On a day-to-day basis, I tend to focus on the small picture: save a few dollars on milk and cereal, buy the boys' clothes a year ahead on clearance, pay insurance bills in full to avoid the installment plan "convenience" fee, etc.
But lately I've been thinking more about the big picture: our long term goals, what's likely to happen in the next five to ten to twenty years, and especially, how do we balance liquidity with paying off the mortgage?
While both my husband's and my jobs seem secure for the moment, we are definitely not immune to the economic crisis that our country – and particularly, our home state of California – is weathering right now. We could be hit by pay cuts or layoffs, a steep decline in the quality of our local public school, or even a medical crisis or something unpredictable.
Pay cuts or layoffs are unlikely but not impossible or even improbable. One of my best friends and her husband were both laid off earlier this year and just found jobs after months of searching. It was stressful, to say the least, but they survived as well as anyone could due in large part to their conservative spending habits and savings. We want to be in the same position, just in case.
Additionally, you may recall that I've spent much of the last two years researching public and private schools in an effort to determine where to send our oldest next year. I was pleased to discover that our local public school is at least as good as any private school that we could afford. But of course, whether the public school is able to maintain its high standards in the midst of this recession remains to be seen. Class sizes are increasing this coming year. The school board has approved a three-year plan to eliminate full-day kindergartens and all arts and music programs, cut salaries by five percent in 2011-2012, and require furlough days. Governor Schwarzenegger wants to "suspend" mandatory school funding. I'm cautiously optimistic that because our public school seems to have a committed administration and an active PTA, it will be able to adjust to these restrictions without a loss in quality. The PTA, if it is able to raise enough money, can provide funding for supplemental arts and music programs, for instance.
But, who knows what the situation will be in a year or two? It would be nice to have the option of sending the boys to private school should that become preferable.
It would also be nice to pay off the mortgage in six years, as we'd originally planned. But sometimes it's necessary to strike a balance.
For the time being, we are splitting our debt snowball and directing half to our mortgage and the other half into savings. I created yet another subaccount at ING to keep this money separate. My thinking is that we will re-evaluate every six months or so, and if things look good, we can make a large principal payment on the mortgage that will keep us on the path to full repayment in six years. On the other hand, if we feel like hoarding cash, we can do that too.
This plan worked well for us when it came to paying off my student loans – and in fact, we did that a few months earlier than I'd anticipated. So hopefully things will work out that well when it comes to the mortgage too.
Previously: How I'm paying off my student loans