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Archive for April, 2011

Third week of grocery budget tracking + couponing for charity FAIL

May 1st, 2011 at 12:58 am

I'll relate the sad tale of my couponing for charity first:
I tried to get free dog treats using a sale and double coupons, but our prices must be higher than Couponmom's store, because it would have come to $1 per bag of treats. Not good enough, so I left the coupons for some dog owner to be pleasantly surprised.
Then I went to Walgreens to try the Splenda moneymaker, free maxi pads, bandage moneymaker and super-cheap Colgate. Here's where things went really wrong.

I used a $3 register rewards and 2 coupons, and my total was $8-something. Seemed high but I knew I was getting a $3 rebate and $3 register rewards, so I thought $2 for 2 tubes of toothpaste was an OK deal. (I forgot I'd actually paid $11-something if you counted the register rewards.)

So I was rooting through my bag and realized I didn't get the register rewards. I went back and it turns out if you use a register rewards for the same product, you don't get another one. (That was the maxipads deal.) So I got a $3 refund and returned the maxipads.

After I walked out, I started thinking that I'd ended up spending $5 cash and $3 register rewards, and that I'll get $3 back in rebate. That meant my two tubes of toothpaste cost $5. They were supposedly 2-for-1 AND I had a $1 off coupon, so that means they're ordinarily $6 each? Maybe, but that seemed high. I was going to check the receipt, but then I realized THEY'D TAKEN MY RECEIPT. Not only could I not check to see if I was overcharged for the toothpaste, I also couldn't send in the rebate for the bandages. SO I started out the day with $21.01 and ended it with $12.15. I spent almost $9 for a pack of bandaids and two tubes of toothpaste! Man, couponing is HARD.

It's still going to charity, so it's not that bad. But I was expecting to spend about 80 cents after rebates & coupons, so it's kind of a shocker.

Anyway did much better with the household grocery shopping. We'd had to get more milk and soymilk during the week, so we only had $109 to spend this week if we want to get caught up. I knew we were going to have to buy compostable diapers later this week, which is $16.50, so we only had about $92.50 for our regular weekend grocery trips.

Grand total? $66.40! There were hardly any good coupons, and the website for our grocery store was out-of-date on some of the deals, so I didn't think we'd do that well. But between sales and coupons we saved $19.98.

Here's how it breaks down by meal:

Pasta with vodka sauce
Fresh basil $3.40
1/2 cup almonds $1.10
(already have pasta, canned tomatoes, vodka, bread)
Total: $4.50

Vegan buffalo wings, potato salad, eggless salad sandwiches (picnic for May Day festival)
Scallions $0.59
Tofu $1.49
Vegan mayo $4.39
(already had potatoes, bread, wheat gluten, panko breadcrumbs, etc.)
Total: $6.47

Tofu sandwiches, roasted cauliflower
Tofu $1.49
Bread (C) $1.19
Cauliflower $1.99
Total: $3.18

Pasta w/broccoli & zucchini
1 zucchini $0.29
Broccoli $1.49
(already have pasta, herbs & spices)
Total: $1.78

Veggie burgers & sweet potato fries
Hamburger buns $0.79
5 sweet potatoes $4.44 (will have extra)

Tacos & salad
TVP $1.40 (will have extra)
2 pkgs taco shells/tortillas $2.50 (will have extra)
2 bags salad $4.00 (will have extra)
Lime $0.55
2 avocados $1.69
2 mangoes $2.00
2 tomatoes $1.73 (will have extra)
Taco seasoning $0.29
Total: $14.16

General Tso's mock duck
Scallions $0.59
Ginger root $0.64
(already have mock duck, rice, other ingredients)
$1.23

Other food/drink we'll use this week:
2 green bell peppers $1.00
7 bananas $1.69
2 pears $1.35
6 apples $3.48
4 eggs $1.28
Milk $2.29
Cheddar $3.29
2 cartons soymilk (C) $3.00

Other food/drink staples we may not use immediately:
Garlic $0.42
Apple cider vinegar $0.79
2x salsa $3.00
Cayenne $0.16
Club soda $0.75

Total of all food spending: $60.54

Nonfood/cat items:
Toilet paper $1.79
Paper towels $2.29
Aluminum foil (C) + tax $1.56
Tax -bags credit $0.22

Total nonfood spending: $5.86

One more April debt payment

April 29th, 2011 at 09:43 pm

AS's other student loan hit--$60 went to principal, making our April debt repayment total $1181. Just over a year to go on this particular student loan, then it'll be paid off! It's at $791, and it's so tempting to just pay it off in one fell swoop. But the interest rate is our second-lowest at 2.25%, so I know that extra debt repayment is serving us better elsewhere.

Our next big extra debt repayment won't be until June, since the May money had to go toward replenishing the lawyer fund after I used it to pay off another student loan.

Oh, and we made some progress on charitable giving! AS's job (a publishing house) had their semiannual benefit last night, and there was a silent auction where all proceeds went to the press. AS saved up her charity budget for a couple months and NT threw in some of his for us to use. We bid on a weekend at a resort but were outbid. Then we bid on a tiny iPod--size of a postage stamp, really--and tickets to a show plus CDs of the group. We won both! We were careful with our bids and stayed just under budget. So that's $590 total this year that we've given to good causes.

At the event, we met up with the friend who recommended me for the recent interview. It really reminded me how fun it was working with her! Now that we don't work in the same place, live kinda far apart and both have kids, we don't see one another as often as we'd like. It would be a really tough decision if I were offered the job. Basically, how much is it worth to me, to get a job doing something I'd love working with someone I love? Minimum $9000? Yikes. The money makes me happy when I'm not at work, but I spend so much time not being happy at work. It would be the other way around if I took this job.

