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Archive for July, 2008

Can't wait for tomorrow!

July 31st, 2008 at 07:23 pm

Anyone who has been enjoying reading about my journey and rooting for me, look forward to tomorrow with me. A bunch of payments are due to hit, so I should have lots of good news to report for a change!

Today is really busy at work. I'm trying to get as much done as possible so tomorrow hopefully won't be as busy and I can take time to total up my debt payments and blog about it.

My family is on a mission to eat our way through the freezer and not stuff it as full in the future, so we can see and get to everything more easily. Today I had kung pao tofu leftovers from god-knows-how-long ago. Not terrible, but not the most flavorful thing after so long in the freezer. But it's worth it knowing we're saving money and being more green by not letting things go to waste!

OK, back to the grindstone.

2008/2009 goals

July 30th, 2008 at 03:29 pm

OK, my goals are focusing less on debt repayment for the time being. I will work on paying off CC as I am able to, but I'm not stressing about getting my CC debt down to $35K by the end of the year, nor paid off by the end of 2009. We will need several big strokes of luck to make that happen (which is not to say it won't, just that I can't count on it so I can't plan for it).

2008 GOALS
AUGUST:
- Finish up UK taxes & mail them out (just need to fill out one more section)
- Pay off $3500 of debt, get CC debt below $50K and house debt below $300K
- Have garage sale; put half of proceeds toward home improvement and other half in travel fund (still need about $1300 before October)
- Try to sell futon, old cell phones & gold necklace online; put proceeds toward travel fund
- Post-sales, reorganize and try to plan for a less-cluttered home

SEPTEMBER:
- Pay minimum on debt (about $1400)
- Pay off medical debt and st. loan interest bill
- Start paying back student loans; reorganize budget to fit them (if they come due; otherwise move to next month)
- Reorganize chores to accomodate NT class attendance and study time
- Finish saving for trip

OCTOBER:
- Pay at least minimum on debt, hopefully more
- Switch my & NT's cells to prepaid; put AS on cheap individual plan; see if this saves us $$
- Start saving for Xmas, CSA farm share and Feb./March vacation

NOVEMBER:
- Reorganize budget to accomodate mortgage reset; see where reset takes us & investigate possible refinancing
- Decide on flex spending amount for health insurance (take possible pregnancy into account)

DECEMBER:
- Annual checkup; discuss baby-making potential
- Assess financial progress; see if it seems feasible to start trying in next year
- Start saving for b-days

2009 GOALS
JANUARY:
- Set 2009 financial goals more concretely; hopefully find CC payoff timetable that works (CC-free in 2010?)
- Start baby emergency fund

FEBRUARY:
- Start working on NT app for lifting conditions on green card

MARCH:
- Send in green card app
- Start saving for fall vacation

That's as far out as I can see right now. I'll revisit in a couple months when some of these financial variables have straightened themselves out; then I'll have a clearer view of what I can do, and when.

And the money keeps rolling out...

July 29th, 2008 at 09:08 pm

I saw the dentist today and now she says there's bone loss in my mouth that might be causing my gum infections, and that might be solved by some removal of gum tissue by a specialist. Made appointment with specialist for Monday.

I'm assuming that's bad news moneywise. I've also still got a few medical bills from this month that I was planning on using some of my September debt-repayment money for. So I think I'm just going to designate my entire $1700 of September extra debt-pay money for medical expenses. If I somehow luck out and it doesn't cost that much, I can put some toward debt and it will feel good. If not, I'll have already let go of that hope, so I won't be too crushed.

If it's more than $1700, I would hope they'd let me pay in installments, so hopefully I will not have to put anything on credit cards.

Off kilter

July 28th, 2008 at 04:58 pm

I feel very off this morning. Various little things adding up to a general tenseness that I know is illogical but am powerless against. There's a great quote from Tootsie (uttered by Terri Garr's character) that I think of when I'm in a mood like this: "I just have to feel this way until I don't feel this way anymore!" It cheers me up a little to think about Tootsie, anyway. Smile

The main (almost) bad thing is that last night, NT was working on getting our free credit reports. Later, AS saw an e-mail about one in her inbox and, thinking it was to finish a process NT had started, went through it. Next morning I was like, "Wait a minute." He was going to mail in her request to Experian or someone. Then she mentioned there was a $1 processing fee and I thought "Uh oh." We went and looked at it and it was just some random spam that had hit her inbox at the right time, so she thought it was legit. We looked up the company and there were complaints on this one blog from various people that they'd gotten several unauthorized charges from the company afterward. We canceled the account and also called our bank to make sure we could easily dispute any other charges should they come through. So far so good; there's just the $1 charge which I can live with. They don't seem to be an out-and-out scam company from what I've read, just a weaselly one that tries to charge a bit extra and can be really hard to cancel with. But I think we got it taken care of, and I check our bank account every day, so I'll notice anything screwy. Well, at least her credit score was good! Smile It's amazing how even savvy people can get taken in if they're caught off-guard at just the right moment.

Also, my tooth is still hurting a bit, so I went ahead and made an appointment tomorrow. More money down the drain, but oh well.

On the good-news side, we had a pretty great weekend. AS finished her capstone and will be getting her master's degree confirmed shortly! We went to NT's office on the 33rd floor on Saturday and watched an annual fireworks show--we had a perfect view and wine to sip while we watched. Beautiful!

Speaking of beautiful, AS worked on a dress all weekend for a contest. She designed it with me in mind, and so I got to model it (and I get to keep it!) I'll be wearing it tomorrow at my summer work party.

