In my last post, I talked about how excited I am for the coming year. I am convinced that 2015 is going to be a year of positive changes. A year when Bryan and I can finally close out some old chapters in our lives, and start moving forward.

But as I’m blissfully aware of the silver lining, Bryan’s having a hard time seeing past the clouds. He’s going through a really tough time right now, between work (or lack there-of), and his ex, and his kids. And it’s going to get worse before it gets better. Much, much worse. But the thing is, it’s all temporary. Okay, except the kid thing; I fully expect there to be a lifetime of ups and downs in regards to his oldest son. Otherwise, in less than a year all of this will be over, and things will be better. Things are already starting to get better!

The interesting thing about being a couple is that, even though you support each other through tough times, you don’t always go through the tough times the same way, or even at the same time. My job became a struggle 2 years ago, when people started to realize Bryan and I were dating. And, while he was there for me, he wasn’t really “going through it”. Until he lost his own job. Now things are starting to improve for me, but he’s struggling to figure out what to do next. Emotionally, I’ve been “going through” his divorce since we started dating, and everything that meant to me, and him, and his ex, and the kids. Sure, it was his divorce, but for him, nothing had really changed since they’d separated a decade before. It wasn’t until he lost his income, and had to start pushing to get things finalized, that he really started going through it. He’s in a position where he can’t afford to let things continue on any longer, but he hasn’t been able to reach an agreement with his ex. Things are steadily becoming worse, and he worries they’ll lose everything if this drags on much longer. I know that things will get much, much worse, but I also see that they’re now in a place where things have to start happening. Suddenly, there’s a point where things have to end, and we can finally pick up the pieces and move on.

Bryan is stuck in the mire of what is going on right now, and the immediate future of what is to come. He isn’t working right now, and he doesn’t know what he’s going to do. Being in the construction industry, the next few months are going to be dead. Once things start back up, he can choose to continue working through the union, or try to find a supervisory role with another company. As of last year, he was eligible to take retirement through the union. Which means he also has the option of retiring, taking his pension, and then going into another career altogether. But, he has to finalize things with his ex before he can retire, so he knows where things stand with his pension. He’s bored, and restless, and unsure about the future. If he takes a job outside the union in the mean time, he’ll lose his place “on the list”, which means he’ll lose out on the opportunity of going to work at a higher paying job once the season starts up again. On top of that, he’s quickly running out of money. Once things are finalized with his ex, his expenses will drop dramatically; No more big house payments, or high utility bills. But in the next month or so, he expects to find himself in a position where he can’t make ends meet. Then what?

In a matter of months, I see things finally starting to fall into place. We’ll put my house on the market, and hopefully be able to free up some cash there. Maybe I’ll get a promotion? He and his ex will finally settle things, and he’ll figure out what he wants to do job-wise. Sure, things are going to get worse. We’ve been weighing out all of our option, and coming up with a plan to make it through. I’m ready for the bad, but I’m choosing to look ahead to the good. And I’m super excited about the possibilities. Bryan’s having a hard time seeing past what lies directly ahead. He’s taking things one day at a time, and concentrating on what comes next. That’s fine too. But, it creates a bit of a gap in our perspective, where I’m feeling hopeful, and he’s, well, not so much.

All things considered, we’re dealing with everything fairly well. But it does take an effort to bridge the gap. When you’re in a relationship, what one person is going through has an enormous effect on the other. But, despite the fact that you’re going through it together, you aren’t both going through it the same. Bryan’s job loss affects me, but it’s still his job loss. And I have to be sensitive to that.

So, I’m excited for everything that 2015 holds. But I’m also stressed, and frustrated, and tired, and scared. And I’m tempering all of my emotions, so I can be sensitive of all the emotions that Bryan is experiencing as well. Some days I do better than others. Hey, we’re only human, right?

– Cindy W.

2014 ended up being a kind of rocky year. Bryan lost his job (and was recently laid off again for the winter). We both had some personal issues to deal with. I had a few minor meltdowns about my house, and a lot of ups and downs at my job. On the plus side, over the course of the year I did manage to improve my financial situation. And I even got to take an awesome vacation with my Mom and sisters!

I have to admit though, I’m super excited about what 2015 holds! Why? Well, there are two things going on that could end up working out really well for me.

Selling My House

One of my goals for 2015 is to put my house on the market. We’re soooo close to being ready to list it. And, as luck would have it, we already have someone interested in looking at it! In a “friend of a friend” type situation, a 30-something guy has been asking around about buying a house. He’s used to apartment living, but is really interested in moving someplace where he has a little bit of land (but less than an acre), and some privacy. But he’d like to be close to downtown. And he really would like a small house; He says his 1 bedroom apartment is about perfect, and he’s not interested in taking on something much bigger. My house fits all his requirements, and is even in the price range he’s looking for (under $70,000). I’m working now to set up a time for him to come out and take a look.

