The War on Debt: Here, Have a Debt Sandwich

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I hope at some point in the future I will feel empowered by this attempt at debt repayment…

But right now, I feel nothing but anxiety.

The process of poring over bank statements to fit our expenditures into categories—as I rack my brain to remember my purchases—is exhausting.

Remind me why I’m looking at these ugly, red numbers?

I know why.

I ached to go to Ireland this year. An esteemed friend and writing mentor of mine is conducting a ten-day writing workshop on the Fair Isle this spring. An expensive trip, but the trip of a lifetime, with an itinerary to make any lover of both travel and writing salivate.

I heard about it a year ago, but behind my polite smile, I knew there was no way I could afford to go, much less bring my husband, who needs a vacation as much as I do.

This is the power of money. It represents either freedom or bondage, and it appears I’m not the only one in chains.

In September 2016, Statistics Canada reported that Canadians owe $1.67 for every $1 of disposable income. And later on in December, Equifax announced that the average Canadian consumer debt load had grown to $22,081—which doesn’t include mortgages.

Three-Step Process

In January, I gathered my courage and plugged our numbers into the HowToSaveMoney.ca Budget planner, beginning with the “Simple Three-Step Process” (Hmm. It’s simple, but it’s not easy). Here are the results.

1. SET Your Goals

I only have two goals:

  • To pay off our line of credit within five years, and
  • To make a monthly contribution to a savings account which will fund necessities and decrease or eliminate our use of credit.

Related: 12 Easy Ways to Increase Your Credit Score

2. TRACK Income and Expenses

It will take a few months to get a clearer picture of what we spend, where and when.

There are some expenses in January that I added in even though we paid them earlier, like the quarterly water bill, for example. Our property taxes are included in our mortgage and remitted to the province by the bank, so I didn’t have to include that.

And there wasn’t a category for bank fees per se (we pay $12.95 monthly for a business account).

In the coming months, we may or may not choose to maintain that account, but for now I placed it in the “other” category of recurring bills.

Related: How To Save Money On Your Mortgage

3. REFLECT On Results

Yikes.

After all is said and done at the end of the month, there is about $200 left over, only because we are not paying any more than the monthly interest on The Colossus. We are not touching the principal at all.

I didn’t include my own dismal and unpredictable income. Using only my husband’s income (which is pretty good, if it weren’t for all this damn debt) we are barely covering the basics.

If we missed a paycheque, we’d be screwed.

So What Can I Trim?

After our mortgage, food costs for our family of five are our largest expenditure—around $800 in January, which is less than usual. Could we reduce it to say, $700?

The personal care category added up to around $180—haircuts for the boys, cosmetics and shampoo. I could shave off a little, but I feel guilty and peevish at the same time. If I can’t go to Ireland, why can’t my consolation be a $50 wrinkle cream?

Overall, though, there wasn’t much waste. At least in January I only spent money on coffee three times, amounting to around $25, and bought lunch once at the mall for ten bucks. Some past months, I’ve spent far more. But I think two or three times per month is acceptable, for the sake of my sanity. (More on this in coming blogs.)

Related: How To Budget Without Tracking Every Dollar

In two instances we took cash withdrawals. One of them was used for purchases at the cash-only Saturday Farmer’s Market. The other withdrawal is now a mystery to me. I have long forgotten what that $60 was used for. No more of that!

Our Internet, phone and cable is bundled for a reasonable price. For The Breadwinner, who works at home in the tech industry, a reliable Internet connection is absolutely essential. I could consider giving up my phone, which isn’t essential. I’ll deal with all these things in coming blogs.

Freedom from Financial Servitude

So I could trim $200-250 in order to throw it on The Colossus…

...but it’s just a sip of orange juice to his breakfast.

It’s simply not enough to free myself from Permanent Financial Servitude.

In order to achieve my goal, I would have to pay roughly $1200 per month, plus the interest payment, which would increase it to around $1600.

This is an ambitious payment. It is the equivalent of a full-time, minimum-wage job—an extra $24,000 dollars (gross) a year. Netting around twenty grand is just enough to make the payment—leaving little for savings. A higher income would let us breathe a little.

Breathing would be nice.

Besides broken appliances or beds that need replacing, the worst discretionary income killer has always been car repairs. The air conditioner seizes, the muffler fell off, the transmission is wonky—but you’re still paying for the vehicle, so you can’t kiss it goodbye.

Related: Know How Much Car Repairs Should Cost

These incidentals are what have forced us to use our credit card, because our line of credit is full, so we frequently have a two-credit problem instead of one, although because of interest rates we do our best to pay off our credit card as soon as possible.

I haven’t mentioned other incidentals, like uninsured health needs—braces for a teenager, perhaps? We’ve done this twice, because of necessity, and we paid both times with credit. Only about $2,000 of the total cost was insured. That’s about twelve grand, right there.

(The orthodontist drives a shiny, red Mercedes, by the way. You’re welcome.)

My Two Choices

I think this amply demonstrates the need for a savings account. I have two choices. Try to substantially increase my freelancing contracts, or find a nine-to-fiver.

