I’m a procrastinator by nature. I’m not sure why I procrastinate so much; I’m well aware that I usually feel happier, and more accomplished, when I just get things done. But even still, I push off unpleasant tasks until the very last minute. Knowing that I’m prone to procrastination, there are times when I’m not sure if the reason I have for not doing something is valid, or if I’m just making excuses. Which is where I’m at on the job search.

It’s been two months since I wrote about my boss telling me she had an issue with my relationship with my boyfriend. Actually, yelling at me that it was completely inappropriate is more accurate. At the time, I was furious. The whole situation still makes my blood boil. And yet, here I am, no closer to a new job now than I was then. At the time, I felt determined to throw myself in to searching for a new job. I put the word out that I was looking for a new job. I put my resume on a few job boards. And then, my efforts kind of faded away. In March I wrote a couple of posts about how much I hate job searching (here and here). I don’t think anyone really enjoys searching for a new job. I’ve had a few people contact me about my resume, but it hasn’t led to anything.

Like most people, there’s a lot going on in my life. I have to set priorities on where I’m going to spend my time. Yes, finding a new job is important, and I need to not become complacent about it. But, for the most part, things at work have returned to normal. Actually, once the dust settled from her blow-up, my boss returned to how she acted when she first found out the boyfriend and I were dating: She kept trying to ask a bunch of questions, digging for information about the boyfriend’s personal life. And, as usual, I was polite, but didn’t give any answers. There were a lot of “I really don’t know” and “That’s not something we discuss” answers, which I’m sure left her even more curious about how we’ve been dating almost two years, but apparently never discuss anything. Let her wonder; what I do and don’t know about my boyfriend is really none of her business.

The point being, even if my boss decides to have another blow-up, it isn’t like I’m going to get fired. So, for now, I feel like my time is better spent getting the house ready to be put on the market. Job searching is time consuming. And every hour spent on searching for a job is an hour I can’t spend on the house. Between the mortgage, and utilities, and the extra money for remodeling and repairs, the house is sucking up a lot of unnecessary money every day that I own it. Having this job also allows me the flexibility I’m going to need in the upcoming months. I can leave work to meet the contractor. I can take days off to get things done, or for closing. I still have over 20 days of paid leave available. True, 15 of those days are eligible to be paid out when I leave the job. But when you’re starting a new job isn’t exactly the opportune time to be asking for time off.

Right now it makes sense to me to stay at this job, at least until I get the house on the market. But the procrastinator in me has to question whether that really is the reason. Maybe I’m afraid that I won’t be able to find a better job? I worry about being able to replace the great benefits I have now. Maybe I just don’t want to put in the hard work of a job search? Maybe I’m just making excuses to put this off?

What do you think? Is putting off the job search to work on the house a valid reason? Or does it sound like I’m just making excuses to keep procrastinating? What would you do?

- Cindy W.

I’m sure we’ve all been there: You’re out with a friend, or group of people, and you decide to stop to get something to eat. The problem? Nobody is making any suggestions on where to eat. Or maybe you’re with that one friend who keeps saying “I can eat anywhere, whatever you want!” And then has some reason why she can’t eat at every restaurant you suggest. This used to be a huge problem when I was out with my Mom and sisters. We’d all agree to going to eat, and then waste forever trying to come up with where.

Enter, The Veto Game.

The veto game is a little game we started playing whenever we were going out to eat. The game works best for us when we start off with a restaurant where no one wants to eat. Usually we start the game with White Castle. No offense to the Castle, but you have to be in the right mood for a slider. Plus, your stomach will likely remind you for days why that was a bad idea.

Once the first restaurant is named, anyone can veto. HOWEVER, if you veto, you have to name a new place. You don’t have to give a reason for why you’re vetoing. Maybe you don’t like the food. Or maybe the place named costs more than you’re looking to spend. Doesn’t matter why, so long as you name a new place. Typically our games last less than a minute before we find ourselves just sitting in silence, staring at each other. If no one can come up with a veto, that’s where we’re headed.

