Tuesday, October 1, 2019

How LoA is helping me deal with my student loans

In June, as my school year came to a close I filled out the paperwork to track my progress toward student loan forgiveness (under the public service program).  This action created quite the upheaval in my student loan life.  You see, by filling out this form, it triggered the movement of my loans from Great Lakes (the company servicing my loans for the past few years) to Fed Loans (the organization that services people in the Public Service Forgiveness Program).  By August, the folks at Fed Loans had generated a groovy little report for me that told me how many payments I've made toward forgiveness.  Right now, it looks like I have just under 6 years of payments until until I am eligible for the rest to be forgiven.

I'm really not counting on this forgiveness program for several reasons.  First, I am not convinced that I will still be working full time in 6 years.  Moreover, I do not like putting myself in a position where I "have to" do so simply because I am relying on someone to forgive my student loans.  If I want to do something else in life, I'm going to do it.  So, why did I even bother to file the paperwork?  Because of the unknown.  Maybe I will still be teaching full time in 6 years, and maybe there will still be a balance to be forgiven.  While there is any uncertainty, it doesn't hurt me to file the annual paperwork.

I'm already eligible for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness which would generate about $5,000 in forgiveness (the $17,500 that teachers like to talk about only applies to certain license areas like Math, Science, Special Education...  Look at the fine print so you know what you're really getting yourself into).  You can't really double dip with these two programs.  If I pull the trigger on the five grand, the clock gets reset toward the Public Loan Forgiveness.  In other words, I would be suddenly on payment 1 of 120 again rather than payment 50 of 120.  So, if/when I make that choice, I had better be really certain of my plan, and I am still working that out.  My partner and I are going to buy a Condo/Co-op.  After that we can reset our goals.  So, until then, I will keep eyeballing the situation.

The truth is that I'm feeling really good about the situation because I really feel like I've got options, and I see several ways in which I will pay these off.  By Law of Attraction standards this is key, feeling good.  When you feel good about the actions you're taking, you know you are on the right track.  Feeling good is also how you know that your actions are "inspired actions" as opposed to ones based in fear or scarcity mindset.  Fear and scarcity mindset are abundance repellent.

There was one thing I wasn't feeling great about.  When I submitted my information for the annual review of my IBR (Income Based Repayment Plan), they increased my payment by about $100 per month.  I can pay it, so it's fine, but what I didn't feel great about was not understanding why.  My income hadn't really changed from my perspective.  My increases as a teacher are really tiny unfortunately, and I had dropped some side gigs, so I figured things would stay roughly the same.  After the transition to the new servicer, I called in to have them reviewed.  Apparently the tiny increase I did get placed me in a bracket that made me ineligible for a "reduced payment" which I had previously gotten.  Understanding that made me feel pretty good about the whole thing.

What happened next was that the woman on the phone explained that if I switched into the Revise Pay As You Earn plan, I could qualify for the payment to be $100 cheaper again.  This payment plan is also one that is eligible for Pubic Service Loan forgiveness.  So, it seemed like a no brainer.  She filled in the application and emailed it to me.  She explained that if I don't send it back, nothing changes.  If I do send it back, they'll switch my plan.  Then she explained one more thing.  If I switch plans, this one particular plan has a somewhat strange detail to it.  Month number one under this "new plan" would not count toward forgiveness and would be of any dollar amount I decided (as long as it was at least $5).  So, on month number one, I would pay five bucks and not get credit toward forgiveness.  Then month two, my payments would be $100 less than they are currently.  I told the woman that I would speak with my partner about the details, and then decide.  We work as a team an like to discuss these matters.

I came home with all of this information for her.  She said "How do you feel?  Literally, what does your gut tell you?"

"Don't do it.  Stick with the plan I'm currently on. What does your gut say?" I responded.

"Exactly the same.  Switching doesn't feel right."  She agreed with me.

