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Archive for November, 2010

One more payment; November wrap-up; December 2010 goals

November 29th, 2010 at 09:33 pm

I checked AS's loan account not really thinking the payment could have processed since this afternoon...but it had! $59 went to principal, making it $1182 of debt repayment in November.

I also completed the last of my annual goals this month.

As for my nonfinancial goals, I feel really good about my healthy living even though I haven't lost much weight yet. At least I'm getting lots of good (if short) workouts in and making sure our dinners are lighter than they've tended to be in recent months. I've passed up the opportunity to eat candy so often that I've lost count; it's starting to come naturally again NOT to snack.

Decluttering I did OK on, and NaNoWriMo was a good creative exercise even though I didn't get much past 5,000 words.

December is going to be an exciting month moneywise. I'm putting my debt repayment goal at $3,000; it will probably be more than that, but again the holidays near the end of the month make me unsure of those last two student loan payments hitting on time. So my goal debt balance will be $351,839.

I'm not going to set any creative or other goals, because preparing for Xmas takes enough effort as is! Time to start shopping, like, now. I have a couple ideas for people but haven't really organized my thoughts or the money we have set aside into anything coherent.

December will also be a busy month for estate planning (our next meeting with the lawyer is Friday the 10th, and I'll be starting an account of some kind for AA) and retirement planning (going to start the Roth IRAs as soon as I receive my dad's gift). Financially we should hit an exciting milestone in our net worth that I didn't expect to hit this year ($200K combined net worth). It's also the first month we'll try professional housecleaners (first time in my life, because my parents never did it either); I'm excited about that and really hoping this takes the level of cleanliness up noticeably (especially the floor, now that AA is crawling more and more).

So yeah, don't think I need any extra goals to stay stimulated in the coming month! Smile

November goals progress

November 29th, 2010 at 12:16 pm

So one of AS's student loan payments did go through before the end of the month. I wonder if that means her other one will make it by tomorrow?

Anyway, $119 went to principal. That makes $1123 in debt payment for November so far. I'll wait till tomorrow to sum up the month's activity, just in case that last payment does sneak in.

I didn't do much for decluttering this past week. But I did pretty well in the healthy department (considering it was Thanksgiving and all). I ate a ton, of course, but I also worked out Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. At my weigh-in Sunday night, I'd gained .7 lbs. I consider that to be an overall success! After all, Thanksgiving is probably my heaviest eating week of the year, so to gain less than a pound seems miraculous.

My dad emailed that he's going to do the wire transfer on Friday at the latest. He also confirmed he's not doing this because of health concerns. That thought didn't occur to me at first, since he told me it was because he wasn't earning any interest, though when people were calling it an "inheritance" in blog comments I thought about it a bit. So I'm glad he reiterated that he just thought he might as well give us all a gift since it wasn't really doing anything for him.

Windfall decision

November 28th, 2010 at 10:01 am

Thank you for your input on my last entry. You altered my decision somewhat! I was all set to pay off the student loan using most of the $13,000, but now I think I'm going to divide it up differently.

First, I'll start a Vanguard Roth IRA for each of us. The minimum is $3,000, so that's $9,000 down.

Then, I'll set aside $1,000 for AA. I'm still not sure if a 529 would be the best choice if she were to become a British citizen and resident and possibly go to a British university. So I'm just going to start a CD or savings account for her.

That leaves $3,000 (actually $2,900 after transfer fees). NT suggested I use some of the money to get professional financial help, so I'm going to keep a certain amount separate (Maybe $750?) and use it to hire an accountant to help with my taxes. (If I can't find help for that amount, I'm just going to muddle through on my own again this year.)

The remaining $2,150 I'll put toward AS's student loan.

I still don't have the actual money, so there is time to change my decision, but right now that seems like the best bet.

Homebody mentioned keeping it separate for me and AA, and I do understand the logic, but I don't think I can operate that way. We all put in all our money -- wages, bonuses, side income -- and NT and AS let me decide where it will do the greatest good. Sometimes a greater amount goes toward one our net worths via debt repayment on the worst debt; it may be AS's freelance money paying off my credit card debt, for example, or using NT's extra student loan money to pay down AS's student loan debt. If I suddenly said "Except this money; this is mine!" it would alter the balance in our relationship. If the relationship does end someday, we've all put equal amounts of work into it so far, so I think we should all come away with something.