Here it is (my head cropped to protect anonymity, hope it doesn't look too weird that way):

Our photographer friend thought it would be cute to pose me in various homemaker-themed shots, so there's this one and one where I'm pretending to chop vegetables. Smile

Wish AS luck on the contest! I thought her entry was very creative, and I can't wait to wear it to work tomorrow.

First step toward August goal, other news

July 26th, 2008 at 10:55 pm

Checked our UK credit card balance, and a payment hit: $215 went to principal (a little more than I expected).

That's $215 down, $3285 to go for August.

And $52,677 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

This bodes very well for my getting the CC debt under $50K by the end of August!

I also got an unexpected boost when a friend was discussing removing the payment protection plan from a credit card. I realize we pay quite a bit--about US$131 per month--for payment protection on our UK mortgages. This made sense when NT wasn't sure when he'd be allowed to look for work or how long it would take him to find a job. But now, with a steady rental income and three full-time incomes, it's very unlikely we wouldn't be able to make the mortgage payments.

So today we canceled those protections. This means our rental income will now cover minimum payments, so that account will more or less take care of itself. I'm still going to make one more big transfer in August to take a bite out of the UK credit card as well as deposit some funds to cover upcoming expenses. But after that, we should be able to avoid transferring funds for awhile, maybe not until next year sometime! That will save $50+ per month just in wire transfer fees.

So starting in September I can concentrate on my own CC debt, which has a higher interest rate than NT's credit card. The only reason I tackled his first was to try and get the payment down to where I didn't have to transfer money just to cover the minimum, and with canceling the protection plan we've accomplished that.

Random musings

July 24th, 2008 at 09:42 pm

I'm still in that slow period before the beginning of the month with all the exciting debt payments to report. Not much going on, but some good news:

NT's review confirmed a 3% pay raise ($100 per month before taxes), and that he will probably get a 10% bonus in December if the company keeps doing well!

Met with the friends we're doing the yard sale with to plan pricing and who's covering which tasks. Should be a fun (and hopefully profitable) couple of days! I've arranged to borrow another friend's car in return for lugging and selling some of his stuff as well.

I'm almost done with our UK taxes--looks like we about broke even or had a small loss on the rental, so we won't have to pay any, I don't think. Even if we made a small profit, they have a 5,000-pounds exemption similar to U.S. taxes, so we should still be OK.

AS and I celebrate 11 years together today. We're going to a Thai restaurant we used to frequent all the time in our spendthrift days, but now hardly ever go to. I'll really enjoy pad thai that someone else besides me made! Or the peanut-spinach curry...mmm...so hard to decide. To help pay for it, we've resolved to keep the rest of our grocery spending for the month down to $40, so there's extra we can put toward our restaurant bill tonight.

We've all three managed to maintain most of our weight loss from the cleanse, though I've been too busy/tired to work out and try to push through the plateau. But I have been trying to pay attention to portions and keeping some amount of fresh/whole foods in my diet. Oh, and I added a couple more recipes to that page on my blog.

On the bad-news side, my tooth has begun hurting again in the past couple days. At least I know now that it's the gums and not the tooth that's the problem. I've tried to brush more carefully, using the special supplemental brush the dentist gave me as well, flossing more often and rinsing with salt water and/or mouthwash once in awhile. I guess if it doesn't get better soon I'll have to go in and see if I need more antibiotics...(sigh) I don't want that because last time, the antibiotics caused an equally unpleasant problem. I feel like I'm just a bundle of ailments lately!

Thanatophobia

July 23rd, 2008 at 09:48 pm

Ever since I was a kid I've worried, obsessed and panicked about death. Mostly my own--the loss of consciousness, everything I've tried to learn and be just blinking out and gone forever in an instant. But also that of people I love, people I dislike, people I've never met, animals...I don't want anyone to die, partly because I imagine they must fear it as much as I do!

It doesn't take over every day but I usually think about it, even if just briefly, every couple of days, sometimes what seems like every few hours. It would almost be boring if it weren't terrifying, since I rarely get anywhere in my thinking, just go around in circles! It's definitely tiresome.

Anyway, I've been having a good couple of weeks where it doesn't bother me as much, but today I got hit with a big wave of it. I haven't been able to concentrate on work for the past hour or so. I think because I got a letter from Mom yesterday where she idly mused about what would happen to all our family traditions when the old folks were gone? It's true, I don't intend to carry on most of my family's traditions, cute as they are, and it must have had a delayed impact and re-triggered my fear.

So I looked it up on line. Apparently it's called thanatophobia, thantophobia or necrophobia. So many people on different sites and blogs articulated the exact same fear as me. So there are others who share it after all. But oddly, that comforted me a bit. Also seeing it called "irrational" helped. It doesn't feel irrational, it feels like logic brought to an extreme, but it's nice to think maybe it's just an irrational fear that could be alleviated somewhat. I also like thinking that most people truly aren't that bothered by the thought--that they can look it in the face and not avoid it, and it still doesn't terrify them.

Has anyone else had to cope with this phobia? I wonder if therapy or medication would help. I've always felt that it's something I can cope with because it's not debilitating like some forms of anxiety or depression. However, I think it's idiotic to think so much about dying, since it's just wasting what life I have. (I love my life; that's part of the problem--I don't ever want it to end! But I worry I'm not doing enough with it to feel satisfied at the end.) If I could get myself to accept it more or dwell less, that would be such a relief.

July net worth update

July 22nd, 2008 at 07:59 pm

Assets:
NT's pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $1,898
AS's 403(b): $2,214
CJ's 401(k): $25,220
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $182,000
---
Total Assets: $507,282

Total Debt: $424,704

Current Estimated Net Worth: $82,578

June 2008 estimate: $81,447
Change in net worth: +$1,131

Summary: My 401(k) again lost value, so our assets went down a bit despite gains in AS's 403(b) and NT's 401(k). Our debt repayment was very modest this month, but it gave us a bump in net worth anyway.

