Thursday, December 24, 2009

No Money for You

Yesterday a mild (4-6 inch) snowstorm hit our area. As I was layering up to do the first round of shoveling there was a knock on the door. In the year and a bit we've lived here we've never gotten a "Can I shovel/weed/etc knock." My husband bemoans the how unindustrious the kids in the neighborhood are, thinking back to the money making snowstorms of his childhood.

Generally I like shoveling snow, but this is our 4th shovelable* snow this season. And the season goes until about April.

So a guy knocks, offering to shovel once yesterday and then come again in the morning to take care of the overnight snow. He asked for $15 for the first day and $10 for the next.

We pooled our cash and came up with $16. The huz was doing an airport run last night and was supposed to get cash on his way home. This morning he hadn't gone for cash before the guy left, but the bank is 10 minutes away so he figured he would be back before the guy was done.

The guy shoveling and his fiancee finished up pretty quickly. She showed me which house they would be moving to and said they'd stop back later. The she thanked me profusely, letting me know that the money they earned today would pay for their Christmas dinner.

After 30 minutes and I called the huz to make sure he's not stuck in the snow. Apparently folks in our neighborhood like cash for the holidays- he'd been to five different places (including 2 banks with multiple ATMs) and every ATM was out of cash. I suggested cash back at a store which was finally successful.

I'm glad that our shoveling duties for the moment are done. I'm happier that our laziness may have made the season a little brighter for a neighborhood family.

*Less than 3 inches and we only shovel the walkway

A Thoughtful Thank You

A while back a friend of a friend had her first baby. Based on the past year that's nothing spectacular (other than that whole miracle of life thing). Without thinking hard I can name more than a dozen babies of friends and coworkers that made their appearance in 2009.

This one was a little different though. She didn't plan to get pregnant. She wasn't sure that she even wanted to be a mom. But she's also one of those people who loves those in her life wholeheartedly. When the friend we share has needed help she's always been there- laughing, cursing an ex, or calling in others when a little support was needed. I saw her last May on my trip east. We celebrated our friend's accomplishment, and though she was 6 months pregnant she went out of our way to make our friend and her parents comfortable.

I added two more baby hats to the pile I was knitting and crocheted a little blanket. It was nothing fancy, just sending her and her new baby a little love for their journey together.

Fast forward to yesterday. Going through the mail that piled up when your mailbox* was stuck, I pulled out anything handwritten. Amidst the Christmas cards was an envelope from this mom. Now in general I'm pretty laid back about thank you notes. She sent a text and then a picture msg with the baby wearing one of the hats, so I wasn't expecting anything. Inside was a nice note saying thanks for the items & support for her little family. This was nice, some would even say expected.

What I wasn't expected was a gift certificate. This new single mama took the time to go online, look through restaurants in my town, and choose one that she thought I would like.

All in all I thought it was a sweet and thoughtful way to say thanks. I may even steal the idea.

*Despite living in a single family house we have one of those units on the corner where everyone has a tiny slot.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

How to spend way too much money at the grocery store

A) Go hungry
B) Go with an informal list
C) Don't stick to said list
D) Bring no coupons
E) Go as a snow storm approaches or as snow falls from the sky

For extra credit:
F) Repeat 12 hours later.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Student Loan Surprise x2

Last Friday I took the day off to use some of my use it or loose it time. I missed my early December net worth calculations (time just got away from me) and decided to catch up. I logged into all of the accounts, plugging balances into Excel and noting the progress we've made. The mortgage was looking good. The Prius is pretty close to our year end goal. Then I logged into my student loan account.

A while back I wrote about getting my interest rate reduced .25% by setting up auto debit payments. Each month I make sure that a few days ahead of the 3rd (my payment day) the cash is in my ING checking account. Each month the funds get pulled out without incident. Until December. On the 3rd the funds were happily sitting there. I scheduled some transfers for other things on the 4th and moved on with my life.

You see where this is going right?

The student loan people didn't pull things until the 4th. At a low moment in the transfers (there were multiple in and out) the student loan people try to get their money. But it wasn't not there. At this point I abandon updating the spreadsheet and get on the phone.

While holding for an agent and then holding for her supervisor (when talking to me about my money you can't sound like my 15 yr old cousin) I poked around on their site. Then I found surprise #2- the happy surprise. After 24 on time payments my interest rate will fall 1%. I don't have to ask or do anything. I just start saving money.

I was worried that surprise 1 would jeopardize surprise 2. That night I paid the amount due ($88 instead of the $315.99 we usually pay), and a $15 insufficient funds fee. Tuesday the page online with the info about the interest rate dropping move from 20 to 21 on time payments. I think they're one of those places where you're on time within 15 days of the due date. Not that I'll be taking advantage again.

The final bit of student loan news comes from 2 extra payments. Above I mentioned the monthly payment vs the amount due. Right before I started this extra payment thing my mom sent in an extra payment for my birthday or something. As an aside, I love that she knows paying off debts is so important to me and will send funds to debt instead of sending my something I don't need. Back to the student loan- the company that manages my loan is one of those irritating places where if you want to make an extra principal payment you have to include a note and mail it to a special address. Mom didn't do this so each month they collect more than they need and sit it in a 'bucket' until there's a full payment and then forward the date.

I think the 'bucket' thing is bs, so I only paid them what was due and sent the rest as an extra principal payment. They actually got 2 checks because earlier in the week I wrote out a check to kill my 4th loan. Loans 1-3 have balances in the $7,000-8,000 range. Loan 4 has a balance of $270. Though it shouldn't, loan 4 really really bugs me. Earlier in the fall during a financial talk I said I wanted to pay off this little loan because it bugs me. My husband shook head at my crazy but said he was fine with it.

So we should start the new year with the student loan $500 lighter and by the end of the first quarter the interst should be lower.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Use it or Loose it

I'm off today. Not because it's a good time at work, or I have plans to do something fun. I'm up against a vacation hour deadline. The larger nonprofit that I work for decided that we can no longer accrue paid time off with no cap at the start of the fiscal year. By the start of next fiscal year we can have a max of 80 hours. Each quarter the max we can accrue goes down to ease us towards 80.

As of Thanksgiving I had 7.5 days to take. On top of the 2 days we get for Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, and the half day we get after the company luncheon*. The catch is if I am over the limit I don't accrue anything in January.

I have to check again but I think I'm within 10 hours. I'm going to go in and leave when I'm ready next week. Any left over hours will be donated to the employee leave bank. I'm also going to spend these days off planning the 11 days I need to take during the first quarter of 2010. There may also be a few check requests for work.

*Does anyone under the age of 60 use this word? I felt really really old typing it there.
**Again with the words my grandma would use.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Does time ever slip away from you? In the midst of all of the post Thanksgiving posts there were some new worth updates. That's a pretty good indicator of the beginning of the month, but it still didn't click.

Now some random thought:
Work was hectic but I'm working on letting go a bit. I have scheduled 1.5 days each holiday week and still have to take 34 hours of vacation between now and then. Yesterday was one of those slow start days so I just took an hour. I'm going to take a little time each day and try to make the few hours I'm there each day really count.

Robbery is expensive. Tomorrow I'll submit our almost full insurance claim. Everything's been replaced so far. All that's left is painting the door to meet HOA standards. That won't happen until spring unless we get a heat wave going. We're dealing with some arctic conditions that are just crazy (we hit the high temp at 4 am). According to the guys at the home improvement store I need a 50 degree day to do a good job. I haven't done the final math, but we're well over $3,000 to replace things. Our deductible is $500 and then there's the stuff that insurance won't cover.

I started a pottery class this week. It's a small group that seems interesting and I'm happy to have another creative outlet. The class is by our city's Parks & Recreation department and comes out to $4/night. The only problem is coming up with what I want to make. I walked in with no ideas and didn't love my first project. Just one more excuse to spend way too much time on Etsy- if you don't know and like hand made things click with caution.

I'm sick of fake news. I don't care about celebrities sleeping around. Or who they're dating. Also, CNN for the love of all that is newsworthy man up and move on.

Hope your holiday seasons have started well!

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

He's Finally Got It

Today we're finally getting around to replacing my stolen laptop. My husband requested that I check the Black Friday adds before we head to the store tonight. We'd discussed doing the Black Friday thing though I like my bed and generally don't think the deals are worth the crowds.

