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Archive for March, 2012

March goal results; April goal set

March 31st, 2012 at 03:35 am

I know, I know, what am I doing A) blogging about finances and B) awake? I'm having a hard time getting sleepy even though I'm so exhausted I'm kind of slow-thinking and -moving.

Oh well. SL has just fed and is dozing off, AS is enjoying some Percocet and her iPad, and NT & AA went home hours ago. Hopefully eventually I'll get sleepier.

So meanwhile, I checked in on AS's last student loan payment of the month. It posted, with $61 going to principal. (Only 2 more payments and this particular debt is paid off!) That takes us to $4064 of debt paid, far exceeding the $1998 we were expecting to eke out!

This was a great month for debt. We're now less than $6000 away from our 2012 goal of getting education debt under $40K; less than $15,000 away from our goal to get total debt under $300K this year.

We have a pretty big surplus in the budget for April, but several big expenses, such as the double stroller, taxes/tax preparation. The credit card bill from our hospital stay won't be huge, but we've ordered food in, bought some pumping supplies and rented a car for 24 hours, so it will add up. However, I'm thinking we'll be able to squeeze out $2000 of debt repayment. May through July will be much tighter, so I'm enjoying it while I can!

Uh oh, SL is stirring. She's probably going to be much crankier tonight than last night, and me not napping while I could. Ah well, at least I have the weekend to relearn how to sleep with a newborn, before I head back to work!

Addition to the ceejay family!

March 30th, 2012 at 07:17 pm

Hello all! I'm sitting in a hospital again, just over two years from the last time. This time I'm not too out of it to hop online. Smile

AS's doctor decided to induce labor Wednesday morning. It was a long slow process, but luckily the epidural enabled her to sleep through parts of it. After 31 hours they saw that she and the baby were ready. AS's epidural was working so well that she wasn't sure how to push, but she got the hang of it after three practice pushes. After that, it was about three or four more and the baby just shot out! Compared with my 2 hours of pushing with no results, it looked like magic to me!

So anyway, here is our darling little SL. She was 6 lbs. 13 oz. and 20 inches when she was born. Just 4 oz. and 1/2 inch bigger than her big sister was!






We are overwhelmed with how wonderful it is to have a little baby again. Of course she's still very sleepy and hasn't started giving us hell yet!



AA has been staying with our friends and having a blast. They took her to daycare yesterday and today as well, so part of her routine is still there.

NT went to get a carshare; we decided to get a 24 hour rental so we can have it to bring AA to visit SL today, and also still have it when AS and SL are discharged tomorrow. I'm going to stay the night in the hospital with AS and SL, and NT is going to spend the night at home with AA.

I've only managed to sleep about 5 hours Wednesday night and maybe 4 hours last night, plus a couple catnaps, so I'm very dazed and not very coherent. Just saving up my energy to notify friends, family, co-workers and lawyer, and to take care of SL.

I have this amazing feeling that my family is complete. It will feel even better once we get everyone back home and get to know one another better.

I miss my little AA, and it's strange to have another little creature who also commands all my love. Seeing them together is going to be crazy.

I might try to do a financial post about birth-related spending, or I may not get around to it. Wink Suffice it to say for now that we have a buffer in the budget that can absorb the incidentals we've found ourselves spending on.

Paying the stoopid tax -- x2

March 27th, 2012 at 08:58 pm

Can I blame pregnant brain even though I'm not pregnant myself?

Last night I thought I'd pay daycare tuition early so we wouldn't forget later. I made out the check and then stuck it under the flap of the box of diapers we were taking to daycare the next day.

After the usual bumpy, windy stroller journey with the box of diapers hanging from the stroller handle, can you guess what? Yes -- the check had disappeared!

I retraced my steps a few blocks on my way to the bus stop, but rather than go the whole way back and be late to work (with little hope of finding the check), I sucked it up and called in a stop on the check. $30 for a 6-month hold. Sigh. This is the first time in YEARS that I've paid a dime for banking, besides fees to transfer money to AS's mom.

Sitting on the bus after I hung up with the bank, I was grimly amused that I'd paid the "stupid tax." Then I thought, no, the stupid tax is lottery tickets. Then I though, hey! I haven't played Powerball in a while!

So I stopped at a convenience store and bought 5 lottery tickets. LOL. Suggestible much?

At least the store owner saved me $5. I asked for 5 Powerball tickets because that's the game I usually play (when I do play, which isn't very often), and he said I should play MegaMillions instead, because it's only $1 per ticket and the jackpot is really big now. I said OK, but then thought huh? I thought Powerball was $1 per ticket.

I had to Google Powerball price increase online. Apparently in January they doubled the price of a Powerball ticket from $1 to $2. I guess I haven't played in at least 3 months, because I had no idea.

Seems extreme! I usually like to buy a couple different sets of numbers each time, but now, it would cost $6 to play my occasional 3 numbers, $10 to play my very rare splurge of 5 numbers. Doesn't sound like a harmless couple of bucks anymore. Guess I'm switching to MegaMillions.

Even though I always snicker at myself for paying the stupid tax, I like playing the lottery occasionally, because it lets me fantasize about what I'd do with unimaginable wealth.

But, I feel like I need to do something fiscally smart to make up for my silliness and poor planning today. Hmmm...

