of as best I can until we move past this and in to the next phase of our lives together.

Married!

ImageWell, the wedding day has come and gone. It was an absolutely wonderful day. We had a small ceremony in the morning with our family and close friends, we had about 30 people at the wedding all together. It was held in my in-laws living room and my father married Mr Woodpecker and myself.

After the morning ceremony there was a lot of hanging around and chatting and drinking mimosas and eating finger foods. It was a lot of fun.

After the ceremony and mini-reception Mr Woodpecker and I received the BEST possible gift. I fear to tell you because a quick internet search would then completely remove all anonymity. So I’m going to keep it silent, but suffice to say it was so awesome we were featured on two local news stations and many national news organizations. That’s how awesome it was.

We then spent the next week on a cruise down Baja (on Carnival, I know we’re risk takers!) It was a wonderful honeymoon.

It feels so surreal to be married finally to the most amazing man I’ve ever met. I never could have imagined I’d be this happy.

Our total damage for the wedding + honeymoon? A bit over $7,000. And that was doing things exceptionally inexpensive.

One more week!

In 7 days I’ll become “Mrs. Woodpecker”.

Kind of a crazy thought. There has been so  much going on here that really it is impossible to list it all but here are a few highlights:

1. We’re going on a cruise for our honeymoon. Turns out that last minute cruise deals are pretty dang inexpensive. Flights? Not so much, but it wasn’t too bad. All in all we are getting a 4-day cruise with an oceanview room (non-obstructive) plus airfare for two for about $2,000. Add in a little bit for airport to cruise port transfers and 3 days of excursions and we’ll probably add to that a little.

2. We’re going on a roadtrip. My cousin is graduating from high school in Salt Lake City on June 6th. Her brother is getting married in Salt Lake City on June 15th. So we’re flying out there, renting a car, and in between the two events taking a camping road trip through Utah. We’re visiting Zion National Park, Grand Canyon National Park, Arches National Park, Bryce National Park, and Capitol Reef National Park. Very excited about this, should be a ton of fun.

3. I had to buy a new laptop. My home computer had been a brick for about a year. And my work computer was out of commission for a week. I still had to…yanno… work. So I ended up buying a new computer. It cost me around $550 for the thing, as I got an older Windows 7 model (all of my work stuff requires Windows 7 and I’m loathe to make the switch to Windows 8 until I absolutely have to). I’ve also decided that “the cloud” is the most amazing thing ever if you have to switch computers. It used to be when you got a new computer it felt like you were starting your life over. This time I just downloaded Dropbox and Chrome and my files were all in place and so were my browser bookmarks. I was up and working within 30 minutes of pulling the computer out of the box. Wam bam, thank you, ma’am!

4. I got a new job. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my old job. Except… I hated that I wasn’t getting paid nearly enough, and I haven’t had retirement benefits in the past 2 years. Oh yeah, and I have to do things that we really should have a lab tech to do (order chemicals, prep labs, maintain MSDS sheets, etc). So another college just 3 miles away (and much larger) had a position opened and I applied. I had a phone interview, was called back for an on-campus interview, and voila! they offered me the position. My 9 month contract with the new school is the same pay as my 11 month contract with the old school. Which means my per-month salary will be higher. In addition new school has lab assistants that prep the labs and take care of all of that so I don’t have to. In addition they give me a 7% retirement (I’m required a match, of course). The school is larger, so I’ll have more colleagues which I’m really looking forward to. Having only 1 other chemist it has been difficult to “talk shop”. I like bouncing ideas off of a variety of people so I think it will work well. Oh yes, all of this and my teaching load will be LESS per semester. There will be some drawbacks, like I’ll miss the small community of the old school, I’ll miss the relationships I’ve build with students and colleagues there, and I’ll miss having a lot of autonomy in how my classes are run since I’m the only one teaching them. Overall though I think this transition will be better for me in the long run. While I’m certain I will make this transition, I have not signed a contract yet at the new school (they don’t issue until May), so I won’t be alerting my current school to my plans until our renewal contracts come in or I sign at the new school, which ever happens first.

Wedding Plans (Revisited, again… again)

Mr Woodpecker and I finally (in December) came up with our wedding plan: a destination wedding in Cancun. It fit my idea of having to not plan and Mr Woodpecker really wants to go back since he had an enjoyable experience there. Best of all: if we stayed at the hotel for 3 days, they’d pay for a basic ceremony.

It all seemed perfect, until my side of the family all decided that they were NOT coming to the wedding. Even those we gave them nearly a year lead-time. They all decided that it was too expensive (~$400 for airfare and ~$300/night for room + food + entertainment for up to 4 ppl in the room). Oh aside from one uncle who said it wasn’t too expensive, but that he was not going to get his passport to go.

So I spent about 3 days just pissed at my family. Then I became pissed at myself. I had done something that I always hate in other people. I invited them to something they wanted to go to, but couldn’t afford. Much like inviting your minimum wage friend to join you in eating at an expensive restaurant where you’d split the bill.

Mr Woodpecker and I then spent about a month just ignoring making wedding plans.

That is until the past few days. My uncle sent me a message that my cousin is graduating from high school and that ALL of my family is going to Salt Lake City for her graduation. (Mustering all of my emotions to not be offended that they would all agree to going to that but none of them would come to my wedding, and ignoring that I was obviously the last one invited to the graduation and instead focusing on the fact that I was invited…) Mr Woodpecker and I decided that we will just have a reception with my family in Salt Lake City at the same time. The point is to celebrate with family, so who cares if we do this the “traditional way”? Let’s just do this thing OUR way!

At which point we decided, why not just have our wedding dinner at a nice restaurant some evening with our parents and siblings? Just a nice, formal, close family thing. Then the morning after have my in-laws host breakfast for all our friends, extended family in the area. Then in May/June we have the road-trip reception that we both wanted to do when we very first thought about getting married. And our honeymoon? Hello, Cancun!

And the nice part is that we can pay for this whole plan in stages.

The actual wedding at our fancy restaurant  Should be about $1500 (going all out here for 8 people) and paid for with some of my overload money. The morning breakfast will be hosted/payed for by my future parents-in-law. Then the road trip reception we will be paid for with the rest of my overload money. The honeymoon? We’ll do that after the debt is paid off and we can save up for it (most likely next December over winter break).

After a month of being an unhappy bride-to-be, thinking she’d never have a wedding that would work for her, it is nice to be happy again. And nice to have a plan that is exciting and fits us. No, there won’t be walking down aisles, or bridesmaids, or even a bouquet. But there will be me and Mr Woodpecker, and the people we’re closest to, and that is all we want. So who cares about garters and aisle markers and candles? I know I don’t. And I think that is what the perfect wedding is to us. Everything we want without all the other stuff we don’t care about.