Info from a couple sources leads me to believe that I'd struggle to sell our U.S. condo at the amount listed above; it would probably go for more like $175,000. But I noticed that a 2BR UK condo in the same development as NT's 1BR just sold for 185,000 pounds ($370,000). So I'm sure my valuation of his house is very conservative. Therefore I'm just going to leave both house values as is for the purposes of this tracking.

Note on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested.

August debt payoff goal

July 20th, 2008 at 12:20 am

OK, I've decided to start looking at the worst-case scenario for my debt repayment efforts. I need to be realistic so I'm not too disappointed.

The facts? We've still got some significant expenses coming up for our UK rental flat. AS's student loans will be coming due, if not in August then definitely in September. Her income will be $500 lower for the next two months, and we don't know when she will get a new job, or whether it will be a significant jump in salary. NT and I can't count on more than a small cost-of-living raise this year.

And if all these factors are going to push back our goal of losing the CC debt, I don't want it to delay our plans to start trying to have children. That means I've also got to start saving up money for that, instead of waiting till all our CC debt is gone. Which will push back our goal date even further. It's like a debt-slowdown snowball.

That said, August may be our last month of big, exciting debt repayment in a long time. So I'm going to enjoy every second!

The goal for August is to pay off $3,500 in debt. I will also get our CC debt below $50,000 and our mortgage debt below $300,000.

July goal reached!

July 20th, 2008 at 12:06 am

As you all could probably guess, I made an $8 payment to my credit card so I could reach my July goal. Smile

So, goal was $1,450, and $1,450 is what I paid off!

And, that's $52,892 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

Stay tuned for my August goal!

Mostly raw: days 13 and 14

July 19th, 2008 at 11:55 pm

Yesterday's breakfast was a fruit salad of pineapple, mango and banana.

For lunch, I had curried "no egg" salad: carrot, bell pepper, avocado and scallion blended in a food processor with salt, pepper, curry and coriander, with more bell pepper diced and stirred in. Then I brought lettuce leaves to wrap it in for eating. Not too bad.

Dinner that night was "pasta della California," a favorite recipe of ours from a cookbook called Veganomicon. NT made fresh pasta, and the topping was garlic, spices, arugula and avocado. Then I made some "smoky grilled tempeh" from the same cookbook and we put that on top. Wonderful.

That night we went to our friend's birthday gathering, and I had three glasses of white wine. Wow did it hit me! Smile I felt a little draggy this morning but was able to sleep in till 11 a.m.

When we weighed ourselves this morning, AS and I had held steady and NT had dropped another pound.

For lunch today we had the raw corn salad with avocado dressing again, adding chopped kohlrabi this time since we got some in our farm-share box.

Right now I'm enjoying some fancy olives with various stuffings and spices and a glass of rose wine, and tonight we're having our favorite meal--homemade pizza on homemade crust.

Thus marks the end of our cleanse! I will add some more recipes to my new page, little by little.

Mostly raw: day 12

July 18th, 2008 at 05:32 pm

Yesterday's breakfast was a smoothie of mango, banana and blueberry, followed by eating a banana. The all-fruit breakfasts are actually not a bad option for me. I may try to continue with something similar after the cleanse.

My annual review got canceled, so I had to fend for myself for lunch. I went to a place called Salad Creations and was very good: I ordered a create-your-own salad with romaine, tomato, cucumber, green bell pepper, carrot, mushroom and red onion, and a balsamic vinaigrette. I ordered the large and it was over $7! Yikes...that amount of those grocery items would have cost me pennies. But it was on-program and it was filling. Plus I haven't been using my spending money for anything, so I had plenty.

For dinner, we wanted hot sandwiches of some kind. I went online and found a recipe for a jerked tempeh sandwich with tomato-onion spread for me and NT. Then I went to the store for fresh-baked, organic whole wheat bread and fresh salmon for AS (which she marinated in chili oil, maple syrup and soy sauce--her favorite marinade). We also had a simple side salad of lettuce and spinach with a dressing of olive oil, balsamic vinegar, Mrs. Dash and Italian seasonings. The tempeh sandwich was delicious but hot! Brain-killingly hot! We may use the recipe again but we'll turn the heat down a LOT. And NT and I are not spice wimps at all.

This morning on the scales, I had drifted up about half a pound and NT had gained a full pound. We figure it had to be the bread! Even though it was healthy bread, it was the first bread we'd had since we started. Interestingly the fresh pasta a few nights ago did not have the same effect, nor did rice or buckwheat other days. So just bread stayed with us like that. Very interesting. We're having pizza Saturday night, so if I go up again Sunday morning, I'm going to know it's something about bread--yeast or flour--that causes it.

AS did not have the same problem--she dropped 1.5 lbs., bringing her total weight loss to 11 lbs.! She weight-trained a couple days ago, so I reckon her body is using more food to rebuild her muscles.

I still feel really good and will work to bring my weight down under 140 even if it doesn't happen during the cleanse. I'm looking forward to weight-training--I haven't had the time or energy during this period! Maybe that will push me over the edge.

Mostly raw: day 11

July 17th, 2008 at 01:49 pm

Yesterday I had an apple and about a cup of dried dates for breakfast. I felt pretty hungry and had a few cherries right before I went on my noon walk; that helped a lot.

