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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.

Back on track?

March 19th, 2018 at 08:43 am

I took it pretty easy this weekend, and finally today I feel like I have most of my energy back. The aftermath of my illness was much worse than the thing itself!

I did my morning strength training exercises today for the first time in about two weeks, and AS and I walked 3 miles to work for the first time in over a month. While we were sick, the temperature went up and most of the thick coating of ice melted off the sidewalks. We hope we can get back to daily walking, because it's so nice to get 3 miles under your belt first thing in the morning. Come into work a lot more energized and clear-headed too, versus just taking the bus in.

Last week I didn't bother with my two days of no screen time in the evening and two days of no personal internet at work. Most of the days weren't my normal routine; I was out sick or working from home or leaving early for a work happy hour, so work and personal time kind of blended together anyway. I did achieve two days of no drinking, just because I didn't feel like drinking two of the days due to being so fatigued post-illness.

But I'm starting back on all those goals this week.

We really got sick at the best possible time during birthday month, after the first three birthdays and during the two-week lag before the other two birthdays. Now we have NT's on Wednesday, his celebration on Saturday, SL's birthday next Thursday and party next Saturday, and AA's makeup party the following Saturday (that'll be in April). So five birthday-related things still coming up. We're not as prepared as we would normally be, but we'll just wing it and try to make it as fun as possible for the birthday boy and girls. Smile

Our shared spending deficit has been hovering at the $5K mark for the past few weeks, which was bumming all of us out. AS would get a payment or I'd apply a budget surplus, only to have some shared spending bump it back up again. I finally realized that we'd all be better served, psychologically, if I took AS's co-working membership ($1800) and planned to pay it off over the next several months out of the regular budget. So now I have $200 per month coming out of the budget May through January in the annual budget spreadsheet. I moved that $1800 on its own line in the tracker spreadsheet and will whittle it down a little at a time. Then I moved the roughly $1700 of prepaid summer programs for AA, and made a plan in the annual budget spreadsheet to pay back each portion during the actual months the programs are happening, July through August. So now that's on a separate line in the regular tracker too.

We still have the same deficit to float and will have to be mindful of that, but the shared spending deficit is now about $1500. Much more doable, even though AS's jobs have been much slower to pay than we predicted. But we know the money is coming. It might be in April but it will come.

Shared spending will still take some hits: The three birthday parties will all have expenses of a few hundred each, and AS and I will need new clothes for our spring/summer capsule wardrobe. And since we all went to the doctor at various times this month, those bills will likely be another few hundred total when they come in. But it's all looking manageable. I'm holding some money in checking that I would ordinarily put into savings, and I'll keep it in checking until the deficit is lower just to make sure we can float everything. But I know it's going into savings eventually so that's good.

Two of my annual goals are kind of stagnating: Getting my novel publishing-ready and working on emergency preparedness. But it's not to say they can't get done; the year is still pretty young. So we'll see if I can get those back on track soon too.

Odds & ends

March 10th, 2018 at 09:56 am

Ugh, I'm sick. The whole family has been dropping like flies and finally AS and I succumbed. I don't seem to be as hard hit (fingers crossed) so I'm hoping I snap out of it soon.

We had to cancel AA's pool party that was going to be today. She was sick every day last week (except, thank goodness, on her actual bday Monday), and yesterday she got a high fever. It only lasted a few hours, luckily, but she still has a cough and she's barely eaten for four days, so I'm glad I canceled her party. Plus her parents are in no condition to host a bunch of energetic kids, even if it is at another location! We rescheduled for early April, because the rest of March weekend days are already filled up.

AS and I have tickets to a show tonight. We'll see. AS looks worse off than me, so maybe I can go and she stays home.

Because I was home sick yesterday, I didn't complete my weekly goal of two days no personal internet at work. Friday was going to be my second day of the week. It was out of my control, so I'm not going to worry about it. There's only been one other week when I didn't complete one of these goals--no phone/computer time after work two days a week--and I added a third day to the next week to make up for it. But since this one wasn't my fault, I'm not going to do a make-up day next week.

