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Added to savings (US & UK); halfway to EF goal!

May 26th, 2017 at 05:46 pm

This was a good money week! As I mentioned earlier, I got a $100 Amex gift card from my job. The next day, NT got a $500 mini-bonus check from his! And AS got paid for a freelance job for NT's work much earlier than expected (netting $400). We have about $70 in CC rewards that I can redeem, and we finally got the "secure key" replacement so I could log in to NT's UK account and transfer rental income into savings.

So, of the $1070 in U.S. dollars, the $100 gift card will be used for our next date night, $350 went into reno savings, and the rest went to make up some of the shared-spending deficit we have right now. (I decided to go ahead and book our airfare for AS's solo trip to NYC and our August trip to Va., knowing that AS's booked jobs will pay eventually.) Our deficit is now only $260, with more money expected soon.

Our reno savings are up to $8300! We have quite a ways to go if we want to do the kitchen next. Or we could decide to do a smaller project.

And, I was able to transfer 450 pounds ($562) into the UK savings account. That brings our EF savings to $5500, over halfway to our $10,000 goal!

19 down, 31 to go on the new meals goal

May 24th, 2017 at 09:04 pm

Whew, it's been a crazy few weeks at my job. I traveled for work 4 days last week, and this week is me playing catchup. Plus it's our main client's fiscal year end on 5/31, so it would've been nuts without being mostly out of commission for four days.

The bad: Yesterday I came home from work, made dinner, then pretty much worked until 1:30am on a project I totally hadn't wanted to take, because I had more than enough on my plate. And it was for this PowerPoint where I'd presented an outline that the client got really confused about and thought it was meant to be the piece itself, so she thought I'd really "missed the mark."

The good: I got a really big compliment from two clients yesterday, emailed to an account exec. She forwarded it to all the execs and supervisors, and today I got a nice note from my two direct supervisors and a $100 Amex gift card! Oh, and the client that was confused about my outline yesterday was really happy with the actual writing I stayed up late to do, so I fixed that little snafu.

Anyway, I came on here to record progress on my new meals goal. I knew it was going to be busy this week (though I couldn't have guessed HOW busy) but wanted to try a new meal. So I decided to do "loaded fries." Essentially it was frozen fries, baked in the oven, topped with lots of cheddar cheese partway through. Then people could add chili (heated up from a can), green onions, veggie bacon and tofu sour cream. It actually went over really well, even with AS who's not crazy about chili and our youngest who's not big into fries. Oh, and I roasted some cauliflower so we'd have something healthy with it. Would definitely do this again for a week when we're busy and/or not trying to spend much! That's 19 new recipes tried, 31 to go.

Nice surprise "bonus" and some spending

May 11th, 2017 at 02:53 pm

I noticed that AS's healthcare premium payment hadn't posted for May 1, so I asked her to look into it. Turns out there was some kind of discount from the state (she's on Obamacare), and we don't owe anything this month! So that's a $351 bonus we totally didn't expect. I also redeemed $33 in credit card rewards while I was at it. As usual, I put one-third into reno savings, one-third toward future travel and one-third to shared spending.

The shared spending portion went to make up part of our current deficit. We were about $500 in the hole and now we're $369 down. AS's income has had a dry patch where she's booking lots of work, but no checks have come in this month and she's not expecting any for a little while. We've scaled way back on shared spending; we've only splurged this month $75 on getting delivery (first unplanned eating out all year, I believe) and $90 for a ticket to a show NT goes every year. But we were already in the hole from April; a $100 budget mistake that I had to take out of shared, plus $70 for contacts for AS, plus $175 for kids' swim lessons, and some spring wardrobe items for each of us had put us in the red.

When the money does start rolling in, we'll be all good again. AS has nearly $10K worth of work booked through mid-June, and some of it has already been worked so some money will hopefully come in this month.

And it's important to note that we're not *actually* in the red; I have $7675 saved up for renovations, $200 for painting and other small improvements, and over $600 saved up for travel. So any of that could be used to make up our shared spending shortfall if need be.

Which is good, because we have a couple of fun things planned this weekend that I'm planning to take out of shared spending. A friend visiting from out of town, so we're hiring a babysitter Saturday and going out for drinks with her. And boozy Mother's Day brunch for me and AS on Sunday Smile. Oh! That reminds me I need to figure out what we're doing for OUR mothers. Big Grin

Oh, and we've agreed to split the cost of a handyman/yard worker with our downstairs neighbors; they've found someone who does odd jobs for $15 an hour and is eager to get more work, so we'll be hiring him to mow the lawn, help us plant our garden, and do other general outdoor work. So that type of stuff will come out of shared spending.

But, on the plus side, we've got about a $700 surplus in the June budget that I haven't applied yet. And it looks like AS's healthcare discount may be for the whole year; the way they applied it was about $88 for every month of 2017 so far, so it seems like they may be giving us that discount for every month of 2017 going forward. Not sure why, but pretty cool! (Maybe because she made a little less in 2016 than she did in 2015, and the premium was based on her 2015 returns?)

