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December 2018 debt payments

December 4th, 2018 at 08:50 am

All the mortgage payments hit:
US: $735 to principal
UK1: $180
UK2: $38
UK3: $40

That's $993 to principal.

Current household debt:
US Mortgage $383,174
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $31,410
UK Mortgage 2 $6,621
UK Mortgage 3 $6,973
TOTAL DEBT $437,178

November 2018 debt payments

November 5th, 2018 at 11:44 am

All our mortgage payments hit on Friday, but I'm just getting around to posting about them:
US: $732 to principal
UK1: $179
UK2: $37
UK3: $40

All in all, $988 of debt paid off.

I got a notice that our escrow shortage is lower now, so our US monthly mortgage payment will also be lower starting next month. Only by about $30, but I'll take it! Our utilities have averaged about $100 per month higher this year than last year, and I don't see that changing until/unless we can invest in better insulation, mini ductless AC, etc. So it's nice to have one house expense decrease a little.

Current debt amounts:

US Mortgage $383,909
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $31,590
UK Mortgage 2 $6,659
UK Mortgage 3 $7,013
TOTAL DEBT $438,171

My mom

October 30th, 2018 at 08:00 am

The past few days have been hard. My mom went into the ER with chest pain (and just gradually feeling worse over the past couple weeks; regular doctors and specialists unable to pinpoint the problem).

Her heart rate was super low and she had several infections in various parts of her body. There were some scary points where a temporary pacemaker wasn't working, where they were debating whether to do surgery before they got rid of some of the infections.

But yesterday she had pacemaker surgery, today she's off oxygen and catheter, and the infections are coming under control. If she continues to pull through she'll likely have to go to a rehab facility before going home, which is good, because after her heart attack a few years ago she totally ignored the physical therapy exercises recommended. If she's at a place, they'll make her do something.

I'm in MN and she's in VA, so all of this has been communicated by email, calls and texts. My dad is stressed and burdened by all the decisions and insurance things he's having to handle, but he had two of my sisters around to help somewhat. One went home and another came, so he still has two there.

I was holding off booking a trip until I heard whether I needed to get there right away, but now it seems like it might be nicer to come in a week when she's probably going to be better able to enjoy a visitor. So I'm going to research flights for early November. I have an extremely busy month (all cancelable if there's an emergency) so I'm looking at a three- or four-day window next week as my best bet for a non-emergency visit.

Luckily we have vacation funds stored up that we don't really have plans for, so if I make this trip and still need to run out another time if anything goes wrong, it shouldn't put a financial burden on my household.

Everyone is being supportive including my work. I know things are touch and go still, but I'm enjoying the feeling of relief after the surgery even if it turns out to be premature. The mind and body can use this respite. It was a few days of -- I don't even know what to call it. The feeling of my mom in danger and my dad suffering mentally was like this ocean of raw emotion right under the surface 24/7. As long as I stayed busy and around people it stayed under control, but it was always there, every second, even when I was laughing and having fun. So to have the ocean subside a bit, even if temporary, is a good sensation.

Medical cost increases for 2019

October 23rd, 2018 at 09:32 am

We had our benefits presentation today, so now I know how much more our medical costs will be (pretax; the effect on my paycheck won't be 100% known until Jan. 15).

Medical is going up a little, plus I've just edged into the next income bracket, so the premium for me and the kids is going up $85 per month pretax.

Dental is staying the same.

I'm adding NT to vision coverage next year because he thinks he may need glasses, so that's going up $8.33 per month.

Since he'll likely need glasses, I'm going to put another $600 into flex spending, or $50 per month.

That means medical expenses are going up $143.33 per month, or $71.67 per paycheck. I'm going to estimate $60 per paycheck for now and we'll see what the change in tax withholding actually is in January.

On the bright side, AS's Obamacare premium is actually going down a little bit for some reason. I guess she made a tiny bit less in 2017 than 2016, so maybe that's why. If so, we'll enjoy it while we can in 2019, because she's making a lot more this year and 2020 healthcare will likely reflect that! (Of course the GOP could do more horrible things to the ACA and it could get even worse, so there's no sense extrapolating that far into the future for healthcare costs.) I believe her costs will decrease about $20 per month.

So I guess the impact of the changes will be about $100 lower income per month. Could be worse, I know. Hopefully NT or I will get a raise to help offset it, since this comes out of our regular budget which is covered by our paychecks. (I handle AS's pay separately; after her tax and retirement it goes toward renovations, vacations, variable/unplanned costs and shared fun money.)

Note to self for net worth update

October 16th, 2018 at 04:54 pm

A UK pension statement came in the mail; since I can't check them online it's the only time I get one. The Scottish Widows pension value has increased from 26,544 pounds last year to 28,134 pounds this year. I'll reflect that in our net worth update at the end of the month.

October 2018 debt payments (a little late)

October 4th, 2018 at 01:43 pm

I hate having to wait a day for my US mortgage to hit the actual account, because sometimes I then forget to update my debt totals! But anyway here I am, better late than never.

All our mortgage payments hit:
US Mortgage: $730 to principal
UK Mortgage 1 $179
UK Mortgage 2 $39
UK Mortgage 3 $38

All told, that's $986 to principal this month.

Current debt totals:
US Mortgage $384,641
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $31,769
UK Mortgage 2 $6,696
UK Mortgage 3 $7,053
TOTAL DEBT $439,159

Quick life update

October 3rd, 2018 at 02:29 pm

Wow, I haven't blogged properly for months! Life is just busy, I guess. Some highlights:

- Social life is good. Making/keeping/deepening friendships is a LOT of work, but I'm loving hanging out with folks when I can corral them. Next week I'm going to Wisconsin to see my fave band and my Canadian friend!

- AS's big freelance job is still chugging along; she's invoiced for about $8K of the possible $32K. They pay weekly for however many hours she worked the previous week, which has been GREAT for our shared spending!

- We applied AS's increased income plus NT's third upcoming October paycheck to eliminate the shared spending deficit and begin saving up for renovations once again. We've fallen out of touch with our kitchen designer, but we probably won't nudge her until we've built up the savings to more than they are now.

- Most of the goals I set at the beginning of the year have fallen by the wayside, except learning guitar. I love guitar! I still take lessons weekly and practice almost daily. I can play almost 20 songs, I think.