Anywho, I ask where I should check and he names 2 big box stores and another kinda local option. He starts to mention Wally World, then stops himself and says "wait, no matter how good the deal is you don't want to buy it there right?" I agreed and we moved on. Doesn't seem like much but three years ago there would have been a long drawn out discussion. Today he just take it and move on.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Utility Escrow

Budgeting for utilities can be frustrating, especially in places that have 4 distinct seasons. The increase in winter bills comes when many are also paying for holiday gifts. In our case it's also when my husband's checks take a 2-3 month nosedive. I also wanted a better handle on how much money it takes to run our household month to month.

Last spring I set a utility escrow sub account at ING to help work in this problem. I pulled our last 7 bills (we'd only live in the house 7 months) and did some math to figure out what our average would be. If you have all 12 months just add them up and divide by 12. I was missing spring/summer months, so I took the one summer month I had, multiplied it by 6 and then added the winter month and divided it all by 12. Based on our apartment bills and our lack of AC use I knew that the spring/summer months would be about the same.

To automate the process I added a formula to our spending spreadsheet in Excel. It's set up to take our annual number ($125) and subtract the monthly bill amount that I was already plugging in. At least once a month I spend a few minutes transferring money to/from ING, so this transfer just got added to the mix. Once our bills exceed the annual average I'll pull the money we've been setting aside to pay the difference.

Sunday, November 22, 2009


This morning I had 2 slices of No-Time Bread that I made last night with some butter and peach freezer jam that I made this summer. Followed by some knitting and Hulu time. Perfect start to a lazy day.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Wall

Last night I got home and collapsed on the couch. After a bit I made it up to bed, watched some TV and promptly fell asleep at 8. I'd told my husband not to let me sleep more than an hour, in hopes of getting up and doing something. Looking back that was a pipe dream. He woke me up and got some dinner. We talked for a bit and then he fell out so I played online for a bit. I fell asleep by midnight and slept for almost 11 hours. Today I'm sneezy and stuffy and otherwise relegated to the couch.

I guess getting up early (6:45ish) to do the 30 Day Shred, work stuff, and going out 3 nights during the week was too much. Body, I've taken note. Okay, now no more of this being sick stuff.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

One of my responsibilities at work is to run a scholarship program for our constituents. I've been deep in the weeds of application review for the past few days. One strange thing I've noticed- a lot of people don't have their own checks.

More than 15% of the applications were accompanied with money orders or checks in another name. There was another group (15% or so)of applicants whose employers sponsored their application fee.

Another one of my responsibilities is to provide work related trainings for our constituents. After seeing all of this I want to provide some personal financial literacy trainings. It doesn't fit at all with our mission (or funding) but I feel that the lack of personal checking accounts is indicative of other issues our constituents face.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


We seem to be on an ebb and flow cycle with drama, with waves crashing in every 2 weeks. A few things happened at the Mr.'s job yesterday that put into question his ability to be there long term. I told him he needs to do what will make him happy, but not jumping without a parachute(new job). I like the company he's currently with and thought it would be a good long term fit, but if they're going to play games it's not worth the drama.

In other news after waking up from my summer depression I've managed to pack on more pounds than I'm happy with. I've always been overweight, but I just hit a wall. More importantly, I can't do things I like to do without getting winded. I'm doing the 30 Day Shred. This morning was day 2 and I can't pull myself off of the couch because I hurt even though I'm about to be late for work.

This is the cheapest fitness endeavor I've ever started. I'm wearing old sneaks, exercising in my living room in gear I wouldn't wear to the gym, not driving anywhere to work out, and best of all the routine is free via On Demand. I'll let you all know how it works out.

Finally, have you heard of Groupon? It's a group coupon based on your home city. To keep with my desire to get in shape I've bought 2 fitness groupons- a punch card for classes I've been wanting to try and another punch card to a different gym for free workouts. Usually there are a minimum of people who have to purchase before the deal works (ie at least 10 before the deal is on) but they work in my city daily. I have quite a few friends that love it so I thought I'd share.

*the groupon link is a referral link. I was in a fog through most of the summer FCC stuff, but there it is.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Big Spender

Today we spent a lot of money. A lot. A combination of replacing things that were stolen (largely reimbursable by insurance), my quest for the house to look like we've lived here more than 2 months, and a store closing.

We left the house for breakfast, lamps, furniture looking, and replacing Ipods. The breakfast wait was ridiculously long so we put our names on the list and went in search of lamps. Right now on his side of the bed there's a lamp he's had from college. Mine is empty. The lamp store was closed when we got there so we decided to replace the game systems that got stolen. That took up the majority of our wait and we headed back to the restaurant. It's the kind of place that I would wait an hour for a table. It's just that good.

The rest of the plan was West Elm to look at dinning tables and the store for Ipods. That is until we saw a going out of business sign for a garden store that I love. I wrote about an overpriced couch that they had and I loved in the spring. We walked in and my husband and I, who can never agree on ANYTHING when it comes to decor both instantly liked a table. Our unwritten rule is that when this happens (pending available funds) we buy it. End of story.

We visited one store for Ipods but didn't like their warranty so we kept going. At this point I he left with a friend to take the tables home and I returned to the garden store. Let's just say other than seeds I should be set at garden start up time. The new door needed a bigger sweep so I made one more stop before coming home. To top it all off, after a short break at home we went to another store and purchased new Ipods.

I don't have the receipts in front of me right now, but my mental calculator is putting the damage at around $2,000.

The corresponding accounts (and soon to come insurance checks) cover all of it, but outside of buying cars, the house, and paying tuition I can't remember the last time I spent that much in one day.

Friday, October 30, 2009

The Inconsiderate Theives

In the second half of summer I started wishing for fall. This summer was rough on multiple levels and I hoped the change of season, the change of light, temperature and smell would somehow change the trajectory of our luck, karma, or whatever you want to call it.

That's a bit melodramatic. But it's been a crazy few months. The cherry on top was our house being burglarized earlier this week. Things were taken in 2's. Toys that could fit in a book bag, and mysteriously 2 pans.

To get in they broke the glass in our front door, leaving a softball sized hole. Further compromising the security of our house. Sending cold air in or warm air out. On the eve of a 2 day storm that brought us 15 inches of snow. In case you're wondering, getting a door replaced in the middle of a major snow storm- not so easy.

This post has been the most down I've been about the whole thing. In the grand scheme of things it's not that bad. My husband and I are safe. My engagement ring, the piece of jewelery I'm most sentimental about, was in the house and it was not taken. Neither were 2 credit cards that weren't put away. The three external hard drives that back up each of our personal laptops and my work laptop (which had a virus a few weeks back) were all left. Did I mention that we're both OK?

That afternoon we got to hang out with a CSI who drives around in an awesome van. I even got to direct a few places to look for fingerprints. So far the insurance process has been positive. In the end we'll get to go on a guilt free mini shopping spree. Shopping that will be (based on our insurance agent's explanation) fully funded by something other than our bank accounts.* The double paned cardboard I've fashioned around the whole are working surprisingly well even if it looks totally ghetto.

So all in all, it could have been much worse. There are a million ways that this could have gone differently. I've gotten really good at looking for silver linings. But seriously, who throws a rock through a window the day before a snowstorm? It's just rude.

*Though I guess we're just getting back the premiums we've been paying in.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Networth + Debt Reduction Payoffs

Since typing my last post I've been updating our household and my personal money spreadsheet. The household one is usually in progress because I track bill payments there. I hadn't updated my spreadsheet, networth IQ, or my sidebars since August.

What a difference 2 months makes.

The efund is up 7%.
End of PMI is down 3%
The Prius down 11%

My net worth is up 119.41%

It's good to know that our autopilot is working

Auto Pilot

When I posted a month ago I thought I was ready to jump back into blogging. Now I realize that it wasn't so. A combination of auto pilot, boredom, and no time kept me away.

I've finally found a system that I like. We're still doing the 80% to the household 20% for fun/hobbies split. My husband is in his high earning season, the perfect time for us to move to paying everything from his portion of the household money. His check has been paying the mortgage, Prius payment, utilities, insurance escrow and household credit card bill. Some of his check has also gone into what I have named the 'low months fund.' This fund will balance the upcoming months when my husband's checks take a dive. My check is going to the emergency fund, extra car payments, and another new ING sub account, house savings.

The new house savings account is for things like furniture, that are too expensive to just add to a month. Though we've live in our house for more than a year with the exception of my nightstand and 2 bookcases we haven't purchased any furniture since going from small condo. I've been the one holding back on spending but I think this gives us a responsible way to put funds aside to make out house more inviting. On my short list-dining table, sofa, outdoor table.

