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Archive for September, 2010

September wrap-up, October debt goal, and a link to an interesting article

September 30th, 2010 at 02:34 pm

I thought this ( http://shine.yahoo.com/event/lifeslittlepleasures/9-signs-youre-happier-than-you-think-2392659/ ) was a thought-provoking article. I definitely agreed that the things that matched up in my life with the recommendations were sources of pleasure, while the things on the list that I'm missing have been voids that I'm conscious of. They're things I want to think about and work on, when my job hopefully gets more sane. And if my job doesn't, well, I either need to figure out a way to work in my other needs, or I need to find a different job.

Anyway, a great month for debt repayment; totally makes up for missing my August goal! I started September with $361,876 and ended it with $358,025 of debt, paying off $3,851. And also hitting the milestone of having paid more than $100,000 of debt off!

My October goal is to pay off at least $1700 of our debt. I'm actually hoping to do more than that; I want to get closer to $2000 and finish off the last of my credit card debt. But looking at the numbers I'm not 100 percent sure that's going to happen. Maybe 75 percent sure. Since I'd hate to miss another goal, I'm going to keep it conservative at $1,700. So my goal debt balance will be $356,325.

More debt progress in September

September 29th, 2010 at 07:05 pm

I'm on a roll this month! Two of AS's student loan payments hit: $115 and $59 to principal, so $174 total. That makes it $3851 of debt paid in September.

That'll be it for debt payments this month. October won't be nearly as impressive, what with me having to take unpaid time off for our England trip. Also, I set up that meeting with the family-planning lawyer, so car rental and lawyer fees will cost us a few hundred. However, NT may get a bonus and some OT pay, and AS might get her freelance check, so I'm still hoping to pay off the last of my credit card debt next month. Ooooh, I hope so!

I realized I was feeling stressed about the family time coming up in England; afraid that the trip would be more exhausting than relaxing, when I really need a vacation. I vented a ton to NT last night and it actually made me feel much calmer! I think bottling in my worries was making them much worse. Now I feel ready to face the trip with an open mind. Maybe his family will take pity and be less weird and stressful than mine and AS's were during our July DC trip. Smile

Not very frugal, but way better than in the old days

September 26th, 2010 at 02:58 pm

This has been an exhausting, expensive week. This work situation (of basically doing my job and my former boss's for no extra money) is really getting to me. Everyone in the house has had some form of cold (the first of many presents from daycare, I assume) and NT, who's typically superhumanly healthy, got hit especially hard.

So after unsuccessfully trying to talk him into ordering food instead of cooking Monday, I took the bull by the horns and stopped off at one of our favorite Indian restaurants on Tuesday after work. Indian food? My treat? NT couldn't say no. He was in heaven.

That wiped out most of my spending money. Then I didn't feel like any of the leftovers in the fridge for a couple days (there were these two options I was never in the mood for--don't know why I was being stubborn!), so I bought lunch two days in a row. Then on Thursday, I bought a six-pack of beer for me and AS, knowing we had lots of crappy work staring us in the face.

So Thursday night, I was all out of personal spending money. AS had freelance work, NT had schoolwork, and I'd had to bring some editing home from my regular job. I proposed something I never do: We ordered delivery and I just "worked it into the budget." (For the time being I took it out of future grocery money, but we're so far into future grocery money that I may have to do something else.)

It felt so weird, but we were all run down with colds and work, and you can never quite take a full-on lazy night with a baby to feed, change and entertain, so we just did it. I have a large money surplus every month, so it's not like we can't afford it, but I just usually put that money either toward debt, savings or some PLANNED fun purchase, such as travel or gifts. Our spending money is the only money we use for piddling away on takeout food, and it's pretty much been that way for more than three years now.

We got more spending money on Friday, and we pitched in to get some wine and beer (and some fancy nonalcoholic beverages for our nondrinker friend) for dinner at our friends' place.

This freelance project AS just finished up will pay $700, and I've already decided half will go to debt and half we can use for clothes. So I "advanced" us the $350 to go clothes shopping. Saturday we went to the mall and hit up our usual places, Old Navy and H&M. H&M is on a really annoying all-skinny-pants, super-duper-eighties thing right now, so I found nothing, but Old Navy had some cheap, nice tops. We hit DSW and Payless for some new work shoes. NT got a gorgeous gray hoodie at Puma.

