<< Back to all Blogs
Login or Create your own free blog
Layout:
Home > Archive: March, 2011
 

Archive for March, 2011

Final debt payment of March

March 29th, 2011 at 03:03 pm

AS's other student loan payment hit, and $60 went to principal. That's $1125 down, meaning we surpassed our $1039 goal by $86!

$7,987 down, $12,013 to go in my goal to pay off $20,000 this year.

I'll post a wrap-up of the month and new goals for April later in the week.

Still haven't heard from my paid tax preparer! Hmph. Yes, I will probably whine about this in every entry until I do. I've decided to give him until April 1 and then will bug him again.

Still haven't heard from the estate-planning lawyer. I didn't think it would take this long! Kind of annoying, but I hope it's because he's taking his time and doing it right, not just blowing us off. At least we didn't have to give him a retainer for this portion, like we will for the adoption process eventually.

Thanks for the thought-provoking comments on the last entry. I've got a lot to think about, both in terms of whether it's financially better to work or stay home, and whether private health insurance makes more sense than what's provided through work.

NT, AS and I haven't discussed all of the issues yet--it's a bit hypothetical until we see whether we're having another child anyway--but we did talk about the plan of NT going down to one class. On further reflection, he's inclined to think like Thriftorama on that topic, and cram as many classes in as he thinks he can handle until we have another baby.

I told him we have to decide in April which way he'll go, but it sounds like he's leaning toward taking a summer class (which we'll need to finance as they're not eligible for federal aid) and then a half courseload in the fall (which will keep the student loans from coming due). Then look at dropping back to one class for the spring 2012 semester (especially if AS is pregnant and due before that semester is up; 2 classes nearly killed him when AA was born midsemester in spring 2010).

That buys us some time before we have to start paying his student loans AND part-time tuition. We might even be able to pay for his half-time fall 2011 tuition without taking out more loans, which would be supercool because that would mean when they DO come due, the payments won't be higher than what I figured for the recent budget considerations.

So much to think about! Sometimes I just stare at my debt spreadsheet, willing that student loan number to start going lower again. I'm really glad we paid off one of AS's loans in a fell swoop earlier this year, but now we have to make up the money we spent from the lawyer fund and haven't been able to progress on debt for a while. It's making me very impatient! But the lawyer fund and tax bill are smart priorities, I think.

Blabbety blabbety blab. Sometimes I just go in circles mentally. But I think it helps me work things out, slowly and tediously. Smile

Upcoming budget change musings + Kiplingers not much help

March 28th, 2011 at 05:35 pm

I know, I'm chatty today! Wink


This month's Kiplinger's is the "save $50 per day" issue where they give you all sorts of tips. Unfortunately none so far have applied to me. Lots of stuff about getting the most out of your car (don't have one), reducing bank fees (don't have any), and all these other ways to save money on stuff I don't spend money on anyway. They have advice on stuff I do spend money on, such as tips for getting $40 wine for $20 (never spend more than $15 on a bottle, and even that's rare).

Oh well. I haven't read last month's main story, "how to save a million dollars." Maybe that'll be more applicable. Wink

I'm trying to plan ahead today, because I know we have some big changes coming to our budget. NT wants to cut back to just one class per semester; busy, stressful job plus being a dad are too much for taking 2 classes as well. This means his student loans will come due once he isn't enrolled at least half-time. Right now we're only paying interest on them.

Classes are $375 per credit at his college; since tuition increases every semester, I'm assuming they'll be at least $400 per credit in fall 2011. His class will be either 3 or 4 credits, so $1200 or $1600. Then there are other fees, which look to be about $1100 per semester. I guess if he takes one class each of two semesters, and each class was 4 credits, that would be $2700 per semester, or $5400 for the year. We'd have to come up with the first $2700 by the beginning of October, so that gives us 6 months. I suppose I can divide the $5400 by 12 months and it's $450 per month. (We could probably get private loans even if the reduced credit load doesn't qualify for federal, but I thought I should see if we can afford it without.)

Also, when NT's student loans come due, it looks like they'll total $435 per month. That makes $885 per month we'll have to come up with.

Sounds daunting but it's not really that bad. Once our tax bill/lawyer fund stuff is figured out, we have $845 in the budget for education/extra debt repayment. Plus, we already pay $139 per month on his student loans, to cover interest so it doesn't build up. That means we have $984 in the budget, more than enough to cover tuition and student loans.

