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Slow, Steady and Straightforward: Joan’s Mid-May Financial Update

in Joan's Posts, Our Financial Journey, Pay Off Your Debt

turtle-slow-steady

Note: This is a post from Joan Otto, Man Vs. Debt community manager. Read more about Joan.

Isn’t that guy cute? He’s a huge snapping turtle we found crossing the road on our fifth anniversary trip to Erie, PA, in 2010. While his slow-and-steady progress made everyone around go “Aww!” and reach for their cameras, our slow-and-steady debt payoff progress is making me say “Eww!” and making me want to reach for the Advil.

But we are making progress – slow, steady and straightforward – and I’m trying to remember that even slow going (in the right direction) gets you there eventually.

And maybe I’m not alone in needing that reminder…

Our Very Next Steps: Debts

In good news, we hit two of our Very Next Steps against our various debts this month. And we dropped our total debt balance – it’s now $56,779.11 – down $972.98 this month and $32,908.12 from the start.

As I’ve said in pretty much every one of these financial updates, even when we’re not making FAST progress, I’m proud to say we’re making progress.

In fact, as I mentioned, I’ve got two specific successes.

  • Hated Bank of America Mastercard: Our goal had been to get this under $17,000, and we succeeded this month, coming in at $16,895.45. Next, we’ll aim for under $16,000!
  • Union Plus Mastercard: We had been aiming to get this under $7,500, and now, at $7,480.97, we’ll next shoot for under $7,000. That will take a while – this is not a card we’re paying any extra on, as it’s one of our lowest interest rates and nothing about it particularly motivates us to “go tsunami” on it, but again, it’s slow and steady progress!

Don’t forget that we keep track of all of these debts in summary (complete with V.N.S.) on my “Joan’s Finances” page – so you can see how we’re doing at a glance. Here, I just hit the updates each month.

Our Very Next Steps: Assets

In addition to these next steps against our various debts, we’ve also got some short-term goals in the area of savings.

  • We need to get our emergency fund back up first to $1,000, then to $1,700 (one month’s mortgage payment).
  • We also need to get a checking-account buffer of about $1,000 to $1,500 as well.

These aren’t “sexy” goals at all, but they’re what keep life’s emergencies from derailing our progress, and what keep us from being able to say we won’t accrue new debt – no matter what!

While the debt V.N.S. goals happen over the course of our regular payments, these savings goals will require a little more conscious effort. We’re still trying to adjust to the change in income that I mentioned last month, so we’re actually working on the checking-account buffer first so that we’re sure the routine expenses are covered.

By the end of June, we plan to start moving extra money into savings. But that’ll give us time to see what truly is “extra” – and what is needed to make ends meet!

Adjusting our targets

We had hoped to be debt-free except for our mortgage as of March 2015 when we started tracking our progress here on Man Vs. Debt. Thanks to some changes in our income, we’ve had to adjust that target, and our newest goal would have us done with consumer debt in April 2016.

That has us paying $2,000 total per month on our debts (minimums plus extras), which at our current income levels is heartily ambitious and maybe not even quite doable – but we’re committed to trying! {As a point of reference, at our highest, we’d been paying $2,500 or more monthly!}

That said, that seems ages away, and as we’ve said before, we truly believe that by hustling, we can cut a significant time off of that. The hard part is deciding just how ambitious to be, so I decided to set a “range” of goals.

  • Marathon finisher award medal: Paid off “on time,” or by April 30, 2016
  • Bronze medal: Paid off by December 31, 2015 (4 months early, about $7,850 “extra” required, give or take)
  • Silver medal: Paid off by August 31, 2015 (8 months early, about $15,450 “extra” required)
  • Race-winning, Olympic-qualifying, crazy-awesome gold medal: Paid off by April 30, 2015 (a full year early, about $22,740 “extra” required)

The biggest bummer right now is that we’d hoped to pay off the hated BoA card this year, but instead, we’re looking at having it right around $10,000 at the end of 2013 and finishing it off in October of 2014. To be fair, we’re still happy – that’s great progress – but you know we’ll be looking to hit this one as hard as we can!

