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Archive for May, 2014

Found a happy medium, so we'll see what happens next

May 30th, 2014 at 09:11 pm

Update on the house conundrum:

After my broker told me we couldn't be approved for the dream home's asking price because we'd need 15% down, I felt very relieved, but also terribly disappointed. I started thinking (based on comments here and something he'd mentioned) about the FHA loan option. I looked it up and the loan limit for a duplex in my county is $407,800.

Out of curiosity, thinking we could try for a cheaper home at some point, I asked the broker if the 15% down requirement applied to duplexes if they fell within the FHA loan limit. He said no, as long as the loan didn't exceed $407,800, all you need is 3.5%. That was good news, because sometimes cheaper ones come up on the market (they just go really fast usually).

A while later it occurred to me to ask, what if we made an offer on the dream home where the loan amount was $407K? So with the $47K we could put down, that would take us to $454K, or $16K short of the asking price. To my surprise, he said yes, that would be fine, and he sent over an approval letter!

Well, that was fast! I told my friends and family, and we thought about it some more. As I said I would, I ran more budget projections and thought about worst-case scenarios. And, no matter how I squinted at the numbers, I couldn't get past the fact that if we didn't get the WV money and didn't sell the US condo quickly, we'd have a pretty tough first year and a half. Using up our savings meant saving up for the US and UK renos and just hoping not to have to put any emergencies on credit cards during that time. Plus, it meant not much fun money even if there were no emergencies, and one of the reasons we love the home is its prime location near restaurants, bars, shops, bowling alley, theaters ...

The thought of making that offer just made my whole body feel tense. At that point it was just NT and me, and he said that projection sounded worrisome to him. I agreed and said maybe we just shouldn't make an offer even though we were approved.

I went to pick up AS from something and told her on the way home. She offered a brilliant suggestion: Why not make an even lower offer and just offer to pony up what part of our savings we felt comfortable with?

I loved it. If we didn't use the UK reno money, just our US savings, the UK money could be our cushion while we slowly paid for the US renos and built savings back up. Then by next spring, when it was time to spend the UK money, we'd have US money to serve as a cushion. And when the UK renos were complete, we could rent it out again and start building up money over there, too.

So I asked the broker if I could make an offer of $438K -- $31K down plus $407K loan -- and he said yes. I told my real estate agent and she's reached out to the other agent. So we shall see!

I also did a mortgage calculator and believe that if the offer were accepted, the mortgage would be about $300 less per month than the original loan we were trying for. Further room in the budget!

I don't think they will accept the offer; it's $32K under asking price and we're stipulating that they'd have to pay closing costs, which is probably another $8K or so. But as soon as I made that decision, I realized the two bad feelings I'd had all week were gone -- the stomach-churning worry of stretching too thin, and the aching disappointment of not being able to put an offer on this lovely house. Now I feel like I've done my best without putting my family's finances under too much potential strain.

And, if it doesn't work out, we'll continue our search, but we'll look within the bounds of the FHA loan and the amount we feel comfortable putting down.

Update on the house situation

May 29th, 2014 at 02:40 am

Wow, this site can get a bit intense-- and critical! Nonetheless, I think of it as my personal record of my financial life, so I'll go ahead and post.

This morning my stomach was in knots as the mortgage broker emailed and called with messages about how it was going really well, looked good, it was going through -- and then he called and said it couldn't happen.

The down payment on a duplex needed to be 15%, he said. Could I come up with another 5%? Well, no. I'd already gathered all my liquid assets for 10% down, plus my friends had chipped in a bit.

He said he'd go ahead and send a $400K approval letter, and that we'd be approved for a single-family home at that amount, but not a duplex because we didn't have the 15%.

I was disappointed, but also relieved. This would have cleaned out our savings and it would have taken a year to get back on equal footing if we didn't sell our condo and if the WV money didn't come through. The not knowing on both of those unlikely, but possible, scenarios was stressful.

I'm still glad we tried our hardest to get that place, because it would have been the perfect home for us. I don't think another one will come up and tempt us anytime soon, at least not one that isn't snatched up immediately by a commercial buyer. If it did, our hands would be tied unless it was $310K or less -- and the ones at that rate tend to either be in less desirable (to us) neighborhoods or commercial buyers would buy them before we had chance to make an offer.

So now, we'll go ahead with the US renovations, we'll leave the UK money in the UK account (for the time being), and we'll continue to save up money (but without cutting the budget to the bone; I'd only do that if a perfect place was right in front of us).

We're going to have dinner with our friends tomorrow night and talk about the future. Hopefully they will want to keep renting where they are and wait for a better time to buy together. I still think it's a good idea; I just never dreamed it would take such a hefty down payment to do it.

Mulling over budget while I wait

May 28th, 2014 at 03:54 pm

Still waiting to hear back from the mortgage broker about whether or not we can be preapproved. Meanwhile, I thought I'd take a real look at a basic budget for us and see what our surplus or shortfall is each month.

The basic budget includes debt payments, condo dues, daycare, cable & cellphones, groceries, car share, and NT's tuition.

June surplus: $2482.78
July surplus: $2085.47
August surplus: $2630.21
September surplus: $2865.21
October surplus: $4831.88
November surplus: $4928.54
December surplus: $4920.21
January (and after) avg. surplus: $5592.18

So it's pretty much like I thought. If we could keep new housing costs to $2000 per month and started paying the mortgage in August, then August and September would be very tight. (Like, we'd struggle if one of us lost a job.) But starting in October it would get progressively less tight. At that point one of us actually could lose a job and we could continue to pay all the bills (including both mortgages).

