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Archive for December, 2013

New credit card. Suggestions?

December 28th, 2013 at 09:11 pm

Hi Guys. I'm ready for a new credit card. Are there any offers out there with good bonuses and incentives? I've worn through last year's reward card and am gearing up to cancel it. Thanks!

Duh. Why didn't I think of that before??

December 27th, 2013 at 02:36 pm

I have wrestled with sending extra snowflakes to the mortgage, and today I finally figured out how and I'm amazed at how obvious it was and how obtuse I must be.

My online mortgage payment portal only allows you to make whole mortgage payments. If you want to send extra to principal, it has to be included with the large monthly payment. That isn't always possible for me, and I have struggled with the how do I put these $13 worth of rebates here, or $20 craigslist sale there to the mortgage balance.

I used to physically go into a branch and have the teller apply it to the mortgage. But it is often difficult to go inside a branch, with two little kids jumping around, and lines, etc.

Well, figured it out. I don't know why I didn't think of it before. I set up a line item in my online bill pay for the mortgage servicer. I sent them a 'payment' of $25 extra, with a note to apply it to mortgage principal. It hit today and it worked like a charm. Now, I can just 'pay' a bill to the servicer for whatever snowflake I have for the mortgage.

Why did it take me so long to try this?? Ugh. All the trouble I could have saved!

Vet bill shock...

December 26th, 2013 at 08:29 pm

So, we adopted two kittens from one of our CSA farm's barn cats. They're healthy, etc. We took them in for their initial round of shots, check up, and boosters and brace your self. The bill for the two of them was $550.

Since when does taking two cats to the vet for shots cost that much???? I'm still reeling. I also asked them how much it will cost to get the cats fixed, and just for the spaying (the girl), it is $225. I'm in shock.

Who can afford that???

I called the low-cost spay/neuter shelter and it will cost me about $50 each to have them fixed. Why is there such a huge cost differential??

It's a major award!

December 26th, 2013 at 12:12 am

Part of our annual holiday tradition is heading to the local Moose lodge for the annual Christmas eve party. It sure paid off! I won the world's largest pork tenderloin in the raffle. I swear, it was as long as my torso (and I'm 5 ft 9!). I cut it into seven large chunks to share with my mom and sis, and to put in the freezer for future meals. Totally awesome!

I hope your Christmas is going great. Ours has calmed down, and was good. Back to real life tomorrow.... Here is me celebrating, making my most awesome "Oh yeah" silly face!


December 21st, 2013 at 04:08 am

My final mortgage payment for 2013 just cleared. We knocked $16,222.09 off the mortgage balance this year, AND, our goal was to owe $57,000 by the end of the year, but we're now at $56,103.
Finally, a success!

2013 eek. Simplifying in 2014

December 17th, 2013 at 10:29 pm

I'm already looking ahead even though Christmas isn't yet here. With 2013 winding down, it's become clear to me that we did a lot of things right and screwed up a lot of others, so for 2014 my resolve is to make things simpler and more focused.

In 2013,
-we didn't meet our college savings goals of 3k a year/kid. We saved 2400 for each kid. Still respectable I guess.
-We didn't manage to put much of anything in DH's Roth
-We still have no will, and no life insurance. Ugh.

It's just reality. We used to be able to tackle a million goals all at once and go big. We could sock away money and pay off debt. But life is very different now.

For one, we now have a mortgage, whereas our last house was paid off. That's a huge chunk of money we don't have every month.

We also now have two kids. When they were babies, they were pretty cheap. breast-feeding, no daycare. Now, we have one preschool bill, and two activities a week (swim and gymnastics) plus, allowances, clothes, and other activities. And feeding them. They eat constantly!

I also had to give up a bunch of paying but not super profitable work this year due to time crunch and sanity. I don't regret it, but I miss the checks!

Yes, life is more expensive.

We did do one thing right: We knocked money off the mortgage. Last Jan. 1, our balance was about $72,500. This Jan. 1 it will be about $56,500. $16,000 off the balance. Hazzah! Now that, I am proud of.

I want that mortgage gone so I can rest easy, so the goal is to pay it down to $41,500 by next Jan. 1.