Since we'll be eliminating a bit of the "estimated future debt" of NT every time we don't take out a loan for a class, our total debt number will be reduced. Plus we'll be paying some principal on his actual existing student loan debt.

Of course, my mind can't help straying even farther into the future, and the possibility that we'll have another child someday. Probably the earliest would be March 2011. Medical costs should be OK, but we have to think about unpaid parental leave. (Which we have plenty of time to save up some money to cover.) And eventually (June or July 2011) additional daycare for a new baby. (And/or reduced work for one of us to stay home with kids, or to take turns, etc.)

Whatever the arrangements are, it'll either be more expenses or less income. The lowest we could probably get away with would be $650 more per month (what we pay our current daycare lady for AA). Maybe she would give a little discount for a second kid, who knows? If one of us stayed home, it would definitely cost us more than $650 a month in lost income (or even $1300 per month, if you figure AA's daycare cost would go away), especially if you figure in extra healthcare costs.

So minimum, we're going to have to come up with $650 per month starting (at the earliest) in June 2011, either by cutting things out of the budget or by increasing income. Plenty of time to think about it, but it wouldn't hurt to brainstorm a bit now.

We have $99 per month more than we need in the above estimated education budget, but then again, with tuition costs increasing every semester, we can't exactly count on that as future wiggle room.

I currently put $50 per month into EF savings, but we should get the EF to a comfortable level this year, so we won't really have to add to it any more unless we use the EF for something. With most of NT's flat income going into savings anyway, we won't really have to worry about that. So that $50 per month will probably free up next year.

One of AS's student loans will finish up next year, freeing up $62.

I have $130 for misc. expenses that aren't quite emergencies but can't be covered by the grocery/household budget. It's nice to have, but not necessary.

So that's $242 right there, without even making any real cuts to our lifestyle. Not too shabby. Smile If even one of us gets a raise or a regular freelance gig, we could fill some more of that gap pretty easily.

Of course, if one of us changes jobs and it reduces our overall income, or if we ever decide we need to get a car, that will change all of our calculations. But it's good to get an idea of what we would do on our current incomes and budget.

Tax prep and funny dream

March 28th, 2011 at 12:15 pm

I had a weird dream last night that I was hosting some kind of fundraiser and, for reasons I couldn't really comprehend even in the dream, casually wrote a $10,000 check to the charity!

In the dream I was inwardly groaning, thinking about how I was going to have to get a bunch of extra work to replenish the checking account. But I wasn't panicking, which was interesting. I think it's because I now know how to handle even huge setbacks, so my dreams can't really use that to stress me out anymore.

I finished AS's taxes yesterday. I was pleasantly surprised. First of all, I had it in my head that she owed about $1800 on federal. I think I got mixed up because recently we got a letter from the IRS claiming she owed about that much on her 2009 taxes (she's already faxed them records to prove that they incorrectly added a zero to one of her 1099s). Anyway, according to my second runthrough, which matched my first one (love when it matches up and I don't have to do a third, tiebreaker round), she owed $1617. Sounds like a lot, but less than I was thinking, AND, no penalty for underpayment! So we got an interest-free loan from the federal government, and we have until April 18 to pay them back. Woo hoo! Wink

Then I did her state taxes. Usually, for some reason, people end up owing or getting a much smaller refund on their MN taxes compared with their federal, so I was really expecting to owe big-time. Turns out AS is due a $28 refund! That one I'll send off right away, so we can apply the $28 to our federal bill.

I've decided to send the IRS $400 as an estimated quarterly payment on 2011 taxes for AS. If it looks like she's getting as much or more freelance work this year, I'll up the amounts in subsequent quarters. I did pay off a student loan so her interest deduction will be lower next year.

Still haven't heard from my paid tax preparer, even though two weeks ago he said he hoped to get it to me in a couple days. I don't like having this taken out of my hands AT ALL. I'm so used to being the one in control on my taxes. If I get my copy from him and it looks easy to replicate what he does, I'm going back to doing it myself.

If we don't have to declare NT's UK income, I have high hopes that we'll about break even. We might owe a bit; I think I was pretty accurate in changing my withholdings after AA's birth, except I forgot our mortgage's interest rate dropped and thus our itemized deductions are much less this year.

