Stacey & Brandon's Blog

01/06/2014

Project Money 2013 – Life After Project Money

Mind Over Matter

The past 7 months have been some of the toughest, yet most rewarding months for our family!  We went from living on a budget that was dictated by our latest paycheck to a budget that has us planning for the future and living without credit cards.  We are so excited by the success we’ve had with Coach Chris (she keeps us honest with ourselves and our spending) and Summit Credit Union that we aren’t stopping here! 

A few people have asked us if we’re going to go back to our “old ways” once the competition part of Project Money is over.  The short answer is no way!  We can’t ever picture going back to uncontrolled spending, little savings and the stress money had caused us.  We understand why some might think that’s what will happen, but this journey wasn’t a fad diet for our finances, it was metamorphic happening that will only get better with time. 

We did not make it the full 7 months without eating out, but we’ve gotten really good at meal planning and grocery shopping for only the things we need for those meals.  We went from eating out 5-7 meals a week to 1-2 meals a month! 

Imagine cutting your eating out/grocery expense from $1,000/month to $300/month!  Yep, that’s right…it’s awfully liberating to know that we have much bigger plans for the extra $700/month we are saving!  We continue to meal plan and did our major monthly shopping trip just today to stock up for the next 3-4 weeks. 

Our debt snowball is in full motion these days as well!  We didn’t come away from Project Money completely debt free, but we have a game plan and it’s so uplifting to see the light at the end of the tunnel!  It will continue to have to be a conscious effort, deciding between wants and needs, so that we can continue to put our money where it matters the most -in the bank!

The best part of our journey in 2013 with Summit Credit Union is that there were no hidden tricks, no secret recipes.  It was merely a topic of Mind Over Matter!  That’s right!  We weren’t given any special loan terms, no particular book of rules.  We were given the guidance of professionals who talked to us about money, taught us how to budget, how to communicate with each other about finances, and made us realize that financial freedom is more than a dream!  We’ve made major life changes and can’t wait to carry on with what we’ve learned after Project Money!  Follow Summit’s goal:  “Do More” and go catch your dreams!

 

12/20/2013

A Grueling Workout

I like to workout…sometimes.  I’d rather watch the weight just fall off but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to remind myself that the pounds didn’t just show up overnight, so they’re not going to go away overnight either.  So my sometimes enjoyment in working out probably isn’t going to get me to the fitness goal I want to achieve.  And so back to the gym I go, dreading those brutal workouts that what will hopefully lead me to my goal.

Here we are 202 days into our 214-day financial fitness journey with Summit Credit Union and we are seeing major results!  Instead of just seeing the numbers drop, like you’d expect when you step on the scale, we’re also seeing the numbers rise.  You see, in following the lead of our coach and the goals of Project Money, not only are we reducing our debt (pounds), but we’re also increasing our savings (muscle)!  Funny concept, huh!?!?  We never thought that we’d be able to do both at the same time and have as much success as we’ve had.

Think about it like this: when you’re working hard at staying fit or even trying to lose weight, common practice is to watch what you eat, put your mind to it, and stay active.  Similar practice is necessary when trying to “shape up” your finances.  We watch what we spend, we consciously have to ask ourselves “is this a want or a need?” and we are continuously reviewing our finances and making smart money choices. 

As much as we’d like to hope that excess pounds (debt) will take care of themselves overnight, we’ve learned that it doesn’t work like that.  We didn’t land in our pre-Project Money financial situation overnight, and we certainly weren’t able to correct it overnight.  But with proper guidance, much diligence and continued support from our friends, family and the staff at Summit, we’ve made huge strides.  The blood, sweat and tears (ok, it’s really not that bad at all J) have provided us with simple rewards that are oh so achievable!  Much like putting on that favorite pair of jeans you’ve been anxiously hoping to fit into again, when you put yourself through the fierce challenge of correcting your financial missteps, it’s the smooth comfort of opening your bank account to see that you owe less and less each month and that you’re slowly building a substantial savings account that is its own award. 

We’ve had our moments where we think “good God is this grueling workout over yet?”  The bottom-line answer is “YES!  It’s more than worth it!”  But in those moments of weakness, we had to quickly remind ourselves that we asked for this (actually we begged, pleaded and prayed for this, really!), that this program has a sincere purpose, and that we have gained SO much by working hard day-in and day-out!  And so the workout continues…for life!  We may only have 12 days left under the eagle-eye of our personal trainer (financial coach) and the team at Summit, but we hope that for months and years to come after this competition, our friends at Summit Credit Union can openly ask us how we are doing since Project Money and we’ll have a true financial “weight loss” success story to share!

