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Archive for September, 2012

September results, October goals

October 1st, 2012 at 04:05 am

Sept. 30: success on no eating out. 25 out of 30 days were completely successful, and the fails were minor things like buying a drink or two. No full restaurant or delivery meals in September.

Not like we do that a ton anyway, but a whole month without it was kind of unusual.

I'm cutting it a bit close on this week's pedometer challenge -- I'm nearly 4K short of having 10K per day. But the walk to daycare is over 2K, and then I can walk part or all of the way to work. They take our numbers once we get to work, so the commute in counts as part of the previous week. I should be able to just barely get to 70K before it's time to report numbers! (It's honor system, but I'm fairly honorable about things like this, so I wouldn't lie.)

I once again kind of blew it on eating this weekend after having a pretty good week. But I walked to and from the party we went to last night; I think it was about 4,000 steps each way! I weighed in another fraction of a pound lighter -- still just over 132, so I'm not counting it as 132 until I'm officially there. But unofficially, I'm very close to that number! Smile

We had friends over tonight and NT and I split the cooking (he did an entree and I did a dessert). It was delicious and fairly healthy, but all the little parts of the meal added up calorie-wise. Doesn't matter because my weigh-in afterward was good. Smile One of the friends we saw is interested in doing a raw-foods cleanse with me sometime in October. That'll be good for me and should hopefully help me knock off the last few pounds if necessary.

Anyhoo, I should get to my October goals, shouldn't I?

September debt payoff was really good, $2230. I don't have as much money to put toward it in October, so I'm going to shoot for $1790.

My fitness goals for October: I'm not going to shoot for any specific workouts, but the raw foods cleanse will probably start in mid-October and go for two weeks, so that's a healthy thing I'll be doing. Counting calories on Sparkpeople will continue for sure; that's been really useful and eye-opening. I'm going to try to work out in some fashion, but other than a couple yoga sessions at work I don't have anything specific lined up. Hopefully inspiration will strike! Actually, AS and I were talking about taking up running together, but I don't know if we'll get that going this month (or this year). I'll just have to wing it this month.

My main "goals" need to get done this month, so I don't need to set them down here. I NEED to get UK taxes out within the next week, and we really want to get our tickets to the UK booked for next May so our family there can plan their time off. I have a bunch of other to-do's that have been languishing, but those are the only two time-sensitive ones.

The no eating out challenge

September 29th, 2012 at 10:20 pm

Sept. 27: success.
Sept. 28: success.
Sept. 29: small fail. We were getting haircuts and NT asked if he could grab me anything from the international grocery store across the street. Absentmindedly I said yeah, bring me some unusual soda. It was only later I realized that counted as eating out.

That makes 24 of 29 successful days. I don't foresee any eating out tonight or tomorrow; today I have a party to go to and tomorrow we're having friends over.

So my cheats have been:
Wine
State Fair food
Whiskey & coffee
Whiskey, coffee & brownie
Soda

No full-fledged eating out or getting restaurant food delivered.

Next month I'll still probably try to take it easy on eating out, because I do still have a couple of winter clothing items to get. But I'll probably indulge a bit more than I did this month!

Good money news! plus other ramblings

September 28th, 2012 at 09:14 pm

AS checked my Google AdSense account (I hadn't thought about it since I linked this blog to it) and said I've made over $2 since Jeffrey's announcement! If you haven't done so already, I recommend setting yours up. A small amount of effort and then the snowflakes will start to come in. Smile

We got an itemized statement from our lawyer regarding the adoption. Apparently we did the right thing taking the flat-fee route, because fees would have been about a thousand more bucks if we hadn't! The option we chose also included a $1000 "refundable" trust, and it looks like they only used about $875 of that for court costs. I wonder if we'll get a refund of the rest eventually? If the two sides of the bill are handled separately, as it seems, then we probably will. That will go into little SL's savings, since we haven't put aside very much for her yet!

I got my 30K bonus miles from my Delta Amex, so now we can combine them all and basically shave $1200 off our airfare if we book using one of the Delta cards. And we'll need it, with prices to England looking the way they do. Ouch!

In recent weeks I applied us all for the BoA Visa card, spend $500 get $100 back. AS and I got approved but NT was turned down. They gave us our credit scores in the letters, which I appreciated. AS and I are at 800+ and NT is in the high 700s. Then I applied all three of us for a USBank Visa that offered a $150 statement credit for spending $500. NT got accepted, AS got turned down and I haven't heard back (assuming I got rejected due to it being SO close to the BoA application).

Anyway, I'm happy about our credit scores, and we did get three out of the six cards we tried for. So we'll spend $1500 and get $350 back. Not too shabby! I immediately put $500 of NT's medical bill on his new card and $500 on AS's and the last $12 on mine. I also paid a few more bills with mine, and paid for my trivia treats with it, and bought snacks for work ($75 that I'll get reimbursed, so it's not even my money really!).

I had to pretty much drain the medical fund to be able to pay these cards off. I knew it was coming, but it's not a pretty sight to see my medical fund at less than $50, and not entirely sure the bills have stopped coming in. But I still haven't touched my EF, so that's still there if we absolutely need it. Maybe I'll use the $350 of CC rewards to cashflow any medical expenses that come in this year, and then put it in savings if I don't need it. We'll see.

