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Archive for April, 2014

May debt repayment goal + added to savings

April 30th, 2014 at 04:58 pm

Paychecks hit today, so I was able to send $247.81 to savings. We're at $36,815 with $31,135 still needed.

For May, same ol' boring goal: at least $900 to debt. Even though we won't be sending any extra to debt for a while, I'm still going to track it in terms of monthly goals, just for continuity. I've been doing it since this blog started and couldn't imagine not doing so!

Reached April debt goal

April 29th, 2014 at 04:45 am

It's been such a mentally draining couple of weeks that I didn't remember to check AS's student loan until I realized the payment had posted! $133 went to principal, taking April debt repayment to $921. That surpasses the $900 goal.

It also takes our student loan debt (when we round off the cents) to $11,000 even!

Now that we've decided to put a laser focus on saving for a home, I've had to put my extra debt repayment on hold. So $133 per month is all we're going to see the student loans go down for a while. My spreadsheet says it would take 6.89 years to pay it off at that rate, so let's hope I'm able to start putting extra money to it again before that!

On that front, I decided to close a checking account and savings account that were earning little to no interest. Their only purpose was to keep EF funds separate from house savings, but I can do that on a spreadsheet and have everything in one account at least earning .9%. Plus, if we have to temporarily deplete the EF and medical fund, I'm willing to do that to get to our goal faster. So for the time being, I'm thinking of all our cash savings as one lump sum. Kind of exciting to see it all together: $21,022.75! And that's not counting our UK savings (which will definitely be temporarily depleted to pay for renovations over there).

We also agreed to halt travel and charitable spending for the next 10 months or so in order to save up enough for a down payment. We think that, supposing the windfall doesn't come, we'll have enough for renovations plus down payment by March of next year. That's assuming (as always) no unexpected windfalls OR curveballs. So could be sooner or later than that.

The declutter challenge has gone pffft! As sometimes happens with these things, I plan a challenge and then get hit by some unexpected things that take my attention away from it. That's OK; challenges are good for motivating me when there's nothing going on, but if something more urgent or important comes along, I'll focus on that instead. The things that have come up:
- Lots of extra work that sometimes leads to OT at home
- Our decision to stay in the US
- Seeming movement on the land deal (which still hasn't led to anything, but did cause a flurry of house-hunting when it looked like it was going through)
- A round of spring colds that have kept our household energy at half-mast

Anyway, time to revamp the sidebar goals once again!

Firmed up the house plan a bit

April 24th, 2014 at 10:29 pm

Wow. Work has just been insane lately. If this writing project goes well, it could mean big things for me. Right now, all it means is trying to cram another nearly full-time job into my already nearly full-time job. Needless to say, not much time for blogging! But I'm planning on working a bit some night or this weekend in return for taking this mental break, because my brain is overtired and not working at its peak capacity. Will be better if I take a break from work thinking.

We've barely had any concentrated grownup time in my house this week, at least when all of us were present, with no kids around, not doing other stuff. But we had about a 10-minute hurried discussion yesterday about the house-buying plan, and came to a fairly straightforward conclusion: If we don't get the land deal money, we'll probably start looking for a new house in about a year. Meanwhile, we'll work on renovating both the US condo and UK flat with the money we've got now. We just decided we can't put all our money into a down payment right now, because then we'd be carrying two mortgages, we'd have no cushion to speak of, and we wouldn't be able to complete the US reno anytime soon because much of our surplus budget would be just going to carry the two mortgages, and if we couldn't do the reno, odds are we wouldn't be able to sell (at least not at the price we need to break even on our mortgage).

If we do get that big windfall, should pretty much be able to start all three things simultaneously: flat reno, condo reno and house-hunting.

So that makes it pretty easy. I do need to look at the annual budget to see if we'll have to make any cuts to get to the savings we need within a year without the land deal, but other than that it's pretty cut-and-dried. We have a contractor coming tonight to check out our bathroom and we'll see if we can get any help within our tight budget ($5K for everything). Doesn't hurt to ask someone!

I still can't tell if the land deal will go through. My dad emailed us (first time he's weighed in, I think he's trying to stay out of it but some parts of it only he can handle since he owns the land) to say he'd sent back some notarized docs to the gas company and would mail each of us kids a copy. I couldn't resist and emailed back to see if he knew whether it was a done deal or just an option that the gas co. might or might not follow through on, but I haven't heard back from him.

Meanwhile, I've been chatting and texting and Facebooking with one of my two friends who would consider moving in with us if we got a multifamily. They're perfectly serious about it as long as the second space meets some basic needs and is in a neighborhood they like. He also said they're fine in their current rental and willing to wait a year to see if anything pans out. He's going to keep an eye on multifamilies for sale to see how quickly they go and what they actually sell for.

Meanwhile, I'm going to bone up on mortgage brokers, credit unions, real estate agents, online mortgage lenders, and all the other great ideas and tips you guys gave me on my last post. Thank you!!

I think it would be great, kind of like having extended family nearby. Also wouldn't hurt to have help with the mortgage! But I'll only do it if we can find a multifamily where our part of it satisfies our needs and makes us excited to move in.

Not too much other news. In the declutter arena, I've gotten the oldest kid to set aside a few more toys for donate/garage sale. I also cleared out a hundred or so emails from my work inbox but still don't have it down where I want it to be.

I was able to view the claims for SL's ER visit and talked to the insurance company for help interpreting it. I was excited to learn we'll owe less than $300 for the whole shebang! There have been 4 claims so I think that should be all.

