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Archive for December, 2011

Happy New Year! some progress on my Jan. goal

December 31st, 2011 at 11:29 pm

We had a very nice New Year's celebration. Hung out with our friends at their house, chatting and playing with our kids. We took out a car from our carshare service, and we were planning to leave at 10:30 (AS figured she'd be tired by then) and ring in the new year at home. A little before 10, we realized it was snowing quite heavily! So we left a bit early. I drove at a crawl since I didn't know how well the car would handle, we had lil AA in the car, and I was mindful there could be drunk drivers out. It went very smoothly, and we got home just in time to bring the car in at the planned time.

The snow stopped soon after and looks like it'll mostly melt tonight and tomorrow. Bizarre winter in Minneapolis!

We put AA to bed and drank champagne while we watched the new Simpsons DVDs we got for Xmas. I was going to switch to the ball dropping but midnight snuck up on us, so we didn't.

Anyway, I'm not quite tired yet, so I thought I'd check AS's student loan accounts and post some progress on our debt repayment goals. $125 and $61 hit on her two loans, so that's $186 down, $2314 to go on the January debt goal!

I got a bit further reading Getting Things Done. Hoping to finish it up tomorrow and start implementing its advice Monday and Tuesday. (I'll need to do some stuff at home and some at work, so Monday is a holiday and would be a good day to start. Tuesday will hopefully be a bit slow at work and allow me to work on getting set up there too.)

Finally I'm starting to feel sleepy, so I think I'll turn off the computer and watch TV until I'm ready to go to bed. Smile

Getting Things Done -- 2nd try

December 29th, 2011 at 07:37 am

AS came and had coffee with me yesterday, and halfway through our nice break together, I started rattling off a few annoying little chores that I need to take care of -- deposit our Xmas gift checks, mail off some bills, update my records and autopay with our increased condo dues.

I then started complaining about how it kind of sucks to be an organized, functioning adult because I'm constantly running through little mini-lists of things to do.

That reminded us of the book Getting Things Done by David Allen, because one of his main points is that until you have an external system that you trust to keep you on top of everything, you'll always be reminding yourself -- often at inopportune times -- of the things you still need to do. Reminding yourself multiple times about one task, he argues, is a waste of energy and saps your mental resources unnecessarily.

I started reading the book years ago but never finished. (Ha!) I don't think I needed it that badly at that time -- some of the stuff he talked about wasn't very relatable. Well, I picked it up again last night and started from the beginning again. Now my life much more closely resembles his description. I have complex, multiple long-term goals, bigger (and more complicated) responsibilities at work, many more financial buckets and regularly recurring financial tasks that need to be kept on top of, and a more complicated social/personal life (thanks to having a kid and another on the way).

I do all right, I think; nothing gets completely neglected that absolutely needs to get done. But I'm very attracted to Allen's vision of getting all of this done while being able to have a clear head, not weighed down by all the pending things on my to-do list. I feel like I could concentrate on consuming and possibly even creating art; and just be more *present* in my times of relaxation, rather than being half-distracted by things that need to be done (but that I'm not planning on doing at that moment).

So, we'll see if in my current state of distraction I can actually commit to reading an entire book and then taking the time he recommends to implement his system.

I don't know just how I'm going to implement -- which "buckets" I'm going to use to store all of the projects and actions needed -- but even just the first couple chapters have me thinking about all the different balls I keep in the air. I'm kind of impressed with myself, compared with the me of 5 years ago or so. (I only started to really get my s$#@ together a few months before I started this blog.)

But now maybe it's time to take it to the next level. I hardly ever feel relaxed, even when I'm ostensibly lazing on the couch watching TV. I rarely let go completely even in the middle of a vacation where everything's taken care of and I don't need to be thinking or doing anything. I find it hard to fully focus on movies, books, play time with my daughter, date time with my partners. I hope that I can continue to accomplish everything I do now, but with a clearer head and more actual quality time *away* from thoughts of my responsibilities.

AS and I talked about maybe working together to implement his system in both our lives; she's done it halfway a few times and was encouraged by what she saw, even though she didn't follow through and put it permanently in place. Right now I'm just focusing on reading the book, doing the mental exercises he recommends, and hopefully by the time I'm done with the book I'll have a much clearer idea of how I should change the way I do things.

