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Archive for July, 2009

Exciting milestone reached!

July 30th, 2009 at 07:29 am

First, my biweekly savings deposit hit, just $60 this time. But that's $870 saved for the month, and once I redeposit the money I took out of my EF for tuition, my EF will be $4410!

Then, my credit card payment went through, with $199 going to principal. That brings my July debt payment to $2245. But that's not the exciting part either...

Our non-mortgage debt is now at $99,956! We have $26,644 in CC/personal debt and $73,312 in student loan debt. That's right, we just got it under $100,000, into the five-digit zone!

Reached July debt goal!

July 29th, 2009 at 08:59 am

An AS student loan hit. $57 went to principal, which means we've paid $2046 toward debt in July, passing our $2000 goal. And I have a credit card payment set up to hit tomorrow.

I should hit a very exciting debt milestone with my credit card payment tomorrow, but I will hold off writing about it until it actually happens. Wink

More progress on the debt goal

July 28th, 2009 at 08:36 am

One of AS's student loan payments hit, with $114 going to principal. $1989 down, $11 to go on the July goal! I have two payments that should hit this week, so I'm hoping to easily surpass the goal.

Most of my other goals have fallen by the wayside for obvious reasons, but I'll still do a wrap-up at the end of the month. And I'll probably give myself a super-easy month in August, since I'll still be in my first trimester.

Prepaid plan costs update

July 27th, 2009 at 04:00 pm

RECAP: So I switched to prepaid in late March, meaning it's been 4 months. We have 2 phones on T-Mobile prepaid and 1 on Net10 prepaid.

Initial layout: $241.63 to get us set up with phones and minutes.
NT's late-May Net10 fillup: $32.65 (He hadn't used up his previous 300, but they roll over as long as you re-up in time.)
AS's second 1,000 minutes with T-Mobile: $107.40. (We hope to get this batch to last longer than three months; AS has gotten much better this past month at controlling her conversations with her mom, and at insisting that she call her mom via Skype vs. her mom calling her.)
NT's late-July Net10 fillup: $32.82

So our total cost so far is $414.50.

So far, if I divide our total cost by 4, our new plan has cost us $103.63 per month (our monthly average is down from $127.23 per month).

We have a good chance of gradually getting that average down. I've barely used any of my 1,000 minutes and I don't need to re-up until March of next year unless I run out of minutes before then.

(Our cellphone bill, for three phones on a family plan, used to range from $80-$95, depending on texts, calls to 411, etc. Usually it was close to $85. My goal is to get my average cost below that, preferably to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 will be a savings.)

NT's a lawful permanent U.S. resident!!

July 25th, 2009 at 03:46 pm

We just got notification in the mail--he should receive his 10-year green card within two months.

I'm soo happy and relieved!!!

Reconciled the budget to save the EF, etc.

July 20th, 2009 at 10:21 am

We agreed on what to cut from our budget so that we can put the money withdrawn for tuition back in the baby/emergency fund:
$100 each for August and October car rental=$200
$100 of misc. entertainment money from November
$100 of grocery money from August, September and October, and $50 from November=$350
$20 per person spending money for August, September & October=$180

That comes to $830. The remaining tuition (after we used $900 of our vacation money) was $894.77, so that leaves about $65 that we need to come up with. Since our paychecks with furlough reductions were a bit more than I predicted last week, I think we'll make that up gradually when subsequent furlough-affected paychecks come in slightly higher than the budget accounts for.

Good to have that out of the way! Our meals will have to be a bit more carefully planned, but otherwise there won't be much pain over the next few months.

I don't actually have all the money in checking available to transfer back into savings, but I'm not recording the reduction in our EF on my spreadsheets (just a mental trick to make me feel good). I've got a line item in my Number Crunch worksheet to return the $894.77 to our savings account as soon as we've accumulated it.

Ugh...today is the first day I feel noticeably nauseous. Hope this isn't the beginning of a period of morning sickness; I was beginning to think I'd escape that disagreeable side effect altogether. Fingers crossed for that. So far my main symptom has been overall drowsiness and low energy, which hasn't been great for my monthly goals or my cooking/housekeeping efforts but isn't very unpleasant in itself.

Today I confirmed that USCIS received NT's evidence packet on July 13. I hope they send us something soon so that weight will be lifted off us.