I did see some mention about a "foreign income exclusion" with a minimum of $92,000 or something. We make about $15,000 on NT's flat, so if that's the case maybe we don't have to report, and won't have to revise our returns from previous years, paying penalties etc.

Although, one of the things on the questionnaire from the tax guy was about PMI. Is that deductible if you itemize?? I never have. So if he adds that to our itemized deductions, might be worth looking into whether it was deductible in past years. Can I revise to increase deductions, and if so, how far back? I'm not going to bother looking into it until I see whether he includes it on Schedule A.

(International friends, sorry for all the blabbing about U.S. tax law. I know it makes no sense.)

Reached debt goal, but lost ground on weight goal

March 28th, 2011 at 08:28 am

One of AS's student loans hit, with $124 going to principal. So we paid $1065 off so far in March, exceeding the $1039 goal. One more student loan payment may hit later today or tomorrow.

Weighed in last night and unfortunately gained 1 lb., so I'm back up to 151. Unfortunate but not at all surprising, since we ate out a lot last week and didn't get much exercise. Will try to do better this week!

EDIT: Almost forgot: I donated $20 and NT $25 to charity this weekend, bringing charitable donations up to $350 for the year!

NT and I made a little mural on AA's nursery wall of removable decals we bought at Target. Not hugely creative, but a bit. And it looks so cute! AA likes to point at the stickers when she's in her crib and babble...I think she's finally figuring out that making sounds is related to other things, not just for the fun of being noisy!

Speaking of AA, we're planning on leaving her with our best friends when we go on our next trip (to New York in early June for my 15-year college reunion). This will be the first time we're all three away from her for more than 8 hours! It will be almost 4 days. I'm excited and nervous at the same time.

We've got just over two months, so I'm hoping she gets past her stranger fear by then. She's been getting better, and she's much less fearful and clingy around these friends than anyone else. Even if she's not, I'm hoping this will be a good experience for her. We know several people who traveled without their babies when they were much younger, so I realize it's not a big deal. Just FEELS like a big deal.

I feel like I have more to say, but I should go do some work. Maybe I'll post again today!

More progress on 2011 goals

March 24th, 2011 at 02:08 pm

$25 went to the EF, bringing us to $1186.47 saved for the year (our goal is $7000), and our total EF up to $9698.42!

I applied for two more jobs today, so hopefully that will bring me closer to my goal of getting either a raise or a new job.

I used an online graphics company to design some customized stationery for my mom (see my "best gift" entry from a few days ago), which NT pointed out counts as a creative project. It was mostly automated, but I did come up with the concept, and choose and crop the photo, and choose the layout and font colors!

I officially made some money with my side hustle! NT's job paid me the $720 for proofreading a book for them. (That also means the lawyer fund is fully funded, if we can manage to come up with other money to pay the tax bills.)

I wrote my "Share Your Thoughts" blog post for the month. Check it out and respond or write your own entry on the topic if you're interested!

Prepaid phone plan costs update: end of "fiscal year"

March 24th, 2011 at 02:01 pm

I had to refill my phone. Since I last filled it in September, I guess I've been averaging about 167 minutes per month.

I started the "year" in late March 2010, so this marks the end of 12 months of prepaid. Rundown of expenses:

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
NT 300 minutes early-October fillup: $32.87
NT 200 minutes late-December fillup: $32.87
AS late-January phone replacement: $29.88
CJ 1000 minutes late-March fillup: $107.78

Total cost for the year: $646.26

Divided by the 12 months, our average monthly cost for this year is $53.86. A very good average, much better than the first 12 months of prepaid or any month when all three of us were on a family plan. Compared with $85, which was the cheapest contract for 3 people I could find, we saved about $31 per month, or about $372, in the past year!

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 ideal goal is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 is a savings.

Tried Looking Forward's enchilada sauce--yum!

March 24th, 2011 at 08:06 am

While it was cooking the scent of cinnamon was really strong, so I was afraid it would overwhelm the other flavors. Totally didn't--this was a dead-easy and delicious sauce! I stuffed the tortillas with seasoned black beans, vegetarian "chik'n," corn and cheese (vegan for mine). I also made a tofu, black bean and cheese one for lil' AA, which she'll have today at daycare.

Here's a link for anyone who missed the original recipe post:
http://lookingforward.savingadvice.com/2011/03/01/fire-and-fabulous-enchiladas-on-a-chilly_66537/
I made almost no changes except I used yellow onion, and added a dash of cayenne since I only had 4 oz. of green chiles.

