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Big Decisions Involving Big Dollars: Joan’s Mid-October Financial Update

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

choose-your-path

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

After several months of, well, not much to report, I’ve decided to make up for it all in one month.

Let’s see…

  • My husband gave his notice at his job of 13 years – and is strongly considering taking some time to freelance and explore some alternative opportunities, rather than a traditional office job.
  • Meanwhile, I’m strongly considering a return to full-time office work.
  • We cashed out a good chunk of money from my former 401(k).

Yeah, I’d say we’ve made, or are in the process of making, some pretty big decisions.

A long time coming

While I haven’t shared about these decisions publicly before now, they’ve all been works in progress for some time. Chris, my husband, actually gave his notice last year – sort of – but decided to stick things out after talking with senior management about some potential changes.

This time, though, it’s the right time. He needs a change – and our family needs his crazy schedule to change!

Meanwhile, since I began working primarily as a freelancer (and then fully as a freelancer earlier this year), I’ve longed for the simplicity of my life before.

With bunches of clients to juggle, I’m always stressed because this one is on vacation and needs me to cover all emails, but this one is installing a new computer system and needs me on site, but this one just released a new upgrade and is going to require more immediate tech support… and I haven’t had a day “off” in something like 8 months. Man, I miss the 50-hour office workweeks, for sure!

In both of those cases, there is much more to the decision than I’m describing here. Suffice it to say, these are conversations that have been going on for years and years, and while there’s no great time to make a sweeping change, this is the time we’ve chosen, and we’re excited to see what’s next! (Don’t worry, I’m sticking around here at Man Vs. Debt as long as you guys’ll have me!)

The nitty-gritty money stuff

Ah, so this 401(k) thing. First, let me say this: Within the next month, I’m going to have a very detailed post explaining exactly why we decided to take a major tax hit and cash ours out, and under what circumstances (there aren’t many) I would recommend doing so.

For today, let me give you the very short version: We’ve decided that some of our money, doing a very specific job for us, is more valuable than all of our money doing a job for us that we don’t need. (Don’t worry. We plan to retire. We just plan to fund our retirement VERY differently than many people might!)

Right now, almost all of the money has gone to a holding tank – our separate savings account. We first set aside all the money we need for taxes and another large expense we know is coming in the next eight months. Then, we left a healthy cushion in our checking account and set aside the “rest of the rest” in savings as well.

Big decisions

  • We could have made a huge hit in the credit cards with that 401(k) money.
  • We could buy – in cash – a much more reliable car than our clunker 2003 Ford Taurus. 
  • We could get  a second car – a very real possibility depending on how the job situation shakes out.
  • We could make some long-desired and fairly necessary repairs to our home.
  • We might be looking at a move (not super-far, but a move nonetheless), again depending on some job options we’ve considered, and we could use the money to help with that process.

There are pretty much any number of things, ranging from almost definite needs to just some strong wants. We don’t know yet what we’re going to do. And we’re specifically choosing not to act until we’ve hammered out some of the life decisions – jobs, home, family and more – that accompany this.

All that said, we made progress this month, simply by doing exactly what we’ve been doing!

We didn’t hit any Very Next Steps (which you can see in detail here on my Joan’s Finances page) this month, but our total debt was down $318.11, bringing us to a total of $34,427.68 paid off and 38.39% debt-free!

What’s next?

Our biggest goal for the next six weeks is to sort out our career goals and options. Chris and I are very blessed to HAVE several options. In fact, our problem is really narrowing down the list to things we really want to do, not just opportunities we could take. We don’t take that for granted, and we’ll be putting some serious thought into our decisions!

Once that’s a bit more settled, we’ll start digging into the collateral decisions – location, car, and so many other things.

Our life right now is a little (a lot!) uncertain. That’s not common for us, and I won’t lie – it’s a little scary.

But it’s also exciting. We’re ready for a change – and our family needs it.

So I hope you’ll celebrate with us, stay tuned for more updates, and generally support us as we walk this new path.

We’re ready. 

What big decisions have you faced lately? I’m interested in hearing from others who are doing a new thing too!

Tell us in the comments!