We spoke with a kitchen designer Wednesday, and it was very interesting. She's definitely got us thinking and if we hadn't gotten sick right after we'd have already started planning. The good news is we really like her way of thinking and explaining things; I would love to see the designs she could come up with. The bad news was she thinks ballpark for a full renovation will be $60K, and we're closing in on saving up $30K. But, just the planning phases are going to take some time, so it'd be a while before we had to pony up the full amount. Plus, she said she couldn't really give an accurate amount until we settled on a plan, and spoke to our contractor about it. So it may well come under that--our contractor's rates are really reasonable. So we're going to go ahead with planning and discussion, and if it does seem like it'll be in that price range, we may just have to pause on actually getting it done until we have more money saved up. She totally got that, so that's good.

On my other goals, I've been making sporadic progress. My one big success story so far is guitar lessons; I've kept up on practicing every day, even yesterday when I was sick, and I can see some small improvement for sure. I even practiced finger positions on a piece of lined paper when I was out of town on business one night!

Emergency preparedness hasn't seen much progress. With so much spending for AS's co-working space, reserving summer programs for AA, and birthday celebrations, I don't feel like adding to the deficit. I'll pick up on it once the deficit is less. It's not like it's a ton of high-end items, just a lot of little things that add up. The most expensive thing will be CPR/first aid classes for me and NT and AS, since I couldn't find any free ones in our area. And those will be less than $100 each I think. I should at least work on the written portion of the EP plan; that doesn't cost anything. Note to self!

Working on the novel has been very sporadic since my class ended. I keep circling it, making little notes, thinking and talking things over, but not really diving in. Maybe today if I feel a little better later.

Not much more preparation on the vacations front. I do have over $1,000 saved, so we could book airfare on any trips that got settled. Everything is still a little up in the air as to exact timing.

My informal friend-making goal is going pretty well. I message my Canadian friend almost every day. I'll hopefully see my other new friend, as well as an old friend that I'm trying to step things up with, at the show tonight if I'm well enough to make it out! I texted my ex-co-worker to see if we could set up a dinner party in April, but I'm waiting to hear back.

The one goal I'm not sure I'll pursue is an Agile class for work. It felt like both my main clients were talking about this work methodology all the time, but now they barely mention it. Plus, that was something I was going to do to try and get attention for a promotion, and then they went and gave me my promotion already! So I may drop that one off. But I'll keep it on there a little longer in case it starts to seem like a good idea again.

Catching up on news and goals

March 4th, 2018 at 03:37 pm

It's been nearly a month since my last post (besides my strictly numbers-focused ones)! I did try to write one a week or two ago, but I lost it and didn't have the energy to rewrite it.

The basic story of the last couple months has been spending like drunken sailors, with not much freelance income coming in to balance it out. AS has booked quite a lot of work for this first quarter but they've been bigger, longer-term jobs, so actual checks received in January and February were pretty average.

Between AS's $1800 fee to join her co-working space (this covers her for a year), $1600 to book spaces in summer programs for AA, a couple of expensive dates, my new guitar, birthday party spending, and other random unbudgeted expenses, our shared spending deficit is back -- up over $5500! And we're not done yet -- AS's birthday dinner tonight is food delivery, same with AA's tomorrow night, I've put deposits on AA's and SL's party space rentals but we still have to pay the remainder, and NT is having a night out for his upcoming birthday that's going to run us a few hundred as well.

Also, I've decided to continue my guitar lessons, which is $30 per week. I'll pay half with my spending money but the other half will come out of shared spending too.

NT has been running a deficit on his personal spending money too, and he wanted to float an additional $1100 for a booth he's sharing with other vendors at a big concert coming up. Since we're floating such a big deficit already, I had to borrow from savings, which I wasn't thrilled about. It'll get paid back from NT's money, but not a habit I want to get into.

I have no idea what our taxes will look like this year, so I can't tell if we'll end up owing, getting a refund or breaking even. I have our initial meeting with the tax guy scheduled for tomorrow, so we should know in a week or two.

The bright spots in our money outlook: AS has a lot of money already worked, and we expect much of it to come in this month. April is a three-paycheck month for NT. We continue to put a third of AS's net pay and any budget surpluses/windfalls to reno spending and a third to pay for upcoming vacations, so we do have over $20K in US savings even after borrowing $1100 for NT's booth rental. And some of the prepaid summer expenses were budgeted for in the months they will happen, so we'll have more of a budget surplus in those months when we don't have to pay for summer programs.