So if (worst case scenario) we didn't get the WV money, we didn't sell the condo, we didn't get raises and one of us lost our job and couldn't get another one right away, we could still survive indefinitely.

That's good to know! All four of those are unlikely but possible, so it's best to be sure. We still need to see what the real mortgage payment would be, and I've got calls in to the utility companies to figure out what the energy costs would be, to make sure the $2000 number is realistic.

Reached May debt goal! And update on the home situation

May 28th, 2014 at 06:07 am

AS's student loan payment hit, with $138 going to principal. That takes May debt repayment to $928, exceeding the $900 goal.

Our debt right now is at $239, 248. It's weird to think that this may be its lowest point for, well, quite a few years. Here's a snapshot, for posterity:
HOME DEBT
US Mortgage $152,912
UK Mortgage 1: GBP33334--pays off GBP134/mo $52,677
UK Mortgage 2: GBP7027--pays off GBP28/mo $11,104
UK Mortgage 3: GBP7399--pays off GBP30/mo $11,693
Total home debt $228,386
EDUCATION DEBT
AS loan $7,656
NT loan $3,206
Total student loan debt $10,862
TOTAL HOUSEHOLD DEBT $239,248

So, a lot's been going on, but I still don't know for sure whether I'm buying the house. Here's the update:
- Deposited the $5K loaned by our friends into savings. Now our savings accounts have just over $47K, enough for a 10% down payment on the $469,900 home (as long as we can get seller to pay closing costs).
- Found out that UK renos don't have to happen until NEXT July, and the current renter has renewed his lease until next May. This is GREAT news because it means we can indeed use the UK reno money for a down payment and build up the funds over the next year. Also our rental income is going up a bit, so that will help with saving up.
- Went back and forth with our realtor over whether the home we want is overpriced. I think we're all in agreement that because of the rent you could get by letting both units, the price makes sense. So we probably won't haggle other than trying to get seller to pay closing costs.
- Filled out a form for the mortgage broker and spoke to him. He said that we would easily qualify for that size loan BUT, because it's a duplex, the required down payment is 20%! Broker says he might be able to do some kind of second loan for the other 10% of the down payment. I should find out tomorrow.
- Made an appointment with our realtor to see the home again on Thursday evening.
- Found out the current renters are leaving. They could try to get us new ones, but I don't want the home tied up for 6 months to a year and then try to kick someone out. We'll probably ask them not to replace the renters, even though it will make the first couple months of mortgage payments tight.

So it looks like the new debt for buying this place would be:
$423K between the two mortgages
$5K to our friends
$15K or so on a 0% card for US renovations

$443K of new debt! But, hopefully we'd sell our current condo in a few months and clear out that $152K of debt, and if we got the WV deal ($50K), we could use it to clear up some of the debt (as well as help fund the UK renovation before it comes up).

But I figured out that if the worst-case scenario happened and neither of these things happened, we could probably still pay off our friends by the end of this year, and the US and UK renovations by October of next year. But I don't think our condo will sit on the market that long. We're willing to price it for the cost of the mortgage to make it move, and we now think our mortgage is less than the current value, so it should be fine. Once it goes away, that clears up $1750 per month that will speed up the paying off of our friends and renovations.

It feels scary, but it also feels like if we could do this now, we could make up the ground and be pretty much where we want to be for the foreseeable future.

I don't think I've really detailed what we're looking at! It's a duplex in the neighborhood we want, close to bus lines and car share cars. The first floor would be for our friends and is 2BR, 1 bath. The second and third floors would be ours and have 5 BRs, 3 baths (small bathrooms but a really big master bedroom). There's a mostly finished basement we would all share with laundry, a big all-purpose room, a kitchen area (!?), a bathroom and tons of storage closets and extra weird little rooms.

Our friends would have a big front porch and a smaller back deck. We would have a big 2nd story front porch and TWO smaller back decks. There's a decent back area that consists of a patio made of paver stones and a 2-car garage; we don't really have use for any of that but figure the space could be made over into a yard instead.

I still need to confirm utility costs tomorrow, but I reckon our costs wouldn't be much over $2000 per month. The mortgage will likely be about $2800, and our friends will pay us $1100. Our current place is $1750 including mortgage and association dues, so not a huge step up in cost, as long as we can ditch our current mortgage pretty soon.

I'll know more tomorrow and will update when I can!

Aching shoulders and tired brain!

May 27th, 2014 at 01:00 am

The new home possibility is basically on hold until tomorrow when I can speak to a mortgage broker, though there have been a few more developments since that first heady discovery of the place.

Meanwhile, we've been painting up a storm! We've got the living/dining area, hallway, entryway and inside of front door all painted. That just leaves the two bedrooms, the bathroom and the kitchen. Oh, and when we replace the balcony door it will need painting, and the cabinets in the kitchen are going to get painted.

It looks all right with just oak baseboards, though I realize it would probably look even better with crisp white trim. I just don't know if we're up for all that work, and it would be expensive to hire someone to paint it all. (There's a LOT of oak in this place.) So I think we'll do everything we can before deciding, and see how much money we've spent and what it looks like with more things finished.

If we do purchase a new home this early in the process, we'll definitely be minimizing the staging in this place if possible. Looking at some of the other places in our building, really you just need enough furniture so people have a sense of space and where things might go. We'll see what we can get away with.

