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Archive for December, 2010

Good, bad and ugly weekly update

December 31st, 2010 at 12:53 pm

In the interest of accountability, I'm going to post my good, bad and ugly financial happenings for the week every Friday. That is the end, per se, of my 'fiscal week'.

Good:

The $400 weekly CC spending cap
This week's total: $281
No plans to spend any more today, so this is it.

I found a $25 toys r us gift card while cleaning out my office. Love free money!

$640 freelance check arrived, so $320 to IRA, $96 to car balance, $224 to kids' college. Transfers have already been made.

Started to get my coupons organized and outline a grocery savings strategy. I am a newbie, and don't expect to get a lot of things for next to nothing, but I'm going to try. My goals now are to clip, print, and download more coupons, to shop only sales, and to try to pay at least 30 percent less than I am now for the things we use every day.

I paid the January car payment of $240 as well ($217 plus $23 extra). I have four large debits from the account every month, and realized that 3 of them were scheduled for the second paycheck of the month. I like to take two out of each, for budgeting purposes, so I moved the car payment into this check.

Bad

Unfortunately, the real estate tax bill came in the mail $1428/half a year, so the $400 I was hoping to send to savings this payday will likely not make it in to the account. I might be able to send something, but certainly not that much. I like to keep a pad in the checking account.

Found money...

December 31st, 2010 at 09:53 am

I was cleaning out my desk last night and found an old gift card for toys r us. I was about to throw it out, but decided on a lark to check the balance. $25!! Free money!! It pays to clean house.

Also, my freelance check deposited today, so I paid extra on the car loan, and transferred money to the IRA and the kids' 529 plans. Off to a good start.

Now let's just hope hubby feels up to going to all of the parties we need to go to tonight.

How much stuff do I own???

December 30th, 2010 at 06:04 pm

I've got the serious decluttering bug. I don't have any freelance deadlines until Monday, so I thought I would tackle my desk and a few spots in my office.

I have so much stuff. It's just insane. I just got rid of a box of floppy disks. From 1993. They had my college papers on them. WHY do I still have these???

I cleared out one whole drawer of the file cabinet, and filled it with some freelance-related court papers I need to give back to the reporter who lent them to me. They can go live in HER house.

On the upside. I did find an old, working wireless router in one of the drawers. My sister just decided she needed one so she could start telecommuting. And voila, I've got an extra. So that's nice.

In other news, I have decided to give grocery couponing a shot. The Point, Click & Save book I'm reading has given me the confidence and the information to really give it a go.

I rustled up an old binder, put in some trading card sheets, and started organizing my coupons. I also opened an email account that I am using only for coupon and discount sites. I'll let you know how it turns out. Baby steps, baby steps.

I also got an email from my freelance gig that my $640 check will be in my account by Monday. Just in time for the new year. I'm going to tackle everyone of these goals this year, you just watch!

OOOOOOOO, and I almost forgot. This is big. Hubby normally just defers to me on all major planning and decisions. He tells me his overall wishes, and leaves me to figure out how to make it all happen. (It works for us, what can I say). Anyway, we actually had a useful talk about the moving/house/school district plan, and it seems we are on the same page.

The plan is to start the serious house hunt in about two years, so we'll still have about 6-9 months to buy and get settled before our oldest starts kindergarten. We will be casually looking now, just to get to know our target areas and see what houses are on the market and what they sell for.

For a short time, probably starting next year, we will have to pay for preschool, care, etc for two kids. It will be tight. But, we will know when the oldest starts kindergarten, one of those bills will go away. We're in a good space financially right now and can handle paying for two kids. It might not be so easy if we were to take on a mortgage now.

And, we will hopefully have $20,000 more to put down on a new place. That's the short version, but it was a good albeit brief discussion.

old-timey money-saving skills

December 30th, 2010 at 08:55 am

Just wanted to ask all of you what "old-fashioned" skills you have/use that save you money now.

Mine is canning, and I suppose gardening-- particularly growing tomatoes. Old-fashioned, yes, but my family is cooking with free diced tomatoes at least once a week.

What are yours?