2011 wrap-up, 2012 goals; credit card rewards results

December 27th, 2011 at 01:51 pm

I did really well on 2011 goals; here's a quick rundown.

Completed goals:
Pay off AS's DL student loan
Save $3600 to Roths
Give $1800 to charities
Get AS to positive net worth (currently +$2,391)
Pay off at least $20,000 of debt ($27,242 paid)
Get down to 139 lbs. (starting weight: 156)
Go on at least 2 trips (paid for in cash)
Either get a raise or find new job (got raise and new title)
Complete estate-planning process (and pay for it in cash)
Make money with "side hustles" ($720 made)

Some progress, but not completed:
Increase EF by $7000 to $15,511.95 (progress: $5960.62; total EF: $14,472.57)
Either read a book or do a creative project each month (8 of 12 done)
Organize at least one dinner party or other small-group get-together per month (11 of 12 done)
Write a "Share Your Thoughts" blog post once a month (7 of 12 done)

So, there were no goals I completely neglected, and I finished a goodly number of them. Pretty proud! My list is going to be shorter and more financial focused this year. I'm sticking to the rough draft I outlined earlier, with one exception: we actually hit $250K of net worth this month, which was going to be my 2012 goal! So I'm going to really stretch and try for $300K by the end of 2012. Probably won't happen, but a nice exciting number to reach for.

So here are my goals:

Get EF over $20,000 (Starting point $14,472.57)
Get household net worth over $300,000 (Starting point $250,418)
Get student loan debt under $40,000 (Starting point $52,955)
Get total household debt under $300,000 (Starting point $324,378)
Get weight under 130 lbs. (Starting point 139)
Research at least 5 things I buy to learn as much as I can about who produces them, and where and how they're made

I also thought I should total up how much I've made in credit card rewards (cash, statement credits and Amazon gift cards). I've already subtracted any annual or other fees, so this is just net.

Bonus rewards received:
Amex $15
CapOne MC $100
Chase Sapphire $1000
Chase Sapphire $1000
Citi MC $150
Chase SW $531
Citi MC $200

Subtotal $2996

Regular rewards received:
Chase Freedom $283
Amex $125
CapOne MC $8
Chase Sapphire $30
Chase Sapphire $30

Subtotal $476

Bonus rewards expected:
CapOne MC $20 (separate bonus; spent enough to earn it but haven't received)
Chase SW $431 (made one purchase to earn; waiting for points to hit)
Chase SW $431 (made one purchase to earn; waiting for points to hit)
Citi ThankYou $500 (need to spend $2500 to earn)
Citi ThankYou $500 (need to spend $2500 to earn)

Subtotal $1882

So, we've actually received $3472, and we're expecting $1882 more (not counting whatever regular rewards we earn along the way). When all's said and done, we should have netted at least $5354!

Right now we have 7 cards open; I plan on closing 4 of them as soon as we get the points and receive the gift cards I plan to order.

I may continue this game in 2012; it'll probably take us the full 3 months to spend enough to get the Citi ThankYou points, but after that I'll start looking around again.

December 2011 net worth

December 27th, 2011 at 09:45 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,753 pounds ($27,506)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $14,528
NT's Roth IRA: $3,597
AS's 401(k): $6,087
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $5,354
CJ's 401(k): $38,544
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,597
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $14,473
---
Total Assets: $574,796

Total Debt: $324,378

Current Estimated Net Worth: $250,418

October 2011 estimate: $237,942

Change in net worth (over 2 months): +$12,476

Summary: Wow, we hit the quarter-million mark! NT's bonus pushed us over the edge because we were able to pay extra debt down with it. I didn't calculate net worth in November, which is why the leap is so drastic. Oh yeah, and we were able to shift money from NT's UK checking account into savings this month.

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

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are fairly conservative. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update (unless I happen to get some info by chance). UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.60 per British pound.