I hope I’m not the only one who needs the occasional reminder that slow and steady is OK. Sometimes I feel like I don’t have a very “dramatic” story – I’m not paying off $50,000 in a year or anything like that – but I have a plan, I’m working the plan, and I’m getting where I want to go.

And that’s got to be good enough!

How’s your progress? Slow and steady like a marathon, or more of a sprint? Some of both?

Comment and let us know!

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

cjb May 14, 2013 at 9:22 AM

Joan,

They say slow and steady wins the race. Last month I didn’t make much headway myself. We had some unexpected expenses but the thing that makes us most encouraged is that we didn’t touch our emergency fund and that was a huge milestone.

Great job and awesome post!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Good for you for keeping that emergency fund intact in the face of those unexpected expenses!! That is a HUGE win!! :)

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Lisa May 14, 2013 at 9:43 AM

Good work, and thanks for the reminder! We are paying off our house, and it is so hard to stay motivated with a chunk of debt so large. With smaller debts, we could track them in months, not years, and see pretty quick results in eliminating a payment. I keep reminding myself that this is how we want to run our finances permanently, not just when we’re paying off something, and that helps me to take a long-term view of it. I also think about the great example we’re setting for our kids.

Keep up the good work! I love reading about your progress!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 12:23 PM

Thanks, Lisa!! And congratulations on the progress I know you ARE making on that mortgage. It’s HARD with the big numbers, but just keep setting your sights on getting it lower and lower. We’re cheering you on!

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Cay May 14, 2013 at 10:39 AM

Joan,
Congratulations are making goals and “adjusting” as needed! Your dedication to your family is important, hence staying home to home school your daughter. So with the reduced income, you adjusted your goal time frame. 2016-well that’s just around the corner. It will be here before you know it. Example: As with children, one moment they are little, the next moment they are graduating high school or college. Slow and steady is the way to go. You have us-your financial family to be accountable to. We share the murphy moments and the Goal winning moments.
Heck, have a yard sale and sale something to go on the debt when you need “just that little bit” to get to your very next step. My hubby is involved in that process right now. He sees our goal of paying off the mortgage by Dec of 2014 is within touching distance. He is getting gazelle intense to paying the debt off EARLY-April 2014.
I showed the hubby your Olympic goals and we both thought it was a great idea. (He’s working on something like that for us now).
When you get a little discouraged, you tell us and we all help one another. That’s what friends are for! Keep moving forward in your goals.
Joan, thru Man vs Debt, we have become financial friends. You are SO awesome!! Such an encourager to all who read your post. We are all blessed to know you. So Thank YOU in a big way. Every time you look at that sweet daughter of yours, know you are doing the right thing. Looking forward to your very next post.

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 12:27 PM

Cay, you always bring a huge smile to my face. And I am so proud to know that you guys are in the home stretch!!! :)

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Cay May 15, 2013 at 10:35 PM

Thanks Joan! I will be right here for you as your travel to be debt free! I will be honored to be here when you and your hubby hit the home stretch!!!

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Jake Erickson May 14, 2013 at 10:40 AM

Nice job and keep up the good work. Slow progress is better than no progress (or even going backwards). Paying off that much debt is never going to go fast, so you just have to make sure to stay motivated and continue plugging along. I think it’s great you’re celebrating the little goals that you hit and that you continue to make short term goals in order to help keep you motivated.

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 12:27 PM

Thanks, Jake! That is exactly what I’m trying for – to keep myself jazzed up to keep at it. We’ll get there!

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Christina May 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM

Only 2 words needed for you. YOU ROCK!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 12:28 PM
Jeff @ Money and Potatoes.com May 14, 2013 at 12:30 PM

You are a good man for trying to live debt free. I have accumulated quite a significant amount of non-collateralize debt over years and I am finally ready to institute a master debt payoff plan. Reading blogs like yours gives me the inspiration to really give it a go.