And finally we went to Sears out of desperation, because I couldn't find non-tapered pants anywhere (and with my proportions, believe me, they're not a good idea). Turns out Sears has a fairly nice, fairly cheap selection of clothes. Who knew? I think of them as the place to get appliances. So I finally found some trousers that aren't skin-tight all the way down, and AS found a nice embellished tank top. We resolved to go straight to Sears first the next time we have clothes money, because at that point we were too tired and nearly out of money so we didn't really look around much.

I did pretty well--I actually didn't try that hard to find on-sale stuff, but some of it found me. At Old Navy I got a long belted cardigan for $20 and two long-sleeve tees for $6.50 each. My Payless shoes I thought were going to be $30 a pair, but when they rang me up, one was $30 and one was $25. And my two pairs of trousers I thought would be $30 each, but one was only $10! I meant to spend $105 and spent $128 instead, but I've got some spending cash that I'll pay in on Monday, so it's all good.

Not sure how the other two fared, but I think they both stayed under their spending limits (they know they have to pay in some of their spending cash if they didn't). I know NT got a pair of Old Navy trousers for less than $5.

We also got a snack at the food court after all that shopping.

So, phew. Not frugal by many people's calculations. The reason I say it's way better than in the old days, though, is that it's all paid for. Even the unplanned food delivery on Thursday, though it was not budgeted for, I have money in the bank to pay for. And that is my main goal in life. Only buy stuff if I can afford it. This definitely felt like all stuff we could afford. If we couldn't, we'd have found cheaper solutions for all of the above. I have faith in our fiscal discipline and really believe that.

Quick (but heartfelt) celebration (oh and progress on the September goal)

September 22nd, 2010 at 02:13 pm

OK, today is going to be an intense day at work, so I may not get a chance to write again. I want to get this in before I'm completely swamped.

I sent another big payment ($745) to my credit card, and now it's down to $965! That's right, our total household credit card debt is down to three figures!

Eeeeeee!

Also, that makes $3677 of debt paid in September.

I feel so great!

September 2010 net worth update

September 20th, 2010 at 03:07 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 12,663 pounds ($25,326)
#2: 14,721 pounds ($29,442)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $9,929
AS's 403(b): $3,300
AS's IRA: $1,682
AS's 401(k): $842
CJ's 401(k): $33,529
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $8,584
---
Total Assets: $540,052

Total Debt: $358,944

Current Estimated Net Worth: $181,108

August 2010 estimate: $175,615

Change in net worth: +$5,493

Summary: All of our U.S. retirement funds posted gains. Add in the largish amount of debt I was able to pay down since the last net worth update, and we've got a pretty impressive increase on our hands! I don't think we'll crack $200K this year, but barring any more major losses in real estate value or our retirement investments, we should get there in early 2011.

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

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are fairly conservative. 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 (unless I happen to get some info by chance). 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 $1.60 per British pound.

Reached September debt-repayment goal! and other promising news

September 16th, 2010 at 05:46 pm

On payday (the 15th) I was able to put $1600 extra toward the credit card. That sucker is down to a $1710 balance! I don't think I'll manage to pay it off before our trip in October -- what a celebratory trip that would be! -- but I'm pretty sure I can get it done by the end of October.

Also, one of AS's student loan payments went through, with $91 going to principal.

So we've already paid $2932 of debt this month, surpassing my $2500 goal! Woo hoo!

Since AS is starting to think more seriously about trying to get pregnant next year, I finally got around to calling a family planning lawyer, and I emailed a couple financial advisers with a list of our myriad financial conundrums around taxes and retirement planning, asking which they could help us with.

One financial adviser got back to me; the other probably thought it was a joke or something. Smile The guy I talked to I didn't like at all; first off he said the retirement and college-fund stuff didn't really matter since it was 18+ years in the future (so I guess I just shouldn't plan at all??), and second he was vague about pricing, but told me it would cost $1500-$2000 just to get started looking at the U.S. portion of mine and NT's taxes, not even dealing with AS's taxes or NT's UK taxes, and not even being the final number for looking at our taxes. Uhh...even if I'm making tiny mistakes on the tax preparation, I doubt any penalties could amount to what this guy would end up charging me! I think I'll muddle through another year, unless I can find someone who actually seems to care about the future and will give me a firm, reasonable price to consult on my taxes.

However, the lawyer was great. He's $185 an hour to consult, which seems like a good price to start getting our heads around what our legal challenges are. Even if we can't afford the next step once we get more details on pricing, at least we'll have a better idea of what we need to do to get our parenting rights sorted out. His firm works with all sorts of nontraditional families such as gay couples and surrogate situations, and he was confident he could get parental rights pretty firmly in place for all three of us. I'm hoping that has good ramifications for me and NT being able to take parental leave for AS's baby.