I’ll admit, there have been times the game has ended where we were less than excited about the choice. And once we did end up at White Castle. But, hey, if no one cared enough to find a replacement, then no one really cared. And at least we didn’t waste a bunch of time trying to decide.

So, the next time you’re out with an indecisive group, try the veto game. It’s a lot more fun than the usual “I don’t know” game, and usually takes way less time.

- Cindy W.

I was sitting today, typing away for another post, and found myself writing a familiar line once again: It’s probably going to be a couple of months before we can even list the house. And suddenly, I had that feeling. You know? The feeling you get when a friend complains about her boyfriend/job/roommate for the one millionth time? That overwhelming feeling that makes you want to stand up and scream:

Oh my God! Just sell the damn house already!

Yep, I’m officially irritated with my own problems. Which is kind of funny, when you think about it: I’m over hearing (reading) myself talk (write) about the same thing over and over again. Lots of people decide to sell their house. They spend a month or so getting it ready, list it, and move on. I’ve been talking about selling my house FOREVER. So, I had to ask myself the big question: What is the deal? Is there a valid reason I haven’t sold my house yet? Or am I just procrastinating?

I found myself getting completely frustrated. I decided it was time to take a step back, analyze the situation, and decide whether there was a good explanation, or if I was just making excuses for not getting things done. Here’s what I came up with:

1) The Money. The biggest reason I haven’t listed the house yet comes down to money. Which is weird, because the biggest reason for selling the house is also money. There were a few things, like remodeling the bathroom, that I knew I’d need to do before I could list the house. So, I needed time to save up the money. Most of my extra money in 2013 went to the sewer project and porch (also both necessary to sell the house), and to various medical bills. I set a goal of saving $3,000 for the bathroom remodel. I tried not to spend any money on other things around the house (windows, the laundry room, etc.) until I had all the money set aside for the bathroom remodel. But, technically, I had that money in February. Why didn’t I start talking with contractors sooner?

2) The Polar Vortex. Part excuse, part valid reason: This winter in the Midwest was brutal! Brutal, I tell you! I’m not a cold weather person to begin with. I won’t go as far as to say that I suffer from any mental health issues due to the colder weather and shorter days. But I do find myself spending more time hunkered down at home, relaxing, and generally being lazy during the winter months. To top off the unusually extreme cold, we also got a ridiculous amount of snow. Several times I went to the house intending to work, only to turn around because I couldn’t get down the street. There were days I couldn’t even leave the apartment, the snow was so bad. The roads were closed numerous times. I had planned a few days off work to go over and work on the house, only to be snowed in at the apartment. And, of course, when people spend more time indoors during the cold weather, they share more germs. And more germs equals more illnesses. I had planned another long weekend at the house, only to end up spending the time off in bed, sick.

3) The Relationship. The snail’s pace on getting the house ready to sell was also partially due to my relationship. I’m pretty much living at the boyfriend’s apartment anyway, and have been for some time. We discussed me selling the house, and even discussed me moving in to the apartment. But he never actually asked me to move in. And when I’d ask if he was okay with me moving in, he’d make a joking remark about how I was already living there. Semantics, I know, but I wanted to know that I was doing what WE wanted, not just pushing him in to what I wanted.

I’d probably be selling the house regardless at this point. The market is improving, and the house hasn’t been much of an asset for me. Actually, it’s held me back from taking numerous opportunities in the past. If I weren’t moving in with the boyfriend, I’d probably get my own apartment. But I’m not exactly in any rush to exchange a mortgage for a rent payment.

Last month, I finally worked up the nerve to address my concerns. I’m not sure why it took me so long. We discussed what me moving in would mean for us. We discussed our goals, and what we both wanted for the future. And we decided together that me moving in to the apartment was the next step that we both wanted to take. If we can’t get a good price for the house, we discussed finding a renter, and what that would mean.

Since that conversation, we’ve both made a lot of progress towards getting my house ready to sell. There’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Granted, it won’t be tomorrow; there’s still some work left to do. So, you’ll have to bear with me writing more about my house, and I’ll have to have some patience with the process. But things are moving in the right direction.