- Another unexpected project I didn't foresee on Jan. 1 but am still working on is planning a novel with an old college friend who lives in NYC. We're slowly bringing the plot and characters into focus and I hope to have a detailed outline done in time to work on the novel in November. Doing a shared project for NaNoWriMo is an iffy proposition but hopefully there's no harm in trying it this once. I just need to figure out a way to keep working even if my friend gets busy or stuck, so I can get to my 50K words by the end of November!

- Also, it's become something of a habit to see more music live! There were a few years when I really didn't feel inspired by music but I'm getting really into it again. In addition to the October show in Wisconsin, I have tickets to FOUR concerts in November! And I discovered another local act I really like; he's taking a 2-month hiatus from playing live, but I'm looking forward to when he starts playing around again.

- My work just started up the pedometer challenge, which is 4 weeks in October. I know I'll do enough steps to get the $25 gift card; the real challenge is doing enough steps to get one of the $100 weekly prizes. We shall see! I did finally order some new sneakers which I've been meaning to do for months.

- We decided to do a staycation in October instead of going to a lake. Still deciding what fun things to do but we've got $750 set aside for the 5 days, so I'm sure it'll be great! Our next trip as a family will be to the UK, leaving the day after Xmas and coming back in the first week of January.

- Work is good, family is good, everything is trucking along!

September 2018 retirement goal update

October 1st, 2018 at 11:58 am

Goal: $512,564 by March 2019

Current balance: $436,289 ($76,275 to go)

July 2018 balance: $431,075

Progress: $5,214

As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone (which changes whenever our salaries change) is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $75,120, so $225,360; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2017 was $50,452, so $100,904.

To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 6 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $76,275 -- $12,713 per month -- to reach it.

We rarely come close to that, so it's pretty unlikely. But at least we're making progress in the right direction!

September 2018 debt payments

September 5th, 2018 at 07:47 am

All our mortgage payments hit (a bit late because of the holiday):
US: $728 to principal
UK1: $178
UK2: $38
UK3: $40

All told, $984 went to principal.

New debt totals:

US Mortgage $385,371
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $31,948
UK Mortgage 2 $6,735
UK Mortgage 3 $7,091
TOTAL DEBT $440,145

August 2018 retirement goal update

August 31st, 2018 at 07:28 am

Goal: $512,564 by March 2019

As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone (which changes whenever our salaries change) is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $75,120, so $225,360; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2017 was $50,452, so $100,904).

Current balance: $431,075

July 2018 balance: $421,009

Progress: $10,066

To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 7 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $81,489 -- $11,641 per month -- to reach it.

We rarely come close to that, so it's pretty unlikely. But at least we're making progress in the right direction!

August 2018 debt payments

August 2nd, 2018 at 10:16 am

All our mortgage payments hit:
US: $726 to principal
UK1: $180
UK2: $37
UK3: $40

All told, we paid $983 to principal.

New debt totals:

US Mortgage $386,099
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $32,126
UK Mortgage 2 $6,773
UK Mortgage 3 $7,131
TOTAL DEBT $441,129

Money and other news updates

August 1st, 2018 at 02:33 pm

As always happens recently, I'm going to try and run through a lot of updates all in one post! It makes for very nondescriptive titles but oh well. Smile

- Had a sit-down with the spouses about our shared spending and vacation budgets being so far in the red. I put together projections of what would happen if we stopped funding the reno fund for a while and split AS's net pay 50/50 between the two line items. If we were careful about our spending for the next few months, we should be back in the positive by October, so hopefully then we can start splitting it 3 ways between shared spending, vacations and renovations.

Everyone gave up some things to make this projection work. NT gave up a second trip he was hoping to take. (I was also idly thinking about another trip because my two have/will be very very cheap. But it's highly unlikely I'll get another one this year.) I cut back the amount I was planning to spend on my next solo trip and pledged to shop my closet for my fall wardrobe and avoid buying new clothes if possible. AS cut her sewing-room renovation budget from $1000 to $600.

And we all agreed to skip the State Fair this year; we love going but most of the charm is buying tons of different foods, which combined with admission (and sometimes a second trip with the kids, which involves rides and games) gets very expensive. There's always next year!

- Some other expenses came to light after our discussion, but also AS logged some more hours on her big freelance job that aren't in the projection. I'm going to update my projection every week or so to keep tabs on whether we're likely to hit our goal.

- I just realized that I'll be in four, maybe five different states this month! Tomorrow we leave for Va. (technically we're spending the first and last night in a hotel in Md. but I don't count that). We may do a day or overnight trip to W.Va. while we're there. We get back Wednesday, and that Friday I leave on a road trip with a friend to Iowa to see my fave band. We get back that Sunday, and on Tuesday I fly to Tenn. for a two-night, three-day business trip! Whew!

- Although I haven't made any progress on editing my own novel, I've been busily chatting with my NY friend on our plans to write a new novel together. We're a long way off from starting; we need to agree on the main plot, character and setting before we can start writing a scene-by-scene outline. But we have lots of great ideas so I'm hopeful we can pull it off!

- I've been neglecting most of my goals except guitar, which I practice almost every day and keep making progress on. However, I realize that most of my goals were about reducing stress and increasing mental health, and guitar is doing more for that than I could have imagined, so I'm kind of OK with taking a different direction than my initial goals for the year.

- I do wish I could finish my emergency preparedness kit and schedule us for some first aid/CPR classes, but I need to wait until our spending deficit is under control.

- Things we decided not to cut back on: kids' swim lessons at the pricier (but very effective) new place we've been trying, art class for the 8-year-old, and we're going to start gymnastics lessons for the 6-year-old. We had her on art but it's not really her thing. She's always doing somersaults and flipping off couches, so maybe gymnastics will be a better fit!

- I thought about withdrawing from my alumni board so I could maybe focus my time on other interests, but then I had a couple of fun events that actually went well, and the alumni office has been so grateful for the work I do. So I'm reconsidering and may try to serve out my term (until 2021).

- My second-weekly guitar lessons end next week, which I'm glad of so I can have more of a social life again! When I finish all this traveling, that is. But maybe I can do some planning now to set up some hanging-out time with various people for when I'm back from my three trips. Tonight though I have to focus on packing, since we'll be leaving for the airport as soon as I get home from work and picking one of the kids up from daycare tomorrow.

- We've had some minor illness and injury lately -- AS sprained an ankle, AA had a fever for a couple days, a few other things -- but overall we're in good health. My one complaint is I've been so busy and our kid dropoff routine is so off-kilter that I haven't been walking nearly as much as I had been, and my A.M. strength exercises have fallen off the radar. Got to get those two habits back, because they do wonders for my energy!

I'm sure there's more I've forgotten, but that's more than enough for one post!