Maybe boredom isn't the right word. I'm just not as excited as I once was about personal finance. Amongst my friends I'm still the pf nerd, answering questions and making suggestions. When I started this blog I'd get ideas while driving around and a lack of posts usually indicated a lack of time to type them up. I haven't been getting the ideas. I scroll through my reader regularly but I have more than 600 articles hanging out. This morning I cut a few mega blogs that post multiple times a day.

Also contributing to the boredom- no matter what I do out next financial goal is at least a year off. Our current debts (Prius, my brain aka student loans, house) are all more than $20,000. I have interim goals (Prius @ $20,000 by beginning of 2010), but they're just not as exciting.

Lack of time
I've been working at the museum every weekend, in addition to the 45-50 hours I put in at my daytime gig. The temperatures have dropped, yesterday was our 3rd light snow this season, meaning my need to create has exploded. Currently I have 2 scarves and a kitchen mat in progress. This weekend I sewed 2 cosmetic bags for my new purse. The cue of projects is long and the time to work on them is short.

That's where I am this month. I may be back later this week, but maybe not. I hope you're doing well.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Welcome Fall

This week fall blew in, brisk and rainy. Usually this would cause me to grumble, but for the first time in my life I'm so ready for the new season to begin. My 27th summer officially sucked. I've been sitting here trying to find a more mature word for it, but sucked is a pretty good fit.

I've started to find my feet again in the last week. I'm excited again about work, my favorite friend in this city is recovering well at home, and my house isn't a wreck. This week I cooked as many meals as I ate out. The fall chill also has me excited about a few new knitting projects. In short I'm intersted in things and have the energy to do them.

The only flaw with fall so far is wardrobe. Logic tells me I wore clothes to work last fall. But looking through my closet laundry baskets I can't for the life of me figure it out. I'm thinking 2-3 light weight sweaters and/or long sleeve shirts, a pair of pants, and tights should round out what I already have. And boots. Cute, flat (or flat-ish) boots. I have 2 pairs of boots with heels that I almost never wear because they aren't much more than cute. I also have a pair of good snow boots. The kind of boots you that are warm and comfy when a part of your job involves standing on playgrounds in the mountains for 30-50 minutes at a time. For my current desk job they're just clunky and ugly.

With the clothes, and everything else, I'm working on balance. I've eased up on some of the money saving efforts and working outside of work. I'm spending more time (or at least trying to) doing the things that make me happy. When it comes to spending money on clothes and/or getting our house decorated I think about our goals, what I need in the long run, and how far off track wants will throw us. Not that we're headed deep into the spending woods. It's more like stopping to smell (and maybe pick) a few flowers just off of the trail.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Possible Pay Cut

I've mentioned before that I work in the nonprofit sector. I (and my office) live and die based on the grants we receive. Our final grant came in last week, and while we were ecstatic about the total amount they cut salary. This was further complicated because our grant manager talked to me about it without looking at our file. She confirmed that we could use some funds for salary and then called to say no, no salary.

So right now 10% of my salary/benefits is hanging out there. A part of my thinks we could live with the cut and I could drop my hours accordingly. Then I remember that many weeks of the year I'm closer to 50 hours that 40 hours, so getting the job done on 36 would be comical. Then I think of an admin person that recently went full time. Though I also know that the difference in her full/part time hours doesn't equal 10% of mine.

Tomorrow, first thing, my boss and I are sitting down to get it figured out. Hopefully it will all go well, but given the choice this is not how I'd start the week.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Inappropriate Magistrate

One day in July I was taking my usual highway to work. Only it was closer to 11. Blue skies, open road... do you see where this is going?

I was going fast (though not as fast as the man in blue said) and found myself in traffic 'night' court today. I say 'night' because it starts at 4:30. It was a pretty interesting cross section of our city, a little bit of everyone and with a fashion display that was just as interesting.

The setup is something like this: all of the people with our appointment time go into a somewhat sad looking courtroom, sitting in what would usually be the gallery. A bailiff calls roll, tells the men to remove hats, talks some more. The magistrate comes in, lets us know we can plead guilty/not guilty, going to real court if we plead not guilty. Plea bargains from the city attorney are also thrown in.

I promise I'm getting to a point.

So we sit and watch, listening to the charges, plea bargains, and sometimes stories of those that go before us. The judge calls a guy named JC up. Goes through the rigmarole and JC pleads guilty to the plea bargain. JC's full name is one of those names that sounds familiar in this town. A name of some big wig from before my time.

The judge asks JC if his father had the same name and he said no, his father was an EC as he starts to walk to the 'wait for the bailiff to hand you your bill bench.' The the magistrate, having distracted himself with his question, says 'Oh, Mr. JC, your fine is $201, though you look like you're pretty wealthy so that shouldn't be a problem for you.'

At this point my mouth literally fell open. Now Mr. JC, unlike 2/3 of the people in the courtroom, was dressed nicely. Guy's dress pants with a crease down the middle, polished dress shoes, a polo, and a pretty watch. His look reminded me of those offices where casual Friday requires dry clean only pants. So I guess when compared to the guy with paint splattered jeans with 5 holes, he looked like he has money.

But where on earth does a magistrate get the right to judge someones wealth? Especially in the current economy where we've learned that sometime the appearance of wealth is just that, an appearance. After my turn at the mike I sat beside JC. I gave him a look and he just shook his head. We shared our disbelief for a moment before he got called up for his payment slip.

I followed close behind, walking myself to the payment plan office. I didn't have my favorite cards with me, and if I'm going to be paying the city $200 I may as well get some airline miles out of it. I've also considerably slowed my roll, no matter how perfect the driving conditions may seem.

Monday, August 10, 2009

School Supply Challenge

It's that time of year again. Parents are counting down the days to their children being back in school. Millions of Kindergartners are getting ready to step on their first yellow school bus.* It's also a really expensive time of year for families. Back to school usually means new clothes and a long list of classroom supplies.

Back in the day I remember a notebook, paper, markers, glue, pens and pencils being on my list. Now lists include tissues, paper towels, hand sanitizer, baby wipes, storage baggies, pencils, sticky notes, band aids, dry erase markers and all sorts of other stuff to share in the classroom. That's in addition to the individual notebooks, pencils, erasers and folders. All of those things came from school supply lists for second and third graders at 3 schools in the school district where I live.

So my challenge. I'm going to take $20 and see what it can buy me over the next two weeks. The goal is as many school supplies for kids in my district as I can buy, using the back to school sales that have taken over the weekly circulars.

Care to join me?

*or city bus/train for the kids that grew up like me

Down to 3

This weekend we did something that I thought was very fun- we paid off one more debt! When we bought the house we did a 1 year 0% interest thing for our appliances. When it comes to 0% deals I like having my cash hang out and earn money. Last summer was also not the best for cash flow, what with the house buying, moving, wedding, moving his dad across the country and in with us, and general life.

We saved a bit towards this goal each month, though this was ususally the last priority if things were thight. On the other hand if there was a surplus we would throw a chunk into the savings account. Since May the account was sitting at 91%. After our last round of checks I put aside the last couple hundred and transfered what we had been saving at ING.

As we walked out of the Lowe's where we paid it off I did a little dance, making him laugh at me. I looked at him and said "Three- we're down to only 3 debts." Since those remaining debts are all more than $25,000 we'll be working at them for a while, but I'm happy to have one less place to focus.

Inspection time

Four months ago we did something that most in the PF would would consider stupid. We financed a car. More specifically we financed a brand new shiny expensive car.

The plan had been to buy him a new (to us) car late this year. We were going to pay off my car and start saving for a new one for him. Then his car stopped running on the highway, requiring an almost $5,000 repair for the identified problem. There were other things going on with the car that would have been even more expensive. We decided to speed things up a bit and buy him a car then since our jobs require us to each have a car.

We looked at a few small sedans, a crossover, a few hybrids and eventually decided on the Prius. Even though it involved debt it fit best with our mid term plan. We plan on cutting at least half (if not all) of my income out in the next 1-2 years, so we didn't want to pay $5,000 plus maintenance for a right now car then buy a new to us car 1-3 years later.

Then there's his job. Dave Ramsey's advice would have been to buy a beater until we could save up for a new car. In theory that's great advice. But he works in an image conscious industry. Two weeks he got a promotion which will include meeting a lot more clients in person.