I can't remember if I mentioned this, but AS's cellphone got ruined (along with the SIM card). We're a bit behind where I want us to be in prepaid costs, so I looked around for the cheapest way to get her up and running. I bought a SIM card for 99 cents (got one for NT as well, since I'm going to switch him to T-Mobile in a couple months), and I tried several eBay auctions for dirt-cheap unlocked T-Mobile phones. Finally I got one for $5.50 with free shipping. It's bulky by today's standards with an antenna! AS had said she wasn't picky about what phone I got her, but she wasn't happy with that at all. So I switched my SIM card over to it and gave her my slightly more modern flip phone. Problem solved for $6.49! It's scratched up and the sound effects are hilariously old-timey, but it works so I'm happy.

And I'm definitely moving NT over to T-Mobile, now that I know how cheap it will be to get him a "new" phone if his Net10 one isn't compatible. Of course, he's not going to want the type I got either, but hopefully I can find a relatively cheap flip phone. Or maybe his Net10 device will work; I don't see why it shouldn't. I'm beginning to think they just act like you need one of their phones so you'll have to pay more.

This week has flown by and somehow I haven't made a menu plan yet. We need to get that done tonight so we can do grocery shopping tomorrow! We're a bit behind so will need to be careful making a grocery list (what else is new these days?).

No eating out plus more debt progress

September 27th, 2012 at 06:58 pm

Sept. 24: success
Sept. 25: "planned cheat" at trivia. I had a whiskey, a coffee and a brownie. Smile
Sept. 26: success

So far, 22 of 26 days have been successful. Just 3.5 more days to go! I haven't had that many temptations, but I am starting to dream about pizza delivery a bit. So I might plan that into the menu in early October. Wink

AS's student loan hit; $126 went to principal. I also thought to check NT's smaller loan; interest payments come out of our bank account automatically, but a few cents goes to principal sometimes as well. I guess I hadn't checked in a while, because the principal was $3 lower. Not a huge dent, but I'll take it!

That means we paid $2230 of debt in September! October will be lower, because I had to take some money from that month's debt line item to cover NT's tuition. BUT, I do know that I'll finally hit one of the 2012 goals! Student loan debt is at $40,362, so by mid-October, it'll be under $40K!

My work had a free yoga class yesterday. It was so great! Made me realize I should try to work more relaxation into my weeks. They're going to have one or two sessions per month now.

No eating out

September 24th, 2012 at 07:45 pm

Sept. 21: success.
Sept. 22: success.
Sept. 23: success.

20 out of 23 successful days so far! I may have a drink at trivia tomorrow, but that should be it for the month. This weekend was busy but it was all free/cheap activities. Saturday I went on a long walk with a friend, Sunday we went to a kid's birthday party (who didn't need prezzies so we just gave him a card we already had on hand), and Sunday night AS & NT went to a show and I stayed home (the kids went to bed before they left, so it was super mellow alone time!).

I hit my 8,000-steps-per-day goal for the work challenge; now I just need to do 10,000 steps per day for two more weeks, and I get a $50 Zappos card!

I was really good with calories all week until Saturday and Sunday, and really good with doing a lot of walking until Sunday. Still, I knew a couple bad eating/exercising days could set me back on the scale. So I was relieved that I lost a fraction of a pound at my Sunday weigh-in! Not enough to register on my sidebar, but enough so I didn't feel like an idiot for ruining all my hard work with two bad days.

Winter clothes shopping went well on Friday. I'd budgeted about $135, and I spent $76 on two pairs of slacks and a skirt. (The pants need adjusting, but AS will do this for free, bless her.) This is good because I stocked up on herbal teas (which I don't use grocery money for unless we're doing really well in that category), and I want to buy myself some treats at the Asian grocery store today (definitely some black bean & mochi cakes, Malaysian instant coffee-tea and maybe a few other things). So I may need to save up again before I can get more clothes.

I really only need some work shoes and some new bras now, and that should get me through the winter. Oh, and I should check my winter gear to see if anything needs replacing. I think I'll just need gloves. I do have shoes, bras and gloves, but the first are worn out (soles feel uneven and may not be completely watertight anymore), the second are too big to be comfortable/flattering/supportive, and the third are fine for early winter but not really insulating enough for super-cold days. So I can wait indefinitely, but these are eventual needs (or at least strong wants).

I guess that's all my news. I have some things I keep meaning to do, like trying to sell and/or donate some books, and donate some clothes and a crib bumper. Week after week I keep putting them off; seems like all my free time is taken up with everyday stuff. Oh, and I MUST do the UK taxes this week! I can do some prep at work if I get down time. (Come to think of it, should've used the half hour I just spent writing this! Oops!) I guess life will slow down at some point and I'll be able to catch up on extra tasks like that.

Menu plan

September 23rd, 2012 at 10:24 pm

Jumping on the bandwagon, even though I haven't been very regular about posting my menus & grocery lists.

I've tinkered with our format and now put prep work for future meals/lunches on the menu as a reminder; I also put who is responsible for cooking (or at least project-managing) the meal.

Our meal plan starts from last Friday, because that's our CSA delivery day.