Progress on debt; various gift card & credit card doings

March 27th, 2012 at 03:01 am

One of AS's student loans hit with $127 going to principal. That takes our March debt repayment to $4003! Woo hoo! She has one more small student loan payment this month; let's see if I'm of sound enough mind to record it on time. Smile

Made it through the work day somehow; luckily it was slow enough that I could do each thing I got as soon as I got it, so that puts me ahead for the week a little, hopefully. I was going to cook and save our pizza delivery for another day, but after working through lunch and braving the cold drizzle home, I gave in (it was scheduled on the menu so I didn't feel guilty).

I suddenly felt insecure that we had a bunch of gift cards laying around -- some in various wallets, some hidden around the house -- so I went and collected them and filed them in their own folder. If I can recall (too lazy to get the folder) I found:
$10 Punch Pizza card
$75 Tom Pham's Azian Kitchen cards
$30 Wild Rumpus (kids' bookshop)
$100 Barnes & Noble
$165 Target
$200 Amex card

I gave a $25 Target card back to AS so she could buy a couple more things before the birth but the rest are waiting there. That's not counting the $1800 in Amazon credits that we've accumulated from credit card rewards and family gifts. Oh, and I have $30 in my Amazon account. And we just redeemed a $30 credit for our diaper service that someone gave us at the shower. And I think AS has some iTunes credits in her iTunes account. And she just ordered a $25 CVS card from MyPoints. Yeesh!

Speaking of which, we decided not to use the Amazon credit to buy the stroller. NT applied for (and was approved for) a Chase Sapphire card (that's the spend $3000, get $500 cash deal, which rumor has it is going away soon). We'll charge the stroller on that when we get it. I think I can cover that with the budget surplus. I think the stroller & supplies will come to about $1250, so the Chase account will be nearly halfway there. The rest will be easily met by charging regular expenses over the three months we have.

With AS's Chase card yielding $200 as soon as we finish charging $500, and this new Chase card giving us $500 after we charge $3000, we'll actually only have to spend about $550 out of pocket, net, for the stroller and supplies. So I think it's a good call, and then we'll still have the Amazon credits for little emergencies that come up.

So close! Preparations etc.

March 26th, 2012 at 05:35 pm

OK, weirdly enough I've finished all the work I can do right now. That never happens anymore. But it means I have time on my hands and I'm exTREMEly antsy, so here goes a probably long and rambling post.

Friday we thought the baby might come! AS went for her weekly visit and the baby wasn't hitting all its marks just right, so she got sent to the hospital for further monitoring. That's happened before, but this time the score was low enough (and her blood pressure was high enough) that they said if the score didn't improve, they would probably induce labor!

NT left work early and I emailed people warning that I might too. But the scores and blood pressure improved, so they sent her home.

This morning she had another checkup, and they said that with the high blood pressure and imperfect baby scoring, they would want to induce this week. She has an appointment with her regular doctor on Wednesday, so it may be that day or they may schedule it for soon after. Definitely before next Tuesday, which was the due date. Looks like we're most likely getting a March baby like we hoped!

I never had the nesting thing when I was pregnant; too tired and lazy. I feel like I've had the urge this time, though.

We packed an overnight bag for AA, in case she'll stay with our friends for a night or two. (They might also stay over at our place with her, depending on circumstances and what seems easier -- on them and on her.)

Our bag for the hospital is packed and ready, with a list tucked into the handle of things we need to grab at the last minute. (I don't think we got this far when I was pregnant; I didn't really think I'd deliver before my due date.) Although we'll likely be going before AS is in labor, we still like having everything ready so there's less running around when it's time to go.

We've notified our jobs and the lawyer. I'm going to wait to notify family until we know what day she'll be induced.

We've found another possible spot for our giant stroller (which we can't buy until we have somewhere to put it) and have emailed the building manager to see if that spot is OK to use. If not, we'll put up a notice in our garage to see if anyone will rent us part of their spot (we left notes on two cars closest to the door, but no one got back to us). If that doesn't work, we'll ask the people who currently rent our spot if we can have part of it for the stroller for a discount on their rent. If they don't want to share, we'll have to stop renting it to them.

I did some not-quite-baby-related stuff as well that I'd been putting off for a while, just to burn off nervous energy. I organized a big bag of miscellaneous notebooks, organizers, etc., put some on the free table and found places for everything else. I started to get our wills ready to take to the safe-deposit place at the bank. AS and NT need to make their physical assets lists and then we can take it to the bank. I sorted and put away the gifts from the baby shower, and got out cards so we could start doing thank-you cards for everyone who gave us stuff.

We tidied up for the housecleaner, who's coming today. It'll be nice to have a spic'n'span home for the baby (and for our friends if they decide to stay over with AA).

The diaper service regular pickup/dropoff is today; they're bringing a supply of smaller liners for the littlest one! Our service only went up by about $4 per week to add another baby.

This weekend I planned a menu of easy meals for the week, with two days designated for ordering delivery. Ordinarily if we don't cook, we have to use our personal spending money to eat out. But since I'm leaving two open days in anticipation of not being able to cook, I'm going to foot the bill using budget surplus money.

I also did all the prep work I could for the meals. We also bought a few frozen and canned meals to have on hand for when we're too tired or disorganized in coming weeks.

We used to keep the grocery list on the microwave and add to it as we ran out of stuff, then add more after we planned the menu each week on Friday/Saturday. The menu would be handwritten and stuck to the fridge.

The past few weeks, we've begun a shared spreadsheet in Google Docs where we put the menu and the grocery list. It's much easier to make changes, and we can rearrange the order of the items on the list to correspond with the layout of the stores.

Here's our menu for the week; everything can be moved around if necessary.

