Articles posted by: Michelle Schibuola

Mar 29

How I Ditched Student Debt: ‘Monster Payments’

Posted by into Gainesville

Looking to have a little more financial freedom and possibly buy a home sooner than later? Read about how one individual was free of debt in 14 months with a few lifestyle changes.

Amanda Page took extra jobs to earn enough cash for “monster payments” on her student loans.

Amanda Page is student-loan-free, but it was far from an easy road. She earned a master of fine arts degree from the University of Alabama and left there in 2004 with $48,500 in federal student loans from her graduate and undergraduate studies. Before defending her thesis, she consolidated her loans and signed up for the Department of Education’s graduated repayment plan, which lowered her initial payment amount.

Ten years later, after deferring her loans for a time, she realized that she’d paid off less than $1,000 of her total balance. She decided to get serious about her debt. She started a blog called Dream Beyond Debt to keep herself accountable to her goal. After 14 months of hard work, she was free of her loans.
Page, now an assistant professor teaching English and humanities at Mount Carmel College of Nursing in Columbus, Ohio, still maintains the blog as she tackles new financial goals. Here’s her student loan story:
What steps did you take to pay off your loans?

What steps did you take to pay off your loans?
The first thing I did was call my lender and have them explain the payments to me. I couldn’t understand why some months more money went to interest than principal. … So I decided on my strategy of making “monster payments.” I started taking on a lot of extra work: temporary office jobs when my schedule allowed, extra courses to teach, focus group participation, freelance writing gigs and selling some stuff on Craigslist. I made my first monster payment of $4,300, which I accumulated through extra work. After that, I was hooked. I didn’t always know how I would put together a monster payment, and I never knew how much I’d actually have to make one, but I trusted the experiment.

Did you make other lifestyle changes?
I also got in the habit of always carrying my own coffee and water to work, as well as a bag of cheese crackers so I wouldn’t be tempted to buy snacks at the cafe or gas station. I started inviting friends to go on hikes instead of meeting for coffee or meals. I also read personal finance blogs daily to stay motivated and worked on my money mindset.

Would you change anything about your approach?
The only thing I can think of is the lack of savings I ended the year with. I would have worked harder to put more money into my retirement accounts. I feel woefully behind on my retirement savings, and I was so focused on eliminating the debt that I didn’t think much about that particular piece of the personal finance picture.
How has your life changed since paying off your debt?
The process of paying off the debt helped me evaluate what was really important to me. My dreams are defined. I know what I value, and I know my values. … Once I paid it off, I felt a weight removed. Student loan debt keeps you tied to your past. I’m so grateful it’s gone and I can focus on my present and future.

What advice would you give to other borrowers?
I would recommend seriously looking at the story you tell yourself about your debt. For a long time, I resented my undergraduate debt and felt like it wasn’t mine to pay. Once I reframed the story, took responsibility for my role in accumulating it and told myself that I was capable of eliminating it, then my life opened up. … [To pay off student loans quickly,] you have to earn more and reduce expenses — doing only one won’t move the dial.

How you can get out of student debt, too
While “monster payments” may not be in the cards for every borrower, you can use other strategies to manage your debt and pay off your loans.

If you’re having trouble making payments on your federal loans, income driven repayment plans can help you get your debt under control. These cap your payments at a percentage of your income and extend your loan term to 20 or 25 years. You have to reapply every year to stay on your plan, and at the end of your loan term, any leftover balance is forgiven and taxed as income. If you’re a teacher, like Page, or you work in another area of public service, look into federal forgiveness programs. Those help qualified borrowers get forgiveness faster.

If you can afford your payments but you want to save money on your loans, student loan refinancing may be the answer. Refinancing lets you swap out your existing loans for a new one with terms based on your current finances. The lower you can get your interest rate, and the shorter your loan term, the more money you stand to save. Most lenders look for a steady income, a low debt-to-income ratio and a credit score of 650 or higher. However, refinancing federal loans means giving up borrower protections like income driven repayment and forgiveness programs, so you may want to exclude those loans from your application.

