Home remodeling — when you can’t (or don’t want to) DIY

When my husband and I walked into our last home for the first time, we felt like we were walking right into the '70s. With disco-era fixtures and old smelly carpet, the four bedroom colonial was quite the sight. Oh, and let's not forget the orange laminate flooring that graced the kitchen and bathrooms. Except for the master bathroom, of course. It had shag carpet.

But, for every problem we saw, we also saw potential. Paint can work miracles, after all, and floors are fairly easy to replace. And the kitchen? It wasn't great, but we thought new appliances and flooring would make it workable. Plus, the bones of the house were in great shape. Built in the '70s, the brick exterior and interior of the home were in impeccable condition. The house also had beautiful dark woodwork all over the place, a feature that was currently overshadowed by all of the ugly going on.

Doing it Ourselves

After closing, we spent the next month scraping up laminate and tearing up carpet, painting, and cleaning. After that, we planned to have a professional install tile floors in the kitchen, sun room, and bathrooms, and then have carpet put in everywhere else. So we headed to the local home improvement store.

Continue reading...
More about...Home & Garden

Student loans: Lessons learned, choosing a major, and overcoming regrets

In 2009, Kasey O. graduated college with a Bachelor's of Fine Arts in Media Arts & Animation. With the support of her family, friends, school guidance counselors, and high school teachers, she had finally earned a college degree in a field that fulfilled her passion. Kasey was proud, hopeful, and ready to begin her dream career. But unfortunately for Kasey, things weren't exactly what they seemed.

What Kasey didn't know was that she had borrowed nearly $80,000 for her degree. She didn't realize that interest accrued while she was in school either, which came as quite as a surprise. Upon graduation, the interest on Kasey's student loans capitalized, leaving her just under $100,000 in debt. And, even after making over $17,000 in payments over the last three years, Kasey still owes around $95,000.

Kasey's student loan debt remains a hardship to this day, mainly due to the fact that she's never been able to find employment in her field. But, even if she had, it's unlikely that she would be much better off.

Continue reading...
More about...Career

The small house experiment

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how my husband and I are moving to be closer to his new job. Well, it's been a whirlwind of chaos and uncertainty ever since. Since I wrote that post, we put our house on the market and began the search for a new home. And despite the fact that we're excited for the opportunity to move on with our lives, it hasn't been pleasant.

First of all, something happened that we never expected. Our house sold for almost full asking price in 13 days.Yes, you read that right. Thirteen days. This was great, of course, because we were able to put that part of the move behind us. And anyone who has sold their home knows how big of a pain it is to keep their house in prime condition, especially with small kids. Regardless, the fact that our home sold so quickly meant that we needed to find a new home….and fast. Plus, the fact that the buyers of our home wanted possession in 45 days meant that we had 45 days to make an offer on a home, negotiate a price, and close the deal.Gulp.

Searching for Our Dream Home

So we started our home search by making a list of the features we wanted in our new house. Fortunately, we were mostly on the same page. My main concern for our new home was price. Since selling our current home meant that we would have almost 100K for a down payment, I wanted to find a home that was as inexpensive as possible. One of our dreams is to be debt free (including our mortgage) as soon as humanly possible; so the more we burden ourselves with debt, the further we'll be from reaching that goal. Continue reading...

More about...Home & Garden

The power of a zero-sum budget

There's been a lot of talk about budgeting here at Get Rich Slowly. For instance, Kristin recently wrote about her adventures using the envelope system. I wrote about the reasons your budget might be failing. And, a variety of guest posters and staff writers have touched on the topic with articles like these:

How I kept to my budget and still have everything I want

Budgeting: The Most Important Thing You Can Do With Your Money

Continue reading...
More about...Budgeting

The truth about being broke

empty pockets

Are you tired of being broke? It's been a long time since I've been broke, but I can still remember exactly what it felt like. I can picture all the ugly details of the way I used to struggle; the empty bank account, the awkward moments, the feelings of despair.... And honestly, one particularly awkward conversation with my sister still plays clearly in my mind to this day:

"Hey sis, I'm coming into town this weekend," she said innocently. "Maybe we could go grab dinner."

Continue reading...
More about...Budgeting, Frugality

Travel on a budget: The all-inclusive vacation

Last year, I was talking with a friend right after she had returned from a relaxing week in the Caribbean. "We did an all-inclusive," she said to me with a glimmer in her eyes. "A what?" I had no idea what she was talking about. After chatting about it for a quite a while, she clued me in on how an all-inclusive vacation works and what some of the perks were. To say I was intrigued would be an epic understatement. According to my friend, she could travel to any all-inclusive vacation spot in the Caribbean or Mexico and have almost everything included in one low price. I couldn't believe what I was hearing; my friend and her husband had paid only $700 per person for an entire week at an all-inclusive resort in Cancun. Not only were their flights and lodging included in her cost, but all of their food and drinks (even alcohol) were included as well. She seemed downright enthusiastic about their experience and went on and on about how amazing the whole thing was. I had to find out more.