NT's job is actually looking good right now! His co-worker leaving seems to have woken them up, and they hired not only someone to replace him, but also someone for a new position that's been needed for years. So it looks like NT might be happier there and be able to stay longer and look for other jobs at his leisure.

AS's job will be winding down over the next several months or so. We brainstormed possible new professions for her a bit this morning, but it's still really preliminary. Her job needs her really badly until they fill other positions and train people up.

That's about all the news I can think of right now!

Need a crash course in home buying!

April 22nd, 2014 at 11:04 pm

Jeez, with serious talk of buying suddenly afoot, I'm realizing how little I know about the process.

- What's the best way to shop for a mortgage, and how do you tell which is best for you?
- Do you get preapproved only after you choose a lender? Is there any obligation to preapproval?
- How hard is it to shop around and make offers without a real estate agent?
- My credit score is high, but are all the opened/closed credit cards going to raise red flags and/or eyebrows when lenders check my credit history?

I'm remembering the first and only time I shopped for a home. Went into it blind, with money borrowed from my dad and my real estate agent basically just telling me what to do. A few times, unexpected expenses cropped up, like earnest money and closing costs. Also didn't know about property tax escrow beforehand. I didn't choose my lender; my real estate agent just shuttled me to someone who got me my mortgage and my home equity loan (which I took out immediately upon buying, with the intention of paying my dad off, even though I didn't finish paying him off until years later).

I did an online prequalify with my main bank today, just to see what that said. But it was instantaneous so I doubt it took into account my credit history. And it didn't ask how much cash I have for a down payment, which I assume would affect how much I could borrow.

At least this time I know a few things, and I know of the existence of things even if I don't know much about them. But it's clear I need to educate myself a lot more, fast!

Sorry for the scattered entry; basically just thinking aloud. Now you know how scattered and messy it is inside my brain. Wink

Declutter challenge? What was that again?

April 21st, 2014 at 10:20 pm

This weekend I didn't get much decluttering done. Tried without success to get the old carseat picked up by a Freecycler (hopefully my backup person will come today, but she sounds like a bit of a flake too). Got rid of an old box and some other recycling. That's about it. Most of the time I forgot about the challenge entirely, with everything else I've got going on!

First off, we ran our 5k on Saturday! I didn't exactly set the world on fire with my time, but I'm just proud of myself because I didn't take a walking break the whole way! (NT and AS did MUCH better on time.) We all had a good time and agreed we'd like to do more of them in the future.

Sunday of course was Easter, so we hid eggs and put out baskets of treats for the girls to find. What with grandparents and daycare, we had so much stuff that the only things I bought were two $1.99 baskets at CVS. They had a great time, and we had our friends (the girls' godfathers) over in the afternoon just to hang out and catch up.

The past week or so, we've been getting more and more amped to start shopping for a new home. At first we were thinking we'd definitely fix up the condo and sell it before we moved, but now we're starting to seriously consider buying and moving before we sell. So everything is up in the air right now. Many things to consider:

- Deciding if it's a good idea to move before we sell. I spoke to a friend Friday who did it, and he said he and his wife just couldn't contemplate trying to stage the home and keep it neat (they have 3 young kids ranging from newborn to kindergartner). He said it wasn't that hard to do, and that you don't need that much of a down payment (they did about 7%) despite rumors that you need 20%-30% these days. He said the biggest consideration was you have to prove you have enough money in the bank to cover both mortgages.

- Making sure we have enough money in the budget to pay two mortgages for a while. We would, if we cut back on a few things, but it would mean our salaries need to stay stable for a while. That would mean NT can't take a lower-paying job unless AS gets a higher-paying job. (Oh! That's the other thing I haven't talked about. AS gave a preliminary sort of notice to her job; she's not leaving anytime soon, but she told them she needs to start transitioning out of her current role over the next few months or so.)

- Do we pull the trigger sooner even if we don't get the land-deal windfall? At first we thought no, but it is actually possible. I don't think of us having any money in savings, really, because all our money is earmarked and bucketed out for various uses. But when I added up everything we have in US checking and savings, we actually have over $21,000! It's all earmarked (EF, vacation fund, medical fund, extra student loan payments, etc.) but none of it is specifically needed at this time. And more is coming in May. So that's kind of interesting.

- We've mostly been thinking we want a single-family home, though I've had this vague dream for a while that if we got a duplex, one of our friends might move into the other unit and help us out with the mortgage. She's a really good friend and has a small apartment; would love something bigger but wants to keep her costs down and not commit to a mortgage.

She has a small dog and we have a cat and two kids; the potential for helping each other out with pet and child care, plus keeping each other's living expenses down, is really enticing! So when our other friends (a married [soon-to-be-legally] male couple), were over Sunday, I told them of this dream of mine. They immediately jumped on it, saying THEY would actually be open to an arrangement like that! They also have a dog, and as I mentioned are the kids' godfathers, and don't want to have a mortgage again (walked away from their home during the housing crisis), so the same arrangement could work with them!

We're really excited at the prospect. I'm even going to an open house tomorrow with one of them to check out a tempting prospect in our neighborhood; it is single-family but really big, so I want to see if it has potential to turn multi-family.

This concept of putting all my other money goals on hold in order to pursue house-ownership early feels very daring and strange to me. I'm still thinking about it. I wouldn't do it unless I felt confident we could pull it off financially without sacrificing too many of our other short-term (and NONE of our long-term) goals. So we'll see. I'll be crunching lots of numbers over the next few days/weeks/months, trying to see what this new scenario might look like.