Devon Delfino is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website. Email: Twitter: @devondelfino.

Jan 31

Why January Is the Best Time to Buy a Home

Posted by into Gainesville

Spring and summer are historically the most popular times to buy a home. The weather is warm, inventory is high and the school year is winding down or done. But those who shop during this peak buying season also face more competition and higher prices. Buyers willing to brave the colder weather can benefit in multiple ways by purchasing a home now.

While winter homebuyers generally encounter a lower inventory, a September 2016 NerdWallet study found that they have the advantage of less competition. Additionally, the study showed that home prices in January are typically the lowest they’ll be all year. And in 2017, with a likely increase in mortgage rates on the way, there are several reasons why January is the best time to buy a home.

Prices are likely to only go higher
Home prices in January typically take a dip compared with the summer buying season. In its report, NerdWallet analyzed two years of data for the 50 most populous U.S. metro areas and found that in January and February, home sales prices were 8.45% lower on average than in June through August.

The outlook for January 2017, though, is a little different after an abnormally strong fall housing market nationwide, says Jonathan Smoke, chief economist at Even though the summer seasonal cycle was still in play in 2016, he says, sales in October and November were much stronger than average, and housing prices in January haven’t dropped as much as in past years.

“[Home] prices are likely to increase even more than you typically see in spring because of low levels of inventory and because we didn’t see the normal weakness we see in fall,” Smoke says.

Less competition
Home prices may not have taken their usual dip this January, but Smoke says it’s still a favorable time to buy due to the ratio of inventory to sales — the number of homes on the market compared with the amount of competition. In 2016, there were almost twice as many people buying in June as there were in January, he says. This is in line with NerdWallet’s analysis of data from the previous two years, which found a 47% drop in sales in January when compared with July in the 50 largest metro areas.

Home inventory, meanwhile, doesn’t vary as much as price throughout the year, Smoke says, noting that there were 21% fewer homes on the market in the winter months of 2016 than in the summer.

“You basically face almost half of the competition with almost the same amount of inventory in the market,” Smoke says. This potentially means fewer homes with multiple bidders and more room for negotiating with sellers.

During nonpeak homebuying periods, there also tends to be a larger discrepancy between listing prices and sale prices, according to NerdWallet’s analysis. This can mean hidden savings for buyers. The September 2016 study found that in the previous two Januarys, the median home sold for $7,003 less than the listing price.

Mortgage rates expected to rise
After hitting historic lows, mortgage rates started rising in fall 2016. This year, economists expect additional rate increases, which means higher monthly payments for future homeowners.

“As we look toward spring and later in 2017, that’s another reason to buy in January and February,” Smoke says. “Because rates are expected to be about 50 basis points, or half a percent, more as the year goes on.”

With mortgage rates likely the lowest they’ll be all year — and with lower prices and less competition — January is an ideal time to make your bid.

Emily Starbuck Crone is a staff writer at NerdWallet, a personal finance website.

Sep 21

Decluttering is Key to Selling your Home

Posted by into Gainesville, Organization, Why storage?

Have you decided to sell your home and want to make it look its best? One of the most important things you can do to prepare your home for sale is to declutter each and every room. From too much furniture to knickknacks, to personal photographs, it all has to go. Well, not all, but most…

Is most of your furniture pushed up against walls? Consider grouping a sofa and a couple of chairs around a coffee table away from the walls creating a nice conversation area as well as an easily distinguishable traffic flow which will make the room seem larger.

Is the floor in each room predominately covered by furniture, baskets, shoes and daily discarded items? Get everything up off the floor so the eye can make it from one side of the room to the next without obstruction. Be sure the furniture is proportional to the size of the room or eliminate it while it’s on the market.

Are your walls, shelves and mantelpiece completely covered with pictures? Select a few of your favorites and temporarily pack away the rest. Home buyers need to be able to picture themselves in the space and it may difficult to do that with all the family pictures and knickknacks collecting dust.