So, I'll probably set that meeting up pretty soon! The offices are a ways out, and I'll need to rent a car if I can't borrow one from a friend, so it might cost a little more. But my doctor recommended him, and a personal recommendation means so much to me when I'm about to entrust my family's future to someone, so it will be worth the extra cost.

Prepaid plan 2010 costs update

September 16th, 2010 at 12:50 am

Spent some money on prepaid stuff: I bought another 1000 minutes, and AS's phone is nearly dead, so I bought her a new one Our spending so far:

CJ 1000 minutes late-March T-Mobile fillup: $107.78
NT 300 minutes late-March Net10 fillup: $32.82
NT 300 minutes late-May Net10 fillup: $32.82
NT 500 minutes + new phone late June: $21.56
AS 1000 minutes late-August fillup: $107.78
CJ 1000 minutes late-September fillup: $107.78
AS new phone + $25 phone card (200 min?): $32.32

Total cost for the year: $442.86

We're nearing the end of the sixth month of our cellphone "fiscal year," so our average monthly cost for this year is $73.81. Still better than the average $85 we would spend on a family plan!

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009. We have 2 phones on T-Mobile prepaid and 1 on Net10 prepaid. AS and I refill in 1000-minute increments and only need to refill when we run out or when it's been a year since our last fillup to stay active. NT needs to buy 300 more minutes every 60 days to keep his phone activated.

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 for this year is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 will be a savings.

Homemade baby food (but first a rant)

September 13th, 2010 at 04:02 am

First off, thanks so much for celebrating my $100K milestone with me!

We had a nice weekend all to ourselves, which was perfect after my awful week at work. We were talking today about when AS hopefully has a baby; how we're going to try and take some parental leave with her. NT is fairly sure his job will let him take leave; they're a smaller place and all very supportive of our family, so I think it's possible, though not guaranteed. My job? I think it'd be a harder sell, since I'm not going to be biologically involved or anything. But I'm thinking I could take sick leave for the first week or two. Wondering how I could approach my HR or supervisor about it. Most people know, sort of, about my relationship, but we're part of a much bigger company that's owned by an even bigger holding company, and lately they've been into trying to squeeze us for every drop of work they can get out of us...anyway, I still think I should be able to take sick leave, which I never use, as family health time or something. And as I told NT and AS, if they won't work with me, they might have a date with Mr. Letter of Resignation. They're really not offering me much these days, so it wouldn't take much to push me over the line...

Whoops, didn't mean to do that. Just changed the post title a bit to warn you. ;-) All I was going to write about was that we've been making AA's food from scratch. We're doing it mainly because it seems like the optimal healthy choice, but it also seems to be much cheaper. $2 worth of organic veggies can make nearly a week's worth of food, versus the prepared baby food that's like 60 cents for a tiny jar (more if you go organic).

It's pretty easy and kind of fun. I just cook the veggies or fruit in water until soft, puree with some of the cooking liquid in our Vitamix blender, and strain it through a sieve into a Tupperware. I did keep it for up to a week at first, but then I read that you should only keep baby food for up to 3 days. So now, if I think it's going to last more than that, I spoon it into an ice cube tray, pry the cubes out the next day, and store them in plastic baggies, pulling out a few cubes the night before for the next day's food.

We found out the daycare lady's been giving her regular baby food, which is fine except you're supposed to introduce new ingredients 4 days apart, and now I have no idea if that was happening. LOL, oh well. Someone else warned me that these experienced older daycare providers sometimes "go rogue" so I wasn't exactly surprised or upset. It made me feel better, actually, because sometimes I'd only go a couple days before introducing a new food and I'd feel all guilty, but I won't worry anymore. Anyway, we told her we'd bring homemade food for AA most days. It's gonna be a bigger deal when she's old enough for meat, because we want to keep her vegetarian except for fish! But we'll cross that bridge later.

It's been really fun introducing new foods. AA likes most of it; so far she's been iffy on green beans and potato (though it may have been the texture); rejected banana, avocado and butternut squash; and really liked sweet potato, peas and carrots. Oh, and she LOVES pears, apples and plums!

Tonight I made carrot puree (with a small potato blended in) and added some powdered ginger (her first spice!) to take to daycare. Should last her 3 days. She's got veggie medley (pea-carrot-sweet potato-potato) and plums defrosting for dinner.