To satisfy my curiosity, I started playing around with dates and locations on travel sites like Expedia and Travelocity. What I found out was a complete jolt to my system: all-inclusive vacations were cheap. Dirt cheap. Since I love to travel and hate to spend money, I started to wonder if I should go on an all-inclusive vacation myself. My husband and I had been putting off a honeymoon for nearly seven years at that point, mostly due to being stingy with our cash. Could an all-inclusive vacation provide the answer?

Our First All-Inclusive

Once I showed my husband my research, he quickly got on board. Of course. Why wouldn't he want to travel to a tropical beach and enjoy unlimited food and drinks all day and night? We bounced back and forth between several locations. I initially had my heart set on going to Aruba. However, my enthusiasm waned as the price crept slowly upward with each passing week. Then it was Club Med in Turks and Caicos. Then Jamaica. Then Mexico. We ultimately chose to do our first all-inclusive vacation in the Dominican Republic. When all was said and done, we paid less than $1000 per person including airfare to spend 7 days and 6 nights at an all-inclusive resort in Punta Cana.

Continue reading...
More about...Frugality, Budgeting, Travel

Your budget isn’t working. Here’s why.

mother daughter piggy bank

Before my husband and I got our financial act together, we didn't have a household budget. Since we didn't have and sort of plan, we spent all of our discretionary income on "wants" and financed anything that cost more money than we had. And the scariest part is that we never really thought much of it. Our income always lasted until the next payday, so we never worried about making ends meet.

But, after years of frivolous spending, we finally snapped out of it. Becoming pregnant with our second child made us start thinking seriously about our financial future, and the impending impact of another mouth to feed actually made us afraid. All of a sudden, we realized that we weren't kids anymore. Our twenties were spent chasing adventures and spending cash like it was going out of style. And here we were, in our thirties now and on the verge of having two children to take care of. And although we were completely clueless how things had gotten so out of control, we decided that we had to take control of our financial destiny.

Continue reading...
More about...Budgeting

Defining a healthy dose of lifestyle inflation

On April 1st, I got an unpleasant surprise, and it wasn't an April Fools joke or gag. I found out that one of our renters didn't have enough money to pay all of his rent.

Since nothing like this has ever happened before, I was definitely caught off guard. Still, it wasn't the end of the world. Since I pay all of our mortgages ahead of schedule, waiting a few weeks for payment wasn't going to affect my bottom line. And after talking with my tenant, I agreed to accept partial rent on the 1st and the rest of the money on the 17th of April.

I usually wouldn't make such a big exception. However, this particular tenant is a responsible man who treats our property with incredible respect and care, even going as far as fertilizing and edging the lawn. Since he and his wife have lived in my property for four years and never paid late, I was more than willing to break the rules just this once without giving them any grief. No big deal. Continue reading...

More about...Frugality, Home & Garden, Planning

Saving for college when time is on your side

According to the Federal Reserve, the average amount of student loan debt carried by a student graduating in 2012 reached a staggering $24,301. And that isn't the only scary student loan statistic. Overall, student loan debt in the U.S. has reached a cumulative $902 billion dollars, and loan delinquencies are at an all-time high. This is depressing news for everyone, including those of us who want our children to be able to go to college.

Saving for an unpredictable future

Since my kids are so young, I shudder at the thought of what a college education could cost when they graduate from high school. College tuition has outpaced inflation at an astronomical rate. And worse yet, the job outlook for college graduates isn't all that great. In addition to all of that uncertainty, I've found it difficult to do much planning since there are a gazillion possible outcomes. Will my kids go to community college? An in-state university? Will they pursue an advanced degree? At this point, I cannot possibly answer these questions. Still, I haven't lost hope that I can help them avoid taking on a soul-crushing amount of student loan debt. I certainly can't predict the future, but I can at least try to prepare for it. And while I don't necessarily plan on paying for all of the costs of my kids' college education, I do want to help them as much as I can.

Continue reading...
More about...Education

5 reasons to refinance your mortgage

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how I refinanced my mortgage for the second time in a year. The second refinance wasn't actually part of my master plan, but I ended up having to refinance in order to remove my private mortgage insurance. And although refinancing our home again proved to be a huge pain, we are now saving $135 per month by no longer paying private mortgage insurance premiums.

Thankfully, we managed to secure a no-cost refinance that only cost us in time and effort. It's a huge relief that the process is finally over, and I am fairly hopeful that this is the last time we will ever have to refinance.

Refinancing Has Its Perks

Luckily, I am no stranger to the benefits of refinancing. Not only did we refinance our primary residence, but we also refinanced our two rental homes within the past 18 months. We did so in order to take advantage of record low interest rates and to shorten the terms of their loans.

Continue reading...
More about...Home & Garden