I also now have hope that I might actually live the rest of my life debt free.

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 10:56 PM

Er, good WOMAN, I hope? ;-)

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Dani Sheffield May 14, 2013 at 2:23 PM

Joan, I think what you are doing is ADMIRABLE!! Now that my daughter is a teen-ager I wish I was in a position to walk away from work and give her more of what she needs. You are an AWESOME mom for tending to your daughter, this was the best move you could have ever made. We too are paying off our mortgage only 45 months to go…..I know it seems far off but reading your post keeps me INSPIRED!!.. Keep up the good work…P.S I find myself waiting on the next post, asking myself isn’t it time for Joan to post an update…LOL

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 10:57 PM

Aww, Dani, that made my day!!! I am so thrilled that you are almost done with that mortgage (and in mortgage terms, ANYTHING you can count in months and not decades is “close” for sure!)

You rock. And I bet you are doing a great job with your daughter :)

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klp May 14, 2013 at 3:33 PM

Recall why Aesop’s hare lost to the tortoise: He got ahead and quit. Had the hare simply slowed down and walked slowly the rest of the race, rather that take a nap, he would have broken the tape and won by a long shot.
Keep making progress, as long as you are making net payments (i.e. monthly payments that exceed fees and finance charges), you’re ahead of the game.

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 10:57 PM

That’s exactly my plan, and I sure love that reminder!

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Jan May 14, 2013 at 4:09 PM

Thanks Joan–and, we made some progress, even as I watched nervously at some uncertain coming income (don’t be a public school teacher in this economy. In related news, send out good hopes to those who are–or are married to them!).
Your updates and the turtle really help. Like many others said here, thanks, thanks, and good luck to us all. Turtle on! Jan

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 10:58 PM

Jan, TURTLE ON is now my favorite saying. And definitely, I’m sending good thoughts to the way of your family, and all the teachers and, like my husband, newspaper journalists, and everyone else who is worried in this economy. Scary times, but I feel like we’re way better prepared than we would have been at any time in the past!

Good thoughts coming your way!

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Jana May 14, 2013 at 4:28 PM

Joan–just love your updates and your honesty. We’ll all celebrate with you as you knock off those debts one at a time, over time.

We hit a huge milestone a few weeks ago–paid off my husband’s master’s/doctoral student loans with a big ol’ final payment of $2800. That felt great!

We have no other debt except for two mortgages–our house and our rental property. However, it’s the rental that has become the financial nightmare. I never wanted it but my darling husband (who I dearly love) insisted that it was the right investment to make. He also convinced me that we should refinance right when the market was at his highest, and now not only do we owe just about what the house might sell for, but we pay $300 each month over the rent and have spent thousands on repairs, etc. It’s a money pit and to sell it, we have to SAVE money to be able to pay for the capital gains tax which will be at least $10,000 (not to mention we’ll have to fork out another $5-10,000 for fees, closing costs, etc. depending on how much we are able to sell the place for). We’ve learned so much since we made those bad money mistakes–but it’s hard to get motivated about scrimping and saving–just to be able to be free of a property. There are so many things I’d like to use that money for other than basically buying ourselves out of this rental, but at this point that’s our only choice. We lose lots of money by keeping it, and we lose lots of money by selling it–but first we have to have that money available! So, onward and upward–here’s to another great month of frugal living and saving!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 11:00 PM

UGH to the situation you’re in – but I am so glad you’re persevering and getting where you need to go eventually! (And, hey, I’ve made my share of What Was I Thinking decisions that seemed good at the time, so I can sympathize.)

Thank you so much for the kind words… and yes, onward and upward we will all go!!

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radioman1976 May 14, 2013 at 4:42 PM

Outstanding! I am making a commitment to ‘destroy’ six grand worth of credit card debt by years end (or at least get it down to half, or $3000). Thanks! You are an inspiration!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 11:02 PM

YOU GO! Congrats on that commitment – I hope you’ll keep us posted!