 

 

12/16/2013

Peace of Mind

Almost everyone has bills and payments to make each month and for Team Steinmetz, keeping track of our bills and payments used to be nearly a nightmare.  Since both of us have our hands in our family’s finances, and some of the bills were in my name and some in Brandon’s name, it was a struggle knowing due dates, payment amounts, what account will fund the payment and planning who was setting up or making the payment.  We never missed a payment, but making sure the funds were covered for each of the payments was a nothing short of a chore. 

We don’t have kids, but with Brandon working 2 jobs and my schedule with working late, workout classes and volunteering, we needed a good mobile way to track what our schedules were.  Enter Google Calendar J.  With Google Calendar, we can enter events on the fly and share our calendar with each other.  This proved to be the golden ticket for each of us knowing what we had going on for the day, week, or month.  It also happened to be the best way for us to keep track of our monthly payments.  For each bill we receive, we enter it in the calendar on the day it is due, set up the reminder, and share it with each other’s calendar to keep us on our toes with payments.  For things that are recurring payments and have a consistent amount due, like a car payment, we enter the dollar value of the bill right in the notes of the calendar task for that bill.  There are some bills, like our local utility bill, that vary month to month, so we can’t put a dollar figure on the note until we have the physical amount due.  But in any case, this has been the best way we’ve found to make sure we cover all of our bases and never miss payments. 

Thanks to Project Money and Summit Credit Union, we’ve been able to decrease the actual number of payments we make in a month, making managing our finances and our payment calendar much easier on the eyes… ANDwe no longer use credit cards, period.  Knowing that our bills are covered and paid on time brings us a little something we like to call peace of mind. 

 

12/10/2013

Reaping the Rewards

Everywhere you turn today, retailers are offering rewards to consumers for using their products.  Some vendors offer points you collect & then redeem, others give away free trials in hopes that the consumer likes their product so much they continue to use/purchase it even after the trial is complete.  And there always seems to be promotional codes for discounts for online purchases.  Well then, sign us up!  This has been a great system for Team Steinmetz since we’ve been able to purchase goods for little to nothing that we might have otherwise passed on in an effort to cut our spending.    

In the past six months, we’ve collected on new cell phones, salon services, magazine subscriptions, satellite radio, oil changes, movie passes, & video streaming.  Who knew that just a little upfront effort would gather us so much free, or really inexpensive stuff!  Take a look at all of the rewards we’ve reaped and feel free to jump on our wagon….it will be worth it!

  • My mom shared her Walgreens points, which got us 4 free cases of soda. 
  • My awesome hair salon/spa has a referral program that offers a $25 gift certificate for bringing in 3 new clients. 
  • We had an unfortunate experience with Tires Plus that resulted in 4 free oil change coupons.
  • We collect Coke Rewards points which have provided us with free movie tickets, free magazine subscriptions, and a $25 Best Buy gift certificate.
  • By paying our cell phone bill online & on time, we collect rewards points, which we were able to redeem for 2 new cell phones and cases, costing us nothing out of pocket at the time of redemption. 
  • In May, we cancelled the Sirius XM Radio subscription for my car.  Since then, they’ve offered a couple stints of FREE service in their attempt to keep me as a customer.  By the end of January, we will have received 8 months of service at the good old price of NOTHING!
  • Hulu, Netflix, and Red Box all offer some sort of trial version of their product.  We have obtained a good portion of our TV and movie needs from these brands since we no longer have cable.
  • Disney offers Disney Movie Rewards where you can earn points from surveys, emails and social media sites.  Points can be redeemed for a variety of things, such as Blu-rays, novelty items, gift cards, & travel.

Brandon, more so than me, is really great at staying on top of collecting points/rewards and redeeming them.  But as you can see from our list above, his efforts, which are minimal, are totally worth the time! 

12/03/2013

Just Keep Pedaling

For as long as I can remember, I’ve known how to ride a bike.  It’s one of those skills that Mom and Dad taught me as a wee one and it never faded…ever.  In the past year or so, I have grown quite attached to my two-wheel cruiser since biking is one of the few physical activities that won’t aggravate my troubled knees.  Living in a small community, it’s great being able to bike to the gym, the store, the library, etc.  But just within the past month, Old Man Winter decided to show up and I had to retire my bike for the next few months, so I’ve resorted to my workout area in our basement to pedal away my daily stresses on my stationary bike.  Er, at least that was the plan anyway.

I was actually excited for my first winter workout.  You know, a little change of pace from the same old, same old.  I hopped on my bike and about spun right out of my seat.  The light-up display board stayed blank and the typical resistance was 100% lacking, thus the free spin of my feet off the pedals.  Just what I needed, a malfunctioning bike and now was NOT the time to think about a replacement.  My bike is a commercial grade bike that if I had to replace it, it would cost me an arm and a leg ($1,000+) and this is not part of our Project Money plan!

