How I Ditched Debt: Penny Pinchin’ Mom

Published: Monday, March 20, 2017 @ 8:00 AM

In this series, NerdWallet interviews people who have triumphed over debt using a combination of commitment, budgeting and smart financial choices. Their stories may even inspire you to pay off your debt.

A year before Tracie Fobes was married, she declared bankruptcy. It eliminated her debt, but by the time she and her husband had their first child, they’d accumulated $37,000 more debt due primarily to a home equity loan and two auto loans. Fobes said that until they began to have open conversations about money, she hadn’t realized why they had gotten into debt in the first place.

How I Ditched Debt: Penny Pinchin' Mom

Tracie Fobes blogs about her family’s debt repayment journey as the Penny Pinchin’ Mom.

The Missouri couple started their repayment journey in November 2007, and today, they’re free of all consumer debt. Tracie Fobes is a stay-at-home mom and now blogs about family life, money management, saving and finding deals at The Penny Pinchin’ Mom. Here’s their story.

How did you end up in debt?

Tracie Fobes: When our oldest was born, I quit my job to become a stay-at-home mom. This was something that was important to both my husband and I, so we knew it would make our financial situation tight, but it was well worth it. We purchased a brand new minivan right after she was born. At the time, I had another vehicle and owed much more than it was worth. That meant we had to roll that amount into the financing on our van. Our payment had to go up as result. My husband had a pickup as well. While it was a bit older, we still had to take out a loan to make the purchase, which contributed to our debt as well.

We also decided that it would be “smart” to pay for things we needed around the house by taking out a home equity loan rather than using credit cards. The interest rate was lower, but it was still a very stupid mistake on our part. We also had one small credit card that did not have much of a balance on it. We really never used cards too often, so we did not have to worry about that.

What triggered your decision to start getting out of debt?

I remember going to dinner with some friends one evening. While money was tight, my husband told me that I just needed to have an evening away from the kids. At the end of the meal, while most of us were using plastic to pay for dinner, my friend pulled out an envelope with cash. I asked her what the cash was for and she started to explain what they were doing and how they were digging themselves out from under their debt. In the back of my mind, I started thinking that if they could do this, why couldn’t we?

When I got home from dinner, I told my husband what they were doing. We knew that they made no more than we did. We began our research and within a week, we had started working on a budget and a debt plan. The rest, as they say, is history.

What steps did you take to reduce your debt?

We were a team. We knew we had to work together and be on the same page during this entire process, or it would not work. Our budget was 100% a joint effort. When it came to the debts to pay first, we talked it through and agreed as a team the path to take.

We both looked at what we could do to have money to pay off our debts. My husband decided to sell things he no longer needed. I took the approach of trying to reduce our budget, namely groceries. I began researching and learning ways to really save on the food we needed. In doing so, I began to share my findings with others. That led me to start my website, Penny Pinchin’ Mom, which also allowed me to make additional money that we were able to throw at our debt.

How has your life changed for the better since you got out of debt?

I wish that I could put the feeling into words, but I can’t. It is just something you have to experience. It is like happiness, relief, joy, calm and peace, all rolled into one.

We now have less stress when it comes to money. When the cost of groceries or fuel goes up, it doesn’t make us worry. Sure, we hate it as much as the next person, but it doesn’t really affect us negatively. We don’t worry how we will come up with more money to cover these increased expenses.

In addition, we can do the things we want. We took our three children on their dream vacation last summer. We spent more than a week in Florida doing all of the “kid” things such as Disney, the beach and Universal Studios. The best thing about this trip was that it was paid for in cash.  100% of it. No bills following us home after our trip. Our hard work and savings afforded us this amazing opportunity to do something amazing for our kids.

We also have less stress about job loss. There is money in the bank to cover us should that happen. When you remove financial stress from your life, you get to live the life you want. There is no better feeling.

Make your own ‘get rid of debt’ plan

If you have debt you’d like to eliminate, you’re going to need a plan of attack:

  • Start by stopping: Avoid adding to your existing debt or opening new accounts.
  • Next, assess what you owe and rank your debts from highest interest to low-interest or “good” debts, such as a mortgage payment.
  • Then, determine where you can cut spending and how much you’ll devote to paying off each debt. If you need some psychological motivation, try paying off your smallest debts first with the debt snowball method. Or you might prefer the debt avalanche method, in which you pay off your highest-interest debts first. This method is likely to save you the most money on interest and help you pay off your total debt faster.
  • Finally, make a commitment to stick to your plan.

As part of your larger payoff plan, consider consolidating your debts into one new debt with a lower interest rate. This can lower your monthly payments and even help you pay off your debt sooner. You can consolidate with a 0% balance-transfer credit card or a personal loan. Try using a personal loans calculator to learn about possible interest rates and monthly payments, according to your credit score.

