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FINANCIAL PEACE: 2019 Debt Paid and 2020 Goals

I feel as though the beginning of a new year, a new decade, is the perfect push to get me back to blogging. If my 2019 had a word it would be...flourish. I worked incredibly hard in the past year- I studied for more hours, days, weeks and months then I can count. Those hours of studying were hours not spent with my family, so I refused to squander them and even make failure an option. I passed my second of two exams in May that my job required and then decided to go one step further and sought out a professional designation just for me. I passed that exam on the first try too.

However, I didn't just flourish in a professional sense. This year felt like the first in Chuck's and my married life where we made momentum toward our financial goals. "Broke" has been the name of our game since we met in 2010 (no thanks to my student loans). We're not exactly making it rain, but when I look back at all the financial progress we made just in the last year, for the first time it feels like the end might actually be in sight.

If you read my The State of the Family post then you know that our biggest goal right now as a family is becoming debt-free. We still have a long way to go, but in 2019 we rid ourselves of ALL our credit card and medical debt! This felt like such a huge win and a great boost to our morale. Getting rid of those pesky smaller debts made us feel like our debt snowball was finally gaining momentum!

Recap of my 2019 financial goals

Last year was the first year I shared about our debt-free journey because last year was the first year we were actually working toward it and not just prolonging it. Becoming a two-income family again was a game-changer and so we got right to work. You can read more about our 2018 Debt Payoff, but the abbreviated version is that in 2018 we paid a total of $30,500 toward our collective debt with the largest category being our mortgage at 32%. I also made the following goals for 2019:

GOAL 1: Improve my credit score by 5% After a lot of fluctuation over the year I ended with a total increase of 8% (only 5 points difference) from January 1- December 31, 2019.

GOAL 2: Pay off my auto loan. Unfortunately, I have about $1,700 left until it's paid in full, but I'm eight months ahead of schedule!

GOAL 3: Save up enough to buy a minivan in cash. This was definitely my least impressive goal. I am not a naturally good saver which is something I'm really trying to work on. I'm going to need a new car in 2020, so it's time to kick this goal into overdrive!

GOAL 4: Pay off remaining credit card debt. Complete in May!

GOAL 5: Pay off remaining medical debt. Complete in July!

So, how'd we do in 2019?

Last year, we paid a total of $37,250 (a 22% increase from last year) toward debt! Check out the breakdown:

It's so interesting to me to see the category changes from the prior year. This year our mortgage only accounted for 24.5% of our total debt paid as we shifted funds to payoff those annoying smaller debts and get our debt snowball rolling.

One of the best things I did this year that contributed to our success was nailing down my own personal zero-based budgeting approach to paying our bills (which is a Dave Ramsey term that means every dollar is budgeted until you're left with zero dollars). Chuck and I get paid on alternating Fridays which is so awesome for helping me manage our finances. Using a combination of Word, Google Calendar and Google Sheets, every week I budget for our weekly expenses- gas, groceries, and childcare. Then, I pay all of the next month's bills and minimum payments and apply whatever is leftover toward our smallest debt. Because Chuck's earnings fluctuate with his commission, I've found this to be the most helpful way of staying on top of our debt payoff goals. The Credit Karma app has also been a game-changer for keeping me encouraged. It updates weekly and even if my score doesn't change, my open balances total continues to decrease which makes me so happy.

This is the first year in a long time where I don't anticipate any huge changes to our family life (knock on wood!). We don't foresee accruing any new debt and fingers crossed that our household income will only continue to increase! With that in mind, here are my five financial goals for 2020:

5 Financial Goals for 2020

GOAL #1: Payoff my auto loan. This is obviously a carryover from 2019, but is definitely doable within the first few months of the year. Once my current car is paid off, I'll begin the hunt for a new one!

GOAL #2: Purchase a new car. I've got it narrowed down to two different vehicles, so it will ultimately depend on my savings and local vehicle inventory.

GOAL #3: Payoff a student loan. This will require some discipline, but it's within reach for my smallest loan.

GOAL #4: Payoff personal debt. We have a couple small miscellaneous debts that won't take more than a month or two to knock out.

GOAL #5: Cash flow our family trip. One of my best friends is getting married in May and I'm going to be a bridesmaid! Since we got rid of our credit cards for good, we're cash flowing the wedding expenses and trip to Maryland. We're also planning on adding a quick detour to our itinerary to take the boys to DC for the first time!