According to HGTV, to make a room appear to be bigger than it is, “paint it the same color as the adjacent room. If you have a small kitchen and dining room, a seamless look will make both rooms feel like one big space.” Another design trick: “If you want to create the illusion of more space, paint the walls the same color as your drapery. It will give you a seamless and sophisticated look.”

Now, what do you do with all furniture, pictures, and cherished heirlooms you need to temporarily move safely out of your home? If you’re thinking, move them into your closet, I wouldn’t recommend it. Closets, or lack of closet space, can make or break the sale of a home. If your next guess would be the garage, it’s probably not the best idea as potential buyers also like to see the additional work space and can’t if it’s stacked to the ceiling with boxes, plastic bins and furniture.

Renting a storage unit can be the perfect solution. It eliminates having to part with your belongings while keeping them protected in a climate controlled location. With various sized storage units available, you can find the perfect size to suit your needs. Stop by 34th Street Mini Storage today to reserve your unit.

5 × 5 – $48 per month, plus tax
5 × 10 – $70 per month, plus tax
10 × 5 – $70 per month, plus tax
10 × 10 $105 per month, plus tax
10 X 15 – $149 per month, plus tax

34th Street Mini Storage is secure with 24 hour access and is close and convenient to I75 at two different exits located at Williston and Archer Roads. 34th Street Mini Storage offers clean, affordable heated/cooled units in various sizes with security cameras on the property and kiosk for 24 hour assistance. Need carts or a hand truck? We have that covered too! Give us a call at (352) 358-4151 or stop by and visit us at 3447 SW 42nd Avenue to reserve your unit today!

Aug 30

September 2016 Alachua County Community Events Calendar

Posted by into Gainesville

September 1
Something New in Orange & Blue Fashion Show
Senior Recreation Center
5:30 pm

September 2nd
Food Truck Rally
Cymplify at 5 pm

Concert – Little Mike and the Tornadoes
Town of Tioga
7 pm – 10 pm

“Free Fridays” Concert Series
Bo Diddley Plaza at 8 pm

September 3rd
UF vs. UMass

Rhythm and Blues Food Festival
Bo Diddly Plaza
12:00 pm – 5 pm

September 5th
Labor Day

September 6th
Square Dance Classes
Westside Park Recreation Building
6:15 pm – 7 pm

September 9th
Movie Night: Zootopia
7:30 pm 9:00 pm

“Free Fridays” Concert Series
Bo Diddley Plaza at 8 pm

September 10th
UF vs. Kentucky

#BuckTheSwamp Charity Dance Competition for Autism
1:00 pm – 5 pm

September 11th
National Grandparents Day

September 23rd & 25th
Gare St. Lazare Ireland – Moby Dick
Phillips Center at 7:30 pm & 2:00 pm

September 23rd
“Free Fridays” Concert Series
Bo Diddley Plaza at 8 pm

September 24th
Touch a Truck
(Northeast Complex)

September 30th – October 2nd
Butterfly Plant Sale
Florida Museum of Natural History
10 am – 5 pm

September 30th
“Free Fridays” Concert Series
Bo Diddley Plaza at 8 pm

September 30th – October 1st
Grassroots Motorsports 2016 Challenge
Auto Plus Raceway

Aug 22

Holiday Décor Storage Solution

Posted by into Apartments, Gainesville, Organization

School is back in session and for me that means the holidays are upon us in quick succession. With the beginning of October right around the corner, many will be putting away the summer wreaths and garden flags in exchange for festive fall decorations and Halloween décor. Soon thereafter will be all the decorations for Thanksgiving, Hanukkah and Christmas.

In my home, storage space is at a premium and the thought of trying to get just a couple of items out of the holiday closet & cabinet requires me to unload everything just to get at the one or two beloved pieces I am looking for. So, what do I end up doing most of the time…disappointing my children and not bothering to seek out their favorite, fun decorations because the thought of a making a huge mess is just too overwhelming. What’s the point of having all of these beautiful keepsakes if they’re always hidden?