Developments on the possible new place: We looked at recently solds in the area and, though nothing quite compares, it seems to be a bit overpriced. We asked our real estate agent and she agreed. She's still analyzing data, but meanwhile she said she'd talk to the listing agent tomorrow and try to get more info about why it's priced the way it is.

Meanwhile, we're trying to prepare to hopefully get preapproved at the asking price, just in case. Between US and UK savings, we're about $5K short what we would need to qualify. Our friends really want this place too, so they loaned us that amount! I should be able to pay them back by mid-August. Or, if we don't get this house, we can return the money earlier than that. We just need it in the bank to have the equivalent of 10% down in there.

I've done the numbers and if we moved in by July, with first mortgage payment due in August, we'd struggle to make the first two mortgage payments and still pay our friends back. However, the place is a duplex and the part that my family would have is currently being rented, for slightly more than what we'd need to cover the mortgage payment. We believe they're month-to-month, so we might basically be able to choose the month we want them out. That would be helpful because we'd be able to pay our friends back and not have to come up with the money for the mortgage right away. We need to find out more about the rental situation before we make an offer.

There's a huge basement that would become available (clearly not being used by the slovenly upstairs renters), so we could start moving our excess stuff there right away, which would make staging our condo for sale a heck of a lot easier.

The other issue is that the down payment would wipe out the money we have saved for the UK and US renos. We found out that the UK renter is renewing his lease, so we've emailed to find out if that's contingent on renovating right away or if it actually pushes the reno date back a lot. That would be great news because we'd have time to save up the money for that again. We hope they'll get back to us tomorrow (today was a holiday in England too).

The US reno, however, needs to be done right away if we hope to sell and get out from under that mortgage payment (and the association dues!). So I see a couple of options, none of them ideal, but all of them workable and not ruinous in the long run:
- Ask my dad for a loan with the promise that we'd either pay him back when/if the WV money comes in, or by a certain date (sometime next year).
- See if we can take out a small home equity loan on the new place right away. You used to be able to do that during the housing boom, but there might be rules against it now. Same payoff plan; either as soon as we get the WV money or, if that doesn't happen, sometime next year.
- Put the renos on the CCs and (gulp) carry the debt for a while. Same payoff plan. (Hopefully we could find a 0% offer and pay it off before interest starts to hit.)

Any of the three would be taking on debt, but I feel confident I could pay it off in a couple months. If (as CCF brought up) one of us lost our jobs, we would still be able to pay the bills but wouldn't be able to pay off the debt for a while.

Anyway, August and September would be difficult if we had to carry mortgages on both places, but starting in October (when NT's tuition stops taking big chunks out of our pay) it would get quite a bit easier. And starting in January (when NT and I will get more take-home pay due to smaller flex spending deductions) it will get even easier. Next September, our daycare expense will decrease by about a third,

I'm curious to hear from the broker tomorrow to see if 10% down is a requirement across the board for places of this price. Because also, if we could do 5% or even 7% down, it gets a ton easier as well (because we'd be able to keep the money for at least one reno and might not have to borrow anything).

If the old place sells, it gets easy faster. And if the WV money comes, there's no problem. But I need to make my calculations as if neither of those things happen because even though both are likely, neither is 100% a sure thing.

And really, nothing is a sure thing yet. If this home falls through, here's our plan for the future:
- Slow down the home search, but focus on multifamily for the searching we do (now that we know the multifamily option could actually work).
- Continue the US reno, and see how long we can put off the UK reno so we can keep that money for a possible down payment in the future.
- If no other houses come up, making an offer early next year would be much easier.

But I really hope this place works out! It was the first place that satisfied most if not all our needs, and it was the only one so far I could imagine calling home.

Found THE place

May 25th, 2014 at 03:42 am

On our first day of looking at multifamily places (in person), we found a place that would be absolutely perfect for us and our friends. x

It's too soon for our timeline, but if not one of a kind, it's one of not too many. There aren't that many places that tick all our boxes, even from online searches, so it was stunning to find one that did so and then some. We looked at several places, and when we got home, we all danced around what we thought, but soon discovered that we unanimously thought the same place was head and shoulders above the rest.

We're going to see how far we can stretch ourselves to make it work. I'm summoning all my mental strength and going to be doing a ton of budget projections to make sure we wouldn't be taking on more than we can afford.

If we stretched, it would only be for a couple of months to a year. But even that feels weird, so I'm going to look at the budget in detail to see what that would really mean.

Tuesday I talk to a broker to see if preapproval is an option with the assets and income we have. If we get preapproval, we make an offer.

If we make an offer and it's accepted, it's going to be a strange and crazy couple of months! But with five adults working together (us and our friends) I know we could pull it all together.

So, good vibes and thoughts please!

Doing what I can to keep things moving!

May 20th, 2014 at 10:18 pm

AS is finding humor in the fact that, now that my big writing job at work is winding down, I'm desperately looking for ways to keep the momentum going on our renovation/moving goals. It's true! In my defense, she's got her future employment to think about and NT has two more semesters of college until graduation. Right now all I've got to focus on is the home stuff.

So, here's what's going on in that area:

- 2 possible snowflakes could be coming that I can add to savings! A new co-worker referred me to his old company for a potential one-off freelance proofreading project. And, more exciting though much less money, a new acquaintance of mine has asked if I'll consult with her and her partner (boyfriend? husband? not sure) about their finances. And she wants to pay me for my time! So we'll see if either one comes to pass.