2012 goals: rough draft

December 18th, 2011 at 06:04 pm

Lots of goals have come and gone in my head. But what I keep coming back to is that we'll be raising a newborn and a two-year-old next year. We just don't know what that looks like. There are lots of other variables as well -- we're going to offer to fly our relatives out to meet the new baby since we won't have enough vacation time to take any big trips.

Since we don't know who if anyone will take us up on that (and let us pay), I don't know what our travel budget will look like.

NT is taking a semester off, so his loans may come due temporarily. I don't think it'll affect us too much since we have so much extra money in the budget for education debt, but it's a bit of a wild card.

We do at least know what our pay will roughly look like; we figured out how much of our leave will be paid and unpaid, and I sketched out monthly projected budgets.

And we know what our daycare costs will be, since our lovely daycare provider has already agreed to take the baby on.

Anyway, there's enough predictability in our financial future that I feel pretty good saying we'll hit a few exciting financial milestones, so that's what I'm going to call my "goals" for the year:
Get EF over $20,000
Get household net worth over $250,000
Get student loan debt under $40,000
Get total household debt under $300,000

Another goal: I'm pretty pleased with the weight loss I've achieved this year, so I'm hoping I can maintain my under-140 status through the rest of the month and then create a new goal to get under 130 lbs.

I'm going to be easy on myself in terms of creativity and socializing in 2012. I'll do my best, but setting goals in the face of new motherhood is just apt to make me feel anxious or guilty.

One goal I think I'm going to set is to be more thoughtful about the products I consume. I'm trying to figure out how to frame this in a concrete way so I can know when I've reached it. I want to try and track the provenance of some of our most-used household products; find out what they're made of and how they're made, where the raw materials come from and where the production is done. How the workers who create the products live, and the environmental impact of the product, from harvesting of raw materials, to production, to use and disposal of the product.

There are so many things that are so easy to buy and use without knowing anything about them in the big picture. I want to feel like I have a better working knowledge of that.

If you have any suggestions of how I can make that into a concrete goal, I'd appreciate it!

Strange movement on student loan; hit December debt goal!

December 16th, 2011 at 09:54 pm

Well, it looks like my payments to NT's student loans hit ... strange though. I paid $2325 over the past two months, but they show a payment of $2577. Maybe it's to adjust the interest accrual, though there's no way I accrued that much more by the payments not posting. So I'm kinda confused, but I'll record it.

I also sent $2711 to them just today. I have no idea when it will post, so I'm counting it now. Since interest appears to be paid up, I guess nearly all of it will go toward principal!

Most of the first two payments I already calculated into my October and November debt repayment, but more principal was paid down than I expected. Anyway, to make a confusing story short, I'm calculating that $2946 went to principal that I haven't already counted. Nice! This means I exceeded the December goal of $1960; we actually paid $3759 in December!

2011 is ending with a bang! Smile

Finally some big EF progress! + decided what to do w/Xmas bonus

December 15th, 2011 at 12:33 pm

NT finally got the estimate on redecorating his UK flat! It's going to be about 770 pounds. So that means I was able to calculate how much money we need in UK checking to cover mortgage payments and redecorating, and transfer the surplus money that's been sitting there into savings! Which means I can count it toward our emergency fund.

All told I was able to put the equivalent of $2950.08 to the EF. Also, I need to record two regular US savings deposits of $25 each and $0.51 in interest. That means we put $3000.59 toward the EF this month! That takes our 2011 EF progress to $5960.62 and our total EF to $14,472.57. We'll have one more $25 deposit this year, so we'll be a bit over $1000 short of reaching our goal. Still, we doubled the amount that we'd saved up until this month, so it's a really nice ending burst of progress!

Oh, and our final Roth IRA deposits left our checking account today, so that means we hit our goal of saving $3600 to Roths!

NT and I decided what to do with his $3500 bonus. Well, the $2581.39 we netted after taxes. We'll put $500 into our daughter AA's mutual fund, set aside $200 to help start a CD or mutual fund for our next child when it's born, give ourselves (and AS) each $100 to use however we like, and send the rest ($1581.39) to one of NT's student loans. I added that amount to the extra debt payment I was already going to set up, so it should go out tomorrow! Since this is the crazy student loan where payments aren't showing up even though they receive them, I'll count it as soon as it leaves our checking account.