It would be awesome to sell “off-market”, and avoid all the hassles. That being said, I’m not pinning my hopes on this working out. There’s a chance he won’t like the neighborhood, or the style of the house, or whatever. But the point is, there is a market for my house! I haven’t even put it on the market yet, and I’ve already had someone show interest. That’s got to be a good sign, right?

Maybe a Promotion?

My company has been talking FOREVER about adding another person to the office. We’ve needed another person for a while, but our parent company hasn’t been on-board with that idea. But they’ve recently decided they might be willing to reconsider. I was approached by my boss this week about a possible promotion opportunity. If I’m interested, they’d like to bump me up, and then bring a new person into my position. If I wasn’t interested, they would probably be hiring someone into a more entry-level position instead, and then making adjustments to everyone’s responsibilities.

I’m totally on-board with getting a promotion! That being said, I’m not 100% convinced our parent company will actually agree to it. At this point, I’ve had too many opportunities brought up to me that didn’t end up working out for me to get my hopes up too much. But it would definitely be nice to switch things up a bit. And more money is always welcome!

Sure, not everything will pan out, and there’s plenty of opportunities for things to go wrong. I fully expect Bryan’s situation to get much worse before it starts getting better. It’s going to be a year of highs and lows, lots of changes, and plenty of compromises. But, if we can hang tight through the storms, I think we’ll be much better at the end.

I’m excited about all the possibilities that 2015 may bring! Are you?

– Cindy W.

 

Cecilia over at The Single Dollar asked a question that I’m not sure I’ve 100% answered yet:

I just wonder, if the house doesn’t sell quickly, if you might not consider moving back into it with your boyfriend? I know it’s small, but you guys only need one bedroom really, and it would presumably save you a lot of money (over renting the apartment) and hassle (over renting out the house and being landlords while also renters in the same town.)

Um… Well… You See… Well… Um…

In my mind, it all seems so simple: The two of us living in my house just wouldn’t work. But, as I start trying to explain, it becomes a lot more complex. We’ve actually discussed living in my house before. And, when Bryan brings up the idea, he always talks about it favorably. It would work out wonderfully! In theory. But in reality? Well, it’s complicated.

I don’t think us living in my house is a good decision. Part of my reasoning is financial: I’m not sure it would be the money-saving idea it initially seems to be. Part of it is emotional. And, part of it is just plain old stubbornness!

So, let’s start with the Financial Reasons:

Bryan doesn’t want to get rid of anything we own. Or, more precisely, he doesn’t want to get rid of anything he owns, and wants to keep all the big things I own, like my couch, which I could care less about. All my movies and books? Yeah, in his mind, those can all go. We both have a lot of stuff. No way it would ever fit in my house. His solution: Rent storage! Ugh! No!

I’m pretty sure that the monthly cost of renting storage for all of our excess stuff would more than eat up the difference between the mortgage/utilities at the house (~$600/month) and rent/utilities at the apartment (~$800/month). And, if it didn’t, there’s the issue of gas. Everything we do, from work, to friends, and everything in between, is on the opposite side of town. We’d be traveling 30+ minutes for everything. Daily. In traffic. In large, fuel consuming vehicles. Cha-ching!

Adding to the spending: If we stayed in the house, he’d want to add-on, and keep upgrading. The market in the neighborhood won’t sustain that. And he has the expectation that you should be able to get back everything you put into a house, and then some, when you sell. I’ve already put about $30,000 into the house since buying it. I worry about even being able to sell it for what I paid, let alone tens of thousands of dollars more! It’s a lot easier my taking the loss, than dealing with his expectations once it becomes “our” loss.

On top of that, we disagree about various aspects of selling. Price is definitely one. But he also keeps talking about selling the house on contract. I keep explaining that this isn’t the 1980’s. I’m not even sure if I could sell the house on contract, with still having a mortgage. And, me being the “worst case scenario” kind of person I am, selling a house on contract would stress me out way too much. It’s like the house sale that drags on. For years! There’s just too much that could go wrong. I feel like the sales process will be easier while he still has the perspective that it’s my house, and my decision.

The “Not So Financial” Reasons:

With his job situation being what it is, he’s talked a lot about moving to another state someday. Maybe as soon as we get everything settled (Sometime next year). Maybe in a couple of years. Maybe it won’t ever happen. Regardless, I feel like it’s better to get the house sorted out now, so we can take advantage of whatever opportunity may come our way in the future.

In another “maybe in the future” scenario, if we don’t leave the state, there’s a 50/50 chance we’ll end up buying the apartment some day. It’s something we’ve discussed with the current owner. No, it won’t be next year or anything like that. But, it’s a possibility. The “apartment” is actually a triplex, on about 4 acres of land. There’s a one bedroom unit, a two bedroom unit, and a three bedroom unit. Financially, it would be a solid investment. We like living here. We’re currently living in the 2 bedroom unit, but we’ve considered moving into the 3 bedroom when it becomes available. I can also see having a 1 bedroom, ground floor unit coming in handy some day in the very, very distant future. I could see it being a good idea long-term. Again, it’s just an idea. But, something to consider.