Lunch was a raw-er version of a favorite recipe of ours, "gunsmoke slaw." It's a spicy, smoky slaw that contains oil instead of mayo. I used red cabbage instead of green because it occurred to me the color might indicate more nutrients than pale green cabbage. It also had corn, scallions, an orange, shredded carrot, and a dressing of oil, apple cider vinegar, mustard powder, red pepper flakes, Mrs. Dash chipotle seasoning, salt, agave nectar and garlic. Dee-lish!

For dinner, NT made fresh pasta (I'm continually impressed by this feat) and a sauce of sundried tomatoes, canned tomatoes, white beans, fresh spinach, onion, garlic and spices. Oh yeah, and sprinkled with fresh basil from our garden! He also made us a grape-blueberry-mango smoothie for dessert.

I'm champing at the bit to be done with this cleanse! I feel like I've learned what I'm going to from it and I'm ready to get back on the path of regular, albeit much healthier, eating. But at the same time I want to finish it out, just to show we've got the determination. Plus, NT and AS lost another pound and I lost another half pound! AS is at 9.5 lbs. lost, NT's I think at 7 or 8, and I'm at 5. They've both gotten to slip into another set of numbers weightwise. Another half-pound and I can say I'm in my 130s instead of my 140s, so that's a big incentive to stay on it the rest of the time.

Today is my annual review at work, which is a lunch date with my boss. But we're going to Panera, which she says has really good salads, so hopefully I'll be able to stick to the plan somewhat.

Personal loan payment hit: so close!

July 16th, 2008 at 09:04 pm

Aargh! My personal-loan payment hit today, with $448 going to principal. That's just $8 shy of my goal!

So, $1,442 down, $8 to go on my July goal!

$52,900 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

OK, I'm seriously considering sending $8 to one of my debts so I can say I hit my goal exactly. Is that psychotic? This particular debt accrues interest daily, so it would be too complicated to figure out how to get the balance right. But maybe my credit card...

Mostly raw: day 10

July 16th, 2008 at 08:54 pm

Whew! I've been unusually busy at work, but things have slowed for a minute.

Yesterday for breakfast I just had an apple, a banana and some cherries. Then I had an avocado, sprinkled with salt and pepper and eaten out of the shell with a spoon, as a midmorning snack.

For lunch I didn't have anything prepared, so I went to Jamba Juice and ordered one of their just-fruit smoothies (Pomegranate Paradise). Not quite raw, since it contains juice from concentrate and various preservatives (all citric acids, so not too bad). Anyway, I got the biggest one which is 440 calories. Tasted like much more than that! And I got a buzz from all the sweetness. But, at least it didn't have sugar or corn syrup.

For dinner we made marinated baked portobello mushrooms for me and NT, marinated baked salmon for AS. It was a new marinade recipe and we loved it, especially on the mushrooms! On the side we had new potatoes, with a dill-mustard-lemon sauce, and green beans.

This morning NT and I had held steady in our weight but AS had lost another half a pound. And she was able to pull her belt in another notch!

We all feel like we're just barely hanging on until the cleanse is over. But even though we're listing all the foods we want to have when we're off it, we're also making plans to cut our portions. For instance, when we go to restaurants we've pledged to order a half portion or else box up half right when it gets to the table. And we're going to try and have salads at home to fill us up a little before we get to the main course.

Mostly raw: day 9

July 15th, 2008 at 03:05 pm

Yesterday we didn't prepare anything fancy for breakfast, just brought a bunch of fresh fruit with us. I had a pluot (plum-apricot hybrid), an apple (Pink Lady--my fave), and two bananas. I'm starting to realize that I enjoy having several small breakfast items that I spread out over a couple hours, rather than one big breakfast at one sitting. I may try to copy that in the future. (Of course, big weekend brunch meals will be an occasional exception!)

Lunch was a salad of spinach, avocado, mango and red onion with the Italian-style dressing we had the first day of raw. Very yummy! I highly recommend the mango-avocado combination for a treat.

For dinner we made a "southwest skillet": cooked buckwheat (kasha), onion, green bell pepper, garlic, zucchini, tomatoes, corn, cilantro, avocado and spices. Really delicious; this is a meal AS and I made several times a few years ago but then forgot about. I ate it too fast so my belly felt tight for a few hours.

Sorry I've been so lax about posting recipes; I'll try to get some done this week.

Today when we weighed ourselves, AS had lost 1.5 lbs. and I'd lost a half a pound. That brings our totals to 8 and 4.5. I really think some of this is actual weight loss and not just getting rid of water weight. Now if only we can maintain once we're off this! The success will hopefully spur us not to go totally nuts when it's over.

I am ending the no-drinking part of it a little early; a friend we love who's hard to get hold of is having a birthday happy hour on Friday. Only two days early, so I don't feel that bad.

This morning as we were getting ready, AS was saying that she was really missing coffee and caffeine for the first time during this cleanse. We go down on the elevator and in the condo lobby, there's a stand set up giving away free gourmet coffee! The smell was outrageously delicious. We barely escaped without succumbing to temptation! Luckily, coffee is thought to have some health benefits, so I'll have no compunction about getting right back into it at the end of this thing.

Random news items

July 15th, 2008 at 02:28 pm

-NT is definitely going to college in the fall! He got accepted and confirmed enrollment. He also found out that 15 credits transferred from his UK schooling--a whole semester! I'd worried this college thing was going to cost more than the $40K I'd projected, but I think we'll be all right now.

-He's been working really hard these past couple weeks, but it should pay off next payday with at least 5 hours OT pay.