11 years of retirement progress

July 31st, 2018 at 02:19 pm

I've never looked at my retirement changes year over year, and suddenly was curious. I started in September 2007 since that was the first time I added up all the retirement values, but for every year after I used the July retirement amount. Here's what I found:

2007: $62K

2008: $65K (+$3K)

2009: $69K (+$4K)

2010: $109K (+$40K)

2011: $141K (+$32K)

2012: $151K (+$10K)

2013: $175K (+$24K)

2014: $220K (+$45K)

2015: $248K (+$28K)

2016: $279K (+$31K)

2017: $344K (+$65K)

2018: $421K (+$68K)

It's interesting that growth has been so uneven. There are different factors: I may have found out about some of NT's pensions in 2010. My dad gave me a pre-inheritance of which I put $9K into retirement, which impacted 2011. Between 2014 and 2015 we slowed our retirement contributions while we were purchasing our duplex and trying to sell our condo. And of course vagaries of the market affected everything.

Sure hope we can continue more in the vein of 2017 and 2018 from now on!

July 2018 retirement goal update

July 31st, 2018 at 01:15 pm

Goal: $512,564 by March 2019

As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone (which changes whenever our salaries change) is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $75,120, so $225,360; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2017 was $50,452, so $100,904).

Current balance: $421,009

May 2018 balance: $411,632

Progress: $9,377

We didn't have any progress in June, so this isn't as good as it looks. To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 8 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $91,555 -- $11,444 per month -- to reach it.

We rarely come close to that, so it's pretty unlikely. But at least I'm making progress in the right direction -- nice to see the amount needed to reach this mini-goal has shrunk to a 5-digit number anyway!

Some close scrapes! and dealing with the overspending

July 17th, 2018 at 01:31 pm

Don't you hate the moment of panic when something goes wrong or almost goes wrong, but then love the endorphins that flood the body when you get back what you thought you might have lost?

Last week I was working in my Number Crunch worksheet. It's a Google Sheets file, about 12 years old, and I use it to keep my real-time budget; checking account balance at the top, future income and outgo below for anywhere from one to 4 months. Along the side I show the projected checking account balance after each transaction. I update the checking account balance frequently (at least a couple times a week, sometimes more than once a day) and delete transactions that have happened.

But that's not all; I also keep my own record of AS's freelance income on additional tabs (one for each year). It helps me track tax and retirement and see what income has already come in and what we're still expecting. It has also come in handy because AS sometimes misses things on her much more complicated tracking spreadsheet, so every once in a while we compare bottom lines to make sure we've got the same amounts, and if not we get to the bottom of the issue.

But that's not all! I also have a tab where I note utility costs for each month, and note the highest bill for each month for gas, electric and water/sewer/trash, as well as the average monthly cost each year. This helps me plan my annual budget.

But that's not all either! I also have a separate tab where I track all credit card purchases for the month. Between us we use our CC a lot, so this helps ensure I don't miss any transactions. That tab also has info on all open and closed cards.

Although much of the info in the sheet is "real time" meaning I delete old transactions, I'm also able to use the version history function to look back at changes if I ever think I've messed things up. I use that fairly often as well.

So yeah, that spreadsheet is a beast of burden that does a lot of heavy lifting in my personal finances! Anyway, I was working in it last week and my fingers slipped and I opened a new browser window. When I clicked back to Number Crunch, it said it was trying to update. So I closed out of it and tried to go back in. I got an error message! I tried another browser, same thing! I opened several other Google Drive files, no problem there, just with Number Crunch!

My stomach dropped. I called AS. I left a message on help forums. I went to the file on my phone and lo and behold it was there! I couldn't save it or email it, but I was able to copy the data on each tab and paste into a new sheet. However, it pasted values only, none of the many formulas I use throughout. And of course all the version history was lost! Ugh. But I was so relieved I at least had the info, and I updated a couple of the most-used formulas.

I kept checking the help forum and it said there was an overall problem with Sheets. I didn't think this could be what happened since my other Sheets files were fine, but then lo and behold, they said the problem with Sheets was fixed, I tried to go into my old Number Crunch, and there it was in all its glory! I was sooooo happy. I actually felt euphoric.

I kept the one where I pasted numbers only, just so I now have some kind of backup. AS says I should probably save a backup outside of Google Drive too, to be safe. I should look into that.

Anyway, it made me appreciate the file all the more; in 12 years I'd never even considered the possibility that I would ever not be able to access it. I didn't realize how much of my peace of mind is wrapped up in knowing that document exists!

This was a much smaller moment, but today as I was about to step off the bus to take my 6-year-old to summer care, I suddenly felt lighter. I looked back and realized I'd left my purse on the seat! I grabbed it and stepped off the bus, thinking about my work phone, my wallet, my keys and my expensive glasses. Boy was I glad I hadn't left that purse! And it made me remember last week's close scrape with the spreadsheet and decide to write about both moments.


In other news, AS has the big freelance job! She'll invoice them for hours worked each Friday and get paid the following week. She's also got another multi-piece writing job that she'll be billing hourly for and invoicing as she delivers each round of. So a huge job and a pretty big job that aren't reflected in the spreadsheet because we're not sure how much they'll be in total, but I'll be adding them to the spreadsheet incrementally as she invoices.

It's a good time to be pulling in regular work because booking our UK airfare earlier than expected has stretched our available funds. I'm actually keeping an eye on whether I need to transfer money from savings temporarily to cover that credit card balance when I pay it off in mid-August. It'll be close, but thanks to Number Crunch I'll be able to forecast whether or not we have enough in the account.

We normally have a lot of cushion in checking just because I budget out so far, but with shared spending money a lot in the red, vacay fund a little in the red, and NT's personal money quite a bit in the red due mainly to buying inventory for his hat business, the float margin is looking very tight in August when we pay off the big credit card balance we racked up from UK airfare, our recent Va. trip, NT's inventory, summer program tuition for the kids, and other things. Close to $10K all told will need to be paid off!

Luckily even if we have to transfer from savings temporarily, I'm feeling good about much of the deficit being cleared up over the next few months. AS's two new jobs will help a lot, plus the other jobs she's already worked and expecting payment on, and hopefully NT will see some return on investment at a few key events coming up.

On the down side, we do have another family trip in early August, and they always end up costing more than I'd like. But we won't have to worry about those charges until mid-September, by which AS should have received quite a bit of money from her various projects.