Oops, I realized it's about time to leave work! I think that's most of my money news anyway. Smile

Progress on new meal goal

May 9th, 2017 at 07:49 pm

I tried two new meals this week, so that's 18 down, 32 to go!

First, I had a bunch of cooked lentils left over from the last new meal I cooked; I'd thrown them in the freezer until I thought of what to do with them. With some advice from a friend, I cooked them last night with curry flavors and made lunch portions with rice.

It wasn't a recipe per se; I chopped some garlic, onions and carrots and sauteed in olive oil until they started to soften, then added curry powder, garam masala, coriander, salt, cayenne and black pepper. When they started to smell fragrant I added some water and mock chicken broth powder and cooked until the carrots were really soft. Then I put the cooked lentils in and simmered for about 15 more minutes.

It tasted great and had a real spicy kick. A good lunch option I'd make again!

Then for dinner tonight I made Thai-style tofu wraps with ginger peanut sauce, shredded carrots and slivered red bell pepper, and a side of fried Thai-style potato-corn-chili-cilantro-lime patties. All the chopping and prep took quite a while, but the results were delicious! If I had someone assisting, or had extra time and energy, I'd definitely make both again.

Upstairs bathroom before and after pics

May 4th, 2017 at 05:26 pm

I never did post photos of our bathroom reno, which was completed a couple months ago! Part of the reason is because I lost most of my "before" pics when I ruined my work phone. And also, it took us a few weeks after the reno was done to buy matching towels, curtain etc. And also, we kept meaning to buy more matching stuff such as shampoo bottles, hairdryer etc. but never did.

But I do have two "before" pics that I posted on Facebook. And it looks really good even without all the matchy-matchy accessories we planned. So here goes!


I did have some photos of in-between but lost them all. The room was down to bare boards. Our contractor completely redid it with new drywall, paint, tile, floor, tore down the shower and built in a bathtub, and added a glass panel so we could still take showers in the tub. It's sooo nice to be in now. It was one of my least favorite rooms and now it's one of the best!


It cost about $9,000 counting accessories.

May 2017 debt payments

May 2nd, 2017 at 07:20 am

All our mortgage payments hit:

US Mortgage $695 to principal
UK Mortgage 1 $181
UK Mortgage 2 $39
UK Mortgage 3 $40
All told, that's $955 to principal this month.

Current debt is now:

US Mortgage $396,768
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $34,844
UK Mortgage 2 $7,345
UK Mortgage 3 $7,735
TOTAL DEBT $455,692

Savings progress

April 30th, 2017 at 03:25 pm

We've made some progress on savings over the past few months. The EF is up to 3950 pounds, which is nearly $5,000, which is almost halfway to my EF goal! We have $7,625 saved for renovations; we're mainly saving up for a kitchen reno but will use some for minor porch improvements soon. One-third of AS's net income goes into reno savings, so we'll keep adding to it every time she gets paid.

Oh, and we also have $425 saved up for whatever vacation AS decides to take. She's wavering between NYC and San Francisco. Either way we have enough for her plane ticket, but we'll need to save up for hotel and other expenses (transportation, dining, etc.). We also need to save up for the family trip to Va. this summer. We'll get there!

Retirement goal progress

April 30th, 2017 at 01:17 pm

Goal: $494,743 by 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 $68,291, so $204,873; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2016 was $51,785, so $103,570)

Current balance: $324,735

March 2017 balance: $317,920

Progress: $6,815

A nice bump up, but our goal also grew because of my raise.

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 22 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $170,008 -- $7,728 per month -- to reach it.

Progress on a goal (finally)!

April 25th, 2017 at 07:46 pm

I pretty much consciously abandoned trying new meals during the month of March and the first part of April. Way, way too many other things going on, so we opted for easy, familiar meals (when we weren't having restaurant and delivery meals for birthdays and other occasions).

But tonight I finally got back on track with this particular goal. I made a pasta dish called "lentil-a-roni" out of the cookbook "Isa Does It." Pasta, pureed cashews and veggie broth, lentils, and a simple tomato sauce. Everyone loved it but AA, and even she managed to finish half her bowl, so if I gave her a smaller portion and let her have a healthy snack after, it would work for her. It's a keeper!

That's our 16th new meal this year, so we have 34 to go. There are 35 weeks left in the year, so if we average one per week, we should be able to meet it. Luckily we were trying more than one a week before our seven-week break!

Note to self for next net worth update

April 23rd, 2017 at 01:23 pm

In light of Zillow's drastic reduction in home valuation, I decided to adjust the value in my net worth calculation. eppraisal has it at $472,235 and Zillow $436,873, so I chose a midpoint of $454,554.

Minus 6%, that's $427,281.

While I'm at it I thought I'd update the UK flat. I think I have it valued lower than it's worth, but I also never accounted for how much it would cost to sell. I know we'd have to pay our management company 10% and I imagine there are other closing costs involved, so I'll say I need to take 15% off the value.

I had the flat valued at 180K pounds, but I think it's closer to 200K. At a 1.25 exchange rate that's $250,000, and minus 15% it's $212,500.