You see, on the surface, this looks like a no-brainer, saving $100 a month...  But actually, it would cost me more in the long run.  I really don't want to be under the weight of student loans forever, and I don't really want to feel forced to work full time until forgiveness.  While saving an extra $100 a month would be great, given we're looking to move into another home in the near future, this $100 would literally just pile up more interest that I would either have to pay off or keep working full time to obtain forgiveness on.  Both scenarios trigger a scarcity mindset and feel very entrapping.  I don't like the way that feels.  My freedom is worth a lot to me.  Offering me a "savings" of $100 a month feels like it's tricking me into being on the hook for longer in every sense of the word.  Again, that doesn't feel good.  Feeling powerful draws money in; feeling bad repels it.

Do we need some more math to appease the mind?  If I keep paying the same monthly payment I am currently on for the next 6 years, I will have paid an amount equal to 85% of the current balance.  Of course interest will be thrown on top of that during that time, but if I'm going to spend that much money anyway, does it seem "logical" to wait to spend that much.  If in the next 12 months, I paid the same dollar amount that these payments would have me pay off in 6 years, and apply for the Teacher Loan Forgiveness for my $5000, these loans would be 91% wiped out and I would have bought my freedom.  Oh, and here's another one!  The student loans are broken into four smaller loans, two of which have an estimated payoff date that's 6 months before they're eligible for forgiveness.  Hmmm..  Doesn't sound like a great deal to me.  The other two loans will theoretically still be in repayment, but still... Of course this assumes my payments remain the same as they are now... But how will the payments change if I get married?  At that point will there be more than $5000 left of the two loans still in repayment? Plus any forgiveness amount becomes income on my taxes the next year... and the time...

Both of these repayment scenarios work out "logically," but how do they feel?  Which scenario makes me feel powerful?  Honestly, the second one makes me feel powerful.  I want to be free because then, I can wake up every morning and decide what I am doing with my day, and not have it decided for me.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

How my intuition helped me cut my cell phone bill in half

Sometimes our intuition is really our best guide, isn't it?  The concept is classic Law of Attraction.  Our intuition is really our internal guidance system at work, acting as a sort of GPS, showing us where to go; that is, if we're listening.  I've talked about how my intuition helped me to know how much money I wanted to save (and do so without stressing out about it).  Recently, it's been nagging me to deal with our household budget...

Our budget has been pretty stable for years.  We initially used the 50/20/30 Rule popularized by Elizabeth Warren in order to evaluate whether or not we had a decent balance in appropriate categories.  It provides a nice framework because it's both simple enough and specific enough to help you to categories and evaluate where you are spending your money.   Over the years we've trimmed the fat to such an extent that our necessities only comprise  about 35% of our after tax income so as to reallocate those funds to our financial goals.  This  accomplishment brings a tremendous amount of joy into my life.  I derive great pleasure from saving, investing, and eliminating debt because doing these things makes me feel like I am investing in my own freedom.  I can't think of anything I'd rather spend money on.  We cut the cable cord and felt amazing about the money we freed up.  Meal planning has kept our grocery budget extremely stable, and we rarely spend money on dining out.  All in all, I've been feeling great about the dollar amounts we trade for the services we receive in the form of bills.  This is a good thing.  Feeling good about these things  is a pretty good indicator that you're achieving a positive flow with your money, in other words, balance.  It's really important to understand that we really do want money to flow, and in both directions.  While that might leave you scratching your head a bit, just think about it.  You clearly want money flow effortlessly into your life, but don't you want the flowing out to feel effortless also?  People joking declare that they have no problem "spending money!"  But spending money and letting it flow are two different things.  It's easy to spend money, and feel terrible about it.  This is your intuition (internal guidance system) kicking in to make you aware of the fact that it might not be flowing well.  If money is flowing (even when it's outgoing), you will probably feel good about the trade that's occurring.  For example, I feel really good about the kinds of meals we prepare and eat.  I enjoy them; they feel healthy.  I also feel like I am receiving wonderful things for a price that feels good to me.  That part of my budget is flowing for me.  In fact, pretty much all of the parts of my budget are flowing for me.

