If you’ve followed me on Instagram or read along with this blog the last six months, you’re probably well versed with our back and forth sell the house versus stay battle. We literally go back and forth on this constantly.
I’ve been feeling disconnected lately. Disconnected from my family and struggling to keep up the pace with my side business. Mr. PoniesandFIRE is feeling the same. A few nights ago, we really talked about what we wanted and why we were struggling to get there. It all came back to the house.
It’s too much house. There is too much to heat. Too much to clean. Too many unfinished projects. Too many empty rooms. We are still leaving the option open to adjust our plans as always, but here is our new game plan to get ourselves to a new normal by this time next year.
1. Pay off our truck. This debt over our head is slowing down progress and we want to be done with it by February 2019. It’s tight, but not impossible.
2. Hoard cash like crazy in order to purchase land in cash by spring/summer 2019.
3. Buy a fifth wheel camper to move into for short term and sell our current home.
4. Use the equity from our home sale to build a small home/cabin in cash.
5. Have a paid for home that is just right for us by the end of 2019 on land we love.
6. Slow down and enjoy our lives together more.
I am looking forward to the challenge of getting this done. I am loving the idea of living briefly in an RV and the forced minimalism and closeness for our family. It’s like a crazy adventure I cannot wait to take and it’s giving me new purpose and invigorated me.
We already have our eye on a piece of land that fits our needs (school district, closeness to my work, amount of acres). It already has electric and septic, so those are two hurdles done. The cost is $60k, so that’s quite a chunk to save up for, but if it sells before we get the funds together, there will be another piece of land that will come our way. We are trying to have our ducks in a row before we jump into something.
I work at a job that often requires me to handle hiring young equestrians out of college. In my side business, I find myself coaching my students through the college selection process, as well as riding careers. The more and more time I spend observing, the more I see a huge disservice being done to young equestrians hoping to pursue a career in the equine industry. There are some rampant lies being pushed at young equestrians and I think it is destroying their future in our industry.
Lie #1 – You need to go to XYZ Equestrian College if you want to be successful
There are tons of these private colleges offering equine studies or equine business or some variant as a degree option and they are selling high school students and their parents the dream college experience that will set their precious young rider up as the next Beezie Madden or Reed Kessler.
A quick google shows that the cost of attending Centenary College in NJ to be around $47k (tuition, room and board) in 2018. Cazenovia College, Findlay, SCAD all looks to be about the same. Surely, for that price tag, you are guaranteed to graduate and walk into a job that offers benefits and a good starting salary, right?
WRONG. The starting salaries in the equine industry are just above minimum wage, no matter where (OR IF) you went to college. Do not fall for the lie that you need to go to an expensive college to get one of these minimum wage jobs in the equine industry. Everyone starts at the bottom, no matter where you went to college.
Lie #2 – Student loan debt is good debt
Nope. No such thing. All debt traps you. All debt limits your options. All debt requires repayment.
Consider this scenario. You are a recent college grad offered a working student position for Laura Kraut. Olympic medalist, Laura Kraut. THE Laura Kraut. You’re freaking out, you are so excited.
Then you look at the offer a little closer. Likely you were offered housing and a very minimal starting salary. Like, enough to feed yourself, put gas in your car, buy a new pair of paddock boots, and pay your cell bill. Maybe throw a little in savings every month.
If you are a debt free recent grad, you say, HECK YES and take the position, knowing it will lead to great things for you, even if the pay is low to start. You are living your dream!
If you are saddled with $50k in student loans, you have to turn it down because you won’t be able to make your minimum student loan payments.
I have watched this play out numerous times. Eventually the young equestrian with debt turns to jobs outside the industry, scraping by, burnt out and angry that what they thought was their dream job is actually unobtainable because of their debt repayment requirements. They blame the industry, they blame horse professionals, but they never stop to blame themselves for signing up for debt without considering how it would be paid back if and when they actually go the job they wanted.
You are shooting your future self in the foot to take out loans to pursue a career in the equine industry.
