Sunday, April 5, 2009

Making Financial Progress and Dealing with Setbacks!

After Christmas this past year (December 2008), my husband and I decided we needed to do something about our financial situation. We had tons of debt and weren't making much progress paying it off. If anything, it seemed like we were sinking further and further into debt. On New Years Eve day, my husband picked up a copy of Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover book. He read the first few chapters and suggested that I read the first few chapters so we could start discussing it. I picked it up and read the whole thing cover to cover in one sitting! It was exactly what we needed! My husband read through the book the first week of January and we decided to start following Dave's babysteps. Step#1 is a "Baby Emergency Fund" or $1000 in the bank. We began to work hard at getting this money put aside. We also looked for ways to increase our income and decrease our spending. I began searching the web for sites that talked about bargain shopping and couponing. Fred began gathering stuff that we could sell on ebay. We both got serious about not spending money frivolously and we made a budget.

At the beginning of February, after nearly a month of work and trying to stick to our budget, some of our credit cards had gone up! We were shocked since we hadn't used them at all and had made the minimum payments, but we found that we had various subscription items that were automatically being deducted from these accounts. We quickly cancelled these subscription items and began looking for ways to come up with extra money for our emergency fund. We also revised our budget and started talking about Babystep 2...the Debt Snowball! In mid February, our church began Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. This has been a major help for us. By the end of February, we had a $1000 emergency fund in the bank and were chipping away at our debt snowball.

When March approached, we felt like we were starting to get the hang of things. Our budget didn't need much revising and we had made some progress on our debt. Somehow, things went haywire in mid March. To backtrack a little, on Christmas eve, a guy that has done some handyman work for us in the past (I'll call him D), showed up at our door with his wife and three kids (one of which is an infant). D told us that he had lost his apartment and didn't have anywhere to live. He asked if he could live in one of our rental properties. He told us he was starting a new job the first week of January and would be able to pay, but that he didn't have money to pay up front. He told us he would be happy to do work for us in exchange for the inital cost of moving in. Fred and I wanted to be generous and we felt bad for this family with no home on Christmas Eve. We had him sign a lease agreeing that he would begin paying rent in January and that he would pay us back for the utilites in January and put the utilities in his name in February. January came and went and D didn't pay us. We got his utility bills and they totalled $1000 for the month. We called and he promised to pay that week. The next month was more of the rent, no utility money, and lots of money out of pocket for us. When March rolled around, my husband sat down and had a talk with D. During the previous months, Fred had told D where to go to get assistance with housing and with utility costs, but D wasn't willing to put forth the effort. Fred told him that we didn't have the money to continue paying their utility bills and that we needed to get money from him or he would have to move out. D told us he totally understood if we needed to evict him. We began the eviction process (I'm not sure why D didn't just leave), but told D that if he paid us some of the back rent and utilities, we'd be happy to keep him as a tenant. He promised to get us money that week...and again it didn't happen. It was now mid March and our hearing was scheduled for the 13th.

On March 11th, I awoke at 1 am to loud sounds coming from the basement... I've blogged quite a bit about this, so by now I'm sure you now what the sounds were. Our basement was flooding! After 5 hours of baling (and the addition of 2 more sump pumps, it seemed like things were under control. At 1 pm, Fred called to tell me that our basement had flooded. In one hour, the waters rose almost 4 feet! We ended up moving into a hotel for the remainder of the week. When I finished itemizing what had been destroyed in our basement, the total cost of goods exceeded our insurance by almost $20,000.

On March 13th, (while we still staying in the hotel) Fred headed to court for eviction proceedings. D didn't show up, even though he'd been served and knew when the court hearing was and our eviction was approved. When Fred called to tell D that he needed to move out, he promised he would be out within a week and that he would leave the place spotless. He apologized profusely for not paying and told us that leaving the place spotless was the least he could do!

It's taken nearly three weeks to start feeling like things were back under control after the flood and this week Fred headed to our rental property to make sure everything was in good working order before we began looking for another tenant. What he found was completely disturbing. The house was filled with much trash that we had to rent a UHaul trailer for the weekend to haul stuff to the dump. It took multiple trips with a 5 x 8 trailer and another 10-12 lawn and leaf bags full of trash that was put on the curb. There were also tons of beer cans in the basement and it smelled like a bar down there! When all is said and done, our act of kindness will have cost us over $3,000...definitely not what you want to do when you're trying to make progress in your finances.

With all that has happened in the last month, I was scared out of my mind to sit down and revise our budget and review our finances. Amazingly enough, looking back at everything that has gone on, we still have made progress in the last 3 months. This past month, we ended up using our emergency fund in it's entirety, but it could have been soooo much worse. We are so thankful that we had principles in place to help ensure that this disaster didn't totally derail us. By the end of April, we hope to have our emergency fund back in place and be working on our debt snowball again.

I know this has been a rambling and long post, but I wanted to remind you that life will happen and that there will be things that happen to you that will set you back financially. Do not give up! Keep plugging away! You may not be able to make the progress you have been making, but if you can make it through without going further in debt, good for you! That's a huge victory! If you're struggling with your finances and you don't know where to start, I highly recommend reading Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover book or enrolling in Financial Peace University! For more information on Dave Ramsey, click here!

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