Well, I'm getting WAY ahead of myself. AS forwarded me a very interesting job; only drawback is that it's 12 miles away and not accessible by bus or lightrail. So I'd need to get a car for that one. Still, the subject matter I'd be editing sounds interesting (to me--thuddingly dull to others, probably), so I'll apply next week and see what's what. They require you to give salary requirements, so I'll probably set my requirements a little higher than what I make now. That way a car wouldn't be a big bummer to our budget if I did get the job!

Heading out soon for happy hour (or what I've been mentally calling "unhappy hour") with a couple of employees. Discontent is spreading throughout the ranks, it seems, and some people want to have a bitch session about it. Suits me! If enough of us were disgruntled enough, we might even be able to force some change. Isn't that what they call "collective bargaining"? Smile

Charitable couponing worked! (to some degree)

April 27th, 2011 at 11:23 pm

Well, the Walgreens I went to was sold out of one item, and didn't appear to carry another. But they did have the Stayfree maxipads. They cost $2.99 (no sales tax), and I had a $1 off coupon that I'd printed off their website, so I paid $1.99. I also got a "register rewards" coupon for $3 off my next purchase at Walgreens. So all in all, I made $1.01 off the deal!

I dropped the maxipads off in a charity box at my job, since one of my co-workers is collecting personal-care items to donate to a homeless cause.

This weekend I'll go to the bigger Walgreens near my home, and I'll see if they have the other two items in stock. (I can use my $3 coupon to help pay for the purchase.) Also, although I can't print another coupon, I should be able to get another box of maxipads free by getting another $3 register rewards with $2.99 purchase!

Met April debt goal + 1st attempt couponing for charity

April 27th, 2011 at 05:55 pm

One of AS's student loans hit, with $122 going toward principal. That makes our April debt repayment $1121 so far, exceeding the $1000 goal! AS has one more student loan that may hit tomorrow or Friday.

Today on my lunch break I'm going to Walgreens to try some super-couponing strategies that I got via Jeffrey's "Penny Experiment" Facebook feed. I'm going to buy 3 packages of Splenda, 1 pack of Stayfree maxipads and 1 package of Nexcare bandages. If all goes well, I should spend $6.43 and receive $6.99 in "register rewards" to use next time, as well as a mail-in rebate for $2.99. So in the long run I should come out $3.55 ahead! (We'll see how it goes.)

My plan right now is to take $20 per month from my charitable-donations money, keep it separate from all other money, and see how far I can stretch it to buy things for food shelves and homeless outreach programs. So the register rewards and rebate check will go back in the envelope to be used on more great deals.

AS and I are diving into the rabbit-hole a bit on couponing right now, both to get our grocery bill under control and to maximize our charitable giving. I think because it's so soon after watching a couple episodes of "Extreme Couponing," NT is a tad worried that he's going to look under the bed someday and see a huge stockpile of toothpaste and candy bars. If you're reading this, honey, I promise that will never happen! Smile

Finally some recordable weight progress! + lazing then & now

April 25th, 2011 at 03:15 pm

At the weigh-in last night, I'd actually lost a full pound! Now I'm at 152, or 13 lbs. from my goal. I walked a lot last week and my portion sizes were pretty good, but I did eat chips a lot. However, I didn't eat chips ON TOP OF a bunch of other stuff, so calorie-wise I don't think I went nuts.

This weekend we went over and entered a bunch of commitments on our calendar, and I realized that the next 5 weeks are going to be full (and fun)! No weekend is completely devoid of social events. Plus there are several items during the workweek, both fun (charity event for AS's job) and not (dental appts. for me and NT). So I decided to be indulgently lazy yesterday, and watched TV & played videogames to my heart's content.

Close to bedtime, when I was thinking about the day's events, I had to laugh a little bit at what a lazy day looks like now versus what it looked like oh, say, 5 or 6 years ago, pre-kids, pre-husband, pre-budget.

Lazy day in the past: Roll out of bed maybe before noon, maybe not. Throw on some comfy clothes and stroll out with AS to have brunch (preferably somewhere that served Bloody Marys). Linger and get slightly tipsy. Come home, ignore all housework, watch movies or TV, read books, smoke a few cigarettes, maybe take a nap. Look through the fridge, decide to get pizza delivered, read and watch TV some more, have a few more smokes. Go to bed.

Lazy day yesterday: "Sleep in" until 8:30 am. Get AA's bottle while she's being changed, race around getting Easter basket and eggs ready, coax AA into pretty dress. Help her with Easter egg hunt and breakfast, taking pictures all the while. Change her into dress she can move around better in. Watch TV and play on the laptop while keeping an eye on AA. Make and eat lunch while AA is napping. Feed her lunch, peel orange and divide into small sections for her. Clean her hands and mouth over her vocal objections. Comfort her several times after nasty falls. Play videogames while keeping an eye on her. Change at least four diapers during course of day. Pick up Easter toys periodically only to have them scatter again. Slice & stew apples for AA's dinner. Pick peas up that have scattered everywhere during her meal. Wash huge pile of pots and pans that have accumulated over the day. Brush AA's teeth and put her to bed. Declutter the house in preparation for the cleaner. Watch TV and play videogames while drinking a couple glasses of wine.

And yes, I felt like I was being outrageously lazy! I did far less than AS and NT, who had work and homework respectively and both cooked and cleaned more than I did.

