Back to the Future: Doubling Down on Our Debt

Looking back at posts from 2010, it seems almost a miracle that we didn’t give up that year. Almost everything that could possibly go wrong did, and we spent the whole year taking two steps forward followed by one step back. We’d fill up our emergency fund only to find it depleted the next month because of yet another emergency expense.

Still, we did not add to our credit card balances, so that was something, and we continued on with our frugal ways and somehow kept plugging along.

Doubling Down on Our Debt

Brett and I sat down this past weekend to take stock of how things are going with our debt reduction plan. The consensus: not well. We’re moving along but are nowhere near where we hoped to be by this time, and at the rate we’re going it will take us an extra year to pay off all our debt. We are living as frugally as we can, but there still never seems to be enough, so we know something has to give. Our snowball is not growing.

This last quarter has been brutal. We started out in April with one account paid in full, a nice piece of another paid down, and an emergency fund in place. We’re ending this quarter with the emergency account depleted, and balances back on both accounts (overdraft accounts, not credit cards). One emergency after another occurred: two expensive dental emergencies for Brett; additional expenses with YaYu’s two surgeries; having to purchase a “new” washing machine; expensive oven repairs; a pet emergency; etc. We tried to fit what we could into our regular budget, but many (if not most) of the expenses were large enough that we had to hit the emergency fund and when that was gone, hit the overdraft accounts for funds.

A month ago I decided I needed to be a little more proactive about producing some income, and this fall will be providing after-school care for some of our friends’ children. I think this is going to be a win-win situation for both us and our friends. We know their children and they are friendly with our girls, and I will earn several hundred dollars a month while the parents will be paying less than they did to their previous providers.

We also decided to sell one of our cars. We have two great, low-mileage cars, one of them a hybrid. However, we only drive one of them regularly; the other one pretty much sits in the garage all the time because Brett uses public transportation to get to and from his work. The hybrid has been great for around-town errands and such because of the terrific mileage; we only have to buy gas for it every 3 to 4 weeks. The only problem is that all five of us barely fit into it these days, so it’s totally impractical if we all need to go somewhere (and that does happen fairly regularly). Our other car is a mid-sized wagon that we all fit into comfortably, but the gas mileage is terrible around town so we don’t like to use it for day to day stuff. But, the wagon is a safer car and can hold a lot more stuff besides the five of us. We looked at car values online and realized that we could sell the hybrid for enough to get rid of both car payments, so it’s now for sale. We will join Zipcar after the hybrid sells for those times when we need a second car (which are rare).

We have one more plan on the back burner: sell our house. We bought this house five years ago to live closer to the girls’ elementary school, but after next year they will all be in middle and high schools that aren’t that close to where we currently live. It’s a good house and fits us, but we’ve never been all that crazy about it or the neighborhood, even though the house has appreciated in value.  It’s been our dream to own a house out at the coast when Brett retires, and we think we can not only pay off more of our debt but save more toward that dream by renting something closer to the girls’ schools for a year or so than what this house would gain in appreciation over the next couple of years. So we’ll see.

For the time being though, we need to be patient and get the car sold, keep paying on our other debts, pray for no more emergencies, and enjoy our summer vacation.

This was originally posted on June 10, 2010. We did sell our hybrid and pay off both of our cars, so that helped move us forward. We never joined Zipcar and did fine with just one car. We decided against selling our home though, and sold it a few months before we moved to Hawaii in 2014. The emergency expenses never ended though – it was a rough year.

My decision to do some after-school care for four sixth-grade girls was one of the dumbest I’ve ever made. The drama from both the girls and their parents was not worth the money I earned.


17 thoughts on “Back to the Future: Doubling Down on Our Debt

  1. I believe attitude is 90% of getting almost anything done. A huge kudos to you and Brett. How easy it would have been to slide into victim thinking – that life is “out to get us” – and fall back into old spending patterns and give up. Instead you double-downed, tightened your belts, and made decisions you probably never would have dreamed of a year before.

    So, so impressive.

    I love that you captured all of these experiences in writing and can revisit them. I love that they shaped you in profound ways that lead to following your non-traditional dream of nomading. I love that you are sharing with us again!

    Finally, I needed the reminder that when I’m smack in the middle of something, I can’t always connect the dots and see where it is all going. It takes faith to keep plugging away.


    1. You are so right about having to make decisions (usually painful) about things we’d never dreamed we’d be making. We were all a good team though, and supported each other. Brett and I are especially proud of the girls, how they pulled together and worked with us. They seriously never asked for anything, and rarely if ever complained. It was an especially hard time for YaYu – her class was filled with “rich kids” (summer cruises every year, extensive travel, new clothes every week, lessons of every kind, etc., etc.) and she knew we couldn’t afford those things.

      We were so determined though – the prospect of not getting rid of our debt was too awful to contemplate.


  2. I am so moved by these posts of how you and your husband handled the economic crisis you went through. I went through something similar, although it was in the economic downturn in the1980s. We lived in the “rust belt” and my (ex) husband lost his job. He was never again employed at the same level, and I took on a much more demanding career than I had done in the past, because I needed to make up for his lost income and secure health insurance for both of us. I stayed with him for many long unhappy years working 12 hour days, while he mostly sat and watched TV, while he was fantasizing about some invention or other that he would get to market. He resisted all of my thinking about ways to economize. All of this is just to say to you that I hope you and your husband recognize how powerful it was that you two pulled together and got through the crisis. I remember vividly how much I wished for an “adult” partner to go through it with. In the end, I had to leave my ex in order to save my own economic future, but I am still very sad about it almost 30 years later.