April 2014 net worth update

April 17th, 2014 at 03:55 pm

Assets:
NT's UK pensions:
#1: 17,105 pounds ($27,368)
#2: 19,653 pounds ($31,445)
#3: 4,452 pounds ($7,123)
NT's 401(k): $29,319
NT's Roth IRA: $6,891
AS's 401(k): $12,404
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $18,075
CJ's 401(k): $68,422
CJ's Roth IRA: $6,891
NT's flat: 140,000 pounds ($224,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $145,000
Emergency fund (shared asset): $15,000
House down payment/moving fund (shared): $4,584
---
Total Assets: $598,204

Total Debt: $240,309

Current Estimated Net Worth: $357,895

March 2014 estimate: $352,102

Change in net worth: +$5,793

Summary: Nice, healthy net worth growth this month. We're so close to $600K in assets! Almost half of the increase was due to getting an annual statement on one of NT's UK pensions.

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 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 $1.60 for every British pound.

Days 15-16 declutter results etc.

April 17th, 2014 at 02:37 am

I haven't done much these past two days. Last night I took two small bags of clothes to a donation box, and today I listed our carseat on Freecycle. I thought it expired in early 2015, but it actually expires January 2016, so that's nice; if someone wants it they'll get a lot of use out of it before they have to get rid of it.

I'm feeling pretty sleepy tonight so probably won't get anything else done.

Work has been crazy, and my email inbox is already back up to 150 after I cleared it down to less than five a couple weeks ago. But my writing assignment seems to be going well, so I'm excited about that. I got my raise in my 4/15 paycheck; $30 per paycheck or $60 per month. Not too bad! If I get into writing full-time at work I can hopefully see a more substantial raise than that, though. Not that it will probably happen for a long time, if it happens at all.

Last night AS and I talked to some new acquaintances about my dedication to personal finance. As always I offered to share any tips I'd picked up along the way and invited them to my Ordinary Savers group and blog (which I haven't updated in several months -- gulp!). The woman of the couple mentioned that she had a lot of student loan debt and would like to talk about it sometime. She did say she was paying off $1000 per month, so that's promising!

NT mailed off our taxes yesterday as well as the W-9 for the land deal. I emailed the guy whose business card was clipped to the W-9 asking him what amount I was getting and when I could expect it, but I didn't hear anything. I don't think he cares now that he's got the right of way. I'm just one of four people in a very small (for the energy company) piece of a huge deal.

I've learned some of what's going on in WVa. right now by doing a bit of internet research. There's a big area called Marcellus Shale that's located under several states including NY and PA. The state with the most shale area is WVa; it looks to be under about 75%-90% of the state. Frown And also, WVa is an energy state. They are practically owned by the companies. Frown It's looking really bad for that formerly beautiful state, and I'm more determined than ever to donate a large sum of money to an activist group in the area. That's not to say I'm not still terribly grateful to my dad and excited to receive a large sum of money and possibly speed up our long-term goals, but I wish it weren't from this type of business.

Day 14 declutter/organize results! etc.

April 15th, 2014 at 04:40 am

I can put "results!" back in my title. Smile I filed away that lingering pile of stuff. No photo because there's nothing to see!

Actually I noticed some bits of paper that had started littering various spaces already. But, much more manageable now that the main pile is done.

I was so busy at work today that I didn't get chance to go mail my taxes or the W-9 for the land deal. But I did make tax copies for my records right before I left work, and gave all the mailing for NT to do at his work tomorrow.

The reason I was so busy at work is I suddenly have a rather challenging, rather high-profile writing assignment. It's a bit stressful because my supervisor and others are kind of giving off signals that if this goes well, I could be on my way to a full-time writer job (which I believe is quite a bit better-paying than my current position). So of course I want to get it just right, but I'm also paying attention to how it makes me feel to make sure it's the kind of job I would want. So far I kind of like it; I think I'd like it more once I gained more confidence in my professional writing skills. We shall see.

NT is undergoing some interesting times at his job. They kept making and breaking promises to hire one more person to make work manageable. So he's been looking for a new job. Then his supervisor and friend found a job and is leaving at the end of this month. His upper management is freaking out and I know they want to keep NT. I also know they're stuck on this idea of not hiring an extra person. I think they'd give him a promotion and raise but try to hire only one person, instead of one to replace his supervisor and one to fill the gap they've had for a couple of years. And that is just not going to fly long-term. So I really hope they come to their senses and hire two people, OR I hope he finds another job, even if it's lower-paying. Things have slowed down to a normal pace for a little while, but when it ramps up at his work, there is no relief and it starts to affect our home life. I don't want to go through that again with no end in sight.

AS is also assessing her long-term career prospects now that we're not planning to move to the UK. So we'll see where all of this leads!

Days 12-13 declutter update

April 14th, 2014 at 06:12 am

I can't really say "progress"; I didn't do much. But when you consider the weekend I had! Saturday morning I find out we're staying in the U.S. for sure. Today I receive the W-9 for what could be a $70K+ windfall. I've been very distracted!

The few things I did do this weekend:
- Moved some outgrown kid sneakers to the garage sale section of the closet.
- Got AS to sign her state tax form so I can take all our returns to work, make payments and mail them off.
- Shredded some duplicate/unnecessary tax paperwork.
- Uhh...

I think that may be it! Although, I think my decluttering of the past few days inspired NT, who organized some stuff in the kitchen, and added some things to the garage sale pile. And, even though AS is back now (woo hoo!), I still continued my new practice of laying out my clothing and packing my breakfast & lunch for work.