The “wanna be minimalist” in me says that we really could down-grade into a one bedroom place. But then, we run into issues, like two weekends ago, when we thought his oldest son would be coming to stay with us for a while. It’s happened before, and, given how not so great things have been going on that front, I can see that happening again. The two of us don’t *need* a two bedroom unit. But the reality is, I don’t see his son’s situation improving anytime in the near future. I definitely think his son needs to take more personal responsibility, and I’m definitely not on-board with supporting an adult child who should be supporting themself. But, his problems go beyond just that, and it isn’t fair to expect his mom to shoulder all of it on her own. At least for now, we need to be prepared for anything.

And Then, There’s The “Not So Logical” Reasons:

I feel terrible saying it, but, from an emotional standpoint, it’s MY house. We could move into it temporarily, but it would always be the idea that it wasn’t our “forever home”. I think I would be very territorial, wanting to protect my investment and the value of the home. We already bicker a lot when we’re over there trying to get it ready to sell. I feel like I’d spend every second saying “Don’t do this” or “Do it that way”. I’d end up making us both miserable!

Emotionally, I “moved on” from the house a long time ago. Years ago, I had a job move me halfway across the country. The job didn’t end up working out, and I was miserable. But I LOVED where I was living. Had it not been for the house, I would have stayed out there and found a new job. But it was incredibly unlikely I could have found a job that paid enough to support two homes. And the market in my area was down; I couldn’t have sold my house for what I owed. My only option was to move back home.

Ever since then, I’ve seen my house as something that is holding me back, keeping me from being able to take advantage of new opportunities. Granted, coming back home has worked well for me; I wouldn’t have met Bryan if I didn’t come home. And I’m close to my family here. But, I look at my house as a remnant of a “past life” that I’m way past ready to move on from. It’s time!

The final straw: As soon as we started staying with Bryan at the apartment, my dog decided she absolutely HATES my house. Like, throw a tantrum, can’t wait to leave type hate. Not that I would let the dog decide our living arrangement. But, why should all 3 of us be miserable?

Honestly, I think I’m being overly pessimistic about selling the house. I should be able to sell it just fine. It’s just a matter of feeling like it’s ready to list. I’m probably being overly cautious there as well; After all, I bought the house when it needed a TON of work, but I’m acting as though it needs to be near perfect before I can list it. At this point though, there isn’t much left to do. We’re in the final stretch!

So, there’s my way too complicated answer on why we won’t (likely) be moving in to my house. Selling the house is my #1 priority. If, for some reason, we can’t get it sold, then I’d reconsider using it as a rental. Some investors would say making it a rental is a great idea. Honestly, it would cash flow immediately. But as I’ve mentioned before, I’m a worst case scenario kind of girl. What if someone lived there a year, and did thousands of dollars worth of damage? A bad renter could easily eat up all the profit! But, if it came down to a choice between renting it out, and us living there, I think I’d still rent it. The possible risk of losing money on a bad renter is still outweighed by the known fact that we would sink too much money into it living there. And the hassle of renting is also better than being in a miserable living situation.

I guess it’s like most things in life: Part logic, part emotion, part stubbornness!

– Cindy W.

The Holiday Season is in full swing. You know what that means? 2014 is quickly coming to an end! As I’m thinking about my plans for the remaining weeks of 2014, I can’t help but start thinking about what 2015 holds.

There is still a lot of uncertainty on whether or not I’ll be able to make my 2014 goals. I think my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014 really was a great goal. However, as the year played out, I started to have issues with my mini-goals. In figuring out how I could possibly grow my net worth by $10,000 in one year, I came up with a plan to pay down $5,000 in debt, and grow my 401(k) by $5,000. Why would I have a problem with those goals? Well, about halfway through the year I started to realize that those goals didn’t really require me to do anything. All I needed to do in order to reach those goals was continue making my regular debt payments, and continue contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan. Sticking to the plan is a good thing. But I kind of feel like, at this point in my financial journey, I need goals that will challenge me a bit more. Goals that will push me out of my comfort zone. The whole point of setting goals is to work towards change. My goals didn’t require me to take any action throughout the year, and so, after a while, they started to become a little, dare I say, boring!

It seems a little weird to write that last years goals weren’t challenging enough, and at the same time say that I may not make my goals. Had I stuck to the plan, I would have easily made my goals. But part way into the year, I decided to stop contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan, in favor of paying ahead on debt. And, while I didn’t pay off as much debt as I would have liked, the after-tax amount of my 401(k) contribution almost equals out to the amount I paid ahead on my debt. And, in hindsight, basing half of my growth goal on the value of my 401(k) was a risky plan. I have control over how much I contribute, but I don’t have control over what the market does. Sure, a good year could result in a lot of growth. But what if it had been a bad year?

While I want my goals to be challenging, I also want them to inspire positive changes. Sure, I could live on beans and rice, never go anywhere, and save all kinds of money. But I’d be miserable (Literally; My sensitive tummy would not agree with that kind of diet!). I want goals that encourage me to prioritize and balance my spending, while also emphasizing the earning part of personal finance. I want goals that drive me to reach for better things.