Sounds simple, right? Just go out and get a job.

It isn’t.

I have been a stay-at-home-parent and part-time freelancer for two decades. My life’s goal is to publish novels, and in the last 15 years I’ve written one manuscript after another (in case you wonder what I do all day, besides the occasional copywriting gig) but I have not sold anything yet. To relieve our situation, I have tried to find salaried work in PR/communications or related fields, but to no avail.

I’d rather go back to an office than build a bigger client list. This may require upgrading my software skills and perhaps language, as well—since I live in a bilingual area. These are significant investments of time and money, neither of which I can afford.

Would an employment counselor help? It’s so humbling, dear readers.

In the meantime, it looks like LinkedIn is my new best friend.

Follow the Debt Dispatcher’s Story

The War on Debt: Notes from the Front Line

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Comments

Mrs. Picky Pincher's picture

Mr. Picky Pincher and I rejected a few trip-of-a-lifetime opportunities to save our money instead. It's a bummer at the time but I honestly haven't regretted it at all. Eliminating debt has been more freeing than staying in debt. It's not easy (and that's why people don't pay off debt!), but it's worth it.

So do you have a savings account or emergency fund currently? We built one and it's the only reason we feel comfortable paying off a crapton of debt. It's very nerve-wracking to pay such high amounts on debt without emergency cash in the bank, which is what we used to do, so I feel ya.

Good luck with the employment search if that's what your next step needs to be. :)

March 16, 2017 @ 10:26 am
DebtDispatcher
DebtDispatcher's picture

Missing the trip was a definite bummer. I cried while I wrote that part. (Ssh...don't tell anyone.) But, I'm sure you are right. There will be other trips, especially after the debt is not so constricting.

We do not currently have a savings account, but stay tuned! Subsequent blogs will deal with that issue. We do need an emergency fund.

March 16, 2017 @ 11:49 am
Cheryl's picture

That's too bad about the trip to Ireland. Trip of a lifetime.

As for trimming, I'm not sure where you live, and for sure prices are often higher in the winter for some items, but it seems like more money could be trimmed from the grocery budget. Don't take kids shopping with you for starters! The tough thing I find out about shopping is something that's not on my list but its on sale, and so I stock up. I'm sure you could do a search online for ways to trim the grocery budget.

As for bundling the phone, cable, and Internet, generally I found the savings were only something like $5 per service. Do you need a phone? If you have a cell phone you can probably ditch the land line and save yourself around $300/year. If you have a cell phone, look around for different, lower priced plans if you're not using all your minutes. As for the cable, do you just have the minimum channels or do you have all kinds of packages. One of my friends ditched the cable and has Netflix around $10/month.

And I hear you on the car bills. That's about the only thing I ever use my credit card for. Around $2000 last year :(

March 17, 2017 @ 2:19 am
DebtDispatcher
DebtDispatcher's picture

Thanks, Cheryl. All good tips. Currently our Internet and cell phone is bundled with basic cable and a landline. We'd like to get rid of the latter two, but the offer was cheaper with them than without in order to get unlimited data. We never watch television--only streamed content.

March 20, 2017 @ 10:01 am
AK
AK's picture

Hi there,
I do think that you can trim your grocery bills. If you cook homemade meals , you would be surprised how cheaply you can feed a family of 5. Especially , if you are working from home. Just put a pot on the stove or slow cooker and you can create a wonderful meal. Hair cuts: there is such a thing as Super Cuts which is much cheaper. I buy shampoo in bulk when on sale.
3 coffees for $25.00. You must be getting lattes. Try regular coffee and skip " Starbucks" which is over priced.
I remember when cars did not have airconditioning. People managed. If a car is old, don't fix the air conditioner. Open the window.
As well. Get a digital antenna and TV is free.
Get Netflix for movies.
Get rid of cable service and just keep the internet.
Cell phone .. Public Mobile is pretty cheap. Forget the land phone.
As for dental costs, I wonder if all dentists charge the same. Are braces costing the same? Would it have been worth it to have shopped around? I had a dentist that did my crowns and her work was outstanding . I paid much less ( half the money) than having gone to a specialist. Perhaps the costs for braces was unavoidable.. but did you check ..

March 18, 2017 @ 3:49 pm
DebtDispatcher
DebtDispatcher's picture

Hello, AK: Thanks for the tips. All good points. I will be addressing groceries next time, plus my catastrophic coffee habit in an upcoming blog.

We did get quotes from a couple of local competing dentists. We went with the cheapest guy, although the prices I found were fairly similar. It's a racket, I tells ya.

And, with the current patient, dental surgery will also be necessary in addition to the braces, probably this year. We will have to plan for that expenditure.

As for the air conditioning, leaving it broken would have been okay with us, but in the 2010 minivan we drove, for some reason we had to fix it because it was connected to other necessary systems. I can't remember exactly--the memory is the first to go!

