I’m sure some of you are wondering where exactly I’ve been lately. And the answer really isn’t that exciting; For the most part, I’ve just been living life, and taking things day by day. Not a lot has changed since my posts have slowed down to next to nothing.

After a rough winter, I’ve been spending a ton of time enjoying the nice weather with the boyfriend. If it’s not raining, you can find us sitting on our patio after work, enjoying the sunshine and fresh air. We’ve also been trying to walk at least three days a week. Some weeks are better than others on that.

We’re still sorting out a lot of things, like houses and living arrangements. A few weeks ago a mouse decided to wreak havoc on my house, chewing through the ice machine water line and flooding my kitchen. Ugh! The damage is less extensive than I originally thought it would be, but there are areas of the floor that are going to have to be fixed now. I may have had a slight melt-down, adding one more expense on to the house where no one lives. My house has become a sore spot in our relationship lately, and I’ll be sooo glad when it’s finally gone!

I’ve been thinking a lot the last few months about choices, and priorities, and accountability. I have a blog about growing my net worth, with my current focus being on getting out of debt. The truth of the matter is, I could be doing so much more to move things along. I could get a second job. I could have a side hustle. I could work harder at getting a better full-time job. Honestly though? I’m kind of enjoying my free time right now! I’m in a relationship with someone I love spending time with; For a girl in her mid-30′s who has ALWAYS been single, this is something new for me, and I’m kind of enjoying it. I’m enjoying having the time to spend with my family. I’m enjoying having some flexibility in my life. Sure, I could be doing more. But I’m not sure I WANT to right now. And that’s okay. Life isn’t a race, and there aren’t any prizes for reaching your goals sooner.

On the flip side, I have to admit that it’s a choice I’m making. I can’t be all “Whoa is me, life isn’t fair!” when I’m choosing not to put more effort into it. If I want more, I have to put more into it. But I also feel like there’s a benefit in learning to enjoy what you have, and not always chasing after more.

There’s lots of turmoil kind of going on with my career right now, but that’s a post unto itself. Let’s just say I’ve been a less than happy camper lately, but I’m very hopeful that things might change in my favor here soon.

Which brings me to something that’s been on my mind for some time now: How much should I share? Obviously my financials are an open book; I’ve been very honest about my debts, my assets, my goals and my spending. But what about the rest? There are constantly things that I think about writing about, then stop myself, sometimes mid-post, and rethink whether I should really be sharing that information. I try to stay anonymous on this blog. That being said, there’s always a chance I’ll be outed, or someone I know will read this and figure it out.

My blog is about my money, and I definitely talk about my money. But there are always things going on that are influencing the decisions I’m making with my money. My situation might make more sense if I shared all the “gory details”. But then, people might not like what they learn about me, or the choices I’ve made. Does that matter? I don’t know. And how much do you say about the other people in your life? I’d love to say my money is my money, and no one else influences that. But I have a close-knit family, and a boyfriend, and he has sons, and all those people play some role in how we’re spending our money today, and the plans we make for the future. Is it fair to talk about their situations? And what about work? How much can I say about my job, without risking saying too much?

These are just some of the things that have been on my mind lately. I’m still making progress, watching my pennies, and planning for the future. Slowly but surely, I’m moving ahead. My overall goals are still the same, and I’m adjusting to all the bumps in the road. I’m far from perfect. But it’s getting better every day!

- Cindy W.

Alright, alright, I know I’ve practically fallen off the face of the earth here lately. The last few months have been a bit of a bumpy ride for me. I’d love to say I’ve gotten everything straightened out, but, not so much. Hey, life’s a work in progress. But I do have my net worth update ready to go:

Net Worth as of June 30, 2014

Net Worth as of June 30, 2014

June was another month of sliding downhill. What happened? Well, I decided to go to Disney with my Mom and sisters in September. I plan to give a little more details in an upcoming post, but so far I’ve got the resort and tickets booked and paid for. It’s not going to be a cheap trip by any means, but the cost is 100% worth it to me. And that’s what really matters, right?

I hope to be back a couple more times this week, with updates on what’s been going on in my life. Maybe I can find some great feedback here to help me sort things out?

- Cindy W.

I’ll be honest, I need a vacation. I’ve done a few long weekends here and there, but it’s been years since I’ve done a real vacation. I’ve been putting off planning financially for a vacation, just because I didn’t see any opportunity in the near future. But the last few days, an unexpected plan has started to form:

I’m going to Disney!