-We had some totally free entertainment last night with movies and music in the park right next to our condo. It's going on every Monday for the rest of the summer, so we might make a regular thing of it. We'll have to come early and bring books to read next time, because it was packed and we got a really poor spot on the lawn.

-Got a $10 check in the mail from NFOMySurvey.com. Straight to the travel fund! AS might join some of these things too now.

-I've gotten a couple small writing assignments at my job, where I'm a proofreader/editor. Maybe if they like the work, I can branch out a bit!

Mostly raw: day 8

July 14th, 2008 at 02:15 pm

NT has been worrying we haven't been taking in much calcium on this diet. I realize raw foods makes it harder to get that, and iron. So we tried making a kale-carrot-apple juice, since kale is one of the best veggies for both calcium and iron. It was...well, we were prepared for it to taste like a wheat-grass shot, a flavor AS and I like but NT doesn't. But it also was thick and not very smooth, so the texture was unappealing. I think in a juicer it would be very tasty, but in a blender it was just too grainy.

Lunch was much better. We made an almond butter out of raw almonds and peanut oil. I'd always heard you had to soak nuts and seeds before eating raw, but then someone on a forum said to just use them, so we did! So far no ill effects. We got waaay too many almonds and looking at the receipt later it was $16! But then we saw a jar of raw almond butter and it was $23, so I consider we still got off easy. Anyway, we'll make sure we use every single one of those almonds. Smile

Anyway, for lunch we had a Thai salad: lettuce, corn, cucumber, carrots, kohlrabi, cilantro and red bell pepper for the salad, with a dressing of almond butter (thinned with water), soy sauce, maple syrup, fresh lemon juice, fresh ginger, sesame oil (we only had toasted, but oh well), garlic and jalapeno. It was great! We agreed we'd have it again, though we'd probably use natural peanut butter instead, and maybe add some peanuts and cubed baked tofu to it.

Dinner was fajitas, and though it was probably only about 600 calories, we felt stuffed. AS had salmon in hers but NT and I just had zucchini, onion, green bell pepper and mushroom. We found some very healthy tortillas at our co-op, and we had some leftover wild rice/basmati pilaf in the freezer that we each had a bit of. Then lettuce, two diced avocados and a homemade salsa to top it all off. AS managed to stay away from the cheese even though she'd planned to have some!

I'd thrown some banana and pineapple, torn into pieces, into the freezer earlier in the day. I stuck those in the blender with some ice cubes and we had a nice frozen treat. The fruit wasn't frozen rock-solid so it had more of a soft-serve texture. Mmm...

This morning I'd dropped another half-pound. AS got three different readings, that she'd lost 1/2 pound, lost 2 pounds and stayed the same. We decided to go with the middle one and say she lost half a pound. Smile We need a good scales, ours is rubbish. But we read somewhere that most commercial scales are about the same and none are really accurate. Anyone heard any different?

Here's what you've all been wondering, probably: Is the diet frugal? Welll...it's hard for us to say; we have a very generous "grocery/household" budget of $900 per month. We divide into $450 for the 1st to the 15th, $450 for the 16th through the end of the month. Since we won't need anything else till the 16th, I was able to see if one week of raw had blown our budget. We went $33 over. Mitigating factors: We have a CSA share so we get a box of veggies every Saturday, but we also had to make some household purchases such as an iron and a new water filter, not to mention those $16 almonds. So I'd say it's a break-even proposition for us. It's about our budget, but then we give ourselves a lot of money for food and household supplies.

Mostly raw: day 7

July 13th, 2008 at 05:10 pm

Yesterday, we blended up some more of the oat groats, this time with more water and with banana, cinnamon, nutmeg and mace. I topped mine with blueberries and raw agave nectar (which comes from cactus, I think). Much tastier, but I think we shouldn't have eaten groats that had been sitting in the fridge for two more days. All three of us felt rather bloated the rest of the day, and later we agreed that was the only explanation we could think of.

Lunch was "taco salad" (without my three favorite ingredients: burger crumbles, chips and shredded cheeze) of lettuce, corn, avocado and sprouted beans, topped with a homemade salsa of tomato, cilantro, lime juice, green onions, jalapeno and chipotle seasoning. Very tasty, but I can't wait to have the real thing again!

For dinner we had tofu and salmon in a pineapple/ginger/garlic sauce, wasabi mashed potatoes, and szechuan green beans. We also had a grape/blueberry/strawberry juice. Very great, but unfortunately our bloaty feeling from earlier didn't get any better. I don't blame this recipe though, and would have it again.

That night we went to our friends' house, and they'd just gotten a juicer so they were trying out different juices. I had a pure strawberry juice and a strawberry-apple. I liked the second one better because the strawberry on its own wasn't very sweet.

For momcents and CountingPennies and anyone else interested, I'll start posting recipes on a separate page. Let me know if there are any you're especially interested in; otherwise I'll probably just start at the beginning of the cleanse. I'll just post food recipes, because I think the drink recipes are self-explanatory. But let me know if they're not.

This morning I'd dropped half a pound, NT had lost another two and AS was holding steady. So I've lost 3.5 and they've each lost 6. I'm OK with that, but I'd love to drop below 140 by the end!

I think we're feeling a bit of fatigue from the diet, because of the concentration and willpower and planning it takes. We talked about quitting a week early this morning, but we agreed to soldier on (though AS said she'd need to have a bit of cheese on her fajitas tonight to give her some relief!)

Mostly raw: day 6

July 12th, 2008 at 04:07 pm

Yesterday we wanted a lighter breakfast after having such filling breakfast and lunch. So we all just brought fresh fruit to work with us. I wasn't looking forward to going to work because my job brings in Friday treats, and usually it's some delicious junk food like doughnuts or cinnamon twists. To my surprise, they sent out an e-mail that they were making fruit smoothies! I went over and got a smoothie of fresh pineapple juice, banana, frozen strawberries and mixed berries, and pineapple. It was so satisfying I only wanted one banana for the rest of my breakfast.