Ah well. It's been a great weekend of decisions and action. I did another practice 5k and feel OK about this Saturday's real 5k. We've been staying on the grocery budget and menu plan. I stayed steady on my weight. Did a TON of drooling over homes for sale online (OK, that wasn't exactly productive).

Some interesting job stuff is coming up for me and for NT, but it's getting late and I can't really organize my thoughts. I'm sure I'll get to talking about it eventually. Nothing concrete at this point anyway.

Here we go! (I think?)

April 14th, 2014 at 02:01 am

So I hadn't heard anything more about the land deal for about three weeks, and kind of figured they just wanted my dad's sign-off in case they were going to do the pipeline, but maybe hadn't gotten anywhere near that point yet. However, tonight I went to get a package that had been in the front office of my condo since about Thursday or Friday, and it was a W-9 form from the company, with a request to fill it out and a return envelope. No other info, just that.

Here we go? I don't have any knowledge of how these things work, but if they're having me fill one of these out, I would think a payment is imminent.

I'd kind of calmed down and accepted that the deal might not happen after all, so now my heart is pounding and mind racing all over again.

But even though it's terribly exciting (and nerve-wracking), it's still not cash in hand. So we'll see.

Wow! Suddenly, some clarity

April 12th, 2014 at 07:28 pm

Today, we have a very different perspective for the foreseeable future.

The WV land deal is still uncertain.
Prospective career/income changes are still just pipe dreams.

BUT ...

An uncertainty much bigger than either of those has been settled: We're staying in the U.S.

AS's trip to London was first and foremost to represent her publishing house at a book fair. But we all acknowledged that it was also for her to network, suss out the British publishing industry, and think about the possibility of getting a job in it.

She came home with a very definite sense that a long-term future in the UK publishing world would not be good for her -- or us. It was mainly a lifestyle thing; most of the people she talked to had chosen publishing over having children. Or having a social life outside of publishing. Or (if they worked for a small press) having a decent income.

It also bothered her that the culture itself seemed to be everyone's obsession. She got into publishing because she loves books, loves editing, loves experimental fiction writing. All that seemed secondary to gossip, careers and faux glamour, with most of the people she met.

She doesn't want to pursue that path, and that was the only clear path we saw into the UK. We didn't have to discuss much after that -- NT had already prepared himself for that eventuality and is just ready to head in a concrete direction, and so am I. So we now have one path -- fixing up our condo for sale and saving up for a down payment on a house in Minneapolis.

There's a wistful feeling giving up the UK dream -- at least for the next 5-10 years. But there's a great deal of excitement having something definite to work toward.

I of course immediately rejiggered the numbers to focus just on moving within Minneapolis. And I'm figuring them with a 10% down payment, because we want to move as soon as possible but without having to sell the UK flat to raise funds.

These are my very rough estimates, which we'll use as our benchmarks unless or until we have more concrete numbers:

Upgrade US condo for sale: ($13,500 total)
- Kitchen $5,000
- Bathroom $5,000
- Floors $2,500
- Misc. (painting etc.) $1,000
Total UK flat reno $19,200
Down payment (10% on $425K home) $42,500
Closing costs $4,500
Moving $1,000
So that would mean we'd need $80,700. If we count every liquid asset (including the emergency fund), we have $32,874. That leaves $47,826 we'd need to raise. (Would probably take us over a year to raise that, depending on whether career and income changes happen, and which direction they took our take-home pay.)

Interestingly, my estimate of what we'd clear if the WV land deal goes through is $48,000. Which means if that went through tomorrow, we'd have enough money to start the ball rolling immediately!

Of course this assumes we wouldn't lose any money on the sale of the condo, but that's more likely if we wait a year. So even if we were to get that windfall sooner, we'd probably wait longer anyway. And, it would be nice to pull this off without draining every bit of our medical and emergency funds, so that's another incentive to wait and save up money.

Very exciting stuff to contemplate.

Day 11 declutter/organize results!

April 12th, 2014 at 03:26 am

OK, made up for lost time a bit.

I tackled the bigger of the two front closets. Threw some stuff away, recycled, and organized. One of the time-consuming but satisfying chores was gathering all the scattered gift-wrapping and gift-bag detritus, recycling the damaged stuff:



... and organizing the usable (and reusable) stuff:



Here's one side of the closet before:



... and after:



Can't tell much difference? Well, 80% of the stuff there now is designated for the garage sale next month. The only things we're keeping are the strollers, the steamer/mops, and three articles of clothing. (All the hangers tied together are going to the sale.)

Here's the other side of the closet before:



... and after:



That one is hopefully noticeably better, but it's not the end of it. There's a carseat that's Freecycle material, a broken printer and hard drive that need to be recycled at a special facility, and an entire shelf of old painting supplies that will be pared down with NT's help at some point this month.

I moved some things to other closets where they made more sense, and I've got two bags of clothes for the donation box NT will pass on Tuesday night. And I need to take some recycling and free-table stuff downstairs. Might do that when I'm done with this post! Smile

No declutter/organize results for day 10

April 11th, 2014 at 04:31 am

Today, work just got out of control, and I'm going to be tied up more than half the day tomorrow on a conference call, so I brought work home and used my "free" time to get caught up.

I did about 3 hours of work, which was good for getting my workload back on track, but bad for my April challenge since it sucked up most of my prime decluttering/organizing time (after the kids are in bed but before I am).