Friday dinner
Kale & quinoa stuffed acorn squash; salad (N&C)

Saturday lunch
C&A fend for selves; N eat at work
soak black beans

Saturday dinner
Tofu turkey cutlets, roasted beets & carrots, gravy (C)
Make dill pasta salad for C lunches

Sunday lunch
Spaghetti w/ cherry tomatoes (A)
cook black beans

Sunday dinner
black bean-tomatillo tacos, chips & salsa verde (C)

Monday
Veggie burgers, beans & fries (N)

Tuesday
Eggplant lasagna (A & N)

Wednesday
Mac & cheese topped w/avocado, tomato, red onion pico (A & C)

Thursday
hoisin glazed tofu, rice, kimchi, edamame (C & N)


We went about $35 over our grocery budget goal, but I'm expecting $25 statement credit from our grocery credit card next week, so we should end up only about $10 over. One reason is that AS requested groceries to make lunches vs. eating out, a venture I definitely support!

Then we're going to stock up on staples at the Asian grocery store Monday, so we'll go over budget even more, but we can cut back the next week and make it up. I'm going to take a hard look at what we buy at the Asian store; anything that won't contribute directly to family dinners will have to be paid for with our fun money.

Long blabby post

September 21st, 2012 at 05:27 pm

No eating out challenge:
Sept. 18: as predicted, a small fail. I had one drink while out at trivia.
Sept. 19: success.
Sept. 20: success.

So far I've had 17 out of 20 successful days.

It's made a major impact on my available spending money! I believe I've got about $70 at home, and of my $80 I get to withdraw today, $20 will go into the theater ticket fund, I should try to keep about $10 for a drink next Tuesday, I may keep $20 to buy treats at an Asian grocery store our friend is taking us to Monday, and the remaining $30 can be for clothes. That means I have $100 cash to spend for clothes! I'm going to hit up Marshall's and Target with AS today and see if I can cross a few winter-wardrobe needs off my list; the temps are dropping quickly here.

NT also reminded me I have some Amazon bux (about $30) in my account, and we have a discount code for shoes, so I may try to get my work shoes there.

Hopefully I can find enough to get me through using just the $100 cash and $30 Amazon credit. Then I can continue to try and save up money and buy other pieces gradually throughout the fall.

In other news, my walking is going well; I'm averaging about 8,000 steps per day this week, which is what I need to meet the challenge. The next two weeks will be harder, needing an average of 10K steps per day, so I'll need to work at it more. (Hope the weather holds out because I can add up a lot of steps just walking to and from work and daycare.)

I'm doing pretty well with calories, not perfect, but I think with the walking too, I should see a weight loss on Sunday. Fingers crossed!

We got our monthly statement from the rental management company in the UK, and they apparently got us new renters and are charging about US$90 more per month! A small percentage of the raise goes to the management company, but we pocket most of it. That's good news for our savings goals this year and next!

We have a longish grocery list this week, and need to get diapers, wipes and formula too, but I'm hoping we can at least come close to staying under our spending limit. AA is using the potty more, so hopefully we'll be able to eliminate the expensive compostable pull-ups soon! (We are dedicated to not using disposables if at all possible, but man! is it a pricy endeavor.)

AS accidentally put her cell phone through the wash, and now the SIM and the phone are both nonfunctioning. We tried the rice trick to no avail. I'm trying to find the cheapest solution possible; I ordered her a new SIM on T-Mobile for $1, and I'm trying to win a phone on eBay for $7. If that doesn't work, I'll bid on another one for $8 or $9, and keep trying until I get a cheap phone. The cheapest prepaid device that T-Mobile offers on their website now is $50! I know I can do better than that.

While I was at it, I ordered a SIM for NT. When his 60 days are nearing the end with Net10, I'll have him start a T-Mobile plan instead of re-upping with Net10. I'm hoping his SIM will work with his Net10 phone, but if not, we'll try to get a cheap unlocked T-Mobile phone on eBay like I'm trying to get for AS.

I can already tell this is not going to be a relaxing weekend (can't remember the last time I really had one of those, to be honest). NT has to work pretty much a full day Saturday (no OT, but he can try to take the hours off in dribs and drabs elsewhere I believe). Sunday afternoon we have a friends' kid's b-day party and Sunday night NT and AS are going to a music show. In between all that we have to get grocery shopping done, fit meals around the other events, and AS still has a ton of proofing to do for her new freelance project.

The social calendar is filling up for the rest of the year. It's a blessing and a curse; I'm so glad we're not losing touch with our friends even though we have young kids, but it can be a little daunting because none of your down time feels like actual down time, between taking care of the kids and the extra household work they incur, and then going to all these events to make sure we still have friends when we get out of this hectic part of parenting! Smile

We are thinking about hosting a party sometime in December, since it's been a while. But we'll see how many of our friends also host events that month; we may not feel the need.

Haven't thought much about Halloween yet; I do want to at least dress AA up and take her trick-or-treating; she didn't understand it at all last year and ended up bawling because she couldn't chase a "meow" that she saw run behind one of the houses we went to. This year we'll be able to explain beforehand what to expect, and she knows what candy is now, so that'll be exciting. Smile

I wonder if we'll even get invited to any grown-up Halloween parties. We used to host them, so I suppose we could again, but the last one we did a few years ago (before the kids were born) had fewer attendees than usual, so we kind of lost steam after that. But if no one else steps up, maybe that can be our cool-weather party instead of December.

No eating out challenge, bit of good money news, etc.

September 18th, 2012 at 02:15 am

Sept. 16: success.
Sept. 17: success.