More money in!

December 14th, 2011 at 08:19 pm

NT and I applied for and were approved for Citi ThankYou cards. We each need to spend $2500 to get $500 in Amazon gift cards. That'll be another $1000! Shouldn't be a problem spending $5000 in three months with our vacation coming up; I have $2500 set aside for vacation expenses.

NT brought home a letter today that said he's getting a $3500 bonus! I thought the hundred-dollar bill from the holiday party WAS his work bonus. Pretty sweet. We haven't really decided what we're going to do with it. We're all wiped out, half-sick, overworked, ready for vacation. We've got some wants, but they can probably be handled with my Amex gift cards or the Amazon gift cards we've already received.

I'm thinking about my 2012 goals and one thing I keep coming back to as a financial goal is to ramp up my education debt repayment. If we can put a large chunk of this bonus to that, it would be awesome. I'd also maybe like to add some money to lil' AA's mutual fund.

My friend's What Not to Wear episode!

December 14th, 2011 at 08:26 am

I totally forgot to blog about this beforehand, but hopefully it will be available on TLC's website and in reruns.

Anyway, my friend Tenessa was featured on What Not to Wear last night! You can see my spouses in it right at the end -- NT is the guy in the checked shirt cheering, and AS is the woman with glasses and dreads getting interviewed at the end. I was at the big reveal, but I don't really show up on camera (blink and you'll miss me -- I had to rewind to find myself).

I like the show, and my friend confirmed that the hosts and the whole crew are really nice and fun. Her episode has some interest to budget-minded people because she's one of the few guests to consistently talk about how she only shops at thrift stores and/or wears hand-me-downs from friends. She picks up a shirt that costs $250 and says, "For that amount, I could get 250 pairs of jeans on dollar day at the thrift store!" Smile

At one point the hosts say something like, "You have to admit that these clothes are a huge step up from your dollar-day clothes." Tenessa says, "OK, I'll admit, these clothes are worth more than a dollar." LOL. She never really gives up her thrifty self; even at the end she says she still shops at thrift stores but is willing to spend a bit more to get nicer pieces that fit the fashion guidelines they gave her.

Sunday night ramblings about holiday doings

December 11th, 2011 at 10:17 pm

It's been a weird couple of weeks for me schedule-wise...I've been taking Mondays off because I realized I had some use-em-or-lose-em vacation days, and Monday is the easiest day to have other people cover me. It hasn't felt very leisurely, because the other four days are just more intense to make up for it, but it's nice on Sunday nights knowing my week doesn't have to start just yet. Big Grin I've asked for Mondays off for parental leave when the baby comes, so I'll have a taste of this rhythm again next year.

Last week would've been manageable workwise, but two senior execs came to me and basically said we need to make a case to keep your main project from going to a competitor. So I spent about 4 hours total meeting with them, and writing up various requested documents. Now it's up to them to charm and wheedle our client to let us keep the project. If I hadn't gotten that recent promotion I honestly wouldn't be that bothered about it, but I'd hate to get demoted. Although my HR is so disorganized and my boss so supportive, there's a chance they wouldn't get around to that even if we did lose my main project. I'm pretty sure they'll always want at least one full-time proofreader/editor, and I'm the only non-contract one, so I'm pretty confident about job security either way.

So anyway, that made the rest of my workflow clog up and I nearly canceled tomorrow as a vacation day. But I moved enough stuff around that I can still do it.

On a good note about work, we had our holiday lunch on Friday, and in addition to delicious free food and wine, we got $250 in Amex gift cards. Smile NT's holiday party happened recently and they each got a $100 bill. Small but definitely appreciated bonuses; in this economy we don't count on anything from our companies.

Because my work weeks have been so intense, it's made me a bit stressed out about Xmas. When we were planning what we were going to do, it didn't seem like a lot, but there was a point where I started to feel stressed that I wouldn't accomplish it all. Well, we've made some good progress and I feel calm again. NT and I got all of our presents for AS at he mall last week, and AS and I finished shopping online for NT this Friday. I can tell they're about 2/3 done with my Xmas because they tell me what charges to deduct from that line item. Smile We finished getting AA's presents too; they're the only ones I can talk about because she's too little to read my blog. Smile

We got her a little wooden kitchen and a soft doll with three extra outfits. Her UK relations got her some toy food and dishes to go with the kitchen. My parents will probably get her some stuffed animals, some chalk and maybe another doll. I also emailed them that they could get her toy cars, board puzzles and coloring books/crayons -- out of our many hand-me-down toys, those are some missing items.

