Updates and Human Capital

Seems last entry was October 2016…believe it or not, I have an excuse.

Since my entry last Fall, Karen and I have succeeded in taking our “Bologna Holiday” which cost a couple of tanks of gas and sodas. In addition, we survived Christmas financially by staying on a pretty tight budget. We also successfully raised a substantial amount of cash so I could take a mission trip overseas, thanks to good friends who saw the need!  We had to withdraw from our emergency fund to have the air conditioner repaired in Karen’s car. We’ve had a slew of birthdays that have come and gone, and now, here we are almost feeling Fall again.

Our bank account is still growing, although painfully slow. I know of no one who climbs a mountain as slow as we do. We have finally managed to save that $1000 emergency fund, and now, because we know another car is going to be needed in the not too distant future, (another teen will be turning 16) we are finally saving for that. No going into debt for vehicles! Mom and Dad will get the new car, the kids get to buy the hand-me-downs at a discounted price, just in case you are wondering. We are also not having to live from paycheck to paycheck, which is nice.

While all this has been going on, I have been in pursuit of a Bachelor’s degree in Accounting, and am scheduled to finish around this time next year. This is taking a ton of time, and consequently, why I haven’t been journaling and sharing all the financial lessons I’ve learned lately. I had a break between the riveting subjects of “Creating an Income Statement” and “Balance Sheet and Statement of Cash Flows,” so I decided to take a break and endeavor to persevere in the area of writing. Liabilities are always more fun to write about when you find the only debts you owe are your mortgage and student loan.

A while back it occurred to me, if I’m ever going to get a little further ahead with our bank account, I was going to have to invest in my education. There was no way I was going to make more money without a formal education of some kind.

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Human Capital, written about in many an economics class, is the “skills, knowledge, and experience possessed by an individual or population, viewed in terms of value or cost to an organization or country,” according to Dictionary.com. Presumably, one’s investment into his Human Capital will pay off in terms of his productivity, which should lead to more net income, assuming that is the purpose for investing in himself. For us..it is.

We have tried not to go into a great deal of debt for this degree. I’m currently attending Western Governor’s University, which is an online college with course material that is no joke. For those interested in possibly pursuing their education further, check out www.wgu.edu. Let me know if you decide to go for it! Last I checked, because of financial aid and pell grants, we were only about 10 grand in debt. Seems like a lot as I write, but I am also looking at what the future might bring. I do not think it unreasonable that this degree could bring an extra 10 grand per year into our pockets once obtained; therefore, I do not think it unreasonable to have it paid off in a short amount of time, a year or a little more, should our standard of living not increase, and then enjoying the benefits of the increased income afterward.

Although increased income is a great benefit, there is also the benefit of knowing that it was done….period! It’s not been an easy ride to be a student and also be a working husband, daddy and friend. Karen sometimes has to put the princess in bed after I’ve studied or taken a 3 hour test. Family and church gatherings have been missed because I’ve had to study. Sons have had to wait for that video game or not have friends over because Dad needed the quiet for a night. It has taken sacrifice and grit to see this through to the end, and it will continue to do so until I’m finished, but we’re almost there. I’m not sure I will ever be able to take seriously those who say the market is flooded with qualified candidates who have bachelor degrees because “bachelor degrees are a dime a dozen”or a “master degree is the new bachelor degree.”  I know what it costs and am determined that it is not undermined, I don’t have to settle. For some companies, working experience and grit will count for something. For me, it will be the pride that I stuck with it through tough courses I sometimes failed, the personal knowledge I will apply to my life because of the material learned, and the fact that when it is finished, it’s finished. Until then…

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Pitfalls of the Climb

It’s interesting how just about the time a person thinks they are standing on solid ground and can breathe for a moment, the ground falls out from underneath their feet. That’s been our experience over the past few days.

'No. . . this isn't the fiscal cliff.'

 

Many companies do biometric screening for insurance credits as an incentive to keep employees healthy and well. It’s good for the employee, who can get a decent bonus to stay in shape; and it’s good for the insurance company, who doesn’t have to pay as many claims to employees who are staying well and away from the doctor. Such is the case with my company. Let’s just say, I wasn’t healthy enough to make the cut. It’s something that I am now making a full-time project and has lit a fire under me to change my habits, routines, and diet so next year the wellness credit will be mine. In the meantime however I found that the lack of said credit is more than likely going to eat up the money I save in carpooling, so there’s that.