I’m sure most of you are rolling your eyes right now. I’ll be honest, 10 years ago if you’d mentioned going to Disney to me, I’d have done the same. But then we started taking “girls trips” to Disney. My Aunt owned a bunch of points in Disney’s version of a time share, so on 4 (5?) different occasions my Aunt, her daughter, my Mom, my older sister and I all packed up and went to Disney for a week. My Grandma went with us the first year (or two?). The last year my younger sister came with us as well.

Honestly, walking through the parks, watching toddlers melt into tantrums, I understand why most parents would question how worthwhile Disney is. Sure, there’s something to say for seeing the look of joy in your child’s eyes: The look on my youngest nephew’s face in pictures at Disney when he was 3 is just pure magic. The look on my older nephew’s face? Not so much. But a group of women, all over 21, free of responsibilities? The ability to eat and drink “around the world”, and a bus to get you safely where you need to go, at the Happiest Place on Earth?

FYI: The Magic Kingdom does not allow alcohol (except apparently in the new French restaurant). And it has the most attractions geared towards small children. NOT the Happiest Place of Earth.

But 5+ adult women, spending 10 days together (including the drive there and back) on a rather pricey vacation several years in a row started to become too much. The last trip was somewhat less magical. And my Aunt eventually decided that, with her health, she shouldn’t travel such long distances. So the Disney vacations became a thing of the past. A fond memory. Maybe something to work towards in the future.

The last few months have been wearing on me, and it’s becoming obvious that I really do need a break. I’d love to get away, spend some time with my Mom and sisters. We really do have a fabulous time together, most of the time. They started to put the bug in my ear about a month ago; Why couldn’t we go to Disney again? Just the 4 of us? We’d have so much fun!

I could feel myself starting to cave.

This week a 48 year old co-worker of my Mom’s passed away. It was rather unexpected; she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer barely 2 weeks before, which had spread to her brain and stomach. She had 3 grown daughters, much like my Mom. They’d worked together for many years. It was the 5th person to pass away at my Mom’s work in the past 6 months. All middle-aged, mostly unexpected; An accident, the flu, cancers. Being the same age, and having suffered serious health issues in the past, it made my Mom really start thinking about the things she really values, and how she wants to spend her days.

And so, we’re going to Disney. Most likely in September, when the rates will still be low. This won’t be a low-cost getaway; Disney tickets are incredibly expensive, and we will be staying at one of the resorts on property because, well, we want to. I’ll trying to find as many deals as possible, and we’ll work to trim as much of the unimportant stuff as possible. Luckily, I have the cash to make it possible, but it will mean rearranging some of my priorities for the year.

It wasn’t the plan. But, the money is there. And honestly, I won’t regret spending my money this way, even if it sets me back on my overall goals. It isn’t a need, and I don’t deserve it. It’s how I’m choosing to spend my money. Sure, I could find a less expensive way to spend time with my Mom and sisters. But, this is something we all will enjoy, and look forward to. And the memories will last a lifetime.

After all, it is The Happiest Place on Earth.

- Cindy W.

It’s starting off to be another crazy busy week. I’m hopeful that if I can stay focused this week, I might be able to get back on track. I’m so behind at work right now! It’s been ridiculously busy, and the guys at work have been ridiculously sloppy about their paperwork. Meaning I not only have a ton to do, but I’m having to sort it all out, spot problems and find solutions. By the end of the day I’m mentally drained and overwhelmed. Of course, the fact that all of this takes place in front of a computer screen means that I get absolutely no sympathy on the home-front, since I’m not physically “doing” anything.

Tired and overwhelmed are not a winning combination for me, so in general I’m spending more and eating more. I think the spending is due to the eating; I haven’t had the time for shopping, but I am eating a lot of junk lately. And fast food. My waist and my budget will thank me once things return to normal.

Hopefully things will return to a more normal schedule soon!

- Cindy W.

It’s been a rough few weeks around here, and I’m totally failing on keeping up with the blog. The main reason being that it’s been super busy at work. That’s right, it’s road construction season! While I’m cussing the road closures and long delays I try to remind myself that it is my bread and butter. With the boyfriend and I both working for the same company, both of our schedules are going crazy. I’m working a lot of extra hours, but the boyfriend’s job is basically 24/7; He’s getting calls from his crews at all hours of the night, and is often on job sites on the weekend.

To top it all off, we’ve been less than healthy here lately. Last Thursday night the boyfriend was up all night, extremely ill. Like, vomiting all night kind of ill. Which means I was up all night as well. He was in rough shape for days. We worried about a virus, but no one else was sick. We considered food poisoning, but for the most part, we both eat the same things. It wasn’t until this week that it occurred to him that the start of his illness coincided with the day he spent hosing off the patio with insecticide. He was trying to get rid of the tiny red dots that scurry all over the patio walls. FYI, the insecticide did absolutely nothing to help that problem. He’s just starting to feel more normal. I’ve been riding him about going to the doctor, especially now that we know the likely cause. Insecticides are known for causing liver and other organ damage!