So, what is a young equestrian to do?
If you and your family have saved up $150-$200k in a college fund ready to spend on a quality education and you’ve fallen in love with a private college offering equine studies – GO FOR IT. These schools are not bad, they are just not the ONLY path to success. And if you don’t have the cash, they are the wrong path.
If you don’t have a huge college fund ready to go, here is your action plan:
1. Start working and saving NOW. Whether you are a freshman in high school or a freshman in college, if you are serious about your future, it’s time to get to work. I know many equestrians have demanding schedules with riding, school, etc., but you need money in the bank. Learn to braid, learn to body clip, get a job doing stalls, get a job at night waitressing, babysit, petsit, anything and everything. You may get tired. You may have less time to socialize. You may not be able to maintain a straight A average, but the experience, skills and CASH are important to your future.
2. Apply to every scholarship you can find. Talk to your guidance counselor about scholarships to apply for, google them, search organizations and talk to older friends or classmates about any they know of. Make it your 2nd job to apply for as many as you can.
3. Pick the college that is affordable, even if it doesn’t have anything to do with horses. Study business, accounting, marketing, biology, something that you can apply back to a career in the equine industry, but that is affordable and gives you options. That may mean living at home and going to community college for a year or two or only looking at state schools in your home state.
4. If you are still in high school, take as many AP classes as you can. Some high schools have relationships with colleges that help you graduate high school with a full year or more done of college. If your school offers that, DO IT! Shaving a year off of college gets you working a year sooner and saves you a full year of tuition costs!
5. Use your summers wisely. If you are not majoring in equine studies, but know the equine industry is where you want to be, take summer jobs grooming or working for barns or summer camps or vets. Try different disciplines in the industry each summer, work like crazy and you will end up graduating with more contacts and job offers than your typical equine studies major. BONUS - you will get PAID to learn the things that equine studies majors are paying to learn.
I truly believe people with influence over young equestrians need to be more honest about what they need to succeed in this industry. We are losing potential grooms, farriers, trainers, riders and managers by convincing them they need a pricey education to succeed. They graduate overwhelmed by debt and lacking in general knowledge of things like personal finance and how to write a resume.
If you can write a decent resume and cover letter, have good references and a work ethic, there is a place for you in the equine industry, whether you went to SCAD or didn’t graduate from college at all.
Every year it seems like I dread this time of year. I hate being cold. I hate buying propane and wood pellets. I hate how early it gets dark. I hate the thought of coming snow. I dream of spring.
This year, for the first time, I actually am feeling some joy heading into this time of year. Our wood pellets and propane are already purchased and paid for with cash and while I still hate being cold, I am looking forward to cozy nights at home in front of our pellet stove. I’m looking forward to apple pies, crock pot meals and all the upcoming holidays. I’m looking forward to our paid for in cash vacation.
I still don’t want the cold and snow, but I will try to embrace the positives of the seasons. I assume this is some version of maturity finally hitting me?
It’s a little bit how I am starting to feel about our debt free journey. When we started paying things off, I just wanted to be on the next step. I wanted to be totally debt free and have the freedom that comes with owing no one. I wanted the options that that promised our family. But here we are in 2018 with around $150k in debt between our truck and house and even if we are as intense as possible and chase every raise, bonus, side hustle money and I sell every extra item in our house on Poshmark, we are still looking at a few years to hit freedom.
I desperately want the debt freedom. I want our monthly budget to be small enough that we can live off of one of our salaries. I’m starting to get that I can want that and fervently work for that, while still enjoying the NOW. I can enjoy where we are in the journey, I can take pauses, I can breathe.
Life is a journey, not a destination. I get it, it sounds corny, but I’ve always understood that. It turns out though, that understanding is not the same as embracing. I’ve been hitting this debt journey will blinders on and felt like a failure every month that went by where I didn’t exceed the previous month’s progress.
