Not Meant to Get Ahead

Dangling Carrot
The Dangling Carrot

Have you ever felt like you are simply not meant to get ahead … like, EVER? Being down one car payment and having finished paying off roughly a $45,000 debt in less than five years only to be almost immediately hit with unexpected expenses and getting sloppy with budgeting  (never mind sticking to a budget) feels like being punched in the face and gut at the same time.

Sorry! You don’t get to celebrate any Read more

Spent: Looking for Change Documentary | Money Matters

Nev Schulman shared this documentary, ‘Spent: Looking for Change’. It’s heartbreaking, eye-opening, and infuriating all at the same time.

I guess a lot of people hide what’s going on in their financial worlds. I know we certainly try to keep our financial situation fairly private. There are people who don’t have a clue how tight things are for us. They see us with two cars, a house, clearly not starving, and with occasional new things. That doesn’t mean we have an endless supply of money (or credit) to go crazy all the time. Only those who have read my previous blog posts or whom we have chosen to trust with our story know.

To know that this is becoming the new “normal” is disturbing. I say the prez should push a delete button to wipe out everyone’s current credit card and personal loan debt so we can all start over!

In case you’re curious about those previous blog posts mentioned above:

Between the documentary and the above reading material, I’ve probably kept you here close to an hour. o_O I hope it’s been insightful!


Senior Picture Controversy

One-Sided Spin on Rite of Passage

When I saw this Huffington Post story posted on Facebook this morning by Chris Parente, shared from the Colorado Everyday Show page, it struck a nerve … a BIG nerve. I have my topic for today’s blog post! Writing comes easily when it’s something you’re passionate about, and I am passionate about the value of photographs!

Colorado Everyday Show Facebook Post on Senior Pictures

This sparked comments that were mostly bent in the same direction. Some said they took their own photos in their backyards. Some had friends, aunts, and even a high school photography student take their senior photos (note: no one shared copies of these photos). Someone said they’d rather go to Sears. I guess they didn’t hear that Sears closed their portrait studios. ;) One person said that for $1200, you can buy an amazing DSLR [camera] and take your own photos. :D OK! Because that’s all it takes to make a great photo. Pffft! Here was my immediate comment when I saw this post:

But it’s OK to spend hundreds on an iPhone (probably more than twice with newer models constantly coming out), thousands on Apple computers, who knows how much on designer clothes and shoes? Future generations will consider photographs priceless treasures. Sure, snapshots will also be treasured, but splurging a LITTLE on professional portraits (be they senior photos, family portraits, or just because) not only gives you amazing quality but, if you find the right photographer, you also have a great time in the process! I can tell which senior photos in a yearbook were done by professionals and which were DIY. Buying a “fancy” DSLR camera is not all it takes to get fabulous photos. If you don’t learn and fully understand all that camera can do and just shoot in “P” mode, you’re not going to get photos that look any better than a pocket digital camera. True story! I think the price is overboard in this particular story. There are many photographers who do NOT charge that much (myself included). I believe everyone deserves great photos without breaking the bank. What I don’t understand are the professionals who make everyone look plastic. Now there’s a whole other story. :D

Then I tuned in and watched the segment on the show and came back to post this additional comment:

I just watched the segment and think you guys spun a pretty one-sided twist. But I guess that’s just how media works. What can ya do? Senior portraits, in many cases, are more for the parents than the teenager. So it’s not about spoiling a child in most cases. It’s one more thing to make senior year special. It doesn’t have to be that expensive. You read Maritza’s comment in favor of hiring a professional photographer but then added a comment about looking back on it and hating it hears from now. If it was done professionally, chances are pretty high you are not going to be embarrassed by the photos years from now. It’s the backyard snapshots done in harsh high noon sunlight that you’ll be embarrassed about.

The $1200 mentioned by the Huffington Post is apparently a national average. I can see that. There are very wealthy parts of the country that probably spend twice that on senior portraits, and there are areas who spend a fraction of that. The average amount spent on senior photos around us is probably closer to $300 or so.

Special photos for senior year is not a new concept. I went to a studio to have mine done nearly 30 years ago. I have no idea how much they cost, but I’m sure they were more than having the photographer hired by the school do them. It wasn’t a vanity issue then at all. That’s exactly the spin they were trying to put on it in this report. Vanity and being spoiled. There is a certain amount of vanity these days with all the social media networks. However, these photos are used in graduation announcements as well, and they represent a time in a teen’s life where they are transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Some are leaving the nest to go off to universities. Some are staying home to attend local universities, colleges, and trade/technical schools. Some are entering full-time jobs immediately. A few are getting married and moving out (or not moving out).