Except one...  When I think about our bills, I feel really happy.  It's like a game, and I'm winning.  I am receiving goods and services I want.  I am trading an amount of money for them that feels really good to me...  Except this one thing.  For the past several months, whenever I think about our cell phone bill coming out, I feel irritated about it.  With everything else, I feel great.  Suddenly, when it's my cell phone bill, there's this huge cloud of resistance around it.  That resistance is really my internal guidance system dropping some major hints.  It's time to take some inspired action.  I mean, seriously!  I feel terrible about my cell phone bill because  I feel as though there is an imbalance when comparing the price I've been paying with the service being provided to me.  So, really I have two choices.  I can either use this negative feeling to inspire me to take an action to change things or I can sit around and do nothing, feeling terrible every time the bill comes out of my account.  I'm the sort of person that chooses action.  I like to feel good, so I decided to do something about it.

My partner and I were on a cell phone plan that resulted in about $190 per month for two lines after taxes and fees.  That felt insane to me.  Every time I'd look at the bill, I'd be irritated by some ridiculous seeming "line access fee."  They were charging us $40 per phone line for the plan, but then another $40 or so per phone line for each smart phone attached to the plan.  That already brought the total up to $160 before they attach their misc taxes and other fees.  Every time I though about it, it made my blood boil.  Honestly, the only way I could stop feeling angry (and ripped off) was to start investigating and figure out how to get rid of the thing that felt the worst to me: the line access fee.    Well, after some investigation, I figured out that if I switched to a prepaid plan, that fee would literally be eliminated.  They only charge a "line access fee" an regular "post pay" accounts.  The prepaid accounts do not have this fee.  There's no logic in it to me, but that's what I learned.  I chatted Verizon online, and they ensured me that they could have this whole thing switched and taken care of withing 30 minutes.  Long story short, it took them 4 hours.  I'm not kidding!  4 hours!  It was really one of the most frustrating customer service experiences of my life.  In the end, I got a prepaid plan that cost me $75 for both lines (double the data we used to have) before taxes.  That's a huge savings!  Now, I feel really pretty good about my cell phone bill; much better than before, at least.  I still have some negative emotions that surround the experience, plus one additional negative.  When I travel to Canada or Mexico, I can only use my cell phone if I pay an additional fee of $5 per day.  That leaves a bad taste in my mouth...  In other words, I think my internal guidance system (intuition) is trying to tell  me something.  I feel significantly better with this prepaid plan (A WIN) but I'm not feeling great about the company due to a really bad experience switching and a poor international usage plan.  This indicates to me that my work in this part of our budget isn't done yet.  I think we really need to switch carriers.  My intuition pretty much always steers me right, and I imagine this time is no different.  My intuition steered me to cutting our cell phone bill nearly in half, perhaps now it can steer me to better international usage and customer service experiences.

If any readers have a cell phone company/plan that is inexpensive and has a good international usage element to it, I would really love to hear about it.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Giving Up Side Gigs- An LoA Standpoint

In the recent posts The Price of Busy and The Price of Busy- Part 2, I have detailed for you the experience I've had with regards to my side gigs.  I have explained my thought processes as I've decided to give them up, and the monetary ramifications (or lack thereof) of doing so.  You see, I've white-knuckled my finances for the better portion of my life, grinding away at every task before me.  The truth is that I've gotten pretty good at that over the years, and it started to take its toll on me.  I think my belief in the Law of Attraction existed before I knew that terminology for it.  The concept that like attracts like is pretty easy to understand (though can feel fairly complicated to apply in certain areas of life).  The funny thing is that I didn't apply it to the white-knuckling of my finances.  If like attracts like, then grinding away attracts more grinding away.  In other words, by constantly working myself to the bone in order to get ahead, I basically just set myself up to continually need to do that.