Ooh, one more tidbit: I did another rental-car search and found an identical reservation at the same place for $40 less than when I booked ours a couple months ago. I promptly made a new reservation at the lower price and canceled our old one. I noticed insurance rates went up a tiny bit, but we still save overall. Anyway the insurance rate isn't something we can lock in, so it wouldn't have stayed lower if we'd kept our reservation. Woo hoo! $40 more for summer fun in Wisconsin.

July 2009 net worth update

July 19th, 2009 at 02:17 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $4,655
AS's 403(b): $2,888
AS's CD: $500
AS retirement savings: $365
CJ's 401(k): $24,740
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $4,350
---
Total Assets: $493,448

Total Debt: $393,704

Current Estimated Net Worth: $99,744

June 2009 estimate: $94,823

Change in net worth: +$4,921

Summary: We're within spitting distance of the $100K net worth mark, thanks to some debt payoff and upticks in our EF and all our retirement accounts. The economy is so much in flux that I'm not sure we'll get there next month, but as long as the markets don't plunge we should make it.

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.

365 days of dinner: July 4-9, 2009

July 18th, 2009 at 09:35 am

Thanks again to everyone who offered their support and congratulations on my last two entries. Time has really flown and I realized I haven't done a dinner photos post in a while!

So going way back to Independence Day, we had a party that night, but first NT cooked Spicy Crispy Vegan for lunch and fresh pesto on fresh pasta with balsamic seared tomatoes:




Sunday I took care of meals, and cooked spaghetti with tofu balls (OK, but I'm still looking for a really great meatball substitute) for lunch, and vegan fish 'n' chips with mushy peas (translation: beer-battered tofu with vegan tartar sauce and Ore Ida fries and thickened instant pea soup) for dinner:




Monday night I made vegan spare ribs (out of gluten flour and spices) with an asian marinade we bought somewhere, stirfry peas and mushrooms, and potstickers (someday I want to make them from scratch, but these were from frozen).



Tuesday we all pitched in to make different components. We had salad, BBQ tofu, corn on the cob and a spicy potato-chickpea salad.




Wednesday, July 8, was the night we found out I was pregnant! Luckily the dinner was really simple: pasta with a spicy garlic toss and cherry tomatoes.



Thursday we had spaghetti with creamy tomato and white bean sauce:



OK, I think I'll take a little break there.

Shh! Murphy can hear you... (plus small debt payment)

July 17th, 2009 at 08:18 am

So I never should have celebrated yesterday about how our emergency/baby fund has grown. Call me superstitious, but later that day, I checked NT's student account to see whether the remaining financial aid had transferred over and paid his summer tuition. Not only had it not, they had socked us with a $30 late fee!

After some stressed-out calls to the University, NT and AS determined that his summer classes don't qualify for financial aid (even though he was awarded $3750 more than he needed for spring classes) because he's "not enrolled at least half time." Um, yeah he is; he's actually taking this summer class to get done even faster! But apparently, they mean "at this moment in time are you taking at least half the credits of a regular semester?" Soo, the upshot was that he's most likely not getting any financial aid for this class, which, with the late fee, costs just under $1800. And we had to pay it off fast or risk getting hit with another late fee.

So where to come up with $1800? The obvious answer is our EF, which wouldn't have hurt much if we weren't expecting a baby. NOW it feels like we're taking away a valuable safety net from under our baby's feet if we take it out of the EF.

NT suggested we have an even more laid-back vacation in August-September. We've already spent about $1300 on the two cottages and the rental car, and we had $1600 for food, drink, spa, boating, and all other fun activities. At NT's suggestion we shaved $900 off that. We'll now have $700, which means not enough for massages or boat rental or lake cruises, but we should still be able to eat out once or twice, maybe take the ferry to Washington Island, go bowling, play mini-golf, see a movie, etc. And we can look around for free activities, and take tons of books and games with us. It'll still be a good time, and hopefully even more relaxing since we won't be trying to cram a bunch of activities in.

Of course, that still leaves $900 (well, $894.77, to be exact). For the time being, to get the tuition paid, we took that amount from our EF savings. But we really don't want to do that, so today we'll be looking at places we can cut our budget down even further to make up the $900. Compared to a lot of SA bloggers, we actually have a lot of fat in our budget. So it'll hurt, but hopefully we can come up with the other $900 out of our upcoming budget over the next few months. We can't simply reduce EF contributions as we have for other budget cuts such as the furloughs; that would be defeating the purpose of not affecting our baby fund. So I suspect it'll mostly come out of groceries (so long, fake meats and pricier fruits and veg) and spending money (buh-bye, hopes of saving up for a bike).

