2016 Financial Review

For the past few years (201320142015), I've been doing a financial review. My goal is to break free of my debt, and the following post documents my struggle. Currently, we have a car loan, a house worth of student loan debt, and credit cards. We also have life goals that involve travel and seeing the world before we reach our eventual impending doom.

First, the Debt:

Our student loan debt is headed downward, but we still have a long way to go. Last year, we refinanced my husband's student loans, at a lower interest than he initially was given from the bank, with Earnest which helped us pay down his loans a lot more quickly than we might could have otherwise. However, the purchase of a car has definitely slowed us down in our endeavor. Unfortunately, it was either purchase the car or lose my job so you can see where decisions had to be made.

Over the past few years, since 2013, our student loan debt has been decreasing by the thousands:

2014: - $1,733.85
2015: - $9,505.24
2016: - $8,850.99

The full payoff date is currently Apr. 2022, a full one-year improvement from last year! Yay!

The car loan debt we paid off was approximately $1,374.75 (in 7 months) and looks sad in comparison to our student loan debt payoff numbers, but I don't have access to the full amount of car loan debt we have paid off for the full year of 2016. Nevertheless, halfway through the year, in June, we refinanced our car loan so that we could drop our interest by a full percentage point. The goal, of course, was to lessen the full amount we owe and get our debt paid off sooner.

Our credit card debt is probably the worst of any of our debt because it's so hard to budget for. When you owe $0 for X number of months with 0% interest being added to your total, you spend those months paying off the debt you are paying interest on (namely the student loans and car loan), so we fell behind with this. The numbers themselves don't look too terrible, but when you see the decrease in our assets (next), you can understand why paying off credit cards can be frustrating. (Not that you don't already understand!)

2014: - $333.27
2015: - $521.69
2016: + $680.59
payoff: Sep. 2017 (10 months added)


At one point, due to car fixes and what-have-you, we were in a tailspin of trying to figure out which credit card to pay off so that we wouldn't get charged interest, all the while never paying off the total spend for all of the cards. Well, last month, Justin got tired of it and took the money from our savings account to cover the extra we were "behind" on. (Except, of course, we were never actually behind, just living paycheck to paycheck.) Anyway, you can see that decrease here. And I can accurately state that the decrease did happen within this past month. Right now, we are working to replenish what we took, a few hundred at a time, per paycheck. Unfortunately, with car insurance and renter's insurance due in the next month, the need for new tires, and two trips in the future, I don't foresee these numbers improving as much as I'd like for a bit. I can hope though…

2014: + $1,321.24
2015: - $49.04
2016: - $1794.51

Last year vs. This Year

green = ths year; yellow = last

My monthly goal from one year to the next is to always spend less in a given year (2016) than I did the year before (2015). Unfortunately, I fell behind this year in at least 6 out of 12 months. I suspect at some points I got tired and frustrated with budgeting. Then there were other months when we were travelling.

No excuses, really. I just have to keep working at it. As long as I'm putting in some amount of effort, I know that my husband and I can lower our spending and really pay down our debt. I just have to keep that motivation all year long, and that's hard to do. (Ever try blogging about a project you know you are failing at? It's hard to admit. And rather than being honest with yourself, you then start to deny it's a problem. UGH.)

Net income

Luckily, we only experienced two exceptionally bad months where we spent more than we made. And to be fair, I was given a calendar with dates (for those two months) that I would be working, only to discover, sometimes the day before, that I wouldn't actually be working those dates. *sigh* So not only was I not making money, but I didn't have an opportunity to find work for my now open days. It was frustrating.

Net worth

I'm so glad to see our net worth numbers rising. This shows me that even through all of my own faults and failures (like how we owe more on credit cards than last year) if we keep making even the smallest of improvements and working towards our goals, we can reach them. I just wish our net worth increase was as much as last years. That would have been nice. 2017 goal?

2014: + $3,388.36
2015: + $17,229.04
2016: + $5,184.21

Stocks up 11.02%


I started graphing our fees in 2014 when I noticed we weren't paying off our credit cards like we were supposed to be after we returned from a trip to Europe. Slowly but surely we opened up credit cards and moved our debt around so that we wouldn't be paying interest fees.