Monday
Pizza delivery

Tuesday
Crispy tofu, mango, avocado & iceberg lettuce salad

Wednesday
Enchiladas

Thursday
Spaghetti & jar pasta sauce

Friday
Asian delivery or takeout

Saturday lunch
Lunch"meat"-veggie-cheese sandwiches & chips

I pressed and cubed the tofu for the salad, and made the dressing, so all we have to do is fry the tofu, chop the mango & avocado & lettuce.

I made the enchilada sauce and cooked up some pintos, which I'll make into refried beans tonight. I may preassemble the enchiladas and put in the fridge; haven't decided.

Everything else is super easy.

Looking at it and thinking about inducing possibly Wednesday, maybe we should make one of our meals tonight and save the pizza delivery for later in the week.

My gum infection seems to have gone away, but my bite doesn't feel quite the same so my teeth may have shifted again. I'd go and get it looked at right away ordinarily, but I think it can wait until we're settled in. It's not too bad as long as I don't try to close my teeth together all the way.

I think that's it! I'm so excited. I'm feeling quite emotional and almost get weepy when I picture holding the new little one for the first time. Also I'm of course concerned for AS and hope she doesn't suffer too much during the labor. Nothing seems altogether real right now, as I wait for our new reality to begin.

Big debt payment; met goal and then some! Pondering possibilities

March 23rd, 2012 at 01:28 am

My $2000 payment to NT's student loan hit; $1965 went to principal, so that's $3876 paid this month! Way over our $1998 goal (of course we had no idea the lawyer costs would be this low).

By my calculations, that loan is now at $15,742. The account says it's still over $17K, because they still have not posted three payments but have posted a payment that I never made. (I call them about once a month and they always say they've received the payments and will process them eventually, and credit us for the interest we've been overcharged.) But I think my calculation is pretty close.

With a bit of luck, we might be able to put nearly $1800 toward it in April, which would take it down to about $14K. May through July we'll only be able to put about $1000, which would take it to $13K. Starting in August, we should be able to put about $1000 per month toward it, so it could conceivably be paid off in Sept. 2013.

Of course, NT will be going back to school this summer, so I guess we have to choose either A) try to cashflow his tuition or B) keep taking out loans but paying as much as we can on them.

Given my recent frustration with student loan companies, I'm wondering if I should slow down repayment and focus on cashflowing tuition instead.

This would still have a positive effect on our debt totals. Some of you may remember that, when I started our debt journey, I didn't want to see our debt go up, even though we'd already committed to NT getting his degree.

So I added $40,000 of phantom education debt to our bottom line. Whenever he took out a student loan, I'd subtract it from the phantom debt and add a line item for the actual debt, so that our debt didn't go up when he took out loans.

He's still got $12,839 of phantom debt. So if I cashflowed tuition, I'd reduce the phantom debt by the same amount, since it would be debt we didn't have to take out after all.

I don't have to decide right now, because if I decide to cashflow, I could use money from the EF to pay tuition outright and then replenish it with the $1000 per month that would ordinarily go to student loan debt. So it's not like I really have to plan ahead if we change course and stop taking out new loans.

Surprise payment to student loan, plus great lawyer news

March 20th, 2012 at 09:54 pm

NT's other student loan (NOT the one that hasn't yet registered a couple payments they received 6 months ago) has been messing up too.

In December they sent us a late-payment notice and I discovered they hadn't added his most recent amount borrowed to the autopay for some reason. I got them to promise to add it to autopay and to apply the late fee to principal.

Then a few days ago, we got a late-payment notice; they had never added the loan to autopay as promised, and were once again charging us a $5 late fee.

I emailed and explained the situation, asked them to add it to autopay for real this time, and requested they refund the late fee again since it still wasn't our fault. They replied to say OK to all, but that I had to manually pay the late amount because they couldn't retroactively collect it via autopay.

I immediately did so. Today the amount I paid was deducted from checking -- twice! Sigh. I went onto the loan account and at least it was deducted twice. So I'm not going to argue, since the extra payment -- plus the late fee amount -- went toward principal.

So, unexpectedly, that's $24 more paid to student loans. Now we're at $1911 down, $87 to go on our March goal.

***

Now for the REALLY good news. I touched base with our lawyer to let him know the birth is coming up soon and to see when he wants to find about about it so he can start the adoption process. In the secretary's reply, she also mentioned she'd be sending us a retainer agreement soon, and gave us two options for payment:

-- A $3500 flat fee, nonrefundable, that would cover all the lawyer fees, and a $1000 refundable retainer to cover any court costs that might arise

-- A $3500 refundable retainer that would be applied to lawyer and court fees. The catch is that if the hourly lawyer fees + court costs ended up being higher than $3500, we would have to add to the retainer and pay the full amount. It could end up being less than $3500 or a great deal more, depending on how things went.

We opted for the first payment plan, because we're doing two unusual (third-parent) adoptions, so we feel complications (and thus lawyer fees) could easily crop up.

Since I saved up enough money to cover the high end of his very rough estimate during his initial consultation with us, I actually had $6500 set aside. Now that it looks like we'll get both adoptions for under $4500, I'm sending the extra $2000 straight to student loan debt.

I could put it in the EF, since I'm always grousing about being behind on that goal. But the simple truth is, having student loan debt bugs me more than not meeting my EF goals. I know we'll get there eventually with the EF, even if it's not this year. We've got over 3 months' expenses saved already, so it's not like we're unprotected should emergencies arise.

So woo hoo! The payment should hit the account in a couple of days!