- Painted some splotches on the walls last night to get a sense of what paints we want to use. (Don't worry; I took "before" photos last week!) Our realtor really wants us to use gray throughout, but I feel like a bit of color at least in a bedroom or the bathroom would make the place feel more alive. Probably gray for the main living area and a darker gray for the kitchen; they're always flooded with sunlight during the day, so the gray won't look gloomy at all. Especially with bright white on the woodwork! But I know the realtor has strong opinions and much experience, so we'll see.

- Made an appointment with our realtor to go see some places this Saturday. It'll just be a quick jaunt, but should give us a more realistic view of whether the duplex option would really work.

- Added NT and I to AS's USB Visa. This is a first step in simplifying our credit card situation and hopefully helping our credit report.

- Left a message with a mortgage broker to get preapproved for a loan. Even if we're not able to make an offer in the next 90 days, I'd like to get a sense of what we really can borrow. And if the WV money comes sooner than anticipated, we'll be ready to go immediately if we see the right place.

Slight progress on things this weekend

May 19th, 2014 at 02:52 am

We took it pretty easy this weekend, loving not having much to do. The summer weekends fill up quickly, so it was a treat that the first really nice (partly sunny and 60s-70s) weekend we've had this year was also nearly free of obligations.

I pulled out a few more things for the garage sale, which is in 2 weeks. I know we can still come up with more. We're going to try and have a rummage through the kids' toys while they're not around and pull out small stuff that we know they haven't played with for a while. I was trying to make the older one part of the process, but she's having a real problem letting go of anything. (Well, she did a good job the first time through, but we still need to get rid of much more. They have gifts pouring in from all sides and it's kind of out of control how many toys they have for their tiny bedroom.)

We met with our realtor and gave her all the info on what we're wanting to do, right down to the variables (with or without land deal money; multi-family or single-family).

She also gave us some advice on renovating and staging. Most of it was in line with the stager's and contractor's advice and what we were thinking anyway; as with anything, she differed on some points. We're taking some of her advice and ignoring some, we think.

It's been good though to talk to three people from three different sides of the process and hear that their advice has much in common, and matches much of our instincts. And I feel good about the things they've steered us away from, since most of the advice will actually save us money. (For instance, our realtor checked out our oven and said it didn't need replacing if we gave it a good clean.)

She did strongly suggest that we paint all the oak in the condo (cabinets, baseboards, built-in). It will take time but not much more money, so I think we're going to follow her advice on that. All of the places we've seen so far have them painted, so I think it's what's going in our area right now. That's something we can chip away at a little at a time, so we'll probably go for it.

I was going to paint samples on the walls this weekend, but AA (the 4-year-old) wants to help, so I think I'll wait and try to do it with her, little by little. It might drive the younger one nuts to not get to help, but I'll just try to get someone to take her for a walk or something to distract her.

The realtor did confirm that we should fix the window that's started collecting condensation between the two layers. It should only be a couple hundred dollars and, from what I remember of hiring someone to replace a living room window, is a pretty fast job.

So those are the things we'll be working on this week: putting up paint samples on the walls, decluttering and adding to the garage sale pile, and setting up an appointment to have the window replaced. If we feel ambitious, we could start looking for new light fixtures and lamps. We'll see if we get around to that. If the contractor gets back to us with a quote, we might put the kitchen renovation in motion, though who knows when it will be scheduled to start.

Things are moving ... slowly but surely!

Still a spender at heart

May 17th, 2014 at 09:58 pm

I've pretty much gone on a spending diet for the past month and a half, after the spending spree that was March (aka birthday) month, and upon the prospect of the land deal kicking our new-home dreams into high gear. Ever since the prospect of that money was dangled in front of me, I've felt more determined to be able to achieve what I would with the money, whether or not I get it.

So not only has my family cut travel and charity out of our budget, but once I'd made up for my overspending of my personal money in March, I continued to minimize my discretionary purchases. I put in for wine every third week for the family, and I've accepted the occasional lunch or dinner invitation out. But other things I want, such as new clothes, more makeup, date nights, have just been put indefinitely on hold. I figure if I'm very good with my money for the next few months, I may be able to fund our hosting of NT's mom and sister in August without having to dip into funds that would otherwise go toward home savings.

Maybe it's the spending diet I'm on, or maybe it's just speculating about what will be next for our family once we're settled in our long-term home. But I've realized over the past month or so -- I'm still a spender deep down.

Not spending for spending's sake; but there are many things I think about and want to purchase, and would do so if I didn't feel like there were more pressing financial matters.

So at present, my view of the future (at least my ideal, though I know there are lots of variables not under my control) would be to buy the home and have enough in the budget to:
- increase retirement contributions (still need to figure out what we should be contributing but it's more than we do now)
- steadily rebuild the EF and medical fund
- pay off the remaining student loan debt at least a bit faster than the minimum
- pay the new mortgage at a pace so it would at least be paid off by the time I'm 65 (which would be 24 years from right now), whether that means a 15-year mortgage or just making extra payments every month

Those are my main priorities, and I would want to address all of them first. But if we had enough income where all of those were being addressed to a level I felt comfortable with, I know what I'd want to do with the remaining money: Spend it.

I've got such a long list, and I know AS and NT have held back on many of their own wants for a long time (there's only so much you can do with $80 apiece per week, even though it sounds like a lot). My wants that have not been fully satisfied for a while, in no particular order:
- Home decor/home improvement
- Wardrobe (clothes, shoes, accessories) and makeup
- Travel
- Eating out
- Good quality wine
- Gourmet cooking ingredients
- Larger-scale philanthropy
- Going to shows (movies, standup, plays)
- Vacation home (pie in the sky and not very high priority)

Things that are not on my wants list (or very low on it):
- Vehicles (car, scooter, motorcycle, RV, etc.)
- Tech stuff (as long as I have something functional and nice in each category; TV, computer, phone, etc.)