Among his meetings today is a car inspection, performed by his boss to make sure his car is up to standard. This weekend he cleaned out the junk that has built up and planned to hit a car wash on his way in. From my nonprofit/education lens this is all pretty ridiculous, but the image he portrays to clients affects the sales he closes. Even more importantly his image affects the value of the accounts he gets. Since most of his salary comes from commission, though I think it's all pretty crazy, we play the game.

I'm also really happy that we settled on a Prius. When his office moved a few months ago changing his commute from 15 to 27 miles each way I was happy about the gas savings. Others in his new position report driving 250-500 miles a week to meet with clients, making the 43 mpg he's been averaging very attractive.

Friday, August 7, 2009


Last night we went out to dinner with one of my husband's college friends that is moving to the area. He and his wife looked at houses in our neighborhood until sunset and then we all met up. Over dinner I gave them the rundown on the neighborhood in general and different pockets.

They told us the size and square footage of a house they like and my husband and I exchanged looks. We told them the price seemed high- the price is a few thousand more than what we paid last July for 900 less square feet. We suggested a few different areas of the neighborhood for them to consider and then moved on to other topics.

When we got home I pulled up a local real estate search engine, plugged in our zip and asked for results less than $200K. Last year at this time there were 10+ pages. In January when I was freaking out a bit about home values it was the same thing. Last night- 2 pages. Only 78 houses in our zip are on the market. Down from more than 500 a year ago.

The news is a buzz with economic indicators that are improving. I'm happy that unemployment is down, but I'm even happier that my neighborhood is no longer hemorrhaging and our home value seems to be stabilizing.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

A bit weirded out

I should be doing some work, but I'm over it so I decided to go through some things I'd starred on my blog reader. I came across an article about insurance for DINKs which got me thinking about life insurance. Right now we're both covered through work, but have been talking about getting real insurance for a while now.

When you're considering how much life insurance you need you take into account your debt (check), how much support your spouse will need for how long, and how much your funeral will cost. So I started looking into alternatives to burial.

I'm thinking cremation or donating my body to science* right now. So I'm poking around looking for costs and options and I find this. I'm sure to some the fact that I want to be cremated is weird, but I find the thought of compacting my body to be a bit freaky.

*though do I really want 20 something interns dissecting me...

When to you cut child care?

Living Almost Large has been looking at what to cut when if one/both parents get laid off. Today her question is about when to pull out of child care. This post started as a comment, but makes more sense as a post.

I work with child care providers and our local government. The first thing parents should do is see if they qualify for child care assistance. It's called something different in ever state, but your local human services or child care resource & referral* should have information. Most states offer a subsidy based on sliding scale of income. As a part of the stimulus, $2 billion went to the child care development block grant which includes subsidies for child care for families in these situations.

The next step is to talk to your child care director. Let them know what your situation is and ask if there is flexibility with their enrollment. If you go part time will you be able to go back to full time? Can you go part time for 2 months and then return to your full time slot?** If you pull out is there preference for former families to get back in? In the situation mentioned in LAL's post, where the preschool leads to a spot in a private K-12 school will your family still retain preference? Some centers/child care homes are really down*** while others are really full. Directors understand what's going on with the economy and you probably aren't the first family at the center/child care home that's faced this choice.

If you're at a great center/home that your kids love pulling them out shouldn't be your first or second action. Hopefully the parent who isn't working is applying for jobs, interviewing, etc-all things that are harder to do if your child is at home. I can't tell you the number of calls I've gotten from panicked parents who get a call on Monday for an interview on Tuesday and have no care for their kids. Additionally, parent's getting laid off is also stressful for kids. Mom/dad are stressed and more likely to snap. Their home/regular activities may be changing as parents scale back. Child care can be a place of stability for your kids.

*put your zipcode in on the map to the right.
**giving the director a time span for gonig back to full time may make it easier for them to hold your spot.
***at least 5 of the home providers we work with have called in to say they have no children.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Funk + Celebrate

Personally the past three days have been pretty rough. Some things that aren't really blog appropriate have me in a bit of a funk and very thankful for a job and boss that is flexible. Yesterday at my staff meeting I told my boss "I'm going through some medical stuff and will probably be working from home a bit more than often." She said ok and asked if she could do anything. I let her know I'd email what I'm doing/where I'll be each morning. I could go in, but I work in an office that is just too cheerful for me at the moment. I'm going to make sure and go in one day this week (tomorrow or Friday) and at least 3 days next week.

In the midst of the funk my husband (finally) got a promotion. He applied 2-3 months ago, interviewed 7 weeks ago, was told he got it last week only to be told there were a few glitches. I'm really happy for him. The extra money will be nice but it's a move that he feels he deserves. His attitude right now is to make all of the people who thought he couldn't cut it realize they're wrong with his performance.

For the most part we're going to keep going with our current plan and try to bank my salary and live on his. We're still trying to figure out a few details, like if his phone allowance can go towards our current family plan (or if we want it to) and what that means for the day to day. There's also the car allowance to play with. He'll get a certain amount to cover gas/maintenance each month. After paying for his gas we could put the money into a maintenance fund, use it for insurance, or use it to pay down his car loan. Finally there's setting up a home office. The new position is essentially outside sales so he'll use his work office (27 miles away) as a base some days and a home office as a base other days. Our 4th bedroom is currently set up as an office, but it's also full of his toys. He'd like to work away from the distractions so we'll need to set up an area (or change the current area) and get him supplies, namely a printer. As we get more details we'll figure it all out.

Friday, July 24, 2009

My favorite "I don't want to cook" meal

We all have those days where the last thing you want to do is cook. Sometimes this means takeout. Other days I have cereal for dinner. But then there are the days where you realize you need to eat real food and you've gone out to dinner twice* already.

What you need:
an onion
a can of southwest diced tomatoes (plain diced will work too)
a can of black beans
any Tex-Mex spices you have

  1. Chop the onion then saute it over medium heat in a bit of oil/butter/whatever you have.
  2. While the onions are going open and drain the beans.
  3. Once the onions are soft pour in the diced tomatoes.
  4. Add the black beans.
  5. Sprinkle in spices to taste. I did 1 tsp cumin, a few shakes of garlic powder and 1/2 tsp of salt. If you're using plain diced tomatoes a dash of Cayenne (or your favorite spiciness) is good.
  6. Mix around some and then let it simmer until it achieves your desired sauciness. If you're using it over rice it's better with some wetness. If you're rolling it up in a tortilla it's better to cook most of the liquid off, unless you like drippy burritos.
This is easily a kitchen sink kind of meal. Last night I had some cooked rice and frozen broccoli in the fridge. I added both after the tomatoes and before the beans. In the past I've added corn, zucchini, or mushrooms depending on what's in the fridge. Cilantro is also good. Really it's about whatever is in your fridge that doesn't require too much effort.

Last night I rolled everything up in a tortilla with some cheese. A yummy, easy, and cheap dinner.

*One was planned, one happened after helping a friend who is pretty sick get some things done.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Avoiding Getting Phished

Last night I was checking my email when I saw a notice from one of our banks. It was along the lines of "You have locked yourself out of your account. Click here to reset your password." I clicked and the reset form asked for my user name, password, and answers to all of my security questions.

Generally it's pretty easy for me to spot these emails, but this is an account in my name where my husband manages the credit card. At least twice in the past 8 months he's locked himself out. So I asked him if he had issues logging in that day. He said no.

I went back to the email to look for an easy way to detect phishing emails-the email address. Usually the crooks who are phishing for your information create an address and domain that would make it sound like it's the bank. They may make an email for Wells Fargo or a Chase credit card account Most banks/cards use their full name. If you're not sure look at an old (verified) email from your bank.

My next step is always to call the bank that the email pretends to be from. They can confirm/deny the validity of the email. They can also give you the email address to forward your email, helping their tech people to track down the criminals. Forwarding the phishing emails also alerts the bank/institution to a problem so they can warn their customers.

The quick and dirty version:
  • Don't click through an email and enter account information
  • Check the email address to see if it's actually from your bank
  • Call your bank to double check the email
  • Get the email address to forward phishing email to the tech department at your bank

Friday, July 17, 2009

Giving in to A/C

I am one of those people who loves to sleep. A good night's sleep makes my day and bad sleep usually means I'm going to be really grumpy and unproductive. This may be why I'm writing this post in my pj's instead of working right now.