On Monday I woke up with a weird, stiff feeling in my upper back/chest area. I did some stretches, took a hot shower, and headed off to work. As I went to step out of the car, the most terrible pain radiated from my upper back. Besides a few aches and pains, I’ve never had back issues. My goodness, it was terrible! The horrific pain every time I moved lasted for several hours before finally settling into something more manageable. A quick Google search revealed that issues with the upper spine are very rare; It was most likely a muscle issue, or I was dying of cancer. Thanks WebMD!

Admittedly, I probably should have gone to the doctor. But, I’m busy, and I didn’t want to get a bunch of tests for something that was most likely a muscle issue. I can’t handle prescription pain pills. The thought of muscle relaxers was appealing, until I remembered the last time they gave me muscle relaxers, years ago, and I puffed up like a blimp. I seriously gained 15 pounds in less than a week. I’m guessing water retention? On the plus side, my boobs got huge! On the minus side, everyone thought I was pregnant. Not exactly fun times!

So, the boyfriend’s still running to the bathroom throughout the day, and I’m old-ladying it with my heating pad and advil. Fun times! Things are starting to get better though. Hopefully I’ll be back on a better schedule soon!

- Cindy W.

It seems like life has been a little bit “two steps forward, one step back” here lately. I’ve been working for the past year (+) to get my house ready to go on the market. I’ve made a ton of progress, but I’m not nearly as far along as I’d like to be. It seems like the harder I try to push ahead, the more push-back I get from the boyfriend.

The problem? He has reservations. Not about the relationship, or us living together; I’m pretty much living there now, and he has absolutely no problems with that. Actually this past month we’ve finally found our groove as a couple, where we’ve learned to work together, and both feel like we have a place. I know, that sounds weird. But, when you take two very independent people who have lived alone for a very long time, it’s sometimes hard to figure out how to work together as a couple. I didn’t feel like it was my place to just do things around the apartment, so most of the time I’d just hang back and watch. And when I’d try to do something, he’d usually come and take over, or hang over my shoulder, critiquing my every move. It’s taken us some time, and conversations, and admittedly a few harsh words, but we’re finally starting to get to the point where we both feel comfortable working together, or around each other.

His reservations come from what we’re both giving up. If things go according to plan, we’ll both be selling our houses. I have a little house on the edge of town, he has a house in the northern part of the state, and we’re currently staying in an apartment (actually, a tri-plex) that the company rents for him. The idea is that we’ll sell our houses, pay off our remaining debts, and then save money towards buying our “forever home” together. It makes sense, since neither of us is actually living in our houses right now. We’ll save a ton of money, even with picking up the rent payment at the apartment.

But, he’s 55 years old. To him, being an adult means owning a house. He feels like when we sell our houses, we’ll each have nothing, and be starting from scratch. To me, we both already have nothing. Actually, with very little equity in each of our houses, and other outstanding debts, we have less than nothing. And those house payments (that are currently going mostly towards interest) aren’t getting us anywhere. I’m ready to get rid of the illusion, and start building something real. He likes the plan, but it’s a big change for him, so he wants to take things slowly. So lately, I’ve been trying to back off a little, and let things move more at his pace. Yes, I’d prefer to be putting my house payment towards debt repayment. But, life isn’t a marathon. A few extra months isn’t going to kill me!

And then, my neighbors happened.

My neighbors and I got along great for many years. But the past couple of years, something has changed with the couple next door. They’re unhappy about everything, and each time I see them, it’s a new complaint. I’m trying to be a good neighbor; I’ve made major improvements to my house, inside and out. I try to keep things cleaned up and looking nice. The boyfriend does a better job keeping the lawn mowed than I ever did. Honestly, I’m trying the best I can!

Maybe they don’t like that I’m never home? Maybe they don’t like my relationship with my boyfriend (they’re in their mid-30′s, like me)? Maybe they think I’m “living in sin”? Maybe they’re mad that I hired another company for some work last year, even though I could never get them to agree that their company would do the work? Who knows! But things have been mighty frosty here lately. And when they started complaining about the trees* (again!) this weekend, the boyfriend decided he was done!

