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Archive for April, 2013

Righting the ship

April 28th, 2013 at 07:30 pm

After a very wobbly financial start to the year, I'm trying to right the ship, so to speak.

I think I'm finally over the general malaise and burn-out I've had for the past two weeks. I just haven't wanted to do anything! I guess it's three years of back to back constant deadlines and brimming full to-do lists, plus two toddlers finally catching up with me.

Anyway... I'm getting back on track.

-I have two extra assignments due this week, so I wrote drafts of those today, and will finish them in the a.m., before the interview for my 'regular' weekly work starts.

-I FINALLY did a menu plan for this week. Hopefully I can stick with it this time. I'm just not very creative in the kitchen and it's hard to make things everyone likes, but at least, with a plan, dinner is much less stressful. I'm trying to make a few things-- mac and cheese, and a cheddar herb biscuit-- from scratch this week. Where do you guys find recipes?

Long-term goal is to make more bread and other items from scratch, but baby steps. Having a plan regularly comes first.

-I'm trying to keep spending under wraps, so payday isn't so tight and we can make more progress on paying off the house, saving for retirement, etc. This is tough. We've had a lot of extra expenses lately, like taxes, and family reunion airfare, etc. Each check has been spent the day it comes in, no overage, and it's stressing me out.

-We're spending a lot of time and money getting the garden constructed, up and running. This week, we got a bulk compost delivery (we didn't have enough of our own for all the new beds), and I've been slowly moving it into the backyard garden beds. I was happy it rained today so we could have a break! In future years, I'm sure all this work will pay off, but boy, it is a lot of work, and money for supplies. (pics are below)

-We're also hand-digging a new 16 foot by 20 foot patio. We're about 35 percent finished with the excavation. Hard work, but not as hard as we thought. We figure money saved on the unglamorous stuff means nicer flagstones, which we will SEE for the rest of our lives here.

-We're up to $90 in extra cash in the mortgage pay-down piggy bank, thanks to two more craigslist sales this weekend. We might add $5 more tomorrow, if the person shows up. It's also made a dent in the garage clutter.

-I sorted through the kid's clothes and made my summer rummage/yard sale 'score' list-- all the sizes and items I need to find used for the kids this summer to save big bucks on clothes the rest of the year. Sales here are good. I rarely have to buy anything new for them. I have found great hoodies (Iron Man and Lego are hits), jeans, pajamas, like-new shoes, sweaters, snowboots, and winter coats all for cheap.

It works out well. I buy the next two sizes up for the oldest, he wears them, then his brother wears them, then they go to Goodwill. To save time, I search through all the craigslist yard sale adds searching for boy stuff, then plan my route.

-I was inspired today to make an index card folder with all of the projects, large and small, I have in mind for the house. Everything from cleaning out the broom cupboard and hanging hooks, to the living room makeover and game room renovation in the basement. I broke each project down into 1-2 day projects, and those that are longer, plus needed supplies, measurements, and each step needed in the bigger projects, and put it on an index card. I figure on those days I want to get something done but can't focus, I can flip through the cards and pick a one-day job, or a small part of a multi-day job. Maybe it will move things along more smoothly!

And, here is the garden dirt.. Still more to do, but it's moving along.

tackling the to-do list...

April 22nd, 2013 at 05:55 pm

Be cool. There's actually clear space in the garage.

I freecycled an old carseat, some lumber and drywall scraps, sold two kids bicycle seats and a fireplace screen, and finally hauled the potting bench and four rain barrels (plus the HEAVY concrete blocks to set them on) outside, where they belong. Phew. I made a clear spot.

Today, I also posted a tricycle and a 1970s cruiser bike we don't use anymore on craigslist. fingers crossed those sell!

We spent the weekend digging out the new patio and putting dirt into raised beds. Surprisingly, the excavation-- by hand-- is about 30 percent finished! If we keep poking at it, it'll be done in a couple of weeks and will not have cost us a penny (other than meat and potatoes to fuel us to shovel!).

I need to go dirt shopping this weekend, for compost and other additives to improve the soil we just plopped into the garden, as it's heavy clay and won't be usable as is.

In other news, I admit workwise, I've been slacking. All the years of never-ending back to back deadlines have hit me and now I just can't get motivated to do anything!

What's up in your garden? plus gift cards, and the ultimate diy patio

April 19th, 2013 at 07:38 am

I'm totally amped about my new kitchen garden and patio projects this year, but let's just say the hard reality of hard labor to make it all happen is sinking in!

I started all of the seeds for our massive (and still under construction) kitchen garden about 10 days ago, and so far so good. Everything has sprouted except for a Basque-region heirloom pepper called Corne De Chevre. Fingers crossed on that one! I'm using a new set-up with heat mats and inexpensive Walmart plant grow lights this year, in hopes of getting healthier, stronger seedlings.

Our raised beds are constructed, but still empty. Our grand plan was to move some of the soil from our new patio excavation into the raised beds. We're planning to dig out and install a 16 ft by 20 ft flagstone (in sand) patio this spring, with a sunken fire pit and seating. It will be awesome when it's done, I swear.