March 20, 2017 @ 10:10 am
Web Wreckage Stephen's picture

Hey DD,

Thanks for sharing your journey so far; even before you mentioned crying while writing part of your post I suspected that putting something like that out there had be a sobering experience since just committing to dealing with our own debt can often be a kind of shock to the system. You should definitely take some pride in your disciplined approach so far.

Some people on here are telling you to get rid of cable and your landline but since you said that they are part of a bundle/package deal, I was just wondering if you are under contract? If so it would probably cost you some kind of fee to break it early - I know that some providers love to nail customers with early cancellation fees based on the remaining number of months left in their contract which almost makes breaking it unfeasible. One tip I have for you is if you are allowed to make changes to the type of smartphone plan you have without penalties, then check your providers current plan options every six months or so: I do this with Koodo (owned by Telus) and at least twice in the last year and a half I have found my provider offering the same amount of minutes and data that are in my existing plan at a cheaper price in a newer plan of theirs. Last time they had this was maybe around Black Friday, and I was able to switch online from my old plan ($45/month) to one of their promotional offers ($40/month) with the exact same minutes and data for $5 less per month - that's $60 saved over the next year in less than five minutes. :)

Finally, are you taking advantage of cash back opportunities online when they present themselves? I think pretty much everyone at this point knows about sites like ebates, but just from this site recently did I learn about the more recent apps out there like Checkout 51 that let you scan or take a picture of your grocery receipt and get some cash back from doing so.

Finally, if you are shopping in a larger store for your groceries, you might benefit from learning what time of day they do their regular merchandise discounts; I am in Western Canada (Vancouver, BC), and I am a loyal Superstore shopper and have pretty much figured out when each department slaps the 30% off stickers on their shelf stock - in fact they even have a section of the store dedicated to the 30% off inventory and I regularly see everything there from cans of soup and coffee, to infant training briefs, to household cleaning products. I find it is usually worth my time to skim the selection.

Sorry for throwing so much at you here. ;)

Best of luck to you and your family moving forward with your challenges and goals!

March 24, 2017 @ 8:15 am
Ana
Ana's picture

Dear DebtDispatcher,
Thanks so much for this hard and honest look on debt and finances. I had (still have) this full-time, permanent job which thought I'll stay at until I can find another option. Unexpectedly, unpleasant events at the job affected my mental health and I had to go on a three month paid stress leave. After my return, nothing had changed; problems that were there before the leave, were there after the leave. So I have been applying for other jobs, but if I don't find something by June, I might quit the job and go to school (a scary thought, sometimes). My point is that I couldn't agree more with your statement: "This is the power of money. It represents either freedom or bondage." If we didn't have the savings that we have today, I wouldn't even start thinking of quitting a place that is unhealthy for me. Having those savings provided me with choice and freedom to take my next step, however scary. I should remind myself of this the next time I want to make an unnecessary purchase... I'm prone to those frequently...

Keep on writing ,DebtDispatcher!!!
Your biggest fan

March 28, 2017 @ 1:19 pm
DebtDispatcher
DebtDispatcher's picture

Thanks for the tips, WWS!

Discipline is the thing. I find most people who are good savers and have their financial houses in order are much more organized and disciplined than I am. And they seemed to get a thrill out of saving a few bucks here and there. It's like they're hunting--it's a game.

For me, it's work, and it goes against my nature.

Telecommunications packages really get me steaming. There's no need for cell phones and cable/internet to be so damned expensive. It's complete and utter greed, if you ask me. NOT ENOUGH COMPETITION in Canada. I think we pay some of the highest rates in the world? As we say on the east coast: "Start me pas, la."

Right now, Two cell phones are bundled together with Rogers, and the contract is up in September. One of them is mine, and one of them belongs to my oldest daughter who will probably be out of the house by then. And mine is barely working now--when I buy a new one, I'll shop for a deal and I'm likely to just get a phone with no data at all--just phone and text. (That will probably merit a blog post, along with some other upcoming expenditures.)

Our landline is bundled with our unlimited data internet and cable with Bell--nobody watches TV, so we didn't want the cable, but the available packages were cheaper with it than without. (Can you spell CROOKS, boys and girls?) It's a last ditch effort to save television for the under 50 crowd, if you ask me. We have a three-year contract. I'm not quite sure when it's up, or what we'll do when it is.

Unlimited internet is necessary for us since three people work at home.

We will likely get rid of the landline next time.

As for groceries, I do watch for deals, although I couldn't tell you exactly when they're going to occur. My next blog post (posting Thursday, I think) will address grocery shopping and the food budget. Thanks for your interest.

March 28, 2017 @ 1:54 pm
DebtDispatcher
DebtDispatcher's picture

Dear Ana:

Thanks for your comments.

Some would say that time is a more valuable commodity than money, because you can always earn more money--somehow, some way--but you can never generate more time. So keep that in mind--Your mental health is always more important than money. There are other paths to take and other jobs. If you would like to go to school, then do it.

I'm so glad you have enough resources to give you that choice. That is a great testimony. I say this with the slightest amount of envy. It is the position I would like to be in myself.

Best wishes for your health and happiness.

March 28, 2017 @ 2:07 pm

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