Taking Baby Steps & Rolling the Debt Snowball

As most of you know, my husband and I have been following the steps in Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover (TMM) book since the start of the year. Actually, we inadvertently got started last September with a more limited plan to aggressively pay off the $4200 we put on our HELOC in June when our A/C had to be replaced, but I was introduced to both Dominguez and Robin’s Your Money or Your Life and Ramsey’s book not long after that and started planning our TMM almost immediately when I realized how much of our combined income was going toward payments on debt…and how long it would take to be debt-free except for our primary mortgage if we only paid what was required in our banks’ coupon books. (Seventeen years, in case you were interested, because we took out a 20-year piggyback mortgage at 6.75% in 2005 when we bought our house. The next longest payment cycle would be Chris’s student loans, which have somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 monthly payments remaining.)

I also ran some projections as to how much we would have left over each month from our take home pay for savings, retirement, investments, and fun money if we only had to pay for a $1200 mortgage payment, $400 in utilities, and $200 for food.

It was pretty staggering–somewhere in the neighborhood of $4000 EACH MONTH.

I’d always thought that we were doing pretty well considering that we were bringing in around $90-$100k/year in combined gross income in the relatively cheap central Florida area and weren’t into expensive hobbies or ostentatious displays of wealth in our home, cars, or clothing. Both of us contributed between 12%-20% of our incomes into our 401(k)s and Roth IRA accounts like the cynical, Social Security-doubting Gen-X’ers that we are. We always had enough to cover our living expenses, a reasonable amount of shared entertainment, and one or two trips to visit family each year, but we didn’t have any non-retirement savings at all for emergencies (see above note about having to borrow $4200 against our house to pay for a new air conditioner…) and no concrete plan for how to save up the money for a kitchen renovation and the delayed Mediterranean honeymoon cruise we’d still like to take at some point. We should have been able to save a LOT more than we did, but we had become so complacent with our finances and so accustomed to monthly debt payments that we never took a look at the overall big picture.

Curious about how long it would actually take us to clear everything but the primary mortgage if we followed Ramsey’s Baby Steps to Financial Freedom and suspended retirement contributions for a year or two, I took a look at our average take home pay, fixed expenses, and debt obligations and calculated that we could easily pay off everything except the primary mortgage in 26 months starting in January 2008.

Two years, two months versus seventeen years!

And this was possible even taking into account continued 4% minimum contributions to our 401(k) accounts to receive our company matches and monthly allowances for some entertainment, one or two dinners out, and regular contributions to an irregular expenses fund to cover things like holiday and birthday presents, family visits, and car insurance. I felt both chagrined and elated; chagrined that we would have blithely gone on paying the minimums on our car, student, and home loans forever, and elated that a bit of time spent budgeting and planning could put us in a great place financially within 2 years if we just stopped settling for “good enough” and really aimed for “ass-kicking awesome.”

(We’d also like to have one or two Brilliant, Scholarship-Winning, Stunningly Attractive Half-Asian Offspring before I turn 37 and the chances of a high-risk pregnancy start to increase dramatically, so knocking the monthly expenses down by half before I have to take a break from my career to spawn would be nothing short of genius.)

So here I present to you our current progress toward financial nirvana. Completed line items will have a strikethrough and a completion date. Notes/plans for each item will be in the Actions column, and each TMM Baby Step is shown in boldface font.