The one bright spot in all this is that it isn't an unexpected expense. We just didn't expect to be paying it until 2012. It's for NT's education, and it will save us a bit of (admittedly tax-deductible) interest over the long haul. But this will definitely affect our quality of life more than any of the other recession-related cuts we've had to make, because we've already cut so much from our budget and because we can't simply reduce future savings as part of the cut.

All of this cumulative pressure has made AS (and all of us) feel that she doesn't have as much time to grow her sewing business, so she's stepping up her job-search efforts a bit. Yesterday she applied for a job similar to the one she got laid off from; without crazy co-workers and budget stress it would have been a good job, so hopefully she gets an interview. She'd be a really good fit, and it's actually for a college of art and design, so it ties in a bit with her sewing and dressmaking!

Good grief, this is turning into a long entry! OK, one more thing: Our snowflake hit the personal loan today, with $34 going to principal. $1875 down, $125 to go on our July debt goal.

Progress on two goals (one accomplished)

July 16th, 2009 at 09:34 am

My personal loan payment hit, with nearly all of it going to principal thanks to some snowflaking during the past month. Smile $601 went to principal, to be exact. That makes $1841 down, $159 to go on my July goal. The personal loan is down to $8894! I managed to send another small snowflake payment yesterday because my calculations of mine and NT's furlough-reduced paychecks were slightly off; that payment should hit tomorrow. AS's other two student loan payments at the end of the month should push us slightly over our goal.

Also, the regular biweekly deposit into savings hit, with $50 going to the baby/emergency fund. That is $810 saved in July, so I met and passed the savings goal of $800. Our baby/emergency fund, counting UK savings, is now at $4350.27!

Step toward July goal

July 15th, 2009 at 07:20 am

Whew, back to real life! Thanks again for sharing my excitement in my last post.

One of AS's student loans hit, with $82 going to principal. That's $1240 down, $760 to go on my July goal. We'll be cutting it close but should make this goal.

Last week AS got barely any unemployment benefits because she used up her state funding, and stimulus unemployment wouldn't kick in until the next week, so we got about $300 less than we thought we would. Today, my paycheck and NT's reflected the three furlough days taken so far, so we got about $350 less than normal. Back in the bad old days, this would have been devastating--to my credit card, because I would have just charged even more than usual to make up the even wider gap between my paycheck and what I was spending during a fortnight.

AS's unemployment loss was an unforseen blow, but we were able to absorb it temporarily, and there will be a pay period in September where she'll get three unemployment checks instead of two, so we'll make it up then.

As for the furlough losses, we had already trimmed our budget in preparation for those months ago, when we first learned about them. So even though it felt strange to look at the smaller direct deposits, it actually won't have any new impact on our lives.

I also am losing $6 per month permanently because they've started taxing a benefit that we've always had but hadn't been taxed for before. And at the beginning of this year, my new healthcare and high deductible took a huge bite out of my paycheck. And of course AS's unemployment is about 60% of what she used to bring in, and will run out before the end of the year. I haven't had a raise in years, and probably NT and I will not get one this year or maybe even the next.

It hurts to see our income stagnate, and even get smaller and smaller, but I'm glad to know that we have a system in place to help us deal somewhat dispassionately with these problems, and a small surplus going to discretionary spending, savings and debt repayment that can be dialed back when there's less money coming in.

Completed July goal + BIG (early) news

July 13th, 2009 at 09:18 am

OK, first: I finished and sent out the evidence packet for NT's green card on Friday! It was such a load off my mind that I pretty much lazed around all day Saturday and Sunday without even pretending to tackle any of my other goals. Smile It was great.

And the big news, probably coming too early but I wouldn't be able to blog if I couldn't mention it...

I'M PREGNANT! I got a positive result on an at-home test last Wednesday!! I know you're not supposed to reveal it this early in the game because things could still happen but ... this is a semi-anonymous blog so I think it's OK. (Oh, and if there are any friends reading this, just keep it under wraps for a little longer, though if it slips out it's OK!) I have my first appointment July 30 so I should know more then about how it's going, but even just to know I can conceive so easily is really exciting!