Two weeks till due date! Plus other random updates

March 19th, 2012 at 05:36 am

I was having a tough week with a lingering cold that was cycling through various symptoms. Friday night I was so relieved that I'd managed to work the whole week and not get too far behind, and was thinking my cold was subsiding. My teeth were feeling tender, but that wasn't uncommon with a cold (I had surgery a few years ago and they've been sensitive ever since).

But by Saturday afternoon, the ache had turned into a throb and there was definite swelling. I knew it had turned into an infection.

I recently switched to a new dentist; my job changed insurance again and so this was my second switch in two years. I had my first checkup last month, and the bill was about $230! I'm still contesting that to see if they can get insurance to cover more of it. So I wasn't thrilled I'd have to see them on a weekend; if that was a checkup, what would an emergency visit cost?

But turns out they didn't have any after-hours contact info on their website or voicemail message. So I went to my insurance site and started dialing in-network dentists nearby, until I found one that had an emergency number. I explained I wasn't a patient but that they were in my insurance network. The paged dentist called me and, when I explained my history and symptoms, said he trusted that I knew an infection when I had one (I've had two before and this was mimicking that exactly). So he didn't ask to see me, but called in a scrip for antibiotics and a small amount of Vicodin to get me through the worst of the swelling and pain. (He sounded like a great guy; if my new dentist doesn't straighten out this dental bill, I may switch over to this practice for my next checkup and see if they're any better!)

I don't know how much it's going to cost (so far just $14 for the two prescriptions), but I'm sure much less than if I'd had to go see someone. So far the swelling and pain do seem to be lessening. Of course the Vicodin's made me pretty useless this weekend, but so was the pain before that.

I threw up this morning because I stupidly took the medicine on an empty stomach, but other than that I've been taking it OK. Unfortunately, either because I've been less active, or because the Vicodin is causing constipation, or because I have to eat before each dose, I gained 2 lbs. at my weigh-in tonight. I'm now 3 lbs. over my starting weight for the year. Sigh. My goal seems farther and farther off!

I added $25.26 to the EF, but I still haven't gotten back to our starting point for the year, due to the lease renewal and other expenses that ate up some savings.

So those two goals aren't going great so far this year. Another goal, to research some products to find out about they're made, I haven't even started on yet. But all the other stated goals are going great. Plus, I've achieved a few other things that weren't even on the list: implementing "Getting Things Done" (and thus lessening stress, clearing out clutter and filing years of disorganized papers); starting a family dinner routine; figuring out a way to avoid buying a car this year; and reading probably more books in the first three months than I did all last year.

And anyway, I'm finding it hard to care about a few more pounds on my body, or a few less bucks in the bank: We are so close to meeting our new little guy! AS is just over 2 weeks from her due date. She's getting more and more practice contractions, the baby is head-down and very low; feels like it could happen any day now! She's having weekly ultrasounds and extra monitoring because of her high blood pressure, but so far the baby has been doing great! There have been a few times she got sent to the hospital because they're being extra-cautious and will make any little irregularity in the testing get checked out, but every time, it's turned out to be nothing. This is one healthy, active, kicking, squirming, weight-gaining baby-to-be!

We've bought nearly everything we wanted to get before the baby came; we just need some breastpump supplies and new bottle nipples. We have a crib promised to us, and a two-kid stroller all picked out that we'll buy new; but neither of those are needed for the first month or two. (NT left some notes on cars in our condo parking garage to see if anyone would let us rent the space under their storage container to park the giant stroller; we won't buy one until we know where we can put it, since we know it won't fit through our condo door!)

AS has gathered a lot of the stuff for the hospital bag; some things we'll need right up until the day (like this laptop!) so we can't pack it all the way, but we could pull it together really fast now.

We need to talk to our friends CC and NJ who will look after little AA if we need to be at the hospital outside of daycare hours (which will probably be the case since both other adults want to be there for the full labor, though after that we could take turns staying at the hospital depending on how long the stay needs to be). They've already agreed to be there for us, but we need to make sure we're all on the same page.

We've also had lots of offers for rides to the hospital, so we should make sure we have everyone's cell numbers and times they'd be available to be called (some volunteered if it's during work hours, while others said call me anytime day or night).

While writing this, I realized I need to touch base with our lawyer, to find out when he needs to be alerted to the baby's birth to get the adoption going! I'll email him tomorrow.

So yeah, little things like being 13 lbs. off my weight goal instead of 11? Easy to put that in perspective! Heck, I've barely even worried about how my accountant is doing on my and NT's taxes. Big Grin

March 2012 net worth update

March 18th, 2012 at 08:36 pm

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): $16,311
NT's Roth IRA: $4,152
AS's 401(k): $7,068
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $6,576
CJ's 401(k): $44,226
CJ's Roth IRA: $4,152
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $14,199
---
Total Assets: $585,300

Total Debt: $317,098

Current Estimated Net Worth: $268,202

February 2012 estimate: $262,142

Change in net worth: +$6,060

Summary: Healthy progress again this month, thanks to steady increases in our retirement, a big chunk put into our EF, and a couple thousand of debt paid down.

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 very approximate. 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.

Family dinners, charity decision, etc.

March 14th, 2012 at 03:04 am

Sometimes the easiest way to drastically change is to just do it out of the blue, rather than over-preparing and building it up in your head.

We'd vaguely thought about how eventually we'd like to have sit-down family dinners with AA, but it didn't seem feasible. We like home-cooked meals, often from scratch, and it usually takes at least an hour (usually a bit more) to cook. Knowing that, we usually focus on feeding AA after daycare and work, so we sometimes wouldn't start on dinner immediately and wouldn't eat until closer to 8 pm, near AA's bedtime.