Reasons? Or excuses? Turns out, a little of both. And I’m okay with that. After all, change is scary. And I’m only human.

- Cindy W.

Part of the reason I started this blog is for accountability. I feel like if I put my plans and goals out there for the world to see, I’ll feel more pressure to follow through on them. I also like the idea that people will weigh in on what I write about, and maybe I’ll learn something better, or see things in a new way. I’ve been working the last couple of years to acknowledge my faults and my weaknesses, and learn to overcome them, or at the very least, work around them.

But sometimes I find myself in a gray area. There are times I find myself feeling strongly about something, but then questioning my intention. Simply put, I don’t always trust myself to be making the best decision, or make decisions for the right reason. Let’s be honest, we’re all clouded by our feelings, experiences and beliefs.

The thought recently occurred to me: Why don’t I start putting these “gray” scenarios on the blog, and let others weigh in? I can give a little bit of background, and a description of what’s going on, and people can tell me whether my thinking is sound, or if I’m letting my emotions (or biases) taint my judgement.

Thinking Straight: Mutually Beneficial? Or Taking Advantage?

If you’ve read some of my older posts, you’ve probably figured out that I don’t always use the best judgement when it comes to my family. I’ve made a lot of very bad decisions to help family members out (especially my sisters). And in almost every case, it’s ended up hurting me, financially and emotionally.

So, I’ve been working hard on separating my financial life from my family life. I’m learning to say no. I’m learning that it’s not my responsibility to save my siblings from themselves, or to protect them financially. I’m still very close to my siblings, and spend a lot of time with them.

Recently my boyfriend called me out on something, saying that it was an example of me letting my sister use me. I disagree. But then, as I said, I don’t always trust my own judgement:

I’ve been working on getting my house ready to be put on the market. And, like most people, part of gearing up to sell (and move) means getting rid of a lot of stuff. Right now, I’ve been getting rid of a few things here and there: Clothes I know I’ll never wear again, nick-knacks that I don’t really care for, etc. Once I get closer to moving, I’ll be getting rid of a lot more stuff. When two adults decide to combine homes, there’s bound to be a lot of excess; Two sets of dishes, two couches, excess furniture. The list goes on and on.

Yard sales can be a wonderful way to make some extra cash. I had a big sale last year, and made some pretty good money. But they’re also time-consuming. And exhausting. And boring. I don’t mind doing them every so often, maybe once every 2-3 years. But in general, they aren’t my cup of tea. Plus, it’s not like I have tons of excess time; I have a full-time job, a ton of things I have yet to do around the house, a blog, etc. And I don’t want a bunch of boxes sitting around my house until I have a sale.

You know who does like having yard sales? My younger sister. The girl seriously has 3-4 yard sales a summer. She’s already had 1 sale this year, and plans on having many, many more. She doesn’t have a job right now, and has joint custody of both of her kids (who are both in school during the day), so she has the extra time to devote to doing a yard sale. We could get into a whole discussion about the choices she’s making in her life, right or wrong, but that’s a completely different discussion. The point is, I have stuff to sell. And she has the time, and the desire, to sell it.

So, we worked out a plan: I drop boxes off at her place as I clear things out, she marks it, sells it, and takes a % of the profit. Most of the stuff she puts in her yard sales, but I leave it up to her as far as how she sells it (Yard sale, Craigslist, eBay, etc). I also leave it up to her to decide how to price the item.

In my opinion, this arrangement benefits both of us. Sure, I could sell the items on my own and make more money. But I don’t have the time, or the desire. Some of the bigger items I may put on Craigslist or something myself, when the time comes. I’m on the fence about it; I had a really bad experience selling a bedroom set several years ago with a crazy lady who continued to hound me for a week, so I’m a little paranoid now. If it was all left up to me, I’d probably be dropping a lot of items off at Goodwill. Actually, I’d be rolling around with a car packed full of boxes for weeks on end, before suddenly having an urgent need to empty my car for some event, and rushing to Goodwill to dump everything, without a second to spare for them to make me a receipt. So I wouldn’t be making any money AND I wouldn’t get the tax deduction. Again, being realistic about my faults!