Last year, while packing Halloween decorations away in their color-coded orange and black bins, it occurred to me that maybe I should consider a storage unit. I did nothing at the time, but as I was packing away the Christmas decorations in their red and green plastic bins, and dreading trying to find a place to store the bins, I decided it was time for a change.

I took the plunge and decided to rent a small storage unit and I am really happy with my decision. I am currently looking forward to walking into my climate-controlled unit and easily grabbing the bins that I need next month. No more fumbling around pulling everything out looking for the appropriate decorations because the color coded bins make it a cinch! Not to mention I love having the extra closet and cabinet space in my home available for other uses.

If space in your home is at a premium, and you’re looking for a space saving solution, check out 34th Street Mini Storage. 34th Street Mini Storage is secure with 24 hour access and is close and convenient to I75 at two different exits located at Williston and Archer Roads. 34th Street Mini Storage offers clean, affordable heated/cooled units in various sizes with security cameras on the property and kiosk for 24 hour assistance. Need carts or a hand truck? We have that covered too! Give us a call at (352) 358-4151 or stop by and visit us at 3447 SW 42nd Avenue.
What could you do with additional space in your home?

Jul 6

Ever Wonder what's Inside all these Storage Units?

Posted by into

A whole bunch of STEEL! Here’s a flashback to the construction of 34th Street Mini Storage. You can see the concrete towers for our two big elevators in front, just part of what makes 34th Street Mini Storage unique. Completely indoors, all climate controlled, modern storage facilities like this are becoming popular in the bigger cities, but we’re the only one here in Gainesville.

Jun 23

Are You Missing Out On A Tax Advantage?

Posted by into Gainesville

Did you know that if you rent a storage unit that you can possibly “write it off”? If you store business records or business equipment, this could be a viable tax advantage you’re missing out on.

Many of our clients have units filled with file cabinets full of records since it’s a requirement for businesses to keep 7 years of records for tax audit purposes. Why clutter up your home or work space with old documents when you could free up some valuable space?

34th Street Mini Storage is a modern storage facility completely equipped like those in a bigger city, but we’re the only one located in Gainesville. All 347 units are climate-controlled and feature the latest technology. From the fire sprinkler system, to the security cameras that enable our staff to see everything that goes on within the 50,000 square foot building, we’ve got your security covered.

Do you need 24 hour access to your documents? No problem, an upgraded package allows wiring and additional lighting to be brought into the units enabling tenants to access and view their records 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.

At 34th Street Mini Storage you’ll have security, unlimited access, climate-controlled space year around, fire protection, and automatic registration with our new 24/7 Kiosk, “Trudy.”

Best yet, the 34th street Storage units are close to UF and the center of town, while also being convenient to I75 at two different exits located at Williston and Archer Roads.

Check with you CPA for all details of tax benefit and then visit for more information.

Jan 12

New Year's Resolutions for Your Home: Do's and Don'ts For Your Home's Value

Posted by into DIY, Gainesville, Organization

Happy New Year! It’s time for a fresh start, a clean slate. Many make resolutions to drink less, eat right and workout. But have you ever thought about resolutions you shouldn’t make? With housing prices on the rise, now is the time invest in your home to capitalize on its value. Here are five home improvement resolutions to stay away from and the solution that will help you make the most of your investment.

1. Landscaping without Forward-Thinking

Are you planning on a major landscaping redo? Curb appeal is everything, even if you don’t plan on selling in the near future. Don’t plant trees too close to the driveway. It will create havoc later by not only cracking pavement with the root system, but creating a rise on certain sections making an unsightly mess. It may also increase your homeowners policy.

Look forward 15 years and plant accordingly. Plan on placing trees and shrubbery far enough way from the foundation, driveway, sidewalks and walkways to the front door leaving plenty of room for future growth. It saves money on future landscaping, fixing pavement, and prevents homeowners insurance from increasing.

2. Choosing A Wild & Crazy Exterior Color

Are you considering painting the exterior of your home brown, green, red or that lovely shade of lavender? Be aware, be very aware.