It took me a while to find it, but I mustered up the owner’s manual and did a little troubleshooting.  I still wasn’t sure what the issue was, so I emailed the manufacturer and asked for a little input.  They gave me the option to send a tech out to our home at the whopping rate of $100/hr plus the price of replacement parts.  No thank you.  Option #2 please.  Battery replacement...sounds simple, right?  WRONG!  This lovely piece of health equipment had about a million screws to get past to unearth the battery for the display board and we weren’t even sure this was the final fix.  Lo and behold, it was just the battery that was the issue.  So rather than a) buying a new bike or b) paying a hefty fee for a technician to come diagnose and fix the issue, we managed to keep our repair cost to a minimum ($22 battery from Amazon.com) AND my bike is working like a champ again!  It may have caused me some inconvenience and some frustration while Brandon and I worked to fix it, but in the end, it was just a minor pot hole that we were able to afford to fix. 

Knock on wood, we’ve been setback-free during this competition!  I was a bit worried that my bike would be a semi-costly setback and something we’d have to wait to fix until after we would have money set aside for it, but luck was on our side and I’m back in business pedaling away the winter blues. 

One last little side note – this quote seemed all too fitting for this blog.  Just like riding a bike, managing finances takes balance and we, too, need to keep moving because our money never stops moving.

“Life is like riding a bicycle.  To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”  - Albert Einstein

 

 

11/25/2013

Counting our Blessings

It only seems fitting being this is the week of Thanksgiving that we take a little time to reflect on some of the things in our life that we are thankful for.  It was a great exercise for the two of us to step back from the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day lives and really think about and recognize the things that mean the world to us. 

And so, in no particular order…

Our Family – for providing the unconditional love and support when we need it the most and when we needed it the least.  You are the wind behind our sail!  We were also blessed to welcome our niece Pria Jane to our family this summer.

Our Fur Babies – for being the best welcoming committee when we come home after a long day at work.  Your wagging tails and pouncing paws have a way about them that can make any day go from bad to better.

The Roof Over Our Head – we are blessed to have a beautiful, spacious home that provided us with a problem-free year.  It’s such a reassuring feeling knowing that we will be kept warm this winter and that we have more than just a house…it is truly a home! 

Jobs – the security of our employment is something we certainly don’t take for granted.  We are thankful for our employers, who give us the opportunity to work for them and provide us with a stable income.

Friends – our lifeline to fun, a lended ear, and camaraderie.  There’s rarely a dull moment and the extra support they have offered us during this Project Money journey is more than we could have ever asked for.

Our Health – knock on wood, we’ve had a clean bill of health this year.  No broken bones, surgeries, or illnesses slowed us down and for this, we are fortunate.

Each Other – the unconditional love we share with one another is something we treasure.  Having one another to share our ups and downs, our joys and our companionship is something we hope to cherish for many years to come.

Summit Credit Union & Project Money – it goes without saying that without Summit and the amazing opportunity they’ve given us with Project Money, we wouldn’t be where we are right at this moment.  Coach Chris and the entire team at Summit Credit Union have changed our lives and provided us with a path to financial freedom, and for this we will be forever grateful!

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it” – William Arthur Ward

 

 

 

11/18/2013

Paving the Road for a Sale

SELL.THE.TRUCK. We knew we had to do it.  We had only owned it for just over a year so there was that newness tie that needed to be broken, but it was a significant portion of our debt and monthly payments that we desperately wanted to clean up.  After lots of conversation, we decided that selling the truck was going to be our golden ticket to eliminate more debt.   

Here are some pointers that we found useful when preparing to sell our vehicle:

  • Pricing your vehicle.  Be sure to research value/price before listing.  Often, price is the first thing a buyer looks at and if your vehicle is over-priced, it will get over-looked immediately.  We looked at what other similar vehicles were being listed for and we also sought resource in Kelley Blue Book, NADA and Edmunds.com values.
  • Preparing your vehicle.   A dirty vehicle doesn’t say “Look at me! Look at me!”  But when you see the sparkle of a fresh, clean, well-kept car, it somehow says “You want me, you know you do!”  This could be as simple as a good scrub-down in the driveway, both inside the vehicle and out, or it could mean taking it to a professional to have it detailed. 
  • Choose the right advertisement method.  The bottom line is that the vehicle isn’t going to sell itself.  You need to showcase the vehicle and luckily today there are a number of online and social media sites that can aid in this step.  Cars.com, CarSoup.com, AutoTrader.com, Facebook and Craigslist are just a few to mention.  Some of these sites will offer free, short-term advertisement; others do charge a fee but often offer listing perks. 
  • Post/share quality photos.  Take photos after your car is detailed.  Take photos when it’s cloudy rather than sunny so that you don’t create a glare.  Don’t bother sharing blurred or out-of-focus pictures, this doesn’t offer potential buyers the opportunity to see what they really want to see.
  • Place your vehicle.  Location, location, location!  You will likely need to search out a place that is on a very busy, well-traveled street that will exhibit your vehicle and grab the attention of passers-by.   Your driveway is probably not the best spot to park a vehicle if you are really looking to sell.

