2017 was a big year for our family. It wasn’t the easiest but we have continued to see how smart decisions regarding debt 6 years ago have benefited us. This will be a more personal post than most but we hope that it serves to inspire and motivate those willing to change. It also demonstrates that we are still trying to figure things out. So, with that, here is our 2017 year in review of personal challenges.
Before we get into reviewing each challenge and their lasting impact let’s review some of the big moments in our family this year.
The birth of our second child
This is the most exciting thing that happened this year but it sure has been an adjustment to say the least. Our son, Henry Alexander, has been a great kid with little issues but taking care of a newborn along with a 2-year-old has many challenges. Erin has done a great job with them but honestly there is a lot of frustration and difficulty just trying to do basic daily activities.
The real burden has been placed on Erin though since she is staying at home with the kids. As you parents know, there really is no escape from being a Mom and it is a 24/7 job. I recently took the kids out and left Erin on her own and she was beaming with how excited she was. I should make it a point to do that more in the new year. Make no mistake though, our 2 kids are the love of our life and we wouldn’t have it any other way.
Erin quit her job
In preparation for our second child Erin quit her job to stay at home with the kids. We did a lot of work to get to that point and Erin had a tough decision to make but it has been such a great move for our family and such a blessing. Paying off our debt was the sole reason we are in this position. Neither of our individual salaries could have covered our monthly expenses and our debt payments. Also, the cost of child care is high which reduces the benefit of two incomes.
If you are in debt though with kids don’t let this discourage you, but just know that you can make big changes in a few years to get to where you want to be.
We started Debt Free Happens!
Starting a blog has been a huge learning curve. I thought it was just writing your thoughts down but if you really want to grow it into something that actually gets traffic it takes a lot of work. Sometimes, starting something naively though is the best way to go because you might not have otherwise done it in hindsight. I have enjoyed interacting with other bloggers and attracting a few followers. Now that I have almost a year under my belt I am in a better position to make an impact with the blog this year.
A couple highlights include our podcast appearance on Stacking Benjamins which is a very well-respected podcast and a personal favorite. We also appeared on the His & Her Money Show and the Breaking Student Debt Podcast which were a lot of fun. Those interviews are probably better since my better half was with me and I was more comfortable. We thoroughly enjoyed taping each of them though and are thankful for the opportunity to have shared our story.
Also, we had the article for our free debt thermometer template featured on Rockstar Finance! That was super exciting and re-energizing. Honestly, I wouldn’t have thought that would have been the article of ours (if any) to be noticed since my writing isn’t witty or clever so to speak. It was also a standard resource we provided but I really think it is the best one out there since it auto fills in the spaces so you can easily customize it to you. Being featured was a direct result of our November personal challenge which shows how critical it is to always push yourself.
2017 Year in Review of Personal Challenges
Let’s get into the challenges themselves with an update on whether we have stuck to them or learned anything long term. I won’t spend a lot of time recapping our experience as the original blog post and follow-up is linked below so hopefully this is new information for you.
March – No TV for a Week
On a whim, we decided to do a personal challenge for a week by not watching TV. It ended up turning into a monthly personal challenge series. When starting the blog we originally didn’t plan on having this be a feature.
The reason we started with no TV was due to feeling we were spending too much time each night wasting away in front of the TV. So, we decided to try a week without it. The result was fun week where we actually interacted with each other rather than watching TV mindlessly.
We went back to watching TV after the challenge but by the time the blog kicked in and especially once Henry arrived we were barely watching TV at all. Only on Friday or Saturday nights do we watch TV. Honestly, it might be healthy if we add some back in but it has been tough to find the time. We are planning on reducing our TV bill soon so that is always a great place to start when trying to cut monthly expenses.
April – Read 15 Minutes a Day
This was a simple challenge of reading 15 minutes a day. We stuck with it for the month of the challenge. After that we didn’t really keep it up and went through a time where we didn’t read much. The last few months though we have gotten back to more reading which is good.
I just signed up for a trial to Audible so it might give me a chance to listen to some books that I otherwise couldn’t fit in. I can listen to them while driving or walking. That would give me a good chance to increase my reading.
I am also getting ready for the local annual used book sale in February which is the largest used book sale in the country. It is my favorite day of the year. Seriously.
May – No Eating Out for a Month
Once again, the title says it all. We didn’t eat out for a month and the goal was to spend less than $300 that month on groceries. This was one of our most memorable challenges as we met our goal and only spent $290. That was a big win for us and gave us confidence going forward since Erin had just quit her job at that time.
Now, we haven’t been that intense since then but we have done a really good job at not eating out more than 2 or 3 times a month. In this case, by going more extreme than necessary it allowed us to find a happy medium. Our budget going forward has been easy to maintain and in general we are less stuck on eating out to find happiness. When we do eat out though we find higher value in those experiences.