I got my parents a DVD of Wagon Train season 1 -- an old TV western that I don't think they have. (It was kind of pricey so I don't think they'd buy it for themselves; I found a great deal on eBay but my dad is not that web-savvy.) I also got an 8x10 print of a photo from our recent photo shoot; my mom has framed photos of every kid and grandkid in her living room and she likes it to be a recent pic, at least through graduation.

NT is taking care of his family; I know he's gotten some pics developed for them but don't know what else he's planning. AS is going to order a cookie basket or something similar that her mom and siblings can all enjoy, and she also got an 8x10 of one of the photos from our shoot.

We got holiday cards made from another of the shots -- a picture of us all looking up, the three of us sitting in a circle on the floor and AA standing in the middle also looking up. It's pretty cute. I went for the best card quality on the FedEx Office website so I only ordered 20 -- mostly for family, but also for a couple of friends that have gone above and beyond helping us with childcare and making sure we hung out. We've handed out a couple and I've been hunting down addresses for the rest -- will mail out as many as I can tomorrow on my day off, along with AS's mom's photo, and my parents photo and DVD.

So now, I actually find that things are coming together in plenty of time! We still have to wrap the gifts we ordered online as soon as they come in, and we have a few more Xmas decorations we could hang (though we've got the tree up, so I don't really care about the rest).

Most of the holiday parties we've been invited to are already out of the way -- there's one more for AS's office that the rest of us may or may not go to. My college had an alumni celebration last night, but the directions were funky and we couldn't find the place. We already had our car share and a babysitter, so we just went to a nice Thai restaurant and relaxed instead. Honestly, it was maybe even more fun than the party may have been. Wink We couldn't remember the last time all three of us went out to dinner together, without our daughter. Usually we take her out with us, or one of us stays home with her and the other two go out.

For Xmas we typically like to make some kind of special dinner. This year we decided that I'll make a wheat-gluten (seitan) roast with a stuffing inside; and AS will make these awesome dinner rolls she first tried out at Thanksgiving, plus some desserts; and NT will handle all the vegetable sides (right now he's thinking a potato dish and some parsnips). We love to cook, so that won't be stressful at all.

For gift-opening we're going to videotape AA opening her gifts so we can share it with family online. Technology is awesome. Smile

We usually go out with our best friends or over to their place for Xmas Eve, but haven't heard anything about it this year. If not, we'll just take it easy at home. NT has to assemble the toy kitchen anyway. Smile

We're not doing stockings or attempting to get AA to "give" gifts, or bothering with talking about Santa, beyond pointing him out in decorations. (She can point to him if you ask where Santa is, but she's mostly interested in his "hat" as that's one of her newer words.) Next year will be a bit more involved in that department, because she'll be able to anticipate and participate a lot more.

AS has been making holiday cookies when she feels up to it, but not the factory-like operation of non-pregnant years. I think that's fine. I'm trying to hold onto my weight loss anyway. Smile

This is one of the first years we've really given gifts and money to service providers. Well, I suppose we gave $100 to our first daycare lady the first Xmas. Oh yeah, and we made her some stew that she loved. But this year, we felt a bit more able to be generous, so we gave/are giving:
- $75 and a bunch of cookies to our house cleaner
- $25 to the holiday fund for our building management's employees
- $40 for our diaper service provider
- $175 in cash and gift cards to our incredible daycare lady, plus maybe some handmade toys for the daycare
- Oh! That reminds me I should do a card for our lawyer

Kiplinger always has an article around this time of advice for tips you can consider giving at this time of year, and one thing that struck me in this year's article was that they said you should think about tipping people who made your life easier over the year through their personal efforts. All of the above providers have impacted our lives positively. (The article also had some good practical advice about not giving if people felt strapped this year, but far from it, we actually feel pretty flush.)

