Tuesday, May 22, 2012

New House!

God has been so faithful this past few weeks. Since we found out that the church will be getting a new pastor in July and that we needed to move, we have seen His hand--sometimes not so clearly--moving throughout our lives. We have a beautiful new house and a great neighborhood. The church was such a blessing to us and to the school, and we'll miss the community there and in Cambridge; but we're very happy with our new location.

Thank you to everyone who helped us move.
Thank you to everyone at the church for your willing hospitality and gracious gift of the past two years.
Thank you especially to the boards of elders and trustees at the church for your patience, kindness, and support as we have looked for a new living situation! May God bless all of you.

The Shoemakers

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Do we dare to dream?

This hasn't been easy. It hasn't been easy to maintain this blog. It hasn't been easy to pay down our debts. It hasn't been easy to keep our heads above water and our spirits high. It hasn't been easy to prepare for a new baby, adequately care for our children, find a housing arrangement we can afford/want to live in, and keep focused on our goals. Right now it feels like we'll never make it below the $60k mark and we'll always been stuck in the rat's maze of lost hopes.

Our dreams have taken a beating this year. June-to-June has been one of the most difficult times of our married lives, and it has certainly the hardest strain on us financially. The dream of paying down our debt in two years is now three years old and the current estimated date is another ten years away. Our dreams of traveling across the country, celebrating the freedom we have worked so hard to achieve seem faint compared to the monthly expenses and difficulties of weekly and monthly expenses. There are days when we don't even dare to dream because the passion of those dreams is so quickly extinguished. Do we even dare to dream anymore? Do we even dare to make plans, follow baby steps, walk through the ritual of the monthly budget only to find that we don't have enough money to pay our bills? What happened to intensity? What happened to our dreams?

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Back to Baby Step 2

It has been nearly a year since we dropped from Baby Step 2 to Baby Step 1 on the Dave Ramsey Total Money Makeover plan. It's been a very hard year, as I'm sure you can imagine. We've done a lot of soul searching regarding our finances and the directions we are taking. We have talked about upping our Emergency Fund total so that we could afford a more catastrophic emergency--or another transmission change. We have talked about reviewing our plans for the future and whether or not we were on the right course. Writing blog posts and dreaming big dreams about world travel are all fun and games, but there is no substitute for cold hard cash in the bank and actual movement towards our real-life goals. It has been a long, hard road, but we feel as though we are finally back on track again.
This month we have finally moved back onto Baby Step 2: The Debt Snowball. We are currently less than two years away from paying down Emily's loans from That Horrible Woman. Caleb's...Caleb's student debts need a good infusion of cash to make a real impact, but I'm sure there's some real progress that we can make in that direction. Nice to be back on track.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Our Story pt. 5: Tight belts

To say that we've been living on a very tight budget would be only slightly true: we have been living below the poverty line for two years. We've had to deal with the incompetence of public health departments, the support of the WIC program, the food pantry. Everything has been a challenge. Every month we make the dollars scream as we press them harder for pennies. Somehow we make progress; somehow we have successes. It's amazing to me how much better our quality of life is, even if the stresses of financial struggles and the restless nights threaten to overtake us.
It's important to keep to the plan. We've made decisions in our life that we have followed through on that have helped keep the light at the tunnel brighter--and it isn't a train. We are eating better, spending more quality time together, and learning to live day-to-day with our eyes fixed on achievable goals.