Slightly less than what I had in my net worth calculation, but it seems more accurate.

Weird Zillow fluctuation

April 21st, 2017 at 08:52 pm

Looking at my Mint.com account, I noticed my home value seemed a lot lower than usual. So I went and checked eppraisal for that and our Zillow estimate.

Zillow is now estimating our value at $436K. That's a far cry from the $586K in September! And I believe it went even higher than that, but that's the note I found.

Weirdly enough, they seem to have reverse engineered their trend line so that the value has never gone above $470K in the past 8 years. If I hadn't blogged about it, I'd think I was going crazy. They must have course corrected, but it seems disingenuous to fix their past estimates like that. It makes them look more consistent than they really are.

I'm not really thinking of a refi anyway; I think the best course of action will be to start paying extra on the mortgage once we've gotten most of our major home renovations out of the way. That won't be for another couple years at least.

Happy Easter and wrap-up of the past couple weeks

April 16th, 2017 at 09:31 am

Happy Easter! I see it's been nearly two weeks since I last posted.

Our screen-free vacation at the lake went really well. The kids, AS and I didn't look at screens at all, except I checked the time on my phone if there wasn't a clock nearby. NT used his phone for directions a couple of times (which we could have figured out with the map and a little bit of thinking, but oh well), for playing iTunes in the car (we thought it came with satellite radio and it didn't; I would've been fine with whatever radio stations we could find, but...) and to look up a couple of things. So he couldn't make it a day without the thing, but at least he wasn't constantly on it. Huge difference!

I was going to look at AS's edits of my novel, but she hadn't had a chance to work on it before we left. She printed it out and worked on it a little, and she's continuing to work on it electronically in her spare time now that we're back. Hopefully in a couple weeks I'll be able to start fixing it up for self-publication!

The lake house was really nice. We wished the main bedroom had a king-size bed but otherwise it was perfect. Both floors had a view right out onto the lake. The kitchen and whole layout was really nice. We had a rental minivan that was roomy and nice.

The weather was gray and rainy before and after our trip, but it was clear and 40s-60s the whole time we were there! Magically it started drizzling just as we were getting ready to drive home!

We were a near a small town (Alexandria), so we drove in occasionally. We went to a candy/ice cream store (twice), a quilting store (twice), a multi-level antiques place, fast food places, and the movies (Beauty and the Beast).

I got the kids out of bed some nights to come look at stars. The nearby town and other houses meant there weren't as many visible as I thought there'd be, but still more than in Minneapolis. We had a book to help us but I still couldn't figure out any constellations except Orion and the Big Dipper. NT found the North Star.

I read one and a half giant Stephen King novels I'd been meaning to get to: Duma Key (really good) and Under the Dome (amazingly good, but tense and dark. I mean they were both dark, but this one really hit me).

The kids did some drawing, playing on the beach, board games, reading and just bumping up and down the stairs with balloons the grocery store gave us. The only time one of them asked for a screen was when we were going to put SL in the bath, because at home we sometimes put a show on an iPad in the bath. But it was just habit and when we reminded her no screens, she just smiled and said she'd forgotten.

We cooked all but three meals; we grabbed Chipotle on the way up there, fast food for lunch after a nature walk one day (there was a paved trail that went between lakes), and Chinese takeout after the movie.

It wasn't a very frugal trip; between the movies, the three meals out, firewood, groceries and wine, candy and ice cream, and a few items at the quilting and antique stores, we spent probably about $400. And that wasn't counting the $450 for van rental and I think the house rental was about $600 or $700. But it was really fun and relaxing. I loved being away from screens! I've been trying to use them less since I got back, with varying success.

We got back last Sunday, and I've mainly been focused on getting back in the swing of things at work and back into the home routine of cooking etc. After four straight weeks of trips it's taking a while to feel settled again.

One thing I had to do in the middle of the week was get follow-up tests for the abnormal mammogram I got in March. I'm happy and relieved to say that it turned out to be a benign cyst which they drained on the spot. I'm sure the Wednesday appointment will result in some bills, and it wasn't exactly fun, but immeasurably better compared with the alternative of having the tests raise more concerns.

I had other things going on this week too; a friend over on Monday for dinner; a show Friday; the "Tax March" protest/rally on Saturday; and meeting with a friend Saturday evening to help her adjust her withholdings and with other financial things. Then last night we had to hide the eggs and put out the baskets from the Easter Bunny. This morning I dragged myself out of bed at 7:30 so the kids could start the egg hunt. I've been mainlining coffee to try and perk up!

Oh, and yesterday I got word of a raise! Just 2.5% cost of living, but I'll take it. I immediately bumped my 401(k) contribution up a percent, so I won't see most of the raise. But I did get one paycheck with it and gave each of us $15 extra in spending money.

We were going to pay a friend to put in screens on our front porch (which is a 2nd-floor balcony), but after NT bought the supplies he realized it would be a relatively simple job that he could handle. So he did it this weekend! Now the cats can enjoy the porch and when the mosquitoes come, NT will be able to hang out there without getting eaten alive. We may still have our friend help us fix up the floor out there; it's made of old boards covered with ugly peeling brown paint and is really in need of some sprucing up. But anyway, getting the screens up only cost about $150 in supplies!