    1. Your story moves me as well. It’s sadly one I have heard before, of marriages damaged and/or destroyed by an economic downfall.. I was primarily responsible for setting the budget and following through, but Brett went along with whatever I decided (those had been our roles when he was in the navy, and in 2010 he was particularly stressed out at work so he handed over money management to me once again). We were lucky in that we were still able to make our mortgage payment, but otherwise it was tough going and took a lot of hard teamwork, especially in 2010. Our girls were wonderful too, and were great at keeping us on track when possible. It felt like we were being tested the entire year though – more will be coming on that.


  3. I totally “feel” this post. It speaks to me. I remember this time period well. Four kids, a couple in college, one finishing high school, the income drop, the dental, medical, housing, vehicle, college and high school costs, emergency expenses mounting, with no relief in sight no matter how much I tightened the budget. etc Yeah, I totally understand the frustration of trying to double down on debt while emergencies keep happening.


    1. Your situation sounds so similar to ours, although with different things going on, things we couldn’t get out of (like braces, or costly emergencies that kept popping up). Looking back and reading about what was going on, I’m honestly surprised that we kept going at times, but we did. The upside was that almost everything that could go wrong did in 2010 – we had an easier time of things the next year, thank goodness.

      Dave Ramsey’s $1000 emergency fund was a joke that year. We also figured out that unless nothing happens, there can be no schedule for debt repayment and it’s foolish to come up with one. You just have to keep plugging along.


      1. We were initially trying to put together $1000 for our emergency fund, but I don’t think we ever got that far the whole year – the emergencies literally never stopped coming. We’d put something into the account and boom! Here comes another emergency! After we got through 2010 we were able to save more, $2000 I think, and it stayed put for a long while.

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  4. Love the focus you display in this post. Determination + action. What was the drama with after school care? I’ve thought about taking in international students. For room and board we’d get about $350 a week. We nearly always have too much food so the cost of an additional person wouldn’t be much more. But I think about the dramas that may unfold.


    1. Underneath their ‘sweet’ exterior, the four girls were actually quite mean and were bullies. Three, often different formations, would gang up against the fourth and torment her. They sometimes lied, they were sometimes disrespectful. In less than a week our girls would have nothing to do with them, and went straight to their rooms upstairs (where the ones coming for care were forbidden to go). The parents could be equally as bad – the girls would lie to their moms about things and then I would get called on the carpet and had to straighten things out. I had to tell more than one mom when their daughter lied that it was their perogative to believe their daughter, but if they did their daughter wasn’t welcome in my home anymore. The girls usually shaped up and were wary of me afterwards – they knew I was on to them and saw and heard more than they thought. One mom got laid off from work, and expected me to watch her daugher *for free* so she “didn’t break up the group,” even though the mom was now home all day. When I told her no she tried to bully me, and got very angry, but I stood my ground. And what do you know? Things greatly improved after that girl stopped coming. Anyway, it was near constant drama and I came to dread them coming over – the money I earned was not worth it. We’ve had exchange students before and they’ve for the most part been absolutely lovely. I’d be more likely to do that again rather than watch four 11 year-old girls again, especially ones who are supposedly friends!


      1. OMG, the mother expected you to watch her kid for free and bullied you when you would not? Wow, no wonder she had such a bratty child! I don’t know why I am so surprised at this because I deal with narcissistic folks all day long. Good for you for standing up to her!


      2. That situation with that mother was unreal – at first I couldn’t believe what she was asking me to do. Watch her daughter for free? And then for her to get all up in my face when I said no. I was glad to see the last of her and her daughter as well (who turned out to be the chief troublemaker – when she left things calmed down).


  5. This is really reminiscent of my time as a single mom. It seemed no matter how hard I tried to save, I always had a credit card balance. The kids always needed something, or something needed repair or replacement in my home, or I needed travel money for family illness/etc. I will never forget the day I finally had a better paying job and got a big enough bonus to pay off my CC debt. Ironically, I think it was under $5K, but that amount was insurmountable for quite a while. 😳

    That drama with the after school kids sounds awful. It’s sad how crazy a group of young girls can be. I also remember my middle child (daughter) and the drama of teenage girls. She had friends with the same advantages as YaYu’s friends, and it can be hard on kids to watch that and know they can’t have a lot of it. But it also teaches some great lessons in empathy for the less advantaged once they’re grown and know what’s important.

    (Just an FYI – I didn’t get an email for this post as I usually do, and found it by going back to your blog site. Might just be me…)


    1. I think one of the things many don’t understand or forget about being underemployed, or unemployed, is what a struggle it can be just to stay even, let alone save or pay for extras. Even a small emergency can cause ripple effects that last for months.

      The girls I did care for were honestly pretty awful. I like kids, I liked our girls friends, but I came to very much dislike these girls, the first and only time that’s happened. YaYu has a very good heart these days for those who have less, or are struggling because she remembers being “that kid” when she was in elementary school.

      Let me know if you don’t get an email again and I’ll see if I can figure out. I wonder though if it happened to others as my numbers were down some on the day I published.


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