The last few days, we’ve been talking more seriously about selling my house. And he finally seems to be fully on-board with the idea. My plan is to slowly start moving ahead on this, but not push too much. Like I said, two steps forward, one step back. But I think knowing that we’re going to be met with complaints every time we go over to do something at the house is starting to wear on him. He’s finally starting to see my house as more of a hassle than an asset. And to me, that’s a good thing.

I’m hopeful that things are finally going to start rolling forward!

- Cindy W.

*I live in an old neighborhood, with lots of big old trees. The couple next door to me, who bought their house years before I bought mine, have come to see trees as a bad thing. Over the years, they’ve removed almost every tree from their lot, and have tried to encourage me to do the same. I understand that big trees pose some risk (falling limbs), but personally, I love the trees, and see them as more of an asset. Plus, at $2,000+ per tree for removal, I can’t afford to be cutting down perfectly good trees. I have 13+ large trees on my lot! The neighbors had plans to remove 2 more trees, until a survey revealed that they were actually my trees. I’ve gotten numerous complaints since about the trees. They’ve turned a large portion of their back yard into a parking lot for their company box trucks, and are now expressing concerns that limbs may fall out of my tree and damage their trucks. I’m not blowing off their concerns, and I do take my liability seriously. But it’s probably going to take a week or so to address, and it’s probably going to cost me a pretty penny. I don’t think asking them to be patient is too much to ask, especially considering they didn’t bat an eye at turning their yard into a parking lot to begin with, regardless of how it affected their neighbors views and property values.

I’m a few days early on my net worth this month. Mainly because I wanted to get something posted today, and calculating my net worth was something quick and easy. And, being the end of the week, a few days really isn’t going to make much of a difference.

Net Worth as of May 29, 2014

Net Worth as of May 29, 2014

Overall, May was a pretty good month. I’m down $1,748 overall. But then, I spent $3,500 on remodeling (the bathroom, plus a few other projects). And big bucks Mother’s Day weekend. Plus I’ve spent a couple hundred bucks already on plants and mulch for the house. Life is pretty much going to guarantee that there will be ups and downs in my net worth. So long as the overall trend is going forward, I’ll be a happy camper!

I don’t foresee any big changes coming up next month. More money will definitely be spent on the house, but it should be in smaller chunks. Meaning the overall trend should start heading up for a while. Yay! I have to admit, I’ve become a bit obsessive about calculating my net worth; I’ve run the numbers at least once a week for the past month. Yeah, I probably should stop that. I’m also running my debt payoff numbers fairly frequently as well. Nothing changes much week to week, but I find it oddly comforting to see it all in print. I know, I’m weird!

- Cindy W.

A few weeks ago, our office celebrated the retirement of a coworker, M. It was a bittersweet event. At 73 years old, M retiring was not unexpected. Nor was it unprepared for; M was known for being frugal, cautious, and an avid saver. When M reached 70 1/2, he continued making contributions into his 401k, even though he’d reached the age of required distributions. He’d set the distributions up to be rolled into a trust for his grandson. He had insured that his and his wife’s needs were covered, and was working to ensure his heirs would be taken care of.

Even though the retirement was expected, there was a certain amount of sadness surrounding the event. M is the type of person who sees his job as a big part of who he is; It’s his identity. He’s been proudly working since a young age. The company was prepared for M to retire at 65 (8 years ago), and even hired on someone to train in his position. After a while, it became obvious that M had no intention of retiring, and the other employee was shifted to a new position. The only reason M decided to retire now is because he doesn’t like the changes that have taken place in the industry over the past few years; There’s too much bureaucracy and red tape.

At 73, M is having a hard time with retiring. He sees retirement as taking him one step closer to the inevitable end. His feelings are definitely understandable. At the same time, at 35, I can’t wait to “retire”. Although I’ve always devoted a lot of time and effort to my jobs, I’ve never been able to tie them to who I am as a person. My job is what I do so I can live the life that I want. I look forward to reaching Financial Independence, when I’ll no longer be tied to a traditional job. I hate being a “cog in the corporate wheel”.

That being said, to me, retirement isn’t an end point, where you just relax and wait out the rest of your life. Maybe the boyfriend and I will start a small business? Maybe I’ll have several little side gigs? Maybe we’ll work on being self-sufficient, living more off the land? The possibilities are endless! To me, retirement is a chance to start the next chapter in life; A chapter where you’re no longer tied to a company for support.

I’ll be honest, I worry about M. I’ve known so many older men like M who retire and seem to “give up” on life. They seem perfectly healthy when they leave the workforce, and a few months later, they’re gone. Hopefully M is able to use his new-found free time to spend time with his wife, daughter, and grandson, catch-up on his golf game, maybe find a new hobby or interest. Retirement doesn’t have to be the beginning of the end. I’m hoping that M has many happy years ahead of him!