June – Walking 20 Minutes a Day
This was a fun one. We timed this with a vacation to the Oregon Coast where we did lots of walking. We also tried beating the heat as it is just too hot here in Phoenix to go for a walk in July or August. Erin was pregnant too so we had to be sensitive to that.
With the heat and the baby we didn’t quite keep it up. I have recently been working on walking 20 minutes a day at lunch now that the weather is so nice. It is something that I want to be a part of our daily routine. Getting the kids ready for a walk though is a lot of work so the reality is that it is tough to do together. With time, managing the kids does get easier though so we should be able to work it in.
July – Wake up Earlier
This one blends in with the next personal challenge in my mind and it hasn’t really stuck as a habit. Erin has done a really good job with waking up earlier lately. That is mainly because it is the only alone time she gets and you stay at home Moms know how valuable that is.
If I recall we did a good job abiding by the schedule we put in place that month but I just am not a morning person. I feel no sense of urgency when waking up unless I have a meeting.
It is something though that I hope naturally changes because when I do wake up early it is some of the most fun I have during that day.
August – Get to Work Earlier
This one was an extension of waking up earlier. While I did get to work earlier I literally never made it to work when I wanted. After that month, I eventually had a stretch where I was getting in earlier and even beat my goal.
Waking up earlier goes hand in hand with getting to work earlier so if I can start out the day right then everything else will follow.
September – Save Our Third Paycheck
September was when Henry was born. We needed something simpler to focus on so we made a different goal. That month we received a third paycheck which happens twice a year and we wanted to make sure it didn’t disappear into the wind like so many third paychecks do.
We haven’t had any of those three paycheck months again but pan to do the same next time around. We came up with a nice strategy for ensuring you save that paycheck without having a cash flow disruption. Check it out if you are looking for a way to save that third paycheck.
October – Weekly Finance Meeting
October was a transition month for us. With a second kid, we needed a way to make sure basic things like bills were not being missed. We established a weekly finance meeting to review our finances and that worked well.
We have continued the meeting since then as I am not sure how we went so long without having them like this. Also, we developed an excel spreadsheet to track all our bills and will offer that soon. We certainly recommend meeting on a weekly basis to check in on payments and budget.
November – Develop a New Source of Income
November was when we tried to get back in the swing of things which seems crazy looking back on it. My first comment is that the title of the challenge didn’t really capture what we were trying to do. We did both pour time into things that we hope make an income in the future.
The focus though was to improve the blog and work on items that I had previously out aside. By making the commitment to the blog it put us in position to be featured on Rockstar Finance. The Debt Thermometer article would not have happened if it were not for issuing that challenge. It would probably still be on my to do list.
We didn’t get everything done that we wanted to but I am still happy with the results of the challenge.
We did sell something on eBay which led to our December challenge. Erin was also trying to start a side hustle which didn’t really happen. That did lead to us selling a bunch of stuff so that is where our focus is.
December – Make an Extra $100
Technically, this challenge is not yet over with. We have not made $100 yet and things were looking pretty bleak for a while. We decided to make money 2 different ways.
- Sell Stuff on eBay.
- Exchange items in an antique store.
We will have created 50 listings on eBay over the course of the month. With that, we have sold 4 items for about $10 each and have another 2 items that have been bid on. That brings us to about $64 so far. I thought $100 was an easy goal to reach based on past experience but it has proved not easy mainly due to what we chose to sell.
I don’t think we are going to make it but we still have a bunch of listed items that could get bid on before the clock strikes 12:00 New Year’s Eve. The odds are not in our favor based on the way things have gone up to this point. We haven’t had any luck with selling our stuff in stores so that is off the table at the moment.
The big takeaway I have is that we have a system for listing items on eBay and will be easily able to keep it going. If we make $50 each month I will be really happy.
We had better luck selling stuff a few years ago so I was caught off guard with the response this time but everyone I talk to says eBay is still the best place to sell your items. Just don’t expect as quick of a return as you might hope. I guess it just depends on what you are selling and how picky you want to be on prices.
It was a busy year for us and 2018 looks to be more of the same but with a refined approach to what we learned in 2017. We have made a list of 18 items in 2018 that we hope to achieve. We suggest doing a similar thing that covers all aspects of your life.
Some projected milestones/goals this year are:
- Potty training our oldest (save that diaper money!)
- Pre-School for our oldest (use that diaper money towards school costs ☹)
- Our youngest should be walking by year end (they grow so quick!)
- Continued blog development
- Go to FinCon! (The new baby last year made it difficult to go)
- Continue to push our savings rate
Thanks so much to everyone that has supported the blog this year. The biggest thanks though goes to Erin who truly is an amazing wife and mother. It is such an honor to be your husband and I really appreciate all your contributions to our family, our household and the blog.