Happy Easter!

April 24th, 2011 at 04:06 pm

Smile

Second week of grocery budget tracking

April 24th, 2011 at 03:19 am

Our goal this week was to keep spending to $112. We spent $116.95. I think that's pretty darn good!

We spent a lot more on groceries and a lot less on nonfood items, but it balanced out. We pored over the store circular, printed out coupons that matched sale items we could use, and our main grocery store doubles most coupons on Saturday. We saved 40% on a bill that would have been $131 but instead was $79!

Here's how it broke out per meal. For many of the ingredients we took advantage of deals and bought more than we needed, so we'll be able to get more meals out of them. I'll try to note that, because otherwise some of our meals will seem rather expensive.

Pancakes & strawberries
Strawberries $1.99 (will have leftovers)
(already had pancake ingredients & maple syrup)

Mac & cheese w/ salad
5 lbs. macaroni $3.99 (will have leftovers)
3 pkgs shredded cheese $6.00 (will have leftovers)
Romaine lettuce $1.69
(already had sauce ingredients for vegan version; salad dressing)
Total: $11.68

Broccoli & mock duck stirfry with spring rolls
Broccoli $0.99
Mushrooms $1.89
Frozen edamame $2.49
Ginger root $0.56
Onions $2.29 (will have leftovers)
Rice $5.15 (will have leftovers)
(already have mock duck, spring rolls, spices)
Total: $13.37

Tofu "chik'n" & waffles & hoppin' John
2 pkgs tofu $2.98 (will have leftovers)
Black-eye peas $2.50
Diced tomatoes $0.59
(already have breading, waffle ingredients, rice)
Total: $6.07

Pasta w/ tomato spinach sauce
(already have all ingredients)

Lentil loaf, broccoli, chik'ny gravy and biscuits
Broccoli $0.99
(already have lentils, spices, flour, etc.)

Sweet & sour mock pork, szechuan green beans
Water chestnuts $1.09
1 green bell pepper $0.99
Pineapple $2.99
Green beans (fresh) $0.57
(already have mock pork, spices, will use rice from above)
Total: $5.64

Homemade veggie burgers & fries
Bread (C) $0.99
Black beans $2.53
(already have rest of burger ingredients, fries)
Total: $3.52

Other food/drink we'll use this week:
3 grapefruit $3.10
4 apples $2.94
4 pears $2.70
3 lbs. oranges $3.69
Can of tuna $1.99
6 eggs $1.92
Milk $2.29
4 Lean Cuisine meals (C) $5.96

Other food/drink staples we may not use immediately:
Garlic $0.45
4 boxes granola cereal (C) $8.00
Cornmeal $1.99
Yeast $0.59
2 pkgs fresh mozzarella $6.99
Fake sausage (C) $1.99
Vegan butter $3.29
Canola oil $3.49
Chili powder $3.84
Peppercorns $3.40
Tea $4.75
2 canisters Crystal Light (C) $2.50
5 frozen juices $5.00

Total of all food spending: $114.13

Nonfood/cat items:
Cat litter (reg. $8.59) FREE after rebate
Ziploc bags $2.09
Tax $0.16
Tax minus bags credit $0.57

Total nonfood spending: $2.82

Savings progress

April 22nd, 2011 at 10:20 pm

Just a quick note before I head home. It's been a busy week and I can't WAIT to get some wine (didn't have enough spending money to get wine this week; I've been compensating with occasional mixed drinks via our liquor stash, but for some reason it doesn't feel quite as relaxing as a nice glass of wine). We get our spending money on payday, and NT already called to confirm I want him to stop by the liquor store on the way home.

$25 went to EF savings, and we also gained 86 cents in interest, so that makes $1876.71 saved so far this year, and $10,388.66 in the EF fund total.

I'm kind of excited for another week of tracking our grocery spending; it might get harder to keep costs down as we work through our small stockpile, but I think we can do it. NT saved the Rainbow Foods circular and AS will look for coupons online, so we'll see what we can do. We had one more purchase of child-safety cabinet locks come through, so our grocery money is $340.44 plus $3.32 on a Target giftcard. That means we want to try to stay under $112 this week, so this money can stretch over three weekends of spending.

Also looking forward to AA's first Easter as a mobile, alert person with good eyesight! (She was around last year but less than 2 months old, and we were so exhausted I don't even remember Easter.) I bought a basket for $2, a sippy cup with rabbit ears for $2, and the rest of her Easter treats are going to be homemade or from my mom's care package.

Happy Friday! I'll try to check in tomorrow with my grocery bill totals.

Nerves post-interviewish-thing

April 20th, 2011 at 05:32 pm

Just got back from the not-interview informal coffee thing, and though I felt fairly calm throughout, now the nerves (and possibly the caffeine) are kicking in. I think I did pretty well and managed to articulate a lot of the points that would make me a good match for the job, but of course there are things I would've said differently, things I left out, etc.

The worst blunder was that I printed out a resume right before the meeting, to have just in case. I've recently been paring it down ruthlessly and just got it on one page. I took off the big header with my name and contact info with the intention of replacing that with something smaller and simpler--but I hadn't actually added it back to the version I printed out. So I tried to make light of it while I wrote my contact info on it, saying I was just starting to job-search and was still in the process of working on my resume. We bonded a bit about how hard it was to get back into that mindset once you'd been at a job for a while.

I actually think it might be OK, because this was an informal meetup and I wasn't required to bring one. Plus, it really was out of the blue (though I had a week to prepare), since my friend who works there told me about it informally. I think it was better to have something even if it was missing a header. But of course that's one of those things I keep going back to and mentally smacking myself for.