Thanks Looking Forward!

Share Your Thoughts: The best gift you ever received

March 23rd, 2011 at 05:17 pm

(or gave, or heard of someone getting or giving)

I was pretty excited about the birthday gifts to my dad and mom this year.

My dad, who has coached girls' softball as well as helped run leagues for decades, decided to sponsor a team this past year. He didn't think they'd put his name on the shirts the way they do a business, so he was kind of embarrassed when he found out they did. But he was wearing the shirt this summer when we visited: "The BD Comets" it said, splashed across his chest. [Not his real name, but you get the idea.] It was comical but also endearing, because I love his commitment to girls' sports, even after all his daughters and even granddaughters grew out of playing softball. I asked him to send me one of the shirts, and when he did, he also sent ones for NT, AS and little AA.

So for his birthday, when we got our friend to do a photo shoot, we brought along the shirts and all posed together in them. I ordered a print of that shot and framed it to send to my dad. Total surprise. He loved it and wrote that he thought AA looked pretty tough and would probably be a great softball player.

My mom loves to write "snail mail" letters, so I wanted to do a stationery for her this year. I finally found a site that would let you design photo stationery (it was kind of hard to find, and not cheap, but once I had my heart set on it I would pay just about anything). I put her name and address at the top, and under her name, "#1 Grandma." At the bottom of the paper, I put a little picture of AA's face cropped from a picture my friend took at the same photo shoot, and under that I put "#12 Grandkid." Then on impulse I ordered envelopes, with her name and address in the return address spot, and the full picture of AA on the other side in a little box in the corner. She should get it by early next week, and I'm hoping to get a thank-you letter on the stationery so I can see it in person! This is something that ended up costing me a lot for the convenience, but with a bit of work and some computer skills, you could probably make a similar gift for pretty cheap.

All the memorable gifts I can think of have a personalized touch. Of course there are the huge gifts, such the early inheritance my dad gave us last year, or electronics, vacations, jewelry, etc. But the ones that make me smile with remembrance are the ones where someone put more thought and effort than money into them.

One of the best gifts I got as a kid was from my best friend at the time. I was really into writing fiction, so she gave me a basket with a bunch of little jars. Each jar had a herb or spice in it and a label, like "rose hips to help you write love scenes." I can't remember exactly what they were, but each spice corresponded with a type of scene or genre. There was also a candle in a jar so that I could "write scary stories in the dark" or something. I kept that gift on prominent display for years and years in my room. It was so thoughtful and playful that I just loved to look at it and think that someone had taken the time to make it for me.

NT, AS and I usually try to do gifts like this, though the past year has been so busy with work, school and baby that we've slacked off a bit on that and just bought one another things. But NT once had a friend make a short film starring him for our Valentine's gift; AS made me a beautiful framed heart out of egg cartons that I still have in my cubicle; and AS and I made an activity book of games like crosswords, word searches and connect-the-dots for NT that we wrote or made, all having to do with him, us or our relationship. Those are just a few examples of many personalized gifts over the years.

The very best gift I've ever heard of was from my sister to my mom. My mom sends birthday cards to just about everyone she's ever met. She keeps all their addresses in this book organized by date, and every couple of days she goes through and makes out cards to the people whose birthdays are coming up. One year my sister MA snuck the book out and made a copy of it and then returned it before my mom noticed. MA wrote a letter and sent it to every single address in the book; it said something like "If you're getting this, you've probably received a birthday card from my mom GL every year. She loves sending cards and doesn't expect anything in return. But I thought it would be a fun surprise if she got a huge number this year. So if you've ever been touched to receive a card from GL, please take a moment and send her one for her birthday this year."

About a week before her birthday, my mom started getting a trickle of cards, many from people who didn't usually send her one. She was pleasantly surprised, then, as her birthday came closer and the trickle turned into a flood, overwhelmed with delight. At some point my sister told her what she'd done, so it wouldn't be some big mystery why it was happening all of a sudden. My mom kept all the cards hanging up, lining the walls of the living room, for months. She was so pleased both by my sister's thoughtfulness and the kindness of so many acquaintances.

OK, I could ramble on for ages, but I would love to exchange ideas here, so we all have some inspiration for when we want to do something extra special for a loved one. And, it's a vaguely finance-related topic, because sometimes the best gifts don't cost much at all. (OK, my recent ones to my parents weren't cheap, but they CAN be, depending on what the gift is and how you go about it.)