I make money from selling things that I would be getting rid of anyways, with as little time commitment as possible. My sister makes a commission for the time and effort she puts into selling it. Win-win, right? Yeah, the boyfriend says no. In his opinion, my sister is profiting off me. She’s making money from selling things she doesn’t own. He sees this as another example of my family taking advantage of me. He also feels like there are better ways she should be using her time, like getting a real job. I’m not disagreeing with that point. But, it isn’t like I’m dumping so much stuff on her that it’s becoming a full-time job. So far this year I’ve given her 4 small moving boxes worth of stuff (mostly clothes), which she marked the day before the sale.

What do you think? Is this a mutually beneficial arrangement? Or is my sister taking advantage of me? And am I enabling her to not get a real job, by supplying her a means to make some cash?

- Cindy W.

Last weekend I met with a Realtor. I admit, the meeting was a little premature; It will still be another month or more before we’re ready to list the house. But, given that we’re putting some work into the house now, I wanted a professional opinion on where we should be concentrating, and on how much the house might be worth.

The Realtor I selected has worked with several people I know on both buying and selling houses. He’s had several listings in my neighborhood in the last few years. He’s been in real estate for many years, and works as a team with his wife and daughter-in-law on all of their listings. Overall, I’m comfortable with his opinion.

When I called him up originally, I explained that my house was small, and rather unique for my area. He laughed when he came to my house, and breathed a noticeable sigh of relief. He explained that typically when someone uses the word “unique” to describe their house to a Realtor they expect very, very bad things. Like hoarding, or homes that haven’t been maintained in decades. Neither of those apply to my house. Even with the small square footage, my house is more open than most houses in the neighborhood.

Almost a week passed, and I was starting to worry that I wouldn’t hear back from him. Then on Saturday I finally heard back from the Realtor. He’d pulled comps from recent sales in my area. Then he extended his search into the 5 surrounding zip codes. And then he extended his search a little bit farther. After extensive research, he’s comes to the conclusion that my house is worth…

Absolutely no idea.

Sigh. Not exactly the response I was expecting, but I’m not exactly surprised. It turns out, unique is exactly what my house is. Usually when pulling together comps, a Realtor can look at sales of similar houses in your area, adjust for variables that are different for your house, and come up with a good idea of your home’s value. But my house is nothing like anything in my area. I own a 1920′s house, in a 1950′s/60′s area. My house is small, but only because it has fewer rooms. My living room and kitchen, while small compared to modern houses, are larger than the cramped living rooms and galley kitchens in my neighborhood. And who has a 10 x 10 laundry room? Half an acre may not seem like much, but it’s 3 times what most of my neighbors have.

As I mentioned in my last post, most of the houses that have sold recently in my area have been in dire need of some work. The furnace, air conditioner, water heater, and all of the appliances in my house are new. The roof is only 7 years old, and has a 25 year shingle. The siding, gutters, and porch are all new. The kitchen is newly remodeled, and by the time it hits the market, the bathroom will be too, along with all new windows. I refinished the old hardwood floors to save money, which is unheard of in my vinyl and carpet neighborhood. And the granite tile kitchen counters (which I did because it was cheaper than special ordering laminate counters for the odd corners)?

The good and the bad of my house make it really hard to compare to anything else in my area. On the plus side, the Realtor feels that the tax assessed value of $48,000 is really undervaluing my house. But the question remains: By how much? So, what do I do from here? His recommendation is to wait until I have the house closer to market ready, and then having an appraisal done. The downside is that appraisals cost money. The upside is that it will give us an idea how a bank would value the house, which should help head off issues if the buyer is looking to get a mortgage on the house (and most buyers would be).

The true value of my house right now is whatever someone is willing to pay for it. Realtors try their best to pinpoint that number through various calculations. But the reality is, sometimes that number is a little harder to estimate. I’d rather pay a little more upfront (for an appraisal) to create an accurate listing that doesn’t over or under value my house.

The only thing to do now is push ahead on getting the house ready to list!

- Cindy W.

