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: anna@nerdwallet.com. Twitter: @AnnaHelhoski.

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Recall alert: strollers, bikes, and phone chargers

Published: Friday, May 25, 2018 @ 11:44 AM

Contributed Photo
Contributed Photo

Strollers sold at Toys R US and other retailers that could strangle your child are among the new recalls announced by the Consumer Product Safety Commission.

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Jane Muum strollers have a large opening between the armrest and the seat bottom which your child could slip through, potentially trapping your child’s head or neck. No injuries have been reported.  

The recalled strollers have the code 5399US/S85, 5399US/S47, or 5399US/S46, printed on the label found on the leg of the stroller. 

Contact Jane at 844-200-7971 to receive a free replacement armrest. Until you receive the replacement, you may continue to use the stroller if you remove the armrest and harness your child properly in the seat. 

source: CPSC.gov

My First Porsche wooden cars are under recall because they pose a choking hazard. 

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The wheels and axles can detach from the blue cars with tan wheels with the lot numbers 011215, 020916, 031017, 031114, 031116, 040116, 040416, 040516, 041217, 051015, 061117, 090915. No injuries have been reported. 

Don’t let your child play with the car and contact Porsche at 800-767-7243, or return the car to a Porsche dealer to receive a full refund.  

source: CPSC.gov

Bicycles sold at IKEA are being recalled because the belt drives can break and cause you to fall.

The recall involves SLADDA bicycles 26” with the article number 303.267.28 and 28” with the article number 603.267.36.

No injuries have been reported, but don’t ride the recalled bikes and contact IKEA at 888-966-4532 or return it to an IKEA store for a full refund.  

source: CPSC.gov

Wireless charges by Bluefin are under recall because they may overheat and burn you. 

There are three reports of overheating chargers with the model number AC16B printed on the bottom.

Don’t use the recalled charges which were given away as free promotional items at the FICO World tradeshow and other events, and the ad specialty channel in April of this year. 

Contact Bluefin at 877-211-7220  ext. 145 to receive a refund. 

source: CPSC.gov

John Deere is recalling 120R compact utility tractor loaders due to missing information in the operator’s manual which could cause injuries.

The manual is missing information about the proper ballast when attaching the loader to a John Deere model 2025R tractor. 

No one has been hurt, but don’t use the recalled loaders and contact Deere & Company at 800-537-8233 to receive a free corrected operator’s manual.

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source: CPSC.gov

Kohler 100-amp service-entrance automatic transfer switches can overheat and cause a fire. 

The recalled switches have the model number RXT-JFNC 100ASE  printed on a nameplate inside the cover. 

No injuries or incidents have been reported but consumers should contact Kohler immediately at 800-892-7709 to schedule a free repair. 

For more information on these products and past recalls visit www.cpsc.gov

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Avoid the biggest mistake in estate planning 

Published: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 10:16 AM
Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2018 @ 7:00 PM

When it comes to finalizing your plans for what happens to your assets after you die, there is one simple mistake many people make - which could put your plans in jeopardy, according to a Centerville C.P.A. A will is the key first step, but only about half of adults between the ages of 50 and 64 have one, according to Mark Bradstreet, C.P.A. with Bradstreet and Co. 

For those that do have their wishes planned out, the biggest mistake they make is not communicating those wishes to family members. “To not let anyone know where your will and documents are - if you don’t do that, then for all intents and purposes, you never had a will,” said Bradstreet. “If you die without one, the state uses their own rules to effectively come up with a will for you.”

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Having a will is clearing the first hurdle, but what comes next is what really helps your heirs after you're gone, according to News Center 7's Rachel Murray. A will lays out who gets what when you're gone - your home, cash, vehicle, and heirlooms - and not having one can be a disaster. "There was a lot of legal difficulties associated with the estate - one lost her home and you can't access bank accounts, things like that," said Don Cook from Mechanicsburg who has many children and grandchildren. 

To avoid any confusion after you're gone, Bradstreet recommends writing a letter to hand-out to trusted family members that include, "where your will is at, who has got it, who is your attorney, safe deposit keys - a lot of people will go ahead and list out their different assets, and their different account numbers."

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Sharing your wishes with family can be tough. "Most people, including my wife, doesn't like to talk about it and I don't like to talk about it either mortality, but I want to make sure that my kids are taken care of," said John Noyen of West Chester. 

There are many online forms to create a will yourself, but Bradstreet recommends consulting with an attorney who will help you make sure your wishes are carried out when the time comes.

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This app may stop robocalls for good 

Published: Wednesday, May 16, 2018 @ 12:19 PM

At home, at work, on your smartphone- robocalls are targeting people at all hours of the day and night.

Michael McCann is fed up with all the robocalls especially the sneaky ones with “spoofed” phone numbers. 

“The local ones make you feel like it’s somebody you know within the area,” said McCann in an interview with our sister station WPXI. 

Now, there’s a way to fight back. 

An app called RoboKiller claims to stop the scammers in their tracks and even allows you to exact some revenge. 

RELATED: Who’s behind robocalls? 

The app won a contest sponsored by the F.T.C. and is billed as a highly intelligent and constantly-growing database which blocks hundreds of thousands of phony numbers. 

If a scammer calls you from a new phone number RoboKiller remembers the scammers voice and can add that new number to their blocked calls list, according to RoboKiller V.P. Ethan Garr.

You can also have a little fun with the scammers with a feature called Answerbot.

You choose from a list of sarcastic, interactive recordings which answer the call and have long conversations with scammers to waste their time.

“They think they are talking to a human and it drives them insane,” said Garr.

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Some Answerbot conversations have lasted 40 minutes, Garr said, and that’s 40 fewer minutes for the scammer to try to steal other people’s money. 

McCann tested RoboKiller for a week and he was impressed.

“So far so good. I’ve had no robocalls,” said McCann, “I think it’s very important to have something like this if you want to make sure your privacy is protected.” 

The RoboKiller app costs $24.99 a year. 

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Millennials bypass starter homes, new studies show

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2018 @ 11:42 AM
Updated: Thursday, May 10, 2018 @ 6:12 PM

Millennials bypass starter homes, new studies show

A growing trend among millennials is expected to have a wider impact on the real estate market.

Studies and stats show that millennials are putting off buying a home. In fact, many are skipping a starter house altogether and saving up for a home they will live in into retirement, according to USA Today.  

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Seventy-five percent of first-time home buyers would rather skip a starter home, according to a 2016 survey by Bank of America. 

Millennials lived longer at home or rented for a longer period of time, allowing them to save a larger down payment to purchase the home of their dreams, analysts said. They also purchased more homes last year than any other generation, according to the National Association of Realtors. 

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