Awesome news and a potentially useful book

December 29th, 2010 at 08:11 pm

First the good news. That extra, one-time freelance gig I picked up in December? I was happy when I thought it would be for $300 to $350. Now I'm thrilled. After everything was said it done, it turned into a bigger project. Final total: $640. Cha-ching. I think that's a check that will get me off on the right foot goal-wise for the new year.

My boss on the project also said he liked my work and said he'd like to bring me in for more projects. Music to my ears. Now, it's just a question of time. Eek!

In other news, I went to the library to get some work done (third time this week) and grabbed a promising book off the new arrivals shelf. I think it's one that all of us might enjoy. It's called Point Click & Save by Rachel Singer Gordon.

It's well written and has a lot of useful tips and web resources for grocery coupons and savings, finding freebies, making money online via surveys, etc. All stuff that we SAers love. I've already gleaned a few new money-saving ideas from it, and I'm only 37 pages in.

If you see it, grab it!

As for that freelance check. The freelance income plan I outlined before means I already know where it's going.
50 percent to IRA = $320
35 percent to kids college funds=$224 ($112/kid)
15 percent to car loan payoff=$96

I will also be getting another check for $600 in January, for my regular December work. It will go to:
50 percent to IRA = $300
35 percent to kids college = $210
15 percent to car loan = $90

I think this year is off to a good start-- before it even starts.

Visions of progress

December 29th, 2010 at 01:47 pm

My plan to conquer clutter and get more organized is all about baby steps. I'm trying to clear out or organize one small space every day.

Last night, I rounded up some boxes and recycling out of my office. And today, I organized the hats, mittens, scarves and purses that have been all willy nilly in the hall closet.

Here are some pics, and the visions of my overloaded donate/sell boxes.





LOVE LOVE LOVE my library! and battling the frumpies

December 28th, 2010 at 06:09 pm

I managed to sneak off to my neighborhood library today. I am in love-- again.

Last week, I discovered the reference room. I had never been in there before, because it's way in the back and I don't generally use the reference section.

Well, I'm happy I went exploring. They have just about every magazine imaginable, including two specialty industry magazines (very expensive) that have so far been very helpful for my new weekly freelance gig. And I don't have to pay for the subscription. The library also lets you sip coffee while reading. Pure heaven, I tell you.

This is the second week I snuck off to the reference room with a mug of tea in order to write and work. Grandma comes over on Tuesdays to take the babies so I can work, and now that my toddler can find me no matter where I hide at home, (and loves to scream only while I am on the phone) the library is the perfect spot to sneak off. And, they have really comfy chairs and free wifi. Why am I the only one in there????

While I was out, I decided to have a little me time. I have always loved thrifting but haven't done much since I had the kids. Last year, I gave away 2/3 of my clothes, because most no longer fit. Even if you lose the baby weight, your measurements are different, I swear. On several occasions this year-- some work related-- I found I just didn't have anything even vaguely acceptable to wear. I left the house looking pretty frumpy and mismatched, let me tell you.

I live in pajamas and jeans right now, but I really need to get some new work clothes for when I have an event outside of my living room. I hate being frumpy. It's got to stop.

Enter the thrift store.

I just discovered one by my house that is a gold mine. It;s the size of a walmart. I bought my 2.5 yr old's entire winter wardrobe there for $35 earlier in the fall, and my youngest's snow pants for $2.50 and a winter coat for $3.25.

Today, I decided to pop in because I had a few baby free minutes. I thought I'd gamble on some clothes, and I actually found a few things while casually perusing the racks.

I spent $13. I got two Calvin Klein jackets-- one a very fashionable work blazer that I could also wear out, the other a long, black simple coat good for spring or fall. AND I got a pink silky blouse I absolutely love.

Here is the kicker. I saw that blouse in a Macy's ad last Christmas and totally drooled over it, but I couldn't rationalize spending the money. And here, a year later, it's at the thrift store in MY SIZE for only $2.99. What are the chances??

I think there are both auspicious signs for the new year.

Books that help me stay focused and inspired

December 27th, 2010 at 06:56 pm

This time of year, I always head to the library and pick a few random personal finance books off the shelf. I find it helps keep me motivated. I'd like to know what books you are reading as well. Maybe we can spread some of that good advice and inspiration around!

Here is what I've read this year:

The new good life: Living better than ever in the age of less, by John Robbins.