I've got to get some done tomorrow! What with three nights of taxes, one night of barely decluttering and now a complete fail night, I'm itching to do something concrete. I've got my eye on the front hall closets; may try to sort the garage sale stuff into one half of the big closet so we can see how much of this stuff will be gone come May. I think I'm also safe to add some of my least favorite sweaters to the pile; I'll keep a few to make sure I've got something to wear on cold snaps, but that's about it. I'm sick of 90% of my sweaters; they either don't fit well, don't flatter or are uncomfortable.

Day 9 declutter/organize results (an afterthought to an eventful day)

April 10th, 2014 at 03:04 am

Where do I begin? What a day. This morning I was getting the girls ready, doing a pretty good job of staying on track, I thought. I set SL (the 2-year-old) up on the changing table. I stood her up to pull up her pants and then realized she was wearing short sleeves. So I turned around to pull a sweater out of the closet -- and heard a huge crash.

I turned around to see it as it was happening -- she had leaned against the wall and inadvertently pushed the changing table away from her (it's on wheels, though pretty sturdy and doesn't usually roll around), and as her legs slid out from under her she'd kind of scissored up and fallen behind the table and onto the floor.

She was freaked out, and crying, and I held her and examined her. But after 5 or so minutes of hugs, she calmed down and was talking and walking normally, and there were no visible injuries. So I took her to daycare.

I told the daycare lady about it and she chuckled, since SL was running happily around, but said she'd keep an eye on her.

Well, my cellphone was dead, but NT called me at work about 40 minutes later saying that the daycare lady had called him. SL had thrown up three times after I left.

He went and got her and took her to the children's emergency room (luckily a short walk from daycare) and she threw up several more times. Because that can be a sign of concussion, they did a CT scan. Luckily, the vomiting subsided and the CT scan came back with nothing, and she's been back to her normal self, if a little subdued (which I could chalk up to being worn out by the terror of being in the CT scanner; apparently she was so terrified she nearly passed out a couple times).

Needless to say, I was beside myself at work until I heard the results of the scan. When I started to relax and calm down, it felt like I'd just worked out for hours, I was so weak and sore.

We'd already planned a little extravagance: getting takeout at our favorite little Greek cafe. So I picked it up during work, using the rest of the grocery budget for it. I had a board meeting to attend at the condo representing my little cost-saving committee, but I begged off. Instead we took the food out to the nearby park and had a nice picnic with the girls, and let them run around and play.

When we got home it was already past their bedtime, but we let them have a snack (the Greek food was a bit new to them) and gave them a bath (necessary after all the puking and outdoor play).

Probably also needless to say, I was exhausted by the time I had time to myself. I asked NT what decluttering I could do that didn't require any effort, and he pointed out about ten balloons that had been sitting behind a chair for about a month, because AA didn't want us to pop them after her birthday playdate. So I pulled them out, popped them and threw away the scraps. And that was my decluttering for the day. Smile

On the money side, it was a pretty fruitful day; I received the $500 in Amex gift cards for my referral bonus at work, and redeemed my Southwest Visa points for $500 in Amazon cards. Of course, I fully expect that to be offset by the ER bill from today's visit, so we'll call it a wash. I'm just tired and grateful to have my beautiful girls apparently well, and AS's UK trip over halfway done (she'll land near midnight on Friday).

Day 8 declutter/organize results! aka, the end of the boring tax-prep posts

April 9th, 2014 at 04:45 am

Well, today I buckled down and prepared my and NT's state tax return. I couldn't get the fillable forms from the state site to work, so I printed and filled in with a pen, the old-fashioned way.

As I was pulling up the forms I knew I needed from looking at my rough drafts from February, I could not find one of the forms that added to my MN taxable income. I did some digging and realized that a law enacted in March had rendered it obsolete. Which meant nearly $900 less in taxable income!

It only shaved about $50 off the tax bill, but I'm really happy with that! It means we only owe about $750 between the three of us. That is really good news! Again, since I already had the money set aside, that's $50 I can put back into our surplus.

I separated out a pile of papers that could be discarded, but they should be shredded, and I didn't want to do that with the girls sleeping. I'll have NT shred them on his next day off.

We still have to sign, make copies and send them off, so I haven't removed the files. But I organized all the papers into the appropriate files so when we're done, they just need to be stuck into the filing cabinet. That will happen Monday, probably, because AS needs to sign her state return before I can mail it off. (She gets back from UK around midnight on Friday.)

So now I can turn my energy to the decluttering side of things again. Looking forward to it!

Day 7 declutter/organize results!

April 8th, 2014 at 03:48 pm

Last night I devoted my free time to taxes again. This time I tackled my and NT's federal return. I used the "free file fillable forms" tool, which lets you do them half manually (but with some help doing the math after you fill in your numbers).

I was checking my work against my scribbled notes from February. Everything was nearly identical -- until I got to the Lifetime Learning Credit. My old notes showed over $300 less of a credit than my new calculations. Weird! The only thing I can think of to explain it is that the form we got from the college says "corrected"; so maybe I was looking at preliminary numbers online and got the actual form later with bigger numbers. Or maybe I miscalculated what 20% of the tuition paid would be.

Either way, I'm going with my new number, since I can't figure out where the old number came from. That means instead of owing $291 to the IRS, we get a $75 refund! Hooray! That adds $366 to our surplus, since I already had the money set aside to pay that bill.