So, here is my promise to myself for the rest of 2018. I will embrace where we are NOW. I will still look to the future and work to get there, but I will not sacrifice the enjoyment of now. Life isn’t going to happen when we are debt free. Life is happening now.
I love books. I have always loved books. When I was a kid, I would use my allowance every week to pick out a new paperback and I would consume it in hours. I was a voracious reader and by the time I graduated high school, I had multiple bookshelves full of books. I gave away, sold or donated none of them and considered them precious possessions.
Between my sophomore and junior year of college, my parents retired, sold their house and moved to Florida. Some of the books I took with me and then rest I made them cart with them for “someday” when I had my own place. When my parents decided Florida wasn’t for them and bought a house in Ohio, I made them bring all the books back north again. In retrospect, I probably should have let them just donate them years ago, but I was so attached.
Now I am 34. I have a house, I have a child who is learning to love books and I am realizing, slowly, that my collection of books does not bring me joy. I have probably hundreds of books that I doubt I will ever read again and holding onto them just makes my house cluttered and gives me something else to dust. If we do sell and downsize, the thought of moving them all AGAIN feels horrible.
In an attempt to find the joy of my books again, I am reviewing my collection and honing it down to my actual favorites, books I know I will read again, or books I am looking forward to sharing with my son. It is both an exhausting and freeing process. We have a small library in our town that we visit weekly and I am donating my giveaways to them.
I briefly looked at selling them, tried a couple different ways and determined there just is not a market for used paperback books. So I am finding the joy in knowing at the library, someone will get use of these books again.
It is depressing to look at this collection of books and realize how much money spent they represent. I wish my parents had directed me to libraries rather than books stores more or helped me find a balance and encouraged me to just spend a portion of my money on books, rather than everything. Between the library and hoopla (my new fav app), I know now that I can keep myself and poniesandFIREjr reading for years and never spend a penny if I don’t want to.
For a long time I was held by the feeling of “but what if” I decide I want to re-read a book I own but I had given it away? Now, I feel like, “so what?” I can borrow it and return it! Duh. I can still love the book, still enjoy the story, without it being mine.
I think I’m starting to get this minimalism thing. Own the things that bring you joy, but more things do not equal more joy.
We are not super strict on our grocery budget. We have come a long way since we started and with the opening of Aldi in our town, we are spending less than ever. That being said, we are not that firm about cutting here. Even without really trying that hard, we keep spending less and less. We are loosely keeping to around $100/week and most weeks we are under budget.
How is this possible?
1. We are utilizing everything possible from our garden. This year I actually succeeded with a bumper crop of zucchini, squash, tomatoes, onions and more. What we aren’t using, I am actually freezing. Or I was, until I ran out of freezer space.
2. We are eating all our leftovers, religiously. They either come to work with us as lunch the next day, or we have a leftover night for dinner.
3. We are planning our meals in advance and planning meals that are cost effective.
4. We are paying attention to what’s on sale!
None of this is really challenging. Sure, there are days where we get crazy and get home late and are tired, but we can plan for that! On those nights, we pop in our frozen pizza from Aldi or just do leftovers. It’s better for us and cheaper than the old days where we might order a pizza or just run for Chinese food on those nights. It is amazing what just a little pre-planning and paying attention has done for our finances surrounding our grocery bills.
Last week Mr. PoniesandFIRE was on vacation. I went to a horse show for a couple days with a client and then took a couple days off to help with home projects. Our plan was to get through a bunch of stuff and then reassess where we were at mentally with our home at the end of the week.
We ended up jumping into a kitchen renovation. Our kitchen was terrible when we bought the home. We tore out an oven in the wall that didn’t work and smelled of dead mouse when we moved in. We had an old electric cooktop in one of the counters and used just that for years.
Finally, my dad put in a new stove/oven for us last year and the cooktop became just a dirty waste of countertop. We knew this was something we needed to get rid of because it was both gross and doing nothing for our home value. The countertops themselves were an old chipped white laminate.