So I think that's it for Xmas! It is kind of a lot of little things that added up to make me feel overwhelmed for about a week there, but now that things are moving along and we have plenty of time, I think it will be a relaxing and festive Xmas and that we'll make several friends, family and service providers happy, which is a main goal of the holiday. (We did extra donating of money to charities in November, so we'll just do the regular amounts this month.)

I have absolutely no idea what we're doing for New Year's. Since we so far only use friends for babysitting, I assume we wouldn't be able to get one, so we'll probably just hang out at home. Last year a friend came over and we just played videogames and snacked and drank wine, and I definitely wouldn't mind ringing in another year like that.

I haven't formalized my resolutions (or goals, I prefer to think of them these days), but I have a general idea of what I want to shoot for next year. I'll probably do a post about that closer to the end of the month.

Then we have to think of our January vacation to Mexico. Pretty much there's nothing to do for that; tickets, hotel and shuttle from the airport are ordered; we used some Amazon gift cards to get AS some maternity summerwear; we have cancellation insurance in case anything comes up (or if AS just plain doesn't feel up to it). I'm determined to mostly relax, take good care of AS and make sure AA has fun. There's plenty of money in the budget for NT to do some more adventurous stuff if he wants, and I might accompany him if AS feels up to taking care of AA, but otherwise I'm quite happy to lounge around as much as possible.

I guess that's it! I may do a more financial post tomorrow unless I get too busy running errands. If not, then later in the week.

Possible windfall next year -- almost too exciting to contemplate!

December 4th, 2011 at 09:39 pm

I've been a bit worried that my work would balk if I requested parental leave...after all, I'm a third parent so they might feel I was trying to take advantage of them.

But since I am going to be legally adopting the new baby, I figured it was worth a try. I decided to ask for one week off after the birth and then one day per week for the next three to four months after that. You can actually ask for 12 weeks if you're adopting at my company, but we're comfortable with keeping the baby at home for just four months before putting him/her into daycare. If NT and I each take some days off, AS can go back to work part-time like I did and we can stretch our parental leave to 4 months instead of the standard 12 weeks.

I broached the subject with my supervisor, and he was supportive. (One of his best friends is AS's boss, so he's well aware of my family situation.) So I emailed the HR lady and let her know I'd be submitting a request. She knows my situation too, so I was relieved when she simply wrote back congratulations and that she'd be in touch with our DC headquarters to see what I was entitled to as an adoptive parent.

When I took the request form to her, we chatted a bit and she said she didn't think it would be any trouble at all to get what I was requesting. Most of it will be paid PTO anyway; I probably won't have to start short-term disability after that.

She also said she'd look into getting me some assistance for the cost of adoption! She said our company has some program for that. I feel like I may have heard her wrong, but I thought she then said that one man at our company submitted adoption expenses of $5000 and was reimbursed by our company.

!!!

I was so stunned I just said well, I wasn't counting on anything like that, but of course anything to ease the financial strain of adoption would be welcome.

After I left, it sank in and I was like, did I really hear that??

My lawyer estimated it would cost $5000 to $6500 to complete adoptions for both kids. I already have the $6500 saved up. If I could get even a portion of that reimbursed by my company, that would help a ton with student loan debt repayment!

Now that I think more about it, I guess they would probably only reimburse the portion that pertained to the child I was adopting versus AS adopting AA. But still!

I looked through our HR site and could not find mention of this type of benefit. That's why I'm slightly doubting what I heard. Would be nice though.

My company after being so crappy and stingy is finally paying out again, it seems!

***

In other random news, I was able to order $600 of Amazon gift certificates with my Chase Southwest rewards points, and they came Friday! When I signed up for this offer I thought I'd be getting $500 worth, but there's a sale on right now.

AS's and NT's points probably won't appear in time for this sale, but from what MonkeyMama has said, these sales don't seem to be that uncommon. Perhaps they'll get another one going for Xmas!

But, even if there's no sale and we just get $500 each for NT's and AS's Southwest cards, that would take us to a net of $3858 in credit card bonuses (not counting regular cash back earnings) for 2011!