So far, 15 out of 17 have been successes. Tomorrow I might have a drink out, and possibly the next Tuesday. Other than that, I don't really have any plans to eat out, so it's just a matter of resisting laziness and temptation. Smile

The pedometer challenge went well the first week; I logged about 44,000 steps and only needed 42K (6K per day). That was with my pedometer not working some of the time, so I probably did a bit more than that.

I can probably thank the pedometer challenge, and not eating out, and counting calories, for my weigh-in yesterday. Back down to 133! I'm fighting a terrible sweet tooth/snack monster this month. (I don't know if "snack monster" is a thing, but it ought to be!) Tonight I'm desperate for a snack again. I've been doing well at picking something sane; one piece of cinnamon toast, or a spoonful of chocolate flavored peanut butter, or two or three Hershey's kisses. I think that's the best way to get through this and hopefully it won't just prolong my time of having a sweet tooth! But, I lost weight, so I must be managing it well.

This week, the pedometer challenge is 8K steps per day, so I'll have to step it up. I walked from work to daycare and daycare to home this evening, and that pushed me over my daily goal. Did I mention that I get a $50 gift card if I hit the step goals for the whole month? That's motivation!

***

Anyhoo, on to money news. AS got a freelance project from a company she's done regular work for, but hasn't gotten an offer she could take since she had SL. This one is higher-paying than most; $1000! She said it would be long but not too involved.

It occurred to me that we should send part of it to the IRS for taxes. Then I remembered: I need to do the UK taxes this month.

Ugh!

I hate the UK taxes because I barely know what I'm doing. But we never owe anything, and this year we made less than usual because of a bunch of repairs and things. And, it's gotten easier now that we get statements emailed to us; I just plug the numbers into my spreadsheet I made up, look at last year's taxes to copy which fields I need to fill in this year, and mail it off before Oct. 7. Really, just an hour or two of work. But I treasure every hour of free time, dangit!

But anyway, should be able to put most of that freelance check into the moving fund!

***

I was looking at my goals this year, and even though I haven't hit any of them yet, I'm on track to hit the student loan one next month. Hopefully some of the other goals will follow soon!

***

We finished spending up the three Amex Delta SkyMiles cards. NT and AS have gotten their 30K mile bonuses, and mine should hit by the end of the month. Together with miles we've accumulated gradually over the years, we'll have about 120K miles. I found that if we reserve our tickets using one of the Amex cards, we can just use 10,000 points for $100, as many increments as we can.

That's pretty incredible. We'll be able to shave $900-plus off our airfare just for spending $1500 to earn the points. That's an unbelievable return.

***

OK, I'm losing focus. Gotta go find a (reasonable) snack to quell my crazy snack monster, and then relax.

September 2012 net worth update

September 17th, 2012 at 05:32 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 13,884 pounds ($27,768)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $18,283
NT's Roth IRA: $4,629
AS's 401(k): $7,910
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $8,411
CJ's 401(k): $47,212
CJ's Roth IRA: $4,629
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Emergency fund (shared asset): $15,725
House down payment/moving fund: $1,134
---
Total Assets: $596,811

Total Debt: $304,539

Current Estimated Net Worth: $292,272

August 2012 estimate: $285,087

Change in net worth: +$7,185

Summary: Might as well leave my comments from last month, since it was a similar one: The market smiled on us the same month I was able to put more extra money to debt again. I feel pretty good about our chances of meeting our 2012 goal of $300,000 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 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.

Big tuition payment = less future debt! plus no eating out and grocery challenge

September 16th, 2012 at 01:12 am

I paid the portion of NT's tuition that we didn't take out a loan for. As many of you already know, when I started my journey out of debt, I added $40,000 of "estimated future debt" to our debt load. I knew NT needed to get a college degree, so I picked that as the max we would borrow. I didn't want it to hurt our debt progress when we took out loans, so I added it in before we'd actually borrowed it.

By cashflowing part of this semester, we saved having to take out that amount as a student loan, so I subtract that from our "estimated future debt."

We paid $1278, so that makes it $2,101 toward the September debt repayment goal, or $20 more than our month's goal!

Looking ahead, I can see that this degree is going to cost us more than $40,000. So at a certain point, the "estimated future debt" category will be gone, and we'll just have to cashflow it all to make sure we don't borrow, but it will mean slower reduction of our total household debt. But I'm confident we'll be in a good place to do so.

I'm going to lay out a long-term strategy at the end of this year for how I'm going to try and reach all my financial goals listed in the sidebar by 2016. I'll be sure to add the extra money I think I'll need for NT to complete his degree.

***

Doing well on the no-eating-out challenge! I haven't even bought extra treats while grocery shopping, which is tempting when I know I'm not allowed. Smile

Sept. 14: success.
Sept. 15: success.

That takes me to 13 out of 15 successful days. Not like I eat out a ton regularly anyway, but this is a pretty good record for me! Tuesday I'll get drinks out, but I'll try to keep it to one. Other than that, I don't see too many strong temptations ahead of me this month. So hopefully I'll be able to buy a few key items for my winter wardrobe soon!

***

I challenged us to stay within $100 for the week's groceries. With diapers and formula, we'll be about $19 over that. And we have a couple bucks' worth of items that we didn't realize we needed. But, if we hadn't had to stock up on those, we'd be about $30 under budget! So I'm still proud of us. We can look forward to a time when we don't have to buy diapers or formula, and we'll be used to constraining our grocery shopping, so it'll hopefully be easy to stay within budget.