If you have a good blender already, it's a really cost-conscious choice, and pretty healthy too!

Huge milestone

September 11th, 2010 at 02:53 am

My records aren't perfect from 2007, when we started straightening our financial life out. I'm not sure how much debt we began with at our lowest point. One of the calculations I've made estimates that our biggest total debt number sometime back in 2007 was $460,698.

You may notice that our balance under the September Debt Repayment Goal headline is now $360,635.

I've been waiting for this moment for a long time.

September debt progress

September 11th, 2010 at 02:45 am

Ugh, ugh, ugh. Work hell continues. I made this payment days ago but haven't had the time or energy to blog about it.

I paid some extra toward my credit card debt. $350 straight to principal, making it $1241 down, $1259 to go. Almost halfway there on the September debt goal!

Total credit card debt is down to $3310!

Yard saling & eBaying

September 5th, 2010 at 02:43 am

Yesterday was a furlough for my company; well, I had to work part of it because our biggest client doesn't know we had furloughs. But I worked 4 hours at home and kept AA home from daycare, then dropped by AS's job so her co-workers could see the baby. So it was kind of fun. And I get another half-day (also unpaid) next week since I am required to take 8 hours off unpaid.

AA's been doing great. Our daycare lady says we don't really know what it's like to have an infant, she's so good and easy. She hardly sleeps at all during the day, which is weird, and she sleeps about 10 hours a night, straight through, which is equally strange.

Today we went yardsaling with a friend who was kind enough to drive us all around. AA had a great time! She spent a lot of the time in the car with one person keeping her company, but we brought her out with us a couple of times and she was very excited, grinning at everything and everyone.

I didn't keep track of everyone's spending since we used our own cash. I spent $10 on 4 DVDs, $4 on 6 books, $3 on a framed picture for AA's room, $3 on a beautiful big wooden abacus for her, 50 cents on a magnetic board with numbers and letters for her, $1 for a shirt for me, 25 cents for a stuffed toy, 50 cents for a sundress that's way too big for her (but it was so cute! maybe next summer...), and I think that's all. Oh, and I got a free book and a free cheesy framed picture of a pegasus with a ballerina for my friend who loves kitsch and unicorns. So less than $25. NT got some LPs that he thinks he can sell on eBay for a profit (got them from a collector/dealer, so we don't feel guilty about trying to "flip" them Wink )

NT listed a bunch of his own plus the new records on eBay, so it reminded me to list some vintage dresses I've had hanging in my closet for 20 years. I listed them for really low, so either a bidding war will bring the price up or someone will get a fantastic bargain on some pretty clothes. Either way it's a win. Smile I ended up only listing 2 of the 3, because AS said she could adjust the other one to fit me better. It's pretty cute and I could always use another dress.

Now we're watching one of the DVDs I bought: Beowulf & Grendel with Gerard Butler. So far cheezy and enjoyable. But I'd better go so I don't lose track of the plot!

Shifting some debt over

September 4th, 2010 at 02:21 am

So we once again took out a bit too much in loans for NT's college semester, so they sent us a $1869 refund. I'm putting it toward one of AS's student loans that has a very similar interest rate and is already in repayment, so that'll go a long way toward paying it off faster and getting that payment off our budget before NT's start coming due in a couple years.

Now AS's loan becomes another one of my big-picture goals that will have an asterisk next to it in the record books. Because I'm anal that way. Smile Her loan, which I want to pay off by 12/2011, is suddenly going from $11,358 to $9,489! But NT's loans are going up by the same amount, so it doesn't change our overall debt picture. I think it's a smart (or at least not stupid) move though.

August wrap-up, September 2010 debt goal, and some progress

September 2nd, 2010 at 03:40 am

Today I did a bunch of bill-paying and housecleaning. One of the letters I opened was from my mortgage company, I presumed to tell me my ARM was going up. I was pleasantly surprised to see it's dropping for the second year in a row. New rate beginning 11/1: 3.5%! Our payment will be going down by $34.33 and we'll be paying a bit more in principal each month.

Anyway, now a bit of bad news: I missed my August debt-repayment goal. First one yet! I wanted to pay off $2000 but only paid $1872, so I was $128 short.

That's OK, I'm just setting my September goal even higher. This month I want to pay off at least $2500 of debt.

And, I've already made some progress:
AS student loan $59
My CC $80
US mortgage $384
UK mtg #1 $257
UK mtg #2 $54
UK mtg #3 $57

All told, that's $891 down, $1609 to go on my September goal.