If you made it to the end, you must be a debt-free nerd like me! Obviously, finance has become a huge part of my life in the last two years and I can't wait to continue to flourish in 2020.

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What are your financial goals for the next decade?!


The State of the Family Address

Disclaimer: Before I dive into the topic at hand, there is a LOT I have to catch up on. Today's post is not that. Catch-up post is coming soon!

A couple of days ago I posted a picture on my Instagram "oversharing" that after months, nay years, of conversation, Chuck and I had finally reached a decision on the current state (and future) of our family. However, my lack of pronouncement about what that decision actually was led to quite a few people scratching their heads and privately messaging me along the lines of, " to elaborate?" To all the people I left utterly confused, my apologies. I was reluctant to come right out and say it because up until now it feels like we've gone back and forth and changed our mind no less than a hundred times.

However, I feel okay sharing here and now because this time feels different. Without getting into some heavy theological tangent, this past year has been a big one for my faith. I've been praying more and listening more. And not too long ago, I prayed and God listened. I prayed for clarity and my prayer was answered. I texted Chuck the next morning and he was on the complete same page.

You see, for the last couple years we've been really torn about adding more children to our family. Once we had Crosby, we declared We're Done Having Kids. And we meant it. I gave away all of our baby clothes to some fellow boy Mamas and made mental pro and con lists about the perks of keeping our family limited to two miniature Stuckerts. We didn't feel like our financial footing was solid enough to bring another baby into the family. We didn't want to go through another round of pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding. And quite frankly, we were scared to sacrifice our mental sanity because the first two years after Crosby was born were a complete shit show. 

We had a million reasons why it made sense to remain a family of four. And yet, there was this tugging at my heartstrings. My head made peace with the current makeup of our family, but my heart stubbornly refused to get on board. Not to mention, the sheer volume of testosterone in our house was making me desperately yearn for a baby girl. 

So, for the last year or so we've gone back and forth- do we follow our heads or follow our hearts? One day we would be responsible grown-ups and decide we were content with being a two-child family. And then the next day, I'd be overcome by a vision of Christmases down the road where three or more Stuckerts came home to spend the holidays together- and suddenly we were planning to try for another baby. This was our pattern for months.

Until I prayed, and God answered. 

Before I ever gave birth. Before I got married. Before I even met Chuck, I wanted to pursue international adoption. At the height of our financial despair it seemed completely out of reach and unrealistic for us. But we've been incredibly diligent in the last year and have made some serious momentum with our Debt Snowball. We feel like a debt-free life could actually be within reach for us within the next 3-5 years. And we really don't want to put that on hold and take on the additional expenses that a third child would entail. 

So, what's the plan?

Finally, the part where I tell you our life's plan! I feel silly even posting this because putting a plan in print is a foolproof way to make sure it never comes to fruition. However, Chuck and I have decided that while we don't think our family is "complete" we feel very confident that we're done with the baby-making stage. 

What does this look like? It means that for the next 3-5 years we'll continue to be serious about becoming debt-free and getting rid of all my outstanding student loans for good. Once we're debt-free, we can start applying all that freed up income toward saving for adoption expenses. We're well aware of how costly international adoption can be. Thankfully, my employer is one of the best in the nation in terms of supporting working families and they offer a sizable adoption reimbursement program. It could potentially cut our expenses in half! 

Obviously, we don't know who our future children will be, but we have a good idea of what area of the world they'll be born into. And we also still haven't given up hope of a Girl Stuckert joining the family.

So, there you have it- the Stuckert Family Plan. We know what they say about, "If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans," but we feel a deep and abiding peace about this path and will be working our tails off to make it happen!


Dear Crosby (On Your 3rd Birthday)

Dear Crosby,

Today is your third birthday and I simply cannot believe my baby boy is no longer a baby. In fact, you adamantly refute the label every time by shouting, “I not a baby! I’m Crosby!” I swore, the first year and a half after your birth felt like the longest span of time in my life. Having you and your brother so close together was hard work for Mommy and Daddy. Of course, now that this day has come, I’m not quite sure where the time has gone.