***

Some random good money news:

AS was working remotely at a coffee shop downtown on Friday. I overheard a project manager saying we could use an editor with Chicago style knowledge for a few hours. So I asked AS if she could put off some of her regular work and do it over the weekend, and she said yes! She ended up working 4.5 hours at $55 per hour! This will go straight into the moving fund when we get it, nearly $250. I'm proud of her for stepping in with no notice to contribute to the fund.

Our healthcare situation straightened out, faster than I thought it would! SL's healthcare was taken out of my paycheck and NT's check was back to normal. So that was about $40 I wasn't anticipating, PLUS my paycheck was nearly $10 more than I'd estimated, so that's about $20 per month more that we can put toward our goals.

NT is finding his Net10 phone plan doesn't work because he has tons of minutes left over each month, but he has to add more every 2 months to keep his number active. So I contacted T-Mobile to see if I could start a third prepaid plan for our household (I'd read somewhere there was a limit of 2) and they said it was OK.

NT just refilled, so we'll use his phone as much as possible for the next 2 months and then switch him to T-Mobile. There will be an initial outlay to buy a T-Mobile phone and 1000 minutes, but in the long run this should lower our monthly costs. And he'll have more flexibility and not have to refill at a certain time (1000 minutes with T-Mobile buys you a year of activation).

Various ramblings

September 14th, 2012 at 02:23 am

The no-eating-out challenge:
Sept. 12: success.
Sept. 13: success. (I'm currently stuffing my face with my favorite pasta comfort dish, so I definitely won't be eating out!)
So far: 11 out of 13 days.

Our daycare lady reported that she needs formula, diapers, pull-ups AND baby cereal Monday. So, yikes! That's at least $40 out of the grocery/household budget. I was going to have us aim for $100 or less of spending; now I want us to go for $60. I'll take a look at the shopping list before we go Saturday and see if there are things we can eliminate or put off until next week.

Since I got through the week with no eating out and minimal fun-money spending, I had over $30 to put in my clothing envelope! That's easily a bra or a pair of shoes. I tried on my winter slacks and they were baggy and not very professional looking, so I'm definitely going to have to get more. I do have one pair of slacks that fit me, plus jeans for Fridays, and it's not cold yet. So I have a bit of time. I think my main priorities are: 2 bras (one strapless and one with straps), 2 pairs of flats for work and 2 pairs of slacks. I have other nice-to-haves, but that would tide me over for the winter.

NT got out this week's spending money a day early because we might not have time for a break tomorrow. I put $20 in my theater-tickets envelope, leaving $60. I'm thinking I'll spend $20 on wine since it's my turn to buy, and I might spend $10 on drinks at trivia on Tuesday. With luck (and some restraint) I'll have $30 left over next Friday to put in my clothes envelope!

I applied for another credit card, a USBank FlexPerks Visa. You can get $150 statement credit for spending $500, and the annual fee is waived the first year. Then I went ahead and applied for NT and AS (shrug). If NT gets denied again, I'll take that as a sign that he needs to stop having applications and just build his credit for a while.

My fitness is going pretty well. I've got my regular bike rides on Saturdays to get groceries, and with my job's pedometer challenge, I've made sure to get more walking in. The first week's challenge is 6,000 steps a day, and it goes up throughout the month. So far I'm easily staying ahead of it.

Hmm. I think that's all. Oh, I wanted to talk about a "fall-back career option" thought process I've been having, but I'll save that for another entry when I'm less frazzled. Smile

No-eating-out results, plus other ramblings

September 12th, 2012 at 03:17 am

Sept. 10: success
Sept. 11: success

It's my turn to stay home with the kids for trivia night, so a bonus is that I won't be spending on drinks out!

A few weeks ago, I applied all three of us for Bank of America Visa cards with a "spend $500, get $100" deal. It was one of the few companies I hadn't scammed ... er, uh, taken advantage of an offer with. Wink

AS and I got approved, and we also got our credit scores. I didn't keep them, but I believe hers was 800 and mine was 812! Even with all the opening and closing of credit cards, our scores are higher than ever.

NT got denied, and he got his score. It was a crushingly low ... 776. LOL. This must have been a picky credit card offer! Actually that's about as high as his score has ever been; he has a short credit history for his age, since they only track credit usage from his 6-7 years of living in the U.S. And for two out of those years, I've been opening and closing cards like crazy in his name.

So I won't say this busts the myth that it will harm your credit score, but here are three examples of scores staying stable or actually getting higher during a lot of credit card activity.

Anyway, we'll use the two new BoA visas to pay most of NT's $1000+ medical bill, and we'll get $200 back. Not bad! I haven't decided where to put that money; into the EF or back into the medical fund, probably. Meanwhile I'll start looking for other offers for us to apply to.

We finished charging up the three Delta Amex cards, so we'll soon have 90,000 miles plus whatever we already have in our frequent flyer accounts. We'll transfer them all into one account and try to pay for one of the UK trip plane tickets with them. Prices for the time period we want to go are staying pretty stable; $1050-$1011 for a one-stop flight; $1310-$1315 for a nonstop. I'm thinking even if we mostly pay for one ticket with miles, we'll still need to take a one-stop option to keep our airfare under $4000.