- Cindy W.

They have more money than God.

It’s a statement that the boyfriend makes frequently, when talking about this old-timer, or his ex-in-laws, or that person. When his parents needed money to pay the overwhelming heating bills this winter, he was shocked when several of his siblings scoffed at chipping in even $100. “They have more money than God. I mean, they bought a new house a few years back, he buys a fancy new car every few years. And they act like they can’t afford to help out!”

Yep, the boyfriend buys into the illusion. He believes that you can actually tell something about how much money someone has based on the car they drive, and the house they live in. But the reality is, you can’t. Those things are just the “window dressings”; They don’t say anything about the person’s actual financial stability. A big house probably means a big mortgage. A fancy car? Maybe it’s a lease. The fact of the matter is, they could be in debt up to their eyeballs, living paycheck to paycheck, without an extra penny their name. What others can see tells them nothing about your actual financial situation.

The funny thing is, the boyfriend should know better. I can imagine his siblings sitting around, saying the same thing about him. After all, he owns the big house on the hill, on acres of land. He drives the fancy truck, carries the newest smart phone and a nice laptop with him everywhere. He has several other vehicles, a Kabota, a tractor, and lots of other “toys”. He has a boat, and takes long vacations every winter. Obviously, he’s loaded!

Actually, it’s all just an illusion. The house has two mortgages, and the reality is, unless he wants to work the rest of his life, he’ll have to get rid of it before he retires. His retirement is 100% dependent on a union pension and social security. The truck, smart phone, and laptop? They all belong to the company he works for. The boat, Kabota, tractor, cars? Loans. The long vacations? Well, he goes really cheap, with friends, and has to work while he’s there. The reality is, he pretty much lives paycheck to paycheck; Sometimes he manages to save up a few grand, but it never lasts more than a year before he’s back at zero. Actually most years, he barely manages to make it through the winter.

He isn’t a lost cause, but he’s going to have to make several big changes to turn things around. And that’s hard, because everyone sees the illusion. He’s having a hard time getting his sons to understand why he wants to sell the house; They have the expectation that the house is “their’s”, and Dad’s being selfish to take it away from them (the ridiculous entitlement of two twenty-something men is a topic for another time). The boyfriend is struggling with how to address this issue. To me, it’s easy; you be honest with them, and show them the illusion. The boyfriend doesn’t “own” the house, the bank does! It’s not in the boyfriend’s power right now to give the house to his sons. And expecting him to work another 20 years so he can do that? There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t threaten to quit his job. And physically, I don’t think he’d be able to handle the job he has now long-term. Or the stress. What happens if he has a stroke, or a heart attack, or gets injured? They’d lose the house anyways, and he’d have nothing saved. Where would they all live? Who would take care of him financially?

The reality is, lots of people live with illusions. The house, the cars, the toys. Mortgages, loans, leases, credit card debt. It’s easy for someone to make assumptions about someone else’s financial position, based on what you see. But the reality is, most people walk around in denial about their own financial situation. So many people have no idea exactly how much debt they have, or what their net worth is. They don’t have a financial plan, they just go according to the monthly payments they can afford.

If people don’t know their own financial picture, how can you?

- Cindy W.

I was browsing articles on the internet yesterday when I came across an article on Los Angeles Times with the headline:
Median Net Worth of Grads Under 40 with Student Debt is Only $8,700.

I’m a college grad, under 40, with student debt. And, as of April 30th, my net worth was $8,771. Wow! I am the median; 50% of grads under 40 (with student debt) are above me, and 50% are below. I’m right smack-dab in the middle. At least, as far as net worth goes. The article went on to say that the median amount of student debt for those grads is $13,000, which puts me on the lower end, with only $6,532 in student loan debt. My total debt is also lower than the median of $137,010 (my total debt is $76,824). Of course, my income is also lower than the $57, 941 (which is of all graduates with a Bachelor’s degree).

My hope is that by the time I reach 40 (in 4.5 years!) my net worth will be much higher. I also hope to have my student debt paid off by the end of the year. In which case, I’ll no longer be a “Grad under 40 with student debt”. Grads under 40 without student debt have a median net worth of $64,700. I still have a ways to go before I’m over that median!

In reality, does it really matter how I rank among my peers? Probably not. After all, this is my life. I have different resources, needs and goals from anyone else. My peers having more or less net worth than me really doesn’t change anything about my life, or my situation. Still, it’s interesting to see how I’m doing compared to others.

- Cindy W.