I suppose it's time to start thinking about the yard and what we can do to get ready for spring. Our neighbors put down a plastic sheet last fall down one strip of the front yard to kill the grass so we could plant veggies there this year. We've tried in the backyard but the big buildings on either side plus the big tree makes it a very shady place, so the veggies didn't thrive. The front yard gets a lot of sun and there's one side by the steps that isn't used for anything else, so we'll try that this year.

I've also got to talk to the downstairs neighbors about the dogs using the backyard for a toilet and them not cleaning up unless I tell them we're going to have people over to hang out there. I'd like to be able to send the kids out back spontaneously this summer and not have to worry about dog poop. This winter it got absolutely shocking and disgusting. They were better last summer so hopefully it was a winter thing. But I've still got to have the talk. Hopefully they'll change that habit.

AA started art class this weekend. She really liked it. I'm glad because we signed up for about two months of it and it cost a fair penny!

The swim classes we wanted this spring were filled up, so we paid a bit more for four semi-private sessions (just SL and AA with the instructor). Maybe it'll be a blessing in disguise and they'll progress a little faster.

Let's see, any other updates? The kids had a good Easter egg hunt (indoor) and we have a vegan ham thawing for dinner tonight.

I think (hope!) this week should be relatively uneventful. I'm ready for a boring week! Smile

Lake trip starts tomorrow!

April 4th, 2017 at 09:40 pm

I'm mentally preparing for a screen-free trip. My plan is to try and not look at the computer or phone at all starting tomorrow morning. I hope I've got the willpower!

We've got books, games, satellite radio in the car, nature, a map, directions to several possible activities. We'll be fine and it'll be fun. It's just I've gotten so used to leaning on the internet for every little thing.

We get back Sunday, but I might not check in for a couple days depending on how much other stuff I need to catch up on.

Until then!

April 2017 debt payments

April 4th, 2017 at 06:49 am

All our mortgage payments hit:

US duplex: $693 to principal
UK #1: $181
UK #2: $38
UK #3: $40

So that's $952 of debt paid off this month.

New debt balance:

US Mortgage $397,463
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $35,025
UK Mortgage 2 $7,384
UK Mortgage 3 $7,775
TOTAL DEBT $456,647

It's a wrap! Birthday month is over

April 1st, 2017 at 01:01 pm

Whoa, has it been three weeks since I posted here? Hard to believe, but considering I was on a short trip each of those weeks, not *too* hard.

So what's happened since the last time I checked in? I got my two business trips out of the way (both overnight trips to Memphis), and we went out for a date night on St. Patrick's Day while the kids stayed later at the daycare (we picked them up by 8:30 though; NT and AS were exhausted).

NT and I also had an impulsive date to see my fave band; they were opening for another band. We left soon after my band played though. It was an expensive impulse; my spending money is out of whack! But I always make it up in the end when that happens.

NT's birthday was the day I came back from my second business trip; he just wanted delivery food and to hang out with us and our downstairs neighbors, so that's what we did.

Soon after THAT, I had my solo trip to New York. It was so fun! I couch surfed at some old college friends' apartments, visited my old campus, went to a historical museum about the transit system, went out to eat a lot, and saw a movie plus my fave band (again, which was the main reason behind the timing of the trip). I got to see them in a little theater that was part of Lincoln Center. It was a great venue because I could really hear everything, vs. bars and concerts which tend to have a lot of peripheral noise.

It was rainy and/or gray every single day in NY, but I didn't care. I love that city and my college friends, and it was a fun and unique experience to travel without any of my family members.

I got back Wednesday, just in time for SL's 5th birthday! Everything was chaos when I got home, and AS was exhausted, so we ordered pizza delivery and hung out at our downstairs neighbors' while SL opened presents. She had a fantastic time!

Then it was two hectic days at work; basically trying to fit two weeks' worth of meetings and work into that short window. Needless to say I didn't get everything done; I'll need to work some on Sunday and be available to answer questions on Monday.

Today was SL's bday party; we had eight kids besides our two, which is a good number. We had several activities besides karaoke: hunting for clown pictures all over the house, temporary tattoos, blocks and puzzles. For snacks we did fruit, veggies, chips, pretzels, juice, frozen pizzas, and cupcakes. Pretty easy spread and not too expensive. Everyone seemed to have a great time besides a couple of minor meltdowns by kids.

It's beautiful outside, and I know we should take advantage, but we're forcing the kids to have some quiet time in their rooms, mostly for our own sake so we can rest up after the party, and then I'll take them to the playground.

Coming up in our crazy lives: a full week off! AA is on spring break, so both kids are in daycare Monday and Tuesday. We have a rental car the whole week, so we might go clothes shopping and to a movie, and anything else that occurs to us. Oh, and our precinct's caucus is Tuesday night. I might sign up to be a delegate this year. I wished I'd done it last year.

