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Archive for April, 2009

May goals

May 1st, 2009 at 02:51 am

OK, my goals for May:

1. Debt: Pay off at least $1400 of debt.

2. Savings: Save at least $1700 ($120 for AS's retirement, $1500 for the Wisconsin vacation, and $80 for the baby/emergency fund).

3. Fitness: Try out (and hopefully continue to use) my new personal-trainer Wii game.

4. Environmentalism: Replace leaky shower head and faucet with low-flow system. (Possibly attend condo board meeting for eventual suggesting of composting.)

5. Creative/crafts: Make necklaces with the beads and supplies I bought last month. Do some practice crop art! (I got the idea from a crafts book AS had hanging around. If I get the hang of it, AS wants me to enter the State Fair, because she and our friend want to enter some food or crafts this year.)

6. Philanthropy: Donate money to hospital charity. (OK, this is kind of a cheat, because I already sent the donation off but it hasn't hit my bank account yet. But I haven't felt very creative in this area recently.)

Reached April debt goal! Plus April goal review

April 30th, 2009 at 03:03 pm

Whew! My credit card payment made it in under the wire, with $210 going to principal. Soo, I paid $1859 this month, surpassing my goal of $1665!

Of course, that means next month's goal will be paltry by comparison, since I don't usually pay my CC this early and so I won't likely pay it at all in May.

Whatevs, I'm just so happy I didn't miss a debt goal yet!

I already summed up my goal progress a couple posts ago, so I don't really need to do it again. Briefly:
1. Debt: Success.
2. Savings: Success.
3. Fitness: Partial success.
4. Environmentalism: Unsuccessful.
5. Creative/crafts: Success.
6. Philanthropy: Partial success.

Preparing for an uncertain future

April 29th, 2009 at 04:24 pm

NT has a very good job, at a company that until recently has seemed recession-proof. (I don't think any industry is recession-proof now, except fast food, chocolate and movies.)

Then they had a small round of layoffs early in the year, and they've been warning about possible furloughs (mandatory unpaid leave) if they don't reach certain projections. They should know sometime in May just how severe it will be.

Right now it appears likely that each employee will be required to take two weeks' furlough. It isn't clear how this will be applied, but there may be some flexibility about taking it all at once or in dribs and drabs.

Just to be somewhat prepared, even though we can't plan for anything specific, I calculated how it would affect our income and budget if NT had to take one week or two weeks of furlough in a given month.

Since he gets paid twice a month, I multiplied the net pay by 24 and then divided by 52 to determine his weekly net pay: $620. If he is able to space out the furlough and just take one week per month, the budgetary choices seem easy to me: cut out two of our discretionary spending categories, rental car and misc. entertainment, which are $100 each, and cut our saving in half (we currently put $860 per month into short-term savings).

If he is forced to take two weeks in a month, losing $1240, the cuts get a bit more painful; we'd have to cut the two discretionary categories, plus all our saving, and we'd need to cut $180 of our spending money for that month, or $60 per person. We'd feel it, sure, but it wouldn't be the end of the world; we wouldn't have to cut the medical or grocery/household budgets, or stop retirement contributions, or anything very harmful.

So overall, I don't think our lives will change very much if NT's company decides on furloughs. That's assuming nothing bad happens to my job, of course. But until I get direct signs my job is in danger, I'm not going to worry--although I am prepared! I keep our emergency budget up-to-date and know what measures we'd need to take if all three of us became unemployed, and how long we could last that way under various scenarios.

Far from making me despair, these preparations keep me calm and feeling in control in this volatile world.

Another student loan payment

April 29th, 2009 at 03:37 am

Another of AS's student loan payments hit, with $57 going to principal. $1649 down, just $16 to go to reach my April debt-repay goal!

I noticed the variable interest on this student loan went down from 3.5% to 3.0%. It's such a small principal balance that it only reduced our payment by 51 cents per month, but it's still nice! It's our second-lowest rate after the unreal 1.49% that NT's mortgages are at.