Baby Step
1. $1000 to start emergency fund
Contributed a combination of wedding gift money, personal savings, and bonus commissions to a shared savings account earning 3.75% APY
2. Pay off all debt (except the home) using a Debt Snowball
  • Maggie Visa
Made two $300 payments to clear the balance, then retired card to safe.
  • Discover (Leftover wedding expenses)
Paid balance in full in January 2008; card still actively used for gasoline ONLY. Balance paid in full each month going forward.
  • Chris Visa
Paid balance in full in January 2008. Card retired to safe.
  • Amex (travel, Ikea couches…)
Paid statement balance in full in January 2008. Card still actively used for recurring utility bills, but will be paid in full each month going forward.
  • HELOC (new A/C in 6/07)
Chris and I both cut off federal income tax withholding from 9/07 – 12/07 after calculating that we were both overpaying. The excess money in our paychecks was used to make aggressive $1000 payments on the HELOC every month.
  • Maggie Car Loan
Pay $2000 from 2007 tax refund on 3/10/08. Paying $353/month for 4 more payments until car is paid off 6/1/08. I already made a large extra payment of $1500 on the car.
  • Chris Student Loan
Combined payments of $1470-$2020/month until the loan is paid off around 7/2008; under the original loan terms and payments of only $220/month, it would be another 5 years before we would be clear!
  • 2nd Mortgage
Putting this one on hold until after the $10,000 emergency savings account and 2008 Roth IRAs are fully funded. Regular minimum payments of $205 through 3/2009, then payments of $2006 until 2/2010
3. 3 to 6 months of expenses in savings
4 deposits of $2320/month
4. Invest 15% of household income into Roth IRAs and pre-tax retirement accounts
of gross income
3/1/09 (ongoing)
Fully retroactively fund both household Roth IRAs for 2008 at $5000/each from 12/08-3/09. Reinstate monthly Roth IRA contributions for 2009 @ $555/month for 2009. Increase 401(k) contribution to 5% (currently at 4%). Regular monthly Roth contributions of $466.66 starting 1/2010.
5. College funding for children
…Er…No kids yet. Need to see if an education savings account can be started without actual offspring.
6. Pay off home early
Research refinance into 15 year fixed rate mortgage and/or set up extra principal only payments of $1400/month to pay off home within 6 years.
7. Build wealth by investing

And if we decide to stay in the same house for the long run and pay it off early by making an extra monthly payment from just half of the freed up cash after we finish our Debt Snowball in February 2010, we could conceivably own our home outright within 5-6 years. Wow.

Interest Paid
30-year Fixed Rate Mortgage
Payments (+$1400/month) starting 3/2010
in interest savings and 19 years, 9 months of time*

* Calculators used: Bankrate’s Mortgage Calculator to get the figures for the original mortgage terms and an amortization table, and Debt-Proof Living’s Mortgage Payoff Goal Calculator.

2/27/08 Log: 6-Day Slim Down Day 2

I went to bed too late last night and overslept this morning again, though I did get in my lower body weights first at home and, more importantly, stick to my meal plan, so I count it as a successful Tuesday. I’ll have to get in my workouts at lunch and after my last colored pencil drawing class tonight, though.

We are expecting a cold front (30s-40s…brrr) tonight, too, which means that I had to bring in the baby plants that I have yet to put in the ground. They are currently nestled in a recycling bin in the enclosed patio. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the cats won’t tear them up while I’m at the office. I don’t know why I bother trying to plant tomatoes before March anyway. Each year I am tricked by the unseasonably warm Florida weather into putting my plants out in mid-February, and every year, a freak 2-night cold front always freezes my veggie babies unto death within 6 days of planting.

Down another 0.6 lbs to 141.0 today! I am definitely hitting 139.x by Monday. My whole team has committed to going turbo with me for the next 5.5 weeks just so we can soundly trounce the three north side teams. I am thinking about switching back to a 3 day lifting program next week, though, as my energy levels will start to tank from the decrease in calories and the start of a carb-cycling nutrition plan. I also tend to lean out better with more interval and cardio time once I get into the 130’s, so it may be time for me to give up on the TT mass programs for now and just go back to a fat loss focus.

On to Day 2 of the 6-day slim down!

– Forza or inline skating during lunch (30 min)
– 3/4 mile walk (12 min)
– HHA Total Body Burn + Fat Burning Cardio (60 min)

M1: 3 egg whites/1 whole egg omelette with 1/2 c. spinach and 1 oz. part skim mozzarella cheese
M2: 1 scoop protein powder, 1/2 T. cocoa, 1/2 c. light soy milk
M3: 4 oz. chicken, 3 c. Romaine/spinach salad, 10 walnuts, 2 T. low fat Asian sesame ginger dressing
M4: 10 walnuts, 3/4 c. FF yogurt, spritz of lime juice, 1 packet Splenda
M5: 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 c. brussels sprouts

M5380 Happy Harvest Dress

This past weekend I sewed a rather festive looking dress out of a hodgepodge of fabrics and materials that I had on hand, including:

– Mens’ 2XL “Happy Harvest” Threadless t-shirt
– Orange cotton broadcloth from Halloween 2006
– Brown paisley charmeuse from Hancock’s clearance rack (spring 2007)
– Part of an old full-size 300-thread-count cotton sheet

I used two different patterns because I liked the top from one but wanted to make the skirt out of the 2XL t-shirt:
– McCall’s M5380 (upper bodice and waistband)
– New Look NL6375 (skirt and underskirt)

Here is the result:

M5380 Happy Harvest Dress

The color choices are a bit out of my comfort zone since I usually stick to jewel and icy winter colors plus black and white, but I went with them anyway. The original patterns didn’t include the orange belt or the brown and orange band around the hem of the skirt, but I added them at Chris’s suggestion to tie everything together.