Lunch was the rest of the sunflower-seed hummus and guacamole with veggies and crackers. NT said he loosened his hummus up with a bit of warm water and it was even better, so I did that. Yum!

For dinner we threw together a stir-fry of sorts, with a sauce of balsamic vinegar, sugar, soy sauce and toasted sesame oil over thawed frozen tofu, mushrooms and onions sauteed in ginger and garlic, and some steamed carrots and snow peas. We had it over brown basmati rice. Oh yeah, and we oven-toasted half a cup of sesame seeds and tossed them in. I'd never had that many sesame seeds in a dish, but the nutty toasted flavor was great! That one's a keeper once we work out the cooking times (the veggies weren't as crisp as we'd have liked).

AS and I had plateaued when we weighed ourselves this morning, but NT had dropped another pound. Well, he walked home from work and we didn't, so that makes sense. Overall, I've lost 3 lbs, he's lost 4 and AS has lost 6.

Eight days to go!

Mostly raw: day 5

July 11th, 2008 at 05:18 pm

Yesterday we tried making raw porridge. We soaked oat groats for a couple days, rinsed them and put some in the blender with a bit of salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and apple. It came out as sort of a pasty substance, so I added hot tap water, which both thinned it and made it slightly warm. Topped with blueberries and banana slices it was decent-tasting, but incredibly filling after such light breakfasts usually.

Lunch also felt really filling by contrast to our other lunches: raw sunflower-seed hummus, guacamole, and raw veggies and crackers to dip into them. (The crackers we got from our local raw-foods restaurant, $8 for three portions. Yikes!) Everything was absolutely delicious (especially the spicy, crunchy crackers), but especially after the filling oatmeal, we all felt really full and left half or more for the next day. I'd brought a banana to snack on but didn't need it.

Luckily, we had a pretty light cooked dinner planned; oven-roasted tempeh covered in chunky tomato sauce. We also saw some nice asparagus at the farmer's market so we steamed that and had it on the side. I also made grape-strawberry juice in the blender for NT and AS. I still felt rather full so I didn't make any for myself.

After such a filling day I didn't expect any weight loss. But this morning AS had dropped another 2 lbs. and so had I! Now her weight loss is 6 lbs. and mine is 3 lbs. Not sure about NT as he hasn't weighed himself since the first day, but I'm sure he has as well.

It actually seems like a bit too much weight loss for only 5 days, but we don't feel at all like we're starving ourselves. Anyway, I think some of it is loss of water weight; our raw diet is much lower-sodium, so I'm sure we're getting rid of some bloating from our regular diet. Still, I hope some of it ends up being permanent, even when we go back to mostly cooked foods!

Mostly raw: day 4

July 10th, 2008 at 03:07 pm

I'm glad I'm doing this, because it gives me an excuse to write in my blog! Absolutely nothing is happening in my financial world (oh yeah, except news of another possible expense for our UK rental flat), and July has been a very depressing month debt-reduction-wise.

Anyway, breakfast yesterday was an assortment of fresh fruit. I had half an orange, a banana, half a cantaloupe and some pineapple. Lunch was a raw veggie curry: with a sauce of blended avocado, lemon juice, olive oil, jalapeno, garlic, dates and spices; tossed with tomatoes, red bell peppers, avocados, cauliflower and soaked raw sunflower seeds; and served on a bed of sprouts. Good but very spicy! And a little seemed to go a long way; I enjoyed the first half of my portion, but then it wasn't quite as tasty to me. Still, NT mentioned that when we're back on cooked food, he'd have it on rice. I think he's right; the rice would've helped the texture a lot. My afternoon snack was several handfuls of sprouted beans and another banana.

Dinner was great; we made marinated portobello mushrooms (and a marinated salmon fillet for AS), steamed broccoli tossed with lemon olive oil, and a wild rice/basmati pilaf. Our best friends came over for our regular Wednesday TV night and seemed to genuinely enjoy the dinner. We had to show off our Vitamix, so we made a carrot-apple-orange-pineapple juice. They're actually buying a juicer, so we'll be able to enjoy healthy juices at their house too!

Oddly enough, someone at NT's job started a raw foods cleanse this past weekend too. He didn't find out until yesterday. What are the chances? Our friends said Oprah just finished a cleanse. Something must be in the air...

Oh, and my weight is holding steady but AS dropped another pound!

Mostly raw: day 3

July 9th, 2008 at 03:34 pm

Yesterday was the first day we went to having raw food for breakfast and lunch and a cooked meal for dinner.

For breakfast I had a banana, orange, strawberry and pineapple smoothie. Then I ate about 1/4 a cantaloupe. That was a pretty low-cal breakfast, so I snacked on mixed sprouted beans (available by the bag at my local co-op) and a few dried dates.

Lunch was strips of zucchini (meant to slightly resemble pasta) in a marinara sauce that we made with sundried tomatoes, Roma tomatoes, fresh basil, dried herbs and olive oil. We also each had a whole avocado.

Overall, I think we went a little light on calories. I was feeling a bit listless by the end of the day. The weirdest thing, though, is I didn't feel any real hunger pangs.

That night we all savored our delicious cooked meal of marinated baked tofu, wasabi mashed potatoes and steamed peas in pods. For the marinade I stuck to products that had very few ingredients listed on their packaging, and the potatoes I made without margarine and soymilk, just potatoes, wasabi powder and water. New recipes, ones we'll definitely turn to again!