By the time I was done it was pretty late, and NT needed the computer to apply for jobs. So I'll tackle the state side another time (maybe tonight depending on how I fee). I don't think I'll be as lucky there -- I think my estimate of owing over $1000 will be correct. But, overall, we'll owe about $800 between us all when you factor in the refunds, which is better than the $1150 I thought we'd owe after refunds!

Once I finish the state portion of my and NT's taxes, I'll mail everything in and be done with that, and can get back to more tangible decluttering/organizing!

Day 6 declutter/organize results and other ramblings

April 7th, 2014 at 04:56 am

OK, I didn't make much visible progress in decluttering (in fact, my folders are temporarily more visible), but I made some progress in getting my life organized -- namely, taxes.

I couldn't remember where I'd left off in February, except that I'd e-filed AS's federal return for free and received the refund. The other three returns, which I knew we'd owe on, I'd set aside in varying degrees of completeness.

Turns out AS's taxes, I hadn't really done the state side. I'd jotted down the state taxes that TaxAct reckoned she'd owe, so I knew I could do them by hand for free and do an accuracy check based on whether my final number matched TaxAct's.

But staring at it, I knew it was at least a couple of hours of work. I went into her TaxAct profile to print the federal for reference -- and saw the enticement to have them printed and ready to file for only $14.99. Facing hours of work and knowing I'd still have my and NT's taxes ahead of me after that, I caved. I'm projecting a small surplus in my annual budget of about $200, so $14.99 doesn't seem that big a deal when I factor in how much time it'll save me. So in less than 20 minutes I had AS's taxes printed and ready to send in to MN. And I already saved up the money to pay what we owe, so I can send it off whenever I feel like it.

I also glanced through my and NT's taxes. It looks like I scribbled down all the numbers that will go in the main federal and state form, but didn't really "show my work." So that will entail completing the main forms for real plus all the supporting worksheets, double-checking my calculations while I'm at it, and printing them, writing checks and mailing them. I think one good weeknight or weekend afternoon of work will be enough for filling them out. I decided to save that for another day, as I was pretty exhausted already.

Oh, and this doesn't really fit into my monthly goal, but I got very organized preparing for tomorrow morning. AS is on a plane to the UK for 5 days as I write this, and so I'll be flying solo for three mornings in terms of getting the kids ready and getting them to daycare and me to work. (NT is taking two days off next week, so he'll be able to help me two of the mornings. He normally goes to work before anyone else wakes up.)

So tonight, in addition to laying out the girls' clothes for tomorrow (a good habit of AS's that I'm trying to keep going while she's gone), I also showered, laid out my own clothes, got breakfast and lunch together in a plastic bag which is in the fridge and ready to grab, put my makeup out in case I have time to apply it in the morning, made sure everything was in my purse and hung my purse by the front door, chose which coat I'll be wearing and put my hat and gloves in the pockets.

So tomorrow should be pretty straightforward: Get myself dressed and do basic grooming. Put makeup on if I've got time. Get the girls dressed and hair brushed. Set out the diapers for pickup. Get all three of us into coats and shoes. Grab my lunch from the fridge and my purse from the front hall.

I am feeling pretty together, which is good since we're down a parent. I tried out Car2Go, another carshare service in our area, to take AS to the airport. We signed up a while ago but hadn't tried it because their fleet is all Smartcars, which only seat two (we're a family of 5 and Hourcar's fleet of Honda Fits and Priuses accommodates us, just barely). But this was one of those rare instances where there were just two of us, so it was a good test case.

It was pretty slick. Unlike Hourcar, they don't have set locations; people can park them wherever unlimited free parking is available, and someone else can get it from there. You check their website or smartphone app to see if one is convenient to you when you're ready to go. There was one only a couple blocks away, so I went and got it.

It took an hour to get to and from the airport, and the cost was $17.50. Not bad considering taxis to the airport are at least $40 one way, and public transport would be over an hour one way! I would consider using this service in the future for sure, as a supplement to the Hourcar service. (In this case, the Hourcar cost would have been comparable, though the closest one is a longer walk away. But for one-way trips for just one or two people, where you can just leave the car and not pay for it while it's sitting there waiting to be returned to the spot, I could see it really saving money and hassle.)

So, feeling pretty good. I have hundreds of cars at my disposal, for a fraction of the annual cost (if I don't use them, my only fixed cost is $15 per month for Hourcar membership) and none of the hassle of maintenance, insurance or fillups! Big Grin

I finally got out and exercised today, after taking 2 weeks off (the longest break I've taken since before Thanksgiving). NT mapped out a 5k route for me and I jogged as much as I could, walked for short periods when I couldn't take it any more, and completed the course in 38 minutes. I'm happy with that time, and I still have 2 weeks to train before the 5k! I'm so glad most of the snow is gone; it's much more pleasant running outside than on the treadmill. Bonus: I'd lost 2 lbs. over the past 3 weeks when I weighed in.

We made a bit of progress on the UK flat reno question. NT emailed the management company to see if there was any hope of a decent renovation for the amount we'll have saved up by July 1 (8100 pounds plus 20% VAT). If he says absolutely not, then we'll have to figure out a way to get the money over there, because it sounds like (and NT confirmed on a walkthrough last May) it's getting harder to rent because of its poor condition. (I'm fairly sure he'll say we need more money, because our contact there has indicated that a solid reno would run at least 10K plus VAT, and that he himself spent 15K plus VAT on one of the units he owns in the area.) The money we would need is about $3000 U.S. (for a basic 10K plus VAT reno).