This budget allocation will make the biggest impact on AS's net worth, which is exciting because she still has negative individual net worth. She'll go from being about $20K in the hole to minus $15K. I'm hoping by the end of next year she'll have positive net worth. If home values quit stagnating in our building it could be even sooner!

Unexpected windfall; kind of flummoxed

November 25th, 2010 at 09:54 pm

I spoke to my family earlier today, the usual Thanksgiving phone call. Except when my dad got on the phone, he said he's giving me $13,000.

I was so stunned that I couldn't really ask him much about it or thank him. His only explanation was that his savings account wasn't earning any real interest, so he'd researched what the maximum amount was that he could give as a gift to his kids tax-free, and now he's going to give us each that amount. Then he said he'd get my bank details later and wire me the money. And then he passed the phone to my mom, who was more interested in gushing over the videos of AA that my nieces were showing from my Facebook profile.

So, huh. I've been chewing over it for a couple hours (in between stuffing my face and socializing) and I've come up with a few thoughts, but no decision, about what to do with the money when I get it.

The first is, my parents live very frugally. As in worn-down house, thrift-store furniture, cheap old clothes, etc. But they always take care of family. So whatever I do with the money, I want it to reflect their values of thrift and family.

So then, I came up with three things I could do with the money: Pay off the rest of AS's highest-interest student loan, and then make sure I use the freed-up monthly money to invest or pay down even more debt. Or, throw the money into the Roth IRAs I was planning to start in January. Or, set money aside to make sure I have enough for the estate-planning/third-parent adoption legal fees.

There's $9,072 left on AS's student loan. In the 2011 budget, I have $700 allocated to education, whether paying down extra debt or taking on NT's loans if he goes to less than half-time class load and his loans come due. AS's monthly loan payment is $147.47 per month. The interest rate is 6.5%.

I'm just throwing out the figures. I don't know what it all means. I know we don't have enough saved for retirement, and I know we have too much debt. I don't know if one problem is more serious than the other.

As for the third idea, lawyer money, well AS has already earned about half of what we'll probably need, and the freelance jobs she's been getting are still coming fast and furious. Plus, NT is getting a holiday bonus that we can probably put toward the lawyer stuff as well. So I'm really leaning toward debt payoff or IRA.

Two more reasons to be thankful today, besides this big windfall: I'm so glad we've already splurged on ourselves several times this year, because I feel almost no temptation to spend this money. And I'm SOOOOO thankful this money didn't come to me before my financial come-to-Jesus, because I would've piddled it away and probably managed to not improve my financial situation one iota. This is an optimal time in my life for me to put it toward our future well-being; I really don't think it could have come at a better time, and for that I am truly thankful.

Day off, goal progress, clueless about investing

November 22nd, 2010 at 12:45 pm

Today I'm taking a makeup day off for an earlier day that I had to work, which the rest of my office got to take off. I kept AA with me; I actually did ponder taking her to daycare because she loves it so much, but with the cold weather, any excuse to stay indoors! Anyway, she finally figured out how to crawl(!!) last Friday, so I think she's having plenty of fun just working on that by herself, as long as I talk to her and make her laugh occasionally. I like having my sunny little girl around and hearing her cooing and muttering to herself as she busies herself with her many projects.

I did my fifth weekly workout last night and weighed in. I only lost 0.2 lbs., but considering that I felt I had bigger meals on several nights than necessary, I'm not upset by that result at all. I'm trying to get in shape and get used to a healthy lifestyle overall, so it's not about losing a bunch of weight all at once. The weigh-ins are mainly to keep me mindful of what I'm trying to do.

I've caught up on a lot of financial stuff; the problem with getting so involved in my finances and making all these spreadsheets is that when I get really busy, everything falls behind and is a pain to sort out. But I'm nearly current on everything now. Soon I have to get some housework done; there's a big pile of pots and pans with my name on it!

One thing I've been wondering about is the best way to start Roth IRAs for all of us. I want to start with $100 per month per person, and some places with good reputations (like Vanguard) seem to have minimums (theirs is $3000), while others (Fidelity) seem to refer vaguely to transaction fees. E*trade, where AS has her traditional IRA, looks like it has no minimum balance and no fees on many of their accounts, so I'm thinking about going with them. Does anyone have an opinion? Should I just save up money and go with Vanguard once I have enough for the minimum? That means I'd only be able to open a Roth for one of us in 2011, since I'm only planning to set aside about $3600 next year.