I dunno. I've conducted a lot of interviews myself and been involved in hiring decisions, and I'm one of those people who will forgive a lot of slip-ups that experts tell you are the kiss of death, if I get a sense the candidate will be good. Including people forgetting to write thank-you notes after, being a little late to an interview, and once (OMG!) I hired someone even after they called an employee after the interview to ask if we drug-test. (And you know what? He turned out great and he's still at that company I used to work for.) So hopefully if he got a good sense overall, the resume-header thing won't be a big deal.

Fellow SA job-seekers, I forgot how weird it feels. It's like blind-dating or something!

Progress, etc.

April 19th, 2011 at 10:28 pm

I forgot to note that we contributed $300 to our Roths this week. With some of our goals on autopilot it's easy to forget to mention them! So that's $1200 toward our goal of $3600.

We had to buy diapers today, so that's $14.50 gone from the grocery/household budget. We've now got $334.63 left in the May 1-15 line item, or $111.50 per weekend for the next three shopping trips, if we want to get caught up. I still have high hopes we can catch up or come darn close.

We've already run out of bread and have grilled cheese sandwiches planned for Wednesday. AS said she'll try to bake a loaf from scratch, using ingredients we have on hand. I also realized we need another meal this week since an event I'd written on the menu isn't until next week. We already have ingredients to make bean burritos (in fact the rice and beans are already cooked from Sunday's Mexican casserole), so that's the plan.

It's cold and windy today. I may wuss out on walking home. I hate to lose my momentum. But, I skipped walking Friday, and still managed to get motivated Saturday and Monday, so I think it'll be OK.

I felt like there were a few other things to mention, but my brain is mush. Hard day at work, and already getting a bit nervous about my coffee chat with the prospective employer tomorrow.

Progress on AS net worth + more invisible weight progress

April 18th, 2011 at 09:17 pm

Just calculated our net worth, and AS's is down to negative $3,927! Over $1,200 better than last month. It just needs to improve by $491 per month to get to positive by the end of the year. Seeing as how she contributes $325 per month to retirement and pays down $385 of debt per month minimum, I feel pretty good about our odds of meeting this goal!

Oh, and I weighed myself last night and showed an insignificant loss of .2 lbs. Basically I went from 152.8 to 152.6, so I'm still 153 if I round off. Ah well, at least I didn't gain! I walked at least 30 minutes 5 days last week, but didn't really pay attention to my eating. I still feel good about the week overall. NT lost over 4 lbs., so he must be getting close to his goal! I saw the loss, but didn't look at the weight number. I'll have to remember to ask him.

As for the other goals, I haven't made much progress. I do have an informal job-related chat scheduled for Wednesday (got recommended by a friend/ex-coworker). I'm excited to have my first interview-ish thing since I started looking for a job, and it sounds like a way more interesting job than the one I have, but the pay would be less--at least $9000 per year less (gross, not net, but significant anyway). I still want to hear more about it and practice my interviewing skills, though. (Plus, I would LOVE to work with this old friend; I don't really have any friends at my current job and that can tend to make one feel like a high-school outcast. Do I love it enough to sacrifice $750 per month? Hmmm...)

April 2011 net worth update

April 18th, 2011 at 08:45 pm

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): $12,751
NT's Roth IRA: $3,433
AS's 401(k): $5,600
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $4,042
CJ's 401(k): $41,481
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,433
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $10,363
---
Total Assets: $567,539

Total Debt: $342,634

Current Estimated Net Worth: $224,905

February 2011 estimate: $219,720

Change in net worth: +$5,185

Summary: Everything went up this month, so even though we didn't pay off much debt, we had a nice upturn in net worth!

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.

Prepaid phone costs: first cost of the "fiscal year"

April 18th, 2011 at 03:35 pm

NT needed to buy some more minutes to keep his phone active. Since late March was the end of a 12-month period of prepaid costs, this is the first expense of the "fiscal year." (I divide it up into 12-month chunks to give me a way to come up with average monthly costs.)

NT's mid-April Net10 purchase (300 minutes): $32.87

We're in our first month, so that means our average monthly cost so far is ... $32.87! that was easy. Smile


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.

First week of grocery budget tracking

April 16th, 2011 at 11:19 pm

We needed to get Clorox wipes, a new water-filter sink mount, a printer cartridge and cat food, so total spending was a bit more than I hoped for. But I think on food we did a good job; we based meals on things we already had, and a lot of things were on sale. And we used coupons for many of our nonfood items and a couple food items.

We spent about $130 and used up most of our April grocery money (because we were already behind). Now we have $360 to stretch over the next three weekends of grocery shopping, and then we'd be caught up. I think we can do it if we keep paying attention and only buying what we need.