Senior portraits commemorate a rite of passage. That’s a priceless thing!


Shameless plug time! I’d be remiss if I didn’t promote my own photography here. I offer senior portrait photography as well as family and individual portraits and smaller weddings. See my website and my photography blog!

Debt Sucks!

It’s about to get real in here!

I struggled for a minute on a title for this blog and chose to go with the most blunt statement that came to mind. It’s true. Debt sucks! When others don’t understand because the words “We’re broke” or “We can’t afford it” seem to be over-used, it sucks even more.

Pushy sales people at mall kiosks don’t get it … or they seriously don’t give a crap about potential consumers’ financial situations or what they would have to give up for a month (or three) if they spent $99 on a curling iron because “it’s ceramic and won’t damage your hair” and “it comes with a lifetime guarantee” and you get “free hair styling there for six months”.

Hanging out with friends outside the home is rough because, well, consider how much a single beer (or soda) costs at bars! Want a mixed drink? Even worse!

Family dinners out at nice-ish restaurants? A rarity compared to before. This one doesn’t bother me so much anymore because I have a whole other issue with this. The portion sizes at such restaurants are ridiculous! I can make three meals of an order of seafood fettuccine from O.G. but if we’re not going straight home after eating, leftovers become an issue. We’d have to stick a cooler with ice in the boot before leaving home.

Perhaps the hardest part is having family in different states across the country and not being able to travel to see them. Understandably, airfare is expensive for anyone. The bigger heartache comes when some may continue to press for a visit saying we can drive it in a day, but they don’t understand that the extra gas money simply is not in the budget unless we want our utilities cut off or our children to forego birthday gifts. Here’s what they don’t know because we haven’t told them…

We have been in a debt management program for two years, and we haven’t used a credit card for at least three years. We will be credit card debt free in less than three years now, and I cannot WAIT to find out what that feels like! Until then, all extras are out of the question.

This (above illustration) is the whole picture people don’t see when they get one credit card after another. Sometimes it’s out of necessity, and that’s even sadder. Most of the time, it’s simply to live beyond our means. That’s how it started with us. When you first get married, you want to continue to have the same lifestyle you experienced while living in your parents’ homes. Who wants to go from comfort to struggle?! Well you should! Better yet, you should be taught well while still living at home. (Not pointing fingers here, but maybe the policy of not talking about money because that’s private is not such a grand idea.)

So when we say we can’t afford it right now, we really mean it. We’re not avoiding anyone. We would love nothing more than to take a vacation in California! It tears me up that I can’t just pick up and drive back to St. Louis to see family and friends whenever I want. I also have family in Florida, the farthest away and most expensive to travel to from Colorado.

When our daughter couldn’t go on a New York trip with her choir last spring because we didn’t have the money, it crushed me! But worse than that is the fact that she couldn’t go straight to UNC (best in state for all things theater) after high school because things are too tight. When Facebook was flooded with posts and pictures of her friends going off to college, it all but killed me.

On the other hand, I am bursting with pride seeing her go off to work at a full-time job now to earn and save money for college. Parents don’t want to see their children struggle to get by, but they should. Not living-on-the-streets struggle, but work-hard-for-what-you-want struggle.

Don’t worry too much, though. We aren’t in danger of losing our house or having cars repo’d. In fact, one car will be paid off early next year. (Tiny sigh of relief.) We make enough to pay for everything we currently have. We just can’t add to or replace anything right now (as much as I would LOVE to replace our torn leather couches that are falling apart). Things can wait.

Birthdays and Christmas have changed a lot, too. I now appreciate more than ever hand-crafted gifts. They truly are more valuable than mass manufactured items. The time and thought alone that goes into them … there are no words! You can’t put a price on that.

It’s certainly a different lifestyle than before, and it is hard to see our friends and some family continuing on with the same lifestyle we were living before when relying on credit to do so. Gone are the days of instant gratification for us. Now, that goal of being able to do the same with cash on hand has actually become a little exciting!

Credit cards are evil. There are other ways to build your credit. Few are disciplined enough to use a credit card “wisely”. Yes, it can be done. Often, it is not. Debt sucks!

Memories of Retail & Yearning to Craft Again

The Old Logo

Whenever I shop at Michaels in Southlands, I kind of feel at home. I have fond memories of working there, and I really enjoyed it. The only thing that started getting to me were the hours (including weekends). Get a fuller story here. I especially miss the 25% employee discount!