AS and I weighed ourselves again this morning. I was holding steady but she had dropped another pound.

Ironically, all three of us have work lunch meetings during this cleansing period. Not a normal occurrence for any of our jobs, so Murphy decided to schedule them during weeks when we would struggle to find suitable food. AS has her lunch meeting today, so hopefully the 3 lbs. lost will inspire her to stick as close to raw as possible. NT's and my meetings are next week, near the end of the cleanse. By then I'll either want to cheat because I'm desperate, or I'll actually be enjoying the diet and want to stay as strict as possible. We'll have to wait and see!

I read an article in Yahoo! yesterday about a study that showed when people kept a food diary, they lost twice as much weight as those on the same program who didn't. I'm not going to clog up my finance blog with a food diary once my cleanse is over, but I may try to keep a diary another way, maybe in my Google documents. Here's a link to the article: http://news.yahoo.com/s/hsn/20080709/hl_hsn/keepafooddiarylosetwiceasmuchweight

Second day of raw foods

July 8th, 2008 at 02:16 pm

Yesterday was the second--and last--day of eating only raw foods. Tonight and for the rest of the cleanse, we'll be having a healthy, whole-foods dinner every night, staying raw for breakfast and lunch. I'm looking forward to it, but I'm not going crazy for cooked foods like last time! I think the difference is having NT to help me prepare the food; it is a bit labor-intensive since it's all new, unfamiliar recipes and preparation techniques. Though I can't say enough about the Vitamix blender!

Yesterday's breakfast was half a cantaloupe and a big bowl of Rainier cherries (so expensive but delicious). For lunch we had raw chili--the sauce was blended sundried tomatoes, avocadoes, tomatoes, cilantro, garlic and spices with lime juice and olive oil stirred in, and the "meat" was chopped red and green bell peppers, green onion, avocado and tomato. Surprisingly tasty! I also snacked on dried dates.

For dinner we had raw corn salad--corn, red and green bell peppers, parsley, red onion, tomato--with avocado dressing--blended avocados, lime, cilantro, jalapeno. Mixed the dressing into the salad, served on a bed of mixed greens, and topped with slices of avocado. Yummy! A little later I made a frozen blueberry-banana treat in the blender. Consistency of ice cream and very sweet. We were going to have a juice or a smoothie later, but found we weren't that hungry.

We'd weighed ourselves on Sunday morning before this began. This morning we weighed ourselves again, and we'd all lost between 1 and 2 lbs. I didn't expect that! We all felt satisfied, even full, most of the time, and NT mentioned Monday that he couldn't imagine he was going to lose any weight feeling as full as he did. Well, weight loss will probably (and should) slow down from now on, with addition of some cooked foods. But hopefully continue!

The main goal--to appreciate whole foods more and stay away from junk food--is definitely being reached.

First day of raw foods

July 7th, 2008 at 03:22 pm

Yesterday was the first day of our 14-day raw foods cleanse. Our goals are to clear our systems of processed food, step back from our regular eating to maybe get used to lightening up our diet, and hopefully shed a couple pounds.

The first two days we're going completely raw, and then the rest of the time we'll be having cooked, but very healthy, dinners.

Luckily our Vitamix blender arrived, so we started Saturday off right with a pineapple, mango, banana and strawberry smoothie. Then we each had fresh fruit of our choice; I had cherries, NT had grapefruit and AS had an apple. A bit later I made a carrot-orange-apple juice for us all.

Lunch was a salad of greens, avocados, raw corn, red bell peppers and tomatoes, with a dressing made of garlic, olive oil, honey, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, salt and herbs.

For dinner, we treated ourselves to dinner at Ecopolitan, a raw-foods restaurant just blocks from our place. I had the "eco-burger," which was a mushroom-walnut patty on crunchy raw bread. The pickles, ketchup and mustard were amazing; they tasted just like the real thing but better. I also had a kale-apple juice.

So far, so good! I'm also giving up caffeine and alcohol for the duration, so I feel a bit sleepy today and might have a touch of a caffeine-withdrawal headache. But I'm munching on a bowl of Rainier cherries, so life's not too bad. Smile

Student loan payment posted

July 7th, 2008 at 02:16 pm

$63 to principal, meaning $994 down, $456 to go on my July goal.

Hmm. I have one more payment coming in July and the payoff amount is very unpredictable. I know it will pay over $400, but other than that I can't really predict.

I think I'll see where it gets me, and then maybe put another payment toward it or another debt if I'm a little short.

UK credit card payment

July 5th, 2008 at 05:15 pm

US$130 to principal. So that's $931 down, $519 to go on our July goal.

Due to our recent budget changes, we may struggle to meet this goal. It would be the first goal we didn't meet, so I may pull some money from somewhere else to get us there. I'll have to look at my budget and see what I can do.

Anyway, now there's $53,348 to go on our Big-Picture Goal.

My close scrape with financial ruin: part 3

July 3rd, 2008 at 06:20 pm

So in late July 2007, I found out our true collective debt and learned that I would have to transfer money over to the UK just to cover minimum bills.

Once I updated my numbers and looked at them, and wrote a very morose Aug. 1 blog entry, I actually felt better pretty quickly. I was pretty sure we'd hit our lowest point and that things could only get better. The debt numbers were painful, but also somewhat fascinating. I looked at them and felt like I had a superhuman task ahead of me to pay it off, and I was interested to see if I could do it. I guess there was no other way to cope, so I just looked at it as a huge challenge that would be very, very satisfying to overcome, if I could do it.