And of course, birthday month will come to an end, so this level of spending won't continue indefinitely! If I wasn't confident in the future money coming in, I'd be reining things in more, but I think it'll balance out in the long run. It's just a bit tight right now, but as long as we can pay credit cards off in full and float this deficit, we'll be OK. Not that I won't be very very happy to get things more in balance, hopefully in the next month or two!

March 2018 debt payments

March 4th, 2018 at 02:59 pm

Well, birthday month is upon us! I had a business trip on the 1st, my bday was the 2nd (got to keep ages on the sidebar up to date!), and AS's is today. So I'm a bit late on reporting mortgage payments, but here I am.

US: $716 to principal
UK1: $184
UK2: $38
UK3: $40

In total that's $978 to principal.

Our current debt levels:

US Mortgage $389,707
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $33,029
UK Mortgage 2 $6,963
UK Mortgage 3 $7,333
TOTAL DEBT $446,032

Many updates and goals progress

February 16th, 2018 at 01:20 pm

Wow, another week has flown by! Let's see if I can remember what's happened and which goals I've made progress on.

First off, I fell (indoors, not out on the ice) on Sunday and banged up my left thumb really bad. I took a sick day, called the virtual doc, pampered it, and it's gotten a lot better. Still hurts when I move it certain ways, but at least the fact I CAN move it means likely nothing is fractured or sprained!

On the good news side, I reached our EF goal of $10,000! I'll still save NT's rental income as usual but now I'll put it toward our next UK vacation.

AS confirmed a second fall class at another college, taking her booked work for 2018 up over $40K! $13K of that is for the fourth quarter, but still! Actual checks have been slow to come in (speed bumps on a few projects) but the expected money is piling up. Our shared spending is about $3K in the hole ($1800 of that her annual membership fee for the co-working space), but knowing what projects she's recently invoiced or is about to, I'm not worried at all.

Creative: I've kept up with some of my fellow students from the novel class via a forum where we give one another advice and support, and I started a rough outline of my plan to finish the novel by the end of the year. I still want to break it out into smaller, digestible steps; I might try to do that this weekend, or Monday (I have the day off from work). I'm also reading a self-published paranormal thriller (actually it's one of Thrift-o-rama's!) for inspiration and to get a better sense of the genre, since that's what type of novel I'm working on but not what I typically read.

Creative: I took my second guitar lesson despite my sore thumb, and I'm still practicing every day. I like it so far, so I'm definitely leaning toward continuing. I'll have to buy a guitar and keep paying for lessons, but so far it feels really rewarding, so I probably will.

Health: I've been keeping up on my Feb. goal of no drinking 2 days a week and no computer/phone time after work 2 days a week. Actually I need one of those today after work, because I meant to have Wednesday be one of the days, but I caved and got on social media after our Valentine's day date, so I need today to be my second one for the week. Guitar practice has been a good addition to the things I do to relax and entertain myself on these days.

Work/professional development: I've continued my Feb. goal of no personal internet at work 2 days a week. If I need to get on for something urgent on those days, I do it quickly and log off again. That flexibility will make it possible to increase the number of days in the future, I think.

Financial: No big milestones but continuing to plug away at adding money to retirement and the kids' funds.

Home: The consultant finally got in touch with us--turns out she'd been very sick for a few weeks. We'll probably be meeting with her next week for an initial consultation on our kitchen.

Things I haven't made progress on for a couple weeks: emergency preparedness, looking for an Agile class, and vacation planning/booking.

Unofficial goals I've made progress on:
-Continued developing new/nurturing old friendships. The co-worker I've started bonding with more got another job someplace else, but I took that as an opportunity to invite him over for dinner sometime, and he said yes, so hopefully his leaving the job won't be the end of our burgeoning friendship!
-Took some photos of the kids and NT wearing his hats that he can use on social media and his website. He really liked the new website copy I wrote and will be updating his site soon with it.