So, what's the best or most memorable gift you ever gave, received or heard about?

Progress on various goals (including unexpected weight loss)

March 21st, 2011 at 10:12 am

I finally weighed in last night after 49 days (according to my naggy Wii Fit). To my surprise, I'd lost just over 3 lbs.! I'm now a shade under 150, but I'm calling it 150 lbs. That meants I'm just 11 lbs. away from my 2011 goal. The only reason I can think of is that I barely ate anything a couple of days when I was sick, and we actually got a ton of exercise in San Fran so it balanced out the decadent eating. I realize I can't expect weight loss like this if I continue to not exercise, but at least I didn't lose a ton of ground over the past couple months.

As for charitable giving, NT bought $10 worth of groceries for an AIDS charity that was collecting outside the store. I also realized that the amount I have left in my charity line items on the budget indicates that we've given more than I've kept track of. Occasionally one of us will donate spontaneously, so it's not surprising I forgot to log something here. I am confident that the line items in my budget are accurate, because I only touch those when a charitable donation goes through the checking account. So I'm updating charitable giving progress to match that, meaning we've donated $305 this year.

AS's negative net worth decreased by a bit this month despite a dip in investment values. She's at negative $5,135 now.

In the getting-job-or-raise category, I found a handful of jobs last night that I'm going to try and apply for this week. One of them is 87 miles away, meaning I would have over an hour's commute AND would need to buy a car, but the minimum salary is $12,000 more than I make. Will I seriously consider this one even if I hear from them? Not sure, but I'm trying not to limit my thinking too much during the applying process.

Now some other news that's not about my 2011 goals:

My lawyer-money line item is fully funded: $9000! Now, this includes $720 that I haven't actually received, for a freelance project I did for NT's company. But since I trust they won't welch on this, and I've already sent them the invoice, I'm considering the fund complete.

However, I know AS is going to have a large tax bill, and NT and I may as well. I sent ours off to a tax expert and should hear back pretty soon. AS's I just need to finish; if my estimate on her federal is correct, she owes over $1800, and I haven't calculated her state yet, but if she owes federal she will owe state (though hopefully not as much). I'm hoping NT and I only owe a few hundred, but there's also the possibility I may need to revise our '08 and '09 taxes if the tax pro confirms that I made mistakes by not including NT's UK flat income on past returns. Then we may owe a bit, plus I have no idea how much interest and penalties are, since I've never revised taxes past the due date before.

On the upside, I have $800 set aside. Most of it will go to pay the tax preparer, but I'm hoping that will only come to about $600, leaving $200 to pay the actual tax bill. Also, AS has just accepted another freelance assignment that pays about $800. NT will likely start raking in overtime again now that we're back from vacation, usually to the tune of $200 per month. And I have $845 in the April budget that was going to go in the lawyer fund, so instead it can go to paying the tax bill.

If all that guesstimating is accurate, that means we'll have $2045 for paying taxes, so we may not have to take too much out of the lawyer fund. And I planned to save $845 in May and $845 in June for the lawyer fund, so it should get replenished pretty quickly.

I'm cautiously optimistic! Once the lawyer fund is securely at $9000 and the taxes are all paid, that $845 per month can start going to debt repayment again. And our extra income can as well, although I want to send part of it to the IRS and MN in preparation for 2011 tax season so we won't owe as much. Oh, and I've promised myself that once all these financial obligations are met, a bit of our side-hustle income is going to line our pockets, for some extra fun money. We've all been working super hard, and who knows if our incomes will stay this good if I (and possibly NT, who is growing dissatisfied with his job too) switch jobs to something we love but is lower-paying? So I want to make sure everyone gets a bit of extra personal money as a reward once the considerable obligations above are fulfilled.

March 2011 net worth update

March 21st, 2011 at 09:29 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): $12,322
NT's Roth IRA: $3,261
AS's 401(k): $5,351
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $3,703
CJ's 401(k): $39,530
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,261
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $9,673
---
Total Assets: $563,537

Total Debt: $343,817

Current Estimated Net Worth: $219,720

February 2011 estimate: $219,894

Change in net worth: -$174

Summary: We lost value in all our U.S. retirement accounts, and our debt paydown was very modest, so we posted a loss in net worth for the first time in many months. At least it was only in the hundreds, so it doesn't feel too bad. AS's contributions and debt repayment outweighed her investment losses by about $480, so at least we made a bit more progress toward positive net worth for her.

