Sunday, January 02, 2011

2010 Year in Review

2010 was not exactly the best year for this blog. I'm not certain as to why that was, although I seem to remember an extended period in 2004 (through 2007) after Maggie was born when this blog went silent as well, so perhaps it shouldn't be too unexpected. Raising an 8-year-old, a 6-year-old, and a toddler can be pretty exhausting. At the end of the day, there's not much energy left for blogging, and at the beginning of the day, I usually don't have time enough to get anything thought-out and written before I have to get ready for work. Still, we did have a pretty good year overall, and I would have liked to convey that and to have captured some of those moments. Here, then, are roughly a dozen of the milestones / points of interest I would have liked to have blogged about throughout the year, which would have nearly doubled the bloggable output for 2010, by the way. (Click pictures to see larger versions in new window/tab.)

1) I grew a beard starting on Angie's birthday (Jan 6th). I still have it.

2) Our baby boy learned to walk and talk this year. Okay, so the talking is still a work-in-progress, but the walking is in full force. He also moves a mean vacuum.

3) Our niece, who was barely 2 years old when Angie and I met in 1993, graduated from high school in May and started college in Indiana this fall.

4) As in years past, in June we went to Ohio to visit Angie's extended family, took a lot of pictures and had a lot of fun.

5) Also as in years past, in late July / early August we went to the beach with my family, took a lot of pictures, and had a lot of fun.

6) In September, we went to fall festivals and to Elijay for apple-picking.

7) In early October, we went to Stone Mountain Park for the first time. Not just the first time as a family; this is the first time any of us had been to Stone Mountain, even though we've lived relatively close to it for years, and Angie and I both grew up in Georgia. A good time was had by all.

8) In mid-October, we went to some sort of fall festival put on by an upscale subdivision which featured hot-air balloon rides. This ended up being a near-fiasco that really, really deserved its own blog post. Angie, Daniel, and Maggie rode the balloon while Joshua and I watched from below. The festival took place on October 16th, and I don't think a single day has passed since then that Joshua hasn't mentioned the "big a-boon" (trans: big balloon) at least once. Really. 79 days.

9) For Halloween, Daniel, Maggie, and Joshua dressed up as Harry Potter, Barbie Genie, and the World's Cutest Dragon, respectively (pictured below with their friend, Damon, as Iron Man).

10) The Hipps family had a small, Georgia-based family reunion in November, which was a blast.

11(possibly 11.a)) We had a great pre-Christmas Christmas time with the extended families the week before the blessed day.
12(possibly 11.b)) We also had a great actual-Christmas Christmas time here at home, getting to spend a lot of time with each other, playing with our new Wii, eating and eating wonderful foods, and even enjoying some time in the snow the next day.

And, of course, we did actually blog about a few of the big milestones, like our 11th anniversary, and of course, our Debt-Freedom! In conclusion, I can't promise that we'll do any better this year, but I do promise that I'll think about it at least once a week or so. Happy New Year!

Thursday, September 02, 2010


Daniel had his very first Karate class yesterday. We decided to sign him up at the YMCA since it is an eight week class for just $40 (for members) which is much cheaper than the other dojos we looked into. Based on how much Daniel likes it we will decide if we will pay more for him to continue his martial arts training. It was so fun to see him get into formation and trying out the moves the sensei (teacher) had his class learn/practice. He said he had a great time and can't wait to go back next week. He will also get his gi (uniform) then because his sensei had to order one for him. One of the coolest things about him starting class is that it means we are debt free (except our house)! For two years we told the kids that when we were debt free we could let them take ballet and karate. Maggie got a jump start on that because an opportunity presented itself for her to take a dance class very close to our home with one of her good friends last year (and the price was very reasonable). She starts her second year of dance next week. This year she is doing ballet and tap. Although, she now says she wants to take karate too. In fact, after watching Daniel, I would like to take karate. There is a dojo that does a family plan, so maybe next year the entire Hipps family will be fighting together. Isn't there a saying that the "family that fights together stays together?" Oh, I think that it's "prays together." Well, we do that too, so we will pray before we beat each other up ;) At any rate, it is shaping up to be an interesting year. We start school next week and this is the year that I have to test Daniel. He is a smart boy so I am sure he will do well. I can't believe that we have a third and first grader. Our children are growing up so quickly. I am very proud of them.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Full Story, Part Two - Clawing Our Way Out Again Really, Really Slowly

When last we left our heroes, they were up to their eyeballs in debt with a lackluster job (financially) and a baby on the way. So, for the next 4 or 5 years, we tried our best to keep expenses WAY down (Angie cried actual tears when we cut out cable) and to increase my income when possible. This really only helped us to keep the pace the credit counselor had set, since other expenses went up during this time with having our first two babies and moving again. Also, we kept having “unexpected” expenses, like car repairs and whatnot, and we never really got the hang of a budget, although the credit counselor had recommended that we make one.