Even if we did manage to cut down on cooking time, we figured, AA would be miserable waiting, because she's so used to eating right when she gets home.

But after the 2-year checkup, and reading about how family meals can help a child have a more balanced diet and healthier attitude toward food, we suddenly decided to have a family meal together the next night. One reason we were able to pull it together quickly was that I'd happened to cook the refried beans in advance.

So that night, I chopped the veggies, pressed the tofu and made the breading the night before, and AS made waffles, ready to pop in the toaster the next night.

Sure enough, the next night, all I had to do was bread and fry the tofu, steam and season the broccoli, and toast the waffles. Plenty of energy left over after AA had gone to bed to chop veggies for the lasagne the next night, and in fact AS put the lasagnes together that same night, so the next night all we had to do was pop them in the oven.

The next night AA went to bed early after her exciting birthday, but Sunday I started dinner early and we were able to eat together again! NT prepped his veggies for the next night and got his recipe out so he could put it together fast on Monday. I helped him a bit on Monday, but had plenty of time to chop mushrooms and onions to put in our grilled cheese sandwiches tonight, so those got put together faster. And tonight I chopped up broccoli, garlic and bread cubes for dinner tomorrow!

I know I'm being tedious listing this out, but I can't believe how well everything is coming together. I totally thought prepping the night before would just be adding more work to our lives, but in fact it takes away work from the next day, so it evens out. The only thing it adds is extra dishes to wash (Tupperware to store the pre-prep stuff), but since we have a dishwasher that doesn't add much actual work.

This is not only a good system if you need to get dinner on the table earlier to eat with your toddler, it could work for people who tend to be too hungry or tired themselves to put too much energy into cooking right after work. Once you eat and relax, prepping the next night's food at an unhurried pace is so easy. We've all had low-grade colds this whole time, yet we've managed to avoid the temptation to order in; no one's even suggested it!

And as for AA, the first night was really difficult; she wasn't expecting it, and it was weird. First she had to wait for food and we would only give her fruit to tide her over. Then she had to sit at the table versus running around between bites. And the TV was off, when usually she gets to watch Word World while she eats. She was pretty cranky and didn't eat much.

The next night, I showed her how to help me get napkins and utensils for everyone and put them on the table. That helped a bit. We started insisting she try two bites of everything (we used to say one, but she's two now!) and that annoyed her, but she had a waffle to comfort her. Smile

The night after that, we again showed her how to set the table. I also held her up to show her everyone dishing lasagne onto their plates, and we applauded when each person had gotten all their food. Smile

Sunday and Monday, she helped set the table again and ate at least two bites of everything on her plate without complaint and without much help.

Today we asked her to help set the table. I watched while she ran over to the drawer where our napkins were and counted out four, then took them over to the table so NT could help her set them out. When he put her in her booster seat, she sat calmly and watched me bring the food out, understanding that we were all going to eat soon.

The speed with which she takes on new tasks and new routines is kind of astounding. She doesn't freak out about not getting food right away (as long as we give her fruit), she's more open to trying new foods, she doesn't beg off my plate, she's more focused on eating her meal. She's patient about not getting down until everyone's finished eating, which she hated the first time. I mean, we're talking a complete lifestyle change in less than a week, and she's totally embraced it!

***

On to my other topic (if you're still reading at this point!): my charitable contributions.

We each get $50 per month to donate as we see fit. It can be to anything we consider a good cause.

I had gradually been talked into setting up regular monthly contributions for three places: an international aid org, a political organization and an environmental group. I had $10 of "free" charity money each month to do with as I see fit.

When I lost my wallet and canceled my cards, two of my regular donations went away, because they were linked to my card. (One of them has sent me a letter asking for new info, but the other one hasn't caught on yet.) I've been putting off updating my info because, frankly, it hasn't been very fun having my charity money siphoned off automatically each month. I realized that one of the reasons I was so adamant we put aside a fixed amount of money per month was so that if someone or some cause said "I need your help" and I was moved to help, I wouldn't have to wonder whether I had enough money to spare a donation. But with all my money tied to three organizations, it didn't really happen that way.

So I've decided to let my three regular donations lapse and just give money when the spirit moves me from now on.

The reason I thought of it was that a good friend from college posted on Facebook about her poor cat who has a large tumor and is having lots of expensive vet appointments to determine what it is and how to fix it. She mentioned that it had cost her a month and a half worth of rent so far and would end up being more.

I know this friend well enough to know that she's not rich, and she doesn't try to live beyond her means. She shares a place with three roommates, she hardly ever travels, she wears thrift-store clothes, she's never had a car. I also know she would never stop trying to save a pet, no matter how broke she got.

So I sent her a message on Facebook to see if I could donate to her cat's medical care, and she was so pleased. Probably as much by the thought as anything else. I set up a $55 check (all the charity money I'd accumulated since my automatic donations stopped) to mail out of my checking account.

And I thought, THIS is what I want. To feel that tiny bit of ability to help out when a need pops up. To scratch that itch when a cause crosses my path and I want to chip in.

It's partly selfish, but if it's more enjoyable to give money this way, why not? I don't give enough to make a huge difference anyway, so I might as well do it in a way that feels more meaningful to me.

Progress on March debt goal

March 8th, 2012 at 10:21 pm

I realized we have a bigger cushion than usual in the checking account, so I sent my extra payment to NT's student loan a bit early (usually I wait until our paychecks hit on the 15th of each month). $1065 went to principal, so that's $1887 down, $111 to go on our March goal.

