Wednesday, February 8, 2012

2011: The Year of Slow Financial Progress

To be honest, I don't think we made many gains in 2011. 

Fluctuating income was our biggest stumbling block.  We often knew what the government owed us from the GI Bill and drill pay, but it was a matter of when it would come in.  You simply can't plan well for an ever-moving paydate, especially when it could be a 2-week window overlapping into the next month.  Problematic, I tell you.    

The Successes

The initiation of Meatless Mondays was a grand success.  After we found a revolving staple of vegetarian recipes, it was easy to include them on a weekly basis.  We actually look forward to these dishes. 
  • Being more mindful of our meat consumption has also affected our other recipes.  I now routinely halve the amount of meat, particularly in soups or pasta dishes. It's also easier to stick to the 4-6oz of meat per person rule.  I wouldn't say this has lowered our grocery bill, but it has freed up money to buy better quality ingredients (more organics + free-range meats).

We paid off our furniture store credit card, just over a $1,000 balance.  This permanently eliminates a monthly payment as we have no other furniture needs at this time. 

While it had a roving balance, we consistently paid off our Firestone credit card in full.  Over $2,000 went on it in 2011 (all for the truck, sigh), but we ended up at $0 several months before the year ended.

The Not-So-Sures

We bought a car.  We made a purchase we haven't regretted and our lovely little Mazda 6 will last for another 10 years.  The downside is that we're paying $200 a month on a $10,000 loan.  We needed the car, no doubts about it, I just don't like having to take on so much debt to ensure transportation.  But it is what it is and I love that car!

We voluntarily raised our rent from $750 to $785 so we could add a garage.  This is much cheaper than renting a storage unit, but that's also over $400 we're paying extra annually.  

We also added to Mike's student debt as he was a student for most of the year ($10k +).  He didn't qualify for Guard tuition assistance because we missed the application cutoff by the time we made the decision late in 2010.  This is a necessary investment given employers' relunctance to hire non-degreed veterans, but it's one I hope we'll get a return on and, more importantly, can pay off.

We started using our savings account this year.  We never got to a place where we had a true emergency fund (3+ months of your bills), but it was an ok start.  On the upshot, once money is moved to savings, we are VERY relunctant to take it out.  That's a good mindset we can capitalize on.
The Not-So-Goods

We still have credit card debt.  $6,500 in fact.  $5,000 of that is all on one card, which we had excluded from our goals last year.  Unfortunately, the two bank cards that were our primary targets frequently were paid off but shortly had balances again.  They currently have $700 a piece.  Not pleased.

Slooooowww progress was made on our student loan debt.  I lowered two of mine by 6% and 4%.  Unfortunately, I'm on an interest-only payment for my federal loans and I quite depressingly only lowered the total by 1%.  On a $25,000+ loan, that's pennies. 

We didn't do a good job tracking what when in and what went out.  I can tell you from our bills how much we paid in total for water, rent, or internet, but I wasn't tracking groceries, gas, restaurants, or supplies.   

2012 and Beyond

This year will be highly unusual with Mike gone for half of the year overseas.  That also translates to a huge influx in income as he'll make in 6 months what I do in a year.  We're still evaluating our goals for 2012, but debt reduction will continue to be at the top of the list.

How did you fair last year?  What were your successes?

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