Don't misunderstand me.  I am a proponent of taking inspired actions in order to facilitate success, but it doesn't need to be that hard.  I proved that to myself when I set and achieved my last savings goal. It was time to apply the same principle to my side-gig situation.  I was tired of feeling so exhausted.  I wanted to continue to earn extra income but wanted to earn it through another one of my passions...

For months, I had been chipping away at an opportunity... and the funny thing is that I fully believed that the opportunity would come through.  But what would happen when it came through?  I had my time so stuffed with other things that I wouldn't have had the time to devote to it.

I had been performing the first step, I had placed my order.  What I had failed to do was allow it to happen.  Think about it.  You would literally never order a dresser for your bedroom, but fail to make room for it to be placed there when it arrives.  Why would I do this with my opportunity?  I had placed my order with the universe for the opportunity to arrive and then failed to make space for it to come into my life.  That was until last Spring.  I had decided with my partner that I was going to scale back on my side-gigs so as to reclaim my time.  I had already dropped the ACT/SAT proctoring gig.  By June, I had wrapped up PM School and Saturday School classes.  After a relaxing summer of travel, I returned to school in the fall prepared to pass on the extra teaching gigs.  It was easier said than done.  Since everyone was used to me performing these functions at work, they naturally anticipated that I would continue to do so.  People kept asking despite the fact that I continued to say "No."  That part was difficult for me.  It was uncomfortable to say "No."  With each additional ask, I grew a little stronger.  I was kind about it, but the answer was still the same.  "No."  Then an email came out announcing that there would be a meeting with regards to this program and inviting all interested parties to attend.  I felt so much anxiety about this meeting.  Normally, I would go.  I knew this time would be different, but old habits die hard.  I was used to "the grind" and having a hard time divorcing myself from it.  The meeting was scheduled for 3:00 on a Friday afternoon.  I remember class let out at 2:40.  I quickly packed up and headed for the bus stop.  I finally grabbed a seat and promptly started playing on my cell phone.  At 3:40, not quite home yet, I hit the email button on my cell phone.  I noticed an email that made my heart race...

It was a correspondence about the magazine.  My column was approved!  I was to immediately begin working as a personal finance columnist in a national publication!

This was everything I had "ordered from the universe," and it was no coincidence that it was delivered to me 40 minutes after I did NOT appear at that meeting.  I had ordered the dresser long ago, but I had to make room for it to be delivered!  To put this another way, I had to take an "inspired action."  By rejecting the verbal offers, then not attending this meeting, I had made space for the delivery of the thing I wanted... And I received it!

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Credit Card Points and Investments

We're often told that nothing in life is free, but there are times where that may not exactly be the case.  Recently, I did get something for nothing, and it was money.

Not long ago, I received a letter in the mail from my credit union.  The letter stated that the rewards system on my credit card was being changed, and requested that I use my points before a certain date.  Admittedly, I had more or less forgotten about the rewards attached to this credit card due to a lack of use.  I don't use this credit card all that often, but keep it open because it is my oldest card, and doesn't charge me an international fee when I travel.  I don't pay an annual fee for this card, I always pay it off once by the due date, so I never pay interest.  Honestly, whatever I'd use these points for would literally be free.

I logged into the rewards cite, and was inundated with choices: products, gift cards, cruises, hotels, flights, you name it...  I scoured a variety of travel options but couldn't settle on anything.  It seemed as though nothing in the travel section really matched my points available and potential travel dates at the same time.  So, I moved on to look at the gift cards.  I was thinking that if I could find any gift cards to places I already shopped, I could save myself money on things I already purchased.  It seemed like a logical second choice.  I found a few possibilities that didn't excite me but would certainly serve a practical purpose.  As I kept scrolling to survey the possibilities, I noticed something interesting: stock certificates!  That's right, I could trade in my points for stock certificates!