This summer is even spendier than usual! We're having a blast, but one good thing about fall will be lower child costs with school back in session. Not just child care during the day but we tend to spend more on treats and fun activities during the summer.

The worst case scenario is that we would have to use some of our renovation savings to make up the deficit. We haven't heard back from our design consultant, and I'm inclined not to ping her, because that way we haven't committed those funds and have them in reserve if we can't dig ourselves out of the spending hole another way. Paying off the deficit right this second would take about a quarter of our reno savings. I won't do it unless I see no other way, and at this point, I do see a potential other way, so I'll wait and see how the next few months unfold.

News and notes

July 9th, 2018 at 12:28 pm

I'm having an annoyingly slow day at work where no one is giving me the info or go-ahead on several projects, so I'm more or less twiddling my thumbs. Probably if I start blogging, work will come in -- that's how it works sometimes! Smile Let's see how many random updates I can get through before that happens.

We got back from our first Va. trip on Thursday. It was a mini-family reunion and went very well, but we're happy to be home. Suburban Va. is just not our thing.

Every kind of spending money is in the hole now: each of our personal spending budgets, the shared spending, and we overspent our vacation savings on the Va. trip. Despite lame attempts at frugality it ended up costing us about $200 per day, not including the plane tickets. (We still have more than enough in our reno savings to cover the hole if necessary; I'd just rather not dip into it again.)

However, AS seems to be close to locking in that big freelance job! Rather than counting on a full $32K, we've decided to log it incrementally, since she'll be allowed to invoice and get paid weekly. That way if it ends early or anything else happens, we won't have budgeted with that big number in mind.

One of the reasons spending funds are so in the red is that June was a thin month for paychecks and we haven't received any yet in July. So once money starts rolling in we'll at least chip away at the big hole.

AS has started 2 weeks of jury duty and already got called for a case! It's very interesting to me but I know inconvenient, so I'm hoping for her sake that she gets released early.

NT is having great fun building connections with his hat business but is still a couple grand in the hole. It's one of those things that could take off or just end up being a hobby (hopefully a break-even one eventually). Only time will tell, but as long as he's enjoying it and it doesn't end up costing us tons of money, it's worth pursuing.

We enrolled the kids in a new swim school that's not easily accessible on the bus so we have to rent a carshare every Sunday. But they've already progressed leaps and bounds in just a couple of sessions, so the additional cost is kind of worth it!

AS has been pushing me to try to start a joint novel-writing project with a friend who lives in New York, so I'm finally reaching out and getting started on that. I'm excited that this may kickstart my writing outside of my usual November NaNoWriMo thing! I typically don't do any fiction writing the rest of the year, but I'd like to.

The kids are waitlisted for an in-school after-school program for next year, and if it doesn't go through, SL will go to daycare for another year and AA will just come home on the bus. She'll be in third grade and extremely conscientious about safety and rules, so if she's alone for an hour or two it'll be no big deal. Either way -- both in after-school at the elementary, or one doing after-school at our daycare -- our childcare costs should go down significantly during the school year, to $500-$650 per month! It's not been lower than $900 for several years.

My friend-making attempts with one woman may have failed -- I've decided to let her make the next move if she's interested, because I really can't tell -- and a couple others have stalled, but I have some alumni events coming up this summer that should be fun. And I'll be seeing my Canadian pal in person in August, so I'm really hoping we continue to hit it off.

The weather had been rather crappy most of the summer, but it's been wonderful since we got back from Va. However, I haven't been able to get myself back into the night walks I did frequently the past two summers. Hoping to kick-start that soon -- I've barely seen the lake that's only a half mile from our house! Plus my weight has plateaued about 7 lbs. higher than I want it.

Oh, I just thought of something regarding the shared spending deficit! We have an extra paycheck coming in October, so if we can manage to get the deficit to under $2K, I shall budget out through October so we can wipe the deficit out with that paycheck. (I have the annual budget worked out on a separate spreadsheet with one tab per month, and I usually paste into our regular spreadsheet one month ahead, so I've got August in there right now. But the way I have it structured there's nothing to stop me budgeting two or more months ahead.) That would be a weight off. But it would feel like a waste somehow to do the budget through October now and only cut the deficit in half vs. eliminate it, so I'm going to wait on that.

July 2018 debt payments

July 5th, 2018 at 02:37 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:
US: $724 to principal
UK1: $182
UK2: $39
UK3: $40
All told, $985 of debt was paid.

Current debt totals:
US Mortgage $386,825
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $32,306
UK Mortgage 2 $6,810
UK Mortgage 3 $7,171
TOTAL DEBT $442,112

Did AS just book a $32K freelance job?? and other news

June 27th, 2018 at 01:16 pm

Hello friends! I haven't been very bloggy this month, though I've kept up on all your posts.

It's been such a busy year! I'm having tons of fun but sometimes feel overextended. I continue to ponder work-socializing-rest balance and try to make sure I'm only doing things I really want to do. To that end, I might back out of an alumni board conference call next month. Two hours on a summer Saturday listening to a cacophony of people and not learning anything new doesn't seem like a good use of my time when it's at such a premium these days.

Anyway, not to bury the lede too far down, AS messaged me the other day that a Fortune 500 company she's been in contact with wanted to hire her for about 320 hours of writing work over the next four months. (Which would average out to about 20 hours per week.)

I was stunned because she bills $100 per hour for writing. I checked my calculator to make sure I wasn't hallucinating--nope, sounds like she just landed a $32K project!! (For comparison's sake, the biggest single job she's ever booked was $7500. And the most she's ever made in a year is $57K.) She has already earned or booked over $48K this year, so that could potentially take her to $80K or more for 2018! I'm the current high earner in our household at $75K!

Of course, if it's hourly there's a chance it won't end up being that much. And as she pays self-employment tax her taxes are higher than mine and NT. But still! Holy cow!

None of my other news really compares, but since I haven't checked in for a while, here goes:

- I've been shirking all my goals except guitar lessons. But I've been rocking those: I'm actually taking TWO lessons a week for 8 weeks this summer! Then I plan to go back to one per week. I love learning guitar more than I could have ever predicted.

- Speaking of goals, I may rejigger those. Or at least rethink how I structure goals next year. I might not need formal annual goals, since some of my biggest successes this year have been things I came up with along the way, such as broadening/deepening my friend base. AS said something interesting the other day about having intentions vs. hard goals. Sometimes a hard goal is helpful and important (like for paying down debt etc.) But I could also see intentions helping with things like forming good habits. So we'll see. I'm by no means close to being a perfect person, but I do feel that over the past decade I've morphed into a better, happier version of myself. I'm more confident, more productive/industrious, enjoying life more, more financially stable, more creative, and on balance a little healthier. And I'm certainly never bored or at a loss for things to do! So maybe I'm getting to a point where formal goals don't have as important a place in my life anymore. Still pondering.