When we moved to New York we had nothing. Now we have at least what we came with, plus an arsenal of financial, physical, and emotional weapons at our disposal that weren't there before. Orthodoxy has been an incredible blessing (fasting, for example, is wonderful for your wallet). Being a teacher means that I keep my mind sharp. Planning for the future, means that the life we dream for our girls will be better than our own. Even if the worse were to happen, we'd be taken care of. Tight belts are a little uncomfortable, but they won't kill you. Keep at it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Taking stock of set-backs pt. 5: Life Necessities

Living below the poverty line means a lot of things. It means living from paycheck to paycheck often for months at a time. It means that the definition of "emergency" is a little more fluid. It means that every time someone wants to give us a Wal*Mart gift card for taking a survey, we jump at the opportunity. It means creating a sinking fund for things like $10 birthday gifts, $20 dinners, and being creative with the grocery budget. It also means that the government sends us a fairly sizable check each year. (We don't pay federal taxes during the year, and with all of the available credits there are we get upwards of $7-8000 between state and federal returns.)

When we were fully employed and making a median salary, these credits went onto our debt snowball and made a huge impact in our overall debt-to-income ratio. Now these large checks go towards the necessities of life: food, clothing, overdue repairs, et al. I'll admit that the frustration here is fairly minimal--not nonexistent, but less oppressive than say our student loan debt. For the most part, that tax credit each year does make a dent in our debts, but it also provides us with some much needed breathing room for our family finances. We know that we can take advantage of those checks to make sure the we and the girls have clothes that fit, the cars are in correct running condition, and those food stores are back to a comfortable level. Would I like to put all $7000 onto Emily's student loans and just get them out of the way: definitely! Does my family need to eat, be clothed, and have cars that run properly? Absolutely. So we compromise. It's not the most romantic or thrilling way to spend the spring, but it does make an impact on our mental as well as financial health.

So this year, if all goes according to plan, we will pay off the student loan from nowhere and drop Emily's student debt by $1-2000! Not bad for a family living below poverty.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Taking stock of set-backs pt 4: Payment Squeeze

That Horrible Woman behaves like a python in our family. She comes in quietly and innocuously, and when we least expect it decides to strangle the life out of us and devour us whole. Our payments went up. Quietly. Very quietly. We had no idea we were behind until we got an e-mail (not a phone call or letter as we requested) telling us that we were delinquent on our loan payments. (Keep in mind that That Horrible Woman was told to send us coupon books for payments, and has only sent them to Emily.) When we checked the website, sure enough the minimum monthly payment had increased slowly over the previous couple of months so that it was nearly a quarter of our monthly take-home just by itself. Caleb called That Horrible Woman and was given a figure for what the amount could be decreased to. When we called again (after becoming current) and referenced the call we had made previously the "person" sitting on the other end told us that that price could not be reached. Much eye rolling and negotiating later our payment has decreased to a manageable level.

"Manageable level" here means that we can afford the payment schedule currently set out for us by That Horrible Woman. It does not mean that we are on the fast-track towards paying down Caleb's student loan (which is still gradually increasing rather than decreasing). This is one of the hardest things from which to find encouragement. It seems like such a losing battle! When little Z sings "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" she likes to make a big deal out of the "Whoosh" of the rain washing the spider out of the water spout; and like the spider in that song I feel like we keep getting forced out of the drain only to continue our climb as soon as the weather clears up. Truly, the one thing that will keep us from completing our goal by the 2014 deadline will be Caleb's student loans and the oppressive feeling of helplessness associated with them.

I'd like to finish this post with some kind of positive upswing, and so I will focus on those things regarding our student debt which could be seen in a positive light:

  1. We will be paying off the student loan from nowhere in less than a year (just a week from now)
  2. We will have enough money from our tax credit to pay down a significant portion of Emily's loans
  3. We are finally in a position to make snowball (not just minimum) payments on Emily's loans
  4. Caleb's graduate degree has gotten him a job with only upward movement (even if that movement is slow)
  5. We have not taken out any more debts and so are not going any further into debt
  6. Every payment on Emily's student loan since last year has been on principal and not on interest

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Taking stock of set-backs pt 3: Car repairs

We were so excited last spring when we purchased our new-to-us car--with cash--and had begun the life of the two-car family and the freedom that that would allow us. Indeed, we really have enjoyed the station wagon with all its space and available room for the girls and our large travel arrangements. It's a little rough on gas at times, but it is a real blessing having both cars around. Even with all of their woes.