I feel so confident about knowing how to budget and pay down debt. This next step, learning how to invest for the future, is really scary and a huge leap in financial knowledge. Frankly I'm not enthusiastic about it because it just feels like gambling, and I've never been very lucky in games of chance. But I realize that the only hope anyone has for a comfy retirement is to try and get their savings to compound.

November 2010 net worth update

November 22nd, 2010 at 09:14 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 12,663 pounds ($25,326)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $10,812
AS's 401(k): $4,540
AS's IRA: $1,682
CJ's 401(k): $36,526
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $8,686
---
Total Assets: $547,000

Total Debt: $355,017

Current Estimated Net Worth: $191,983

October 2010 estimate: $188,624

Change in net worth: +$3,359

Summary: Weird, our assets came to an even thousand! All of our U.S. retirement funds posted gains and we paid off a moderate amount of debt, so we had a nice gain in net worth this month.

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 November debt goal!

November 19th, 2010 at 08:53 am

I sent an extra payment to one of AS's student loans (the one I'm trying to get rid of fastest), and $135 went to principal. That means I've paid off $1004 in debt this month, just tipping me over my $1000 goal! Now I don't have to worry whether or not the regular scheduled student loan payments hit by the end of the month.

That bring's AS's highest-interest student loan balance down to $9072. We seem to be on track to pay it off by the end of next year, if not before!

Two small healthy-living victories: I worked out again last night; just two more to go this week to reach my 5-a-week goal. And today my job provided my favorite treat, twisty cinnamon pastries called "puppy dog tails." I couldn't completely resist, so I cut off about a 2-inch piece and slowly savored that instead of having one (or two!) whole pastries. I've only snacked one other time this week, so I feel pretty OK about that.

And on the decluttering front, I did brainstorm a bit with NT about ways to make our spice shelf more functional, though I haven't tried to actually put anything in practice yet. Hopefully this weekend!

The weekend will be fun because we're going to plan our Thanksgiving cooking. We're celebrating the actual turkey (well, Tofurkey) day over at our friends' place (splitting cooking duties with them), and then we're having an open house for friends to wander over at their leisure on Friday (making some finger foods and fun cocktails for that one). We're trying to stay within our grocery budget better than we have in the past, so we'll have to economize on our regular meals in order to have enough money for the feast and snacks. But I think we can do it!

Read my random brain clearance (or scroll past it all for cute baby pic!)

November 17th, 2010 at 02:26 pm

I actually have a free moment at work! Although I still take pretty frequent breaks at work to check in on my favorite websites, these days typically it's with work hanging over my head so I have to make it quick. But right this moment, I don't have anything I need to do, and the two urgent jobs I was worrying about because they were taking too long to get to me are no longer quite as urgent, so it won't be a big deal if they come in late and I handle them tomorrow. That's a relief!

Though I've only had time to make a couple of quick goal-progress updates this month, there are actually lots of things going through my head that I've been wanting to blog about. At least a few financial, some not. So let's see if I can get to some before more work comes in!

***

Can't remember if I wrote about this, but the meeting with the lawyer went well. He feels that a third-parent adoption would probably be do-able. He'd even talked to an open-minded judge and a guardian ad litem (hard to explain, but key to the process) who said they would consider our case if they determined that we are good parents and have thought this through (repercussions if we ever break up, serious intent to provide child support in that event, etc.).

He gave us an estimated price tag of $4500 to $6500. He was nice and said they would try to cut costs where they could by letting someone with a lower billable rate do all the work that was easily passed off.

Of course, AS is planning to have a child in the next year or two as well, so we'd have to do the process all over again. He said it wouldn't be as expensive, maybe half the cost, because some of the research groundwork for the first case wouldn't need to be replicated for the second. Or, he said, we could wait until we have our second child, and then do one court case for both, saving some money and hassle in the long run. Then we might want to get our estate planning straightened out, though, so there would be something in place in case of something terrible happening to some or all of us before then. Just to make sure that little AA's future is as secure and happy as we could make it under the worst possible circumstances.

We decided on the latter option, so we're going to meet with him again next month to start the ball rolling on estate planning. Then we'll contact him again when we're ready to attempt the third-party adoption process.