- Among my adventures this summer, just this past weekend I just took two overnight bus journeys on consecutive nights in order to see my fave band (and meet up with a friend) in Chicago! The whole trip cost only a little over $200: $65 for the bus, $30 show tickets for me and my friend, and about $120 for food, drinks and other incidentals. I arrived back in Minneapolis Monday morning and walked 3 blocks from the bus stop to work, and managed to have a full and productive day despite having had hardly any sleep! Tuesday was rougher than Monday in terms of tiredness; I guess euphoria from the concert kept me going for a while.

- I have another trip coming up to see the same band in Des Moines in August, this time a 2-night road trip with another friend, and we'll be meeting up with my new Canadian friend there. So far I've only spent about $120 on that trip for 2 nights at an Airbnb (which my friend will chip in a bit for); my friend is driving so I only have to cover gas for transportation, and the show is outdoor and free! So other than that my expenses will be just some meals and maybe museum fees or shopping.

- But first, I have 2 trips to Va. coming up! We leave this Friday for a 6-day trip to hang out with family, and again in August we have a 7-day trip to see my niece get married (and we'll do other stuff TBD, of course). I realized the other day that I've only taken 2.5 days of PTO all year: one for a snow day in January, one for my bday in March, and one to hang out with my 8-year-old during her first week of summer break this month.

- In other travel news, we booked airfare for a UK family vacation! Shorter than our usual 14-day trips, this time we leave the day after Xmas (Boxing Day) and come back Jan. 6. I wasn't expecting to buy our tickets so soon, but I saw a nonstop flight deal for about $800 per person and snapped them up. Usually it's more like $900 and nonstop isn't always affordable. We also booked the car and travel insurance, and NT's mum and sister will work out accommodations, so we're pretty much set for that trip!

- We've done some preliminary planning for our kitchen reno, but our designer hasn't replied to the last email I sent her a few weeks ago. That's OK since we probably don't have enough money for the reno we want yet. But we'll keep saving up and maybe it'll happen later this year, or maybe we'll start it next year.

- Our reno savings are doing pretty well (around $23K) and our EF is steady at $10K, but our travel savings are virtually depleted as a result of booking the UK trip (and NT booked hotel and car for one of his solo trips). That's OK, we'll build it back up.

- Our shared spending is once again in the hole, about $3800 this time! As you may recall we took $5K out of reno savings to cover a shortfall earlier this year, yet here we are again. About $1630 of it is due to a letter from MN State Revenue letting us know AS isn't eligible for a property tax rebate our tax guy claimed for her. So we won't get $820 this year, and we'll likely have to pay back $816 from last year. So I already took that out of the budget. Another $500 or so was from medical bills and related expenses. And the other $600-700 was just general overspending: Father's Day, date nights, kid outings, guitar lessons, etc. AS is expecting some checks, of course, so that will patch up part of the hole. And if she's able to bill regularly for this $32K job, which starts in early July, we may be able to get back in black by August!

I think those are the major pieces of news. Work's great, social life's great, family is great, home life is great (even if I don't get much down time)! Very few complaints overall. Smile

June 2018 debt payments

June 2nd, 2018 at 05:20 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:

US: $721
UK1: $181
UK2: $37
UK3: $40

All told, $979 went to principal.

May 2018 retirement goal update

June 2nd, 2018 at 03:30 pm

Goal: $512,564 by March 2019

As a reminder, this is just an incremental goal along the way to 8x income by retirement. This mini-goal aims to get us to a milestone by the time I turn 45 and AS turns 40.

The milestone (which changes whenever our salaries change) is to get me to 3x my current salary, which is now $75,120, so $225,360; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2017 was $50,452, so $100,904).

Current balance: $411,632

January 2018 balance: $404,682

Progress: $6,950

Finally we have more retirement worth than we did in January! We didn't have any progress in February, March or April, so this isn't as good as it looks. To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 10 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $100,932 -- $10,093 per month -- to reach it.

We rarely come close to that, so it's pretty unlikely. But I'll keep tracking anyway.

Every post is a catchup

May 20th, 2018 at 02:54 pm

That's how it feels this year, anyway!

May is usually super busy at my job and this year is no exception. Last week I probably worked 9 hours of overtime. I was also sick most of the week but I made it through somehow. All my goals fell by the wayside, even my guitar practicing which has been my one steady thing. Even my morning strength exercises which are pretty much habit.

So, feeling flabby and unhealthy, but I got a ton done for my work, which is what needed to happen. And it doesn't go unnoticed or unappreciated when I put in extra effort there, so I don't feel like it's a waste.

Then yesterday we had a yard sale. We put out probably a thousand things (if you count all the kids' clothes) and sold about 60. Almost everything was a dollar, so we made $73 or so. $10 paid for joining the neighborhood sale, $13 went to our neighbors for some of their stuff that sold. Everyone worked so hard, even the kids, that I just divvied up the remaining $50 and gave each person $10 cash.

NT is putting $100 to his mom's Mother's Day gift of a weekend getaway, and that was going to come out of shared spending, but I asked if he could take it from UK money instead. Even if he puts in 100 pounds instead of $100, it felt like a gift, because we have plenty of money in that account that we're just saving up for now. So I felt OK about divvying up the yard sale proceeds.

We boxed up everything that didn't sell and took it to Goodwill that same day. It was a great feeling. Cleared up lots of space in the basement and in our bedroom as well.

After the sale, AS and I went to see my fave band at this neighborhood-wide art festival in Northeast Minneapolis. We got there a little late but met up with some friends and had a great time. One friend is a designer at a brewery, and we went over there afterward and got a tour of it! That was a really great bonding session with this newish friend.

I'd been getting 4-6 hours of sleep every night, so I was determined to get more today. I finally woke at 11:30am and NT was getting the kids ready for swim class! AS took them and I was able to take it easy. AS and I were going to go to a friend's bday event this afternoon. AS went but I decided to stay home and stay in PJs. Consider it my sick day I never took during the week.

My cold is getting better, and the 10 hours of sleep really seemed to help. I practiced guitar for the first time since Thursday and felt like taking a couple days off actually did me good.