In late 2006, when we first heard about Dave Ramsey, we’d managed to whittle down maybe $17,000 of the $45,000+ peak (looked it up last night; it was closer to $47K) over the course of those 4-5 years. Not awful, but not great by any means. More importantly, though, is that we didn’t really feel like we were getting anywhere, and every time some emergency arose, we’d add something back on credit because we didn’t have any extra money. Baby Step #1 of Dave’s plan was a radical, life-changing concept. We saved up a $1000 fairly quickly, and then we had some breathing room when emergencies struck (as emergencies are wont to do). Did you hear that? That was me just now, breathing a sigh of relief just thinking about it. That one step changed our situation entirely from being one emergency away from more debt to being in control and moving consistently forward. It was awesome. After that, we were fully on board with the plan.

Shortly thereafter, a guy named Joe Sangl came to speak and teach his Financial Learning Experience at our church, which was very helpful as well. The main difference between what Joe and Dave teach in terms of debt-reduction, as far as I can tell, is that Joe doesn’t stress the “as fast as possible” aspect as much as Dave does. I think “as fast as possible” is probably best for most people, but it’s hard to get extremely “gazelle-intense” when you’ve been cutting expenses and working on debt-reduction with not much traction for several years already. Joe freed us up to set a date to be debt-free and work towards that.

We decided early on that, because of our young children and the fact that we were so worn down from working for so long at this, we weren’t going to take any second jobs or cut out Christmas and birthdays and that kind of thing. We scaled those back considerably, but we didn’t sacrifice them altogether to get done faster. I am convinced this was the best decision emotionally, if not financially. Even so, now that we had our Mini-Emergency Fund and thanks to Joe’s budgeting tools, we were finally able to put a workable budget together that let us send about $1000 per month towards debt on average, while continuing to pay for minor automotive emergencies, a third baby, and a sudden multi-day hospital stay.

On February 18th, 2010, we paid off our last credit card, the end of our original debt. On May 17th, we paid off our recent hospital bills and really felt like we were finally debt-free!! So, in the end, with one thing and another, it really did take us nine years to get out of debt, but thanks to Dave (and Joe), we were able to drop almost $17,000 worth of “good debt” in the form of student loans in that time as well. And when we got to talk to Dave Ramsey on the radio to announce our debt-freedom and tell our story, to share our struggle and celebrate its end, it was powerfully anti-climactic. BUT, when we got to gather our family together to scream “WE’RE DEBT FREE!!!” with the help of some other debt-free extended family members, and especially when we got to hear the call again later (thanks to our good friend, Robbie), to realize that this was the culmination and the end of NINE YEARS of feeling like we were constantly broke and that all of the money we earned already belonged to someone else, it was one of the most amazing experiences of my life, just below witnessing the birth of my children. Plus the scream itself sounded TOTALLY AWESOME!!!

Just the Scream:

The Full Call:

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Full Story, Part One - Digging the Hole

On Friday, June 11th of this year, Angie and I had the pleasure of speaking with Dave Ramsey on his radio program about how we became debt-free (except for the house; that’ll probably still be a good-ish while). In our brief, 2-minute conversation, we didn’t really get to dive into the meat of how this progressed and what it means to us to be out of debt. I thought I’d try to tackle that here.

On the radio, Angie mentioned that we started out with about $34,000 of debt. This is actually the amount we had when we first heard about Dave Ramsey. Our highest amount of debt was closer to about $45,000. We’d made a LOT of not-so-bright financial decisions, mostly because we weren’t thinking about the financial side of things at all.

We started right away with putting the honeymoon on credit. I had enough money in the bank for the honeymoon from savings and gifts, but when we went to pay for a weeks’ worth of hotel room rental, my bank wouldn’t let me put more than $500 on the debit card without approval, and it was Sunday night, so I couldn’t call them to get the approval. So we used a credit card. Now, the person who says you can use credit wisely would just say, “No big deal. You charge the room to the card, then pay the whole amount off with the money you had in the bank.” See, that’s what I thought, too, that night. But once the trip was over and we got back home, I thought, “you know, we’ve still got all this money in the bank, and we could really use some new furniture.” We already had furniture, but it was old and hodge-podgey, although in hindsight it wasn’t actually poking us with springs or anything; still, a set from Pier One would be much more our style. This may actually qualify as two bad ideas.