Our general night routine is open window with a fan and open blinds to let the air in. Until a week ago this worked great. The room was cool enough for him and I can sleep just about anywhere. But now I can't quite sleep through the night. When the sun starts coming up and the neighborhood sprinkler start coming on I wake up half way with lots of random lists running through my head. When he gets up, turns off the fan and closes the blinds I fall into a super deep sleep. The problem is I usually need to get myself up within an hour of him getting up.

Until now the A/C has only been on a few times for a few hours. Overnight it's cool enough to balance out the high day time temps, saving us a lot of money. But I'd pay an extra $200/month if it ensured good sleep, though I don't think our bills will go up that much.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Can we live on one income?

When I started this blog I wanted to get a handle on our finances. I wanted us to be able to do whatever we chose when we had kids. I wanted to not worry about debt.

Since starting the blog I:
  • know how much we spend each month
  • have annualized our irregular bills
  • learned how to cut spending (in certain areas)
  • have started a starter Efund
  • have met some of our savings/debt goals

Along the way I've challenged our financial set up. A few weeks ago I decided it was time for another shake up. Starting in August we're going to use his checks to pay for everything. I should say pay for everything first. At the end of the month I'll track how much of my check was necessary.

This will do a few things. First, knowing how close (or how far short) his salary comes across time will give us a better idea of what we can afford to do when it's time to make changes. I also think seeing how far his salary goes will give my (commission based) husband a boost despite some other work issues. Finally, it's more reassuring to know how close we are, not just thinking it should work out.

So the latest revision of our money plan goes as follows:
  • His take home household money* goes to pay the bills first
  • My take home household money will hang out in our brick and mortar (b/m) savings for the rest of the month
  • Funds will be transferred from savings to checking where his check falls short
  • At the end of the month whatever is left in the b/m savings will head to ING to increase our Efund
  • Anything left in b/m checking will go to another ING account to balance out his low months. (I'm still thinking through the details)
Our debt snowball (my prior car payment + his current car payment) will continue. I've written the extra $325 into our monthly spending. But instead of sending any extra money to the car, it will be headed to our Efund. We've decided that even though we have some debt, we'd feel more secure with a larger Efund. Strictly looking at numbers (getting charged 4.15% vs earning 1.3%) this is not a great choice. Emotionally, it's a different story. So we're going to do what will make us feel secure.

The only other thing we have outstanding is the Lowes card. I paid half of what we owed last month in advance of the July due date. In the next few weeks it will be knocked out, so I didn't work it into the overall plan.

*this is 80% of his take home check

Helping a Parent With Finances

Gamedad lived with us for a few months after a split from his new wife. Without going into too many details she made off with a lot of his modest pension.

During the 8 months he lived with us he paid us a couple hundred dollars in rent each month. This helped with our increased bills, but our main reasoning was for him to stay in the habit of paying bills. My husband worked out a savings plan for him so that he could accrue a bit of an emergency fund. Then he moved out.

We helped him get set up in the new place, shopping for furniture and housewares. My husband sat down with him and talked about his finances. He told him that he could take a couple hundred each month to spend, but after bills he should save the rest. His rent is about 1/3 of his pension and the rest of his bills aren't too much more. At this point he had somewhere between $4,000 to $5,000 in the bank.

Fast forward to last month. My husband finds out that their shared account is overdrawn. We go to his house to talk, which became yelling when my husband found out that he only had a few hundred left. It was a lesson in how not to spend. Lot's of cash withdrawn, infomercial products galore, and more money than anyone needs to spend at a casino. There were a few other charges made us think someone was taking advantage of him.

That night my husband took his cards. He gave him a reasonable amount of cash for the next week. In the time since we've been taking him grocery shopping (the offer had always been on the table) and giving him a bit of spending money each week.

Last week he and I sat down to draw up an official budget. We went over his income (pension), his annual expenses, and what a reasonable amount of spending money would be. I let him know that the infomercial shopping has to stop. We agreed that each month we'd deposit that amount into a new account at the bank across the street for his spending money.

We think there are some other changes that need to be made to his financial system. Currently his pension is deposited in a bank with no local branches. He also needs to get in the habit of regularly reviewing his finances. Eventually we'll also need to get him set up with an online checking account to increase the interest he earns on his savings.

Here's hoping that my financial talk will sink in.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Theaters that Don't Feel Like Igloo's

Last night, for the second Saturday in a row, a good friend and I went to see a movie*. Both times I put on pants, sneakers, and a t-shirt. I also carried a fleece/sweater with me to deal with the inevitable chill. But guess what? I didn't need a layer of warmth to sit through the movie.

To properly understand how crazy this is you need to know that I am ALWAYS cold. I blame my Carribean/African ancestry. I keep a few sweaters in my car, one in his car, and can't remember the last time we went to a party or out to dinner where I didn't need one.

During both movies I felt comfortable. Even a little warm during one, ruining my friends attempt to escape her no AC apartment and cool down a bit. One theater was a big multi-plex that has IMAX screens and the other was a little artsy place that also serves adult beverages. I guess it's just another sign of the weak economy.

*Breaking my annual movie streak.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Mystery Shopping's End

I can't remember the last time I did a mystery shop. At first it wasn't a conscious decision. Mystery shops aren't as convenient from the new house. The closest ones I've seen are more than 8 miles away. The new job has (somewhat) set hours. It also keeps me in 2-3 set locations, not running all over town.

All of those factors, along with general new house crazy, caused a severe cutoff in mystery shopping last fall. When I laid out which tax documents we should be looking for I officially decided to cut mystery shopping. Outside of babysitting I decided that if I don't get a 1099 or a W-2 I don't want to deal with it.


Well doing our taxes has been a pain. I fall into the claim all income camp, not the claim my main job but side jobs don't count. By nature I'm a worrier and I'd rather not have to deal with the IRS over something stupid. Last year between the two of us it was something like 3 W-2's, 3 1099's, and 2 self maintained records that were additional Schedule C's. The amount I was making mystery shopping, when balanced with the record keeping and extra rigmarole at the end of the year didn't add up.

Currently I don't have as many earning opportunities. On the flip side I make more per hour with my current opportunities, largely babysitting and working at the museum. The money is almost equaling out and I have time to do the thing I enjoy.

Fiscal year 09 complete

The fiscal year has ended and I spent the two budgets I was closing out down to the penny. Our money guy called my boss, shocked, to let her know I'd spent it all. We weren't sure why he was surprised. I'd given him my spend down plan in advance and as time ticked away sent him many emails outlining things.

I'm taking most of this week to recover from the experience, mainly unpacking the boxes of materials that I purchased and tackling the things my predecessor left in the cabinets. It feels so good to organize and deconstruct the cubicle wall of boxes that has piled up. Though I had thousands to spend I put in extra hours to ensure that each penny was used wisely. At one point my boss told me to relax and just spend*, but I couldn't handle it. When I knew I wasn't getting the best deal I thought of the money taken out of my check and the checks we've had to write the IRS over the years.

I've promised myself that the end of next fiscal year will not be as crazy, at least on the 3.5** budgets I manage. We're meeting with the money guy in the coming weeks to work on the issues he created. I also understand what I need to do to get budget change approvals from the state level. Most of all, I will have a full year to spend according to our plan (vs 9 months) and less money to spend.

My June month end info will be up in the next few days. I ended up putting some of the work stuff on my personal cards. So instead of doing our finances this weekend I spend a bit of time working out reimbursements and getting money to the appropriate accounts.

*she wasn't encouraging being excessive, just not being quite as frugal.
**ARRA funds fit into one of my budgets and require separate tracking.

In the Black

I'm in the black and I've decided this is where I need to stay. Forever.

My net worth has gone from $1,211 to $4,081.

Last month I wondered if the funds we had saved for landscaping was giving the savings line a false bump. The key to this month's success- reigned in spending. Peeling away all of the work charges* showed a rather slim household credit card. The monthly necessities came in 300-400 below normal. My personal card was more than it should have been, but less than the past few months.

We've decided on yet another change to our money plan that I'll write about later this week but I'm confident (barring anything crazy) that I'll be able to stay in the black.

*I also peeled away the reimbursement check I received this week.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

End of the fiscal year

At work, which is all grant based, we've hit the end of the fiscal year. I've been a spending champion. I still have a couple thousand to get through. Then I'll be back to (somewhat) regular posting.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I should have been a plumber

I could have also called this, good thing we have an emergency fund.