I worked under the old tag line “The Arts and Crafts Store”. Apparently they’re under new management and have made changes. Their new tag line is “Where Creativity Happens” with a much simpler logo.

The New Logo

No more red aprons, either. Now they require khaki pants and black tops. In the beginning of the changes, they wiped out all classes offered except for Wilton Cake Decorating (only kept because of a contract with Wilton). They finally brought the classes back, though! I had a brief, fleeting thought of becoming a Jewelry class instructor again for a little extra cash and for the discount, but the position has already been filled. Just as well! My availability would be very limited anyway.

Crafting is more enjoyable when you’re not being paid to do it actually. I hope to be able to make time for it again once I’m moved into my new office/craft space. My problem with making time is that I like to dive into projects and not surface again for hours. If I know I don’t have that long, I just put it off. <– said as I glance over at a necklace that has been laid out ready to be pieced together for many weeks now!

There’s a Time to Dream…

…and a time to let go of dreams.

August 2009 was going a little better than average financially, and when the opportunity to own this 2005 Jaguar S Type 4.2L V8 without making a change in monthly payment, I couldn’t resist. Since before I had my license, I dreamed of owning a Jag! I achieved that dream. Honestly, I had no idea that I’d feel slightly uncomfortable driving it wondering what others thought of me owning such a “high status” car. Brand new, this car was over $40K. There are plenty of cars out there on the road that are in that same ballpark, but they don’t seem to raise the same eyebrows. It’s weird how some types of cars just bring out the “snoot” judgment.

From the front, the Jag S is beautiful with its grill and round headlights reminiscent of the 1961 Jaguar Mk2 Saloon. Even the lines down the sides bear a resemblance. The rear, however, looks very much like several other cars on the road, especially the older Hyundai Sonatas. The seats are comfortable, even for long drives. The ride is smooth. When you tell it to get up and go, it’s already there! Oh the power! Yet, I don’t find myself really using or needing all that power very much.

A few people warned me that it would spend more time in the shop than on the road. I knew when I got it that it needed the climate control repaired. Other than that, along the way, it certainly spent more time on the road than in the shop. I haven’t had any major issues landing it in the shop. The knock sensors were replaced around the mileage that they’d normally be replaced. There’s a mystery issue restricting performance for a mere few seconds that, as it turns out, is a common report among Jag owners (both S and X Types) during the Ford era (they owned Jaguar from 1989-2008). It usually happens before the engine is warm, then it stops and all is peachy!

Cut to a year after the Jag joined our fleet, and our financial situation changed, taking a blow to monthly income. At that moment, I knew that owning a Jag was truly living beyond our means. I was afraid we’d have to file bankruptcy and lose a lot. I’m finally being candid here because I’m tired of the shame that comes with suddenly being in a lower tax bracket and the way people seem to think of you when you say more often than you ever have, “I can’t afford it.”

How’s this for candid? In our early years of marriage, we messed up. We wanted to leave home and start our lives together in the same lifestyle we had at home. To do that, meant charging things. Credit cards became the devil, and we were oh so easily tempted. Because of credit cards and loans, I really never knew what it was like to truly fight for something. Want it? Get it now. It’s really quite twisted, the instant gratification society we live in. We did finally get to a place where we didn’t use the cards much at all. However, we weren’t making a dent in paying them off because of the interest rates. Soooo… immediately after being slapped with that financial change last year, we got into a debt management program through Money Management International (MMI). We now have that devil bound and gagged and are killing it much faster – four more years or less!

Things are still tight, though. Almost every dollar earned is earmarked for this payment or that. What scares the britches off me right now are the birthdays and Christmas right around the corner. :( I have money sitting somewhere that I can’t touch or discuss right now, and I’m really hoping that I’m allowed to touch it before Christmas. Before then, though, a couple other bills are going to be slashed a bit since, as of next Monday, both boys will be employed full time and neither are in school. They will be paying their share of the cell phone bill as well as insurance.

Back to that dream achieved, though. I’ve been thinking about letting go of my dream (the Jag) since spring. This past month, I’ve been researching and looking at other cars. I was hesitant to bring it up with Greg because of my past record with blowing through cars every two or three years (if you’re keeping track, I’ve had the Jag for just over two years now). I thought he’d roll his eyes and think, “Here we go again!” What’s that old saying about assuming? Well, he’s been thinking about dumping the Jag for about a month now as well but was afraid to suggest it to me because he knows how much I love this car. And I do. I really, really do! But it’s just a car. Just a car that I’ll undoubtedly end up hanging a picture of on my wall, but there’s nothing wrong with that!