Now there will be a big period of thumb-twiddling until AS's loan payments hit at the end of the month. But we'll easily hit our goal.

Boy, this post was boring. Even I'm bored. Wink

Suddenly, implementing changes for toddlerhood

March 8th, 2012 at 07:13 pm

It's funny; I didn't think much would change when AA turned two on Monday. But it's only Thursday and already there have been drastic changes:

1. The eve of her birthday, she started saying a word along with the letter for one or two letters, such as "C. Cat!" We were telling her that K was for "kangaroo," and she went and got two letter Os and started saying "oo"!

2. On her birthday, AA headed to her potty saying "pee-pee." Not unusual since we often "play" at going potty, sometimes with pants and diaper on, sometimes taking them off. But this time she wanted them off, and she actually peed into the potty a little bit, for the first time. Hasn't happened since, but this was impressive to us!

3. After her checkup on Tuesday, I started reading the materials the pediatrician gave me. They talked a lot about family dinners being an important part of eating, nutrition, etc. We don't do family dinners at present -- AA gets hungry as soon as she gets home, whereas adult dinner isn't usually ready until between 7 pm and 8:30 pm, depending on the complexity of the cooking and whatever else is going on. We usually eat in the living room in front of the TV.

So last night, I happened to be making burritos for which I'd premade the refried beans over the weekend. We decided to throw it together and eat early, at the table, with AA, TV off. We gave her fruit as a snack to help her wait.

She didn't do too well with the structure -- we are usually pretty loose with making her sit even at her little table, and so she kept whining to get down, and wouldn't eat most of it. But we made her stay until all of us finished eating, and she didn't freak out too bad. (We did let her have some snacks after, since she barely ate any, but we'll work on minimizing that.)

We are now working on a game plan to premake parts of dinner the night before, so we can get it to the table sooner and eat together. AS made up a lasagne last night that just needs to bake when we get home tonight.

4. Later last night, AA got a bit overexcited and slapped my face. She got her first time-out ever! (It only lasted 30 seconds, but I did make sure she didn't get up during it.)

Big changes in our family all of a sudden!

Birthday month is 3/4 over

March 6th, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Of the four of us, three of our birthdays are in the first week of March. Then there's a lull, and then NT's is on the 21st. So, 3 of 4 birthdays are over for the year!

AA is two -- can you believe it? She's a little smartie, too -- recognizes and can say most of the letters of the alphabet, both uppercase and lower.

We only spent about half our $100 budget for her -- got her a stuffed animal (character from a favorite show), two boards where you use a magnet pen to trace letters and numbers and little ball bearings pop up where you touch it, and some CDs of kids songs by They Might Be Giants. Her grandparents got her tons of stuff, and her British grandad put 50 pounds in NT's account for her. It was supposed to be to buy her presents, but since we had $50 left over in our own budget for her, we put the 50 in savings and bought her some stuff "from" the British grandparents using our own money. She also got $2 from my mom and an Amazon gift card from another British grandparent. We taped her opening her presents; hard to get a 2-year-old to be equally excited by everything, but everyone will just have to understand. Smile

We asked NT's family not to get us adults anything, and AS's mom is usually too disorganized to actually ship presents. Wink No use telling my parents not to get anything -- they live for spoiling kids and grandkids. AS got an iPod nano, a couple books and DVDs, and $150 in iTunes cards. I got an Elvis jigsaw puzzle Big Grin, some DVDs and $150 Target gift card. And $20 in my card that was sent separately. NT's gifts have already arrived but we don't know what he got yet. Oh, and we got some nunchuks for our Wii.

My parents are so hard to read sometimes. I chatted with them on Skype on Sunday and was telling them how we're trying to get AA to call me and AS "mom" and "mama" instead of both "mama." My dad sort of squirmed and said something like, oh, but when you're in public, people will think she has two moms. I made things very clear in a letter when this relationship started, and I try to be clear still, so that they know AS is my partner, her baby will be my son or daughter (aka their grandkid), etc. But it seems like they don't get it. Yet they spend hundreds of dollars on presents for AS, so they clearly do consider her to be part of the family. I'm just not sure in what capacity. They like her, they would've paid her airfare to come to the family reunion this summer, they always get her presents and send her cards for every holiday. So it doesn't bother me too much, but I'm just glad we don't live close enough to them that they might be around our kids when we're not, and say confusing things to them. Life is going to be confusing enough for our kids; we need a tight-knit team to support them and make them feel confident in their family structure!

Maybe when the official adoption happens after the birth, they will at least be able to comprehend that our kids legally do have three parents. Shrug. I should just be happy that we haven't faced any major opposition from any of our families over this.

Oh yeah, that reminds me -- remember when NT finally told his gran what was really going on, that AS was also part of the family? Well, AS got her own bday card from gran this year, and she signed it "Grandma." Big Grin (She's a couple years older than my parents, so they have no excuse for not getting this!)

I guess that's all for now. No point to this post really, just babbling to run down the clock at work. Now I can fill out my timesheet and leave!

Oh happy (EF) day! plus some debt progress

March 6th, 2012 at 09:27 pm

I finally got back into NT's UK account after misplacing my wallet and ordering a new secure key. First, can post some mortgage progress:

UK mortgage #1: $268 to principal
UK #2: $56
UK #3: $60

That makes it $822 down, $1176 to go on the March debt repayment goal.