I really like the final result, but have been wondering if it was just too off-the-wall to wear out.

Well, as of last night I am no longer concerned.

While channel surfing, I caught the latest Disaronno amaretto commercial on TV and realized that my color choices were merely fashion-forward and precognitive in nature:

Disaronno Dress

Check out my review of this project at Pattern Review for more details.

2/26/08 Log: Hip Hop Abs 6-Day Slim Down


I BROUGHT IT this AM with an outdoor interval sprint run! 🙂

(TT Ultimate Mass lower body weights, stationary bike intervals, and Hip Hop Abs Total Body Burn are scheduled for tonight.)

Food was on target yesterday, thank goodness, so this morning’s weigh-in showed a 2 lb water drop to 141.6 after a week and a half of rest from heavy lifting and only sporadic bouts of light exercise. I think 140 is a reasonable target for next Monday’s weigh-in, and 132-134 will be my goal for March 30, the end of my TT challenge. Since my eDiets Eating for Life meal plan is still set too high at 285-350 calories per meal (x 6 meals/day) thanks to the site’s amateurishly botched update last week, and I’m sort of tired of coming up with my own nutrition plan at the moment, I’m trying out the Six Day Slim Down (5 meals/day) plan that came with the Hip Hop Abs dvds for the next, well, 6 days, with the caveat that on weight lifting days I will get to have a sixth meal that is higher in carbs. The meal plan seems to be very low carb and probably no more than 1200 calories per day, and I just can’t lift heavy with proper intensity when I go that low in both calories and carbs.

Next Monday I’ll switch to a more formal Precision Nutrition/Swolegenix-based plan that works in some carb-cycling. I need to set aside some time this weekend to browse through my copy of the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook and build my menu of “anytime” (protein/fat/veggie) and post-workout (protein/carb/veggie) meals before I hit the grocery store. I think that strict PN will most likely be tough for me since I am a bona fide carb burner whose energy levels are severely impacted by carb restriction, but I need to accelerate the fat loss ASAP from the diet side of the house if I want to win the TT contest. There are too many other newbie competitors who started a lot bigger and significantly more out of shape than me who are doing well, so my transformation has to be pretty much from fit and slightly fluffy to Oxygen photo shoot-ready if I want to have any shot at the top three prizes of $500, $1000, and $2000.

I am still clearing up the last vestiges of last week’s head cold, so I’m finding it very tough to get up at 5 AM for workouts. I think I will have to push my workout start time out to 6 AM to give myself enough recovery sleep time until I am completely over this virus.

On the non-fat loss front, I still haven’t gotten those 8 tomato and pepper plants in the ground, but I saw a weather forecast for a cool night in the 30s Wednesday, so I am holding off on planting until Thursday. I’m also starting about 72 peat pellets worth of seeds, both veggies and ornamentals, for planting in about 4-8 weeks. 2007 was more or less a wash for me with gardening, but I am ready to face the challenges of growing my own cheap veggies again in 2008.

Let’s just hope that the tomato hornworm invasion of 2006 is not repeated.


– Interval Run (15 min)
– TT Ultimate Mass B (40 min)
– Interval Bike Sprints (18 min)
– HHA Total Body Burn (30 min)

M1: 3 egg whites/1 whole egg omelette with 1/2 c. spinach and 1 oz. part skim mozzarella cheese
M2: 1 scoop protein powder, 1/2 T. cocoa, 1/2 c. light soy milk
M3: 4 oz. shrimp, 3 c. Romaine/spinach salad, 10 almonds, 2 T. low fat Asian sesame ginger dressing
M4: 5 almonds, 3/4 c. FF yogurt, 1/2 c. strawberries
M5: 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 c. brussels sprouts
M6: (PWO) 2 Granola chocolate chip protein cookies (whee!)

2/25/08 Log: Bounce with me

I didn’t get to sleep until midnight, but I got up at 5:15 AM anyway and did the lifting portion of my TT workout, which, as it turns out, was mostly chest and back, so I got to use my home bench set up. I subbed in my blue/heavy resistance bands for the face pulls and did bodyweight rows in lieu of wide grip cable rows, but overall, I was pleased with my first TT Ultimate Mass workout. I’ll do intervals tonight after work.