This past weekend was a super busy one. My boyfriend and I spent most of the weekend at my house. When I bought the house 7 years ago, the previous owner left me a “burn pile”. This pile of tree limbs, bushes, and random wood stretched at least 40 feet along the back fence, at least 6 feet wide, and was taller than me. I was told by neighbors that as long as the fire was contained, we were allowed to burn things in our yards. So, year after year, I spent at least the first month of Spring breaking things and putting them in a fire pit I’d purchased. Friends and family would come over for small bonfires. But new limbs would fall, and bushes would get dug up. I made noticeable progress, but never got anywhere near clearing out the pile.

I’m a born and raised city girl. Where I was raised, if someone was burning stuff in their yard you knew a breakup and an arrest were imminent. The boyfriend’s a country boy; If you can get it lit, you can burn it. He laughed that I was trying to get rid of my enormous burn pile in a fire pit. He piled a big section of wood in the middle of the yard, poured some lighter fluid on it, and let it go. In two days we demolished the entire burn pile, some leftover wood from projects we’ve been working on, all the fallen limbs in the yard, and all the old kitchen cabinets (which were in too bad of shape to be sold). He also cleaned out the gutters and roof, and I did some work inside the house. I’m absolutely amazed at the progress we made.

In the course of the weekend, I also had a few conversations with the neighbors, and met with a Real Estate Agent. The agent was super excited about my house, and says he doesn’t foresee an issue with getting it sold. Yes, the small house size (680 square feet) and big lot size for the neighborhood (over half an acre) make it unique, but the upgrades I’ve done will make it desirable. He’s supposed to be getting together some numbers for me. He did say one thing that made me worry; houses in my township typically sell for close to their tax assessed value. He had an old assessment that listed the house at around $43,000.  I’m guessing that was the assessment from when I bought the house; When I bought the house the tax assessment was for around $43,000, even though the house sold for $54,900 (and appraised for slightly more). I looked up my current assessment, which is $48,300. Not the end of the world, but not really what I wanted to hear either.

The neighbors were even more of a buzz-kill this weekend. One neighbor informed me that the house to the east of mine is going into foreclosure. The older couple who lived there passed away in 2012/2013, leaving the house to her brother, who had lived with them for many years. The main house is about the size of mine, and was built by the man’s Grandparents. His mother had added a monstrous two-story garage/apartment behind the house in the 1950′s. Both the house and the addition are in bad shape, and need a lot of work. And apparently they had taken the equity out when the market was high; They now owe more than that property is worth. The Real Estate Agent said it isn’t ideal, but if we get the house listed in the next 3 or so months, it shouldn’t be a huge deal.

In an attempt to be a good neighbor, I’ve been letting the neighbors I talk to know that we’re fixing up the house to put it on the market. When I first told this to the neighbor to the west of me, he seemed really excited: “Let me know before you talk to a Real Estate Agent. I know someone who might be interested in buying it, for the right price.” He started digging a little deeper this weekend, asking what I wanted for it, etc. When I said I wasn’t sure on the value yet, he moved in for the kill: “You know, a Realtor friend of mine looked into it, and houses in this market have only been selling for $47 per square foot. How many square feet is your house? You really can’t expect much more than that. You can save yourself some money by not going through a Realtor at least.”

Alright, first off, yes, the most recent sales have been at a low cost per square foot. However, those sales have been for townhouses a few blocks away, and all of them needed extensive renovations. Most of them hadn’t been updated since the 70′s or 80′s, and were pretty torn up inside. The most recent sale on our block? A 3,000 square foot home. The average house in our area is 1,200 square feet, and houses in the 900 square foot range are fairly common. Of course a house that’s more than twice the size of any other house in the neighborhood isn’t going to go for top dollar!

The whole conversation peeved me off. He got pretty aggressive in trying to convince me that selling my house for $32,000 was a good deal. He also made it known that he would be looking into the contractor that I was using to ensure that he was using a licensed plumber for my bathroom remodel (this guy owns a plumbing business). To top things off, he started badgering me about moving my fence again.