Then, remember how I thought I had to transfer 800 pounds ($1600) out of savings to cover a bunch of flat expenses? Well, the mortgages hit and there was still over 670 pounds left. (50 of it is b-day money for lil AA from her grandparents.) We should get paid again before the next mortgage payments hit, and we've already paid all the expenses, so I must have messed up my calculations somewhat. I'm not complaining! I'll put it back in savings, then make sure to check the account before next month's mortgage payments, to make sure I haven't got it wrong.

Long story short, I transferred 625 pounds, or US$1250, back into EF savings! That brings our EF up to $14,173.29, just a few hundred short of where we started the year. That means we would need to put $647.41 per month in to hit our $20K goal. It's unlikely, but not impossible!

Earned more Amazon credits!

March 5th, 2012 at 06:12 pm

I redeemed points from my Citi ThankYou card that had the offer of 50,000 points ($500) if you spend $2500. Since I did have to spend $2500 to get there, I was actually able to redeem $525 of Amazon bucks. Smile

We now have $1336 in our Amazon account. We also have another $525 coming from NT's Citi ThankYou card as soon as his statement posts (should be this week). So that will bring our Amazon balance up to $1861.

My dream was to have our Amazon bucks be available for all of 2012 for any unexpected wants or needs that couldn't easily be covered by anything else. (If we do end up using these credits to purchase the stroller, I plan on saving up the same amount in cash to have as our household reserve instead.)

However, we've already spent $1064 in Amazon gift card money in three months. So do I really think $1861 will satisfy my household for the next NINE months? Doubtful. I think having the balance there is too much of a temptation to find reasons to spend it. But maybe when it starts to run low, we'll find ways to economize so we don't run out in June. One thing's for sure, when this balance is gone, the CFO (that's me) is going to start casting a much more critical eye on any new purchase requests. Wink

Decision on the car question! (at least for the short term)

March 4th, 2012 at 08:15 pm

I spent an hour or so today laying out our transportation options for next winter, and we were able to agree unanimously:

We're not getting a car, but we are investing in a really sturdy 2-kid stroller, accessories, thermal cover, and better winter gear for the adults.

We were leaning toward this last week, but there was a slight hitch when we realized that the double stroller wouldn't fit through our condo door. However, we figured that we can see if we can keep it under the storage locker of our parking space. We'll offer the renters a discount if that's an option and they're willing to share. If it doesn't fit or they don't want to do that, we'll just stop renting it and keep the stroller there anyway. (It's in a garage, so relatively secure and out of the elements. We'll look into a wheel lock or something.)

We considered but dismissed taking a taxi during the winter and taking our carshare service during the winter. They both seemed like they would take a lot of wrangling and arranging; you can't set up recurring orders for either. We didn't really consider getting a daycare parent to take AA because it seems like a hassle getting someone else involved, especially since we had four other viable options that seemed better.

I'll paste our calculations and thoughts below, but a few advantages to our decision that aren't reflected there:
- We can pay for nearly all the expenses with the Amazon.com gift cards we've been collecting from credit card offers.
- We can still sell all of the accoutrements later at not much loss of value if we decide we made the wrong decision.
- I get a good amount of exercise by being forced to walk to daycare every day. Even more when it's winter! I would almost certainly need to implement an exercise regimen to make up for it.
- We just don't WANT a car! AS was saying that she really agreed with MonkeyMama that it seemed like an extreme solution in proportion to the problem. I agreed, but said I was worried for a couple days that we were being extreme NOT having a car. One of our very frugal friends wrote on my Facebook post to say "Yes, it's reasonable for a family of five to have a car." But then AS and I realized that people would say that about ONE person. Not many people know if they could survive happily without a car because they've never tried. We have, and we like it.

That said, here's the dorky spreadsheet I made to help us consider our options:

OPTION 1: Buy car
1x cost: purchase $6500
1x cost: smaller 2-kid stroller $200
Total: $6700

Monthly: gas $30
Monthly: insurance $120
Monthly: repairs EF $100
Monthly: tags/fees $15
Monthly: lose parking income $85
Savings: $90/month Hourcar -$90
Total monthly: $260

First year total cost $9820
Second & subsequent years $3120

Pros: more/easier mobility
Pros: could sell car in 4 years
Cons: most expensive out of pocket
Cons: most expensive annually
Cons: costs are unpredictable

***
OPTION 2: Buy bigger stroller & cover
1x cost: chassis, jogging attachment & bike attachment $795
1x cost: thermal cover http://www.strollerideas.com/waaslawistco2.html $150
1x cost: bivy $80
1x cost: bunting bag $85
1x cost: infant sling $85
1x cost: baby supporter $50
1x cost: winter gear for adults $450
Total $1695

Monthly: lose parking income? $85

First year total cost $2715
Second & subsequent years $1020

Pros: Cheapest annually
Pros: Could sell eventually
Cons: Most effort/hardest to get to/from daycare

***
OPTION 3: Take taxis
1x cost: 2-kid stroller $200

Daily: to daycare $6
Daily: from daycare $6
22 weekdays/month = $264
Max 6 months/year

First year total cost $1784
Second & subsequent years $1584

Pros: one-way rides
Cons: pricier than Hourcar
Cons: pickup timing unreliable

***
OPTION 4:
Take Hourcar
1x cost: 2-kid stroller $200

Daily: to daycare $4.50
Daily: from daycare $4.50
22 weekdays/month = $198
Max 6 months/year

First year total cost $1388
Second & subsequent years $1188

Pros: cheapest first year of all options
Cons: must pick up/drop off same place
Cons: availability?