I think that's about it. Lots of fun social things coming up in the next week or so, including a potluck, two music shows, a going-away happy hour for my co-worker friend, the "showcase" the second-graders at the kids' school will put on this year (including a recitation of an original poem by AA!), a committee meeting to change our neighborhood's name, a movie night for my college alumni group, and a community chili-fest fundraiser for our neighborhood. That's a lot when I look at it all together!

Catching up on goals progress tracking and my wonderful but busy year so far

February 8th, 2018 at 09:36 am

I've had a busy week! Heck, it's been a busy year so far. Fun, but hectic. Smile

I finished my January goal of doing one day per week no alcohol, one per week of no personal internet at work, and one per week of no phone or computer time after work. Technically I finished that last goal Feb. 1, but it was part of the last week of January so I'm counting it. Smile

For February I'm increasing that goal to two days per week. So far this week I've done two days no personal internet at work, one day no alcohol and one day no phone/computer after work. Tonight will be my second no-drinking day and Friday I'll avoid the phone and computer after work.

It's a little harder to track because it's basically 6 tasks instead of 3, but so far it feels all right.

My novel class ended, and though I didn't complete all the assignments, I got a lot out of it. I've joined a forum of classmates who want to continue supporting one another in our writing goals (one of mine will be completing the assignments, including making a plan/schedule for the rest of the year). I also purchased a software that makes novel writing easier, and I'm almost halfway through the tutorial on how to use it.

I took my first guitar lesson on Tuesday and brought home my loaner guitar. I like the teacher and don't hate the practicing, though right now it's just basic stuff to learn the strings and get my body used to the right way to hold it and play. I'm supposed to practice about 20 minutes per day. I did practice after class and also last night, so hopefully I'll keep it up. It's only a half-hour class per week, so if I don't practice frequently on my own, I can't expect to get very far. Smile Anyway, it's something to do on my nondrinking/no screen time days, although it doesn't take much time.

I've found a few other outlets on those days besides playing with the kids, reading, drinking nonalcoholic beverages and watching TV: play around on my harmonica and do adult coloring. There's also a partly done jigsaw puzzle I keep forgetting about because it's under the table leaf, but that's another option.

I booked time off work for the two family trips in June/July and August, and we've started discussing what solo trips us grownups might take.

That's it for progress on my stated goals, but I've gotten a lot of other stuff done this week too:
- Continued developing my new friendships!
I message with my Canadian pal nearly every day. She lets me know when our fave band schedules new shows, and I'll be going to two more in MN: one this month and one in May! The May show is all ages, so I can bring my kids. They've grown to love this band, but usually they play in bars, so I've never been able to take the kids to a live show.

AS and I had coffee with the other lady I met recently, and she seems really great and also up for a new friendship. We all bought tickets to two music shows, one this month and one in March, so we'll be hanging out with her a couple more times at least. I really like her--we have a ton in common and she's very funny and warm--so my instinct is let's get together again right away! But I want to take it slow and make sure we really are friend material; if I decided I was getting sick of her or didn't really like her once I got to know her better, it would be awkward. So, baby steps.

- Besides my fave band, I've bought tickets to three other music shows in February and March (including the two we're going to with our new friend). I'm excited that I'm getting more interested in music and branching out a bit beyond my rather narrow musical interests. Of course, my spending money is suffering, but with my raise and AS's busy year, I think we'll all be able to spend a little more on fun stuff (fingers crossed).

- Speaking of AS, she's booked over $33K of work for the year! Not all of it in the first quarter, but cumulatively. And it sounds like she's very close to locking in another $7K+ with a teaching gig, and that a couple of her clients are champing at the bit to give her even more high-paying writing work. So far this year she's only received a very modest $3K in payments, but when I look at future money booked, it's kind of astounding. If this teaching gig is confirmed she'll already be at more than $40K. Kind of crazy!

- AS and I have been helping NT with his branding for his hat business. AS designed and ordered new business cards, and I rewrote his website copy. He tried one of our ideas and got a new recurring customer right away, so it's already paid off a bit! Plus, I kind of count this as professional development because I'm practicing brand strategy in my spare time, which is the area of marketing that I'm growing into with my recent promotion.