Ah, the fence. About a year ago, I had a surveying company come out and survey my property. I designed the company’s logo and website for them when they first started (like 5 years ago), and in exchange they were supposed to survey my property. They just got around to it. I didn’t have any real need for a survey, but years ago I figured it would be nice to have one, in case some day I wanted to add-on to the house, and build a new garage, or whatever.

My house has a 6 foot, wooden privacy fence that extends around the entire back yard. I loved that the yard was already fenced in when I bought the house, since fencing in that big of a yard would have cost a fortune. Like in most old neighborhoods, they didn’t survey before putting up a fence. They just put up a fence. Actually, several of the neighbors got together and installed the fence. The guy across the street (who helped) admits they were mostly drunk when they did it. They still did a nice job.

According to the survey, the fence on the east side of the property runs right on the property line until halfway through the backyard. From there it juts out about 3 feet, and then continues on to the back of the property. I had talked to the old man who owned the house (before he passed away); he knew the fence was on his property. He was one of the ones who helped install it. And the way they did it made perfect sense to him for some reason that I couldn’t really understand.

On the west side of the property, there is about 1 foot between the fence and the property line, with the fence being on my property. The neighbors on that side have been talking about fencing in their yard for about 5 years. I’ve told them numerous times that I’m fine with them tying in to my fence. When my yard was surveyed it pissed them off. As it turns out, their garage sat just over the property line. The garage was really old, and was there long before any of our time. Who cares? Actually, it was in such bad condition they ended up tearing it down, but they’re still bothered that it wasn’t fully on their property.

They recently had a survey done, so they could move forward with their own fence. The survey agreed with the one done on my property. Every time I see them they ask when I’m planning to move my fence. Again, the fence is on my property. Most areas require you to have an easement between your fence and your property line anyways. If I were going to move part of the fence, it would be on the east side, were it crosses over into the neighbor’s property. Their problem is that when they build their fence, if they tie onto my fence, 1 foot of my property will be inside their fence. If they don’t tie to my fence, that’s one very long side they have to purchase fencing for, and pay labor on installation. Whereas, if they convince me to move the fence over 1 foot, to run along the property line, they can tie in and be on their property, without spending extra time or money.

My understanding is that since the properties have all changed ownership at least once since the fence was installed, and no one contested the placement prior to this, the property lines become “assumed”, and the fence can stay. And even if I had to move the fence, I wouldn’t have to move it on the west side; I’m well within the property lines there!

Overall, I feel like we’re making a lot of progress on the house. I’m hopeful that the Realtor will have good news on the value, but I’m prepared for the worst. I’m also preparing myself for the fact that my neighbors will likely create difficulties as I go to sell my house. Luckily, I’m not actually staying there, and don’t have to deal with them on a daily basis.

Just goes to show that good fences don’t always make good neighbors!

- Cindy W.

The bids are in! I received a call last week from Contractor B with his estimate. If you’ve read Part 1 and Part 2 on my bathroom remodel, you probably knew that I’d already made a decision on who I would be using. But I couldn’t really make a definite decision until I had all of the information.

Here are the basics:

Contractor A: Contractor A is a large-scale company that does a lot of remodeling work. They have great references, but I haven’t actually seen any of their work. Which wouldn’t have mattered anyway, since they planned to subcontract the entire project to another company. Also, it would be many months (3+) before they could even schedule the remodel. Yikes!
Estimated Price: $4,600+

Contractor B: Contractor B is the owner of a small company. I know several people who have used this company, and have seen their work. They aren’t the type of company that does high-end remodeling projects, which is fine for what I need. His team would be the ones on site doing the actual work. And they can start in about 2 weeks, and will have everything wrapped up before the end of April. Contractor B gave me a “range price”: The low end is what the remodel will cost. The high end is because we aren’t 100% sure what caused the subfloor damage, so he wanted to build in a buffer if there was extensive plumbing or joist damage, etc.
Estimated Price: $2,000-3,000

That’s a pretty big difference in price! A big part of the price difference has to do with Contractor A subcontracting the work out; He has to account for profit for 2 companies to make it worthwhile, instead of just one.