Today I had to dip a bit more into groceries to buy formula; it just wasn't going to last the week. I went ahead and got AA some shoes the next size up while I was at Target; I knew it was going to happen soon. Feels WEIRD to buy clothing for either of the kids; they both have massive wardrobes of clothing given to us. But shoes are one thing we don't get handed down very much, and doting friends and family prefer to buy cute little dresses and such.

I found a pair of sneakers for $14 and a pair of mary janes (that also have good grip on the soles and seem pretty comfortable) for $13. They're a bit big for her, so they should last a long time. And we do have a pair of snowboots we got as a hand-me-down, so we should be set for her for the winter.

That's all for now; I'm feeling very sleepy.

Prepaid phone costs update

September 10th, 2012 at 07:27 pm

FY2012 Spending:
AS's April T-Mobile fillup (500 minutes): $53.90
NT's May Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36
CJ's May T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
AS's June T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
NT's July Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36
NT's Sept Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36

FY2012 total so far: $369.54

Since we're in the sixth month of the "fiscal year," that means our average is $61.59 per month. Down quite a bit from a few months ago; if AS and I can limit use of our phones, it should go down even more. (NT has way too many minutes left over each 60-day period and they just keep stacking up, so I'm debating seeing if T-Mobile will do a third prepaid plan for our household instead. The reason I did this is they said there was a limit two per household, but I'm not sure how strict that is.)

Anyway, we're netting out at a good average so far this fiscal year, though I'd like to see it go a bit lower.

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009, so our phone "fiscal year" begins each April. 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.

Met my no-eating-out challenges, but bummer weigh-in

September 10th, 2012 at 05:53 am

No eating out:
Sept. 8: success.
Sept. 9: success (I think I can trust myself to go the next 20 minutes without ordering pizza! EDIT: done; it's after midnight! Smile)

That makes 7 successful days out of 9.

I did really well this weekend, resisting several temptations to spend my fun money. I survived and didn't spend a dime of it!

Saturday we went to the party where I'd found out there was a cash bar. Well, true to my suspicions, the food wasn't free either; they had a trendy food truck out back where you could buy food. I was pretty thirsty and peckish by the end but managed not to buy anything.

Challenge #2 was that we were having so much fun with our friends they wanted to go to a bar afterward. I got a glass of water and didn't order food. My friend insisted on sharing one of his appetizers with me, but I definitely didn't push for that, so I still consider it a success. Didn't pay for it anyway!

Challenge #3: When we got home, AS said she was going to order from our favorite pizza place. I had a small snack from the freezer that did push me over my calorie limit but at least didn't cost me anything, then went to bed before she ordered so I wouldn't be tempted.

Today we went to a block party with those same friends. I found it pretty easy to resist the food and drinks available, but I was tempted by a cute T-shirt that was only $5. However, T-shirts are not an area of my wardrobe that I need to focus on to get ready for winter, so I resisted that too.

We went to our friends' studio for a quick photo shoot and then to their house for dinner. I'd brought vegan sloppy joe fixin's and salad, thinking it would be a light meal. But then my friend bought vegetarian baked beans and BBQ potato chips, two of my biggest weaknesses! So I ended up going overboard, and I think that's one of the reasons I gained 2 lbs. at my weigh-in tonight. Back up to 135, 6 lbs. away from my goal. But I think it was a bit of an aberration because of my eating being skewed toward the weekend. I'm hoping this will be easy to get past.

We need to dip a bit more into the grocery budget than I thought; I had to get milk and wipes for the girls while at the block party ($4.50) because of poor planning, and we'll need more pull-ups for AA, when I originally thought we'd be able to last until next Monday. It's also looking more likely that we'll need formula before Friday. So we'll start the next semimonthly period a bit short, but if we buckle down again for a couple weeks we should pull out of it. We are the LEAST behind on groceries that we've been for a while, so I'm still encouraged.

AA has successfully used the potty three times in the past week. Funnily enough, we used to be able to get her to use it about once a day before we were "officially" in potty training mode, so it's a bit trying. I am attempting not to see dollar signs for every pull-up she soils. I'll just focus on how beneficial to our household budget her eventual success will be!

Speaking of good budget news, I believe the healthcare switch for SL will show up on my and NT's Sept. 15 paycheck. I'd love to have our paycheck amounts stabilize for the rest of the year!

No eating out challenge, weekend plans, grocery spending, etc.

September 8th, 2012 at 10:49 pm

Sept. 7 no eating out: Success.

Tonight and tomorrow will be challenges, but I think I can make it. Tonight we're going to a party that we thought might have free drinks, but turns out it's got a cash bar. I'm going to have a drink or two before I leave home (don't worry, I'm not driving) and try not to buy any while I'm there. I'll eat something before I go; there's supposed to be food, but now I'm not sure if you have to pay for it or not.

Tomorrow we're going to a block party, so I'm sure I'll be tempted by delicious-smelling food trucks. After we're getting some photos done by our photographer friend, and he said we should "grab dinner" after that. I made sure to specify that I'd rather make food than eat out or get takeout, and he was agreeable to that. So we're bringing the fixin's for vegan sloppy joes and salad. It'll be really effortless so even if we're tired after the block party and photo shoot, it'll be nothing to fix dinner. Smile

I'm glad North Georgia Gal suggested this challenge, because these are things I might have used my spending money for, but instead, if I succeed, I'll have money to put in my as-yet empty clothing envelope that I started 2 weeks ago. Smile

I did 20 minutes of cycling to get the groceries, and then NT asked if I wanted to take a longer bike ride. We ran a few errands, and I think the total biking that second time was an hour. So I worked out 80 minutes today!