- We've got a Valentine's date scheduled, with dinner reservation made and babysitter booked. I haven't started (but I need to really soon) planning out Valentine gifts for our kids and their schoolmates, and figuring out what we'll all be doing for our birthdays in March.

- I've started planning out AA's summer break. This will be her first one not at our beloved daycare, so I'm trying to patchwork a bunch of daycamp activities. It'll be more expensive than daycare and more complicated than just signing her up for the public school system's summer care, but she's a creative kid who gets bored easily, so I want to try and make the summer special for her. I've got a spreadsheet going, of course, and some good options and ideas. Smile

- I've got a few obligations for my alma mater coming up--an alumni board conference call, a social post I need to make for the anniversary of the college's founding, and organizing/sending out invites to alumni for a screening of an Oscar-nominated film at my place (the director went to my college; we won't get to talk to him or anything but it's nice to celebrate another alumnus's success). Matter of fact, I should probably stop writing this post and get some of them done! Smile

Whew, I think that's all. That's enough, anyway! Big Grin

February 2018 debt payments and UK mortgage thoughts

February 2nd, 2018 at 06:39 am

All our mortgage payments hit:
US: $713 to principal
UK1: $180
UK2: $38
UK3: $40

All told, that's $971 put toward debt.

Our debt now stands at:
US Mortgage $390,423
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $33,213
UK Mortgage 2 $7,001
UK Mortgage 3 $7,373
TOTAL DEBT $447,010

I was thinking the past few days: We're so close to our EF goal of $10K in the UK savings account. After that I'm going to start saving up spending money for our next UK trip. But now that it's happening later in the year than usual (we intend to fly there 12/26 or so), I know we'll save up more than we need for that.

I started to think maybe I should work on one of those smaller UK mortgages with the extra money. I could probably cut one of them in half before the end of the year even after funding our EF and our next vacay's spending money.

But then I thought, if we want to list the UK place this year, we might need money for sprucing it up. And even if we decide the market still isn't good, we may have maintenance costs that come up.

So now I'm leaning toward saving any extra money this year in a UK maintenance category. The interest rates on those debts are only about 1.4% anyway, so it's not like it's costing us much to carry them.

Progress on a few goal fronts

February 1st, 2018 at 08:46 am

It's been a pretty good week so far of moving forward on 2018 goals:

- Creative: I attended my novel-finishing class's online chat on Sunday. I'm also about 75% done with last week's assignment. This week's is to create a plan for the year, so even if I don't do it within the time frame of the class, it's something I intend to do anyway. That's the last assignment and I have one more online chat. I'm going to download the materials and some of the discussions so I have them for future reference once the class goes away.

- Health and work/professional development: I did my no-drinking night on Tuesday and my no-social-media-at-work on Wednesday. Last night was meant to be my no-phone-or-computer-after-work day, but I had to complete an assignment for work, so I wasn't able to do that. So I'm aiming to make tonight a no phones or computers night. That will complete my January goals on these three fronts! My February goal is to achieve each of these healthy habits twice a week.

- Health: for relaxation/destressing that isn't drinking or screen time, I haven't tried meditation yet, but I did read an entire book this month (which is quite the accomplishment these days!) and found a couple of nonalcoholic drinks I really like: a rejuvenating warm ginger drink and a relaxing sleepytime tea. I've also played with the kids a bit more, which can be relaxing (especially if it's just playing with one of them at a time vs. being referee for both of them).

- Financial: I bumped NT's 401(k) up 1% when I got my raise, so that's halfway to that goal. If he gets a raise this year, I'll bump it up another 1%. (Last year he got a raise around this time, so we'll see.) Our retirement assets got above $400K for the first time, so we do seem to have a chance of hitting the $475K goal this year if the markets don't correct too much or for too long. Net worth is nearly at $600K, so it seems like the $650K goal may happen this year.

- Home: We contacted a designer about a kitchen consultation but she hasn't gotten back to us. I need to get another recommendation and try someone else. I continue to plug money into the savings account for the kitchen reno; we're at $20,375.