Now I'm refereeing (and DJing some upbeat music on my phone) while the kids clean their rooms. I'm fine admitting that I've bribed them with a candy bar each if they finish! Big Grin

Next week is probably going to be crazy at work again, but hopefully I won't also be sick. Hoping I can get back on my goals, including planning for the kitchen reno!

At least our finances are on track. If you counted our EF, reno savings, and travel savings together, we've got almost $40K saved!

Catching up

May 3rd, 2018 at 08:20 pm

Ahh, let's see if I have time for a nice long chinwag so I can try to catch up on all the goings-on in ceejayland. Smile

Life is good, life is busy. We've all been very social and active in the community and busy at work. Not a lot of downtime, but nothing very negative happening, so we're happy.

- AS continues to get more work. She's actively turning down jobs more and more often now, and trying to focus on higher-paid and/or more interesting/satisfying stuff: marketing writing, children's book writing, teaching, speaking and judging, etc. Her co-working space is working out great and with all the complimentary food, toiletries and shower, it practically pays for itself! She had jury duty this past week but messed up and missed her call, so now she's got to do it again in July, unfortunately.

- NT's hat business is going better, though he still runs a deficit on paper, people are buying more and more. It takes him away at night a lot as he sells at shows most of the time. He's got some big shows coming up and hopes to eliminate his deficit by August. Either way he's having fun and enjoying becoming a recognizable figure in the local hip-hop community. He'll be traveling to Chicago for fun and (hopefully) profit, selling at a block party there in July.

- My work is going well; I'm on a high-profile job and doing pretty good. My mentor/boss's boss is (shh) retiring in August; only a couple people know so far. I expect they'll have someone else high-ranking helm some of my projects, but others might come solely under my control. I'll have to wait and see. I'm OK either way really, because I feel like my trajectory is steadily upward. Three people got let go today due to slow business in their accounts, but I feel my job is safe.

- AA and SL are doing great in school. SL is a little bored, academically -- that kid is brilliant! But maturity wise, she's in the right grade, so for the time being, I feel like we shouldn't do much. They do send her to specialists for reading and math sometimes, so I know they're doing what they can to address her advanced intellect. AA is in choir and doing great at that. Both kids do art and swim on the weekends and get invited to lots of other kids' parties -- which is annoying and expensive and time-consuming, but reassuring that they're developing socially.

We're participating in the neighborhood garage sale in a couple weeks; I don't expect we'll make much money, but if we donate what we don't sell, we'll at least have decluttered a ton!

I guess I should look at my goals:
Work on novel -- I don't think I've touched that in over a month. I also don't see a ton of time to do so. But if I found a part of the revision process that seemed clear and I was excited about it, I could probably find time. I just don't seem to have the mental energy to do that.

Learn guitar -- this is my big success story for the year so far! I've been doing guitar lessons for a little under three months and I can already play three simple songs and know 7 chords and a couple of strum patterns. I'm far from good at any of it, but I'm really pleased with my progress. I practice almost every day; I've only missed three or four days total. It's something I look forward to, so I only miss it if I'm out of town or out really late.

Limiting drinking -- I'm doing pretty well on this. My goal was to have 4 days per week where I have 0-1 glasses of wine. Last week was a total fail but other than that, unless I have social engagements during the week, I generally have 2 days of no drinking and 1 day of 1 glass of wine per week. So I'm at 3 days instead of 4, but believe me, it's WAY better than where I was in December or even January (when I did 1 day per week). I try not to be too hard on myself; at least it's progress.

Limit screen time outside of and after work: Meh. On the good side, I've been so busy that I really don't aimlessly surf the web like I used to. I often don't take my laptop out at home (though I increased my phone use a little bit, I don't think my total screen time is as much). I haven't been great about keeping closed out of screens at work as I meant to, but I do think I spend less time on them. So I'm a bit better but don't feel as far along as I am on the less-drinking goal.

Emergency preparedness: no progress in a couple weeks.

Agile learning: no progress.

Net worth/retirement: Retirement funds seem to be recovering but aren't at January levels yet, so I'm no closer to my goals.

Kids' savings: I save a bit each week for both kids, but I haven't done an infusion of cash as would be necessary to catch up to my goals for them.

Kitchen reno: Since we took out some savings to cover other expenses, we're actually a bit below where we were in January on this too. But we had our designer and contractor come over last night to help us think through our options. We're going to do some more talking and sketching things out and then move into the design phase. We don't know how much it'll cost to get CAD designs from our designer, but we need to do it, because our options are all very complicated. Once we have her designs we can go to our contractor and get some cost estimates. Then we can decide if we pull the trigger now or wait until we have more money saved up. If we're close to having enough, we may pull the trigger because it's usually half up front, half later, and we could pull from EF funds or even our unused line of credit if we hadn't quite saved up the second half by the time work was done. We do really want it done. But I don't want things to get difficult financially again, so I want to be careful if we do any of those things.

Vacations: We've booked airfare for the June/July and August trips to see family. We're planning on getting rides, borrowing cars, sleeping on people's floors, and generally doing these two trips fairly cheaply. We might do at least one hotel night for each to preserve our sanity though, as staying with family can be very chaotic without much privacy or down time.

I was almost ready to book my solo trip to see my favorite band 4 times in 4 nights in the south! And meet up with my Canadian friend who's also a super fan! But then realized the band wasn't headlining 3 of the 4 shows. So that trip is off and I'm hoping they'll book a similar swath of shows somewhere I wouldn't mind visiting. I do have one small trip I can do to see them in Iowa in August, but it would just be overnight and I might just do it with my own spending money. I'm hoping my solo trip if I have one will be a bit more elaborate and exciting than that.

NT has a solo trip planned for Chicago, as I mentioned, and he may do another one for a weekend to Seattle to see a friend. His outlay for his hat business has been such that I've told him if he doesn't make back some of the capital expenditures, he may need to forfeit the Seattle trip to offset those.

AS was thinking about an LA trip to see a friend. But she mentioned that she wasn't as hot on traveling this year, and was frustrated that she wouldn't be able to fix up other parts of the house until the kitchen was done. So I said if she wanted to forgo a trip, she could have some money from the travel budget to do some small home improvements. She was much more interested in that than traveling, so I guess that's what she'll do.

I've been doing well on some of my unofficial goals, such as broadening my social life. I had my old work friend and his wife over for dinner in April; I message my Canadian buddy daily; I've met up a few more times with another woman I met at a show; I continue to organize events for my alumni association; I've been making more of an attempt to hang out with some of my acquaintances more often. I'm about to text my old work friend and a current co-worker to set up a happy hour. So, pretty good!