Be aware of your surroundings and select a color that is common and will blend well with the other style and color of homes in your neighborhood. For example, there is a home in a newer neighborhood near my home with lovely neutral colored homes surrounding it throughout the subdivision. However, this particular home is fire engine red. While it’s nice to be different, consider your surroundings so you don’t look out of place.

3. Lackluster Front Door Appearance & Hardware

Does your front door or entryway leave a lot to be desired? Is the hardware rusty or the lock a bit challenging? A potential buyer doesn’t want to walk up to a home and be met with challenges before they even walk through the door. If a realtor has to finagle a lock or traverse a rugged front walkway, a buyer will wonder what else hasn’t been properly cared for on the inside of the home.

Create an inviting entryway with a clean walkway free of leaves and other yard debris. Adding a potted plant or a wreath is also a nice touch. Be sure hardware is clean, rust-free and in proper working condition.

4. Choosing Wild & Crazy Interior Colors

Do the colors in your home appeal to a select few due to a loud color palette or unique taste? How about the trim throughout your home? Is it clean and neutral or eccentric?

If you’re planning on selling, embrace neutral tones. Only 10% of people can see beyond what they see as they walk through a property. Anything taste-specific is difficult for buyers to overlook when selecting a home. Taste-specific decor can include wallpaper, family pictures, foliage (faux or real), wall art etc. Creating a home full of clean, neutral colored walls and trim will sell a home faster.

5. “Updating” the Fireplace

Is your old, dated, brick fireplace not the focal point you’d like it to be? Resist painting the exposed brick as it may reduce the value and appeal of your home.

To bring new life to your fireplace, simply update the mantle and leave the beautiful exposed brick. Replace the outdated mantle with a clean, sleek looking, custom stained mantle and keep the exposed natural brick creating a warm, eye-catching centerpiece.

May 26

Simplifying Stains: Your Easy Guide to Stain Removal

Posted by into DIY

Every day most of us have a stain situation that needs a solution whether on laundry or outdoors on the driveway. For most, my Resolve stick (looks like deodorant) works wonders on just about everything. However, there are those times that a Resolve stain stick just can’t cut it. See how to remove stains from just about anything.

Ink – To prevent the stain from spreading, create a “dam” around it with petroleum jelly. Then apply isopropyl alcohol with an eyedropper or a clean toothbrush. Dab with a cotton ball and mineral spirits to remove any residue. Let dry and then rinse with a dish-soap solution.

Chocolate – If laundry presoak fails, dab 1 tsp. ammonia in 1 c. water. Rinse and wash (Don’t use on wool or silk)

Red Wine – Cover the stain with salt to absorb excess; wait 10 minutes and brush off. Put garment in cold water; gently rub out the spot.

Coffee – Stretch the fabric over a bowl and carefully pour boiling water through the stain from about a foot above. If the coffee had milk in it, follow with an oil solvent, like Carbona Stain Wizard Prewash. If it contained sugar, follow with a pretreatment product, like Resolve or Shout and let sit for 30 minutes before washing.

Grass – Grass stains on clothes can be removed with an old toothbrush and plain white toothpaste; just make sure you use a paste variety and not a gel. Squeeze a small amount of the toothpaste onto the stain, then dip the toothbrush in clean water and use it to scrub away the stain.

Blood – To remove spots of blood from clothing, use 3 percent hydrogen peroxide. Soak the stain with the peroxide, use your fingernail or the blade of a butter knife to help loosen and scrape away the blood, then rinse it away with more hydrogen peroxide.

Another method for removing blood from clothing is to wet the stained area of the fabric with water, sprinkle it with plain old table salt, rub one half of the stain against the other to work in the salt and loosen the stain, then immediately launder the garment as usual.

Lipstick – To remove lipstick from dark fabrics, grab a piece of white bread and remove the crust. Wad up the soft center and rub it gently on the stain until it picks up all of the lipstick. Sweep away any leftover crumbs with a clean, soft-bristled brush.

Food Grease Spots – Sprinkle the spot with cornstarch. Allow the cornstarch to soak up the grease for a few minutes, and then brush it away. The grease spot will lift right out.