- Vacations: NT's Denver solo trip plans fell through, but we've got plenty of other plans in the hopper. One of my sisters really wants a family reunion in June that's all my parents' kids and their spouses and kids. Most of us haven't seen one of my nephews in over a decade, and it sounds like he's in, so I can't very well be the one who ruins it! Smile We'll also be going to Va. in August for a niece's wedding, and tacking some beach time or something onto that. And we're going to shoot for a UK or Europe trip right after Xmas. Other than that, we agreed we'd each get to choose one or two short solo trips (or trips with just one companion, like I did last year with my Wisconsin road trip with AS). So nothing booked, but lots of plans in the works.

January 2018 retirement goal progress

February 1st, 2018 at 07:26 am

Goal: $512,564 by 2019

My salary increased 10% since last month, so our goal is more ambitious now! Which makes us farther behind, but that's OK.

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: $404,682

December 2017 balance: $390,774

Progress: $13,908

A really big month! To reach the interim goal by the end of our birthday month (March) in 2019, that's 14 months, so we'd need to contribute (or have assets appreciate) $107,882 -- $7,706 per month -- to reach it.

Not likely, but we'll keep plugging away!

So much big news!

January 27th, 2018 at 05:34 pm

It's been quite a three days since I last posted here!

I'm tempted to leave my big news for last, but it did come first chronologically, soo....

On Wednesday my supervisor scheduled a check-in. It wasn't our usual day but I figured since I was traveling Thursday she was just having it a day early. (Even though we usually just skip it if we're busy on Thursday.)

I get in her office ready to talk about my work and she has a big grin on her face. She had good news for me: a promotion and a raise!

I am being promoted from copywriter to associate content director, and my 10% raise takes me to just over $75K annually!

I was so ecstatic, I almost forgot to ask what the job entails. Big Grin She said a lot of it I'm doing already, but that we'll finalize the job description soon.

Then my mentor (my supervisor's boss) met with me. He said the same thing. He also said a lot of people went to bat for me, and that he basically made up a new title for me, which is why there isn't a job description. The next logical level was senior copywriter, and he felt like I was already doing work above that job description, so he made up a half-step to content director.

So yeah, feeling on top of the world. Smile The amazing timing means that NT's company moving to biweekly paychecks should no longer have an impact on our budget, AND we'll have his two extra paychecks a year! The first one comes in April.

My raise is retroactive to Jan. 1, so my next paycheck will be awesome but not representative. Smile

So I get home that night and ordinarily we'd toast a success like that with sparkling wine, but I'd designated it my no-drinking day. That was OK, I didn't really need a drink to make it feel special anyway! Smile Plus I had to get to bed early so I could get up super early for my business trip.

The Memphis work trip went really well, good meeting with our client. My promotion won't be announced until Monday, so I kept it under wraps. I had a great time bonding with two co-workers, one of whom is friends with my fave band. (He showed me some texts from the lead singer and it felt like a new level of cyberstalking them. Big Grin) I feel closer to them and we also now feel determined to take creative risks together at work.

Meanwhile back in Minneapolis, AS had been seriously considering a membership at a co-working space. It seems like a great place, and they had a limited number of "founding member" spots, so she asked if she could bite the bullet and sign up. NT and I agreed, so she's now in. The place opens in March and her membership officially starts then. It was $1800 for a year. It would be more if she wasn't a founding member, and now her membership will never go up and she gets some added perks. Considering this will be a $25K+ quarter, it's a good time to make a big investment like this. It put our shared spending in the hole, but we know there are payments coming soon so we're not worried.

When I got home Friday (it was a 24-hour trip), AS and I talked about ways to apply our marketing/communications/writing chops to helping NT with his hat business (kind of a side hobby of his). We wrote up a lot of ideas, and that night we had a date at a new vegetarian restaurant in the neighborhood, so we took the opportunity to go over it. It was really fun and we figured out some next steps to hopefully help take his business a little farther.

On the making-friends front, not only did I get closer to my co-workers, I continued messaging with my new Canadian friend, and I have plans to hang out with another friend at Monday's show (the last one of my fave band's residency). While we were messaging about that, I mentioned two other acts I was considering checking out in March, and he told me about two others, one in February and one in March. So now we have four potential reasons to see each other--and four new musical acts I could check out. So feeling really good about my social prospects and branching out in my experiences.