I knew that Contractor B would be more affordable, but I preferred him even before I knew his price. From talking with him, I felt like he was much more knowledgeable about older homes. He also seemed more in tune with what was appropriate for a house in my market. His suggestions were logical. He talked me up on replacing the toilet. There’s nothing wrong with my old one, per se, but a new, average model ($100, instead of the $40 one I have) toilet would pull the room together better. And yet he talked me down on other things, like replacing all the brushed nickel fixtures with brushed bronze, which could have run into hundreds of dollars. I trust that his company is going to do a good job on this project. I didn’t really know what to expect from Contractor A. The guy who came out to my house was only minimally knowledgeable of bathroom remodeling. Plus, he wasn’t even with the company who would be doing the work.

I’ve hired a variety of contractors for a variety of projects over the years. You never can be 100% sure on how things will turn out. It’s important to do your research. Talk to several different contractors. Talk to people who have worked with them in the past. From there, the most important thing you can do is trust your gut.

The big decision is made. Now it’s time to get this project rolling!

- Cindy W.

Over the past year, I’ve become addicted to reading about personal finance. Especially blogs. I love reading real life stories about how others have succeeded, or how others are making progress on their financial journey. I’m constantly searching for something new, which is weird, because there isn’t really anything “new” in personal finance; good advice stands the test of time, and doesn’t really change. Maybe I’m just looking for new voices to encourage me on my journey.

I’ve taken to reading a lot from Trent @ The Simple Dollar. I like his writing style, and overall feel like I’m getting something out of what I read there. The other day I was reading his answer to a Reader Mailbag question, where someone asked the question:

What does it mean to live “paycheck to paycheck”? You say 72% of America does this but what does it mean and where does that number come from?

Trent answered that he had recently updated that number to 76%, which means that “76% of Americans have less than six months of living expenses in savings. That excludes credit, retirement accounts, and homes.” That information was taken from an article he linked to at CNN Money, that cited a survey saying:

Fewer than one in four Americans have enough money in their savings account to cover at least six months of expenses, enough to help cushion the blow of a job loss, medical emergency or some other unexpected event, according to the survey of 1,000 adults. Meanwhile, 50% of those surveyed have less than a three-month cushion and 27% had no savings at all.

I was shocked by the 76% statistic, until I read how living paycheck to paycheck was being defined. By that definition, you could have a 3 month emergency fund, and a million dollars in retirement savings, and still be living “paycheck to paycheck”. To me, that isn’t living paycheck to paycheck. But maybe my definition is wrong? I mean, what does it really mean to live paycheck to paycheck? So, I did what any modern American would do: I Googled it. Investopedia defines living paycheck to paycheck as:

An expression used to describe an individual who would be unable to meet financial obligations if unemployed because his or her salary is predominantly devoted to expenses. Persons subsisting paycheck-to-paycheck have limited or no savings, and are at greater financial risk if suddenly unemployed than individuals who have amassed a cushion of savings.

I’ve lived paycheck to paycheck before. To me, living paycheck to paycheck is when you have nothing to fall back on, and need the next paycheck just to get by. Or maybe you aren’t even getting by on what you make. Living paycheck to paycheck means you depend on every check to survive. That you couldn’t afford to skip even one payday. That’s living paycheck to paycheck.

According to the 76% statistic, I’m living paycheck to paycheck. Do I feel that way? Of course not! And it isn’t being in denial. I make enough each pay period to cover my expenses, and put some away for the future. I have enough in an emergency fund that I could cover all of my expenses for about 2 months, without any other funds coming in. If I dipped into my house stash, I’d be just below the 6 month mark. While I wouldn’t want to lose a paycheck, I wouldn’t be in a dire situation if I did.

Emergency funds are also a very personal thing. Look at any blog post about emergency funds and you’re going to find a wide discrepancy on what people consider necessary to keep liquid. Six months? Three months? A year? Some people prefer to have most of their money in investments, and use credit to smooth over life’s little ups and downs. Are those people living paycheck to paycheck?

What does it mean to live paycheck to paycheck? Are you part of the 76%? Do you agree with that definition?