BUT then 2015 happened and I discovered I could get things and experiences from my credit cards. I opened a Disney Amex to save $200 on our trip there last November, a Delta Amex to save $95 and get free checked luggage, and the Chase Sapphire Preferred for its 50,000 Ultimate Reward points and fee-free use in Europe.

Basically, opening cards in 2015 (while they were free then) meant that in 2016, we had to decide whether or not to keep the cards and continue paying the fees or get rid of them. And, of course, in some cases, cancelling a card could mean the difference between keeping a large amount of credit and high credit score, or … not. So, I paid my $50 IHG fee and I'm getting a free room out of it. BUT I also paid my $95 Delta Amex fee, so that I could keep my measly $3,000 credit and not lower my 800 point credit score. *shrugs* And that, my friends, is why my husband and I paid more for credit cards this year than we did in 2015.

for owning a credit card (2016): $409
other (bank fees, interest): $246.54

compared to last year (2015)
for owning a credit card: $59
other (bank fees, interest): $136.69

Our real problem this year was the bank fees, which were surprisingly high. I'd love to blame them all on my husband for not calling the bank to get the fees removed or calculating bills while he was tired which definitely led to some of the problems, but I am just as much at fault for not understanding the three-day transfer system we have in the US. I thought, if I paid a bill the day it was due, I wouldn't get charged interest. It surprised me to discover that it takes three days for my cash to transfer and thus I get charged interest even if I THOUGHT I had paid on time. Consider 2016, a lesson learned the hard way. :-/

With that being said, in 2017:
• we need to drop Justin's Delta Amex ($95)
• Dop Venture ($59?)
• Drop Sapphire? ($95)
• Open a new Discover card. ($0 fee, 5% back on varying categories throughout the year.)

Overview of the biggest impacts on our finances in 2016:
1. Two trips to Europe: one in January and one in July.
2. Hawaii vacation planning.
3. More credit card fees. :(
4. Decent tax refund.
5. Plus, Justin got a raise!

So where were the downfalls? What went wrong financially this year?
1. Travel, travel, travel. But it was so worth it. (And that, my friends is wherein the struggle lies.)
2. Food. We suck at sticking to a food budget.
3. We didn't pay off as much credit card debt as we were hoping to.
4. Justin's credit score fell. :(
5. Fees, fees, and more fees. We need to get rid of credit cards we don't need, pay payments more than three days before they are due, and call the bank when we are charged a fee that we don't think we deserve.

What went right this year?
1. This:
yellow = last year; green = this year
1b. What I'm reading in the graph is that our money was spent more on experiences/good food than shopping and THAT makes me happy. :) (Also, I'm getting better at gifting things on the cheap. Woot!)
2. Paid off ONE credit card (out of 3).
3. Got the new Suntrust credit card offering 5% off of groceries for the first year.
3b. And the new Chase Reserve providing us with a $300 travel credit; 100,000 Ultimate Reward points (after $4,000 spend); and 3% back on travel and restaurants. :)
4. Bought a flight to Hawaii for $22 (and points)! ✈️
5. Raised my credit score to 800!

What are our plans/goals for next year?
1. Paying off at least one more credit card. (Preferably 2)
2. Sell Chrysler Sebring.
3. Spend less on shopping, food, gifts, travel (because points! I don't actually want to travel less.).
4. Lower the number of credit card interest fees and yearly account fees (or at least make sure the fees are worth the cost of the card).
5. Get Justin's credit score back up.


Now that you've seen our financial review and 2017 goals for paying off our debt and raising our net worth, I'd love to know what you are doing to better your finances? Do you live paycheck or do you have a plan? … What do you think of our spending habits? Do you want to criticize and beat us over the head for spending on unnecessary things? … Or do you understand how difficult budgeting actually is? Do you have any tips for us? (Really, we'll take anything! We may not use it, but we'll at least hear you out!)

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