A year and a half ago, when we sold my 9-year old car, it took all of 2 days and we got more than we were asking for it, so when we decided to sell the truck, we were hopeful the same would happen this time around.  Not so much.  It took more time, advertising, and patience than Brandon and I had anticipated, but we did it!  It’s off our hands and we knocked off a big chunk of our debt when we sold it at the end of October. 

 

 

 

11/11/2013

Planning for a Vacation

We’ve never been the couple who budgets for a vacation.  In fact, we have always been the kind of travelers who just found a way to make our determined destination work.  And by “found a way to make it work”, that sometimes meant resorting to a credit card since we had no idea how to budget for a trip.  Unfortunately, the old ways of this family caught up to us and got us into this hefty situation we call debt! 

We’ve done our fair share of traveling in the past five years, averaging at least one trip per year.  Some trips were semi-close to home, others not-so-close, like our two-week honeymoon to Europe (I’m sure you’re already thinking it…cha-ching, cha-ching, cha-ching!).  Anyway, travel is something that we aren’t willing to give up, but since starting Project Money, we’ve established a new way to make it work while living on a budget.  In fact, we are hoping to take another trip after the Project Money finale, this time without using a credit card and making it a trip that is completely budgeted for!

Obviously payment for this vacation, and others to come, will be our biggest hurdle.  We have completely forgone the use of credit cards, and we aren’t going to relapse after this contest…they are gone for good!  And now that we understand how to create and used a budget, we know that we need to budget for our flights, lodging, food, fun, etc.  We have established what our anticipated cost of this trip is going to be and we are socking money away in our Travel Savings Bucket so that when the time comes, there’s no chance of resorting to the credit cards.  But what happens when we are thousands of miles away and we reach for that debit card for just one extra souvenir or extra excursion?  Sure, we’re on vacation and it’s a time to treat ourselves, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that using a debit card and spending beyond our budget would be the best choice.  So our plan is this: pay for our flights out of our the money we’ve saved up and deposit the remaining spending money for the trip into a pre-paid credit card, one we’ve yet to research and open.  The goal here is that we have a set amount of money to spend on our trip and it eliminates the chances of us stretching our spending limits if we purchase using our debit card that’s linked to our checking account.  We also know that domestic travel, as well as international travel is quite welcoming to major card brands such as American Express, Mastercard, and Visa, all which offer pre-paid cards. 

After doing our homework and talking about our options, we now realize we can plan for and take a trip without ever having to use a credit card again.  It will be a huge relief to return home after a fantastic trip and not have to worry that there would be financial regrets on the next credit card statement.  Then we start all over again, dumping money into that savings account to build for our next future adventure!

 

 

 

11/04/2013

Summit’s Halloween Family Fun Night

We aren’t greatly experienced at entertaining young children, simply because we don’t have kids of our own.  We are learning, though, through our nieces, what it takes to keep a child (or children) entertained.  We also understand how costly some ventures can be.  There are however, a number of things that cost absolutely nothing and provide great entertainment for young and old minds alike!

We met with Coach Chris just over a week ago at Summit’s Waunakee branch.  We wrapped up our meeting and as we walked to the door, a little orange flyer on the counter caught our eye.  Summit Credit Union was hosting a Halloween Family Fun night the evening after Halloween.  Typically we’d look right past things like this because it was clearly geared toward families with children.  This time, however, both Brandon and I said almost simultaneously “Myla would love this!”  Myla is our little almost two-year old niece and would totally dig an evening of kid’s fun!  And just like that, we made plans to take Myla out for an evening, giving her mommy and daddy a little toddler reprieve. 

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10/28/2013

An EPIC Kind of Week!

By definition, the word epic can mean a number of things.  According to dictionary.com it means heroic; majestic; impressively great.  It is also termed as of unusually great size or extent.  By slang, it can mean spectacular; very impressive; awesome.  Over the past week or so, Team Steinmetz got to experience all of the adjectives above, all while keeping the budget in check.

Brandon’s employer Lycon, Inc., along with an extensive list of other construction trade companies, has played a role in the non-stop growth of the Epic campus in Verona.  In appreciation of all of the work done by the construction crews, Epic opened up its campus today to hundreds of workers and their families.  We were given the opportunity to tour the campus, going from building to building totally in awe of the unique and creative spaces within every inch of the campus.  We were also treated to a special viewing of Despicable Me in the Deep Space Auditorium, a super cool, five-story underground auditorium that seats over 11,400 people!  We enjoyed movie theater popcorn, candy and beverages while we kicked back and watched the Minion invasion.  We had a full afternoon of exploring a truly phenomenal place and enjoying a great movie without ever having to open our wallets!  Thank you Epic for an impressively great, budget-friendly afternoon!

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