We discussed some numbers at a dealership yesterday, and their first offer was only for half the payoff! Get the hockey puck outa here! So I posted it on Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace today to see if there’s any interest. If not, Miss Kitty (yes, she has a name!) will remain with us for a bit longer. Of course, my mind also wonders what would happen if we did sell it but then didn’t qualify for another car loan anyway. I work from home! It’s a luxury for me to be able to take off whenever I want to run errands. Honestly, though, with some creative scheduling, we could get by as a one-car couple. At least for a while if we had to. It would definitely be a major adjustment for me since we’ve always had two cars. I think the sacrifice would be well worth it if it meant cutting another year off that get-out-of-credit-card-debt goal and being able to enjoy more entertainment (movies, theatre, even bowling).

If it does sell, it would be great if it did so before the end of November, which is the longest I can put off renewing the tags that expire the end of this month. 8O

So there’s the story! I bet far more people have stories and struggles of their own that they would rather keep tucked away and private. I don’t want to pretend I’m in a class I’m not, though. We’ve been in a scary place before, and a series of events pulled us out of it (more or less). We made it to a comfortable place for several years. This could lead into several more paragraphs, but I might have to turn it into a separate post another day. To the few who’ve made it to the end of this post, I’ve taken up enough of your time for today. ;)


Having only one car turned out to be a scarier thought than I was comfortable with, so on Thursday, October 20, we traded the Jag in on a 2012 Kia Soul. I posted on Facebook: “I love the visibility (even at night!), the ride, the backup camera, and the UVO sound system. Most of all, I like that it’s more representative of my personality. Jag possibly portrayed a pretentious snob. This portrays someone a bit quirky, fun, and not afraid to be different — NO! Someone who PREFERS to be different!” :D

Summer Vacation or Just Time Off?

In the states, we call it “vacation”. In the UK, they call it “holiday”. Why does it feel like neither when you just stay home? It’s merely time off. The silly term “staycation” doesn’t even seem to fit. How about a “relaxcation”? Now that I could go for! An entire week (or at least half of it) to loaf around and be lazy. I’m not sure how much of that I’ll be doing, either. I need to use this time to catch up on things that I haven’t been able to do around the house. Take time off of work to work. Hmmm. :|

My official time off this week started with rain. Yesterday morning I did a little map searching for possible photo locations. There are so many parks tucked away that you couldn’t possibly spot them by simply driving around. I picked out two parks to check out, and we only managed to see one of them: Cherry Creek Ecological Park. Of course, as soon as we parked and got out of the car, it started raining. :( So we sat in the car and waited a few minutes for it to stop. Then we made it as far as a gazebo about 100 yards away before it started raining again … harder. Since I was in no hurry for anything, I thought it was nice to just sit there listening to the rain hit the roof and enjoy the breeze. Miranda, on the other hand, thought it was boring. Kids. :roll:

Once the rain stopped again, we strolled around some of the trail in this park. Part of the trail was a boardwalk, which could make for some interesting photos. There’s also a bridge over Cherry Creek, but I’m not that thrilled with it as a photo op. Being an ecological park, we’re supposed to stay on the path. So photo options are pretty limited here, except for this boardwalk.

Why are we not traveling?

Simple … money. I’m not airing dirty laundry here. I’m just telling it like it is. We are trying to do something now that we should have put into strict practice years ago. We’re not using credit cards for anything and are working towards being credit card debt free by (if not before) November 2015. To expand on this would take an entire post itself. It started when this major life change negatively impacted our income. I immediately started doing things like this to stop unnecessary spending. More opportunities to work overtime opened up along the way, and we got a little stupid again. That has to change. We have to stick to the budget!

We had tentative plans to drive to St. Louis and visit family during this time off (aka: vacation), but a semi-unexpected car expense (followed by this) happened that cost about double what our fuel expense would have been for a road trip to and from St. Louis. Not only that, but we decided that some home improvements should take a higher priority once and for all. When I sit back and look at the bigger picture, it’s easy to see that this situation is quite common. When someone moves out of state, it’s usually the one who moved who is expected to travel back for visits. Interesting. The highway runs both ways, and we would love for more people to come visit us. ;)

What are we doing instead of traveling?