Permanent Marker

Tips for concrete surfaces

One of my biggest pet peeves is an oil stained driveway. I feel it’s the first impression of what’s to come in my home and like it to be clean looking. Yes, yes, I know we’re talking about a driveway here but I have a very type “A” personality. Last month I had a cable provider at my home (I won’t name any names) and needless to say, in the 30 minutes their vehicle was in my driveway, there was one small area of oil and two very large soon-to-be stains. I was in a pinch for time and threw kitty litter on it to absorb it thinking I’d have to come home and pressure wash. However, since I caught it right after the fact, it completely came out. Relief, who has time to pressure wash anyway?

If you already have a grease or oil stain that has been there a while, dissolve 3-4 ounces of TSP or TSP phosphate-free detergent in 1 gallon of hot water. Pour on the stained area and let sit for 20 minutes and scrub with stiff brush working from outside to the center of the stain and rinse thoroughly.

If you have a concrete surface that hasn’t been sealed, wash it as needed to prevent stains with TSP available at hardware stores. For a rust stain, use a solution of one part citric acid crystals and six parts water and fuller’s earth to make a paste. Apply it to the area of rust, let dry, and scrape off and the rust stains should be gone.

Do you have a cleaning tip you’ve discovered and would like to share? Please post it in the comments below.

If you found this article useful, please hit the “Share/Like” button below so that others can benefit from it too. Thanks!

Consumer Reports, How to Clean Practically Anything
Good Housekeeping, March 2013
Real Simple, August 2014

Apr 28

May 2015 Alachua County Community Events

Posted by into

With Alachua County schools and extra curricular activities coming to a close within the next five weeks (I’m not counting down the days or anything) many have a lot more time to enjoy some of the events around town. If you’ve never had a chance to visit the retired horse farm in Alachua, add it to your to do list for one Saturday morning. It’s a beautiful, private farm that provides lifelong care for elderly horses that have been neglected, abused or abandoned and seized by law enforcement agencies, SPCAs and other frontline rescue organizations. Mill Creek’s “retirees” enjoy their lives in spacious, tree-lined pastures – where they can roam freely with other horses, live in peace and die with dignity. I often take my kids to the farm and they enjoy the long walk, fresh air and feeding these beautiful horses. At the end of the month be sure not to miss the Memorial Day Ceremony at Forest Meadows Cemetery.

May 2nd, 9th, 16th, 23rd, 30th
Mill Creek Retirement Home for Horses
Feed and pet the horses
11 – 3 pm

May 2nd
2nd Annual Juleps and Jockeys
Sweetwater Branch Inn
4 – 8 pm

May 3rd
Archaeology Works: Pottery!
Florida Museum of Natural History
2 – 4:00 pm

May 2nd
An Evening at the Derby
Gainesville Country Club
4:30 pm

May 7th
ET York Work Of Hearts Events
Best Western Gateway Grand
Reception 5:30-6 pm
Dinner @ 6 pm

May 8th
Gainesville Orchestra: GO to the Circus
UF Phillips Center
7:30 pm

May 8th
Hats, Hearts & Hangbags
Hilton UF Conference Center
10 am

May 9th
Stop Children’s Cancer Fantasy Event
Santa Fe River Ranch
5:30 – 11 pm

May 10th
Mother’s Day

May 10th
Taste of Gainesville
5:30 – 9 pm

May 15th
No One Runs Alone 5K
Westside Park
4 – 8 pm

May 16th
Blueberry Festival benefitting
Cross Creek Volunteer Fire Department
8 am – 4 pm

May 16th
2nd Annual May Day Glow Run
Tioga Town Center
2 -11 pm
Race begins at 8 pm

May 16th
Inventivity Bash: An Evening of Gatronomy Wonderment!
Santa Fe Fine Arts Hall
6:30 -12:00 am

May 25th
Memorial Day Ceremony
Forest Meadows Cemetery (East)
11 am

If you found this calendar of events useful, could you please “share” so that others can benefit from it, too? Thanks!