Anna Helhoski is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

Wright State gets grant for opioid addiction training

Published: Friday, August 18, 2017 @ 3:07 PM

            Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine has been awarded a $499,095 grant toward the school’s primary care curriculum and a $80,000 supplemental grant for medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction.
Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine has been awarded a $499,095 grant toward the school’s primary care curriculum and a $80,000 supplemental grant for medically assisted treatment for opioid addiction.

An $80,000 federal grant will help train local phyisicians on medically assisted treatment of opioid addiction.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was awarded it to the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine, along with a $499,095 grant toward the school’s primary care curriculum.

The one-year supplemental grant toward medically assisted addiction treatment will help Binder and an interdisciplinary team to develop elective coursework in opioid use disorder and medically assisted treatment.

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“In Ohio, unintentional drug overdoses are the leading cause of accidental death. In Montgomery and Greene counties, unintentional drug overdose rates increased by more than 100 percent since 2010,” said Dr. S. Bruce Binder, associate professor and interim chair of the Department of Family Medicine at the Boonshoft School of Medicine. Binder is the principal investigator of the supplemental grant.

“By expanding the number of trained physicians, nurses and physician assistants to provide medical assisted treatment, we can more effectively address the opioid epidemic in Montgomery and Greene counties in addition to the rural counties affiliated with the Wright State University-Lake Campus in Celina,” he said in a statment from Wright State.

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The interdisciplinary team working on the grant project includes faculty members from the Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine Department of Family Medicine, Department of Internal Medicine and the Center for Interventions, Treatment, and Addictions Research in addition to the Wright State College of Nursing and Health, Wright State School of Professional Psychology and the Kettering College Physician Assistant Program.


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Quality available at thrift stores and community colleges

Published: Saturday, August 19, 2017 @ 12:00 AM

            In this file photo, thrift stores offer good buys on quality brands. JASON GETZ
            Jason Getz
In this file photo, thrift stores offer good buys on quality brands. JASON GETZ(Jason Getz)

Don’t let your love of fashionable footwear break the bank! Here’s how to get gently used Michael Kors, Casadei and Burberry for outrageously low prices.

Next time you need a pair of shoes for a night out on the town, you’d be wise to visit your local thrift store.

At a recent check to a metro Atlanta area thrift store, we found some amazing deals!

We found lace-up burgundy red leather pumps that will set you back $200 to $300 at most stores.

But at the thrift store ? Just $30!

Casadei pumps sell for $595 to $795 at the shoemaker’s official website. The thrift store price for these gently used Italian leather shoes? $12!

Student loan debt

Some people go to great lengths to eliminate their student loan debt.

Such is the case of Ken Ilgunas. Ken was a double major in English and history who got into debt once as an undergrad and learned his lesson when it came time for graduate studies.

Ken graduated from the University of Buffalo as an undergrad with $32,000 in debt, and he was making $8 an hour with his bachelor’s degree. So what did he do? He didn’t ask his parents for money…He moved to Alaska!

He spent two years working under tough conditions and paid back every penny of that $32,000 in 24 months.

Later, when he enrolled in Duke for grad school, he voluntarily lived in his van so he had no housing costs and wouldn’t have to take out more loans.

Of course, he wrote a book called “Walden on Wheels: On the Open Road from Debt to Freedom.” It’s an amazing story of someone twice imposing hardship on himself to pay down or avoid debt.

I have a simpler idea. It’s two words: Community college.

Start your education for two years at a community college. Then transfer those credits to a four-year school where you plan to graduate. That’s a surefire way to reduce the overall cost of an education.

Meanwhile, if you’re a parent and you’re still saving for a young child’s college education, The Wall Street Journal shows how even just a little contribution to a 529 account can add up over time.

Visit for more info, or get his best-selling books signed with free shipping at

11 social media posts that can hurt your career

Published: Sunday, July 16, 2017 @ 5:13 PM

Whether you’re looking for a job or already have one, things you’ve posted on social media can come back to haunt you.

A new national survey conducted by Harris Poll on behalf of CareerBuilder found that 70% of employers use social media to screen candidates before hiring, up from 60% last year and 11% in 2006.

Nearly the same percentage of employers (69%) use online search engines like Google to research candidates.

Read more: 10 jobs to consider if you’re looking for a career change

What hiring managers are looking for on social media

The survey sampled more than 2,300 private sector hiring managers and HR professionals. What exactly are they looking for online? Here’s what the survey revealed:

  • Information that supports candidate’s qualifications (61%)
  • Professional online persona (50%)
  • What other people are posting about the candidate (37%)
  • Reason not to hire a candidate (24%)

According to the survey, more than half of employers have found content on Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms that led them to eliminate a job candidate from consideration.