It's well written and isn't the same old repackaged financial advice. He has an environmental slant, and can get a little preachy now and then, but it's a good read.

Get Rich Slow, 4th edition, by Tama McAleese.

I found the estate planning chapter particularly helpful. It's easy to read, with every topic in short sections, but the info on retirement plans is outdated. She also clearly leans to the far right when it comes to taxes and social programs, so some things come across as a little angry, but all in all solid advice.

How to be an everyday philanthropist, by Nicole Bouchard Boles.

I really like this book. It has tons of really useful ideas on how you can maximize gifts to charity--both donations, cash, volunteering, and non-cash donations. It's got a lot of great ideas for how you can give more, even if you don't have any money.

Automatic Millionaire, by David Bach.

This is a quick easy read, and I whip through it once every year. It inspires me to keep up with my automatic savings plan. We have money automatically transferred into savings each paycheck.

How to raise a family on less than two incomes by Denise Topolnicki.

This was a super helpful guide for me in particular because the author has the same job I do, and like me, went from full time to freelance when having kids. So it's not really like living on one income, but not really enough $$ to count as two. It helped me make the transition to part-time work. The chapters on childcare arrangements for freelancers, as well as the chapter on grocery budgets are super helpful.

The Freedom Manifesto by Tom Hodgkinson.

This is a totally out there book, but I LOVE LOVE LOVE it. It's about how to work less and be less dependent on a paycheck-- so you can be more of a slacker. So it says, but not really. It's well written and well-researched, and provides a lot of inspiration for those of us who are into self-sufficiency and producing more of what our family consumes. (Think, baking your own bread and canning tomatoes.) I love this book, because it really is a fresh perspective.

Taming the clutter

December 27th, 2010 at 11:17 am

I'm in New Year mode. The tree is down and I'm trying to tame the clutter.

I've set out two boxes-- a donate box and a sell box. Both are almost full. Every time I walk by, it seems like I'm putting something in there. I'm determined to stick to my decluttering goal this year. The disorganization is wearing me down.

I've been leaving a donate box out on the counter at all times, and it has helped me stick with decluttering. When I have something in hand, I make an instant decision about whether it stays or goes. There is no thinking about it or dealing with it later, when it's so easy to just drop it in the donate box. Then, I drop the box(es) off at Goodwill once a week.

I also broke down all of the cardboard boxes that had been lingering in the garage. I will be by the recycling drop off on Wednesday. I'll take as many as will fit in the car, until I'm box free. They tend to pile up in the garage in winter and around Christmas.

I also have some things to sell on Craigslist, namely my former vintage chrome table and chairs. I bought the booth to replace them, and the old set is now just sitting on the sun porch. It's got to go!

And, the two big projects on my mind:: the laundry room (ergo, organizing all of the holiday decorations and kids outdoor pool toys which are down there), and my office. If I can get everything we don't need or use out of those two spaces, I'll probably hit my declutter goal for the year. They are catch-alls for things that have no home or need to be dealt with, but later.

The laundry room is first. I'm hoping to start on it this weekend.

$20 challenge thwarted..

December 26th, 2010 at 09:53 am

Mom gave me lottery tickets, won $4. She also gave me two new Lincoln dollars. I had never even heard of them. All of that money is going into the piggy bank, so that is $6 more to the $20 challenge.

Mom also bought me a pair of workout pants for Christmas. They don't really fit, and I had just loaded up on a bunch of yoga pants, etc. from the thrift store, so we agreed that I would return them. My plan was to take the refund, use a small part of it to buy a glass pitcher at the thrift store -- mine broke, and I use it to prep water for the fish tank-- and put the rest of the money toward the $20 challenge.

I just looked on the receipt -- Jc Penney-- and they said all refunds will be given in form of a gift card. Boo. I guess that ruins that plan. There isn't really anything I want to buy from Jc Penney, so I don't know what to do.

Christmas bacchanal

December 25th, 2010 at 06:05 pm

First let me say that our in-law free Christmas was really great. We were both actually looking forward to Christmas for the first time in 9 years. Now, I'm totally exhausted. A hot tub awaits. Didn't get to bed until 1 a.m. last night with a sick toddler, and had to wake up at 6 a.m. with our not sick toddler. Ugh. Christmas lasted officially from 7 a.m. (first gift opened) until 6 p.m. (last gift opened.).