Progress on the debt-repayment goal

April 28th, 2009 at 03:10 pm

One of AS's student loans hit, with $112 going to principal. $1592 down, $73 to go. I set my credit card payment up to hit tomorrow, so hopefully it will have showed up in the CC account by the 30th, or else I will miss my first debt-repay goal!

On the other fronts, I surpassed my goal for eating 12 different kinds of fruits, but I've been kind of sick and draggy all month so I will fall short of my exercise goal. However, I've been doing pretty well with my crafts goals--I even thought of the winning name for AS's sewing business!

Speaking of her business, she's been getting a lot of business considering the only publicity has been a tiny bit of word-of-mouth and four flyers posted in different buildings. This week she made a significant enough profit to report to Unemployment--$168!

365 days of dinner: April 13-26, 2009

April 27th, 2009 at 02:54 am

Lots of dinners to catch up on...

Monday, April 13, I made veggie burgers (actually made them for once rather than using the ready-made ones) Smile:



Tuesday we had our perennial favorite, pizza:



Wednesday, April 15, I made a recipe from a new cookbook called "Vegan Fire and Spice," seitan and broccoli in a spicy orange sauce:



Thursday we had my personal favorite dish, Pasta della California from the Veganomicon cookbook, with Morningstar buffalo wings chopped up and sprinkled on top:



Friday, April 17, we picked up some deli foods at Lund's and took it down to Lake Minnetonka to picnic during the sunset (we had a rental car and wanted to do something different!):



On Saturday we had a friend over, and tried out some new recipes. NT made fried risotto balls (amazing), and I made vegetable ragout from Vegan Fire and Spice. I wish I'd taken a pic of AS's dessert, peach upside-down cake with bourbon sauce...




Sunday (April 19) NT made fresh pasta for lunch, and I made a veggie bolognese sauce to go over it:



That night we went to a restaurant in St. Paul, Sajiya. I took pics of the sake flight AS and NT ordered, the fried potato-edamame appetizer NT had, the gomae spinach I got, and the beautiful bento platter of vegetarian specialties that NT and I both had.






Monday night I made bean-and-rice burritos:



Tuesday the 21st was NT's night to cook, and he made a spicy szechuan "beef" and broccoli (the beef was Morningstar veggie steak strips):



Wednesday our friends NJ & CC cooked for us at their place. We had pasta fagioli and oven-roasted asparagus:



Thursday, April 23, we had "pizza burgers" (with sauteed onions and peppers, pizza sauce, and mozzarella):



Friday we got food from one of our favorite takeout places, a Vietnamese restaurant called Kinhdo (all this restaurant eating has been great fun, but we're all running pretty low in spending money! Smile). Here's my favorite, mock duck & potatoes with broccoli, and AS's standby, basil stirfry:




Yesterday, April 25, I just had to take a photo of the French toast AS made, using her own homemade French baguette:



Last night's dinner was Tofurkey roast with mashed potatoes, gravy and blackened Brussels sprouts--and it was nice enough to eat out on the balcony!



Tonight, we had another recipe from Vegan Fire and Spice: Three-Alarm Lo Mein. Third great recipe from that cookbook so far!

Small amount added to savings; vacation plans

April 23rd, 2009 at 03:10 pm

My regular biweekly savings deposit came through today, with $25 going toward the vacation fund. That means I've saved $700 this month for the vacation. It's going to be a relatively cheap vacation for us; I'm going to accumulate just $3000, and I think it will feel like much more than we need.

With our cottages coming in under $800 and the car (with gas and insurance) probably less than $500, that leaves quite a bit of mad money.

We'll definitely get some spa services (they're available both in Madison and in Door County). We may drive over to Wisconsin Dells, a waterpark heaven, rent boats and/or bikes when in Door County, take the ferry to Washington Island, buy some recreation equipment (we were thinking a bocce ball set). We'll probably eat out a couple times, but for the most part we'll be cooking our own meals. It's going to feel nice after our fun-but-excessive $5000 trip to Vegas!