It’s also important to note here that Greg was not able to take time off since he hasn’t been at his job for a full year yet. So he wouldn’t have been able to go with us anyway. We used quite a chunk of “vacation change” to go to the Colorado Renaissance Festival on Saturday. Only the girls went along because Jason had to work and Josh didn’t want to go. Even with saving $3 per ticket buying them at King Soopers, the total for four tickets was nearly $70. Add to that the expenses for food, drink, and trinkets while at the festival. Suffice it to say that this ate a considerable amount of money. I will say that the $4 spent to ride an elephant for all of about 4 minutes (including time sitting still waiting for the other riders to pay and get on the elephant) was definitely worth it! This could, and quite possibly will be, another post entirely.

Ali had to work Sunday and Monday at the pool, but they closed early both days due to the weather. Today still holds a threat of rain, which is only a slightly higher threat than tomorrow holds. So our plan is to see how much we can do for very little cost (while staying dry). I took out a certain amount of cash for the remainder of the week so we can easily see how much we have to play with. I’m tossing around the idea of a zoo day, complete with picnic lunch, but I’d be just as happy taking that picnic lunch to a reservoir (Colorado’s idea of a lake with a purpose) where I can relax with a book. :)

In other words, I have no plan at this point. That is actually worse, to me, than having a plan. That usually results in doing much of nothing, which results in disappointment over wasting an entire vacation. On the other hand, planning too much ends up overwhelming me and makes the week pass by way too fast. How do I find a happy medium?

Birthday Shopping Trip the Perfect Solution

When it comes to the perfect fit and comfort, a shopping trip is the way to go!

I tried, I really did, to pick out clothes to give my daughter for her 17th birthday. I noticed an outfit that caught her attention in a Penney’s ad and went to the store to get it, but something held me back. I’m glad I waited because she ended up passing that very outfit over in favor of something completely different.

While Ali was shopping and trying things on, I took Miranda to the other side of the store to find some jeans and to show her a light sweater that I thought she’d like. The sweater turned out to be a bust, but we did find jeans! This is huge! You have to understand how incredibly particular this girl is. Both of them are sooooo my daughters, it’s not even funny. If it pinches, binds, or is scratchy in any way, shape, or form, you can forget about it! This is another reason I’m so grateful for my work-from-home job and the oh-so-comfortable work attire that goes along with it.

I don’t know why I’ve always had it in my head that the perfect gift was the one carefully thought out and purchased for a person in hopes for a reaction of pure pleasure and excitement. When the movement towards giving gift certificates and gift cards first gained popularity, I had a hard time following because it seemed so impersonal. In these days of instant gratification, though, finding that perfect gift for someone is harder to do since they probably already have it. So I’ve changed my view on gift cards and cash as gifts. I recently received a Starbucks gift card, and I was very excited about that one!

So Ali ended up using birthday money on a pair of jeans, several tops, and some ankle boots. Bonus: We won’t have to return anything because it doesn’t fit! Birthday shopping trips rock!

Grocery Savings

A Little Extra Work Pays Off

I started using a couple years ago, but I stopped when life got busy. It takes a little extra work, but it certainly pays off. The easiest thing to do is to date the coupon circulars that come in the Sunday paper and keep them in a file. Each week, you can open the website, choose your local store, and open a page that matches sales to coupons for you for the best deals possible. Today I bought only a few items that weren’t on sale plus a few more that were on sale and had no coupons for any of those items. All the rest were both on sale and matched with coupons for a total savings of 38% (more coupons found through So instead of $207.71, I paid $128.39 for a full trunk of groceries!

My savings goal is 40%. It will definitely create some variety in meals and snacks around here to buy like this, which I consider a good thing.

The house is already filled with the aroma of dark chocolate brownies I got for 88¢ per box. There was a limit of six, and I bought six! I’m going to top a brownie with a scoop of Dryer’s Vanilla Bean ice cream (50% off), toss in some fresh raspberries (BOGO), and drizzled with a little chocolate syrup (already in fridge). Total estimated cost for this luscious dessert: 70¢. Total average price for comparable dessert in a restaurant: $5.89. A dollop of whip cream would push it over the top on the sin meter and perhaps add another dime to the cost, but I didn’t think of that in the store. Dang!

For dinner tonight: London Broil (currently marinating in the fridge)! Sale priced at 60% off. There were two in the package, so I mixed up extra marinade in a zip-lock freezer bag, tossed in the other cut, and put it in the freezer.