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Beth May 14, 2013 at 6:48 PM

Been consumer debt free for two years after a 4 yr journey- IT IS WORTH IT!! You have inspired me to attack the mortgage and get back in the ring. You can do it! We all can do it, one baby step at a time! Go Joan go!!!!!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 11:01 PM

Beth, thanks for cheering me on – and thank you so so so much for being willing to get back in there and throw a few more punches at debt!! You can do it!

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Sissy May 14, 2013 at 9:06 PM

Slow and steady right now. Thanks for your post, Joan, it’s easy to not see the progress as soon as I’d like. I haven’t used any of my credit cards in 2 years and am in the process of paying these off, within 2-1/2 years I will be completely debt-free, including my mortgage!

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Joan Otto May 14, 2013 at 11:00 PM

INCLUDING the mortgage? Whoa, Sissy, that’s awesome!! Good for you :)

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Sissy May 14, 2013 at 11:53 PM

Hi Joan

Yes, it’s exciting, it’s a slow process. It’s nice to read the comments to make me ‘stay the course’.

Thanks for your posts,

Sissy

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Paddy May 15, 2013 at 7:01 AM

This is a fantastic article, thank you. It’s so important to have an emergency fund we never know when we need it. We found this out last year the hard way but lucky for us I have always had a three month emergency fund that will cover our whole debt, however I stil think in this day and age 1 year is possibly better

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Joan Otto May 20, 2013 at 9:48 PM

Paddy, we are looking to buff ours up quite a bit – but not until after the debt is paid down! $1,000 is good for now!

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Beth VB May 15, 2013 at 9:13 AM

I love your bronze/silver/gold medal goals… and seeing how much extra you have to pay to reach each one… I find calculating what you will save in interest is a big motivator as well!!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:57 PM

Beth, we like looking at that too, the interest savings! Thanks for the encouragement :)

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kat May 15, 2013 at 12:36 PM

just started blogging about our journey to becoming debt free. my husband and i are 25, have been married for two years and have about $90k of debt, $80k of which is student loans. your monthly updates help me stay the course. thanks, joan!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:58 PM

Thanks, Kat!! I hope you’ll keep us posted on your own journey!

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Vi Krahn May 16, 2013 at 7:53 AM

I’m curious. Are there Tax Free Savings Accounts available in the States?

Utilizing these would be a help.

Keep up the good work with debt payment… And the exceptional blog. That’s an accomplishment in itself. You’re living in a fish bowl for the good of many. That takes guts. No guts… No glory!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 8:59 PM

Guts, we’ve got! I don’t know about much else, but…

We’re not doing any kind of mass savings vehicle until we’re debt-free (very Dave Ramsey-esque, I guess), but definitely pretax savings are great. We DO have a pretax flexible-spending account for health expenses, which comes in very handy.

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Dee May 16, 2013 at 8:00 AM

Ya rock star. Great job. I love reading your updates!

And I just became debt free last week (not including the mortgage)!! Very happy about it but at the same time I thought it would bring a bit more peace to my state of mind. Now on to tackle savings!

Keep on keeping on Joan! We love reading about it.

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:01 PM

DEE! I’m late reading your comment, but whoa, congratulations!!! Are you going to be our next featured Man Vs. Debt success story? Tell us all some tips? I’m serious. We’re in awe. Drop me an email (joan at manvsdebt dot com) if you’d be interested, because boy, we can all use the encouragement that it CAN happen!

And tackle that savings… if you can do the mortgage, you can certainly do that!

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Tina May 16, 2013 at 3:38 PM

Thanks for the update Joan, and the reminder. I would like to say my finances are the interval training. Slow, fast, slow, fast but always moving forward. It’s the slow part that is painful. I to have had to make adjustments. I am in the process of revamping the whole budget and pay off schedule because of your wonderful you vs. debt class.
thanks again for sharing.