However, our attempts to reign in grandma and limit gifts to the babies failed miserably. My mom and sister just love to shop. I mean love it. They do it for fun (not me. I hate shopping.) My mom bought us all way more than I think she should have. She doesn't go into debt or anything, but still. She could seriously cut back and still be too generous.

Now, we're exhausted and assessing what to do with all the loot. I'm not sure all of it will be staying. And if it does, an equal amount of something we already have will have to find a new home.

Right now, I'm too tired to think. I'll deal with the stuff tomorrow.

I think all went well, especially considering little man came down with a nasty flu yesterday. He felt really bad (temp 102.5 at 12:30 a.m. this morning, but down to 101 by 9 a.m.), but he didn't cry or complain. He tried to eat dinner with the family and was overall jolly. I'm extra proud of him.

UPDATE: After a hot bath, hubby and I were motivated to break down all the boxes for recycling, put all the unreusable wrapping paper in the recycling bin, take out the garbage, stash a few of the extra gifts for other occasions, and start a sell and a donate box. There are a few things in each. I also sorted and de-tagged all the clothes the babies received as gifts, so those are ready to put away in the morning. The house has returned to some semblance of order, albeit with more large toy tractors than before!

$20 challenge rides again!

December 23rd, 2010 at 03:23 pm

I haven't done the $20 challenge since 2008. Except I started again today. To took two bags of aluminum cans to the recycler today, and got $6.05. It's going into the piggy bank.

Big Picture PLAN

December 21st, 2010 at 06:59 pm

My last post outlined our financial goals since I began blogging here in 2008, as well as our annual progress. We're all thinking ahead to 2011, and our goals for the new year. It's great to set hard, and lofty goals for ourselves, but they don't really mean anything until you have a solid plan for achieving them.

That said, I have put some thought into my plan for the new year. I have a lot of financial and personal goals, and I hope referring back to this post will keep me on track and motivated.

First, money:

$10,000 to house fund. This will likely come from our tax refund

$9,250 to savings. This will come from the automatic transfers we make to savings each payday.

$4620 to kid 1's 529 and $4620 to kid 2's 529. We automatically transfer $200 / kid each month to the 529. The rest --$2260/ kid, will have to come from hubby's bonus (fingers crossed we get one again), and from a portion of my monthly freelance check.

My freelance work is a huge part of the plan. I'm on track to earn about $11,400, plus extra from other projects. $11,400 is my absolute baseline.

The plan as of now, is to send 50 % of my monthly freelance income to my IRA, until it's maxed out at $4000.

Then, I will divide rest between the kids' college and paying off the car.

Once the IRA is maxed out, I plan to send 2/3 of each check to kids' college and 1/3 to paying off the car, until those goals are reached.

$700 to new car fund. I transfer $35 every payday to this account. It's small, but adds up. We used $2,000 from this account to pay part of our most recent car purchase.

Yes, most of these are automatic transfers or windfalls (tax refund/bonus), but they aren't going to be easy. They represent a huge portion of our take-home pay, and we still have big expenses, like the $700 a month we spend on babysitters, so I can make my freelance income (and keep a hand in my field so I have the option to go back full time someday, but that's another story...)

In order to keep the transfers going-- occasionally we've had to skip a couple of weeks to meet expenses-- we're going to have to seriously stick to our $400/week MAXIMUM spending cap for EVERYTHING.

The budget has worked for most weeks in the past couple of months, and my plan is to stay on track. It's a question of staying focused and diligent with my eyes on the prize.

For example, we're only going to be eating Aldi and what is on sale at the regular grocery. And hopefully, we can get one of our boys out of diapers soon.

We're also planning a No Spend Month sometime in 2011, to help us jump start extra savings. We did it in 2008 and it saved us a bundle. No idea what month yet.

Bottom line is, we're going to have to earn more and scrimp more this year to make it all happen. Hubby can only earn so much, so the extra money is going to have to come from me. Scrimping will mostly be me too, because I do most of the shopping. I'm not as diligent as I could be, because I'm often pressed for time.

As for income, My goal was to add another steady $300 a month in freelance work. Barring unforseen circumstances, that has happened. Some months, it will be $400 more. I don't want to get complacent, so I will try to take on even more projects, when time permits, to boost my annual income.

