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“When Things Get Tough, Make Good Art”

Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech

The link above will take you to a wonderful YouTube video that I highly recommend (sorry I couldn’t just attach it to the blog, we’re free users)!  For those of you not familiar with Mr. Gaiman, he is a successful author whose works include the comic book series “Sandman”, the novels “Good Omens” (with Terry Pratchett), “American Gods” (which is now set to be a T.V. series), “Stardust”, “Coraline” (which has been made into a movie), and my favorite, “Anansi Boys”.  He’s also been the winner of the Newbury Medal and The Bram Stoker Awards, just to name a couple.

Though this speech is not about saving money, it has some really important life lessons that can help us reach financial freedom and more importantly, happiness.

I do hope you all listen to this speech and please, really listen to it.  Then ask yourself, are all the decisions you’ve been making leading you toward your mountain?

-Lerma

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Irresponsibly Responsible

Our path to eliminate debt has not been easy or simple so far (and if you know me, you know my life hardly ever is). No matter how many times I crunch the numbers, research cost-effective options, and plan for every scenario I can think of, there’s always a wild card I could’ve never planned for.

About a month ago, a week before classes began, at graduate school orientation, I found out that the GI Bill I earned as a veteran would not be enough cover my tuition. It wouldn’t even be close. I would’ve needed nearly $60,000 in loans to complete the degree due to a stipulation I had been asking about for several months that I was told wasn’t a problem. What a time to find out it actually was a problem! I withdrew from the university and applied to another university that did not have the same stipulation the first organization did regarding the GI Bill. So late in the game, the second university could only accept me as a non-degree student in a different field than I had intended to study. While changing the course of my educational focus is upsetting enough, I was panicked about not being able to pay our rent. I had quit part of my job last year so I could attend grad school full time this year since we could use the monthly housing allowance to make up the deficit created by my downsized work schedule. With the last minute change of educational institution, and some sketchy wording in the policy around non-degree student status for the GI Bill, I am still nervous the GI Bill isn’t going to come through. We are still waiting and hoping for it to come through.

With this uncertainty, I officially, and thankfully only momentarily, became irresponsibly responsible this past week. Because my school schedule had been built around weekend classes and a daytime internship two weekdays at the first university, having to take all night classes at the second university has been quite the adjustment. On Mondays, Tuesdays, and Thursdays, I work as a public school music teacher. After teaching all day on Mondays, I rush to the university for two grad classes from 4:30-10 pm. After teaching all day on Tuesday, I dash out the door to teach a few private piano lessons before class at the university from 7-10 pm. As an introvert, being busy for two 16-hour days back to back (not including getting up at 4:30 am to go to the gym!!!), I am absolutely spent on Tuesday night when I finally get home. Thankfully, I have Wednesday off during the day, so I can sleep in just a bit before taking our pup out on a hike and heading to yoga to restore some balance in my life. I spend the afternoons studying before teaching private piano lessons for 5 hours in the evening. Thursdays, I’m back in the public school teaching, and my Fridays look a lot like Wednesdays except I teach 6 private music students on Friday afternoons. On Saturday, I teach private lessons from 10-5ish. With three graduate classes, a total of 32 private piano students, and 3 days a week teaching music in school, I am already stretched pretty thin. If we lived in a small suburban area where everything was within 20 minutes driving distance, I think this would be less stressful, but I spend so, so, so much time in the car, stuck in traffic. Welcome to D.C.!

Anyway, back on track, this week, I was offered an additional one-day teaching position in the county where I teach to supplement my three days. When I initially withdrew from the first university, I reached out to human resources in the county to see if there were any other teaching jobs available, even before I applied to the second university. There weren’t any jobs at that time, so I continued to I throw my name in every hat I could find, hoping something would work out so we could make ends meet. By picking up work at a second piano studio and teaching lessons almost everyday of the week, I was able to establish a schedule that lessens the financial blow from all of this folly. Also, I was accepted into the second university, clearly, but I still don’t know if the GI Bill is going to cover my tuition or bring the monthly housing allowance. At this point earlier this week, I also had not received a paycheck from my public school gig (the county only pays once a month- rough times!), so I was/still am in hyper-vigilant financial mode. The additional job I was offered was a Wednesday day job and it would be FIFTY miles round trip from our apartment. Um, I’m already feeling like I live in my car as it is. 50 miles is way too far, especially around D.C., where it takes a ridiculously long time to get anywhere. Also, having Wednesdays to myself is necessary for me to recharge and restore some balance to the craziness of Mondays and Tuesdays. Having Wednesdays off feels sacred to me. I initially accepted the job, though. It seemed like the most responsible thing to do. Without knowing about the GI Bill, it seemed like the only thing to do, actually. And after all, I did ask for more work in the county.