I counted up what we spent for each meal on the menu, so I'll list that first:

Fresh pasta & pesto w/ mushrooms
8oz. mushrooms $1.89
(already had pasta fixin's and pesto)

Mexican casserole
Green bell pepper $1.29
(already had rice, beans, olive oil, onion, corn, canned tomatoes, salsa, garlic, cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, soymilk, oil)

Pasta & spinach-tomato sauce
Frozen spinach $1.07
(already had pasta, tomato sauce, herbs & spices)

Thai red curry
Carrots $0.99
(already had tofu, peas, peanuts, rice, curry paste, coconut milk)

Grilled cheese sandwiches & oven-roasted cauliflower
Whole wheat bread $1.97
Cheddar $3.98
Cauliflower $2.49
(already had vegan cheddar for me)
Total: $8.44 (but we'll be able to use the cheese and bread for other stuff, too)

Crispy golden tofu, blackened sprouts, potatoes
Brussels sprouts $3.59
Red potatoes $2.75
(already had tofu, breading ingredients, oil)
Total: $6.34

Other food spending for things we'll use this week (breakfasts, snacks, beverages):
3x grapefruit $4.68
10x bananas $2.21
4x plum tomatoes $3.01
8x apples $3.64
1.5 lbs. red grapes $2.05
Garlic $0.39
2x soymilk $5.00
64 oz. milk $2.29
4 eggs $1.28

Pantry staples we needed but won't necessarily use this week:
.66 lbs. flour $1.18
1.42 lbs. arborio rice $3.82
2 lbs. sugar $3.58
Grated parmesan $2.23
Celery seed $0.31
Egg replacer $5.99
2x Newman's own spaghetti sauce (C) $3.00

Total food spending: $64.68

Nonfood/cat food spending:
Printer cartridge + tax $15.62
Bottle brush $2.19
2-pk Clorox wipes (C) $6.99
2-pk deoderant (C) $3.19
Toms toothpaste (C) $3.19
Brita water filter mount (C) $24.49
Cat food (C) $3.79
Gum + tax $1.18
Tax on nonfood + cat food - bags discount $3.38
Paper towels (C) $1.59

Total nonfood/cat food spending: $65.61

EDIT: Here is the Mexican casserole recipe!
Vegan Mexican Casserole
Makes 8 servings (I would say 6 but I have a big appetite LOL)

1 tbsp olive oil
1 onion, thinly sliced in half moons
1 green bell pepper, chopped
1 cup frozen corn kernels
1 cup cooked brown rice
1 14.5 oz can diced tomatoes, undrained
4 cups cooked black beans
1 cup mild salsa
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup flour
4 tbsp sugar
2 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup soymilk
1/3 cup canola oil

Preheat oven to 450. Heat olive oil in a skillet with a lid over medium heat. Saute onion for 7 minutes, covered, stirring halfway through. Set aside. Meanwhile, in a large mixing bowl, combine green pepper, corn, rice, tomatoes, beans, salsa and garlic. Stir together well. Coat a 13x9 baking dish with cooking spray and spread bean mixture evenly over bottom of baking dish. To make the cornbread topping, stir together cornmeal, flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a medium mixing bowl. Mix together oil and milk and gradually stir into dry mixture. Spread cornbread mixture evenly over bean mixture in baking dish and top with caramelized onions. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until knife inserted in center of cornbread comes out clean.

Fun is vital

April 15th, 2011 at 10:10 pm

This morning for some reason I woke up with awareness that, if we gave up a lot of things, we could basically be debt free AND probably have a good chunk of AA's college education funded in less than 10 years. (Well, it's not like new information, but just a new way of thinking about it.)

But almost as quickly, I knew that just isn't how I want our lives to be right now. We have a really good income, and we work very hard for it. We're making progress on our debt, progress on our retirement and progress on AA's savings. As a general marker, I like the 50/30/20 goal (50% of total income toward needs, 30% toward wants, 20% toward savings). Our allocations of regular income are 55.84% to needs, 21.52% to wants, 22.64% toward either long-term savings or extra debt repay. That's pretty good.

It's true that anything could happen and we can't count on our lives or incomes staying the same, but as long as we're being fairly reasonable and not throwing all our money away, I usually feel comfortable the way we are. We've definitely expanded the luxuries side of our lifestyle as our income has grown and debt has shrunk; when I started here I think we put closer to 30%-35% to savings/extra debt repay. And I think that's OK. But it's good to be conscious and know that these are choices we're making. There's more than one way to live one's life, and we have the power to change if we decide we want to. (Not just with shrinking "wants" in order to tackle debt harder, but also if we someday want one of us to stop working and stay home for a while.)

Anyway, I'm going to take off soon. I had a hard couple days of work but they weren't irritating, with project managers of ill-timed projects jockeying for my time. So I feel much less drained than I usually do by Friday!

When we first contemplated having a baby, one thing we repeated often was that, since there were 3 of us, it would be easier for 2 at a time to go out on dates while the other played babysitter. That doesn't happen as often as it should; we're often tired or busy outside of work, and sometimes it may be a matter of feeling slightly guilty at leaving someone home with the baby.

But one of NT's favorite annual events is coming up in May, and one of AS's favorites is happening tonight, so that's spurred us to make date nights happen! AS and I are going to her event tonight, a fashion show/concert at a local nightclub. And NT and I are going to his fave, an all-day outdoor hip-hop music festival, at the end of May. Now AS and NT just have to figure out what they're going to do for their date!

So now I've got to go home and see if I have any clothes that I think are cutting-edge fashionable. I haven't been to this fashion event in years, and though I try to get nice clothes, I definitely don't take as many style chances now that I don't go out as much as I did in my 20s! And of course my postbaby body is heavier than it was during my nightlife days. But hopefully I'll be able to scrape something together. Smile

Hope you all have a great weekend!

Finally some debt progress! Plus estate planning

April 14th, 2011 at 10:38 pm

A regulary quarterly payment to one of NT's student loans, which are not in repayment yet but do accrue interest, hit today. Since I'd made some extra payments to it, some of this payment went to principal: $215, to be exact. That makes it $999 down, $1 to go on my April debt-repayment goal. LOL. I don't think that's ever happened before.

AS has one, maybe two, student loan payments that will hit before the end of the month, so I'll make this goal easily.