It's so weird talking to a lawyer because you always have to be preparing for (and thus openly discussing) the worst-case scenario. For instance, though I'm doing most of the planning, communicating and budgeting for this, the lawyer is officially representing NT. (We all agreed this would make the most sense since he is going to be the biological link to both children.) He can consult with all of us, but if there was a nasty breakup, he would be NT's lawyer. Weird to talk about, but it could only be one of us!

As for funding this process, it's hard to say how we're going to do it. I don't know how much the estate planning will cost; presumably much less than $4500-$6500 since we don't need to go before a judge or pay a guardian ad litem. Still, I'm guessing estate planning + adoptions will cost anywhere from $5500 to $9000. Trying not to freak out about those numbers, because this is very important for our family. (ALSO not trying to think about how we'll probably need to do everything over again when we move to England someday, to make sure we're protected under British law!) Currently we have just over $2000 set aside, so that should be enough for a retainer (a pool of money the attorney's firm holds onto and draws from to pay their expenses). AS is continuing to do extremely lucrative freelance editing for this one place that seems to have a bottomless supply of work, so we're sort of hoping we can fund this entire thing without making painful budget cuts or dipping into savings. But we'll do whatever we need to do!

***

One thing I hope we don't have to cut is our commitment to making charitable donations next year. I've put in a budget line item of $150 per month, which I'm hoping I can stick to. We actually donated $100 to AS's employer yesterday; it was Give to the Max day in Minnesota, and there was a chance they would get matching funds for whatever they received that day. I don't think they won any matching money, but it still felt good to give to them, since it's one of our favorite publishers as well as the workplace that makes AS happy. Smile

***

Another expenditure I'm going to fund through AS freelance money is a photo session with our friend NJ, who is now completely self-employed as a photographer. It's an easy choice; I'll have to post an amazing shot of AA that he did recently! (Although kashi [who used to blog here] is also an amazing local photographer, so if I could afford two sessions, I would definitely hire her to do one.) See below for pic; cropped to protect my anonymity (such as it is), but still such a great picture!

***

So I'm still waiting to hear about the results of my annual review at work. I told my boss (fairly straightforwardly) that I really needed a raise to make up for all the extra work and responsibility that's been dumped on my desk since my boss left in July. I did my self-appraisal and (for once) praised my own accomplishments to the skies. Now it's up to him to try and get something for me. I've made up my mind that I will stay if they give me a raise of at least 2% (it would be my first raise in over three years; in fact my net salary has decreased each year because of rising healthcare costs). If they don't give me anything, or give me only a one-time bonus, or a raise less than 2%, I'm going to start applying for other jobs. It might take me a while to find something, since I know that well-paying full-time editing jobs are few and far between, and I wouldn't leave here until I had something lined up. I might even give them one more chance to pony up if I got a job offer that I wasn't super-excited about but could use as insurance/leverage. But this is all talk until I hear for sure from my boss. And there's no definite time frame for that. I have already started researching salaries and keeping an eye out for job postings, just in case I have to start looking soon.

***

With that uncertainty, I'm finding it hard to focus on what my 2011 goals will be, besides the commitment I already made to pay off one of AS's student loans by the end of next year. Also, my 2011 budget is a whole new creature, allocating our budget surplus into specific categories with specific amounts, which this year I just sort of applied as needed without too much strict planning. I'm a little nervous that I didn't make good decisions on that. (I don't know why that makes me nervous, since I can always rearrange them!)

If my budget DOES work well, then most of our financial decisions will already be made for us; automatic IRA contributions, a set amount of travel funds set aside, etc. So I'm not sure how effective annual goals would be. I'll still continue to make monthly debt-repayment benchmarks, just because it's fun to keep track of my debt as it slowly dwindles. And I'm sort of toying with having other, not strictly financial monthly goals as I have sporadically in the past. But overall annual goals? I just haven't decided if I have any goals for next year that are that concrete. We'll see.

***

OK, time to get going; I have to leave soon to pick up AA. Speaking of her, here's the photo I promised!

Lots of progress; reached all my annual goals!

November 16th, 2010 at 01:51 pm

I keep meaning to write about incremental progress on my November goals (financial and otherwise), but I keep feeling like I don't have time. So here goes with all the progress I've made over the past week or so:

One of AS's student loans hit, with $94 going to principal. That makes it $869 down, $131 to go on my November goal. Also, this is a step in my last Big-Picture Goal, bringing this loan down to $9,207. Since I'm afraid her other two student loans will not process in November due to weekend and holiday timing, I'm going to send an additional payment to this student loan to make sure I meet the $1000 November goal.