It turned out that I had accumulated enough points to earn several hundred dollars in stock certificates.  So, I traded them in.  It was incredibly easy.  I dropped the appropriate number of stock certificates into my "cart" and checked out.  Within 24 hours there was an email delivered providing me with a special code to use in order to redeem the corresponding dollar amount.  I didn't have a brokerage account with the participating company, so I had to open one.  It was super easy.  It took maybe 10 minutes.  Once, opened, I logged in the codes that corresponded with my several "certificates," and watched my available balance climb.  Now that the money is sitting in my account, I have choices.  I can either purchase stock or wait until I am ready to make a purchase (I decided to wait).  So, as I sit and watch the stock market bobble, my "free" money is there, ready for me to make my move.

Monday, July 8, 2019

The Price of Busy- Part 2

As you all know from my previous post, The Price of Busy, about a year ago, I gave up my consistent "side gigs."  I described the manner in which I evaluated the extra money in connection with the time I was giving up.  I dropped a number of side gigs that were consistently scheduled items; things that were eating up a certain amount of time per week, week in and week out.

I gained back a good amount of my time, and you want to know how much money I lost?  Very little actually.  When I started back to school in September, opportunities just kept presenting themselves.  I call them "one hit wonders."  They were a series of extra things I could do that would earn me extra cash, but not commit to every single week.  It was brilliant.  I could say yes to some and no to others depending on my level of interest, availability of time, and desire for extra cash.  I said yes to a few tasks that were fairly unexciting to me, but most of the things I said yes to were very interesting: some paid trainings on topics of interest, joining a committee that meets twice a month, scoring some exams for the state.  It did take a bit of my time, but I felt much less busy because they were mostly "one and done" commitments.

The monetary result?  The extra money I've earned since January of this year is equivalent to 14% of my gross income thus far.  That's pretty close to what it was last year at the same time actually, and the key is that I've been able to exercise a bit more control of my schedule.

Control of my schedule is something I'm really thinking about going forward as well.  I consider myself to be a part of the FI Community (FI stands for Financial Independence), and am actively working toward Financial Independence.  Many people on the journey toward FI or FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) work an absolute ton of hours now in order to achieve independence at a significantly earlier age than average.  I have done this in the past as well, and support people working as much as they'd like.  At this point though, I am forging my own path, one that is seeking location independence first and foremost.  I would also like to work toward part-time employment rather than full-time employment at some point.  I enjoy working, but it feels difficult to work full time and achieve a work-life balance at the simultaneously.  This is where personal finance gets personal.  I want to enjoy the journey as much as the destination.  What does this look like?  I'm still exploring that, and will be publishing that journey on this blog: both the financial and emotional aspects in the coming months.

What are you doing to reclaim your time?

Sunday, June 23, 2019

The Price of Busy

When we run into people we haven't seen for a while I've noticed they frequently say something to the tune of "How've you been?  Keeping busy?"  If you answer "Yes," this is a sign that you are doing well and everything is fine.  In fact, it seems to be something of a badge of honor.  Isn't it?

Exactly a year ago, I was engaged in several side gigs: PM School, Saturday School, SAT, ACT, and a few miscellaneous things here and there.  It filled my pocketbook, but not my spirit.  I found myself completely exhausted, tense, and stressed out.

I thought about things outside of work that I felt most passionate about: writing, acting, singing, directing, cooking, travel, meditation, exercise, and time with friends and family...  I didn't have time for any of them, at least not any substantial time.  Sure, I could sneak some of these things in the cracks of time remaining here and there, but it was just enough to know what I was missing--MY LIFE!

The money wasn't even as good as I thought it was!  The SAT/ACT didn't take any money out for taxes, cost me over an hour commuting, requires me to pay my accountant for an extra tax form...  When I took those things into consideration, it was only really paying me $10/hour (or slightly more)...  Hardly worth getting up at 5:00 AM on a Saturday for!  PM School and Saturday school paid well.  Well enough to place me into a higher tax bracket.  I didn't really enjoy PM school. It tacked an extra couple of hours onto my day, when I was already exhausted from a full day of teaching.  I am the sort of person that cares about doing a good job at things I take on,  it was difficult to feel like I could do my best under that level of exhaustion.  To further add to it, my students frequently skipped class.  If the students aren't there, then I'm tacking on extra hours to my day, but not actually helping students to accumulate credits.  To answer the question looming.. Yes, I would still get paid regardless.  But that didn't really matter.  If I wasn't helping students, I would prefer to get some of my time back.  Saturday school was a tutoring program where students could come in if they wanted extra help.  I enjoyed it actually.  I was going to continue it, but they increased the hours and changed it to a credit-bearing class.  These changes in programming left me feeling like it would simply be too much for me.  These programs would go on without me; the students would still get the support they needed.  The opportunity would simply float to another teacher.