I've got a couple other things I'm trying to do, like review an old high school friend's manuscript, participate in a committee to get our neighborhood name changed, attend a remembrance for a local man killed 5 years ago by police...

And I've been seeing more live music lately. This Saturday I get to see my favorite band, the next night an old-time country gospel band, in a couple weeks a country singer from Saskatchewan...

So overall things are great! The one slight worry on my mind is I got an irregular result on my annual mammogram, so I have a follow-up appointment next Friday. I've had this happen twice before and it's always been nothing, so I'm trying not to let it worry me. If this one turns out OK, I'm going to see how much more it would cost to get 3D imaging for my next annual. It's not covered by my health insurance, but if it saves this expensive follow-up trip (and saves me worrying), it might be worth it.

May 2018 debt payments

May 1st, 2018 at 10:22 pm

I realize I've been really absent from the blogs this month! Lots going on as seems to be the norm these days, but all good stuff.

I'll update on my goals progress and other life happenings at some point, but I at least wanted to do my usual routine and note the debt payments made:

US mortgage: $720 to principal
UK1: $181
UK2: $39
UK3: $42

All told that's $982 toward debt. Here are our current debt totals:

US Mortgage $388,270
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $32,669
UK Mortgage 2 $6,886
UK Mortgage 3 $7,251
TOTAL DEBT $444,076

Medical costs, money from savings, goals check-in

April 13th, 2018 at 09:57 pm

Well, even though birthday month is over (it bled into April since AA had to reschedule her party due to strep) life hasn't settled down at all. Work has been really busy, AS has a ton of nighttime obligations (teaching, board meetings) and so does NT (his hat business seems to have reached some kind of tipping point where he's in high demand -- which is exciting for him but means he goes out even more often). I too have had some night things such as dinners with clients, music shows, hanging out with friends ...

Anyway, there's been a bit more spending than usual, and also the medical bills have started to roll in from our March illnesses. Oh, and my mammogram came up with something that needs a follow-up ... I think I've had maybe one that hasn't, out of 4 or 5, so I'm not worried, but it typically runs me about $600 to get a follow-up exam. I think I might check into how much it would cost to just get the 3D mammogram (which isn't fully covered like the regular one), because if it's less than $600 and requires fewer follow-ups, it might be worth it. It's so hard to figure these things out, but maybe I'll ask the mammogram place to run an estimate by my insurance company or something.

I scheduled the follow-up for early May. Of course in the back of my mind I realize it could be something -- that's why I'm not ignoring it -- but I'm just not too worried since this seems to happen every time.

So a day or so ago, I was feeling like this deficit would never go away. We want to be saving really hard for the kitchen and for travel, but I finally gave in to the idea that maybe we should pull some of those savings back out to just take care of the deficit. We had a family meeting, talked about upcoming expenses and the current deficit, and decided that we could take some out of reno savings, even though it will set back the date we can start working on the kitchen. We decided to keep the meeting with our designer and contractor in May, because that will give us a much better idea of the number we're saving toward, but we pulled nearly $5K out of savings and used about $2K to eliminate the shared spending deficit. I'm holding the rest of it separate from our shared spending but will put it there as needed (like when medical bills come in... such as the nearly $900 bill for NT's ER visit when urgent care was closed and he had to get his cough checked out...sigh...but I insisted he go in, so I have only myself to blame for that one).

We also agreed that probably we'll only do one solo trip per adult this year instead of the 2 we each did last year. With three family trips planned (two to Va. and one to UK after Xmas) and everything else that's come up, unless we get a big financial boost we'll try to stick to that.

Our kitchen savings are at about $20K now. But we feel better not having that shared spending deficit staring us in the face all the time. I think it's OK to admit that our expenses exceeded our spending money, as long as we're taking the money from something optional (like renovations) and not from like the EF or retirement or anything.

Other goals...I've been trying a looser approach to drinking and screens and it's been going so-so. I was hoping to average 3-4 days per week of 0-1 drinks, and it has been more like 1-2 days per week for the first two weeks. Still, it's better than my habits were in 2017, so that's something. Screens have been hard to measure because I just haven't had a lot of downtime anyway. I'd say I'm a little better at not being on screens all the time than I was before my Jan-March days of enforced no-screen time, but I could do better.

I've been practicing up a storm on guitar but haven't made any progress on my writing goal. I haven't added to my preparedness supplies because of the ongoing shared spending deficit and probably won't for a while, but we did have some organic EP progress. There was a tornado warning siren test and NT took the opportunity to run some drills with the kids about getting to the basement. He also went over fire drill procedures and talked about the rope ladder and fire extinguishers we have. While we were at it, I showed them how to access 911 on my phone even when it was locked, and when I asked them to demonstrate it today, they both did it correctly. So we have made a little bit of emergency preparedness progress this week!

April 2018 debt payments

April 4th, 2018 at 08:52 am

All our mortgage payments have hit:
US: $717 to principal
UK1: $179
UK2: $38
UK3: $40
In total, $974 was paid to principal.

New total household debt amounts:
US Mortgage $388,990
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $32,850
UK Mortgage 2 $6,925
UK Mortgage 3 $7,293
TOTAL DEBT $445,058

Best Easter dinner

April 1st, 2018 at 05:41 pm

We had the perfect meal tonight! We all remarked on that, so I thought I should document it:

Vegan ham, sliced thin and baked at 375 with a brown-sugar glaze for about half an hour.
Oven-roasted asparagus
Simple pan-cooked broccoli
Mashed potatoes
"Melting potatoes" (roasted at high heat)
Brussels sprouts slaw
Parkerhouse rolls

And for once, we had enough for a few leftover meals but not way too much food!

Various doings

April 1st, 2018 at 12:40 pm

No more AS checks came in on Saturday, so I closed out the quarter. Quite a bit of the work she did hasn't paid yet, so I moved those payments to Q2.

Q1 came to about $11,000. Lower than 2017 and 2015 but higher than 2016. Q2 should be bigger (even though it's only a two-month quarter) because she's already worked a lot of the expected payments. In fact I'm hoping she'll get about $10,000 in payments in April alone!

After NT's and SL's birthday parties, and accounting for what we need to pay in taxes, but with a few of AS's payments offsetting slightly, our shared spending deficit is about $2300. Upcoming expenses this month are a donation to my alma mater on "Giving Day" and AA's party space rental. And medical bills from our various maladies last month; we've gotten about $300 of bills so far. I'm in no hurry to pay them as there doesn't seem to be any consequence to paying them a month or two late! But I will have to contend with it eventually.