It's hard to think of things I DON'T want, I guess because I don't dwell on them! Let's see, guns, country club memberships, horses/riding, plastic surgery ... I'm sure there are other luxuries that are so far off my radar that I couldn't even come up with them after sitting here for 10 minutes staring off into space! Smile

So I guess what I'm saying is, I haven't really changed the core of me that likes certain things that cost money, and I've even added things to the wants list that weren't there before I started our debt journey. But I never again want to be the kind of spender that leaves my future self in the lurch. I've experienced picking up the pieces after myself for the past 7 years, and it's a lesson learned that I'll never ever forget.

More savings progress and not much else to talk about except impatience!

May 16th, 2014 at 06:19 pm

The other $186 (which I did as a separate transfer to safeguard against the chance of overdrawing before our paychecks hit) showed up in the savings account.

I'm still not updating my sidebar until I'm sure my entire sidebar won't disappear, but that takes us to $39,879.15.

$13,411 is earmarked for US renovations, $20,014 for UK renovations. That means we've saved up about $6454 for downpayment/closing/moving costs. Not much, but it's a start!

We've spent $89 so far on US renovations (on the trade show where we met our contractor, and on paint samples and brushes).

We need $28,796 more to get a $29,750 down payment (7% on $425K home) plus closing costs of $4,500 and moving costs of $1,000. (All speculative amounts, of course, just to give us something to work toward.)

Looking ahead the next couple weeks, not too much is scheduled to happen in our renovate/save/move world. Our friend is eager to start scoping out duplexes; not that we're ready to make an offer, but to see if it's even feasible. So we moved our realtor meeting to this Sunday and are going to ask if she can schedule some showings for the following weekend.

Our contractor-prospect hasn't gotten back to us with quotes yet; I imagine if he doesn't get in touch by this Wednesday, we'll nudge him to see when we can expect them.

No word on the WV land deal; it's now 16 days into the "30 to 90 days" the gas guy said might be needed for attorney to certify the title. That's assuming the last person on the right-of-way path has signed and is getting his title certified as well; haven't heard anything more about that guy, so it could potentially be longer if he hasn't signed yet. (And of course it could all fall through if he decides not to sign, but the gas guy seemed to think it would be signed soon.)

AS has hemmed the curtains and they look great, so that's the first thing off our renovation/staging list! Small step but feels good to have something done.

May 2014 net worth update

May 15th, 2014 at 05:32 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): $29,903
NT's Roth IRA: $7,037
AS's 401(k): $12,720
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $18,678
CJ's 401(k): $70,008
CJ's Roth IRA: $7,037
NT's flat: 140,000 pounds ($224,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $145,000
House down payment/moving fund (shared): $24,081
---
Total Assets: $606,082

Total Debt: $239,386

Current Estimated Net Worth: $366,696

April 2014 estimate: $357,895

Change in net worth: +$8,801

Summary: Big growth, and we finally achieved $600K in assets! Some of the increase is due to upward movement in our retirement funds; the rest because we've been saving aggressively for a home.

I decided to include U.S. savings for a home in our assets, since the money will either go toward renovating (i.e. increasing the value of our current home) or to buying equity/adding value in a new home. I did not include our UK savings, because the UK flat's value listed above is contingent upon the renovations that will wipe out our UK savings.

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.

Progress on savings and other updates

May 15th, 2014 at 03:33 pm

Well, I think I'll wait to update my sidebar info until this weird problem gets solved!

The transfer to savings I did yesterday showed up in the account. I needn't have worried about overdrawing my checking; it hasn't even been taken out of checking yet and it's already in savings! That's $2500 straight to the renovate & move fund.

Also, when we bought a number of paint samples and brushes on Tuesday ($55.93), I was able to cashflow with some money I realized didn't need to be sitting in checking, so that goes toward the $13,500 budgeted for renovations without being actually taken out of the money we've saved so far.

This takes our savings to almost $40,000 and reduces what we still need to save (in the event the land deal doesn't go through) to less than $30,000.

Messaged with my friend we're considering sharing a duplex with last night, and we agreed that we need to just start looking at some to see if that's even feasible. (The main reason my family wants to move is because we want a lot more space -- at least three more rooms' worth -- so if we can't get that in a duplex, that option is going to have to come off the table.)

So I moved the meeting with our realtor up to this Sunday, and I'm going to talk to her about getting a showing of three duplexes that are clustered together in a nearby neighborhood. They have varying amounts of space and levels of disrepair (and the prices vary by more than $100K), so we feel like this would give us a good idea of whether it's likely that we could find a duplex where one of the units could satisfy my family.

We're just $70 away from earning the Discover reward and about $1400 from earning the Southwest Visa one. I said it out loud last night and I'm writing it down here in an attempt to follow through: After these two rewards are earned, I'm going to stop doing the credit card churn until after we're settled in a new home. I don't want our credit report to look any crazier than it already does. Our scores are all in the very high 700s, so hopefully it won't harm our attempt to qualify for a mortgage, but I don't want to push our luck any more than we have!