- Cindy W.

At the beginning of 2014, I set a New Year’s Resolution to grow my net worth by $10,000. I ended 2013 with a net worth of only $1,216. It’s three months into the New Year, so I thought it would be a good idea to track how well I’m doing so far. As of March 31st, I have a net worth of $7,722. That’s a gain of $6,506! Whoot whoot! I’m 65% there!

Not so fast! Sure, the numbers look great so far. But, there’s more to the story than that. Right now I’m stashing cash to sell my house. It’s a little deceptive to say I’m that far towards my goal, when a large chunk of that will be spent over the next few months to remodel a bathroom, replace some windows, and finish out a laundry room. So, how do I know where I actually stand?

Luckily when I set my goal of gaining $10,000 in net worth, I also broke that goal down into three steps:

1) Grow my 401k by $5,000+

2) Pay Down $2,000+ Debt through “Regular” Payments

3) Put at LEAST $3,000 (but hopefully closer to $5,000) towards Debt Repayment

Ah, yes. As you can see, my plan wasn’t about stashing $10,000 in the bank. Sure, that would be great and all, but I’ve got “bigger fish to fry”. I’ve got debt to payoff! And a retirement to save for! So, how am I actually doing so far?

1) The 401k: I currently have a balance of $10,155 in my 401k plan through work. I ended 2013 with $8,891. That’s $1, 264 in growth so far this year, or about 25% of my plan. Which is right where I should be at the end of the first quarter.

2) Debt Payments: I ended 2013 with $78,512 of debt, including the mortgage, a car loan and a student loan. I currently have $77,192 of debt, which is a decrease of $1,320. I planned for $2,000 in regular debt payments, so I’m 66% there already.

3) Extra Debt Payments: $0. I won’t actually start on this until after I sell the house (or after I feel comfortable with where I’m at with the house). Technically, I think some of the amount in #2 should actually go here, since I tend to round-up on my monthly payments. Splitting hairs just makes it difficult though, so I’ll just leave it all lumped together and say I’m 0% on this one.

In reality, only $2,584 has gone towards my “mini-goals” of growing my net worth by $10,000. Still, that puts me right at 25% of my total goal. Breaking it down this way makes it easier to see where I’m truly at on my goal, without clouding it with the money for the house. That being said, I’m hoping I can walk away from the sale of the house with some cash to throw at my extra debt payments. I won’t know for sure though until the deal is done and the papers are signed.

It’s good to know that no matter how I break it down, I’m still on track to make my goal for 2014. I love it when a plan actually works!

- Cindy W.

The first quarter of 2014 is coming to an end. Honestly, it’s been a pretty great year so far. Financially speaking, anyways. I’ve made tons of progress towards my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000* in 2014.

Here’s where I stand financially as of the end of March:

Net Worth as of March 31, 2014

Net Worth as of March 31, 2014

Obviously month-to-month growth is starting to slow down. In March I bought a couple of special order windows for my house, along with all the stuff needed to install them (caulk, shims, spray sealant, trim, etc). I foresee April and May being big spending months, as far as the house goes. I need to order 3 more windows, have a variety of other small tasks around the house that need taken care of, and hopefully will be paying someone to complete my bathroom remodel.

I have $6,000 set aside right now, strictly for the house. I’m also putting my “extra” $170 each week towards the house. There are a lot of small projects that need done before I can list the house. $50 here, $100 there, really does add up! I also keep throwing money into this fund for any unknown expenses I may come into when the time comes to sell. Selling the house will definitely put me in a better position financially, since it will free up a lot of money each month. If things go well, I’ll also walk away with some cash that I can immediately use towards debt repayment. I still intend to meet my goal of having my student loan paid off at the end of 2014, even though I currently still owe $6,616. I just need to get the house taken care of first.

It’s hard to watch things roll along slowly; It’s human nature to want the big wins. But the most sustainable way to reach financial independence is slowly. Once I’m there, I’ll have developed the habits to stay the course.

- Cindy W.

*I started 2014 with a net worth of $1,216.