I was able to put aside the entire amount needed for Xmas, $700, yesterday. That's the last of my stated 2010 goals. I'm glad I was able to complete everything early! It's been a big year for us, lots of money in, lots of money out.

On the healthy living goal, I pretty much stuck to the meal plan with only about two bouts of snacking (and those were fairly healthy foods, and limited amounts). I also worked out 5 times last week (4 short sessions and 1 longer one). When I weighed myself Sunday night, I'd lost 2 lbs.! Here's hoping I can replicate my success this week.

On the decluttering front, I did do a bit in the kitchen last week, reorganizing one of the cupboards and trying to create a bit more empty space on the counter.

NaNoWriMo appears to be dead in the water...it was lowest on my list of priorities and so, if I have time or energy to either work out or write, I've been choosing to exercise. However, I'm proud that I got to 5000+ words so early in the competition, and determined that I'll try to do creative activities more often.

Progress on goals

November 9th, 2010 at 08:33 am

Made a bit of progress on a couple of nonfinancial goals...

Healthy living:
As I suspected, I'd actually gained 1.8 lbs. in two weeks when I weighed myself Sunday night. Saturday I went to a party and ate a ton of snacks, and I'd done similar things on other days, so no big surprise! I recently read an article about a nutritionist who lost a lot of weight basically eating snack cakes (but making sure he stayed in a reduced-calorie range) and improved his cholesterol, etc. He's not sticking to that long-term for other health reasons, obviously, but it did reinforce that the most important thing about weight loss is calories in, calories out. Even though I've made sure to have a healthy variety of fruits, veggies and other whole foods, I've also snacked and not paid attention to portion control. So my goal this week is not to eat until overfull, not to load up my plate like I usually do, and not to snack every time I see food or get a little bit peckish.

I'm also finally starting to work out. I found a 10-minute cardio program on free on-demand TV, so I did that Sunday and Monday. Since it's so short (but intense), I'm going to try and do it as often as possible. I also did crunches and upper-body strength training Monday.

One thing that helped was changing into my exercise clothes as soon as I got home. Even though I had to fix dinner, get AA's food ready and do some other things, once I was free, I could go straight into working out, which felt like less effort than going and getting dressed first.

NaNoWriMo:
I'm at 5,203 words. Of course that is WAY behind for this point in the month, and I didn't get caught up at all over the weekend, but at least I've done something out of the routine. Maybe I'll continue, or maybe I won't. AS may have already lost steam, and it's hard to do it without the friendly competition, plus I'm not super-excited about my concept this year. One thing I have decided is to try and have a creative goal every month, like I did for a while a couple years ago. It's important to try and do something out of the ordinary so my days don't just all blend into each other, I feel. Especially when work is so busy and crappy; time flies, and not in a good way.

Progress on goals

November 4th, 2010 at 06:28 pm

It's been a hard and busy week. Our mortgage payments hit on Monday and I'm just now recording them here! My baby expenses worksheet is so far behind that I don't know if I can catch up on it.

Anyway, relaxing with a whiskey and Diet Coke as I reflect on my goal progress so far:

Mortgage payments:
US: $406
UK1: $258
UK2: $53
UK3: $58
Total: $775 down, $225 to go on the debt repayment goal.

Other November goals went like this:
*Finish up 2010 goals - 1 down, 1 more to go; I paid off the 0% interest Sears card that we put our stove on.
*Healthy stuff: I've stuck to the menu every day except last night (ordered Thai food). Unfortunately I've snacked on some unhealthy food, and haven't worked out at all. So we'll see how the weigh-in goes this Sunday.
*Declutter: I'm including my office as well as my home in this goal, so today I cleared out a ton of emails from my work inbox (about 2,000! Yes, I'm a freak) and other folders, and reorganized some of the ones I need to keep. Still a long way to go, but that was real progress for the first time in months.
*NaNoWriMo: I'm at 3,336 words, which isn't on track to finish at 50,000 by the end of the month, but considering the week I've had, I'm glad to have made any progress at all. Hopefully I can buckle down and catch up this weekend!

Well, I actually feel a little better writing it down like that; I'd felt like I hadn't made any progress at all, but I'm not doing too bad after all.