Now, my dream would be to hire a professional to redo EVERYTHING floor to ceiling in that kitchen, but we are cash-flowing this folks. So we went to Lowes and checked out counters. I wanted butcher block, but that was going to be over $6k installed by them, so that was a hard pass. Second choice of quartz or granite were also both a little above where we wanted to be. We decided on a solid stone surface that will be around $3k installed.
I’m sure I’ve mentioned before that our home is a 100 year old farmhouse, so we spent the weekend removing the old countertop, sink and super gross cooktop, and quickly came to the realization that NOTHING IS LEVEL. Nothing is level and therefore, our easy countertop project has become bigger. We need to make everything level before the countertop people will template and then install.
A quick trip back to Lowes and we are ready to go with plywood and shims and we have until Thursday to get these things level.
Current Kitchen Reno costs:
1. Countertops from Lowes - $3,000 (we are adding a row of cabinets, so the surface area is larger)
2. Plywood, shims, nails, level, wood glue, misc., - $150
3. Three new base model cabinets for the new row - $285
4. New sink and faucets - $400
I also plan to do the following, if we don’t go over budget:
1. Chalk paint kitchen cabinets
2. Redo backsplash
3. New light fixture
5. Add shelves on one empty wall
6. Redo floor somehow…?
The plan is to do everything ourselves, with the exception of installing the countertops. Neither of us is particularly handy, but we’re trying our best. Every skill learned is money saved! :)
Whether we are selling or staying, once again, nothing is decided.
A few months ago I posted about a small house for sale that we could almost purchase from our equity if we sold our house and downsized. We felt like it was a good plan, but the amount of work required to list our house was overwhelming. The house was also around 800 square feet and while I love the idea of downsizing, that felt extreme. I just wasn’t sure it was what we wanted. That house sold and we went back to status quo, with just a little headway on the decluttering process.
Each month that ticks by gets us a little more equity and a little closer to an easy transition to sell our house and downsize. Here we are in September and a major fixer upper has been listed for a sale a few days ago. It’s in our ideal area and same school district and has more reasonable square footage. It is majorly affordable, as it is a DUMP, but the land is nice and it has potential.
Once again, I run the numbers and it’s tight, but possible, to own it outright from our equity. We could then spend the next year cash flowing renovations. We could potentially be in a fully paid off home, renovated to our liking by this time next year! WHAT’S NOT TO LIKE ABOUT THAT?!?
To make it remotely possible though, we need to start taking action. I feel paralyzed by how much needs to be done from decluttering to repainting to minor remodels to maximize what we can get for our current house. I worry that by the time we accomplish those things, this house we’re considering will be sold and then what?
Well, then we will have a slightly updated home that is ready to sell the NEXT TIME the “perfect” (aka, major project) house comes along. We need to start taking action, even if we don’t know how it’s going to turn out or what choices we will end up making with our home.
Next week Mr. PoniesandFIRE is on vacation and he has a list of projects that all need to be done if we want to sell, starting with cleaning out the garage. I thought I was going to be away at a horse show with students all week, but turns out I will be back Thursday afternoon, so I am making my own list of things and using the time I already took off to get stuff done.
We are planning to go crazy for the next 9 days to see what we can accomplish and then sit down and talk about what we do next, if we are ready to talk to a real estate agent or we want to wait. Wish us luck!
In the last ten days, I have sold $44.05 worth of stuff (my cut) on Poshmark. Our year to date total on stuff we’ve sold is $329.05! It feels great to get things out of the house that we are not using (mostly outgrown by PoniesandFIREjr) and have the money hit our account.
It has me really fired up to sell more. I listed another four things last night. I have a couple bags of baby clothes that I was hanging onto for the “but what if…” factor, but I think I am ready to list all that stuff too. I think we are done with having our own kids and we’ve agreed we won’t move forward with talking about the possibility of fostering to adopt until we’ve paid off the truck and made some big progress on the mortgage. I’d rather be rid of the baby clothes and be that much closer to paying off the debt than hold on to them but put off fostering to adopt, if that makes sense?