We had our estate-planning conference call today. We made a lot of progress: answered some questions, clarified some things and got some homework. Basically we need to make sure all our retirement accounts have the right beneficiaries, because those operate outside the probate system. We also need to find the deed to our U.S. condo, and the lawyer is going to help us get three-way joint ownership. Also, he's going to talk to some UK colleagues to find out the best way to handle NT's UK condo: set up joint ownership, or just have NT specifically mention in his will that he's leaving it 50% to me and to AS.

We also need tax ID and legal-entity names for two nonprofits that are getting a portion of our will if all three die and AA or another child isn't surviving: AS's employer (a nonprofit publishing house) and my alma mater (a small liberal-arts college). (Yes, you have to think of all outcomes in these matters!)

So after a long time, some real progress! This will give us some peace of mind that if something tragic or unexpected happens, we are all taken care of.

Random updates

April 13th, 2011 at 07:29 pm

We already got AS's state tax refund (28 whole dollars!) so I put that aside for our various tax bills. I will mail out all our payments either Friday or Monday, to give as much time as possible to receive the CJ/NT federal refund and AS freelance check that will help pay for them. (If those don't arrive, I have tons of float money because I won't need the lawyer fund for a long time.)

Thanks to MonkeyMama's helpful advice on the forums, I decided I will save up gradually to pay our back taxes for 2008 and 2009, and will let the IRS and MN's revenue service figure out interest and penalties. I'm going to wait until after this tax season so as not to confuse matters. I'll pay the 2009 ones first because the bill is bigger, thus fees will be bigger.

***

I don't want to jinx it, but I think we're going to take a step in our estate planning tomorrow. We have a conference call at 10 a.m. to discuss the packet we sent in months ago. Our lawyer has rescheduled on us about three times. I believe it's because they're mainly on surrogacy cases, so they must rush to court as soon as a baby is born.

We've been talking more and more about AS trying to get pregnant. So hopefully I'll have news in a few months!

***

I've been thinking about AA's first real Easter (last year she was just a dour little lump on the day; I barely remember last April/May). My family always celebrated in a secular fashion; our big traditions were A) the Easter Bunny would leave a basket for each kid that had little candy and toys and a big chocolate bunny and largish stuffed animal and B) an Easter egg hunt (outdoors if it was nice; indoors if raining). I loved both those traditions. One thing we didn't do that I always envied other kids for was dressing up in fancy clothes and a hat.

AA is too young for the egg hunt, so I'm going to skip that. For her basket, we might give her a bit of candy, but she's too young to have much, so we bought AS a mini-muffin pan that she's going to use to make blueberry muffins. As for the toys and such, my mom usually sends a package with plastic eggs and other cheap little toys, so I'm going to see if we receive that in time. (If not, I'll buy a couple things the Saturday before Easter.) And if she doesn't send stuffed animals, AA has tons of stuffed animals in her room that have never even been brought out, so I'll just repurpose one of those and it'll be just as new to her as a new animal. The only thing we'll likely need to buy is a basket, and those are really cheap at Target (I could probably get one even cheaper at the thrift store).

AA has tons of cute dresses in the next size up, so I'll break out the 12-24-mos. bag soon and pick something out. And someone gave us a little white straw hat, so that will be her Easter bonnet!

I'm kind of excited. I think she's old enough that she'll notice a basket full of neat stuff sitting out when she gets up in the morning. She's been developing so fast lately--she just got a lot better at walking, and I think she's started saying words (they might be her own language, but she's definitely assigning sounds to things, so that counts!).

***

We had a constructive conversation about our grocery budget the other night. I guess I had not really conveyed my frustration that we kept going over into the next two weeks' -- or next month's -- line item. So we sat down and came up with some ideas to better control our spending.

Basically, we have $700 per month for all grocery/household spending, which includes baby expenses such as diapers and wipes, cat stuff like litter and food, and household items such as toilet paper and cleaning supplies. We also set aside $54 per month, which goes toward an annual $640 payment for a CSA share of vegetables and fruits which they deliver June through October. So our grocery/household budget is $754 per month, though we can only use $700.

First of all, there are certain expenses we discussed and decided we didn't want to cut back on just yet; we'll see if we can control our budget in other ways first. NT is very attached to getting eco-friendly toilet paper, paper towels, foil, cellophane and ziploc bags. As a vegan, I don't want us to skimp when it comes to humanely obtained animal products, especially now that AA is drinking cow's milk daily. However, we were all willing to limit use of fake-meat products, which we love, to about once a week, and only buying them when they're on special.

Second, we're going to look for coupons before shopping, and if there are any good ones, we'll structure meals around those ingredients. I don't expect this will help much because of our specialized diets, but it may do a little bit of good.

Third, we're going to keep our receipts for a week or two and make a spreadsheet to try and figure out where our funds get allocated. NT thinks about half our money goes to fresh fruit and vegetables; if this is the case, it should be pretty easy to catch up in the summer, when our CSA box starts coming every week. But I'd like to get the budget caught up before then.

Lastly, we're going to pay attention to how much money each meal costs that we put on the menu. Then we can start a list of cheap meals that we can throw into rotation whenever we need to scale back, and have a list of splurgy meals that we should only have when there's wiggle room in the grocery budget.

I think with all three of us working with a common understanding of what we're trying to accomplish, we'll be able to get back on track. It'll even be kind of fun, I think. (Except the no-fake-meats part.)

***

I think that's it! No progress on goals in the past couple days, but I do hope to report some progress very soon.