To Dee.
Congratulations!! on a job well done!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:02 PM

YES YES YES Tina – sometimes slow, sometimes fast, and that makes the slow parts seem reaaaaaallllllyyyy slow, doesn’t it?

I’m so glad You Vs. Debt helped you. We are VERY proud of you!!

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Tom May 17, 2013 at 10:28 PM

Thanks for this update! I’m a month into my aggressive student loan pay-off (which you can read about at my site ;) ), and it’s great to read posts like this one.

My goal is very ambitious – 62k by 2017 on a teacher’s salary – but I have a plan in place and during month #1 met that plan by paying $800 towards my student loans. The marathon metaphor may be over-used, but it is totally apt!!! Just gotta keep chipping away and find creative ways to stick to goals!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:02 PM

I am definitely a fan of it – it’s a metaphor that WORKS for so many of us.

Good for you on your progress – can’t wait to keep seeing updates!

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Catherine May 18, 2013 at 9:07 PM

I love this post! I’m going to start following your progress :) Hubby and I are trying to climb out of a mountain of debt too. Good luck with your goals!

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Joan Otto May 20, 2013 at 9:37 PM

Catherine, good luck to you guys as well! I can’t wait to hear about your own progress!

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Glen @ Monster Piggy Bank May 18, 2013 at 11:36 PM

Our debt payoff progress was really slow at first, but over the years it has increased in pace quite quickly and we are now to the point of only having about 25% of it left :)

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Joan Otto May 20, 2013 at 9:36 PM

Glen, we are creeping up on that point where the percentage drops quicker and quicker (it’s already sped up, actually, even though our payment amounts haven’t fully kept up with their highest rates) and I am LOVING it! You must feel awesome to be at the three-quarters mark; congrats!

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KC @ genxfinance May 20, 2013 at 12:05 PM

I agree. Slowly but surely. It is better than no progress at all and besides, when it comes to debt, we want to take it one step at a time. Eventually you will get there.Good job.

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Joan Otto May 20, 2013 at 9:26 PM

Thanks, KC!

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thepotatohead May 21, 2013 at 12:28 AM

Congrats! Slow and steady wins the race. I’m also working on the emergency fund and the checking account buffer. Then after that focusing heavy on my car loan.

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:04 PM

One thing at a time – you have it exactly right! I can’t wait to keep following your progress toward all those things.

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Christina May 26, 2013 at 8:01 PM

We’ve paid down $14000 in the last 12 months. To be honest, if we were hustling, we could have doubled that figure. I get really frustrated with myself just thinking about it. Also, did this with no emergency fund. I know I need to get going with this. Our cash flow is so good at the moment, that we can catch anything that comes along, but still, it just plain makes good sense to have this in place.

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:08 PM

Christina, you guys have come VERY far, and I know exactly what you mean about realizing it could be more. I am the same way and get frustrated with myself very easily – and then when someone else comments with the same number, I’m all “You’re doing awesome” and I’m so impressed. We are definitely our own worst enemies, aren’t we?

We are here for you – cheering you on – and I can’t wait to hear that you’ve set aside that cash for an emergency fund. Do it now WHILE you have that good cash flow! :)

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Thomas @ MF May 27, 2013 at 9:18 AM

Progress is progress slow or fast. I like that you are setting big goals but tracking them with mini goals to keep you on target. It also gives you something to be proud of along the way. Keep pushing ahead!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:06 PM

Thanks, Thomas! I appreciate the encouragement!

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Sherrie Nicholson June 2, 2013 at 4:29 PM

Thanks for your updates. They are always encouraging! Great reading! Keep up the good work! Good luck!

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Joan Otto June 5, 2013 at 9:07 PM

Thanks, Sherrie! I can’t tell you how much it encourages me to have all of you guys cheering me on. You make my day :)

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Keren June 13, 2013 at 5:34 PM

Oh yes, I definitely need that reminder. We paid off less than $100 of our debt in the last month. But you know what? It’s still going in the right direction. My total debt went DOWN not UP!

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