{ 35 comments… read them below or add one }

Jonathan Welford October 21, 2013 at 8:34 AM

Sorry if it sounds like a dumb question, isn’t it better to leave a job when you’ve got one lined up, rather than resign without anything in the pipeline?

Surely having a steady income, no matter how stressful or frustrating it is, is better than having nothing and the stress of being unemployed and having debts to pay with no income will compound the stress? Especially this time of year, when employement opportunities are on the slow down until the new year.

Or have I misread something in the blog?

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 9:59 AM

Jonathan, we’re lucky enough to have freelance opportunities lined up that fully cover our expenses – and the opportunity to either work or not work full-time! We’d “slightly prefer” that one of us worked for benefits, but even that isn’t a mandatory, and we’ve both been presented with a number of options that allow us to choose what’s best!

So I guess the accurate statement is, we don’t have one particular job lined up each, we have a collection of several opportunities to choose from, all of which are open to us. Which is pretty awesome!

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Jonathan Welford October 21, 2013 at 8:53 AM

Sorry spelling error ‘employment opportunities’

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Dani Sheffield October 21, 2013 at 9:25 AM

I am a firm believer that you must do what is best for you and your family. I know sometimes we feel like a hamster in a wheel and this requires a change. Although I don’t agree, I hope this will be a good move for your family.!!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:05 AM

Dani, thank you so much… we really do believe this is best! I’m just curious which part you don’t agree with? (Mostly because there is so much of what’s going on that will be future post topics, and I’m interested to know what people would like to hear more about or have questions on!)

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rowan twosisters October 21, 2013 at 9:27 AM

You Go JOAN! I think amazing life happens when we figure out what we want, and make radical (yet well thought out) steps to achieve it. I believe in you!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Rowan, you rock! Thank you so much for your support!

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Angie October 21, 2013 at 9:33 AM

Joan, I applaud your choices.

Ultimately, (and this is just my opinion) your choices should be those that make you feel good/light/happy/content. As long as your not putting your family in a precarious finacial spot, which is doesn’t sound like you are. Do work you love and the rest will fall into place. I look forward to hearing about your transition and progress!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:00 AM

Nope, we are feeling as solid financially as we have in a LONG time, actually! Thank you so much for the kind words!

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Maureen October 21, 2013 at 9:50 AM

Joan and family — good luck with the transition. I hope it does end up being the best for everyone. Yes, it is scary when there are other people to think about, but if everyone is on the same page, then things should fall into place. The transition might take a while, but the long term is what you need to look at and see what’s best for everyone involved.

And I thought making a decision about spending $1500 more on insulation and sheet rock was a huge decision — your’s is way bigger!

Good luck!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:03 AM

Hey, that’s ALSO a big decision. It’s all about what’s big to you! I have had times where a big decision might be buying new shoes for Sarah or not. Perspective :)

Thanks for the kind words! We are looking forward to a new chapter.

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Matt October 21, 2013 at 11:08 AM

Joan,

Is there any way you could pay off the discover card with the some of the 401k and use any excess above your min. payments on the other debts? I suggest it only to see if you can get another mark in the win column. Getting out of debt is emotional, and we need the motivation to get over the hump and sometimes the bumps in the debt war. I believe it would be a big help to you. On a personal note, we are now debt free except for our current mortgage. We sold our former home, and the equity was more than enough to pay off our debts. Because I couldn’t rent in my area for less than my current house payment ($1100), the house payment doesn’t bother me like other debts do/did. Next step is to tackle this house. I will move it to a 15 year mtg, and shoot for paying off in 7 years (my gold medal goal). Keep up the good work. I hope my suggestion isn’t off-base for an expert like you.

Thanks,

Matt

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 1:57 PM

Hey Matt! We’re definitely exploring some options, and tackling particular credit cards may be part of it. (It wouldn’t be Discover – they’re VERY low on our list of priorities, as they have great customer service and a good APR, but it might very well be another one, again depending on what the other needs are!)

Super-proud of you for tackling all your debt – and your mortgage plan. That’s amazing!!