Yesterday, while cleaning up for a get together tonight my husband broke out kitchen faucet. Or maybe I should say the faucet broke while in his hands. It's a model where a single lever goes up down for on/off and left or right for hot or cold. There was a pop, no water when pulling the lever up, then the lever came off in his hands.

He visited our second home, a big box home imporvement store, and came home with a mission. They didn't sell the parts, but a local plumming supply place does. "It's a pretty easy fix if you get tool X they told him."

So this morning he heads to the plumbing store, where again they say "Yeah, it's pretty easy to do." At this point I should mention that my guy is not handy. He can make the computers work, and when I need help (usually in the form of strength) on a project he's there. But not someone you could call handy. The fact that he even volunteered to try and fix it amazed me.

Fast forward 2 hours. I get a call at work letting me know despite turning off the water, water is flying everywhere and he is now bleeding. I take a minute and call a plumber.

I called a national service that we have all seen plumbers for and told them to head over, largely because the lack of a call fee (btw plumbers, why do I have to pay $35-70 for you to just show up???). The guy gets there, gives us quotes, and (after the husband calls) we both fall on the floor. I give a quick call to 4 competitors from the phone book, asking how much it would be to get the problem fixed, using plumber language. Their quotes were all within $20-30 of the quote from the guy standing in our kitchen so we decided to just go for it.

Depending on where in the cycle our credit card bill is and what his comission check looks like 3 weeks from now we may be able to swing it. If not, we have money put aside for time like these.

This is our first house related emergency so far so I'm not going to complain too much. I'm also going to use this as impetus to get off my behind and do something I've been planning to do since we moved in- develop a contractor list. I'd much rather contact someone based on personal reccomendations than call a national service. Come July it's at the top of the list.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

No Refi for Me

When I finally convinced my husband that we should refinance the house rates were around 4.75. The plan was to reduce our monthly payment but keep paying the same amount, cutting years off of our mortgage.

The problem is the declining home values in our neighborhood. When we bought we knew that prices would continue to fall, possibly for a year or two. Based on our 5-15 year timeline we were ok with that. What we didn't anticipate was the dramatic drop in interest rates this year. We put down 10% when we purchased and have since paid $1,000-2,000 in principal (10 mortgage payments).

When we started refinancing all of the banks we looked into required 10% equity. The Making Home Affordable Act reduces the equity requirement, allowing up to 105% equity. I started calling about this option in late April. A plan wasn't in place until 1.5 weeks ago when the rates had crept into the upper 5's.

I called in and had a loan guy run the numbers last week. The estimated savings were under $100 a month. So for now we've decided that the expense of refinancing isn't worth what it will cost us to do so.

We'll be keeping an eye on rates in case they go back down but we're not holding our breath.

Monday, June 15, 2009

The Place to Be

It seems that in my neighborhood the place to be on a Saturday night is Redbox. Saturday at around 7 we decided to go get a movie at the newest neighborhood Redbox-there are 4 within 2 miles. The line was 7 people long when we arrived and while we waited 3-4 more showed up.

Our wait was around 10 minutes, but we had no place to be and it was a beautiful evening. We also had a code that would only work at that Redbox ;)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Almost free health care

Today there was a meeting at work about open enrollment. We're a little crazy right now so I asked the HR lady what I needed to do if I am fine with my current level of benefits. Everything will be the same price, with the exception of our health insurance.

Currently I pay $5/month for my well known HMO. Overall I'm happy with my coverage. The only things I'd change are: an allergy center closer to me and phone appointment booking during the after hours.

The new plan is $25/month for the same level of coverage. Unless you fill out a health survey. You can choose to have the information added to your chart (or not). The only information my job receives is that I took the assessment. It's the kind of thing I'd do on my own because the numbers that signal good health are not on my side right now.

With the assessment on record my monthly cost drops to $0. That is $300 assuming I work with the same company for the next year. The only reason this post is called 'almost free health care' is it took me 30-40 minutes to fill it out.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

The Great Return

My pre trip organization goes something like this:

  • Lay out (or list) clothes I plan to pack
  • Decide I hate all of my clothing
  • Decide which essential items will keep me from being a fashion disaster
  • Shop like crazy

Generally during the 'shop like crazy' period I'm also trying to finish things up at work, get the house in order, and spend some quality time with loved ones. So I run in, sometimes trying things on, other times just pulling things off of the rack. What I end up with are a few key pieces that I like and a lot of crazy.

Because I know this about me I'm very careful with my receipts & bags. Until I know I love something the tags stay on. Sometimes there are mini fashion shows. And then I decide what I actually like and what looks rediculous.

Once I'm back from my trip I neatly fold things back into their bags and begin the great return. Today I returned two dresses, a shirt and a pair of jeans. That totaled $173. Tomorrow I'll do round two, a few shirts from one store and a few pieces from another. This includes the trench that my loving husband said would keep him from leaving the house with me. That will be around $140.

The key is to get everything back to the stores in the same billing cycle. Usually if you check online or call in you balance due will be reduced. Even more important is asking about the return policy before you purchase, so you know the dress that you loved but may hate can actually be returned.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Taking Security too Far

After Chase bought WaMu my husband decided he no longer liked his personal credit card. This was in the time period just after buying a card and when we were considering refinancing. We bought the house just using my info to avoid the self employed hassle that made most of his employment history at the time. With the tightened credit market we weren't sure if we would be able to swing the refi with just my income.

Instead of having even more credit pulls while looking for a new card I shopped from my credit report. We added him as a joint user to a card with a longish history & healthy limit that I was worried would get closed. Since then it's been his primary personal card.

Though he's the person who set the username and password he got locked out this morning. Because he's just a joint user (not joint owner) I had to make the calls to get it unlocked and the passwords reset. I hid my copy of the card when I got it, so I couldn't have the card numbers.

So I call. Put in my social security (which for once actually made something pop up on the other side and they didn't ask again in 2 minutes). Get a guy on the phone. He takes me through verification questions that require knowing where the card was used, last amount paid, or the information on the card. The one thing I could answer (if my wallet weren't missing) was my driver's license number. I ask if that will get me through later.

I find my wallet, go to work, come home and try again. I do the social. Confirm the credit limit. Give my driver's license number. Confirm the names of people on the account. Offer to give the social for someone else on the account. I explain that I don't actually use the card. That my husband is the primary, but because of their security system he can't make the call. I also confirm the address on the account. All this and the girl will not reset my password.

While I appreciate them trying to protect me from identity theft the call was pretty ridiculous. After a brief conversation with the manager she agreed. But why make a girl get salty on the phone?

E-fund tax and life

Where did the week go?

In the near future (ie after I discuss with the other half) I plan on enacting a new rule for our efund. I am super hesitant to ever touch the efund, even when it makes sense. He is always ready to use it. The solution- the efund usage tax. Every time we take money from the efund we have to replenish what was taken (normal) and add additional funds. For instance amount taken plus and additional $1,000. When I talk to him we'll work out the exact details-how much the tax is, how quickly the money needs to be replenished, and if there are any exceptions.

The actuall discussion will probably have to wait a week because this week will be a bit more stressful than most. At work I'm nearing the end of our fiscal year. Due to my late start date (3 months into our fiscal year) and other things just not working out I have a lot of money to spend. Since I'm working with tax dollars and on the behalf of the kids in my community, though I have thousands to spend I want to use to be responsible in my use of the funds. His job just moved teams around so he is starting with a new boss and hopefully will be interviewing for a promotion.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Adding to the Money Plan

We've been homeowners for 10.5 months now. As we knew it would, this has done all sorts of things to our monthly finances. So far there haven't been any huge surprises (well other than how expensive landscaping is) and things are going well.

But there's a problem. In our drive to pay down debt and handle the necessities around the house there are a lot of household items we haven't gotten. They aren't things that we need to live, but are things that would make our house a lot more comfortable. My wishlist includes- art/decoration for the walls, a patio table, a dinning table, and a new to us grill. In the next few years we'll also need baby furniture.

These purchases are big enough that most month's we couldn't just buy them. They're also not emergencies, though sometimes my husband thinks otherwise- no grill = major emergency in his mind.

So starting this month we're going to put $150 into a household account so we can buy household things without (me) feeling guilty.

Our monthly set asides will now be:
Insurance $350
House Account $150
Utilities $121 (I pay what's due and save the difference)

In the Black

My networth is in the black! I went over the numbers 3-4 times to make sure it was correct becuase honestly, I was a little bit shocked.