So, with all of that in mind, what goals have I come up with for 2015?

1) Grow my net worth by $10,000. I still think this was a great goal, so I’d really like to keep this one for 2015. What I’m not going to do this year is specify exactly which categories I need to see that growth in. I kind of prefer the idea of having goals that are independent of each other. I found myself feeling a little torn in 2014 when my net worth was growing, but not in the “right way”. Of course, my goals are all financially based, so making any of the other goals will help in making this goal. But I’m also leaving myself room to re-prioritize throughout the year. Who knows what 2015 might hold?

2) List the house. Something has to be done with the house, and the sooner, the better. I’d love to phrase this one as “Sell the house in 2015″. However, I’m a little worried about the housing market. So, I’m saying “list”, with the idea that if we can’t sell the house, we can reconsider renting. I guess I’m leaving some flexibility in this goal as well. The important thing is that something happens, so my house quits being such a financial drain!

3) Pay off my student loan. I have one remaining student loan, which will start 2015 with a balance of less than $4,900. It’s from my undergrad days. I graduated in 2000. It’s way past time for this thing to be gone!

4) Invest $3,000 in a retirement account. Notice the term “invest” here. I’m not saying that when 2015 comes to an end that the account will be valued at $3,000; It could be more or less, depending on how the market plays out. The point is, by the end of the year I will have contributed $3,000 to it. I’m also not specifying what type of account; 401(k), IRA, Roth IRA, or any combination of the 3 is fine. That way I have some flexibility, in case of a job change, or brokerage change, or whatever. The point is, at 36 years old, I need to be investing. $3,000 is a kind of paltry amount. But, hey, it’s a start!

5) Earn $500 in “Side Income”. Right now, I’m not really sure how I’ll earn the extra money. Maybe I’ll find a side hustle? Maybe I’ll sell some things? I don’t know. The point is, I need to start diversifying my income. I’m keeping the amount intentionally low, so I won’t get discouraged. The important thing is to break the ice in 2015!

So, those are my goals for 2015. I’m hoping it’s a good mix of challenging, yet achievable. I want to get myself out of my comfort zone, but I also don’t want to make my goals so difficult that I feel like I can’t reach them. I’m hoping that 2015 will be a year of big changes, but I’m not really sure what those changes will look like yet. Right now I need goals that are specific and measurable, yet aren’t so constrictive that I can’t be flexible with my plans. That way I can embrace whatever changes lay ahead!

What are your goals for 2015? Are there things you would have done differently with your 2014 goals? What do you think of the goals I’ve set for 2015?

– Cindy W.

I can’t believe that it’s December already! The days of 2014 are quickly slipping by. After this, there will only be one more net worth update for this year. So, How did I do?

Net Worth Update

Net Worth Update as of November 30, 2014

I’m pretty excited about my progress in November. I managed to grow my net worth by $1,187 in the past month. That means I only have $249 to go to make my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014!

Of course, making my goal still isn’t a certain thing. December is going to be a pricey month! My 6 month car insurance premium is due (~$400), the license plates on my car are up for renewal (~$400), and I have presents to buy for Christmas (I have $650 left in the budget for the Holidays). That’s a lot of money, on top of my normal expenses.

I’m still hopeful of how the rest of the year will shake out. I’ve already met my debt payoff goal for this year. I’ll likely be short on my 401(k) goal, but not by much. Due to Thanksgiving, my current balance doesn’t show my employer’s November contribution, so, assuming the market remains steady, my account should show a good sized bump in December. Actually, if the contribution had made it in a few days earlier, I’d have already met my overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 (to $11,216).

One more month, then it’s on to the 2015 goals!

– Cindy W.

How much do I need in my emergency fund? I’ll admit, I’ve been all over the place on that question since I began my cash lifestyle years ago. I don’t have a credit card to fall back on, should anything happen. Whatever cash I have in the bank is all I have to get me through if something goes wrong.

I’m not alone in my uncertainty about my emergency fund. If you look around the personal finance community, you’ll find recommendations ranging from $1,000, to 3-6 months expenses, to 1 year’s worth of expenses, to keeping nothing liquid (depending on credit cards and/or investments that can be used in an emergency). It’s a hotly debated topic.

I’ll be honest, my short-term financial focus tends to be all over the place. I know what I want long-term. But life is always changing, and I find myself trying to adjust to whatever comes my way. Often times when I make big adjustments, I’ll also adjust how much money is in my emergency fund.

What are some of the things that have caused me to adjust the amount in my emergency fund?

A big factor has been how much cash I have in general. When I had larger amounts of money in my savings account set aside for other priorities, like home improvement, I felt more secure in having a smaller emergency fund. Having $1,000 in an emergency fund isn’t a big worry when you have several thousand more in your savings account that you could potential pull from, if needed. But, as that money has been spent down, I feel less secure about having enough money if something happens.