April 2009 net worth update

April 20th, 2009 at 03:52 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $3,862
AS's 403(b): $2,888
AS's CD: $500
CJ's 401(k): $21,481
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $2,954
---
Total Assets: $487,635

Total Debt: $399,200

Current Estimated Net Worth: $88,435

March 2009 estimate: $84,523

Change in net worth: +$3,912

Summary: Interesting coincidence: Last month our net worth increased by $3,911, this month by $3,912!

My and NT's retirement accounts both showed some small gains, and we added to our EF. Plus we paid off an OK amount of debt. Our net worth is slowly clawing its way back up, after huge losses in retirement-fund values and home value.

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.50 per British pound.

Savings goal surpassed

April 16th, 2009 at 10:10 pm

I was able to put $525 toward our vacation savings, so I exceeded my April goal of $600 by saving $675.

Now some of it is going out almost immediately! We found some cute, affordable cottages in the two areas of Wisconsin we want to visit for our fall vacation, so I decided to book them now so we don't have to worry about the cheap ones being snapped up later on. We put 50% down payments down on a three-night cottage rental on Lake Kegonsa near Madison, and on a cottage in the town of Ephraim in Door County (a peninsula on Lake Michigan).

Progress on debt repayment goal

April 15th, 2009 at 04:20 pm

Payments hit:

AS student loan: $81 to principal
My personal loan: $557 to principal

Altogether, $638 toward the April debt-repayment goal, making it $1480 down, $185 to go. The principal paid on the student loan was less than expected, so I'm looking at missing my goal by about $12. Sigh. If I get my CC bill soon enough, I'll be able to surpass the goal. If not, maybe I'll pay a tiny bit on one of my debts to make sure I hit it; I haven't missed a debt goal yet!

On a happier note, my official CC/personal debt has dipped down below $30K!

Progress on my other goals: I walked home last night, which counts as exercise, and I had some grapes and an orange, so that's two more types of fruit this month. As for my environmental goal, I missed the condo board meeting! I'll have to try to make next month's. Also, my spending money has been slipping through my fingers lately, so I haven't had enough to donate to charities as planned. But I've still got the rest of the month, so hopefully I can at least make some small donations before the end. As for the crafts goal, we plan to pick up potting soil this weekend so we can plant some herbs.

365 days of dinner: April 5-12, 2009

April 14th, 2009 at 01:17 am

Sunday the 5th, NT tried another recipe out of Vegan Dad for lunch: Roasted Garlic White Sauce. He made fresh pasta to put it over and added diced portobello mushroom. It was mild, tasty, but overall not too exciting. We liked it though.



That night he made lemon, mushroom and broad-bean risotto, with garlic bread on the side. I'm not huge into lemony dishes, but this one was just magnificent. The flavor, the texture, everything.



Mondays I usually try to do something casual and homey, since NT doesn't get home from class until late. April 6 I decided on grilled cheese sandwiches with tomato soup. I put different things in, like sauteed onions and mushrooms. NT had Branson pickle in his, one of those inexplicable British foods that I don't get (but AS loves too). Anyway, I think whitestripe put the idea of grilled cheese in my head a few weeks ago. Smile



Tuesday NT cooked again, this time trying out Mandarin Chickpeas from Vegan Dad. None of us knew what to expect, but it was really yummy! Instead of putting it over rice, NT mixed in some quinoa.



Wednesday our friends cooked for us at their home. We had simmered tofu with a chili-sesame sauce, pickled cucumber-apple salad, and two storebought sides, kimchee and spicy bamboo. It was all great but my faves were the tofu and the kimchee.





Thursday, April 9, I cooked yet another dish from the Vegan Dad cookbook. What can I say? A lot of his recipes sound so good, and they're relatively easy to make. this was Seitan and Mushrooms in Vegan Oyster Sauce. The seitan was yet another variation with a really interesting texture. It was another one that didn't blow us away but was very enjoyable at the same time. I feel very comfortable with his cookbook, because even if his recipes aren't all superstar recipes like his hot wings and BBQ sandwich, they're reliably easy to make and nice to eat.