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.

San Francisco trip wrap-up

March 19th, 2011 at 12:00 pm

As I mentioned before, I was sick the whole week before our vacation. I stayed home two days but did work anyway. The other three days I dragged myself in and managed to work, but I felt awful. Some kind of stomach thing I probably caught from AA. NT was sick most of the week too, and AS was exhausted from work.

We left late Saturday morning and got in around 4 p.m. We stayed at Hotel Tomo, a boutique hotel in Japantown that's owned by Best Western. Cute Japanese-stye pop culture decoration. View from our floor:



We ate so-so food at the restaurant connected to our hotel. Then we all went up to the room to "take a nap," but ended up sleeping about 13 hours! After that we all felt much refreshed and were able to enjoy the trip. I'd been worried that I'd feel too tired to do anything, so I'm glad we used the first day and night just to sleep.

On Sunday we had breakfast at a Vietnamese restaurant with French influences, so I got to have some Asian dishes such as spring rolls as well as French pastries (beignets). AS watched AA in the room while NT and I browsed cute stores (check out the zebra ears we bought for AA):



Then we wandered around various neighborhoods, saw the sea lions at Fisherman's Wharf:



... had Mexican food, caught a live outdoor performance of a kids Cuban band:



... and came back to the hotel room, where NT watched AA while AS and I went for delicious sushi and sake across the street (and brought some home for NT).

Monday, we tried another breakfast joint, and we loved this one so much that we went back twice more during the trip. It was called The Grove and it was on Fillmore St. Just a small coffeeshop with a limited menu, but all fresh, delicious, well-prepared food. Then we took a cable-car ride:



... went on a short cruise around the bay (passed by Alcatraz:



... and went under the Golden Gate Bridge:



Despite a light drizzle, it was enjoyable and exciting:



We went to Chinatown for lunch:



... and then went to the cable car museum, where you could see the actual cables that control all four lines:



We went back to the hotel room and ended up getting Italian/Mediterranean food and bringing it back to the room for dinner.

Tuesday we rented a car and drove to two beaches after our second breakfast at The Grove. First Muir Beach:



... then Stinson Beach:



As you can tell, it was chilly and drizzly so we didn't spend too much time there, but we walked around and picked up shells, and AA liked the wind and rain. Then we got lost for about an hour until I got GPS on my work BlackBerry and we figured out how to get back on track. We went to Muir Woods to see the giant redwoods. It was drizzling lightly so we bought ponchos, including one for AA that we wrapped all around her (she was also wearing a raincoat and had a blanket over her). She was not pleased but put up with it as long as we kept the stroller moving. Lucky we bought the ponchos, because it started pouring! Hard to look up at gigantic tall trees when it's raining, so we didn't spend much time there at all:



We were able to laugh about it and joke that we'd joined the National-Lampoon-style class of parents, taking their kids on disastrous vacations. AA was SO happy to get back into her warm dry carseat, laughing and talking and kicking her feet.

We were so tired and it was still rainy, so we just dropped the car back at the place and went out for food. We found a FANTASTIC Thai restaurant called Sweet Lime. AA loved all of the food and so did we, and the waitress was so nice, AA didn't want to leave.

Wednesday was designated spa day. Luckily it was sunny and beautiful. We took turns watching AA while the others went and got spa treatments of our choice (mine was a short massage and later a facial; NT got a "bliss" massage that started with a bath; AS got an oil/spice/yogurt massage treatment and then acupuncture). Then AS and NT took a bus to Haight Ashbury for a bit while AA and I napped in the hotel room. For dinner we walked over to Tenderloin and ate at a soul food restaurant called Farmer Brown (pretty good, but extremely limited vegan options).

Thursday we went back to The Grove for breakfast one last time, then took a shuttle to the airport. Our flight was delayed two hours but other than that uneventful. We ordered pizza delivery that night and relaxed, then went to breakfast together on Friday. AS went in to work for a few hours while NT and I got caught up on various things.

I feel so much better! It was a great vacation, perfect length and just the right amount of activities.

Progress on goals: debt repayment, EF savings, travel, reading, charity

March 18th, 2011 at 01:03 pm

Logging a lot of progress today!