I finally realized that the money I have set aside for landscaping ($2500) is giving me a boost. There's a chance that next month I'll take a very shallow dip into the red, but from July onward I should be in the black. And from then on I intend to stay here.

I will now resume with the happy dance in my cube.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Seattle Here I Come

Being away from the day to day responsiblities, my financial spreadsheet, and thinking about our life in general I've decided we need to take a vacation. In July we will have lived together for 3 years. We traveled (5 days) for our wedding/honeymoon because of restrictions at his new job. Outside of Gameboy coming on a work trip with me that's the only time away from home we've had together.

Our next planned vacation was supposed to be Japan. I haven't really written about it because we wanted to get the car/house stuff settled before starting to save. I know when we get around to saving for this trip it will not be cheap, putting the trip at least 1.5 years out.

What I didn't realize is how much that amount of time was weighing on me. It's more than a love of travel. Part wanderlust, part time for reflection, part special memories travel is really important to me. Though we've taken individual trips that ease this I really want to explore with Gameboy.

So while I was traveling I decided that this summer we're going to the Pacific NW. So far there are not many details. Seattle is a must because he has a lot of friends there and I've always been intrigued. We may also visit Portland. The trip length will be somewhat affected by hotel costs, but somewhere between 4-7 days.

Looking at the budget spreadsheet today I realized that late summer/early fall is more realistic. June will be a heavy month, but during July/August we should be able to work out saving for a trip in addition to our regular debt payments.

Any suggestions of things to do, placest to stay, where to eat, etc are welcome!


I'm back from a wonderful whirlwind vacation full of friends & family. In my mind vacations fall into two categories- people and/or places. This was definitely a people trip. I didn't take in any other the major sites in the cities I visited. I ran errands with my mom and aunt, went to the mall with another friend, and in general just hung out. The most important thing for me was to get to spend time with some of my favorite east coast people and celebrate two wonderful graduates.

I'm pretty sure I came in under budget, because while on the trip I didn't pay detailed attention to what I was doing. I did a lot of big picture thinking though, about debt, our future plans, making the most of time, our decision to settle in the west and the differences in lifestyle between my friends and myself. In a perfect world I would have had today and tomorrow to more properly mull over these thoughts, putting them into an actionable plan.

Instead I'll be working at least one night this week to meet a deadline. Our admin assistant was supposed to get a few things done in advance of my return to make these three days easier. I'll get the report done, but honestly my heart* isn't in it.

My house is also...interesting. Housework is not my husband's forte and while he straightened certain areas others look like a tornado hit. The back yard, which was pretty low before I left enjoyed the combination of rain and working sprinklers and looks like a jungle. Despite the work deadline (or because of it) I need some order at home so tonight we'll be in the yard with our mower, soon to be acquired weed whacker and maybe some weed spray.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On Vacation

I'm currently on the east coast, soaking up some humidity and seeing loved ones. So far it's been great. I'll be posting more when I get back.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Mileage Reimbursement

I have a bad habit. Really I have quite a few. Most of them circle round to a dislike of paperwork and poor organizational skills. There are just many more things I'd rather do with my time- even where there's a financial payoff. This is especially true since I go over 40 hours most weeks.

As a result I haven't done a mileage or purchase reimbursement since I started my job in September. I average 6-12 out of office meetings a month. It's May. I couldn't find my planner from last year so I only did late December until May and 5 receipts that I could get my hands on. The total: $606.

I will do expense reports more often. I will do expense reports more often. I will do expense reports more often. I will do expense reports more often. I will do expense reports more often...

Monday, May 11, 2009

44 cent stamps

It you're like me you don't use stamps very often. I actually can't remember the last stamp I put on something personal (my office is another matter). But for those rare occassions it's good to know that stamps are now $0.44, up $0.02 for the last rate hike.

While we're talking about stamps, do yourself a favor and buy forever stamps. They cost the same $.044, but next time rates go up you won't have to add that extra stamp. My director's predecessor used some end of the year funds to but hundreds of stamps last year. She did not buy forever stamps. So the next 170 or so envelopes I send out will need 2 stamps. When you're dealing with one or two envelopes it's not a big deal. When you're dealing with 50-100 it's not so much fun.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Getting ready for transplant

After 6 rainy/snowy weekends in a row my raised bed garden is finally built. I still need to get it leveled, staked, and filled with my peat/compost compost mixture. Tonight and tomorrow morning I'll get a lot of that done. Now that the bed is almost ready I'm itching to get the seedlings that I've been growing for 2 months into the ground. But there's one important step between here and there.

When we leave our temperature controlled houses we: put on/pull off jackets, add a little sunscreen, pull out an umbrella if it's raining and so on. We have methods to help shelter us from the elements, the seeds that I've been growing do not. Sitting on my window sill there is sun, filtered through a window and steady 68 degree air. When I put them outside they'll have to deal with direct sun, wind, a 30 degree change in temperature each day, and a new environment for food (the roots).

So a few days ago I've started the process of hardening off. Each day I put the plants outside for a bit, adding time each day. On Wednesday it was 2 hours (evening), yesterday was 4-5 (evening), today I put them out at 6 and they'll be there until I leave for work with another session this afternoon. Tomorrow it will be 8-10 hours, with some mid day sun. Depending on the weather forcast they will move to their new home Saturday evening or on Sunday. If you have the option cloudy days are the best to transplant.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Random + Net Worth Updates

It's a few days past month end, but all of the transfers from our last paychecks have finally settled.

Net Worth: A positive balance is so close I can almost feel it! Assuming things don't fall apart this summer I think I could be there by mid fall.

Carolla: My car is officially paid off. I added the KBB private party sale price to the net worth calculations now that we own it outright. Now the goal is not to wreck the car. I know a lot of people who have damaged a car right after they purchase. Today I came close when my brakes locked up and I spun out on the highway. I'm fine and the car's fine but it was the second scariest experience of my life.

Prius: I love how easy it is to pay this loan. I've been going on about it all month and sending little payments to figure out the system. To pay I just do a share to loan transfer. The loan detail is there immediately, with how much went to interest and how much went to principal. Until the due date it subtracts from the monthly payment. Once you've made your full payment for the month any payments before the due date are principal payments. Compared to most accounts where an extra payment means a paper check to some random address this makes me so very excited. As you can tell I can't stop talking about it. The only part of the system that needs some work is getting money to the credit union. Currently it looks like: paycheck-brick and mortar- ING- credit union. Very inelegant. Later this summer once things (hopefully) stabilize one of use will probably set up a payroll deposit to the credit union.

Refinance: We didn't go for the crazy quick refi. The timeline was too scrunched and the closing dates outlined overlapped with some can't miss meetings. Since I'm in meetings 3 days then on vacation for 6 taking the time off wasn't an option. I'm going to call our current mortgage company this week to get info from them.

Landscaping: I put this decision in Gameboy's hands and he decided on xeriscaping. There will probably be some creative financing to make it happen, it depends on what happens with the strike and if Gameboy's commissions that should have been paid 1 month ago ever come in. At worst I will loan 'us' some money from personal savings.

Jobs: It seems very likely that he will be on strike starting next week. We've been working on a strike plan to pull in income. I'm hoping his union/management will come together with a deal that makes the job worth having. My job is entirely grant funded. My grants all expire at the end of June. One funder will let us know in the next two weeks. My main funder hasn't put out reapplication docs. This will be addressed while I'm on vacation, but I'd like to get it over with.

Vacation: Despite all of the crazy I'm still going on and will totally enjoy my vacation. We have efund money, I have personal savings that we can use in a pinch, and worse comes to worse I can nanny for the summer or he can go back to his former industry. He's been getting inquiries about the former industry which mean more money but less stability. I have things for graduation girl A, my former roommate and graduation girl B (after much prodding) requested cash. I'm working on creative packaging. Also thinking about getting some of the cash exchanged for her summer trip to Europe.

Lowes Card: We purchased appliances when we purchased the house. A series of mishaps led to returns/repurchases. So while I thought all of those funds were due mid July I recently realised that things are due in July, August, and September. We've decided to pay each portion of the bill the month before it's due. This is a final back up in the event of a cash flow issue this summer, but getting each portion getting paid on time is our number one priority.