I was immediately unhappy with my decision. I was absolutely dreading the idea of three 16-hour days back to back (talk about unreasonable), plus teaching on Thursday before getting a break on Friday morning only, and then having a day slammed with 15 private students on Saturday at the studio. On top of that, I am already struggling to get my work done for my grad classes without feeling rushed.

I’m really thankful for the supportive friends and family members that I have, because nobody told me I couldn’t do it, or that it was just plain stupid (and let’s be honest, it just was). I’m also really thankful for having the courage to listen to the voice inside of me that said this wasn’t right.

I knew it was going to be a busy year, and I put a little note to myself on the fridge before the year began: “You can’t pour from an empty cup. Take care of yourself first.” The more I acknowledged how I was feeling about the position, the more I realized I was not being responsible at all, because I wasn’t taking care of myself. I was trying desperately to pour from an empty cup. And there’s no way I would’ve been able to do everything even remotely well if I had taken the extra position.

On Friday morning, a weight lifted off my shoulders when I declined the position on Wednesdays. My schedule is busy enough, and while there is a chance the GI Bill will not come through, I’m going to trust that there will be another option there for Lerma and me if we need it when we get there. For now, we are okay, although we’re not throwing a bunch of money at the debt as I’d like to, we are making a really crappy situation work.

I really wanted to share my adventure of the week on the blog to affirm the fact that I am indeed human, and so are you. The extra day of work would’ve certainly meant more money to throw at our debt, but at what expense to my health, happiness, and sense of well-being? I have been working on being to be kind to myself this year, and I would rather honor myself than be in shambles and debt-free.

Until next time,

FLL

 

 

Lerma’s First Post: Cutting Our Electricity Bill

Welcome back to The Lerma Experience! I’m your host, Mr. Lerma and this is my first entry for our (The Future Lady Lerma, or FLL, and my) new blog. Everything FLL wrote in the last entry still applies. We want to be debt free, FLL wants to retire in seventeen years’ time, and we want to be happy and free. When we both decided we wanted to be aggressive in erasing our debt, we only considered the goal, to be in the black, but we may not have, or maybe it was I who didn’t understand just how difficult cutting costs could be! Before moving the D.C. area, FLL and I were employed in the military and lived in Naples, Italy, where we were able to enjoy nice pay checks on the first and fifteenth of the month and travel throughout the continent for relatively inexpensive prices.   Once we returned to the states and began to transition in to the civilian world, we were quickly surprised by the high costs of living; an average of $2,500 for a two-bedroom apartment, an incredibly overpriced metro system, and the high tax surprise on FLL’s first pay-check. It was all very scary, many nights we laid in bed worried about how we would make ends meet and whether or not we would have to take on second jobs. I think our story is one that will resonate with many people, especially those living in high cost –of living-areas because, unfortunately, we live in a world were we are encouraged to live just outside of our means and put it all on credit to be paid down later. It is our hope that the little tips we are experimenting with may give anyone reading the blog a new idea or encourage them to do what we are doing, looking for new ways to save a little money.

Now that that is out of the way, I’d like to share with you two ideas, both super simple, that have helped us save on our Internet and electricity bill.