In the past year, you have shed your baby fat and become a little human to be reckoned with. It seems everything that Charlie managed to avoid in his twos and threes, you’ve been determined to let us experience. You have just about the loudest and most terrifying scream ever. Thankfully, you’re very good at calming yourself down when it gets a little out of hand.

From the moment of your (late) arrival to this world, you’ve wanted nothing more than to be held by your Mama. I affectionately refer to you as my “koala baby” because you’ve always preferred to cling to me versus anything else. I’ve never been much for physical affection, but you slowly turned me into a cuddlebug. These days, I’m finding myself seeking YOU out for hugs!

Little one, you are as sweet as they come and everyone who knows you falls head over heels for your adorable temperament. We named you “Crosby” because we wanted your name to reflect your Daddy's and my mutual love of music. Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young is one of your Mommy’s favorite bands so the name just stuck. It would seem that your name was a self-fulfilling prophecy because you have delighted in music your entire life. You love dance parties with Mommy and jamming out on your guitar and djembe any time we have music playing in the house.

You are so much like your Daddy it blows us away. You have his lips, his “Stuckert brow,” and his huge-hearted personality. Your life has given me the gift of better understanding the man I married 7 years ago. I’m so thankful for that.

Crosby, I know that being 20 months younger than your big brother will bring its challenges. You are destined to a life of hand-me-downs and trying to keep up. But here is what I know about you- you will not for one second let it get you down. You have the most adventurous, down-for-anything zeal for life that is completely unmatched. Charlie may have been the first, but you my love, are the piece that makes our puzzle complete. I can’t imagine life without your light in the world.

Your Daddy and I love you more than we can say. Enjoy Year 3, my love. You are bound for tremendous and wonderful things!



The Loneliness of "Boy Mom" Life

Growing up, my younger sister and I would spend our summer breaks living with my Grandma in New Jersey for three months. We’d help out around her family business, take frequent trips to the library, and eat out for nearly every meal. For one weekend of that summer, our aunt (who had two boys of her own) would scoop us up for some girl time. Our days were spent swimming and doing arts and crafts. She would spoil us with whatever junk food we wanted, drive-in movies and back-to-school shopping.

We lived for those weekends and in retrospect, I can’t believe how lucky we were to have an aunt who just genuinely loved hanging out with “the girls.” In hindsight I also see the situation differently as a mom of two boys myself. I think my aunt needed that time with the girls just as much as we did. Because I’ve been finding something as of late- #BoyMom life carries with it a unique sort of loneliness.

For months (maybe even years now?), Chuck and I have frequently gone back and forth about whether we want to have a third child. The window of time for us to decide is growing smaller and smaller if we don’t want an awkwardly large age gap between our hypothetical middle and youngest children. And yet, we legitimately cannot figure out what our family should look like. I’ve found myself frustrated by the conventional wisdom that says if you’re meant to have another child “you just know.” Or the cliche that asks you to picture what you want your family to look like in 5, 10, 20 years…The truth is, I have no idea!

We love the idea of Chuck being a “girl Daddy.” (He would be the best). However, it’s vastly outweighed by the cons of four more years of childcare expenses, the agony of pregnancy and childbirth, and pushing back the timeline on our career and financial goals. Not to mention, we feel like we’re barely keeping our heads above water with these two insane children- I can’t even imagine the stress of trying to juggle three!

Chuck and I were in tears discussing it for the zillionth time a couple evenings ago, because we’re so dang burnt out and exhausted right now. And I came to realize something. I don’t know that I actually want a third child. I think I just want a daughter.

Only having ever had a sister, boys are basically a new species. Everything about boys is new to me and I have found so much joy in the journey. My boys are the most kind, silly, tender-hearted, smart, inquisitive, and hilarious beings I’ve ever had the privilege to know and love. But some days the endless litany of wrestling and poop jokes overwhelms me and I question whether I’m cut out for this. "Tom boy” is not a term anyone has ever used to describe me. My childhood was spent playing Barbies with my sister or with my nose in a book. The sheer physicality of boyhood feels like too much sometimes and I wish I had a female in the house to balance out all of the testosterone.

I want a girl.

But I don’t know if I want a girl enough to take the chance of a house filled with three boys. International adoption is something I always thought I would do someday, and Chuck and I are leaving that door open for the future. But right now, I'm just trying to find peace in the occasional loneliness of being a boy Mama.