Those are the big things happening in our life right now.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Me at the bank

Today I wasn't feeling well so I left work a little early. I detoured on the way home to deposit a check from babysitting last week. This is how it went:

Drive thru banker: Ms. Sara L, do you have a personal banker
Me: Not here, why?
Drive thru banker: Well you have a sizeable balance and we want to make sure your money is working it's best for you.
Me: Oh, that. We have a sizeable credit card bill due this week.

Good to know they're looking out though. This bill is pretty high ($7K range), to anyone else the balance would probably look rediculous. Just under half are expenses associated with Dad moving out. Did I ever blog about that? Anywho, we also charged the downpayment for the Prius. The regular day to day expenses are around their usual amount to round out the balance.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Dear Kayak,

I love you.

In general is my favorite place to start researching trips. I like that it gives a wide variety of options by searching multiple companies. There are also sliders to narrow down take off/landing time on each flight, length of layover, length of trip, and my favorite- price. If that's not enough for you there are also check boxes airlines, number of stops, and type of aircraft. All of this means it's easy to find your most perfect flight/fare combination.

The new additions since my last fligh have me even more excited. It will calculate baggage fees and add them to each price, giving you the true ticket cost. There is also this handy chart that outlines all of the airline fees. Will a free snack make or break your flight? How much will enough leg room cost you? And of course those baggage fees.

If you're thinking about taking a trip and have the money saved up this is a great time to fly. Two years ago the tickets I just bought for my trip would have been in the $350-400 range. Direct flights from the Rockies to Philly and then back from DC, booked just under 3 weeks in advance cost me $276. Depending on what I do baggage wise I'll be $19-49 under my budget. I could have gotten things down $26 by taking a flight with a layover but at this point getting in early enough to have dinner with my husband and make it to work the next day (not to mention 3 hours of my time) are worth $26 to me.

This isn't a sponsored post, I just love the service and it has continually helped me to find the best fare/flight combinations time and time again.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Things that make me proud

Eariler this week, amidst the craziness, I called my cousin to see how she is doing. We talked about finals, the graduation plans, her new job, and summer plans.

She's exicted about a trip to Europe with her mom this summer and all of the family that are coming in for graduation. Pretty normal stuff. Then she said she's really excited about starting to invest! When she starts working in June she's definately starting a Roth IRA and possibly starting a 401(K) depending on what thier package looks like. I can't tell you how proud I was of her at the moment.

My cousin is 22, debt free, and ready to do her thing in the market. She secured a job last summer. Pretty much, she has her head on straight and is ready to tackle adulthood.


The final check for the Carolla has been sent! Our tax refund hit this morning and Toyota should have thier money sometime next week.

I'm going to wait until their website shows a $0 balance and then I'll update the sidebars. That's an extra $325/month headed to the efund (until it's topped off) and then the Prius.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

3 deadlines met

Can I take a nap now?

This week was a bit crazy because I had a grant application, grant spending deadline, and quarterly report all due between Wednesday and tomorrow. Other than physically driving the grant to the submission location tomorrow (after it gets a signature) I'm all done.

Usually this would be cause for a drink. Or at least a nap. But neither seem to be in the cards for me. Unless I go take a nap in my car in the work parking lot. I'm picking up my second most favorite guy, my mom's friend's 6 yr old, from child care in a bit and hanging out with him for a while. Then I'll leave him at my house with my husband and go sit for the preschool triplets.

I think a trip to Sonic for one of their happy hour sweet teas is in order. I hate the styrafoam cups (Sonic, if you're reading, can we do something about that) but I think sugar and caffeine are going to be necessary to get me through the evening.

UPDATE: Inspired by this Dooce post I decided to try and take a cat nap in the car. I didn't want to deal with moving the booster seat so I reclined the drivers seat, used my cardigan as a blanket, and turned NPR down so I could barely hear it. I set my alarm and immediately fell out. It was one of those naps where you wake up feeling a little stupid- totally wonderful.

My BFF- The Library

For as long as I can remember I've loved reading. I was the kid reading with a night light after lights out or reading a book hidden in my desk during classes I thought were boring. As such, the Mt. Pleasant library was one of my favorite places to go (the park, my cousin's house and Popeyes also made that list).

I've always known that the library saves me tons of money but how do you (in a relatively easy way) quantify those savings? Use this handy calculator. My savings? $172.95 a month. The cost savings are based on avereage full cost prices, which I wouldn't pay. But even half my savings plus paying $20 in fines is more $66 each month.

In addition to being frugal the library is good for the environment. The books get read over and over again, so the paper that goes into it is reused. This reduces the number of copies that need to be printed thus reducing paper.

If you haven't been in a while check it out. Most libraries have DVDs, CDs, and community education in addition to books. My local library even offers online books, cutting paper out of the process entirely.

Happy Thrifty Green Thursday!

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I live in a land called dilema

By nature I'm a bit of a worrier. I'm also really indecisive when there isn't an option that fully fits within my guidelines. So in the time that I haven't been spending like a mad woman (for work) and writing requests for more funding I've been going over and over 2 big decisions.

A) Landscaping. We have to get it done because we are that house that is bringing down the block at the moment. The options are xeriscaping, which requires less water (aka earth friendly) and less mowing (husband friendly) but costs money. An amount that I pretty much think is ridiculous. Then there's re-sodding. Increased water usage. Having to mow. $2,500 cheaper. So my environmental side and my wallet are at odds with each other. Saving up over the next few months is not an option because of the HOA, that and we don't want our neighbors to hate us. Gameboy is heavily leaning towards xeriscaping. I like the idea in theory, but not the money.

Then there's the landscaper thing. Guy A came out, measured, did a drawing and gave a quote. Gameboy sent the quote to Guy B (a friend of a friend), asking if it was a reasonable quote. Guy B sent a counter quote that's $1,000. I have a bit of an ethical dilemma because his quote is based on Guy A's original work/design/planning. We're still in discussions about this.

B) Refinancing. We could drop our rate 1.5%, but it will cost 7K to do so. We would have to move at warped speed (something that makes me cringe) because of changes coming May 1. The loan officer said she could get our house appraised $10K higher than our purchase appraisal. Our appraiser friend thinks we're down $5-15K. So loan officer lady is saying she could get an appraiser to appraise higher than we think our house is worth and higher than our friend thinks our house is worth. But we have to pay $350 out of pocket for this pipe dream.

The refi, based on the high appraisal, would cut the $70 we pay in PMI. There would be an additional reduction of $140 ($210 total). What we owe the mortgage company would only be $155 less because we currently save/pay for our insurance on our own and that would no longer be an option.


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Earth Day Resolution

Yesterday as I drove through oodles of traffic I though about what I can do for the earth. I wanted something to comit to until at least next Earth Day. Something that I can add into my life without spending thousands of dollars. Something that didn't take hours a week.

Some of the things I currently do include: using homemade cleaners (50% of the time), making our own laundry detergent (98%), bringing bags to the grocery store (60%), catching water as it warms up for plants (79%), recycle (110%), repurpose (90%), drive fuel efficent cars (100%). I'm sure there's more, but that's what is coming to mind.

One area where I fail- using disposable plates/silverware/bowls at the office. I have the type of office where the center table has food at least once a week- causing plates and silverware to head to the landfil. When I actually bring my lunch I often forget forks, spoons, etc.

The solution: get a set of work plates to store in my desk. We have access to a sink, soap, and sponge so (other than laziness) there's no reason not to use regular plates/silverware instead of paper. I also have a drawer that is currently empty that can house things.

I'll let you know how it goes.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Striking Earth Day

Over at the Green Baby Guide Rebecca does Earth Day resolutions. I wanted to come up with one or two this year, but honestly there's something a little more pressing weighing on my mind.

Gameboy belongs to a union and on Monday they announced that the chances of a strike in the next month or two are high. Probably in the 95% range. Management has proposed going 100% commission, dropping vacation time, and a long list of other things.

This has been a nagging worry in the back of my mind. How long will they strike? How will this affect summer income? What about health insurance? What will this mean for his long term employment?

It doesn't help that our efund was recently accessed. I'm still working on a plan but over the next weeks I'll increase the number of families I babysit for and other side jobs. We'll be paying off my car and putting aside the rest of the money for our appliances when we get our tax refund. I'm also going to try to save most of Gameboy's checks until the probable strike date (two checks).

I'm not panicking. We're at a point where we live on 2.75/4 paychecks each month. There are also things built into our system (ie self escrowing) that we can change for a month or two if we need to.