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Lamisha October 21, 2013 at 12:14 PM

I actually am in a similar change phase right now. My current full-time job is ending at the end of this year and after just starting my life coaching business, I have a choice to either find some part-time work while I continue to build my business or find another full-time gig while I grow my business on the side and pay off my debt. I have chosen not to take or even apply for jobs that don’t excite or interest me so the future looks a little uncertain, but I am certain whatever the result is will be great! Good luck on your big decisions in the coming weeks. I love hearing about your progress and logic behind your decisions :-)

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 1:56 PM

Lamisha, that’s AWESOME!! I have faith that the right things will work out in your life and I’m so proud of you for building your business and having a plan that means the ending of this job is not “the end!”

:) Keep us posted!

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Jana October 21, 2013 at 12:44 PM

Good luck with the daunting changes!!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 1:56 PM

Thanks, Jana!

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Dianna October 21, 2013 at 1:34 PM

While the early withdrawal of your 401K money is a hard one to justify for me as a tax professional, especially because if I am understanding you correctly you have just transferred the bulk of the money to savings; I do think sometimes you have to shake up your situation to get to your next phase of life. Just keep you eye on the end goal of being debt free & living a life in tune with your families true path and this will be a bump in your finances that pushed you to a better place.

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 1:58 PM

Dianna, I hope you’re looking forward to my more detailed 401(k) post ;-)

Thank you so much for the kind words and support. It means a LOT!

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Diane C October 21, 2013 at 2:07 PM

I am so disappointed that you have chosen to take this step and left the explanation for later, i.e. “within the next month”. People who have made less than optimal financial decisions look to PF blogs for help. To announce what you’re doing with insufficient information is not helping others, which I believe is supposed to be the point of this blog.

Just off the top of my head, I can see that if your DH changes his work situation, your family income might drop next year, which could mean a lower tax hit on the 401K withdrawal. Since it is nearly the end of October and you’ve put the money into a “holding tank” couldn’t the withdrawal have waited until January?

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:54 PM

Diane, I’m sorry to hear you feel this way! I’ve always kept up with my monthly updates and I felt it’d be dishonest not to share our situation as it is – AND unfair to this huge topic not to devote more space to it. I’m bumping it up so that it should appear next week, however, just to help alleviate concerns.

Our family income should actually be higher next year – and we specifically had our accountant’s guidance on exactly when to do what we’re doing! In our case, this withdrawal was timed to a change outside our control with the company managing the 401(k), and we’ll expect to do something major with the money on or around Dec. 1, so having it in our savings six weeks early wasn’t too hard for us to go for!

I do hope you’ll check back next week for many more details and things to consider!

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Maria Zumbado October 21, 2013 at 3:40 PM

My fiancé and I recently decided that before we start our life together that we should choose where exactly we want to live. We settled on Alaska. We were living in Tennessee. We had to sell off all of our belonging but what fit in our suitcases and had to rebut everything up here from a car to towels for the house we are staying in. It had been really stressful buy definitely worth it. We had to be ridiculously careful with our finances and budget everything out precisely. But hey! It all worked out in the end. We’re two weeks into our new home and are both very glad we went through with the move.

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:55 PM

Maria, that’s AWESOME – and I’m so happy for you! We’re actually hoping to visit Alaska in the next year or so – I have a cousin I’m really close to who lives there and we’d like to stay with her family for a while!

Congratulations on sticking to it and YAY on your new home!

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Sharon October 21, 2013 at 4:34 PM

It sounds like your family was very thoughtful about how and when to make a big change. Having a husband unhappy in a job for years does not add to a good life. I think in some situations you have to let go of something like an existing job in order to feel mentally free to seek what you want or to figure out what the next step is. I’m looking forward to hearing more about your exciting plans!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:56 PM

Sharon, that is VERY true, and I think my husband would agree even more than I do! :)

The change in our family in the past two weeks has been hard to describe. But suffice it to say we all feel very strongly this was the right decision.

Thank you so much for the support and kind words. You made our day!

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Chris October 21, 2013 at 6:35 PM

How exciting for you that you have decisions and options! You go, girl! I look forward to hearing more. :)

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:56 PM

Aww, thanks, Chris! I’m excited to share more here in the next several posts!