So, looking back, I wasn't very realistic about how much money we had coming in and out when I set the goals. This year, I have fewer and more focused goals. We're strapped for time, money, and energy, and having fewer goals I think will let us focus on what is most important in the coming year: saving a base amount each payday, for college, and for retirement, while also putting a sledgehammer to the mortgage, by far our largest monthly expense.

Happy Money

December 15th, 2013 at 03:45 pm

I'm always on the prowl for new and interesting personal finance books. Most are pretty ho-hum once you've been in the mix for a while. I picked up a copy of Happy Money by Elizabeth Dunn et al.

I actually liked it. It gave me food for thought. It's about the ways (using scientific research) we can spend our money to make us happier.

I know, it sounds hokey, but I'm not doing it justice. They say with a few tweaks, we can actually get more enjoyment out of the money we already spend.

The basic premise is, to be happier,
Buy experiences, rather than stuff. The joy of stuff wears off immediately, whereas the joy of experiences and the memories from them, last.

Make it a treat. I.e. buy fewer lattes, so that when you do get one, it's a treat not just an very day ho hum experience.

Buy time. As in, if you're spending to 'save' time do it in a way that eliminates the most frustrating and unenjoyable tasks of your life, because oftentimes unhappiness springs from a million little frustrations.

Pay Now, consumer later. This one, you'll have to read the book about, but it's cool. It inspired me to go for it and buy tickets to a rock show on my birthday, even though it's three months away. Now, I have something to look forward to( see above!), and I will enjoy it more because I paid up front.

Invest in others, via charity or otherwise. Also true. Seems the more I give, the more aware I am of how lucky we are and how much we have. And, the more likely I am to eschew ridiculous purchases because I am aware that it is frivolous.

So yes, I'd recommend this book. It's a quick read, and really made me think about how we use our resources.

Snow, garden, cookbooks, train wrecks, et al

December 6th, 2013 at 07:17 pm

Today was a snow day for the kids. Yesterday, it was 60 and raining. Good thing the boys and I wrapped up the fall garden tasks yesterday, because as you can see, there is snow all over everything. We're supposed to get 6 inches today.

Well, under that snow, is my ambitious garden project. I'd say 2013 was a success on that front. Starting from nothing, we now have 432 square feet of raised garden beds, plus established perennial herb garden, a peppermint garden, and tubs with horseradish and bee balm. We've also prepped a giant strawberry patch, a raspberry patch, and a popcorn patch that will be ready to plant in spring. It's very fulfilling to make your vision happen!

Take a peak!

Since we'll be growing tons more veggies, I've been looking for good family-friendly vegetarian cookbooks to help us make the most of what we produce. I also want us to start eating meatless more than just one night a week. It's better all around.

I'd love some suggestions for some of your favorite vegetarian or garden-themed cookbooks. Right now, I'm in love with "Veggies Please" by Carolyn Humphries. There are a lot of good suggestions for what to do with the tons of zucchinis you grow every year, and plenty of interesting, more ethnic recipes. It's not the same-old.

I'm less impressed with the Betty Crocker family vegetarian cookbook I got at the library. Seems like it's very carb heavy and is a collection of side dish or other random meat-free recipes they just happen to already have. It's not as interesting or inspiring.

On the job front, I mentioned before that one of my co-workers was hit by a drunk driver (while on his bicycle) and will be recovering for months. My bosses had asked me to fill in for him part or full time for three or more months. Well, the higher-ups killed that idea before it got off the ground, and I'm not really sad about it. It would have been a real pain to rearrange my childcare mid-year.

Anyway, I suggested they just dole out more projects to me as a freelancer. Everyone wins. They get help and only have to pay me for actual work,and I don't have to make any major changes. They think it's a good idea, so we'll see if we can work out more details.

More work will be hard, but the temporary bump in income would be welcome.

Oh yes, and that train wreck. In my huge woe-is-me post about my work life balance a few months ago, I mentioned the only friend who was in a similar position as me-- freelancing, at home with kids too, went off the deep end. She stopped cooking at home, stuck her kids in day care from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. and no longer seems interested in being a mom.

Well, we had ladies night last night, and it's worse than I thought. She and her hubby (who have been our friends for 9 years) are separating after the holidays. She says she doesn't want to, but he is fed up, etc etc. AND she admitted she's having an affair with a D-list rock star, because he tells her she's pretty and makes her feel special. The guy is twice our age people! Anyway, it's a wreck. I've tried to be supportive, but today I'm overwhelmed.