Progress on March debt goal; more thoughts on commute conundrum

March 1st, 2012 at 11:13 pm

Our U.S. mortgage payment hit, with $438 going to principal. (Our UK ones probably did too, but I'm still waiting for the security key I need for online access after losing my wallet and ordering a new one.) $1560 to go on the March debt repayment goal.

I tried calling NT's student loan company to escalate the issue of our October, November and December payments not being applied to his account yet. They said they would put me on hold to investigate, but instead I got disconnected (or they just hung up). It's beyond unbelievable at this point. Going on five months. I wonder if they'll hit a year and not have fixed this problem? I'll continue to call every month. I hate having it unresolved.

I talked over the car dilemma some more with NT at lunch, and later on the phone with AS. They're both very willing to look at all the options and price them out (in cost as well as time/convenience). I brought up MonkeyMama's suggestion that if we do buy a car, we only keep it for as long as the transportation issue with daycare remains, then sell it.

I also thought of a couple other options we should talk about/price out: taking a cab every day that it's unwalkable/dangerous, taking the car-share, and/or seeing if one of the other daycare parents would swing by to take AA to and from daycare every day during winter for a certain amount of money per month. (It's about 5 minutes away from daycare by car; wonder what would be a reasonable amount to offer.)

Then NT brought up that maybe there WERE sturdy double strollers and thermal covers that would fit over them, that we haven't really looked for. We'd never considered paying a ton for a stroller; most of our current ones are hand-me-downs (including our single jogging stroller, which we put a thermal cover on). The double jogging stroller alone, without front wheel or thermal cover, is $600 on Amazon. We don't even know if we could find a thermal cover to fit. But if we did, even if the total package cost $700 or $800, it would be way cheaper than getting a car. And if there were REALLY terrible days where we didn't think we could get through the snow, or where we'd feel in danger being exposed to the cold for a 20-minute walk, AS and I are capable of working from home. We did that a few days the first winter we had AA, before we found the thermal cover.

So, we're still thinking about it. We'll figure out what works best for our budget, lifestyle and ethos. It just might take a little discussion and research. Smile

Car considerations -- help!

March 1st, 2012 at 05:15 pm

So we're doing some serious thought about purchasing a car. I know, I'm a dedicated carless person. I gave my last one back to my dad when I was 26; I'll be 38 tomorrow.

We haven't had a real Minnesota winter at all this year, and I'd been feeling pretty good about the prospect of hauling 2 kids around next year. The walk to daycare is about 0.6 miles, and I figured I could even train AA to be able to walk that distance eventually.

But the last two days gave me a small reminder of the physical hindrances of snow and ice. Next winter, Minnesota will probably be back to its old tricks. We haven't even had to deal with the extreme cold this year, but we probably will next year. The sweaty, cranky mess I become dragging one kid in a stroller through the gunk has convinced me that the scales are tipping toward it being kind of ridiculous to continue insisting on not owning a car.

So we're left with the looming prospect of car ownership and all the costs that come with it and, frankly, it's daunting. I know we can afford it, but we'll need to cut some beloved luxuries. I don't want to slow debt repayment more than I already have, and we can't afford to cut back our retirement contributions, so the money will have to come from somewhere else.

I'm nervous and a bit overwhelmed, but also kind of excited to have a new financial challenge.

So trying to think of car expenses, here's what I've come up with so far:
- Purchase: NT has started researching, and I think we can get a good used car for $5,000-$10,000. We probably don't need one until November, so we have some time to save up.
- Insurance: I did an anonymous quote based on a hypothetical car and got a quote of $121 per month.
- Gas: Based on mileage of cars we were looking at, and the length of the commute, I think we could squeak by on $25-$30 per month if we were super stingy with car use. (I imagine there's a certain "lifestyle creep" that comes with owning a car vs. being forced to take the bus, so we'll need to be careful with this -- or be prepared to pay extra gas costs with our "fun money.")
- Parking: Right now we rent our parking spot for $85 per month, so that would be an immediate hit to our budget. As for parking while at work, I know my company will do pretax parking reimbursement instead of bus pass reimbursement, but I imagine it's more than current bus pass costs ($85 per month pretax). I'll have NT check what his company does as well. It will behoove us to keep some bus passes in play too, since we want to keep driving to a minimum and we go to and leave work at different times. (I foresee me driving in the morning, dropping off AA at daycare and parking downtown; then NT taking the car in the evening to pick AA up and bring her home.) So this category is a big question mark that I need to think more about.
- Registration: All I can find for MN/Mpls car costs is mention of annual registration for $23 plus "registration tax." No mention if that tax is closer to $5 or $500. Another big question mark.
- Repairs: I assume the price of a cheaper car upfront will be more repairs, but I'm not sure what a reasonable amount is to set aside, if that can even be predicted. $100 a month?
- Tolls, emissions, parking tickets (aka things we won't need to worry about). No tolls on our short commute. No emissions inspections in MN anymore. We'll be mostly parking in our condo garage or in a downtown lot or garage, so we should avoid snow emergencies and other parking-ticket danger zones.
- Next car purchase: Several of you, especially MonkeyMama, emphasize that you should always be saving up for your next car so it doesn't take you by surprise when you need to replace your current one. Assuming we get an old car for $6000 and it lasts us 5 years, I guess that would be another $100 per month. Does that sound right?

Are there other things to think about? We've already got driver's licenses, and car seats for our kids.

What am I missing? What are your typical monthly car expenses and how much do they run you?