Progress on savings and (sorta) fitness goals

April 11th, 2011 at 04:58 pm

$25 went to savings and was allocated to the EF. That makes our progress $1850.85 for the year, with the total EF at $10,362.80.

Although I didn't work out Monday, as I said I was going to try to do in an earlier entry, I did walk all or part of the way home Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. On Saturday AS and I weight-trained. On the other hand, I had snack binges on Tuesday and Saturday nights. So I wasn't sure what to predict for my weigh-in last night.

Well, pretty good news. I lost a bit of weight. I was a touch over 153 and now I'm just under 153. So no appreciable progress on the sidebar, but good to know the exercising was able to counteract those two nights of serious snacking.

Some good tax news, but questions raised

April 7th, 2011 at 04:30 am

I got my tax packet already! I just need to look it over and send back my signature so they can file. So far they look good to me, although there are some forms I'm not familiar with that I might try to read up on tomorrow before I drop my consent in the mail.

I wasn't sure how much I was going to owe, but I assumed it would be at least $600 for the prep fee, plus a few hundred each for federal and state.

Instead, the tax bill was $325, state tax payment due is $481, and NT and I are actually getting a $315 federal refund!

Also, I saw that we'd gotten a $800 Making Work Pay credit. I'd completely forgotten that was valid in 2010 as well, so that means I need to revise AS's federal before I send them out. $400 less, so her federal tax bill is down to $1217. Luckily it doesn't affect her state return, because I already sent that off.

So here's the breakdown:
We have $1600 saved to pay for this.
AS is getting $28 from the state.
NT and I are getting $315 from the IRS.
total: $1943

AS owes $1217 to the IRS.
NT and I owe the state $481.
We also owe the tax guy $325.
total: $2023

So we're short $80.

We're also getting about $800 from a freelance job AS did, so we're up $720.

Then, I want to send a $400 estimated payment for AS's 2011 taxes. So we're down to $320.

The question I now have though is what to do about previous years. The tax guy did report our UK income, straight up, no deductions or tax breaks. So I now know I should have been including that in '08 and '09.

I made a rough guess what the extra income would be and looked at old tax tables. I think we'd owe about $180 for 2008 and $620 for 2009.

$800 isn't too bad. But then I think about all the interest and penalties and get unsure whether we should pursue this, or wait and only deal with it if we get audited down the road.

I'm putting that thought aside for now; but I may return to it if it's bothering me, and pay that tax and try to figure out what the penalties are.

Extreme couponers show on TLC

April 6th, 2011 at 04:15 pm

Thought I would share this since we have some pretty impressive couponers on this site. I can't say whether they're going to be admirably thrifty or just crazy and compulsive; since it's on the same network that airs "Hoarders," "Intervention" and "My Strange Addiction," my guess is they're going to focus on unhealthy couponers, or at least try to make them look unbalanced whether they are or not.

Still, might be an interesting show.

http://www.app.com/article/20110406/NJENT/110405037/Next-cable-s-oddball-agenda-extreme-coupon-cutters-debuts-tonight?odyssey=mod%7Cnewswell%7Ctext%7CFrontpage%7Cp

Share Your Thoughts: Will you have enough for retirement?

April 5th, 2011 at 04:40 pm

This is a question I've been afraid to ask myself ever since I've been old enough to contemplate it. Even though we've made great strides toward conquering the debt that we go ourselves into, and have learned to spend less than we make, retirement was the elephant in the room for me. When AS or NT would express their confidence in my financial management skills, part of me would feel a twinge of guilt because I knew I hadn't dealt with one of the most important financial issues of all.

So I plugged our info into a retirement calculator I found on CNN.com. I've used calculators before, and I always come up way short of even my most modest goals. So I was nervous to see what this one said.

I plugged in $80,000 (in 2011 dollars) as our desired retirement income. I would have put less, but keeping in mind MonkeyMama's recent comments about how retirees are often hard-hit by taxes, I went with a sum that would probably cover our current lifestyle minus mortgage and other debt payments, and minus childcare and other baby expenses, but that allowed a fair bit for taxes and/or healthcare.

To my surprise, CCN's calculator said we would need an 8% return on our money and have a 90% chance of getting there with our current retirement funds and rate of contributions.

I posted these results on the SavingAdvice forums because I know the regulars there will always give their unvarnished views about any situation. One said they thought the calculator was right on. The other responder said he thought we needed to be contributing a bit more to get where we wanted to be, but that we could up our contributions gradually and probably get there just fine.

(One reason my results were so different this time: I think maybe I'd done my calculations in the midst of the recession before, and had only calculated a 4% return on investments. But 6% is more likely, and 8% is possible if a bit optimistic.)

This was all mind-blowing to me. I assumed we were so far off target that we'd never be able to retire. Which, based on our families, wouldn't be that bad if our health cooperated. (My dad is more-than-half-time at his computer programming job, and just turned 80. This is his choice, not because of financial need; he just gave each of his 5 kids $13,000 because he wasn't getting very good interest on his savings.) But counting on being able to work in one's 70s and 80s isn't a very good plan, since anything can happen, and your odds of staying fit for work decrease with age.

So I think we do have a ways to go, but it looks like we're heading in the right direction. One of our biggest saving graces is that NT always paid into pensions and retirement funds even when he was young. If AS and I had begun earlier, we'd be even more set. But now that we have a good income and even more earning potential, we'll be able to catch up the rest of the way.