Another challenge we’ve run across is a balance that has come due for my college course work. It was not a charge I was expecting to pay as I expected the Pell grant and student loan would be covering it. I received a refund not long ago for the amount of the balance due, so I assumed the balance was paid over and above and that was the reason for the refund. Turned out the opposite was true, the refund check they sent us was actually supposed to pay the balance that is now due and we simply had to “pay the refund back” as the good folks at the bursar’s office so eloquently put it. My eyes couldn’t roll back in my head far enough to accommodate the frustration I was feeling. In the end, we had to pay the balance due from our meager savings.

Ah yes, and to add insult to injury, my son’s “pay as you go” phone comes due every 30 days. Not every 31 days, every 30 days. Meaning that the amount is taken from our account a day earlier every month than it was from the previous month if the month had 31 days in it. Since there are several months that have 31 days in it, when that bill comes due is basically a moving target, this month it debited our account in the negative by $10.

I was hoping at the very least to have a positive balance to report once we were paid on the 15th….

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I must admit, a couple of days this week I wanted to throw my hands up, stick my head in the snow and ignore it all, or freeze to death of hypothermia. I grab the rope, ready to repel, or just jump off the metaphorical cliff face in frustration, harness or no harness (a bit mellow dramatic I know).

All of these things are annoyances. Pitfalls on the journey up the mountain. Nevertheless, we have to keep going, at a slow pace, even trudging if need be. IT’S GOING TO BE SLOW GOING. Pay more attention to billings, get out the paper, write it all down, and build the budget again. Hammer another stake in the cliff face and pull ourselves back up.

 

I’m sorry, can you repeat that?

A collection agency contacted me today. This major disappointment came about 11 am, right about the time I found my mojo. I remember the all to familiar lines that bill collectors spill just before they proceed to annoy you with information you more than likely already know. “This is an attempt to collect a debt and any information obtained on this call may be used expressly for that purpose…blah blah blah.”

This year has been expensive for our family as far as medical issues. I hate to admit they are mainly mine. In February I had some kind of attack where I was sure I must have had gall stones, or kidney stones, maybe even river stones, but it hurt! The trip we took to the emergency room revealed I had a “mild” case of diverticulitis. I was given antibiotics, pain killers, and an excuse to stay home from work for the next week. The bill that came along with it, after insurance, was roughly $1800, nice.

Normally, I tend to want to get my bill paying over with quickly. “Take it from savings! That’s what the emergency fund is for!” But we didn’t use our emergency bills for emergencies. We used it to pay bills over years and months because we didn’t budget. Karen shook her head because it wasn’t there, and I made payment arrangements for $104 per month and started to kill it with every extra dollar we had, but it didn’t die.

Today it sits at about $600 when my Indian friend called to inform me of his self incriminating recorded line. Then he lets me know that there’s an ADDITIONAL $1538.46 for “doctor’s services” much to my chagrin. Apparently ER facilities bill on one bill, while doctor’s services are invoiced on another. “Why do hospitals not include it all on one bill?” I ask. “Why am I just now hearing about this?” Apparently these are all questions for philosophers; for my foreign counterpart could not answer. I asked him to send me a statement via email and not to call me back between the hours of 8 am to 5 pm because he’s bugging me at work. He agreed, but not before asking me to make payment arrangements…I didn’t make payment arrangements.

billsI find there is a very primal emotion that comes about when I speak with people from collection agencies. It used to happen a lot, long before Karen and I were married. I think it may be a very natural reaction to be upset and defensive about bills a person can’t pay. There’s a very “fight or flight” mentality that comes with it. This heated reaction is exactly why I knew to get what information I could as quickly as I could and get off the phone. I’ve knowingly made payment arrangements for bills I knew couldn’t pay in the past. I wasn’t about to make another emotional decision.

After investigating, I found I do owe this bill, and I’ll pay it; but it won’t be because they backed me into a corner when I was upset about it. We can’t afford to pay it right now, “you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip,” someone once said (probably while talking to a bill collector). we have to take care of food, transportation, and housing, the basics. When a thousand dollars for emergencies  is saved in our account, this bill will be added to a debt snowball and it will be paid. Until then, I do not intend to speak to this collection agency again. Will it ruin my credit? Maybe, but right now I could care less. I don’t plan on using credit in the near future, or maybe ever. It’s not worth not taking care of my family now, and I would rather have the integrity of doing that AND paying a bill I owe, later.