So far we've told our parents and a few close friends. We're going to be inviting a few people out to dinner the 24th for my & AS's anniversary, and I don't imagine we'll be able to keep it to ourselves! Well, our friend advised to only tell people whom you'd be comfortable telling if something went wrong, and everyone we're planning to invite falls under that category.

So probably hold off on congratulations till I confirm it's a healthy pregnancy, but some good luck and positive vibes sent my way would be greatly appreciated!!

Sleep-deprived

July 8th, 2009 at 02:22 pm

Today has turned out to be a slowish day at work. That is, I have some work, but doesn't have to be done today, so I am choosing not to do it, and to drowsily surf the web instead.

Monday I got up kinda early to get caught up on work after Thursday's furlough and Friday's holiday. Tuesday morning, I was awoken by intense abdominal pains--exact cause still undetermined, though I have a few suspects--at 5 a.m. and couldn't get back to sleep, so I lay awake for an hour or so and then got up with NT and went in a bit early to work. Last night I tried to make it an early night and was in bed by 11:20--not bad. However, sometime after midnight I woke to AS's frightened shriek and a loud noise. I said a gust of wind must have slammed into the screen and blinds, but she said she thought she'd heard wings flapping in the room.

I reassured her otherwise, but in a few seconds there was indeed some loud flapping--not in the room, but right outside the screen. AS didn't have her glasses on so she couldn't really see it, but I saw a largish winged creature of some kind sort of flapping and grabbing at the window and tiny ledge, as if trying to find a place to land. The wings were just a dark silhouette because of the city lights outside. NT half-woke and said he thought it was a bat. It flew away after about 10 seconds of moving around outside the window. Its wings sounded so loud! AS put her glasses on and lay there for a second, but then said she had to go watch TV to calm down. I too gave up on sleep and went out to watch TV with her. When I got there she said the critter had been a pigeon--that it had moved to the livingroom window and clung to the screen for a few seconds, flapping its wings. It moved off toward the balcony and she ran to close the glass door in case it wanted to grab onto the screen door there, but we didn't see it again. How freaky is that? I've never heard/seen any kind of bird outside our 18th-floor window at night--once there was a large bug flying against the screen and that was scary enough, but this was seriously unnerving.

We watched TV until about 12:45, when we started to drift off and decided to go back in the bedroom. About a half-hour to an hour later, there was another loud noise, this one definitely in the room. I sat up and looked around (already rather freaked out by the first occurrence), but AS said a small framed print had fallen off the wall and dropped behind the dresser. Took me probably another half hour to get back to sleep.

In the morning I could have gone to work early again to get more caught-up, but I'm not too good when I'm sleep-deprived these days, so I told AS to wake me up at 8:30, and I didn't get to work until about 9:15. Even with the small lie-in, I've still been really tired today, so once I got my must-dos out of the way, I've been unmotivated to do any more. I feel a little guilty, but I know I'll get it done another day, so it's OK. Here's hoping I get uninterrupted sleep tonight!

Pizza crust recipe (for whitestripe)

July 6th, 2009 at 07:01 pm

INGREDIENTS:

1-1/2 cups warm water
1/2 teaspoon honey or sugar
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups white flour
Fresh or dried Italian herbs (optional)
semolina or cornmeal (optional)

DIRECTIONS:

Pour 1/2 cup of water into a mixing bowl and mix in honey and stir to dissolve. Stir in the yeast, and set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes. Add the remaining water, olive oil, and salt, then beat in the whole wheat flour (and herbs if using), followed by enough white flour to form a shaggy dough (just so it's slightly sticky, says AS). Turn it out onto the counter and knead until smooth, adding flour as needed to keep it from sticking. For a crisp, light crust, pizza dough should be on the moist side, which means it will be slightly tacky.

Put the dough into an oiled bowl (AS usually oils the bowl with spray oil, canola or olive oil), turn it once to coat, then cover with a towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size, 40 to 60 minutes. (AS tries to put it somewhere warmish; in the winter, she places it in front of a heater vent; in summer, in a sunny spot.) Turn the dough onto the counter and divide into the number of pizzas you want. Shape each piece into a ball, set on a lightly floured counter, cover with a towel, and let rise for another 20 to 30 minutes.

Taking one ball at a time, flatten it into a disk, pushing it outward with your palm. Working from the middle, push the dough out with your fingers until it's about 1/4 inch thick and fairly even, thickening slightly at the edge. Or roll the dough into a circle, then push up the sides to make a slight rim. Dust the peel or pan with semolina, cornmeal or flour, set the dough on top, cover with a towel, and let it rest for 10 or 15 minutes.

Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Prebake crusts for about 5 minutes until slightly puffy and brown. Remove pan and puncture and flatten any bubbles in the crust. Add sauce, toppings, cheese and put back in the oven. Bake for about 10 minutes until cheese is melty.

This usually makes 6 individual pizzas for us; we've got hearty appetites though. But most people we cook for do finish theirs too. Smile Also, as I said in my note to you, you can just make some of the crusts, and wrap the remaining dough balls in cellophane and put them in the freezer, then thaw them in the fridge the morning of the night that you will want to make pizza.

Oh, and sorry about the American measurements. Hope you don't find it too hard to do conversions. Smile

365 days of dinner: June 21-July 3, 2009

July 4th, 2009 at 12:00 pm

Sunday, June 21, we had grilled veggie brats, sauteed greens from the CSA and grilled corn on the cob.



Monday I made cheese and veggie "chicken" quesadillas, fresh corn and lettuce salad, and guacamole.




Tuesday I made what we call "KFC bowl" because it was inspired by a KFC product we saw in commercials: a bed of mashed potatoes topped with corn, broccoli, veggie Morningstar buffalo wings and gravy.



Wednesday we had our friends over for TV night and made them our homemade pizza:



Thursday, June 25, I made oven-roasted portobello, spinach and roasted red-pepper sandwiches with vegan garlic aioli, and tomato, corn and lettuce salad.




On Friday I made potato gnocchi in a creamy (but vegan) vodka sauce that NT prepared, served on a bed of fresh spinach and topped with fresh basil leaves.



Saturday was the start of two days of Pride celebration in Minneapolis, where my gay, bi and straight-but-supportive friends got together and toasted GLBT culture and rights. Party central was at our friends NJ & CC's condo; they're right on the parade route and blocks from both the park where the booths were set up and the bar where the block party took place. Saturday night they served us burritos:



Sunday night we expected to come home for dinner, but AS and I ended up going to the block party, and grabbed dinner (veggie burgers) at NJ and CC's, while NT fixed something for himself at home during studying. I didn't have the camera because I didn't expect that, so I unfortunately don't have any photos from that night.

Monday, June 29, I made Southern Fried Tofu, oven-roasted new potatoes and lemon-butter broccoli.



Tuesday it got too late to make the planned dinner, so I treated NT and AS to sandwiches from Pizza Luce:



Later, AS made strawberry-rhubarb-peach pie!



Wednesday, July 1, NJ & CC came over for TV night and brought veggie brats (including this spicy chipotle variety, which I had with tomatoes and tofu sour cream), baked beans and wild rice salad, among other treats.



Thursday NT made my favorite risotto, red Thai curry with mock duck, potatoes, peas, peanuts, shiitakes and cilantro.



And last night, July 3, I made Chickpea Cutlets from Veganomicon smothered in amazing chick'ny sauce (a recipe submitted by a user on some vegetarian site), lemon-butter broccoli and mixed kale and beet greens from our CSA with sesame oil and hot sauce.

Progress on July savings goal

July 2nd, 2009 at 10:23 am

My regular biweekly savings deposit hit; just $25 this time, going to the baby/emergency fund. That makes $760 down, $40 to go on my July goal.

Today is a furlough day for me and NT (well, I may have to work a bit later, but if I do I have to take unpaid time Monday instead), so we're relaxing at home. We might go to the rooftop pool later if the sky clears a bit more. Ah, sometimes the economic downturn has its bright sides. Smile

Progress, progress, progress!

July 1st, 2009 at 10:15 am

Have I mentioned I love the first of the month? Oh right, I did, every month for the past two years. Smile

Many payments hit:
US mortgage: $280 to principal
UK #1: $254 to principal
UK #2: $54 to principal
UK #3: 54 to principal
CC: $205 to principal
Personal loan: $308 (all extra snowflake money!)

All told, $1558 paid toward debt, $842 to go on my July goal.

Also, I put $125 into savings for AS's retirement, and transferred US$610 from NT's UK checking into UK savings to be counted toward the baby/emergency fund. $735 saved, $65 to go on the July goal!

Progress on the RFE packet: Got my dad's affidavit attesting to his belief in my marriage. Still waiting for a few more affidavits and a statement from the condo office, and I just have to write a cover letter and a few pages of explanatory statements about the evidence.