The next big bonehead financial non-decision was when we moved to a different state in the middle of our lease with no sub-lessor and no job lined up. We put the movers and several months’ worth of two rents onto credit cards. This is when we started to realize that there was a problem (ya think?). We had considered ourselves relatively generous in Athens; we now got to learn to accept generosity from family and friends who were shielding us from our own stupidity, to some extent. Throughout this time between the honeymoon and (eventually) getting a job in the new place, we’d occasionally put meals out or CDs or other little things on credit. That’s what it’s for, right?

When I finally got a job (which didn’t quite pay all the bills), we went almost immediately to the local credit union to try and get into some sort of credit counseling / debt-consolidation program. I’ve since heard that most debt-consolidation plans are actually scams. This program, though, was actually pretty good, for two reasons. Number one, instead of the debt consolidators taking the money and running or one of the other scams, the credit union’s folks would pay off all the debt on your behalf, and give you a single low-interest loan for the full amount that you’d then pay back, thereby honoring all your obligations but giving you a little breathing room. The second reason this particular one was so good is that we didn’t qualify for it and they told us why. That was the hard slap-in-the-face that put an end to our frivolous (but never actually extravagant) lifestyle. They told us that, at the rate we could afford, it would take us about 9 years to get out of all our “bad” debt (meaning not even including the student loans), and they didn’t let anyone in the program who couldn’t pay them back in 5 years. They suggested that we cut our already sparse expenses to the bone and get our income up (remember I’d just gotten my job; I think we already knew Angie was pregnant at this point, too). This was the winter of our discontent…

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Our 11th Anniversary, Part 2

On Saturday, we awoke at a leisurely hour, having had our first uninterrupted night of sleep in, well, about 16 months. We breakfasted in the hotel on the patio, and headed off for a day of fun starting at...

the World of Coca-Cola! We debated between the High Museum and this, and finally decided that the WoC-C encompassed what we'd want from the High (look at art, albeit somewhat more focused on one particular subject) while being more refreshing in terms of giving us a lot of free Coke products. Win-win! It actually turned out to be pretty fascinating, with a history of the company, a couple of extremely strange movies (one of which was in 4-D, which is like 3-D only more painful), a tour of how Coke is made and bottled (you get to keep a souvenir bottle), and, as I mentioned earlier, some incredible Coke-related art including an exhibit that had just been installed the night before. Pretty cool.

From there we drove over to IKEA, as Angie had never been and wanted to check it out. We had a lunch/snack of Swedish meatballs (excellent!) at their cafeteria, looked around for about 5 minutes, then proceeded to walk for like, 7 more hours, just desperately trying to find the exit. That place is enormous, and there's apparently only one way out. God forbid they ever have a fire; hundreds would perish in a blaze of solid-colored Euro-snob particle board.
After a much-needed rest following all that walking, we headed to Pappadeaux Seafood Kitchen for dinner. They had a great little New Orleans-style jazz trio of older men playing on the patio while we waited to be seated. The place was packed, and we had a pretty long wait, but that was fine with me. The food was excellent, and our server was very attentive. We debated trying to make it to a movie after that, but honestly, we were pretty beat.

On Sunday, we went to church, and then finished off our weekend with lunch at Rico's World Kitchen in Buford, GA. This is a tiny little restaurant in a converted service station that we heard about from friends, and it was far and away the best food we had all weekend. I couldn't believe it; I was absolutely blown away by how good every bite was. The service was nice, and the atmosphere was very comfortable. It was a fantastic end to our anniversary weekend.

I would say that the best part of all this was just getting to hang out for the equivalent of two whole days alone with my wife. Having three kids, you sometimes end up just playing defense, as they say, and you don't always take time to enjoy each other's company. This was a wonderful little getaway that was still close to home, and I couldn't be happier with how it turned out. That said, I am looking forward to going even bigger next year.

Saturday, June 05, 2010

Our 11th Anniversary, Part 1

Last weekend (not Memorial Day, but the one before that) was our 11th Anniversary. In the week leading up to it, we paid off our last debt: Daniel's hospital bill. We are now officially debt-free except for our house!!! We will be on the phone with Dave Ramsey live on the air this Friday, June 11th between 3 and 4 PM, at which time we will finally be able to shout this great news to the world via radio waves! As Angie mentioned in the previous post, that moves us on to Baby Step #3, building up an emergency fund of 3-6 months of expenses. (Actually, this month, we'll be using our newfound leftover money to pay for some much-needed personal items that we've put off while getting out of debt, and for this year's trip to Ohio. Next month, though, begins the serious savings push.) But I digress...