Another factor has been how “secure” my life feels. When the boyfriend lost his job, our situation immediately became less secure. Both of us took on more expenses. Right now, he doesn’t have a long-term job, so there’s no guarantee that we’ll have 2 paychecks coming in every week. It was also a vivid reminder that no one’s job is guaranteed. With everything that was going on, ramping up the emergency fund seemed like a good idea.

Six months ago I felt pretty good about having a $1,000 emergency fund. Now? I’m working on building that fund up to $3,000. I’m half-way there. Will it be enough? I don’t know. Emergency funds are for emergencies. For the unexpected things that come up in life. I’m hoping my emergency fund will turn out to be more peace of mind, and I won’t have to find out if it’s enough.

I’m sure the amount I feel that I need to have in an emergency fund will continue to fluctuate over the months/years. Someday I’d love to be one of those people who is debt free, and has 3-6 months worth of expenses sitting in an emergency fund, just in case. I know there are a lot of people who build up to this amount to start, and then work on slaying their debt. I tend to lean towards keeping the emergency fund a little smaller until the debt is gone. After all, the more debt you can get rid of, the less money you’ll need to cover your monthly expenses if you lose your job.

How do you feel about an emergency fund? Do you lean towards keeping more money set aside as a cushion? Or would you rather put that money to work in other ways?

– Cindy W.

It’s taken me a really long time to write this post, and it’s with a lot of apprehension that I finally publish it. Part of me says that I’m sharing too much, that my relationship and personal life aren’t really anyone’s business. Part of me has concerns about sharing so much of someone else’s story. A big part of me worries about what other people will think. But I can’t really be 100% honest about my financial position if I don’t talk about where we are right now, and how we got there. 

A few weeks back, I wrote about Bryan and Melissa*. After nearly 20 years of marriage, and 2 kids, Bryan and Melissa decided to part ways. But instead of opting for divorce, they decided to join the growing number of what New York Times calls the “Un-Divorced”; Couples who go their separate ways, but stay legally married. After weighing out all the options, they felt that delaying their divorce, at least until the kids were out of the house, was the best plan for everyone.

Despite feeling that this was the best choice for their situation, separating, but remaining married, did nothing to improve Bryan and Melissa’s relationship. There was still a lot of animosity and bitterness. They rarely saw each other or spoke, and when they did it usually resulted in bickering and hurt feelings. Over the years things deteriorated more and more, until eventually they avoided each other completely. It was easy to do; Bryan lived and worked over 2 hours away, and Melissa’s family owned properties she could escape to when she knew he’d be around. Eventually their communications came down to texts about the kids, with the occasional note when something needed discussed.

Eight years later, their youngest was graduating from High School, heading off to college. Their oldest had a good job, and seemed to finally be getting his life together. The reasons they had stayed married no longer seemed to apply, and they agreed it was time to take the next step: Divorce.

I met Bryan in the beginning stages of his divorce. Most people didn’t even know he was still married; He rarely talked about his “ex”, except in regards to his kids. But he was very upfront with me about his situation. In the past, I never would have given him a second look. After all, I wanted the whole fairy-tale, with the wedding, and kids, and white picket fence. Other people’s baggage didn’t fit into the fairy-tale. But, after years of dating I started to realize that, in your 30’s, it’s often the guys who had never been married that come with the most baggage, at least emotionally speaking. I’d met a man who I got along with. We enjoyed spending time together. We wanted similar things in life. He had been living in his own place for over 10 years, had been separated for 8 years, and was starting the process of getting divorced. Why should it be a problem?

Ah, to be so naive! Just because two people agree to a divorce doesn’t mean they’ll agree on anything about the divorce. And two people who have spent almost 30 years fighting about everything? Bryan believed that the process would be easy; They’d simply sign some papers and be done! No lawyers, no battles, just a quick and easy divorce. Except, you have to divide assets and liabilities in a divorce. And they refused to even talk to each other. At all. How exactly did they think this was gonna work?

It didn’t take long for things to go from bad to worse. One of their children started having a lot of personal issues. Bryan and Melissa were at a loss, and couldn’t agree on how to handle the situation. With everything that was going on with their son, Bryan’s family began weighing in heavily on how he should proceed. His family all felt that “gifting” the house to his children was in the best interest of his son, and he was getting a LOT of pressure to do so. What no one knew is that he still had 18 years on a 20 year mortgage, and didn’t even have 20% equity in the house. His expenses were so high that he wasn’t able to save anything from one year to the next. They had personal loans, an equity note, vehicle loans, and credit card debt. It was a stretch just being able to afford the house; Giving the house to the kids wasn’t even a possibility!

As they say in personal finance, perfect is the enemy of good. Everything came to a stand-still as Bryan tried to find the perfect solution to make everyone happy. His kids. His family. His ex. Me. But giving everyone exactly what they wanted just wasn’t possible. The weeks dragged into months, and still nothing changed. My patience was wearing thin. It was one thing to be dating someone who was going through a divorce. But nothing seemed to be changing, and there was no end in sight! We fought. I cried. We talked about going our separate ways. He talked about building a life together, but until things were finalized, we couldn’t move ahead. We didn’t even know where we’d be starting! What would happen with the house? What would happen with their pensions? What about all their furniture? He’d expect me to have answers to all his questions, but I’d never been married, let alone divorced! How was I supposed to know?