Today's goal was to get groceries in under $143. We saved over $40 shopping sales and using coupons, but we had to buy a big bottle of olive oil ($14) and a new door handle ($23) for our balcony door (the old one snapped off in my hand a few days ago). So we were $6.26 over and still had a few things to buy at the Asian store and Lunds (which had some amazing coupons we HAD to use). Then NT remembered that he'd taken $10 out of the budget already to buy things at the Asian market. We crossed a few things off that list, and got total spending between Lunds and Hai Nguyen down to $5, so we can deposit the other $5 back into groceries.

That means we're only $1.26 over budget. We do still need to get wipes ($3.50) and we MIGHT need to get formula ($20+, but we're going to wait and see if our current box lasts us until Friday). So, considering the balcony door handle mishap, we did pretty well. And I didn't try as hard to stick to just the bare minimum; we stocked up on pasta and cereal, for example. Next week we can buckle down and only get what we need, and we should be able to spend MUCH less on food than this week. We'll need diapers for both girls next week, as well as formula, and AA could use a couple new pairs of shoes (we don't have a clothing budget for the girls since usually we get everything we need through hand-me-downs and gifts, so we take it out of grocery/household if it's a necessity).

Anyway, this Lunds deal. We got a new Lunds in downtown, very handy to both work and home, but we hardly ever go there because it's such a high-end grocery store. Last week we noticed some really great coupons in the mail; one was for 99-cent orange juice, the other for a free baguette! We didn't get around to going, but this week we got another circular from them with a coupon for 99-cent pound of organic strawberries and 99-cent carton of 12 organic free-range eggs! Those are things we use every week, so we made sure we made a special trip. We'll be perusing their flyers VERY carefully from now on to see if more amazing deals come our way. When we redeemed those two today, our total went from about $8.50 to $1.98!

No eating out

September 7th, 2012 at 05:58 pm

Sept. 5: success.
Sept. 6: success.

So far 4 out of 6 successful days.

I won't count today until I've officially made it through, but I've got leftover potato salad for lunch and will be picking up some groceries, plus my CSA share, to make enchiladas verdes tonight. NT is going to a show but AS and I are staying home with the kids so cheap night in!

I owe in $63 to the checking account for various personal CC purchases over the past couple weeks that I kept forgetting to deposit makeup money for; I'm supposed to get $80 for spending today so I'll deposit $3 and take out $20 and that will even me up. I have over $50 cash in my wallet, so it's not like I drastically overspent my personal money. I'll have $70+ spending money, will put $20 in my theater tickets fund and will try to spend as little of the remainder as possible so I can hopefully put it in my clothing fund!

No-eating-out challenge progress

September 5th, 2012 at 07:37 pm

Sept. 1: success.
Sept. 2: semi-fail. I had NT and AS bring me some of my favorite treats from the State Fair. I paid $19 and got a dinner, a breakfast and two lunches' worth of food. So at least it was pretty cheap!
Sept. 3: success ... NT bought me a latte at a coffee shop, but since he paid I guess it doesn't count
Sept. 4: one of my planned cheats: Tuesday night trivia. I bought 3 glasses of wine, more than usual! But we hosted trivia and got to split a $30 gift card so my wine only came to $20 with tax & tip.

So I'd say my record so far is 2 successful days out of 4.

Hmm ... I'm hoping to see a lot more simple, unqualified "success" days from now on! I'm committed to this challenge because I need some new clothes that fit me before it starts getting chilly.

September debt progress, plus EF & weight progress

September 4th, 2012 at 10:12 pm

All four mortgage payments hit today:
US: $445 to principal
UK1: $264
UK2: $56
UK3: $58

All told, $823 down, $1258 to go on my September debt-repayment goal.

I was able to transfer US$450 into UK savings, taking our EF to $15,724.93. Would need to save $4,275.07 more to reach our 2012 goal.

At my weigh-in Sunday, I'd managed to lose another pound! I'm down to 133; just 4 lbs. to go to reach my 2012 goal.

Debt & fitness goals for September; ad hoc financial plan for rest of year

September 2nd, 2012 at 05:13 pm

Here's my fitness tracking for the rest of August:

Aug. 28
10-min. workout: No. 6/28
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,810. 28/28
No night snacks: Fail. 21/28

Aug. 29
10-min. workout: No. 6/29
Calorie counting: No. 28/29
No night snacks: Fail. 21/29

Aug. 30
10-min. workout: No. 6/30
Calorie counting: No. 28/30
No night snacks: Success. 22/30

Aug. 31
10-min. workout: No. 6/31
Calorie counting: No. 28/31
No night snacks: Success. 23/31

So, as you can tell, I slacked off toward the end of the month. My weigh-in is tonight, so we'll see if I managed to maintain or lose. I went back and did a rough estimate, and I think I was calorie-heavy on the last three days, though I don't think I went over 2,000 on any of them. Yesterday I did 20 minutes of cycling and kept within my calorie limits.