Wednesday through Sunday we're going to a house on a lake, about three hours northwest of here. I'm going to try and enforce a strict screen-free policy there, so I'm going to print out directions to everywhere I think we might want to go, and we'll bring lots of games and books. The only screen time might be going out to a movie; I think that's different from the sitting around staring at screens, which we all (especially me) do too much of.

I even asked if the house had a landline, thinking we could turn off all our phones, but they don't. So I'll keep my oldish phone out, with WiFi/data turned off, just in case any of our parents need to reach us in an emergency.

The week after that things should hopefully start to slow down. A friend is coming over the Monday after our trip to say goodbye before she moves out of state. Wednesday 4/12 I have a follow-up scan because of something concerning on my mammogram last month. I got the call about it while in NY, which wasn't very nice, but I've decided not to worry about it, after reading that most things turn out to be nothing. If it does turn out to be something, of course, our lives will change a lot, but I'm going to hope and assume that it isn't anything to worry about before then. I was thinking about buying some new glasses, but now I think I'll hold off until I see how much this follow-up exam costs (and if anything else comes up as a result).

Our shared spending went in the red for a while this month due to all the rampant birthday and travel spending, but some of AS's checks came in and we broke even. There will be more spending during our week off, but also AS is expecting a few more checks soon, so hopefully it'll balance out.

We might have to take it easy on shared spending for a while; she's booked a couple jobs, one of them quite big, but I don't think she'll get paid for them for a while. Hopefully we can stay about even until they start coming in, and then we can book our summer trip to Va. and whatever AS wants to do for her solo trip this year.

We're still adding to our reno savings for (hopefully) a kitchen redo or insulation or HVAC system. But it's in the back of my mind that this money may end up going to medical. Hopefully not. I'll know soon enough!

Retirement goal progress

April 1st, 2017 at 12:13 pm

Goal: $489,745 by 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 $66,625, so $199,875; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2016 was $51,785, so $103,570)

Current balance: $317,920

February 2017 balance: $315,041

Progress: $2,879

A smaller bump than the past few months.

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 23 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $171,825 -- $7,471 per month -- to reach it.

Weird few days

March 10th, 2017 at 01:15 pm

I believe it was Monday that I got an email about a strange charge on our Capital One card, on AS's number. I checked with her and she didn't recognize it. There was also another mystery charge using her number, that one quite a bit bigger, and it hadn't gotten flagged. But CapOne took it off with no problem, canceled AS's card and said they'd send another.

That night, I saw that there were two mystery charges on the same account using MY number. So I called and contested them and got my and NT's cards canceled and reissued as well.

Thursday morning, I dropped my work phone into the toilet. Frown First time I've ever done that -- I'm usually really careful about checking my back pockets before sitting down. It couldn't be fixed, so work is getting me a new one. Meanwhile, I've lost $40 on Stepbet and a bunch of photos (though luckily I've at least got lower-res versions posted on FB and Instagram).

Last night, I noticed that Capital One took off a LEGIT charge on my card, $102.45 for taking the kids (and a couple adults) out to eat on AA's bday. I guess I have to call and let them know; wouldn't feel right about that!

On the good side, my alumni group had a financial discussion, and one of the main focus points was goal-setting via the "Think and Grow Rich" method. We're all trying to come up with mantras that state our goals and what we're going to give (skills, knowledge) in return for reaching them. Even though I haven't finalized mine or gotten around to reciting it daily, I've noticed a difference in how I approach things, especially at work. I've begun talking more directly about my advancement path, and getting positive responses from higher-ups. I think I'm in a good place and all I have to do is sort of get people thinking about it and make my desire to do so clear. Time will tell whether this is the impetus I need to make change happen in my career!

Oh! and our bathroom is nearly done. Contractor has finished his part, and now we just need to accessorize. We bought about half the stuff we wanted yesterday and will get the rest picked out and ordered soon. I'll share pictures when it all comes together. Smile I almost lost all my "before" pics because they were on my phone, but luckily I uploaded two of them to FB a couple days before I broke the phone, so I can at least share those.

Next week begins 4 straight weeks of travel for me! Two overnight work trips, then two fun trips (one solo flight and one family road trip). Although it's annoying, it's also a good sign that I'm getting sent on these work trips. Still, I hope this is it for a while. (Although I heard rumblings about another one in April sometime.)

Ooh, I just noticed--time to update three of the ages on the sidebar of my blog! Big Grin

The biggest birthday week is over!

March 6th, 2017 at 08:52 am

Whew, we just finished up the most intense week of March, when three of the five household birthdays happen in quick succession (March 2, 4 and 5).

I had a nice day off and a mellow night at home for mine. AS and I went to another friend's birthday party on AS's birthday, so that was really fun. (We also stopped off at a club that gives free admission and free bottle of champagne on someone's birthday!)

AA had her salon day. One little girl was a no-show but the other three showed up, and four kids was actually a good amount -- the fifth one might have made it a little intense, even with one of the moms staying to hang out with us and help with the kids. Anyway, they got their mini-manis and pedis and felt very fancy, then we took them to lunch afterward. It was funny because only one of the moms was at all girly; the rest of us were kind of looking at each other and shrugging that we got such girly daughters. I told one of the salon workers this and she said her daughter is a tomboy! Big Grin You just never know.