I’ll be honest, I’m not 100% sure about how I feel about our situation. Which is probably why I’ve never shared the information; I judge myself. What would other people think? In the beginning it seemed like no big deal. After all, he was getting a divorce. But, as the weeks turned into months, and the months turned into years (!), I started having a lot of doubts. What makes a marriage a marriage? Legal status? Commitment? They decided to go their separate ways almost a decade before I ever met Bryan, always with the intention of divorcing. They agreed to start the process of getting a divorce before Bryan and I even knew each other. I wasn’t the reason they were getting divorced. But still, I often found myself questioning whether it was right to be dating someone who wasn’t “officially” divorced.

Age has definitely changed Bryan, as it does most people. He still likes to go out with the boys for a drink after work. But now the “boys” are all old and retired. They have a drink, talk business, and go home to their wives. I’m not going to sit here and say he’s become a perfect man. And I can definitely see the traits that helped his marriage to fail. But we aren’t the same people as he and his ex were. One thing he admires about our relationship is that we can talk to each other. And, for better or for worse, he’s determined to tell me everything. Past, present and future, every thought, emotion, and story. That includes every detail of his divorce. I have mixed emotions about that. It’s a big thing to go through, and I want to be there for him. As a third-party to all of this, I don’t feel like I should weigh in. But, admittedly there are times that my emotions get the best of me. Like when his family was pressuring him to give the kids the house. There were times when I felt he was being unfair to his ex, and would tell him as much. And I definitely had a problem when everything stalled for months on end, and it seemed as though things would never come to an end.

Throughout the process there were “turning points”; Things that helped move the process along, and gave glimmers of hope that there might actually be an end to all of this.

The first turning point was when he realized that, in our state, a divorce can be granted, even if the division of property hadn’t been settled. Couples can spend years fighting things out, and still be divorced. He didn’t have to have the perfect solution right now. They could get divorced, while taking their time to sort out the details. And hopefully, just the act of getting divorced would spur them along in making decisions.

The second turning point came when he finally admitted to needing a lawyer. The reality was, their situation wasn’t as cut-and-dry as he originally thought. He wasn’t willing to speak to his ex (and vice-versa). They both seemed to have very different expectations of the outcome. Everyone wanted to give him advice, and often he found that what one person told him conflicted with what someone else said. It finally became clear that the only way this was going to work was if he hired a lawyer.

Things finally started moving along, although still at a very slow pace. The paperwork was filed. Memos and requests were passed between lawyers. Not much was really decided, and, in my opinion, not enough was discussed. Neither party felt that there was any really hurry. Months ticked by, but nothing seemed much different than before. Being divorced wasn’t much different than being married when you’re still tied together by all the things yet to be decided.

And then, Bryan lost his job. And that changed everything. In addition to losing his income, he gained a myriad of expenses. The life that he’d been living for decades suddenly became completely unaffordable. He found a full-time job, but there were no guarantees he’d be employed through the winter. His bills equaled out to more than his new salary, and his savings started dwindling quickly. To slow things down, we agreed to split the rent at the apartment. He isn’t comfortable with that arrangement, but honestly, it’s still more than he can afford. I was willing to pay for all the expenses related to the apartment, but that was more than his pride would allow.

Which leaves us where we are now. His hope is that everything will be finalized by the end of the year, and his lawyer seems to think that is definitely doable. I have my doubts. His ex has stated that she wants the house, but at this point, hasn’t given any indication how she intends to pay for it. She’s assured her children she has a plan (which, honestly, I find a little worrisome). The question of pensions is still up in the air. Technically, they’re each untitled to half of the other’s pension. There’s a possibility that could result in a wash, but I have the feeling Bryan’s is worth more.

I know that people will have strong opinions about our situation. Why am I sharing any of this? Because I feel like the rest of my story doesn’t make sense if I don’t share it. Like why does the boyfriend own a house that he never intends to live in, that is straining him financially? Because it’s an asset of his marriage, and he can’t legally do anything with it until he and his ex come to an agreement. Why doesn’t he get a more fuel-efficient vehicle, since the suburban is such a gas guzzler? For the same reason. Why are our future plans so uncertain? Because we have no idea how things will end up. He could lose everything, and have to start at zero, or things could go better than he expects.

I’ll be honest, our relationship has been a struggle. This is definitely not what I signed on for when we met. And there have been so many times that I have almost walked away, and even more times I’ve wanted to say “Get back to me after you sort this out.” I do love him. And I see us having a beautiful life together. I’m hopeful that one day I’ll look back and this will all seem so far away. The life we live together is simple and affordable, and we’re both looking forward to the day when we aren’t stretched so thin financially. I also see things getting worse before they get better. I don’t see how things can be finalized by the end of the year, especially not with all the Holidays. I don’t feel like he’s talking enough with his lawyer, and I don’t think he’s stressing what his situation is. The reality is, he will run out of money, and his paycheck won’t cover all of his expenses. Assuming he even has a paycheck still coming in. And, while I’m willing to take over our expenses, it won’t be enough. I’ve already drawn the line that I absolutely will not contribute to any of “their” expenses.