I can always earn more money, but I will never get my time back.  I love my students, but I also love myself enough to recognize that I deserve time to pursue other passions as well.  By stacking my life with these side gigs, it was as if someone said they'd "pay me extra" to give up my passions.  For a short time, I actually said yes!  I finished the year strong, wrapping up all of the extra programs to which I had attached myself.  By years-end, I had decided that I was letting go of my position in those programs, and gift the opportunity to another teacher the following year.  The price of busy had simply become too high.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Pride Post: Marriage, Money, and the Power of Choice

I'll never forget where I was...It was June 26th, 2015...  I was cleaning out my desk, packing up my classroom for the summer when I noticed the buzzing of my cell phone against the desktop.  I glanced over to see that my partner had sent me a message.

"It finally happened.  The Supreme Court has ruled.  We won."

Cell phone in hand, I ran.  As fast as my feet would carry me down the hall, I ran.  I flew into the chemistry teacher's room with hot tears streaming down my face.  Without a word, he nodded and smiled.  His smile always seemed to carry some nugget of wisdom that streamed from a life filled with stories...

Eventually, we parted company that day, and I finally composed myself to send a message to my mother.

It simply read:

"I finally have the right to be like everyone else."

Those words have some real weight to them, the kind of weight that comes from a thousand little stories.  You see, this would be the appropriate place for me to describe the myriad of more technical financial gains we're entitled to tax statuses, survivor rights, insurance rights...  I am incredibly thankful for all of these things.  Many people fought long and hard to afford us these rights, ones I will never take for granted.  Rather than, going down that road, I think I'd prefer to get a bit more personal.

I will get married.

So many people have asked us "What's taken so long?"  We've been together for 12 years now (as of the date of this post).  What straight people don't realize is that we never thought we could get married.  Some people were ready right away, and that's wonderful.  It's taken me a little longer.  I really didn't ever feel like I "needed" to get married.  I still don't, but it occurs to me that I've framed that wrong.  I wake up every morning and choose my partner, and she chooses me.  So eventually, we will do that as a married couple, and I'm proud of that.

For a number of years, some of the various financial aspects of getting married concerned me.  I'm proud to say that they don't anymore.  At all.  We've more or less ironed out those kinks.  I've always had wonderful financial habits.  My partner?  Less so.  But I really have to give her credit where credit is due.  She really rose to the occasion.  At first, I think she was motivated by a combination of things: me and wanting to feel less financial stress.  Who can blame her?  A nagging partner and empty wallet aren't exactly the best for finding your zen!  She started small, focusing on one step at a time.  As she saw more success, she gained more confidence.  As she gained more confidence, she became a more willing participant in our overall household finances, and that is huge!  I really need to have a partner that is willing to engage with me on that level.  Not only was she willing to do this for me, but she was also willing to love herself enough to do it for her.  Now she has an Accounting Degree, Tax Preparer License, excellent credit, a substantial personal savings (in addition to our joint one), and two retirement accounts that she funds.  Boy does she commit! I'm incredibly proud of her and feel confident that I can trust her completely with money and pretty much everything else.

If you're in a relationship right now, I'd like you to ask yourself:  Can my partner trust me financially?  Can I trust my partner financially?  I am proud that I can answer "yes" on both accounts.  If your answer is anything else, it may be time to love yourself and your relationship enough to start the conversation.