AS and I both want new clothes for the spring and summer. We always try the cheaper thrift stores first, but sometimes it adds up, depending on how many things we need to buy new if we don't find what we need at the thrift stores.

I'd also like to make a donation to an environmental nonprofit whose founder died last year, and I'm still interested in this line of facial products. But I'm holding off on those until I see how our money goes over the next month.

The good news is, I don't foresee any more big expected expenses that aren't already in the budget. So I'm hoping AS's April payments get us close to eliminating the deficit even with the aforementioned upcoming expenses. March is always tough because we budget for gifts, but party expenses have to come out of shared spending, and we all love having parties for our birthdays! And it seems most of the kids' friends who have birthdays also have their parties in March, so those gifts hit the shared spending as well. The clothes shopping might make it challenging to break even, but hopefully we'll get close.

Last week I slipped and only did one day of no drinking and one day of no screens after work. Since I'm structuring my goals differently for April, I won't try to make those up. In April the goal is minimal, intentional screen time at both work and home Monday-Thursday, and 0-1 glasses of wine (0 at least 2 days per week) Monday-Thursday unless there's a social event or other special occasion.

Now that birthday madness is almost behind us, I really really hope I get re-motivated on my novel-publishing and emergency preparedness goals! Another thing I want to do in April is build a really nice capsule wardrobe. I have my colors, and preliminary window shopping has made me interested in possibly some floral prints. I haven't done many patterns at all for the past couple years, so it might make a nice change.

My weight has bumped up this weekend, which is a bummer. But hopefully that too will even out.

Tax stuff

March 31st, 2018 at 08:52 am

We got our returns back from the tax guy. Now I'm trying to figure out if we owe or break even:

AS overpaid federal, so the overpayment will apply to her 2018 Q1 payment (which is going down a little this year, though I'll still set aside the same amount and keep the difference in savings).
She owes $48 in state.
She owes $589 in federal 2018 Q1 estimated payment.
She owes $340 in state 2018 Q1 estimated payment (up $20 from last year).
She's getting an $826 property tax rebate.
She owes $385 in tax prep fees.
So overall, she owes $536.

NT and I owe $995 to federal.
We owe $1,321 to state.
We owe $455 in tax prep fees.
So overall, we owe $2,771. (Ouch!)

Together, we all owe $3,307.

I had set aside $697.72 from AS's paychecks last quarter.
I have $2,001.91 set aside for AS federal 2018 Q1 estimated tax.
I have $383.90 set aside for AS state 2018 Q1 estimated tax.
(These may adjust if AS gets a check in the mail today, since it's the last day of the quarter, but it won't be by much.)
So all told, we have $3,083.53 set aside.

That means we need to come up with $223.47. Definitely not as bad as it could've been -- NT's and my returns looked scary at first! AS does have a couple payments coming soon, so I'll edit this post if one of them comes today! Smile

Delicious collards recipe

March 25th, 2018 at 04:52 pm

I always kind of wing it with greens, but tonight's turned out really delicious, so AS said I should write it down. I didn't measure anything, so it's all guesstimates, but here goes:

1 large bunch collards, ribs removed, chopped and rinsed
1.5 T vegan bacon grease (could use real, or canola with bacon bits)
3 cloves garlic, pressed
1 T sugar
2 T white vinegar
1 t salt
1/4 cup water

I sauteed the garlic for a minute or two in the "bacon" grease. Then I put all the collards in (you can stuff the pot and fill it the top because they shrink way down). Throw in the remaining ingredients, cover pot and turn heat to low. Cook, stirring occasionally, anywhere from 15-45 minutes. (Collards are hardy plants and could be cooked even longer than that.)


March 24th, 2018 at 08:24 am

I seem to have shaken the last of my illness and fatigue, and most of the ice has melted off the sidewalks, so I have a nice springy feeling lately. Smile I started doing my morning strength training again this week and AS and I walked to work twice, plus got plenty of walking in the other days. I'm back to averaging over 10K steps a day.

Last week I achieved my two days of no drinking and two days of no screens after work. No personal internet use at work was a little patchier the two days I tried it. But I did stick to not having windows open; if I needed or wanted to go on a social site or budgeting spreadsheet or whatever, I opened a window, did what I intended, then closed it out.

I think for April (and maybe for the rest of the year if it works well), I'm going to structure these goals slightly differently, now that I've developed some pretty good habits:

I'll aim for two weekdays of no drinking, and other weeknights sticking to 0 or 1 glass of wine, unless something is planned like a happy hour or going to a show. So Monday-Thursday no or little drinking, with exceptions allowed for social events.

I'll aim for screens with intention at home after work Monday-Thursday. In other words, if I want to work on my novel, or do some budgeting, or check in with my Canada friend, or read a news story I'll do that and then step away from the screen. No aimless sitting with my laptop on my lap just idly flipping around the internet, or flipping through social media apps on my phone over and over. I can check them, but not spend a ton of time on them.

I'll aim for minimal personal internet at work Monday-Thursday. That means doing what I did last week, opening a screen if I need to check or do something but then closing out when that specific task is done. Keeping tabs open just invites aimless scrolling.

I'm interested to see how I behave in April, whether I feel like I have a more balanced life where I'm not feeling deprived but not overdoing it on unhealthy/unproductive activities. I like that this is an evolving goal that I can structure however I want from month to month.

For the kitchen renovation, we made a tiny bit of progress: The room has three doorways, which gives us limited wall space despite its size. So on our designer's advice we taped cardboard over the doorway we think we could stand to lose. If we feel like it's not too disruptive, we can consider walling that doorway over and using the space for something else. Currently it doesn't give us much more options because the fridge opens onto the space from one direction, the dishwasher from the other. But if we moved or turned the fridge or dishwasher, it could really expand the possibilities. So we'll start thinking about that.

I've not gotten much done on my novel revision or emergency preparedness, but at least guitar practice is going gangbusters! My Canadian friend also takes lessons, so she's encouraging and I can discuss things with her.

In big-picture goal land, I assume our net worth and retirement are down with the latest chaos from our government and esteemed leader, but I won't check until the end of the month.

Also, we asked our UK property manager about selling and he said the market was bad due to Brexit chaos, and strongly suggested we wait another year. So we will. He did think the flat would sell for about 200K pounds, which I don't think is terrible, but we'll wait and if the market is better next year, we'll hopefully sell for higher. If not, I'm fine with 200K so we'll put it on the market no matter what.

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