My team is STILL leading in the n-Space office fitness challenge, but I really want to step up my numbers these last 6 weeks. It is definitely time to go turbo now. I want to be within 2 lbs of 130-132 by the final company weigh-in on April 7.

Nutrition is on plan today so far, and I will not deviate from my clean foods. My second job for the next 6 weeks is to eat exactly what I have planned and nothing else…and complete all of my workouts. I call it a job, because if I just DO it, I will be pocketing $216 from the work challenge pot, and at least $500 from the TT contest. $716 will pay off my Camry completely once I throw in the leftover $2000 from our tax refund after DH pays for his new computer.

Workout plan for this week:
Mon: TT Ultimate Mass 1 + Intervals; Hip Hop Abs (HHA*)
Tue: TT Ultimate Mass 2 + Intervals; HHA
Wed: Inline skating or Elliptical; HHA
Thu: TT Ultimate Mass 3 + Intervals; HHA
Fri: TT Ultimate Mass 4 + Intervals; HHA
Sat: Inline skating or Forza; HHA
Sun: Rest

* I’m using Beachbody’s Hip Hop Abs program as bonus exercise and general recreation for the next 6 weeks along with inline skating. It’s part of my vow to stop doing cardio activities I loathe and replace the sit-on-my-ass TV time that has been building up over the winter with fun physical activities and productive hobbies like gardening and sewing. Besides, I’m also a dance reality show junkie, and I want to be able to bounce around on a dance floor with some modicum of conviction and style.

And having some actual dance moves will really improve my karaoke stage performances.

M1: 2 granola chocolate chip protein cookies + 1 whole egg and 2 egg whites
M2: 2 granola chocolate chip protein cookies
M3: 1 serving lean sirloin chili with 2 c. mixed veggies and spinach
M4: 2 cinnamon raisin chip bars (Gourmet Nutrition)
M5: 4 oz. chicken breast, 2 tangerines, 1 c. veggies
M6: 1/2 oz. walnuts, 1/2 c. light soy milk, 1/2 scoop protein powder, 1/2 T. cocoa powder

Granola Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies (PWO)

I was messing around with the Granola Bar recipe from the Gourmet Nutrition cookbook this week, hoping to come up with something that would use the ingredients I had on hand and serve as a substitute for the tasty but not so healthy Nature Valley Sweet and Salty chewy granola bars my husband likes, and came up with this rather satisfying modified recipe that is just ducky for your post-workout snack if you are tired of chugging down a shake and want something a bit more like two delicious, thick chocolate chip cookies as a reward for your hard work instead.

Give it a try if you have a Ghetto-Mart (Wal-Mart if you live in a nicer ‘burb) nearby for the trail mix, or use your own nut and seed-based trail mix).

They are super quick to make, and even though my DH is picky about protein stuff, too, he loves these. Besides, I love seeing the expressions on the faces of the 100-rep, two-pound dumbbell flappers and squishy cardio bunnies at the gym when I finish up a brutally heavy training session…and then pop two cookies into my mouth!


(Yes, I really am that much of a wench.)

Granola Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies (PWO)
Yields: 24 cookies for 12 servings; 1 serving = 2 cookies

Granola Chocolate Chip Protein Cookies

2 cups rolled oats, dry, uncooked (Old fashioned, not quick oats)
3/4 cup Sam’s Choice Nature Trail Mix (or other trail mix containing soybeans, sunflower seeds, almonds, and pepitas or similar)
1/4 cup Raisins, seedless, poured, not packed
1/4 cup Chips, chocolate, semisweet, large
4 scoops vanilla protein powder (gemma pea protein works best, but whey or soy work, too)
2 tbsps Honey
1/2 tsp Salt, table, 1/5 oz per teaspoon
1/4 tsp Vanilla extract
1/2 cup Syrup, Maple sugar-free

In a large bowl combine the oats, trail mix, raisins, chocolate chips, and protein powder. Add the
honey, syrup, vanilla, and salt. Stir until everything is thoroughly mixed. At first, it will
seem too dry, but continue stirring and it will eventually blend. (If using soy or gemma protein powder, you might need to add up to an extra 1/2 cup of water.)

Spray two non-stick 12-compartment muffin tins with cooking spray, then press the
mixture into the bottom of each cup firmly. Alternately, spray a cookie sheet with cooking spray, then drop 24 equal blobs of the mixture onto the sheet, squashing each down slightly into a cookie-like thickness.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 6 minutes.

(You may also spread mixture in an 8×8″ cake pan to make bars, but baking time may increase to 10 minutes due to the increased thickness of the mix.)