Friday I made a decadent feast of chimichangas (fried burritos with vegan "beef" and cheese/soy cheeze filling) on a bed of lettuce with ranchero salsa and more guacamole than three people should ever have in one setting. Smile The salsa was only OK, not worth the time and effort I put into it (roasting and peeling peppers and tomatoes, for example), but the burrito and guacamole were big winners. NT made strawberry-lime margaritas to go with it!




Saturday, April 11, we went with some friends to a new restaurant called Roat Osha. It was excellent in its way, slightly Americanized Thai food. Really reasonable wine and cocktail prices, too. None of my pics came out very well, but we had spring rolls, lab esan (spicy tofu salad with cucumber and lettuce), veggie stir fry (forget the name), coconut ice cream, fried bananas, and mango and sticky rice (my favorite Thai dessert!)








Sunday night I cooked another recipe out of Vegan Dad called Tofurkey Tetrazzini (which uses diced vegan turkey slices). It was homely (especially compared to our night of Thai food) but really tasty in a comfort-foody kind of way. That topping you see is bread crumbs and ground-up almonds, which added a really nice texture and flavor to the casserole.


Tiny bit of interest earned

April 10th, 2009 at 05:03 pm

I earned $0.28 in interest in my savings account. I guess I will put toward my baby/emergency fund, bringing it to $2954.07. I won't bother putting on my sidebar. Smile

On another note, I totally forgot that my health savings account (HSA) will earn interest on the contributions that I don't withdraw. I've already earned $0.33 in there; not a ton, but heck, when's the last time health care gave me some money instead of bleeding me dry? Makes me think I should hold all my receipts and avoid reimbursing until the end of the year (or if I need the money for something) so I can earn a bit more interest.

I miss merch, koppur, carolina bound :-(

April 9th, 2009 at 09:03 pm

I know, it's natural for people to move on in their interests and not feel like blogging anymore. It doesn't mean that something bad has happened. But I get attached sometimes, and it's sad when someone stops posting suddenly.

Anyone else have particular bloggers they miss and/or sometimes kinda worry about?

Step toward goal; sewing biz; dorky frugal move

April 9th, 2009 at 03:36 pm

$150 went to the savings account today, starting the vacation fund for our September trip (exact details TBD). $150 down, $450 needed for the April savings goal!

NT and I put up flyers about AS's sewing services, and she already got a response from one of NT's co-workers who needs a dress taken in. If this goes well, she indicated she might have other things in her closet that need alterations!

Yesterday I paid a bunch of medical bills. As I was planning to go the the post office to buy stamps and mail them, I realized that two of the businesses were within a block or so of the post office. So NT and I walked in and hand-delivered those bills, saving about 75 cents! LOL. I felt like kind of a dork but neither receptionist batted an eyelid, so I guess it's not unheard-of.

I haven't been posting every time I take a step on some of my other goals, but I've been keeping the sidebar up-to-date. Doing pretty well on the fruit, but everything else is lagging a bit. Oh well, I've got tons of time.

Expensive health day

April 7th, 2009 at 09:11 pm

I've been putting off several medical bills because I'd requested a replacement Visa card for my Health Savings Account and wanted to pay them directly from there, rather than going through the annoying reimbursement process. Card finally arrived, so I'm paying a bunch of bills today:

Allergy specialist: $15.00
Allergy specialist: $126.87
Dentist: $7.00
Emergency room: $256.32
OB/Gyn: $94.12
Urologist: $94.78

Total: $594.09

I checked my HSA (which doesn't fully fund at the first of the year like an FSA; you build it gradually with each paycheck) and I have $750.33 in there, so I can cover all these bills.

I have other health expenses from this year that I paid cash for, so as soon as I build up some more money in the HSA I'll get those reimbursed.

Phew! I'm so glad I put the maximum in the HSA--my small health problems are quite expensive under my work's new high-deductible plan.