First, lets talk about the electricity. I should prompt this by letting everyone know that we live in an apartment. It’s really a nice place and we were incredibly lucky to land here (especially since when we moved to the DMV we had no idea where to live, what the housing costs were like, and what type of area would be the best for us), but electricity bills for an apartment are far cheaper that those you would have for a home. That being said, I imagine these easy changes would still have some sort of effect on everyone’s bill regardless of dwelling. One day, and I don’t remember who had the idea; one of us realized that our dryer might have been the driving factor of our soaring electricity bill. We both manage to get through quite a bit of laundry every week and those three to five hours of drying time every week certainly seemed like something that would not help us in the long run. So it was decided that we would no longer use our dryer and instead buy another drying rack (we already had one that Jen liked to use) and hang our clothes to dry in the house. However, after looking through amazon and searching the web for the highest rated drying rack, I realized most racks didn’t have a ton of cubic footage and we’d probably be running our washer more to get though shorter loads which would cancel out whatever we might save on the dryer. So, with some rope FLL had from a planned backpacking trip, she hung a drying line in our guest bathroom from the rod of the shower to the towel rack, giving us space to hang larger quantities of laundry than we would otherwise be able to. That coupled with our already existing drying rack made our experiment a huge success! How much of a success you ask? Well, we dropped our electricity bill from $88.05 in July to $58.01 for this month! A HUGE savings and while we did make a few other changes like keeping our thermostat set to 75 until we go to bed, and cutting it off when we weren’t home (another simple trick that many of us do not consider) we believe that the laundry rack made a big impact. Some people may want shy away from this because they are concerned about stiff cloths or because of the added time it takes to hang up all your garments, but there are solutions to these problems, like adding citric acid to the wash to keep the clothes from stiffening or hanging the laundry while you watch you nightly stories. I promise you, it really isn’t a hassle and it could end up saving you some money! In our case, it could save us up to $240a year! If you are interested in getting rope for a clothesline, Lowes has a braided polyester line, 50ft, for $2.88 (http://www.lowes.com/pd/Lehigh-0-187-in-x-50-ft-Braided-Polyester-Rope/50168153?cm_mmc=SCE_PLA-_-ToolsAndHardware-_-ChainAndRope-_-50168153:Lehigh&CAWELAID=&kpid=50168153&CAGPSPN=pla&store_code=1136&k_clickID=932d2e62-cc7c-4aea-84f5-86fd3e3c6719 ) or, if you’d prefer something other than polyester, you can look here http://www.knotandrope.com/store/pc/Cotton-Rope-c6.htm and get various types of rope at reasonable prices. Here’s a picture of our little set up:

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At the moment, there isn’t much on the line, and as you see, it will need to be tightened up on occasion after hanging something heavy on it like floor mats.  If we have guests over, we simply take the line down and we have our guest bathroom back.  Easy!

The second little change we made recently involves the Internet. FLL and I do not watch T.V. I have a huge collection of movies that I love to watch and if FLL wants to see something, she gets on the Internet and starts streaming. What stinks is it’s more expensive to have just Internet service than it is to have a bundle and that means you have to pay for the equipment rental that comes with it. Or do you? The answer of course is no, but we didn’t think about that. We were just so use to having a modem come with the Internet and a cable box that comes with the cable to even question the added rental costs or look for alternative options. Then one day, something sparked and I decided to get rid of the cable box and modem. It was really simple to call Verizon and have them send me a FREE shipping box for the cable box; this alone has saved us $9.99 a month! However, that plan has not been fool proof. Our area only has Verizon Fios, no high speed internet for us, and their Router is super special, not just any will do, and that has proven to make it difficult to find something at a reasonable cost to replace the provided equipment. In fact, I’ve already purchased and returned two different routers that proved to be no match for whatever the company is doing with their fiber optic lines. Once I find something that works, that will save us another $9.99 each month leading to another saving of almost $240 a year in total rental fees. Additionally, it never hurts to see what promos Verizon is running each month because that can also help save you a few bucks on the service, in our case, we knocked $2 off our for the last two months. It isn’t much, but it’s something!

I hope that this little bit of advice gives someone some help. We will both make sure to keep you in the know of any new hacks and our daily trials as they come.

-Lerma

In the Beginning…

Welcome to the latest and greatest Lerma Experience. You see, Lerma had a blog called The Lerma Experience years ago. Then he went and found himself an (unofficial) Future Lady Lerma, so while his youthful days of gallivanting around Europe with a tuba on his back were quite the adventure, we’ve got plenty of stories to keep you entertained in present day, especially with Puppy Lerma added to our family (oh, man, she’s so stinkin’ cute!!).

The thing about a blog is that it’s like making a public promise to be honest, transparent, and to honor what you say you’ll do and who you’ll be. It keeps you in check, and the power of peer pressure can be just enough to keep you on track. We have made a promise to each other before we can move forward with any kind of formal vows of marriage, and we want to make it public so it’s all the more real. Here it goes: we want to be financially independent within 17 years (AKA being able to do whatever the hell we want without being restricted to a 9-5 job and living paycheck to paycheck).

We’ve organized our plan of attack into phases with the first being get out of debt (or GTFOD, if you will). We have set a deadline of two years from this month, so we want to be 100% debt-free by September 30, 2018.

While Lerma wants to share about the struggles of budgeting and making a plan, I’m excited to document our creative ideas to make every dollar count. Regardless, we’d like to share our story in hopes that it may spark ideas in others to help them work towards truly living life instead of being a slave to the collection vision of a living. And of course, this public venture is also to keep us honest about the progress we’re making.

So, there you have it: The (Almost) Lermas’ financial adventure in a nutshell. As time goes on, we will share more about our financial situation, what we’re doing to improve our financial situation, and why this is so important to us, especially before tying the knot.

Thanks for reading!

Until next time,

Future Lady Lerma