We had AA open family gifts that afternoon and ordered pizza delivery. I fell asleep on the couch before 10pm, happy with how everything went but exhausted.

Spendingwise, we went over budget on some things and stayed under for others, so we pretty much did OK. AS got a largish freelance check on Friday, so our spending money is at about break-even levels. Hoping for some more checks in the next couple weeks so we can fill in the budget for my upcoming NYC trip (end of March) and our family lake vacation (beginning of April). We've already prepaid some expenses for both, so we don't need too much to pay for the rest of both trips.

This week is looking less intense than the last two:

- Tonight we just have our neighbors coming up for dinner, as they do most Mondays.

- Tuesday AS has a PTO meeting for AA's school.

- Wednesday the three of us are going to a play as an alumni event for my alma mater and the downstairs neighbors are watching the kids.

- Thursday and Friday -- no plans, amazingly enough! I was going to have to travel overnight for work, but that got moved to later this month. I'm glad for the break!

- Saturday is SL's swim class and a kids' bday party that she's going to, and maybe a playdate for AA at the same time; if that falls through she'll go to the bday party. NT might be working Saturday morning which could complicate things a bit.

- Sunday morning, I have another alumni event -- helping coordinate a small networking event at someone else's house. (I have a feeling that could get canceled due to low attendance but I'm prepared just in case.)

March 2017 debt payments; savings boost

March 1st, 2017 at 10:52 pm

All of our mortgage payments hit:

US: $690 to principal
UK1: $184
UK2: $39
UK3: $41

So that's $954 paid toward debt this month. That takes our total debt to $457,599.

While I was checking the UK payments I remembered I never transferred the net rental income into savings earlier in the month. So I did, and now our EF is up to $4218 -- almost halfway to our $10K goal!

Hmm, it's getting late. I should try and get sleepy so I'm not too tired on my birthday day off!

Retirement goal progress

February 28th, 2017 at 08:30 am

Goal: $489,745 by 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 $66,625, so $199,875; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2016 was $51,785, so $103,570)

Current balance: $315,041

January 2017 balance: $304,883

Progress: $10,158

A big bump this month, though as I mentioned last month, I take it with a huge grain of salt.

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 24 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $174,704 -- $7,279 per month -- to reach it.

Got through last week! Here's what's coming up

February 28th, 2017 at 07:32 am

Whew, we did everything on the schedule and even managed to have fun doing it! Smile This next week is slightly less crazy (in that not every single day has something(s) going on):

Yesterday I ordered the last of the kids' birthday presents and made invitations for SL's bday (which isn't actually happening until April 1). I also signed tax docs and wrote checks, so we're done with taxes for the year. I still need to write donor thank-you emails for my alma mater, but it keeps getting pushed. It just needs to happen today or tomorrow. Other things I've pushed off: scheduling a bunch of routine doctor appts. for me and the kids, donating to my friend's fundraiser for a good cause.

Tonight and tomorrow are easy dinners and nothing going on, so hopefully I'll have the energy to get some more stuff done.

Thursday is my 43rd birthday! I have the day off and no real plans other than picking up ingredients for vegan rice krispie treats. Maybe I'll treat myself to breakfast or lunch somewhere. I may stop off at the arcade because I heard they give out free tokens on your birthday. That night we're getting Chinese delivery and hanging with our downstairs neighbors, and might "test out" SL's karaoke stand (we really should make sure we know how to work it before her party Smile ). My one big present from the spouses is 2 handpainted cat portraits, but I need to choose photos of our kitties to send to the artist and I haven't decided yet, so they'll come later.

NT has events Friday and Saturday for a festival he helped organize, but I don't think I'm going to any of them.

Saturday is AS's 38th bday! We'll be ordering some kind of delivery for dinner, and then glomming onto someone else's bday party as an easy way to have fun without planning or too much money. Smile We have one small present for her, but this year she'll be deciding what to buy with her bday gift money.

Sunday is AA's 7th bday! We have four confirmed guests for her salon day, so we'll be getting manis and pedis for five little girls in the morning, then taking them out to lunch. Meanwhile SL has swim class in the morning and a friend's bday party in the afternoon. That night we'll have dinner of AA's choice, cake and presents. Mostly books and a couple toys; the big present is a 2-wheel scooter to replace her 3-wheel one.

Then Monday and Tuesday will be relatively uneventful before the next wave of activities hits us. Smile

Spending, taxes, etc.

February 21st, 2017 at 05:43 pm

We've been spending, spending, spending recently!