But, this is his divorce. After nearly three decades, two people are separating what remains of their live together. What happens will have a large impact on his future, and in that way will affect me as well. But it was my decision to start a relationship with a man with an unfinished divorce. I knew that where we were starting our lives together was yet to be decided.

I can choose to accept the situation, or I can choose to walk away.

– Cindy W.

* Names and some details have been changed to protect the privacy of others.

Let’s be honest here, we’re all human. As much as we want to stay on track with our financial goals, wants still pop up. Logical or not, we all have things we desire.

A year ago I posted about my desire for a new computer. I was at my wit’s end with my personal laptop. I’m typically a very cautious person when it comes to my online use. Yet, somehow, I’d managed to get a virus. Or what I’m calling a virus anyways. Commercials would pop up in a little boxes at the bottom of my browser. At first I just had to find the right window, and close it out. But, eventually, the videos wouldn’t close until they’d played for 10 seconds. Which, in download time, was usually much longer. Add in the variety of other pop-up ads, little ad bars that blocked my screen, and all the other advertisements that were crowding out my screen and slowing things down, and using my laptop for anything became an exercise in frustration.

I tried virus scans and every other free software to try cleaning up my laptop, but no luck. Then I thought I’d finally gotten a break: I found the name of the virus! I had somehow managed to get the Playtopus Virus. I started Googling, looking for some way to rid myself of the virus. One tip led me to finding the virus in my programs and uninstalling it. It seemed so simple! And didn’t work. Waa waa! Most of the other hints involved expensive virus programs. I only paid about $350 for the laptop to begin with, I wasn’t about to spend hundreds of dollars for software that may not even work.

I convinced myself that the best option was to just buy something new. Maybe I’d buy an iPad? After all, Apple products are known for being less prone to viruses. But still I waited. And stewed. As much as I thought it would be money well spent, I just couldn’t see parting with hundreds, or even thousands, of dollars for a new computer. But my laptop was such a pain to use! I found myself using it less and less, relying on my phone and work computer for most of my needs.

Over a year passed with me “making do” with my infected laptop. But when the boyfriend lost his job, we were suddenly down to one computer. Buying a new computer just wasn’t a priority, at least not until we got things figured out. But the issues became that much more frustrating with two people using the laptop. And I constantly worried that the virus might be more than just annoying; with every online account check I worried about what type of information we might be sharing. It was time to get more serious.

I tried the antivirus/malware/adware route again. Hours downloading and running programs. No luck. So, I went back to Google. This time, I hit the jackpot! Removing the Playtopus Program from my computer had been a great first step. But that didn’t remove the program from my browser. Hidden in the settings of Chrome, under the extensions, sat the active copy of my virus. I clicked delete, and it was gone!

Not only did I find how to get rid of the program, I also found out how I got it in the first place. Apparently some software companies are paid to bundle products from other companies with their own products. When you download a free program online, there’s a chance that you could be downloading more than just the program you thought. What program had bundled the lovely Playtopus with it? No idea! I usually only download things that are common and well-known. Think iTunes, or Chrome, things like that. I may not know exactly how I got the virus, but at least I know how to prevent getting it (or something similar) in the future. Apparently it’s best when downloading a program (especially a free one!) to do the custom install. That way you can deselect any programs that have been added on that you don’t recognize.

It’s been a couple of days now, and everything seems to be running smoothly. I’m officially virus free! I’m hopeful this will be a good things; Maybe I can get back to writing more in the evenings, instead of browsing Facebook/Pinterest on my phone while we watch TV! At the very least, I’m happy to have my laptop back in working order. And to have saved myself a bundle of money!

– Cindy W.

 

Earlier this year I decided to stop contributing to my company’s 401(k) plan. At the time, my plan made sense (at least in my head): I’d take the extra money ($36.92 after taxes) each week and put it towards my student loan. Then by the end of 2014, my student loan would be paid off! My employer contributes 6% every week, regardless of whether or not I contribute, so I’m not losing any “free money”. And I’m already 100% vested in the program. It would all work out swimmingly!

Except it’s mid-November now, and I still have $5,000 to go before my student loan is paid off. An expensive vacation, job loss, and life in general managed to derail my original plan. The last couple of months have had me thinking that maybe it would be a better idea to start contributing to my 401(k) plan again. Sure, the extra money each week was helpful. And it’s not like I’m blowing it, or using it irresponsibly. But that $36.92 every week added almost $53 dollars a week to my 401(k) balance. Add in interest, and dividends… Wouldn’t it be better in the long run to be socking that money away?