So once these two cards are spent up and rewards received, we cancel them. The cards we keep, I'm going to add all of us to, so we can all use them for the intended purposes. These are the cards we intend to keep:
Chase Freedom (Just until we get our mortgage, since this is the longest-open card)
American Express (for 6% grocery rewards)
Target RedCard (for 5% Target rewards)
Amazon.com card (for 5% Amazon rewards)
USBank Visa (for 2-5% rewards in various other categories)

After we close on a house, I'll cancel the Chase Freedom and we'll just have 4 permanent cards with all 3 of us on every account.

I have been trying to organize my thoughts for a post on my other blog, ordinarysavers.com, but I feel like my own finances (at least the way I think about them) have been in such flux for the past few months, I'm not really sure how to write about money right now. But I think I'm starting to conceptualize a post about how to let go of priorities temporarily but try to do it responsibly.

Various updates

May 14th, 2014 at 03:30 pm

I've been so excited for tomorrow's paychecks, because I'll be able to transfer $2686 to savings. It's probably the biggest single transfer projected for the next few months, so I was really looking forward to seeing the savings balance go up so much!

We nearly had enough in checking to do the transfer *before* payday; we were only a few hundred short. Then yesterday, NT and I got our federal refund, and we were only about $180 short. This morning, we got a state refund for a political contribution that MN reimburses for, so we were only about $80 short.

I know that if I set up a deposit today, it won't hit until tomorrow, when paychecks should have hit. But some part of me was paranoid that the savings withdraw would hit before any of the paychecks and I'd incur a fee. That would make me crazy. So I compromised: I set up a $2500 transfer into savings. That way if it hits slightly before paychecks, I won't overdraw. Then I can set up a $186 transfer tomorrow morning to make up the rest.

In other news, we went and got several paint samples to start trying out on our walls, and priced out items we need at Home Depot. Still waiting for the quotes from the contractor before we decide what we're going to buy vs. letting him provide, but it was nice to get an idea of what things would cost us.

We also finalized a meeting with our real estate agent near the end of the month. She's going to come over and get us so she can also take a look at our place and hear what we're planning to do to stage it for sale.

We got a postcard from her that she just sold 2 units that were listed for less than a week! I couldn't find one of them on Zillow so it must have JUST closed, but the other one went for about $155K. We owe $153K on our place and were thinking it would sell for $145K if we were lucky. Looks like our condos are finally catching up to the market, and our equity finally catching up to what we owe! We pay down about $500 per month, so I feel like there's a good chance we could break even, even if we sell this year. Very exciting! I had not dared to dream it. Smile

Our home goals for this week/weekend: Take "before" shots of the whole house. Put paint samples up on all the walls. Hem/cut curtains to see if they'll be OK to keep for staging if they're fixed. Go through our stuff and add as much to the garage sale pile as humanly possible.

More reno/moving planning progress

May 10th, 2014 at 08:15 pm

Although we haven't made any concrete progress, we've progressed in the planning stages.

We met with a contractor last week. He walked through the bathroom and kitchen and talked over our plans, gave his opinion of what fixes would be most important. He understands that saving money is one of our biggest priorities. He'll send us some quotes in a week or two and we'll see if he's affordable. (He's also open to us sourcing some of the items/doing some of the work, so we could always end up using him for just part of the job.)

He made some suggestions about our plan that we agreed with, so we've made the following changes to it:
- We probably won't renovate the bathroom until we move out. He said he can do it in a little over 2 weeks if we're out of the house. We also don't want to be living here without a functioning bathroom if we don't have to.
- We won't get a microwave to mount over the stove. He said the trend is moving back toward countertop, so we just won't include a microwave in our staged final product. He also said our current oven hood will be fine with just a cleaning.
- We'll get a new undermount sink for the kitchen. He said these are big selling points because not as much dirt gets trapped (it's true, so much gunk gets trapped around the lip of our sink).
- We may not get new stainless steel appliances for the kitchen. A lot of his example photos didn't have them. In that case I think we'd only need to replace the stove and maybe get the dishwasher cleaned/serviced. The fridge will be fine with a cleaning that we can do ourselves. The fridge was the most expensive appliance by far on our price list, so that would be a big savings.
- We may replace the bathroom floor instead of trying to save it. He says it would be an inexpensive upgrade since the square footage of our bathroom's floor is so small.
- We won't replace the vinyl on the living room built-in. He said it was in great shape and probably no one would be bothered by it (we think it's ugly because it's black and nothing else is except the window frames, but to tell the truth I didn't really notice it when we bought the place).

Everything else we discussed he was right on board with. I look forward to getting his quotes. We've also asked a friend with an Angie's List membership to search for reviews of his work, because he has little to no web presence. But it's the second time we've met him, and we get a REALLY good feeling about him. Not flashy or aggressive, not a hard-sell guy, but definitely has opinions and experience.

So our May calendar no longer has bathroom renovation on it, though we may still get started on the kitchen once we hear back from the contractor. It would be easier to deal with an out-of-commission kitchen than a bathroom.

Also still on the May calendar is to try and fix the balcony and living room curtains (AS's job) and to start painting. AS and I found a palette of paint colors we think would be good, so we'll probably get some samples soon and start trying them out. Painting may run into June too. The other big May thing is to put as many of our belongings as possible in our friend's garage sale at the end of the month.

We're still trying to nail down a date to meet with our realtor. My friend is still saying we might not need a buying realtor, but we're leaning toward it. We'll definitely use our realtor to sell, and maybe to buy. We'll probably meet with her near the end of May.

No updates on the WV land deal, so we're still saving like mad and assuming we won't be able to buy until early next year. We shall see, though. A couple of promising homes cheaper than our estimate have popped up. Also some more expensive than our estimate. It will depend on a lot of factors.