I have some majorly crazy long and short term goals floating around in my head and selling more stuff makes them slightly less crazy.
1. I want to pay off the truck loan ($20,742 currently) by the end of January 2019.
2. I want to take the months of July and August off from my full time job to spend time with PoniesandFIREjr next year before he starts kindergarten next year.
3. I want to pay off our mortgage by the time PoniesandFIREjr finishes 1st grade ($131,795 currently)
Now, these are good goals in the sense that they have a time frame and are measurable, all the things goals should be. They’re bad goals because they are absolutely insane. $20k in 5 months, when we have a vacation, Christmas, and probably a million other things coming up in that timeframe? It sounds impossible.
But so what? Say it is impossible. Say we go insane, work extra, cut the budget, sell everything we can, and don’t hit the goal in time. If we only pay off $16k or $17k by then, we are not failures! We are still making awesome progress and we just adjust the time frame. Nothing is lost by making our goals stretch and challenge us.
I have very little extra to send to the truck in September, so I’m going to create it. Every dollar I make from selling stuff in September is going directly to the truck loan.
I will freely admit that we are not great at being consistent about trying to reduce our electric bill. I have really good intentions to ONLY LINE DRY and keep everything unplugged, but then life happens and I need dry pants and am days behind on laundry and forget to unplug PoniesandFIREjr's nightlight in a rush to get out the door in the mornings. Le sigh.
That being said, I received an email from our electric company today on our quarterly energy usage and they included a cool chart that shows our usage over June, July and August of 2017 versus the same months in 2018. We are actually down about 20%!
I am actually shocked by this. I know we are doing slightly better, but I really would not have guessed that much better. How is this possible?
1. We replaced four windows. Our house is mad old and some of the windows are just old and terrible. While we still have a ton of windows left to replace, these four windows were the worst of the worse and I think they are actually doing something to improve our home's efficiency.
2. With the new windows, we are only using 1 window AC unit this summer, versus 2 last year.
3. While I am not exactly killing the unplugging game, the times I do remember must be helping.
4. We switched out a light fixture to a new one with efficient bulbs.
5. I am trying to air dry our laundry, but I really do still have a long way to go on this front.
These small changes are snowballing into a good sized improvement. Over the course of years, a 20% savings is not insignificant. I'm proud of us! We aren't perfect, but we're improving!
This is our meal plan this week:
Sunday dinner – Whole chicken in crockpot ($4.50 at Aldi), green beans (FREE), corn (FREE), zucchini bread ($1 or less in baking supplies)
Monday lunch – Leftover chicken sandwiches
Monday dinner – Mac & Cheese ($1.39) and hot dogs ($2)
Tuesday lunch – Leftover chicken sandwiches
Tuesday dinner – Tacos (about $7)
Wednesday lunch – Leftover chicken sandwiches
Wednesday dinner – Egg wraps/breakfast for dinner ($2.50)
Thursday lunch – Rice ($1.39) and Beans ($0.69)
Thursday dinner – Pasta ($1.09), meatballs ($3.49) and veggies from garden (FREE)
Friday lunch – Leftover pasta for me, Mr. PoniesandFIRE is getting lunch provided by work this day
Friday dinner – Frozen pizza ($3)
Saturday lunch – Egg wraps ($2.50)
Saturday dinner – Go out to dinner ($35)
This week we are killing it on the meal plan for two reasons. The first is that our garden and our neighbor’s garden are going crazy right now, so that means we’re buying next to nothing for produce. The second is that whole chickens were on sale and that has turned into FOUR meals for us!
We used ALL the chicken and I even made my first batch of chicken stock from the bones. I’ve also been freezing a bunch of quartered tomatoes to use in pasta sauce and chili this fall and winter.
My first attempt at zucchini bread came out fantastic and was way easier than I expected. I think I’ll do another few batches Sunday, since I have about eleventy billion zucchini left from the garden and a few more still growing. The apples on our trees are close to ready. I think I am about a week away from starting to bake some pies!