- NT had his solo roadtrip, and the carshare cost twice as much as we'd estimated! I forgot they charge for mileage after the first 100 miles per day. Whoops. He also had other expenses on the trip.
- We bought Valentine gifts and treats for the kids and had a dinner date. At least that was cheap; less than $70 for three appetizers, three entrees and six drinks!
- I booked my airfare to NYC for March and bought tickets to the show I'm going to.
- NT booked airfare for his solo trip to England for his sister's wedding in September.
- We had a number of other shows besides my March one that we wanted to go to: two plays and a movie, one already past, one tomorrow, and one coming up in March. So I bought all those tickets.
- I signed the kids up for another round of swim classes and AA up for an art class.
- I set aside $$ for AA's party, which will be mani/pedis with 4 friends, plus lunch afterward. I'm trying not to stress that we haven't gotten any RSVPs! AS got one of the parents on the phone tonight and we'll send notes for the other three. I'd like the chance to invite some of AA's other friends if any of these can't come.
- We bought a karaoke stand for SL's bday party.
- I set aside $$ for AS's dreadlock maintenance appointment.

What with AS's freelance checks being a bit sluggish, we were about $1500 in the hole after all of this spending! Then today we got the news from my tax guy that we're actually going to net about $3K in refunds this year. What luck! I put half toward the renovations budget and used the other half to make up the spending money shortfall. Now when AS gets some more checks, we can use them to set aside funds for my NYC trip, for grownups to order food for our birthdays, and to set aside to pay the remainder of the cabin and car rental for our April trip.

February through the first part of April are looking extremely busy! Travel for work, potluck, movie, plays, my solo trip, our cabin trip, and of course Birthday Month (all five of our birthdays are in March). Luckily none of us adults have a milestone this year, so we're having low-key birthdays. The kids are having more elaborate birthdays than us this year!

This week alone, we have: movie date tomorrow night (our downstairs neighbors feeding and watching the kids), me leaving for a quick business trip Thursday morning (coming back Friday morning), an alumni event I'm cohosting Saturday, swim classes for the kids Saturday and Sunday, the neighborhood "chili fest" on Sunday lunchtime, a potluck at our downstairs neighbors Sunday at dinner time. Oh and tonight I have to write notes to the kids' parents who we want to come to AA's party next week, and I need to write some thank-you emails to donors for my alumni association.

Holy moly! I'd better get to work. Big Grin

Progress (or lack thereof) on goals

February 21st, 2017 at 05:24 pm

Whew, it's been a long time since I posted!

Luckily I keep our menu plan in a Google spreadsheet, so I can look at revision history and see what new recipes we tried. Smile

NT found a vegan crab cake prepared food, so we tried that. I made a new kind of purple coleslaw and a new (very standard) rice pilaf to go with it. We really liked all of it. I'd get the crab cakes again and definitely make the rice pilaf. It's just from the Campbell's website, but nice comfort food.

Another night we did "pizza style" grilled cheese sandwiches. (No recipe, just something that occurred to me to try.) We used pizza cheese, and for the grownups added sauteed peppers and onions, vegan pepperoni slices, and marinara sauce on the side for dipping. It was pretty good but not transcendent or anything.

That's 15 new meals tried, 35 to go!

No progress on the financial goals, and no progress from my neighbor on the agreement for selling the lower unit of our duplex. No decluttering progress. No movement on refinancing the US place or selling the UK one (that similar UK place is still on the market, now for almost a year).

No progress on self-publishing. I asked AS to read one of my two novels and give me some recommendations, but I don't know if she's actually going to do it. She started getting irritated with me asking, so now I just have to wait. I've decided if she doesn't look at it by end of March (birthday month), I'll just do the best I can to edit it without her input. We have a week at a cabin with no screen time, so if I bring a printout, I can work on it there.

Renovations: the bathroom is almost done! Unfortunately, the other bathroom's tub/shower has sprung a bad leak. It was a small leak for a while and I hoped we could ignore it until the other one was done, and then figure out how to close off the water until we get around to renovating that one completely, but it's gotten really bad. The plumber who's working on the renovation will hopefully come tomorrow and we can hopefully ask him if he has a recommendation for the cheapest, fastest solution. The other bathroom really is almost done, so we could turn off this one very soon. I'd hate to spend a ton to fix it knowing it will be completely renovated down the road, but I'm also concerned this leak will turn into a flood soon. (It's already a very bad leak, and it's hot water coming out as well.)

Progress on goal (new recipes)

February 7th, 2017 at 12:47 pm

We tried two new meals in the past few days! On Sunday, we had biscuits & gravy. It was pretty good (AS made her usual vegan biscuits which are always great) but I wonder if I could make a better gravy. I used veggie sausage patties and crumbled and browned them before adding to the gravy. That part was good. I used soymilk that I typically use for savory recipes, but I felt like it brought a sweetness to the gravy that spoiled the effect a bit. Maybe a different milk or just add some savory elements to overpower the slight sweet taste.

Then Monday we had ham, beans, greens and cornbread. The ham and beans were both new recipes: I made a vegan ham from scratch and a modified version of FrugalTexan's beans. (I don't have an instapot so I took an online recipe for stovetop beans but used FT's suggested seasonings.) The beans were an awesome side dish (maybe I'd put a bit more paprika next time), but the ham was a fail. The flavor was good but the texture didn't work. I sliced it and pan-fried the slices, and that made it OK, but still my least favorite "wheat meat" I've made in a long time. I may look around for another vegan ham recipe since we liked the concept of it!