Our estimates from pros to do the patio job were $8,ooo to $12,000. We can't afford that, so we're doing as much by ourselves as possible. We think we might be able to pull it off ourselves with a lot of sweat and less than $4,000. We found a local quarry with beautiful stones, and they are less expensive than the places by us that ship stone from all over. And local!

Dh insisted on digging the area out with a shovel by hand. I admit he goes into a zen state when digging holes and chopping wood, but it's a big job. I'm going to let him try, but I think it will be tough! My plan now was to rent a tiller, till up the area, then move the hopefully much finer soil into other areas in the yard and garden where we can use it. It should be easier to shovel out than unbroken packed clay earth! We have to clear 8 inches down to lay our foundation of rock and sand.

There is no deadline date, but we do have to have the kitchen garden beds filled, amended and ready to plant by our last frost date, which is May 15.

On the tiller front, after a little bit of research, it was actually cheaper out of pocket to buy a tiller than to rent one locally. I found a highly-rated moderately sized tiller on craigslist (still new in box) and bought it for $45. We'll see how it goes. Hopefully it will make the job easier! And, if I don't have a return deadline, I can take the time to do the front garden as well.

So yes, much happening at our house.

***
Thanks to craigslist, I've also done a fair amount of spring cleaning and clearing. I got rid of three scraps of drywall and a box of wood lumber scraps from last summer's renovation, got rid of the kid's old car seat, then sold two toddler bike seats and a fireplace screen. I made a dent in the garage and put $50 into the piggy bank.

There is actually a clear space in there! I still have more to list as well-- a cool vintage cruiser bike with a light that's powered by your pedaling, a stroller, tricycles, etc.

The garage clearing out reminded me that my home improvement mantra needs to be -- do the projects you already have the supplies for! I have the pieces to do a lot of little things around the house, and they're just gathering dust. things like shelves we always meant to hang, new toilet seats, things to paint, etc. that have gotten lost on the every-day to do list. Their time is near.

***
Now, onto the gift cards. In my sorting, I've run across and now have in one place more gift cards than any one person needs.

We have
-$150 in restaurant cards
-$80 in Macy's
- $50 in Barnes and Noble
-$70 for Jo-Ann Fabrics
-$10 in local plant nursery
-$25 in AMC movie cards
- $20 target card.
Just sitting in a drawer. Any ideas on how I might use these to stretch the budget? They aren't places I usually shop, but I have to come up with a plan lest they be wasted.

My only thought: use some of the restaurant cards for our anniversary in May, for a fancy steakhouse we like to go to. It should use up a good chunk.


But I'm open to ideas!

Geesh, when did my money train derail?

April 14th, 2013 at 06:27 pm

Geesh. I don't know when my money life got so out of control. Y'all know I'm usually on top of things.

Payday was Friday, and after paying the mortgage and just some of the bills, the checking account was wiped out. I'm pretty freaked out. I had the dread feeling it was coming.

Life has been pretty expensive since Christmas. We had to spend $2000 on plane tickets to the family reunion. Then, this payday, we paid for the $500 rental car, plus the $100 meal for the cousins we picked up. Ugh. One thing after another.

Then, we owed income tax to the tun of more than $700. I actually had to take money out of savings to cover it.

I'm feeling frustrated and out of control. I know our life is much more expensive than it was two years ago. We moved from a paid off house to one in a better school district (read much more expensive house..), and now have a $1700 mortgage, plus two kids in part-time preschool at $788 a month. Plus life. 529 plans, groceries, all that stuff.

Anyway, I'm trying to turn it around.

**
The good news:
- the latest mortgage payment got our balance down to just over $65,000. Almost there!
- I talked to a financial planner about my self-employment tax issues and I feel like I have a real plan now. I'm opening a SIMPLE-IRA, so I can sock away much more of my self-employment income (and save some serious tax money), and I'm switching my roster of projects. I'm ditching the low-paying but steady and demanding gig for occasional but higher-paying projects. Should help with the stress of balancing two little kids and work.

This dialing down might also help us financially, as I will actually have time to clip coupons, cook most meals at home, search for cheap and free activities for the kids, repair things myself, etc. I'm fairly optimistic.

So yes, another temporary set-back, but the big picture looks rosier. Fingers crossed!

**
Finally, I was digging through my sock drawer and realized I have more unused gift cards than I realized-- easily north of $200 worth. People keep giving them to me for holidays, and I never get around to using them because I don't really have the time to shop, and I don't really enjoy shopping. I'm thinking I should do some sort of austerity budget and use the cards to kind of fill in. We have about $150 in restaurant cards; $80 in Macy's; $50 in Barnes and Noble; $70 for Jo-Ann Fabrics; $10 in local plant nursery; $25 in AMC movie cards; and a $20 target card.

**
We also are in the early phases of getting the new garden up and running. The hot peppers and herbs are in my seed trays, just starting to sprout. I planted onions on Good Friday, beets last week. I also planted three red currant bushes, horseradish, and rhubarb.

We still have to excavate the area for the new patio and get some of that dirt recycled into our new raised beds. Tick tock last frost is May 15!