I wrote to my Chase Southwest and to a Citi MasterCard that AS and I got for a bonus, asking them to close those accounts.

As soon as I get some accounts closed, I'm going to try for this card:
citi.com/travel
Spend $2500 and get $500 worth of points; annual fee waived for 1st year; sounds like there are other benefits to the account as well.

If I can get this before our Mexico vacation in January, we could put our planned spending on this card and nearly meet the requirement right there!

Awesome new comfort food discovery

December 1st, 2011 at 08:20 pm

Actually, I tried this at the State Fair and have been meaning to try and make it for a while now. I finally did tonight.

Kushari is an Egyptian street/comfort food, and it's also pretty frugal because you can make a passable version using really common ingredients! The most exotic thing I used was ground cumin. Basically it's lentils, rice and elbow macaroni topped with a tomato-vinegar-garlic sauce and browned flour-coated fried onions. It was soo good. I pretty much nailed it the first time I tried making it!

In terms of healthiness I'd say it's half-and-half, because the lentil-rice mixture and the tomato sauce are healthy, the macaroni and the fried onions not so much. But it's filling and comforting and tasty and has cheap ingredients. Smile

EDIT to add recipe, in case you're wanting to try it.

Kushari Recipe

Kushari consists of four things, so the ingredients and instructions are listed separately:

Lentils + Rice
Macaroni
Garlic Vinegar Tomato Sauce
Fried Onion Topping

Serves about 8 people

Lentil Layer

1 cup of lentils
1 cup of rice
5 cups of water
1 tablespoon cumin
1 t salt and 1/2 t pepper

Put water in a large pot and add cumin. Boil the water and then add lentils. Close lid, reduce heat slightly and leave it boiling for about 20 minutes. Meanwhile, slice onions for onion layer and start frying in batches (see below). Also mince garlic and start sauce (see below).
Add rice, salt and pepper and stir. Reduce heat to very low and simmer with lid on until rice is cooked, about 20 minutes. Meanwhile start a medium pot of water boiling for macaroni (see below). Stir lentil-rice mixture a few times during cooking to try and reduce sticking. Turn off heat and leave on warm burner with lid on.

Fried Onion Topping

2 large onions (or equivalent), peeled and cut in half and then into strips.
3/4 t salt
1/3 cup flour
Plenty of vegetable oil for frying

Add salt and flour to cut onions. In a cast-iron frying pan add vegetable oil (3 T per batch?) and on medium-high, fry as many onion strips in pan as will fit in a single layer (you will probably fry 3 or 4 times total), turning fairly frequently, for 10-15 minutes until deep golden brown. (Try for crispiness, but don't let them burn too much.)

Garlic Vinegar Sauce

1 T vegetable oil
2-3 tablespoons minced garlic
2-3 tablespoons white vinegar
2 15-oz. cans of plain tomato sauce
1 t salt and 1/2 t pepper
3/4 t red pepper flakes

In a saucepan on medium-high, cook garlic in vegetable oil for a minute or 2. Add tomato sauce and then add vinegar and spices and stir. Stir on heat for a few minutes, until it boils. Reduce heat to very low until ready to serve.

Macaroni Layer

2 cups dry macaroni
Water

Throw macaroni into boiling water about 9 min. before last onion layer is done frying; cook until al dente and drain.

To serve, ladle layers of lentil-rice, then macaroni, then tomato sauce, then fried onions.

Progress on the December debt goal

December 1st, 2011 at 11:51 am

All our mortgage payments hit today:
US: $435 to principal
UK1: $264
UK2: $56
UK3: $58

All told, that's $813 down, $1147 to go on the December goal.

I know I sound like a broken record, but my payments from Oct. 10 and last week still haven't posted to NT's student loan account. I'm going to keep sending one payment per month and estimating the amount to principal. I mean, it's a huge student loan organization. It'll have to apply my payments someday, right? They keep coming out of my checking account OK.

I briefly considered putting extra money toward a different debt until this glitch is cleared up, but his loan has the highest interest by far, so I can't bring myself to divert funds elsewhere. Just hoping they make good on their promise to apply payments retroactively so the interest isn't really accumulating as fast as it appears to be.