13 new meals tried, 37 to go!

Progress on goals

February 2nd, 2017 at 10:34 am

I've again decided that a refi of the U.S. mortgage is off the table at this point. If rates go down, values go up or we're able to pay down a big chunk of principal, I'll reconsider, but for now the matter is closed.

Total debt is down to about $458K. We should meet the goal of less than $450K of debt in about nine months, unless something else happens to add to debt (selling the UK property and buying a U.S. one with a bigger mortgage, for instance, or refinancing the U.S. mortgage and rolling in closing costs). It's an unpredictable year so I'm not sure about that particular goal.

We tried another new meal on Monday: taco crescent ring using Pillsbury crescent dough and vegan "ground beef" substitute. I thought it was great! NT thought it was OK. The kids actually cleaned their plates, which hardly ever happens with new foods, so for that reason alone I'd make it again. 11 new recipes tried, 39 to go.

February 2017 debt payments

February 2nd, 2017 at 10:29 am

All our mortgage payments hit:

US: $689
UK1: $180
UK2: $39
UK3: $40

In total, $948 went toward principal.

Seeing my U.S. mortgage payment go through was another small weight off my mind about switching banks. I'm watching even more closely than usual to make sure I don't miss any payments or anything.

Credit score :(

February 1st, 2017 at 09:40 am

Well, Capital One wrote us a letter telling us that they went ahead and reported NT's late payment, so our phone call was useless.

Today the mortgage guy let me know that NT's credit score is currently in the 600s because of showing as being over 30 days past due on that account.

So he's going to try and qualify just AS and me for a refi. NT will still be put on the loan (if we do the refi) but will not be included on the qualifying info.

News and notes

January 31st, 2017 at 09:35 am

NT's raise hit today, and I was within $9 of my estimate. I would've liked to have estimated too low by more than that, but that's OK. A raise is a raise!

Our direct deposits hit the new checking account! Hooray, everything seems to be working! AS has been added to the account and I'm working on switching her Vanguard account over. Then I just need to confirm the kids' Pax accounts have switched over and I believe I'll be done with the switch.

One thing I haven't done is cancel the $15K line of credit with my old bank. Decided I'd hang onto it until we see how this whole refi thing goes. Hopefully I won't have to dip into it.

We're still waiting on many payments AS is owed, but I went ahead and booked our vacation home for April and AA's mini-manicure/pedicure appointments for her and her friends. So far we only had to put down a deposit on the rental property, so hopefully AS's checks will come in before we have to pay the rest. (If not, we have plenty of float money, but I like it better when the budget is balanced.)

Looks like NT will be going to England in September for his sister's wedding, but we're waiting for them to nail down a date. I'm still leaning toward a trip to NYC in March, but I haven't felt like booking it until we see some money roll in. AS is considering a train ride with a sleeper car for her solo trip.

We're still waiting on one or two 1099s from AS's clients before I fill out the tax questionnaire and book our appointment with the tax guy. Kind of hoping for a refund this year since AS made less than in 2015 (but we sent in the recommended estimated payments based on the previous year's income), but would also just be happy with breaking even.

Retirement goal progress

January 31st, 2017 at 07:55 am

Goal: $489,745 by 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 $66,625, so $199,875; NT to 3x his, which is now $62,100, so $186,300; and AS to 2x hers, which in 2016 was $51,785, so $103,570)

Current balance: $304,883

December 2016 balance: $297,419

Progress: $7,464

Another decent-sized bump this month, though as I mentioned in the previous entry, I take it with a huge grain of salt. However, AS's and NT's salaries increased, so the goal got more ambitious and we actually lost a bit of progress on it.

To reach the goal by our birthdays in 2019, that's 25 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $184,862 -- $7,394 per month -- to reach it. Probably not going to happen, but I'll keep doing the best I can!

Progress on health, refi & new recipe goals

January 30th, 2017 at 09:06 am

I finally lost some weight this year--3 lbs. down at my Sunday weigh-in! Very happy. I wasn't perfect with eating but I exceeded my Stepbet goals, so I'm glad it worked out. I'm at 134, so not far from getting below 130 if I can keep it up.

I started the application for the refi last night! Interested to see where we appraise at; nothing would surprise me, whether we're below what we bought for or way above. All the indicators out there give very mixed signals, so I'm not holding my breath.

We tried three new recipes this past week! That takes us to 10 tried, 40 to go.
- Breakfast ramen bowl: AS put this on the list and made it for us. Basically a ramen soup with (veggie) bacon, seaweed, green onions and egg (hard-boiled for AS, scrambled for SL, and tofu scramble for the rest of us). It was deeeelightful.
- Honey sesame tofu: Another of AS's ideas, and I made it. We had it with broccoli and rice. While it didn't knock my socks off, it was really good and easy to make, so I'd do it again for sure.
- Black bean, spinach and quinoa bowl. NT's contribution. The flavors were really good, but I find quinoa doesn't have the satisfying chewiness of rice, so together it was all a bit soft. I grabbed some tortilla chips to eat with it, and that fixed the texture issue for me.

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