Leaping Into a New Year of Money Decisions

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It’s almost my birthday and I was good at Target today by not purchasing a full size cake!!!

Leap year presents us with an extra day to “enjoy” a myriad of opportunities. For me, it also tosses an extra day in right before my birthday. I am ready for my 35th year to close. It (has almost) ended on a high note, better than it started. Those closest to me know I was extremely nervous to enter my 35th year. My mom died in the same month she would have turned 35 and as the years crept closer to this milestone year, I felt my dread increasing.

It turned out I had less to fear than I imagined. My health continued to stay high. Although my mother and her mother both passed away from lung cancer, my body remains untouched by that disease. I also made the decision years ago to never take up tobacco products, so I have taken a monumental step in my overall health habits to reduce the likelihood this disease will take root in my body.

I don’t wish to make this blog entry a downer. I am happy to be turning 36 years old tomorrow. This past year has taught me each year–regardless of how I feel about the particular age I am turning–there will be some lows and there will be some highs. The amount of extra work I piled on last year exacerbated some of the things that caused me stress, but I persevered to make the year something to be proud of, knowing that not everyone has the chance to grow old. When we put our home on the market and it greeted shortly thereafter with three offers, I felt the year had a silver lining.

Our finances needed a strong push in the right direction.

When the proceeds hit our bank account, I felt in spite of our many money mistakes, the roots of some strategic decisions paid off big. The home sale allowed us to pay off two debts and fully fund our emergency fund.

January provided a great start to the next leg of our financial journey. Again, our roles in society as military veterans provided a leverage opportunity. My husband’s VA home loan was tapped to move into our second home when we decided against closing early on our first home. If we had closed early, we could have used my VA home loan eligibility again and would have avoided the VA funding fee. It is ok though that not all things line up to maximize our benefits. That’s just life. We didn’t feel comfortable with all the actions necessary in addition to the short timeframe to make use of my VA home loan again, this time with the funding fee removed.

Our ability to finally have a true emergency fund–not just the basic $1,000 Dave Ramsey Baby Step 1 amount–feels like a greater victory than either of the two graduate degrees I’ve completed. This sort of brings me to what I realized when listening to Michelle Jackson’s podcast episode, How to Change YOUR Role in YOUR Story. I felt like a failure in many regards because my transformation story after separating from the Marine Corps in 2007 was littered with things going awry, especially our finances.

One of the most important things I have to share with you on the matter is that had I stayed in, I would have retired in 2023. Seriously, 2023!!! That’s only three years away. It’s insane to think I am nearing the traditional military retirement age. There’s something even more important to mention. If we look solely at my work based income, it took me until nearly/just after 2017 to surpass what I made in the Marine Corps. 

Talk about something else that really made me feel like a money failure.

But Michelle is right. How we talk about ourselves has a great impact on our lived experiences.

I know I am not a money failure. I would be a money failure if I never tried to improve my situation. The truth is that I have tried to improve our financial situation well before I left the Marine Corps.

Here’s just a small snippet of things:

-While on terminal leave, I job hunted.

-While pregnant, I purchased numerous things secondhand.

-While drowning in debt, I listened to the advice of good friends and attended Financial Peace University (this is how I was introduced to Dave Ramsey).

-While broke after being let go from a job, I emptied out my retirement savings from said job to support our family because the state of Arizona was so far behind on unemployment compensation I could not qualify.

-While working my first job in higher education, I started using the remainder of my VA education benefits and finished the last bit of entitlement at my second institution of higher learning. This included a few day of the Chapter 30 Montgomery GI Bill and 12 months of the Chapter 33 Post-9/11 GI Bill.

For a long time now, I’ve needed to give myself grace for not “succeeding” with Dave Ramsey’s 7 Baby Step process. I was tired of the process feeling like a crash diet. Some big life events came and went and I felt like the person always showing up to birthday party having to decline a piece of cake because it didn’t fit into “the plan.”

Turning 36 is a reminder that I am not beholden to any process or way of being. I am reassembling the baby steps Dave Ramsey preaches with some of the knowledge gained by the financial independence community. Taking care of our family is more important than expediting our debt repayments, so this is why I made sure to fully fund the emergency fund than to pay off my remaining portion of student loans. The same goes for why I will set aside money this year for a vacation. I do not think it is a terrible thing to occasionally prioritize a vacation over making additional debt payments. Whenever I do die, no one will care that I (let’s say) paid off my student loans in five years but they would care about the vacation we shared together.

Without throwing any numbers out there, with our discretionary money this year, here are our top priorities:

  1. Save for a Hawaii vacation and attend a vow renewal.
    1. Reduce cost by grocery shopping more while on vacation.
    2. Coordinate with friends for recommendations.
    3. Also look at reducing monthly dining out to carve out additional savings.
  2. Make additional debt payments.
    1. My highest student loan is 6.8% and the lowest is 4.5%.
    2. The amount of payments I intend to make given our current income should pay off about 64% of the first of the four loans.
  3. Set aside additional retirement contributions.
  4. Move emergency fund over to a high yield savings account.

These options are our notion of having the best combination of Dave Ramsey/financial independence/how we know we live now because we never know what truly lies ahead.

What I do know from all the turmoil I’ve felt in various financial situations is I should work more to become confident in my financial decisions and sharing my story. I recently applied for ChooseFi’s FI Households Documentary series for this particular reason and I hope I can encourage others, regardless of where you currently are in your journey, to share some portion of your progress with at least one other person today.

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