This post was supposed to be about our 11th Anniversary weekend. Since we've become parents, Angie and I rarely get to have any extended time to ourselves. As Angie mentioned here, we've had only two weekends alone together since having children (yes, I realize the link is to a post from almost two years ago; the tally has not changed since then). So for this, the first weekend of our married lives as a debt-free couple, we budgeted for a hotel relatively nearby, free baby-sitting from my generous parents, and a weekend of finding stuff to do in Atlanta.

Our first stop for the weekend was dinner Friday night at Sushi Niko Niko, which we were told means Sushi "with a smile." Angie and I first tried sushi on our honeymoon in Savannah as an appetizer, and it was great. We've had it occasionally as appetizers since, but never as the full meal. The restaurant itself is just a little store-front among the outdoor shops across from the Mall of Georgia, and even though friends had recommended it, I have to admit the exterior made me a little skeptical. This place was awesome! We had some sort of sampler of several different types of sushi, and I liked every one of them. Angie enjoyed hers, but didn't care for some of the crunchier offerings. Overall, I loved it, but Angie thought she'd stick with sushi as an appetizer in the future.

In our next installment, we'll discuss Saturday, our actual anniversary day. Be sure to stay tuned.

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Since our last post . . .

I would hope that the people who follow this blog are people that we are in regular communication with and therefore know what has gone on since our last post, but for posterity's sake I will update the blog.

Daniel made it home from the hospital in time for Joshua's first birthday. We have yet to do a party for our children's first birthday so we weren't going to start with our third child. We just stayed home, and Joshua got to eat his first cupcake. He made a fabulous mess and really enjoyed it. His Grandmama Hipps (Grandaddy was sick so he couldn't come) came up the next day bearing gifts. Just one example of how sweet and generous their grandparents are is the "un"birthday gifts that they bring for the other grandchildren. One of Joshua's gifts was Fifteen Animals by Sandra Boynton. He loves this book. We have read it hundreds of times to date. We already had a CD with this book in song form so we will read it and then sing it, much to Joshua's delight. Two weeks after Joshua's first birthday we recorded his first steps on our flip camera. He is now walking all of the time. It is so neat to watch the transition of a child taking his first steps, to walking some of the time but crawling most of the time, to walking more than crawling, to walking all the time.

A few days after we captured Joshua's first steps, Daniel had an appointment with an allergist. We found out that he is asthmatic, allergic to peanuts (which we already knew), cats (we suspected) and dust mites. We also found out that he is not allergic to strawberries as I had once thought, so he has since tried one strawberry. He liked it alright. So now Daniel takes Advair for his asthma in addition to his daily Zyrtek for allergies. He was fine until Spring sprung (although he didn't test positive for seasonal allergies) so he has had to use his inhaler a couple of times since he had a slight wheeze and some coughing. I have done a good bit of dusting and vacuuming to get the dust mite population under control. We also just had our air conditioner serviced since it wasn't working great and the allergist had said that dust mites like humid conditions so climate control is important.

Shortly after this I pulled Maggie's front two teeth. It was a bit traumatic since the second tooth didn't come out with the first yank, but we successfully got it out and she hopefully won't need another extraction anytime soon. Whereas Daniel lost a tooth just the other night after we put them to bed. He had apparently been wiggling it with his tongue and it fell out. Thankfully he didn't swallow it.

On February 18, 2010, Davis and I paid off our last credit card. We sent a payment for $2893.63 to Chase to pay them off. The Chase card had been a Washington Mutual card that we had transferred the balance of our MBNA card to. That MBNA card was my very first credit card that I got as a freshman in college with a $1000 limit. Before we started to pay off our debt it had a limit of $18,000 and we had $16,000 charged on it. I can't tell you how thankful we are for Dave Ramsey and his book The Total Money Makeover. We haven't been as "gazelle intense" as we could have, but once we decided that we were done with debt we have moved in the right direction ever since. It's been quite the journey. On March 15th, we paid off Joshua's hospital bill (from his birth), and we will be paying off Daniel's hospital bill next month! Then we can move on to baby step #3, which is to fully fund an emergency fund of 3-6 months living expenses (we will do 6 months since I don't work outside the home).

That about brings us up to date. In less than two weeks, Daniel will turn 8 years old. It is already hard to remember when he was Joshua's age. We recently watched some old home videos, and it was so sweet to hear Daniel's little toddler voice. I am really proud of the young man that we are starting to see take shape in our eldest son. Next month, Maggie has her first dance recital, and after that we plan to have some summer vacations. Hopefully, we'll remember to post something before then.