First, I sent an extra payment to one of NT's student loans that isn't in repayment yet. $146 went to principal, so that's $941 down, $98 to go on the March debt repayment goal.

$25 went into savings and I also earned $0.83 in interest, so that brings EF progress to $1161.47 for the year.

$300 went to the Roth IRAs, so $900 so far this year.

AS donated $20 to a nonprofit and I sent $15 to a charity, so charitable giving is up to $240.

We stayed within budget on the SF trip, and I just set up the payment to the credit card to pay it off, so that means one of the two trips have been made and paid for in cash (or will be in the next couple of days).

I finally finished the book I started in February, so that meets my March creative/reading goal. I read "Adrift" by Steven Callahan, a classic true-adventure survival tale about a man lost at sea in a small rubber raft for 76 days. Highly recommended if you love true-adventure books.

Early morning rambling

March 18th, 2011 at 05:22 am

Got back from our San Francisco vacation last night! (MonkeyMama, did you see me waving to you from Japantown? Wink) It was fabulous. We spared no expense since it was only a five-day vacation; typically in the past we do a nine-day vacation and have to watch our spending, so this actually felt more luxurious than a longer vacay. I took today off too, so now I have a 3-day weekend in which to catch up on things and relax.

I was sick the entire week before, so I do have some things I'm behind on. I don't like being late on things, but I'm trying not to stress out too much because it's nothing earthshattering, or that I won't be able to catch up on today or tomorrow.

First off, my budgeting; I use a manual spreadsheet to track our balance, different line items, and future income and expenses, so if I don't update it every couple days it becomes a mess. I think it was the Wednesday before last that I updated it, so I've got a heck of a lot of work to do, especially with all the vacation spending. I may not get a to-the-penny balanced budget and will then need to take money out of (or add to, if I'm wrong in the other direction) one of my standing line items such as grocery/household or the lawyer fund, to get my bottom line back where it should be. That sometimes happens when it's been a while since I last updated it.

Besides the budget spreadsheet, I have to send in a character reference for my friend who's applying to the MN bar. (He's been a lawyer in other states but recently moved back here.) It was due Wednesday but I didn't notice the deadline when I was sick, then forgot to bring the form on vacation with me. But we called them while in SF and they said a day or two over the deadline wouldn't affect anything. Whew! I'll try to get it filled out and scanned/emailed or faxed from somewhere.

I'm a little late on the daycare check, in that it was due Monday. But they haven't had to watch AA this week so I doubt they noticed. They still owe me a receipt for the first four weeks anyway, which I've asked for three times now. I'll take the check over today. We're going to drop AA off at daycare today so we can have the day to relax. She was a fantastic travel companion, and I'm not sick of her by any means, but we'd like a few hours to ourselves today. We'll probably go get breakfast at this Cuban cafe that's only about a mile away from daycare, after we drop her off.

I also am overdue writing a check to my job for some shipping I did. It's so stupid because the shipping was back in 2007 or 2008 but they just got around to reconciling the books now. I'd honestly forgotten I'd had them ship some eBay sales back then. They tried to charge me for some 2010 shipments as well but when I questioned them, they said it was a mistake. That annoyed me and I decided to write the check only just before the deadline. However, the deadline was while I was on vacation, so now it's going to be late. Oops! Well, I guess if they waited three/four years, they can fudge the books for a couple days and get their check next week.

In a way I feel I've been on vacation for two weeks, since I was so out of it with whatever illness I got from my adorable daughter (or one of her cute little friends at her birthday party). One of my March resolutions was to blog more often; instead, this has been my worst month yet for blogging! However, I'm feeling pretty refreshed and hope to get my life back together over the next couple of days. One thing I do want to do is weigh in on Sunday night, see where I am weight-wise, and then decide what to do to kickstart my healthy eating/exercise/weight loss journey. If I've gained a lot of weight I might do something a bit more extreme like a raw-foods cleanse, but if I'm OK on weight then I'll just focus on toning up. I definitely look like I've put weight back on, but it could be that more of my muscle went away and I have more fat so that I look bigger. Hard to tell.

One great thing that happened while we were gone was a big thaw in MN that got rid of much of the snow. There's actually dead grass visible in big patches now! The big snowbanks have dwindled and look to be a couple inches high versus a couple feet. Maybe I'll get to walk and bike outside soon.