I was just about ready to sign on the dotted line when our company’s 401(k) plan got audited. And, as it turns out, there was a problem. It’s probably been close to 2 years since our company’s 401(k) was merged with our parent company’s plan. Since that time, our company has had very little access to the plan. Sure, each individual can check their account information and make changes online. But all the internal checks that are supposed to take place no longer happen within our company; They’re all done by our parent company. Or, so we thought. But as we were preparing for our fiscal year-end, a long over-do audit turned up missing contributions. One week’s worth of employee contributions were paid into the plan, but never credited to the employee’s accounts. Our parent company looked into their accounts and realized they were missing employee contributions as well, on totally different weeks than us. And their parent company? Same thing!

I have to admit, I’ve been a little psycho about checking my 401(k) balances most of this year. I’m constantly recalculating my net worth, and as part of that, I’m keeping close tabs on how my retirement accounts are doing. The market has been pretty all over the place this year, so I’d gotten into the habit of checking each month to see if my employer’s contribution had been added, instead of just checking the balance. But I’m only getting the monthly employer contribution right now. Back when I was contributing to the plan, I was a little less diligent about checking my own contributions each week. And apparently, so is everyone else; Of the hundreds of people participating in the plan, across multiple companies, no one noticed the missing contributions!

Apparently there is one woman from the company that administers our plan who is responsible for crediting each individual’s account and making the purchases of shares. She laughed it off as a minor oversight, updated the accounts, and moved along as normal. The market was low when the error was corrected, so people were getting more bang for their buck, after all! Very few people know that any of this happened. I wasn’t personally affected, since it was only happening with employee contributions, and I wasn’t contributing. The rest of the people who knew were all in high level management positions, and didn’t feel like their position enabled them to complain. Everyone was waiting for an employee to notice and raise the red flag. But no one did.

All of this makes me a little apprehensive about contributing to the plan again. Sure, I could join the plan, and just make sure I’m really diligent about checking that my contributions are being credited to my account each week. But I don’t really trust now that everything is kosher with our 401(k) plan. What about the things I can’t see, like management fees? Am I just being paranoid? Finding excuses not to contribute? Or is this a valid concern?

Part of me says that I should keep my money out of the plan, for now. If I feel like contributing to retirement is a priority right now, I could always setup an IRA with Vanguard. I want to do that eventually anyways, so I can roll over my Roth from Edward Jones. But then, I’d need a chunk of cash to get things started. I don’t really want to take money from somewhere else to put towards an IRA. And I’m bad about the whole “divide and conquer” approach to savings. Contributing to the 401(k) would be so much easier and more effective. But it also would make me feel kind of uneasy.

What would you do in my situation? Contribute to the 401(k)? Set aside money for an IRA? Continue to prioritize debt repayment?

– Cindy W.

I’ve talked a lot about my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014. Overall, I think it’s a great goal. I’m still not sure whether or not I’ll be able to make it, but I should come in pretty close.

Right now though, I’m having conflicting emotions.

The boyfriend and I have done a lot of work on my house the last few months. We’re into the final stretch of getting the house ready to go on the market. With any luck, we’ll be listing it before the end of the year. Obviously, Spring would be better, but every month it sits is more money wasted.

Why is this a problem? Because the last few things we have to do on the house are going to be pretty pricey. Like replacing the garage door (<$700). Adding trim work to the newly enclosed laundry room ($300! Are you kidding me?!?). Painting and various repairs in the garage (several hundred dollars).

I have $1,800 left in the fund I setup to get the house ready to go on the market, so coming up with the money isn’t a problem. I also have money saved for the Holidays ($800), and am in the process of building my emergency fund from $1,000 to $3,000. I also like to keep a little bit of “slush” in my other accounts, so I’m not ever cutting things close. I have the money to complete the house. And, if we can stay focused, we shouldn’t have a problem getting things done. I’m hiring someone for the garage door, so that’s one thing off our plate.

The problem isn’t having the money, it’s spending it. I have right around $1,400 to go to meet my overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 in 2014. If I spend down the $1,800 I have set aside for the house, it’s that much more I have to go to make my goal. My growth has been all over the place each month this year. Growing by $1,400 in 2 months seems pretty doable. But $3,200+?

And then I realize, I’m being totally stupid.

By worrying about spending $1,800 on the house, I’m “missing the forest for the trees”. Sure, that means I might not make my goal for 2014. But selling the house puts me one step closer to my bigger goals. Growing my net worth by $10,000 is just a milestone along the way to eventually reaching financial independence. Every month my house is costing me between $500 and $600 (between the mortgage, taxes, insurance and utilities). Most of that money is just gone; My monthly payments only decrease my mortgage principle by $80-85 per month. I’m pouring hundreds of dollars down the drain every month that I keep the house!

So, finishing out the house may keep me from making my 2014 goal. But selling the house will make it so much easier to make my overall goals. I’m not sorry I set the goal; It’s kept me on track with my spending and savings this year, and helped me to make better decisions with my money. But I can’t start making bad decisions in the 11th hour for some arbitrary goal. The sooner I sell the house, the quicker I can really start growing my worth. Putting that off, even by a few months, would be a terrible idea!

– Cindy W.