Of course you can never be 100% sure when you still have about 30 years of contributing to do before retirement. But the fact that we're even on the right path is extremely encouraging to me. I feel unbelievably more relaxed; I didn't even know how much of a burden it was until the worry was mostly gone.

So what about you? Have you taken a good hard look at your retirement prospects yet? Do you think you need to make any changes to get where you want to be? Add a comment here or post on your own blog if you've got an interesting answer to share.

Can I fire my tax guy?

April 4th, 2011 at 09:30 pm

I sent him everything Feb. 15. Since then, nothing unless I initiate contact. Every time I contact him, he's almost done and just about to send me everything.

I don't want to stiff him for the work he's already done, but at this point I feel like maybe I should just take care of it myself this year; ignore NT's UK income until next year, and find someone else to do it. But I don't know if or how to get out of this.

Only one other year did I leave my taxes until April. Even if I don't send them in right away, I like to know what I owe or get back.

I emailed him this morning to see when I could hear from him, or even if he could give me a rough estimate of what I owe him and the government. So far, nothing.

I guess I'll call him tomorrow first thing, and ask if I can terminate our relationship if he doesn't have them to me by close of business day. Is that too harsh?

Unprogress

April 4th, 2011 at 02:21 pm

Well, I'd gained 2 lbs. at my weigh-in last night. No surprise; I was very physically lazy last week. I'm losing all the ground I'd won this year, so that was a wake-up call that I need to fit in some exercise. Yesterday even before the weigh-in, I had two 30-minute walks, one brisk and the other more leisurely. Now that it's nice out, I should get more exercise naturally on weekends, but I need to make sure I do something during the week as well.

So now I'm 153; 14 lbs. away from my goal of 139.

Tonight will be busy, but I'm going to try and do a 10-minute workout video after AA goes to bed. (Or before, if she'll let us put her in the playpen; she's not a fan now that she can almost walk.)

No foolin'

April 1st, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Just to let everyone know that I'm not participating in the April fool-a-thon. It's against my religion: sucker. Big Grin

NT was actually a legendary practical joker among his friends back in England, and after he'd regaled us with several tales of his best pranks, I made him promise (repeatedly) that he would leave that part of his life behind him when he moved in! My poor heart can't take it!

Today I finally heard from my tax guy. He had a few questions that made me think "oh crap, I didn't even know I needed to provide that information." NT's UK bank account numbers. The price he bought the flat for originally. The amount in his UK savings account. What we owed on MN taxes last year. I'm just hoping most of this stuff is information you need to file that won't actually affect my past two tax years. I can only imagine the domino effect of revising all the numbers, because everything is so intertwined. I feel pretty exhausted just from getting that info and worrying. He should finish up pretty soon and said he'd be able to get me the documents in plenty of time to turn them around to the IRS.

I just want to know whether we owe, but every time we talk there's so much other info to pass back and forth, I just don't feel like muddying the waters. Not when nothing's final yet anyway.

Actually he just called back to find out when NT started renting the flat, and I asked him then whether he thought we were going to have to go back and provide the IRS with all this info for past years. He said he didn't think it would be an issue but that he wanted to get everything finalized before he said before. Some relief, but still uncertainty. Yeesh. And I still don't even know how much we're going to be charged for this whole preparation process.

To take my mind off all this, I've been tooling around the web making tentative plans for a THIRD trip this year--hopefully in late August/early September! I'm not going to book anything yet, because who knows how bad this tax bill is going to be--NT mentioned yesterday that we could do a "staycation" instead of the trip we're thinking about, if we need to put our vacation money toward taxes. It's a good option, and we can always do this trip another year. It's nothing too dazzling, just a train trip to a couple of U.S. cities with some nice hotels and a rental car thrown in. I'm looking forward to it, but it can wait if we need to economize, and plus I won't feel deprived since we'll have already had two trips this year, which is our usual number for the past couple years. Staycations are really fun too, and way cheaper. Smile

OK, my nerves are calming down. However bad it is, once I know more, I can take steps to make sure no other tax years are this stressful or expensive.

April progress already :-)

April 1st, 2011 at 03:26 pm

I checked our mortgage accounts and all four payments had hit:
US: $412 to principal
UK1: $260
UK2: $54
UK3: $58

$784 down, $216 to go on the April debt repayment goal.

We made some more charitable donations recently, so our total is now $435 for the year.

I was able to transfer $639.38 of UK rental income into EF savings, so we've now saved $1825.85 this year (total EF is $10,337.80!).

Yay!

April goals

April 1st, 2011 at 02:06 pm

For April, I hope to pay off at least $1000 of debt. Our minimum debt payments now average about $975 to principal each month, so to get to $1000 I typically have to make at least a little extra payment. This month our interest payment is due on one of NT's student loans, and I sent some extra money to it in February and March, so even if we just make our regular payment that usually only pays interest, a bit of it will go to principal. So I don't think I'll have to do anything extra this month to hit $1000.

We finally heard back from our lawyer and have a meeting set up in April to discuss our estate planning wishes, so we'll make some progress on that this month.

AS sent me an interesting job opening that's in the same area of Minneapolis I currently work in. It's my favorite downtown location to work, so I'm excited to apply. I may work on that "pros and cons" list this month, too, to clarify what I like about this job. It'll help me see what's important so I don't end up accepting a new job that doesn't have some of the key ingredients to make me happy.

I don't have any ideas for my creative project/book to read, small-group get-together, or share-your-thoughts blog post for April yet. But warmer weather is clearing the cobwebs from my brain, so I'll think about it today and this weekend.

I'll probably post again soon today, once I have a chance to check and see if our mortgage payments went through.