One possible route is to ask the company if they'd mind taking the remaining money out of future rentals until it was paid off. They've done this in the past when emergency repairs or replacements were needed; just stopped sending us rent money until the bill was paid. But this is a larger project and they'd probably have to stretch that over 3 or 4 months, so I'm not sure. Even if we did that, it would mean we'd have to cover 3 or 4 months of mortgage payments, since we'll be draining the UK accounts completely to pay for this. But that would be $1200-$1600 US, so half of what we'd send otherwise.

If we get the money from my dad's land deal (which I've heard nothing about for the past two weeks), sending over $3000 wouldn't be that big a deal. But if not, it would be a bit of a wrench. Already this reno is going to drain the 2/3 of our EF that's housed in UK account. The remaining $3K would either have to come out of 1) the remaining 1/3 of our EF, taking it down to just $2K, 2) the money we've raised so far for our downpayment/moving fund, or 3) the money we've saved up for our bathroom reno. In any case it would set us back a ways on our other goals. (I mean, it would even if it came out of future UK earnings, since it would set back rebuilding the EF, but it wouldn't feel as tangible.)

Anyway, when NT emailed the management guy he got an out-of-office until mid-April, so that gives us some time to think about it regardless what his answer is. If I have time once the taxes are done, I think I'll run a couple of money scenarios, of how long it would take to reach our goals if:
- We get the land deal and do send the $3K to the UK
- We don't get the land deal and send the $3K
- Both above scenarios if our take-home decreases because of career stuff
- Both above scenarios if our take-home increases because of career stuff

I'd also like to reassess when it would look like we could move to a new home (both in UK an here) if we decreased down payment to 10% (I'd always planned for 20%-30%) but didn't sell the UK flat. (The idea of keeping it appeals to me more and more.)

Depending on how it all looks, we may need to be prepared to cut out some luxuries in the worst-case scenarios in order to still meet our goals (we now desperately want a real house with a yard, whether it's in the UK or here). It'll just be good to know where we'd stand in various outcomes, so we can be mentally ready for whatever comes.

Day 5 declutter/organize results!

April 6th, 2014 at 12:53 am

It was a busy day, so I didn't get much done on the declutter front. But I did gather up a bunch of home and daycare art projects that had been laying around. I had AA decide what to take off the walls of the kids' room (which were already pretty bare from stripping off all the Xmas/winter decorations recently), and decide what new art should go up on the walls and which I could recycle.

Wall 1 before:



Wall 1 after:



Wall 2 before:



Wall 2 after:



And the pile of art I recycled:



So, at least I got something done!

Day 4 declutter/organize results!

April 5th, 2014 at 03:07 am

I don't have any photos today, but I did get some decluttering and organizing done. Inspired by Jasmine B, I attacked my work inbox. In about an hour or two, I took it down from over 300 emails to just 2!

When I was done I had a few minutes before it was time to leave work, so I cleared off my desk--threw out some unneeded papers and shoved some in my drawer. Wiped all the coffee rings off my desk too while I was at it. Smile

When I got home, I remembered some more of the kids' craft supplies were in a drawer in their room, so I cleaned out that drawer and discarded or sorted everything in it. The salvageable supplies got put into the big Tupperware and I found a spot for it under the changing table. And now there's an empty toy drawer in their room that we can use to eliminate more clutter.

Day 3 declutter/organize results!

April 4th, 2014 at 04:14 am

Tonight I was very unfocused, but all my puttering did bring about some results!

First of all, I thought I'd list books on Half.com for sale as my organizing thing, but I mentioned it to NT and by the time I sat down to do it, I saw he was doing it. Sweet! But then I felt like I had to figure out something I could do myself.

First I thought about organizing the girls' craft supplies, but then I realized I wanted a giant Tupperware box for that. So I checked in the front hall closet and saw some half-full cans of paint. I went on the city website and looked up how to dispose of it, and found there's a dropoff center (we'd have to get a car share, but that's OK). The site also said if the paint was latex and dried out and less than a quarter full, you could just put it in the trash. But when I picked one up at random, it felt more than a quarter full, and I thought I felt movement.

So I'm going to have NT pry them open tomorrow and if they look usable, I'll Freecycle them. If not usable, we'll do a car share and try to bundle a few other chores we've been putting off.

So that was progress of sorts, but I couldn't see any visible results, so I still wanted to do something! I'd noticed some stuff in the closets that we probably didn't want anymore and could maybe put in our friend's garage sale next month, so I thought about just cataloging things in there and making a garage sale list.

I found the modem for the alternative internet service we tried to save money with a year or so ago, and I took that down to see if we could Craigslist it. Then I noticed a giant Tupperware on a top shelf. I took it down, and it just contained some paper-making supplies and some random 45 records. I managed to put the paper-making kit in the same box as a screen-printing kit (AS has a lot of crafts supplies tucked in odd places), and set aside the 45s to Freecycle. That meant I could use the Tupperware for the girls' crafts supplies!

Here's the 45s and the internet modem:


The top shelf of that closet already looked better just by getting the big Tupperware out of there:


So I took down the cardboard box of their old crafts supplies and three boxes of NEW supplies they got for their birthdays this month. I organized, put things into baggies, consolidated, and threw out a bunch of scribbled/painted/stickered paper and various scraps:


I managed to get all four crafts boxes' contents into the one Tupperware, which can either go under the crib, under the bed or on the bottom shelf of the changing table in the girls' room:


Once the main cardboard box was cleared out, I thought it could be used to store various hats and gloves that were scattered over another shelf in the front hall closet. So I brought that stuff out, we tossed a few unusable hoods and odd gloves, and we fit the rest into the craft box.