Today hasn't been super thrilling -- had to catch up on menu planning and grocery shopping and budgeting. But I got all that done. Tonight I'll likely do a workout, then a bunch of work on my novel writing class assignment.

I did order a couple more things for our emergency preparedness kit: rope, water purification capsules, duct tape and a really long-shelf-life brand of bread. Smile

Tomorrow AS and I have our ladies' brunch, and Monday I get to see my fave band one more time in January. Smile

Goals, goals, goals (what else?)

January 24th, 2018 at 08:35 am

The kids actually had a snow day yesterday, which hardly ever happens in Minnesota! I could have taken them to daycare, but I decided to let them have a snow day the way I would've when I was a kid; playing in the yard, having hot cocoa, lazing around getting bored. Smile So I stayed home so AS wouldn't be stuck taking care of them alone. It was a good day.

I did a sort-of work from home, half PTO day. My goal for the day was no phone or computer after work, so I logged off everything at 5:30. I kept an online recipe up while I cooked dinner, but after that I put my computer away.

I lazed around quite a bit myself during the day, but I also started working on the weekly assignment for my class, and that night I read more of the book on book-writing.

I'm doing well on my new impromptu goal of making friends; I've been Facebooking with the Canadian and texting with the other lady I met. I also found a couple of shows I might want to go to in March, which will be good things to invite people to.

I think that's about it for me. Today's goal is no drinking. I have one more week of doing each of my healthy goals once per week; in February it goes up to twice per week. It's felt really easy this month so we'll see how I do when I double the goal.

I talked to AS about her goals on the way to work, and she's taking a very similar approach this year, trying to create incremental habits that become part of her routine. It really does feel like the way to go!

Ask and ye shall receive (friends)!

January 23rd, 2018 at 10:06 am

Last night was a good 'un for making me feel less friend lite!

It didn't start out promising; three of the four friends who swore they'd come to the show flaked on getting their tickets far enough in advance, despite my warnings that these shows were selling out.

Then we had a blizzard in Minneapolis. AS and I took the light rail so we were fine, but I wondered if my last friend, a co-worker, would be able to get out in her car. But she made it! Even though we didn't hang out a ton that night, at least she was the first person I invited to attend these five shows who actually showed up. (This was the fourth show, so clearly there's been much flaking.)

When we got there, AS spotted another superfan from Canada she'd met last year at a show. She was there alone, so AS got her and introduced her to me, and we ended up spending the whole show together, first at a table and then standing right up by the stage (even though it was a sold-out show, the weather made it a light crowd, so I got SUPER close). She and I friended each other on Instagram and Facebook and she also connected me to a woman in Portland OR who's also a superfan of the group. So, while not in-town friends, I have a few more connections, and since the Canadian and I both tend to travel to see this band (we were both in NYC in 2017 but didn't know each other then!), there's a chance we'll get to meet in person again.

AS also encouraged me to text the lady I'd met at last Monday's show (I'd exchanged numbers but neither of us had gotten in touch). So I texted her a pic of the band and just said "Guess where AS and I are? Smile" She wrote back pretty soon and suggested getting together for coffee, so this morning I threw out a few dates in February. So we'll see if that turns into anything, but at least it's promising!

Thursday I'm on a business trip and it's the first one that another co-worker has gone on, so there's some chance of bonding with him even though it's just an overnight trip and we probably won't want to stay out super late. Coincidentally he's good friends with the main members of my fave band, so not only is he nice, it would up my chances of getting to be around them! Smile

My friend with the boyfriend has definitely bought her tickets for the last show next Monday, so hopefully she'll show up for that! And she's scheduled a brunch with a group of ladies for the Sunday before, so we might get to see each other two days in a row. (Plus I can put out feelers with some of the other women in the group, several of whom I'd gladly be closer friends with, to maybe set up some other fun times with them.)

I'm glad my little bit of effort has paid off so quickly; immediate progress is always a good motivator to keep doing something. Smile

Goals stuff and other news: paychecks, making new friends, etc.

January 22nd, 2018 at 03:06 pm

Over the weekend I reorganized the basement closet, making room for an eventual preparedness kit and bottled water. I also moved a bunch of yard sale stuff down there. After we have the sale in May, we'll have tons of room in that closet!