For September, I'm dropping the daily calculation. I'll still count calories and post them on my SparkPeople page. Instead of the 10-minute fitness challenge (which I clearly floundered on this month), I'll take part in my work's pedometer challenge and yoga workshops. I'm also going to try and bike at least once a week (for groceries) and have a dance party with AA at least once a week. I'll also be picking up from daycare twice a week as well as dropping off every week, so that'll be an extra 40 minutes of walking pushing the heavy stroller per week. I won't be tracking these formally, so we'll see if I can just keep them up naturally.

I'm still going to try and stay away from night snacking, which has gotten a lot easier as I've become accustomed to it. Also we've found that AA can wait a bit for dinner now, so we don't prep everything the night before to get it on the table right at 6. Eating at 7 or 7:30 makes it a lot easier not to snack.

***

For debt, I'm going to be making a tuition payment in September, which will count toward reducing our "estimated future debt" that's counted in our debt total. So I reckon I can manage to put $2081 toward our debt in September.

***

I've gotten over the shock of the $1000+ medical bill we got in the mail yesterday, and the disappointment of our mortgage going up $22 per month. At least healthcare premiums will be about $80 less per month now that SL is switching to mine from NT's, so that helps.

Barring any more big medical bills in 2012, this is my ad hoc plan for the rest of the year.

I'm going to try and hit my stated goals rather than switch to rebuilding the medical fund.

- The student loan debt goal will be nearly met in September and I should be able to polish it off in October.

- The total debt goal still needs some work, but I think I can hit it in early December with our mortgage payments if I'm able to continue putting extra to the student loans in October and November.

- I don't think I'll hit the EF goal, but if NT gets a Christmas bonus it's possible. I think I could get it up to about $18K without a bonus, so if he got at least a $2K bonus we might just barely get our EF to where it needs to be.

- The net worth goal is pretty much out of my hands due to the stock market, but if I work on the other debt and savings goals the likelihood of meeting it does increase.

- My weight goal is still do-able; if I'm not making progress in September I may consider a juice/raw foods cleanse in early October to kickstart weight loss again.

***

Thinking ahead to 2013 and beyond, I have several ambitious financial goals that I want to achieve without disrupting our current spending levels too much, since everyone is basically content. If I feel we're moving too slowly toward our goals, I may lobby to cut out one expensive vacation in a year or two, or reduce our spending money, or take even drastic measures. However, first I'll see how we do without taking any of those steps.

My big-picture goals are:

- I want $20K in the EF; if not this year, then by early next year. We may have $2K to go by the end of this year.

- I'd like a $5K medical fund in the savings account, hopefully by sometime in 2013. Obviously we're starting from scratch on that.

- I want to be DONE with student loan debt by the end of 2015, so we'd need to get rid of $40K in 3 years.

- Ideally, we'd want $80K in a moving to England / house down payment fund by the end of 2016. We only have a bit over $1K saved so far, will probably have about $1500 by the end of this year.

Adding all that up, I would need to come up with $125,500 over the next 4 years (2013-2016) to achieve it all. If our budget stays the same for a while, we should have $1646 to put toward it each month, or $19,752 per year. That would mean a total of $79,036 over the 4 years, or $46,463 short of the goal. It would take us another 2.3 years to finish all the goals at that rate.

Clearly we'll need to try and generate extra income, and any raises or budget reductions (such as diaper service and daycare savings as the kids grow) will need to go to these big picture goals. I don't think we'll be able to make up such a huge shortfall, but all we can do is try. If we haven't made enough progress as we're approaching the 4-year mark, we can consider a drastic cut in lifestyle for a short period to make it up.

I've been mulling these things in a scattered way for a while now, so it's good to get it all down on screen and out of my head!

A day of good and bad financial news

September 1st, 2012 at 04:53 pm

The good news was small bits of money, the big was bad. Let's get into the bad news first ...

Our medical fund is wiped out. NT's vasectomy bill came and it was over $1000. We had about $1300 in the medical fund and I was already going to transfer about $250 to cover lots of little medical expenses that have added up. I'd say our medical costs for the family have cost us $10K this year, not even counting our premiums. Really REALLY hope that's the last of the big medical bills this year. If we get any, I won't want to dip into the EF, so it'll mean cutting something nice out, like spending money. We now need to seriously prioritize building the medical fund back up.

Our mortgage interest rate and minimum payment are going up. Rate is going from 3.25% to 3.5%, and our payment is going up about $22 per month. Amount toward principal will decrease a bit, too. Bummer, our lucky streak with our adjustable rate mortgage has come to an end. At least it was a small amount.

OK, good news:

We had to stock up on groceries this week, having gone through virtually all our staples. I wanted to keep the bill to about $120 not counting diapers & wipes. I scouted coupons and sales and carefully planned the menu. We've spent about $100 so far and all we need now is cat litter and a few staples from the Asian grocery store. We may stay within my goal amount! The big shop came to $72 thanks to over $35 in coupon/sale savings, so we saved over a third off what it would have been full price!

Got a check from my freelance job already. That was REALLY fast. $130 that I was going to put to the house/moving/England fund, but may put toward medical expenses. I need to sit down and plan out what I'm going to do about the medical fund. I do want to add at least a little bit to the moving fund.

That's about all I have time for; we have company coming and I want to clean up, plus I have a fair amount of cooking to do before they come around 4 p.m.

I've been bad about tracking calories, but I'll try to go back and guesstimate what I had the past few days. I also haven't posted my menu and grocery list, and I already deleted part of it. Oh well.