I had gradually come up with my own budgeting system. I kept three unsent draft e-mails in my Yahoo account that I could access from work or home. One tracked projected income and specific expenses for a couple months in the future so I could make sure I always had enough in the bank for upcoming needs; I deleted items as they hit our checking account. One kept track of our current debt, divided by home, credit and education and totaled at the bottom. And another listed my general income and expense amounts so I could easily paste it at the bottom of my first e-mail when it was time to project further, and modify to real life as I went along.

I continued to set myself monthly goals for reducing my debt, and always set them as aggressively as I could depending on what I could see in my projected budget.

In early August I paid off my first debt since I'd started, the high-interest reserve line on my checking account.

When I learned NT's paycheck amount, I knew I'd be able to put over $1000 more toward debt and still have a little money for luxuries.

In September I calculated our collective net worth and discovered that it was positive by almost $55,000. Even though all we had were retirement accounts and homes, it felt encouraging. I knew the amount would increase as we paid off debt and added a bit to our retirement savings.

In October I paid off our second debt: NT's high-interest overdraft balance. I had started a page on my blog called "The Old Debt Graveyard" so I could record my paid-off debts and see the list grow.

In December, encouraged by our progress so far, I decided to make a big long-term New Year's goal: to pay off all our credit card and personal debt in two years. I also decided to count the loan from my Dad as personal debt, not house debt. So that brought our credit/personal debt up over $70,000. I continued to set monthly goals for my overall debt reduction, but I separately tracked the reduction in my credit/personal debt.

In January 2008, I paid off our third debt. In March, April and May I paid off three more debts. These were all small balances, but it was very satisfying to say I'd paid off 6 debts in less than a year! One of them was our trip to England, and it was paid for before we left for the trip. That was a first in my life, at least for a major trip.

We did suffer financial setbacks and unexpected expenses nearly every month, but we also got some nice windfalls. Overall we managed to maintain momentum through May 2008.

Now I'm hitting some doldrums that may delay my plan to be credit-card-free by 12/31/09. Our monthly income is taking a temporary hit; we have some management expenses coming up in England; some student loans will start coming due in August or Septempber; our ARM is going to adjust in November. There are definitely negative ways to look at my progress: We might be slowing down; we've only paid 7% of our debt off so far.

On the other hand, we've paid nearly a quarter of our credit card debt since January, and we've paid over $30,000 of overall debt in less than a year!

My specific number goals help me stay motivated, but they can also cause me to get discouraged when I don't meet them. I just try to remind myself that I am still making progress and that the numbers are just arbitrary. No matter how much or how little I accomplish, as long as I keep paying it off, putting a little toward retirement and not using my credit cards, I'm going to be better off than I would have been if I'd just continued to live as I had for years.

So, that's my story thus far. A work in progress, and hopefully, someday, a stunning success story. Long way to go, though. I hope this encourages some new members of the SA blogs; even though I'm not there yet, and it's taken a lot of focus and willpower to even get this far, it's been so worth the effort to me. I feel that I'm much better off than many Americans just by having changed my philosophy to taking control of my finances, paying off debt, saving up money for retirement and living within my means, no matter what.

Reconfigured budget

July 2nd, 2008 at 10:20 pm

OK, it wasn't too hard figuring out where to trim the fat in my budget. First, we have $300 per month that is "exercise incentive money"; basically we can "earn" extra spending money by exercising, and if we don't exercise enough, the leftover money goes into extra debt repay or fun-money savings. Cut that line item for the forseeable future; we'll just have to exercise of our own free will, and do with a bit less spending money.

Then, I cut two of my regular US credit card payments back to the minimum payment. That way, I only had to cut $150 out of the extra money I send to the UK each month. I really want to get that account breaking even without my help, so I can stop paying $50+ per month for the privelege.

Looking over my budget made me feel good. I mean, we may not think this all the time, but we have plenty of luxuries we pay for. High-speed Internet. Cable TV. Netflix. A generous grocery/household category. Monthly haircuts. Decent spending money. There are lots of places we could cut in a true financial crisis. We're really lucky we didn't have to touch any of these this time.

Anyway, if this is the LAST of my nasty surprises for awhile, my August UK transfer should still be pretty big and exciting, and may even push us to the point of breaking even in that account.

PS: I'll update my "Bills and Budget" page if anyone's interested.

Oh yeah, and if you've gotten this far, thanks for reading my rambles. Smile It really is so good to work these things out in writing.

Step toward July goal + rolling with the (sucker) punches

July 2nd, 2008 at 08:18 pm

Credit card payment hit today: $301 toward principal. So that's $801 down, $649 to go on my July goal, and $53,478 to go on my Big-Picture Goal.

Got a bit of a shock when I checked my checking account today: AS's direct deposit came in $256.98 lower than usual. She checked into it, and it seems she's reached the point where her free tuition surpassed a certain dollar value, so the remainder must be taxed as income. The next five paychecks will be hit the same way, so that's a $1541.88 shortfall over the next three months.

Sigh. The sucker punches just keep coming, it seems. I'll have to rework my budget, but I know where this is going to hit hardest--our debt repayment. I just checked our tickets to Virginia, and the fare is nonrefundable. Guess canceling our trip isn't the way to make this up.

Ironically, AS's raise was also reflected in this paycheck. It probably kept this shortfall back by $30. Hard to see it as a plus at this point, though.

As soon as this shortfall ends, two student loans will start coming due, probably not at that rate but close. So really we're just starting the process a few months early.

Hmm...

Well, it's a good thing I'm relating my whole past history, because comparatively speaking this isn't that bad a blow. It just feels like one. Smile


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