My income is gravy, and can all be used to boost savings and goals, because our one steady salary pays for all of our expenses. This is easier said than done, though, with a 2 year old and a 1 year old.

Now on the personal front.

These are the hardest, actually. After long days with babies, then staying up late working, it's hard to get and stay motivated.

Still, 2010 was a model year for personal goals. I wrote my first novel and lost 11 pounds. I'd like to keep the ball rolling. For 2011, my goals are:

To revise my first novel and attempt to get it published. This is just as time-consuming as writing it, and trust me, when you only have a couple of baby-free hours a day to do everything you need to to, seconds are precious. I'll just have to make the time again, even if it means being tired, or delaying extra freelance projects until it's finished.

Write a second novel. Ditto on this one. I'm hoping to start it by summer, at the latest, once the first novel is off to potential publishers.

Lose 15 pounds. Weight loss is always hard, but now I have a system. I participated in a 6-week weight loss and intense exercise program at the Y in Oct-Nov this year and lost almost 11 pounds. It was hard and time consuming, but that is pretty much what you have to do to see results.

I am going to do two more of these. One in January, and one in March/April, with the goal of losing 15 pounds or more total between the two of them. This will put me at my pre-MARRIAGE weight. And, it'll pretty much rule out type II diabetes in my near future.

As for the little goals, like getting a new cell plan and reallocating investments. It's just a question of setting aside the mental energy then time to actually do them. But now that they are on the list, I'm just going to have to bite the bullet.

I'm already thinking about cell phones. Maybe I'll tackle that one first thing after Christmas....


the BIG picture....

December 19th, 2010 at 08:00 am

Ahead of the New Year, I wanted to get a big picture view of our money life since I started blogging here in 2008.

It's just amazing. We haven't always met our goals, but we've gone farther than we would have. Before I had a place to write down and plan, we just drifted, without a plan. Having a plan, at least for me, makes all the difference.

Just keeping track of my goals, and having a place where I felt accountable has had an amazing impact on our financial life.

Here is what my family has accomplished since I started this blog:

2008
Savings goal: $19,250
Actual savings: $21,305, plus $15,000 in 401k contributions.

I owed $12,700 in student loans and paid $1100 extra. The rest of the money went to fund our IRA, Roth, 529, brokerage, car fund, and savings accounts. We also had a baby, I left my full-time job and began freelancing to save on childcare and to care for my terminally ill father, who died in July of that year.

2009
Savings goal: $22,220
Actual savings: $10,000, plus $12,000 debt pay-off, plus $16,500 in 401k contributions.

In 2009, we added a second baby to the family, which meant more hospital bills, and another 529 plan. Our freelance income took a nosedive thanks to the Great Recession. We didn't meet many of our goals, but I did pay off my $12,000 student loan using our "exotic" vacation fund and some savings. Paying it off eliminated the $303 monthly payment, and made us 100 percent debt free.

2010
Savings Goal: $23,540
Actual Savings: $16,575, plus $16,500 in 401k contributions.

Once again, we didn't make the goal, but hey, I make them ambitious. We bought a new car, and had to adjust our lives and finances to two children. My freelance income rebounded a bit from 2009, to about half 2008 levels. We full funded my IRA, both kids' 529s, paid extra on the car loan, and put a little in savings. We loaned $5,000 to a friend, which is why we were so far below our goal. We saved it, we just didn't get to keep it!

2011
Savings goal: $32,490, plus $16,500 to 401k.

This is by far the most ambitious year yet. To make this, we'll have to dedicate our tax refund and hubby's bonus (hoping he gets one...) strictly to the goals. My freelance income is also rising again, which should help. I'd also like to do another No Spend Month to kick start savings.

I think if we're diligent-- sticking to our weekly spending cap, shopping smarter for groceries and such-- it will help us make our goals and prep to one day have a mortgage again. (EEK. Not looking forward to that!)

Looking back at my savings account balance last year at this time, I realize we're only about $100 above where we were then. Sigh. Treading water, but given everything we've done this year, I'm trying to be happy with that.

It has long been my goal to up the balance of the EF by $10,000 a year. We made a little headway in 2008 and 2009, but in 2010, it didn't really happen. Here's to 2011!