I'm sad. None of our friends have every had kids and gotten a divorce. This is the first for us and it's hard.

2014 monthly/annual budget thoughts

December 3rd, 2013 at 10:09 pm

I'm intrigued by all of you doing an annual budget. While I am spreadsheet-averse, I did sketch out our income, monthly expenses and then a breakdown of our annual expenses.

I have to say, it's eye opening already. I know in theory I should have an extra $1000 a month or more floating around, but I never seem to. Turns out it's those occasional monthly expenses that don't appear on the recurring monthly budget.

There might be something to this!

Here are my rough estimates and plans for 2014.

Income 5546/month-DH
750/ month --me (minimum. Usually more) (9000/yr, $5500 to IRA, $3500 extra to mortgage?)

Monthly bills
$1700 - mortgage
$600- groceries
$600 savings
$550- preschool
$400 - 529 plans
$225- utilities (electric, gas, water)
$90- internet/phone
$80 Y membership
$70- car fund
$40-- charity deductions
$40- emigrant direct debits, kids/savings
$40- allowances
$10 netflix

Yearly budget
DH, sister's birthdays
Pay car insurance
renew drivers license
$20 for fat club
Annual writer's dues
Get the cats fixed

Valentine’s day
Super bowl party
doctor visit- DH

Mom/ Me birthday
renew drivers license

tax prep bill
pay city tax
DS1 birthday party

Trip to New Orleans

Summer camp
pay car insurance
Trip to Maine w/in-laws

Summer camp

Summer camp
2 5k races

Preschool bill goes down- 3 days a week- $350 to $400/month
Trip to San Francisco with mom and sister

Renew CSA subscription

DS2 birthday party


SO much has happened...

December 2nd, 2013 at 08:54 pm

I can't believe it's been so long since my last post. Some of you might remember it involved my complete mental breakdown over the demands of career and young children.

I am feeling better, although not much has changed. At the same time, a lot has changed.

One of my "co-workers" (I say that because I'm not technically an employee in the office, but I freelance and work with these people on projects) was hit by a drunk driver while riding his bicycle-- at NOON on a SUNDAY!! He's been in the hospital for 30 days and is lucky to be alive. He will be out in rehab for months, though.

Which leads me to my next bit. My boss has asked if I'd like to fill in for him -- 3 to 5 days a week, in the office, doing my old job. I'm flattered, and I was tempted at first, but then the reality of what they'd have to pay me to make it worth it after the childcare and taxes set in. The numbers likely won't add up.

But, I still want to help out and engender that goodwill, so I suggested that they could farm more of the work out to me as a freelancer. I can do that job from home. I already am. They just kind of have a butt in the seat mentality. We'll see what the boss says when he gets back from vacation Wed.

I have been trying to scale back at work, but this would be a temporary bump up and would get them out of a pinch, which is always positive career-wise, which is why I'm considering it. I could also use that money to pay down the mortgage.

DS1 is doing great at kindergarten. His teacher couldn't say enough great stuff about him at his conference last week. He's way ahead of where they expect him to be at that age. So Phew! One kid is on the straight and narrow.

DS2, however, is still having social problems at school and is so sensitive and whiney at home. I'm at the end of my rope. We're trying, but don't know how to handle him or give him skills. Hopefully some books from the library can give me some tips.

At least with kid 1 doing all right, we can take some time and dedicate most of our attention to the youngest. Maybe that will help

On a personal note...

I had 10 cubic yards of awesome compost delivered a few weeks back, and yes I was that crazy person shoveling compost and pushing a wheelbarrow when it was snowing outside. I still have a small pile left to tackle, but the garden looks great and prepped for spring, and I managed to expand two more veggie beds in back and a large strawberry patch out front. Backyard farm is moving along!

Now that December has also snuck up on me, I'm working out my goals and budget for the year. For some reason, we should be able to save and cover expenses easily. At least the numbers make it seem that way. lately, though, it seems like we're running up short every month. I wonder if I'm missing something or just spending too much, or both.

I am dedicated to righting the ship, though.

I'm also curious about those of you who do year-long budgets, rather than monthly. What does that look like? a list of expenses for each month? I don't even know where to start, but I like the idea of having a map for the year.