Here are the top 11 reasons why employers chose not to hire a candidate based on social media:

  1. Candidate posted provocative or inappropriate photographs, videos or information
  2. Candidate posted information about them drinking or using drugs
  3. Candidate had discriminatory comments related to race, gender, religion
  4. Candidate bad-mouthed their previous company or fellow employee
  5. Candidate lied about qualifications
  6. Candidate had poor communication skills
  7. Candidate was linked to criminal behavior
  8. Candidate shared confidential information from previous employers
  9. Candidate’s screen name was unprofessional
  10. Candidate lied about an absence
  11. Candidate posted too frequently

Think twice before deleting your accounts

Deleting posts that could get you into trouble is a good idea, but what about entire social media accounts? Not so fast. This survey revealed that 57% of employers are less likely to call someone in for an interview if they can’t find a job applicant online.

4 ways social media can get you hired

Your social media presence can also work to your advantage during a job search. More than 40% of employers reported that they’ve found content on a social networking site that prompted them to hire a candidate. These job candidates shared background information on social media that supported their professional qualifications, demonstrated great communication skills, portrayed a professional image and showed creativity.

Always ponder before you post

Once you get your new job, you still need to think carefully before you post anything on social media. More than a third of employers surveyed (34%) said they’ve found content online that caused them to reprimand or fire employees.

Google could help you find the perfect job

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How students can avoid common bank and credit card fees

Published: Sunday, July 02, 2017 @ 12:42 PM

Channel 2's Consumer Adviser Clark Howard tells you how to avoid extra airline fees.

Banking and credit card fees can be costly, especially for college students on a tight budget. But many of these fees can be avoided by knowing your bank’s policies, choosing the right bank account and using credit cards responsibly. Here’s how to avoid some common financial fees:

It pays to do your homework

There are two bank account fees that students and other consumers can easily avoid — maintenance fees and overdraft fees.

Maintenance fees are monthly fees — usually under $10 — for checking and savings accounts. Overdraft fees — an opt-in feature if you want the coverage — are charged when a purchase puts your account under $0. You can rack up multiple overdraft fees per day; the limit depends on your bank’s overdraft policy.

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What to do: Many banks allow you to avoid monthly maintenance fees by maintaining a minimum balance in your account or by having a minimum monthly direct deposit. Each bank has its own rules for avoiding these fees, so check your bank’s policy for details. Some banks offer student checking accounts that waive the fees while you’re in school.

The median overdraft fee is $35, according to a new NerdWallet study, which analyzed the overdraft fees of 20 checking accounts affiliated with some of the largest universities in the U.S.

What to do: The fee can be avoided in a few ways. The first way is obvious: Don’t spend more than what you have in your account. Get in the habit of checking your account balance regularly, and set up text alerts for when your account falls below a certain balance.

You also can opt out of overdraft fees. By federal law, overdraft protection is opt-in, not automatic. So if you accidentally opted in, you can opt out of overdraft coverage; however, debit card transactions that would put your account in the negative would likely be rejected.

If you don’t have enough money in your account, some of your transactions — specifically bounced checks and online bill payments — may result in nonsufficient-funds, or returned-item, fees. They cost about the same as overdraft fees.

What to do: If your bank doesn’t measure up when it comes to fees, consider switching. Many students may get an account at their parents’ bank or sign up for the bank their school is affiliated with, but these aren’t necessarily the most cost-effective choices. Online banks and credit unions tend to have lower fees than larger banks, so they’re worth a look.

It helps to choose a good card and use it responsibly

There are three major credit card fees students can — and should — avoid: annual fees, late fees and cash-advance fees.

Annual fees are charged just for carrying the card, late fees incur when you don’t make at least your minimum payment by your due date, and cash advance fees are charged for short-term loans against your credit card.

According to the NerdWallet study, the average late-payment fee on student credit cards is $35. Avoiding these fees seems simple: Just don’t pay late. However, it can be difficult to keep track of due dates for all of your accounts, especially with a heavy course load and an active social life. If you tend to forget the due dates, set up automatic payments and make sure to have enough balance in your bank account.

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What to do: An annual fee can be avoided by choosing a credit card without one. Most student credit cards don’t have annual fees, so you should have plenty of options. Just to be clear, however: Annual fees on credit cards aren’t inherently bad, but they make sense only if your spending is high enough so that the rewards you earn outweigh the fees you pay. Student expenses are usually low, so it would be hard to justify having a card with an annual fee.

Cash advances are expensive, both because of fees and interest charges. Cash advance fees generally are 2 to 5% of the amount of the loan, but some card issuers charge a flat dollar amount. Interest rates on cash advances are usually higher than on purchases. And the interest on advances starts accruing immediately; you don’t get a 25- to 30-day grace period like the one available for regular purchases.

Another downside of cash advances is the amount you can take out. Typically you’re limited to a few hundred dollars, so if you need cash on an ongoing basis, you quickly may have to take another advance — and pay another fee.

What to do: It may be cheaper to get a personal loan from a bank or to borrow money from a loved one.

Financial fees can be expensive on a student budget, but by using our tips, you could instead spend that money on the myriad fun things in college or save in an emergency fund.

Erin El Issa is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @Erin_El_Issa.