365 days of dinner: March 31-April 4, 2009

April 5th, 2009 at 04:50 pm

Tuesday NT was going to cook, but the three of us had such a good time relaxing and chatting and sipping wine on his night free from classes that it got kind of late. We moved the planned meal to next week and ordered pizza from Pizza Luce instead. NT had the Rustler, a vegetarian BBQ pizza, with olives instead of onions:



Wednesday, April 1, we had our friends over for our regular get-together. I made these amazing (though amazingly time-consuming) potato-kale enchiladas from Veganomicon. Thanks for the suggestion, kashi! They were so good that I'll make them again, though I'll try to cut down on the 3+-hour prep time!



On Thursday I made BBQ seitan sandwiches from our new superstar cookbook from Vegan Dad. I had to make a loaf of veggie lunchmeat and BBQ sauce, both from his cookbook, then thinly slice half the "meat" and simmer it in the sauce. Just like an Arby's sandwich, only healthy and beautifully spiced! The salad had blanched fresh corn, cherry tomatoes, snowpeas and sliced avocado. I have to post several photos so you get a sense of the whole operation!







Then Friday, April 3, I made another Vegan Dad home-run: veggie "hot wings." (I can't believe I made two successful wheat-gluten dishes in one week--usually my seitan is rubbery and awful.) NT made vegan "bleu cheeze" dressing and sauteed bok choy, and we had the rest of the potato salad from earlier in the week.




Saturday our friends NJ and CC invited us over for a delightful Asian (mostly Thai, I think) feast and a viewing of "Slumdog Millionaire." Clockwise from the top, that's massaman curry, shredded green mango salad, cucumber-peanut salad, and some sort of tofu-pepper-noodle dish that I didn't catch the name of.

Another round of layoffs

April 3rd, 2009 at 04:01 pm

Just got back from all-staff meeting. About six or seven people got cut, from a staff of about 60. I survived again, somehow, but I'm going to be asking around for work a lot more often when I'm slow. Someone with a new baby got cut, someone who'd been here over a decade, and the woman who started here the same day I did three years ago (we went through orientation together).

I feel guilty and sad, but I'm also relieved. I hope everyone who was cut has a contingency plan and knows how they'd survive on unemployment, as I do.

I'm sure everyone on SA has a plan, but if not, I'd recommend setting up an alternate, bare-bones budget, so you know how much you'd need to get by, and how long you could go without new income, if you lost your current source of income.

Without unemployment pay, we could only get by about a month and a half before things started to go downhill. But with unemployment, we could survive for six months without falling behind on bills. (After that, we'd need to consider selling things off, maybe even our house, and we'd have to stop paying on some of our debts). If even one of us could have a job that had benefits and paid more than unemployment, we could survive much longer.

Overall I think we have a good chance of surviving the meltdown without any permanent damage.

Sorry, just working through things. I'm still kind of shaken up; though each round does get less shocking, it also means there are fewer people for them to choose from should the necessity of more layoffs arise.

Steps toward goal; under $400K!!!!!

April 1st, 2009 at 03:50 pm

Wow, that was fast! My credit card and all four mortgage payments hit:
CC: $215 to principal
US Mtg: $275
UK Mtg #1: $245
UK Mtg #2: $55
UK Mtg #3: $52

That's $842 of debt paid off, which means we're halfway to meeting our April goal. $842 down, $823 to go.

It also means...

Total debt is at $399,838! We're under the $400,000 mark at last!!

No April Fool's joke here--we really did it!

April goals

April 1st, 2009 at 02:46 pm

1. Debt goal: Pay off at least $1665 of debt.

2. Savings goal: Save at least $600 for the vacation fund.

3. Health/fitness: Eat at least 12 different kinds of fruit this month. Work out at least 12 times.

4. Environmentalism: Go to a condo board meeting to see how it works, with the goal of presenting composting proposal in the future.

5. Creative/crafts: Plant herbs. Help AS start her sewing business.

6. Donate to cancer research and animal charity. Look for volunteer opportunities that fit my schedule.