Right now we only have enough money saved for the US reno and UK reno plus an additional $3600, which isn't enough for a down payment on ANY house, no matter how cheap. By the end of July we should have about $10K, but that's still not enough to put a down payment on anything. We might have more like $15K-$20K by October, which is getting closer to at least a small down payment, depending on home prices.

Big milestone reached last month!

May 7th, 2014 at 12:54 am

I keep forgetting to blog about this, maybe because it's so nebulous -- but at the same time it's huge!

My early records of my family's debt journey are a bit spotty, as I was still figuring things out. As a result, I have an "official" starting point, but also some older records of some debts where if I extrapolate other bits of more current information, I can kind of come up with a snapshot of the how much debt we paid since earlier than that. (Note that it's not quite accurate because I folded in "estimated future debt" of a trip to NT's sister's wedding and his college education, and in some cases we paid for those things before we took out actual debt for them.)

So as you can see, it's not exactly the most concrete record. But stil! For the purpose of tracking something, I add to those numbers every month after I've wrapped up my monthly debt goal.

So once I added in April's debt repayment, I estimate our total debt paid since July 2007 to be:
$198,989

BUT: Based on other, older notes I found, I think the total payoff since May 2007 has been:
$200,659

Over two hundred grand! Crazy!

Our plan to fix up and sell the house, part 4

May 5th, 2014 at 02:24 am

Finally, I made a list of everything we'd need to buy/rent/find/borrow in order to implement all of our plans. I organized those by month too so we'd know when we needed what:

May
paint for whole condo
kitchen flooring
oven
dishwasher
fridge
new tubes to fix sink?
overmount microwave
handles for kitchen cabinets
tools/products to fix drawers & cabinet doors
vinyl for cabinet shelves & drawers
light fixture for kitchen
countertops for kitchen
grout for bathroom floor
tile for shower
toilet
vanity/sink
shower/bath fixtures
light fixture
bathroom mirror?
towel racks
new rods/curtains for balcony & living room?

June
light fixture for kids' room
light fixture for dining room
light fixture for bedroom
boxes for packing up books etc.
entryway door handles


July
bedroom closet doors
balcony closet door
laminate for living room built-in

When we start to move
Dummy linens/products for linen closet & bathroom
Bedroom dresser
Bedroom night table
Bed for bedroom
Art for bedroom, bathroom, living room, hallway?
Floor lamp for bedroom
Countertop lamp for living room
Plants for bedroom, bathroom, living room (big); flowers for dining room table
Curtain for kids' room
Rug for kids' room?, circle rug for living-room butterfly chair
New mirror for hallway?
Dummy dishes for kitchen & dining-room place settings
Runner for dining room table
Paint for balcony floor?
Bigger TV for mounting?
Couch for living room (or white sofa cover=$50)
Something to go under TV/art in living room?
Coffee table or side table for living room

Our plan to fix up and sell the house, part 3

May 5th, 2014 at 02:22 am

Once we finished the walk-through, we decided what we could start working on in the next three months, and what would wait until we had a firm idea of when we'd move out:

Action Plan

May
Buy paint & start painting (take down bedroom shelves)
Start renovating bathroom & kitchen (see walk-through notes) -- look for new flooring at Henn. store
Hem/separate curtains
Declutter; put stuff in closet for garage sale

June
Finish renovating bathroom & kitchen
Declutter more
Start boxing things (books, etc.) and storing under bed/in hall closet
Put in new light fixtures: kids' room, bedroom, dining room
Get matching door handles for entryway

July
Install new bedroom closet doors
Install new balcony door
Replace laminate countertop for living room built-in
Fix bedroom cable connection
Replace window? (ask Kristen if will pass inspection)
Clean inside entryway light fixtures

Things to do when we start to move
Fix hardwood flooring everywhere
Ditch entryway chair, rug, stuff on/in cabinet, reduce DVD collection; new carpet/vinyl for closets
Keep entryway bookcase, cabinet, closets
Get dummy linens, products
Clean but keep bedroom window blinds, inside closet shelves, mirror
Ditch bedroom chairs, dressers, desk, bookcase, lights, art
Get dresser, night table, bed?, art, floor lamp, plant?
Get dummy bathroom linens/art/plant?
Ditch everything in kids' room(including light fixture)
New kids' room curtains, rug?
Move desk & chair, file cabinet?, bookcase or magicker or record cabinet to kids' room
Ditch record cabinets & mirror in hallway
Get new hallway mirror? or art? or keep plain?
Get dummy kitchen dishes; see what we can save:
Bowls, plates, cake stand, KitchenAid, fruit bowl
Ditch dining room magicker (could use elsewhere), sewing cabinet
Keep dining room mirror, table (turn 90 degrees), chairs (refinish?)
Get dummy dining room table runner, place settings, flowers
Wash balcony floor, maybe repaint
Ditch herb garden box, Xmas lights
Put out balcony table & chairs
Empty balcony closet; clean and save shelves
Get new mounted TV? or no TV for living room?
Keep living room white lamp & butterfly chair, maybe bike pic, fox pic; ditch everything else
Get new/rent for living room: countertop lamp, couch, something under TV?, circle rug for chair
Get new plant in corner of living room to hide cables; small coffee table or side table?

Our plan to fix up and sell the house, part 2

May 5th, 2014 at 02:20 am

OK, so here's the first document. This was the result of our walk-through; it's all the ideas we have about what needs to be done.