That meant a bag of bags that was on the closet floor now fits in the shelf along with our gloves/hats box and with our other bag of bags:


And, it also means there is a free spot in the sewing supplies storage unit where the crafts box was!

Referral bonus!

April 3rd, 2014 at 08:33 pm

A month or so ago, I heard two co-workers discussing an open position at our company. One of them was thinking about recommending a contact of hers for the job. The other one said something like, "And don't forget you'll get a bonus if she's hired."

I was shocked. I suddenly remembered that our company has a referral-bonus program. They used to publicize it but hadn't said much about it in the past couple of years. The thing was, I'd referred my co-worker about a year ago and she'd been hired.

I emailed HR and asked if it was too late to be considered for the referral bonus. They hemmed and hawed and said it usually wasn't given out if the new hire was a direct report, like mine was. I pointed out that it wasn't established that I was going to be her supervisor when we were hiring for the position; that was decided later.

The HR rep said she'd see what she could do, and I gently nudged her a couple of times, but I wasn't really thinking anything would happen.

Then today she came down to talk to me. She said they wanted to give me the bonus but it would have to be kind of off the records, I guess because it was over a year ago or because I'm now the person's supervisor. Anyway, she said they'd give me the bonus in the form of Amex gift cards. It's $500, and I should receive it next week!

I'm so excited. I keep a running list of upcoming unbudgeted expenses for the year, and expected offsets/snowflakes for the year. Sometimes we've got enough offsets to cover, but if another expense comes up, then sometimes we have an estimated deficit. Well, I added the $500 to our expected offsets, and now we have a small surplus in the projection again!

So, yay. This is so great!

Day 2 declutter/organize results!

April 3rd, 2014 at 04:50 am

So today I tackled the stack of papers that's been squatting in various spots in our common area. Here it is before:



I recycled probably about a third to a half of it, filed a few things, and pulled some things out to deal with immediately. Other things I want to have on hand for when I do taxes in a week or so, and there were some other things I need to deal with so don't want them out of sight. Other documents were ready to be filed but I'd have to make a new label and folder for them, which I wasn't feeling up to. So I didn't eliminate the pile, but I cut it in half and neatened it. Here's how it looks now:



I'm pretty happy. The rest will get dealt with over the course of this month, I promise. I just wanted to make a dent tonight!

April debt progress and other bits of UK money news

April 2nd, 2014 at 03:08 am

Our mortgage payments hit today:

US: $476 to principal
UK1: $217
UK2: $47
UK3: $48

All told, that's $788 down, $112 to go on the April debt goal.

I was able to count the leftover flat-rental income toward our UK reno fund, so 361.95 pounds, or $579.12, more to that fund. Takes it to 3906.50, or $6250.40.

NT got one of his annual UK pension statements, and it looks like went up in value about 1561 pounds over the year, or nearly $2500. Not bad for something we're not tending at all! Someday we'll look into consolidating his old pension plans and educating ourselves on how best to invest them, but it would be too much work for too little benefit at the moment.

So, that'll look good on our next net worth statement. Smile

Day 1 declutter/organize results: with photographic evidence!

April 2nd, 2014 at 01:57 am

Now I can't promise I'll document every declutter day, but I thought it would motivate me to actually see what a couple minutes of my time could accomplish.

This is the load of rubbish I pulled out of my shoe shelf in the closet:



Ridiculous stuff -- I found receipts for AA's first birthday, 2011! Because of this useless clutter, my shoes had been piled up on top of the stuff, or crammed together on bare spots on the shelves. Now look at it:



Not bad for 5-10 minutes work! (If you count breaking down the cardboard for recycling, dissolving the cornstarch peanuts in the sink, and straightening my shoes.)

April declutter/organize challenge! Want to join in?

April 1st, 2014 at 03:55 pm

Must be the spring cleaning bug, but I feel like every area of my home and life has more clutter and disorganization than it needs to. So I declare a declutter/get organized challenge for April! My only rules are that I make SOME progress every day and report it here on the blog.

Tonight I have a finance committee meeting for my condo, so I don't know if I'll have much time or energy. One thing that would be an easy fix is there are a bunch of empty boxes and envelopes from bday and Xmas hanging around in my closet (on my shoe shelf where I tend to hide presents until it's time to wrap them). So if I do nothing else today, my goal will be to clear that out. Should take 5 minutes or less.

Other organizing/decluttering projects I'd like to tackle this month:
- Do my taxes! (Definitely falls under "get organized" because I need to gather papers and fill out forms; plus I can declutter after by filing all the paperwork away when I'm done.)
- Sort/file/discard paperwork. We've got a big pile that keeps getting moved from counter to table to cabinet; need to get rid of it.
- The kids' room. See if I can get them to donate/toss toys; clear out the outgrown clothes; find a place for everything that's left.
- The front closets. Discard/sell/give away unwanted stuff; rearrange what's left so it's not so crowded and chaotic.
- My clothing. I'm sure there are things I can get rid of in my wardrobe.
- My email inboxes. Both my personal and work inboxes have several hundred emails each that need to get filed and/or deleted.
- The bookcases. We need to either get rid of some books, or get some bookends and clear off the tops of the bookcases so we can utilize those as additional shelving options.
- The living room. I want to move more of the kids' stuff into their room once we clear out some space in theirs.

I'm sure some other ideas will come up as the month progresses. I don't need to get it ALL done; I just need to get SOMEthing done every day this month.

How about you? Are you in?