I had a dream last night that was so vivid. AS had invited me to a workshop about women and careers with some group she'd gotten involved in. NT had volunteered to make lunch, because they had men take turns cooking for the events. Anyway, the discussion at the workshop led me to make a pros-and-cons list of my job, and in the dream the "cons" side kept stretching longer and longer, while the "pros" side remained only a couple items. It got me curious to do this in real life; I don't think the list would be as imbalanced as it was in the dream, but it would be an interesting exercise nonetheless. I've already been thinking about it. Unfortunately, all the "pros" are about the conditions surrounding my job, such as the short commute and good location. The job itself pretty much sucks now. Too bad; when I started it was the best job I'd ever had, but most of the elements I liked have receded, while several things I don't like have been introduced.

Well, enough rambling. I was woken up early by our cat, who is being yowly and clingy since we got back. Now NT is up too, so we'll probably head out as soon as AS gets up. I'll try to write an entry about the vacation itself, and post some pictures, sometime this weekend. Good to be back in SA land as well as my real life!

Progress on goals

March 7th, 2011 at 08:20 am

Our mortgage payments hit on the first, but I haven't had a chance to sit down and blog about it.
US: $411 to principal
UK1: $268
UK2: $56
UK3: $60

All told, $795 down, $244 to go on the March goal.

Also, between regular U.S. savings deposit and UK savings (I guess I took out more than I needed for the repairs, because I had a surplus in the checking account that I moved back to savings), I added $305.24 to the EF. So $1135.64 down, $5864.36 to go on the 2011 EF savings goal.

Other progress this month:
- We hosted our monthly get-together, which was AA's first birthday party. (Smashing success, by the way! I was convinced she'd get overwhelmed and cranky, but it never happened.)

- I donated $60 to my alma mater, bringing the charitable giving total to $205.

- We decided to go to my 15-year college reunion, so I booked the trip yesterday. That means I'm in the process of paying for our second trip in cash (I won't count them as done until we actually go on the trips). The first trip is to San Francisco for 5 days (leaving in less than a week!), and the second trip is to New York (just north of NYC) for 3 days in June. If our finances continue along smoothly, we're going to try and go on a THIRD vacation later in the year! (We've decided to try shorter, less expensive, more frequent vacations, versus the two longer vacations per year that we had been doing.)

So, pretty good progress so far this month!

Great birthday for little AA!

March 5th, 2011 at 07:43 pm

My little girl turned one today! About an hour ago was when she officially hit one year, in fact. I'm exhausted beyond belief, but she was extremely happy during the whole party and loved every minute of it, especially getting sung to and tasting her mama AS's cupcake with homemade frosting!

She's come so far, from this...



...to this!

Feb. results (didn't quite make it); March goals

March 1st, 2011 at 08:00 am

I checked for the two pending payments this morning, and both hit with a Feb. 28 date stamp. AS's student loan put $61 to principal, but unfortunately the $100 I sent to NT's student loan went entirely to interest, which is no help to my goal. So my debt repayment for February was $961, $39 shy of my $1000 goal. First time our debt repayment has been under $1000 for the month, and second time I've missed my monthly target. Frown

Well, I'm setting the March goal for $1039 ($1000 was going to be my original goal, but I want to make up that $39), and this time I'll make sure I pay enough to cover interest and dip into the principal of NT's loan.

As for my creative/reading goal, I left my book at work, so there was no chance of finishing a book for the month (unless I'd grabbed one of AA's picture books Wink). I wasn't in the mood to try and write a short story, so I looked around for quick craft projects. NT and AS suggested origami, so I found some good paper to work with and a pattern for a little origami frog. The first one turned out OK but I thought I could do better, so I made a second one. It was a fun project that took about 45 minutes, and it challenged my dexterity, so I count that as meeting my February creative goal!

Nearly everything else on my goals list showed some progress in February. To recap:
-Added money to the Roth IRAs
-Gave money to charities
-Improved AS's net worth
-Got a bonus and applied for new jobs
-Did a creative project
-Hosted a dinner party
-Wrote a shared-topic blog post

The only things I didn't do well in were meeting my debt goal, exercising/tracking my weight, and EF savings (we had to use some to pay for repairs to NT's UK flat).

In March, besides my new debt goal and the other financial goals, I'm going to focus on the trip to SF and all four of our birthdays. Our get-together this month will be AA's first birthday party this Saturday (can you believe she's almost a year old??). Should be a fun, action-packed month!