Nutrition (per 2 cookies):
Calories 164
Fat g 4.9
Saturated g 1.09
Polyunsat. g 1.37
Monounsat. g 1.71
Trans Fat g 0
Cholesterol mg 0.667
Sodium mg 152
Potassium mg 124
Carbohydrate g 21.8
Dietary Fiber g 2.93
Sugars g 8.65 29
Protein g 11.6

2/19/08 Log: Snuffles and Taxes

Blargh! My immune system has finally succumbed to DH’s latest cold virus permutation, and I am feeling distinctly scratchy in the throat and mildly congested in the nose. Oddly enough, this combination of symptoms put me in very good voice on the drive to work this morning as I belted out a medley of Heart, Fuel, and Def Leppard songs in the car.

No workout this morning because I was up until 1 AM in the morning doing our 2007 taxes. It took forever, but I’m glad it’s out of the way. This is our first year as a married couple, so we ran our taxes through separately and jointly to see which one gave us a better deal. It turned out that filing jointly increased our refund by over $500, so we went that route. It still took several hours on H&R Block’s TaxCut Online website, and our combined AGI when filing jointly was too high to qualify us for the Free File program, so we had to shell out $14.95 for the TaxCut Basic package. C’est la vie. I wasn’t going to chuck out a $500 advantage just to save $14.95 in filing fees!


Anyway, because DH overpaid his taxes significantly last year (he had changed his W-4 the year before to withhold quite a lot extra in order to cover the extra taxes on some earnings he withdrew from a Roth IRA to help pay the closing costs on the house in 2006, and forgot to change his withholding back to normal in 2007), we are getting over $3200 back. Per our agreement made prior to committing to Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover plan last month, $1200 is going to Chris so he can build himself the kick butt gaming computer he has been wanting for the past year (and which better keep him mollified for at LEAST another 3 years), and the remaining $2000 is going into our debt snowball to pay down my car loan 6 months ahead of schedule.

In addition, if/when the $1200 tax rebate we are expecting from the rather stupid economic stimulus package arrives in late spring/summer, we’ll use it to pay off DH’s student loan a month early in June. We’ve already budgeted and allocated money for the weddings, travel, gifts, and PDB cruise we have planned for this year, so we won’t need to dip into these bonus windfalls for anything. And we certainly won’t be spending it all to stimulate the economy. Sorry G-Dub!

I’m going to sneak out to my old apartment complex and use the mini-gym there for some intervals at lunch if the weather is rainy again, or just go up to the garage roof and skate if it’s nice, then hit the real gym after work for TT Ultimate Mass legs tonight. I have to make up yesterday’s missed TT chest and back workout, too, but I don’t know if that will be possible tonight when all the bench press stations will be mobbed.

– TT Ultimate Mass Workout B
– Intervals x 6 (Run or skate)
– Hip Hop Abs Fat-Burning Cardio

M1: Peanut Sweet and Salty granola bar, 3 egg whites
M2: Pineapple protein milk shake
M3: 4 oz. chicken breast, 1 c. asparagus veggie mix, 3 small tangerines
M4: Apple, 1/2 T. ANPB, 1/2 scoop protein powder
M5: 4 oz. eye of round, 1 c. asparagus veggie mix, 1 tangerine
M6: PWO strawberry banana protein shake

Yes, I went there.

Simplicity patterns are on sale through Monday at Joann Fabrics and Crafts for $1 each. If any of you are Project Runway fans, this includes the line of PR-inspired patterns that Simplicity has put out since fall. Most of the PR designs don’t look particularly difficult to sew, so if you haven’t touched a sewing machine since high school Home Ec class but have Mom or Grandma’s old machine stored up in your attic, those might be good starter pieces to get you into apparel sewing.

I resisted buying anything for myself when Chris and I went there today to pick out fabric for his Valentine’s Day gift, but I did walk out with three fab patterns from which I plan to sew some presents for my mom and Chris’s mom for their upcoming birthdays at the end of the month.

And somehow this little gem made it into my shopping basket, too.

S3570 Cat Costumes

I really hope Slinky and Neville don’t smother me in my sleep when they discover that I plan to put CLOTHES on them this Halloween. The cat model on the pattern envelope has the same look of semi-vacant malevolence that Neville does. That’s what sold me on it. A disgruntled looking kitty is a photo op waiting to happen.

(And I find it sort of funny that the pattern numbers for the party tops I am making all three boys in my life are the same–3570.)