Whole Condo:
Fix hardwood flooring
Repaint

Entryway:
Ditch chair, rug, stuff on/in cabinet, reduce DVD collection
Keep bookcase, cabinet, closets; get new carpet/vinyl for closets
Make door handles match
Get dummy linens, products
Clean inside light fixtures

Bedroom:
Clean but keep window blinds, inside closet shelves, mirror
Replace light fixture
Take down wall shelves
Ditch closet blinds and get doors
Ditch chairs, dressers, desk, bookcase, lights, art
Get dresser, night table, bed?, art, floor lamp, plant?
Fix cable connection

Bathroom:
Save floor? replace grout etc.
Ditch wall tile, toilet, vanity/sink, art, lights, shower fixtures, towel racks
New tile (tub only?), vanity/sink, lights, toilet, shower fixtures, towel racks
See if can refinish and save bathtub
Get dummy linens/products/art/plant?
Replace mirror or keep?

Girls' room:
Replace window? (ask realtor if will pass inspection)
Ditch everything (including light fixture); make into "office"
New light fixture
New curtains, rug?
Move desk & chair, file cabinet?, bookcase or magicker or record cabinet into room

Hallway:
Ditch record cabinets & mirror
Get new mirror? or art? or keep plain?

Kitchen:
Ditch lighting fixture, countertops (incl island), floor
See if can save/repair all cabinets, fix squeaky drawers, add handles to doors
New lighting fixtures, countertops, floors
Replace appliance w/higher-end/stainless steel?
Ditch oven hood, get mounted microwave?
Get dummy dishes; see what we can save:
Bowls, plates, cake stand, KitchenAid, fruit bowl

Dining room:
Ditch magicker (could use elsewhere), sewing cabinet
Keep mirror, table (turn 90 degrees), chairs (refinish?)
Replace light fixture (3-prong oblong to fix centering)
Get dummy runner, place settings, flowers

Balcony door/balcony:
Even up curtain hems, make into two? If not replace rod & curtains to fix bowing
Wash balcony floor, maybe repaint
Get new balcony closet door
Ditch herb garden box, Xmas lights
Put out table & chairs
Empty closet; clean and save shelves

Living room:
Get new mounted TV? or no TV
Keep white lamp & butterfly chair, maybe bike pic, fox pic; ditch everything else
Get new/rent: countertop lamp, couch, something under TV?, circle rug for chair
Get new plant in corner to hide cables; small coffee table or side table?
Replace laminate top on built-in
Hem curtains (or replace if replacing balcony rod/curtains)

Our plan to fix up and sell the house, part 1

May 5th, 2014 at 02:13 am

Eventful weekend! Saturday was wall-to-wall chores and events for various members of the family; swim lessons for both girls, an alumni event for me, a bday party for one of the girls' daycare friends, and grocery shopping. NT actually had two events for a group he volunteers with, but he bowed out of both of those because it was starting to look physically impossible; he also needed to get a couple hours of work done on his final paper!

The alumni event was interesting: The speaker had moved to MN from NYC about a year ago, and she'd been a home stager for people looking to sell. She'd fallen into the profession by accident; her real estate agent told her the reason her place had sold so quickly was how she staged it, and would she mind if he gave her number to some other clients? It just sort of snowballed from there. Very cool story about taking advantage of random circumstances and a skill she didn't even know was marketable!

She shared many of her tips with us, and encouraged everyone in the room to make a plan for what they were going to get done in the month of May. AS and I came home totally inspired. So this morning, I immediately put her tips into action. I got a notepad and pen and dragged everyone out the door so we could step in and see what the first impression was and how we could improve it. Then we walked into and through each room, noting the first impression, and pointing out all the things that would need to be fixed, removed or replaced in order to stage the home.

After that, we made an "action plan" for the month. I did one better and made action plans for June and July as well! I also made a list of the things we'd do once we were sure we're moving. (We've pretty much decided we need to move before we can fully make the home sellable; we have too much stuff that we don't want to get rid of but the current home has nowhere to put it out of sight, and plus we have the cat and two small kids constantly dirtying the place up.)

From there I even made a "shopping list" divided by month, based on what we hoped to achieve each month and what we'd need in order to achieve that. AS went on Home Depot's and IKEA's websites and we started roughing out estimates of how much everything would cost.

One thing we learned from the stager was that we may need to bring in different furniture if ours isn't ideal (it isn't, see above about kids and cat!), and that it was even a good idea to put in new towels, linens and dishes, so that was an added expense we hadn't factored in. But after pricing things out a bit, we have hopes we can spruce up the kitchen for $1000-$1500 less than we were planning to spend, so hopefully we can still renovate and stage for the same amount of money as we have budgeted.

I'll share my lists, in case anyone is interested. But I'm going to paste them into separate entries so this one doesn't get excruciatingly long!

May debt progress

May 1st, 2014 at 09:56 pm

Darn, the interest was applied slightly later than our payment on our UK mortgages, so for a bit I thought we weren't getting charged interest. Ah well. Anyway, all our mortgages hit:

US: $477 to principal
UK1: $284
UK2: $60
UK3: $63

So all told, $790 down, $110 to go on the May repayment goal.

More promising emails about the possible land deal make me think the windfall might come in the next four months! Just in case, we're going to try and accelerate our US renovation plans. We have enough in savings to complete it, so we might as well!

The declutter challenge from last month kind of fizzled halfway through (much like my March workout challenge; whoops!). However, we're in on a family garage sale at the end of May, so that will mean a big declutterfest and a half-empty front hall closet. Yay!