This summer, you remember, we had the transmission blow on the station wagon as soon as we finished all of our long travels. $2000 later and a drained bank account later, we made it back up to New York with no great trials (except for Caleb's lost wedding ring) via DC and Emily's sister and brother-in-law's. When we got back to New York, however, we noticed that there was something funny with the breaks. When we took the car in to get it checked out, the very friendly (also very trustworthy) mechanic we found we needed new breaks and new tires. $900 later (and another cleared out bank account and our summer bonus money spent) we have a very fine car. To be honest with you, it was here that I realized we were going to be in for a long, hard slog.

With medical bills, car repairs, house cleanings, and other distracting monetary struggles we are finally coming back to where we were. I'll admit that the temptation is to be discouraged is just slightly stronger than overwhelming from time-to-time. I'd like nothing better than to pout and shake my fist towards the heavens, but that's ridiculous: the heavens are neither to blame nor in any position to respond. Taking time to look over the progress we have made over the year despite of the set-backs has been a real encouragement for us. Though we have struggled against That Horrible Woman and against our lack of affluence and the uncertainty of our position, we are still on some course towards success in our endeavors.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Our Story pt. 4: Starting over again

Believe it or not, the time in North Carolina was very good for our family overall. We learned a lot about ourselves. We discovered that there's a lot more to our relationship than just financial security and job satisfaction. We also learned how to apply for and to use government assistance programs, specifically the WIC program to help supplement our grocery budget. Parenthetically, WIC is a wonderful program, and the people who work for the WIC offices in counties across America need as much emotional support as they can get for all of the good they do for families.
From the time we moved to North Carolina in April until after little Z was born in August, Caleb spent days filling out applications and going to interviews. We had very exciting prospects, but nothing was coming through. Caleb actually had a great interview after Emily's folks sprang for a trip to Myrtle Beach for a week with a school in Greensboro that would have been ideal. The man actually said, "You're the one I want. I'm putting your name in front of the board." After that we never heard from them again except to hear "oh, no one called you?"

Right before Caleb took a trip to DC to visit some friends he got a phone call from Augustine Classical Academy about a position teaching Latin. During that weekend Caleb had a long conversation with the headmaster, and when he came back we sat and prayed about the position and took a long time going over our finances and what we could afford. When the original deal from ACA came through they could offer us ~$9500 with the possibility of $14500 (a very slim possibility). We ran the math, talked things over, and with the school providing housing, we were set to move; and move we did right after little Z was born. Caleb moved into the new house while Emily went to Cincinnati for her sister's wedding. When it was all said and done, last year we made $18500 from ACA and survived the year.

Next time we'll talk about making life work on a tight budget.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Taking stock of the setbacks pt. 1

We've been quiet, because it's been hard to admit that things are going very slowly. It's been hard to take stock of all of the things that have pushed us backwards on our course towards freedom and the ultimate family experience. It's hard to even discover what are all of the things that have been thrown up in our way and are making forward progress painful, discouraging, and very far away.

The purpose of this blog wasn't just to boast about our plans, but to help others who were also trying to make their way out of debt.  It was a means of staying accountable to you, friends and readers, and for our own encouragement when we were feeling like the end would never come. Today is one of those days: the end looks very far away and what we need is to take a look at what has been accomplished and what still needs to be overcome in order to meet our goals.

Current setbacks:

  1. Housing crisis: we have to move, but we don't know what Caleb's salary will be and that's frustrating
  2. Car repairs: we've had to throw some major cash at our cars since this summer
  3. Payment squeeze: we've dropped down as low as we can on Caleb's payments to That Horrible Woman, and the prospects of getting out of those debts is bleak
  4. Life and its necessities: huge tax refund going towards a lot of basic life necessities we've put off--like clothes, shoes, etc.