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Christina October 21, 2013 at 8:05 PM

Joan, I’m always eager to read your posts. It sounds like you have been thinking very carefully about your options, and I admire you for being brave and trying something different. You’ve made it to almost 40% debt payoff, so, you’ve got some wind in your sails to keep going, and for that I have no doubt.
I am self employed in a field that is ok for now, but I definitely want to make a change at some point to something more satisfiying. I’m still trying to get clear about that. I could handle a drop in income / standard of living for better quality of life.
Good luck and looking forward to your next post!

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Joan Otto October 21, 2013 at 10:57 PM

Quality of life is DEFINITELY important too, Christina!! You just have to find the right timing, and I trust that like we did, you’ll fully consider everything you need to and find the best time for you and your situation! :)

Thank you so much for the encouragement. It means more than I can say!

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Martha October 22, 2013 at 2:51 AM

Change, when it feels right, is so invigorating! I love it, and I can’t wait to hear more about your plans and your changes.

I just took the final stage to become a self-employed entrepreneur. There’s no going back now, and I have never felt more liberated. I had been on a leave of absence – I knew I could never go back to that big awful BANK, but everyone kept telling me, “Keep your Options OPEN” and so I did. When that big, bad awful BANK told me last month that they were no longer going to keep my job open for me, but instead were going to pay me off with 4 months’ worth of severance pay plus vacation time & benefits…. well, it was so hard for me to keep a straight face and pretend to be disappointed! So now I am doing what I wanted to do in the first place – and walking away with a whole bunch of money I never expected to get paid. Talk about a Win-Win situation!

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Joan Otto October 22, 2013 at 11:08 PM

Martha, HA!!!! That is amazing. I am so happy for you and … I mean, 4 months’ severance and vacation and benefits to quit doing THAT? You’re right – hard to pretend to be disappointed! :)

We’re super-stoked… keep us posted!!!

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David B. October 23, 2013 at 9:17 AM

Congrats to you and yours! What I found most fascinating about your post is that you are actually considering re-entering the structured, predictable life. I never considered in my quest for self-entrepreneurship that I might prefer working for “the man” over being “the man.” I do NOT mean that in a negative way – on the contrary, I’m impressed that you reached that consideration. You’re of an open mind and listening to your heart which is awesome.

We all can choose our own path but to be at the proverbial “fork in the road” without the fear of negative consequences is incredibly exciting and almost hard to imagine – I can hardly wait to get there :-)

Great job!

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Joan Otto October 23, 2013 at 3:02 PM

Thanks, David, for the kind words – and for noticing the direction I’m considering going! It’s funny… I’m glad I’ve done what I’ve done, but I also see the benefits to my former lifestyle, too.

It may not be a forever move, but I’m becoming more and more convinced it’s the right one for this point in my life!

(And I hope to never forget how lucky/blessed I am to be able to pick what works for me!)

You rock. Keep at it – I can’t wait to hear about YOUR choices and plans! :)

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bc October 23, 2013 at 12:59 PM

Congrats on all of these major changes! I am very interested in seeing what your plans around the 401k withdrawal as I am often making financial moves that fly in the face of the PF experts’ advice. Some examples:

- Took out a 401k loan for the down payment on my house (and paid it off in 5 months)
- Financed a car that provides reliable, warranty-backed transportation for $7/day for me and my preschooler (and will be mine in a year)
- Took out an FHA loan with little $ down (but am paying cash for home improvements that are directly adding equity. The PMI will cost around 20% less over 5 years than what I was paying in rent EACH year). Mortgage/PMI/Insurance and taxes = 10% of my pay

If I listened to the PF experts I would have waited years to buy our home, literally saving to feed the banks while the interest rates rose (I locked in 3.25%), and driving an unreliable car (which is a major concern for me). I think that there are ways to make these moves intelligently and for good reasons and I wish that more bloggers would cover them!

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Joan Otto October 23, 2013 at 3:04 PM

Ooh, I’m glad to hear that, bc!! I’m working hard on my 401(k) post. There are DEFINITELY times we don’t recommend it – but other times when it’s the right thing at the right time! And it sounds like your moves fit the circumstances I’m going to dig into – lots of bang for your buck, lots of security provided by them, a solid plan!

Your post was incredibly encouraging as I get ready to put some things out there that a lot of my fellow PF-ers will think are a little crazy :)

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