I missed the chat for my online class but read the transcript later. I also read some more of my novel-writing book and got through a lot of editing on my novel. I started the character arc spreadsheet but didn't make any progress. I haven't read the assignments for this week because I was hoping to do more with the characters, but I don't want to get behind, so I think I'll just move on to this week's exercises.

Today was my no-social-media-at-work day for the week. I mostly succeeded. I did go on Twitter briefly to see how the bus system was coping with our blizzard. And my work officially closed at 3pm, so I got on social earlier than usual. I still count it, though!

Couple other news items:
- I decided to cancel my web hosting for ordinarysavers.com. I have too many other goals this year and too many things I'm spending my money on. I downloaded a copy of all my entries so if I want to refer back to them or reuse them for anything, I can.

- NT got notice that his company is moving to biweekly instead of twice-monthly paychecks. This is a pain because his paychecks will be smaller, and several months are cutting it very close on expenses vs. income. In June we'll have three paychecks, so I may just have to float a small deficit or something. I'm not sure how I'll handle it yet. He gets his first paycheck of this sort this Friday...I'm not sure what it means that he's already had one paycheck at the twice-monthly rate...it's all very confusing! But I know we'll adjust eventually.

- One of my best friends, who I realized I spend a lot of my time and attention on, has a boyfriend now, and is going through a honeymoon phase where it's hard to find time to hang out. Which is totally fine and cool -- I tended to do that at the start of new relationships too -- except it's made me realize how much of my social life depended on her! I had another friend I hung out with quite a bit who moved to Indiana last year, and another who moved to Missouri the year before that.

I have lots of people I like, friendly acquaintances, but not people I can just call on to hang out with for hours. So I'm trying to think of people I can cultivate more of a hanging-out friendship with.

Oddly enough, one of the days my friend flaked on me, AS and I met two strangers at the show we were attending, and I got one of their numbers because we hung out all night with them and they were really fun. So I may text her and see if I get any response. Of course one meeting is too soon to tell if we'd become close friends, but maybe she'd want to hang out and we could see what happened.

I have a couple of other people I like very much who might hang out with me more if I put more effort into finding things for us to do together, so I'm going to try that as well. I do like hanging out with my downstairs neighbors but they've been super busy with new business ventures and are also dating someone. But maybe at some point they'll be good prospects again.

So hopefully I can fix this lack! It's one of those weird things that I didn't know I was letting other friendships languish until these three ladies withdrew from my life in one way or another. Now my friend with the boyfriend isn't gone, and I'm sure the relationship will reach an equilibrium soon, but I feel like I need to work on strengthening my social network now that I see its weaknesses.

Progress on goals, more AS income, etc.

January 19th, 2018 at 11:12 am

I successfully completed my two other weekly tasks of no phone/computer after work Wednesday (the only exception was I watched a bit of a show on my phone when I couldn't get to sleep that night) and no social media at work on Thursday.

I also read about 1/3 of a book on novel-writing. AS and I went in on a deal from Writer's Digest where we got like 10 books (some physical some e-book) for $65 or so. I picked up one at random and ended up getting really into it. Some good advice so far! I've also been writing character arc descriptions for my novel-finishing class assignment, but it's more complicated than I first thought (writing them is making me question some bigger structural issues about my book), so I don't know if I'll complete the assignment. But I've got a few days (the next assignment posts Monday), so maybe I'll have a breakthrough this weekend. At least I'm working and thinking and trying to be creative; that's really the point of this anyway. Smile

We didn't come under budget on groceries this week, but we're doing pretty well on shared spending money, so I ordered a couple more emergency preparedness items anyway: a butane-fueled burner and canisters of butane. Came to a little over $50. Next week I think I'll try to get a plastic bin and some of the water/groceries. This weekend I want to go down to the basement and see if I can clear out some space for storing our supplies.

AS got another payment, and our kitchen reno savings are now above $20K! She also accepted a quick-turn assignment that is her highest-paying to date (even higher than an entire semester of teaching): $7,000! Her first-quarter earnings look like they might hit $25K, which is crazy unprecedented. Her record quarter is a bit over $23K, and that was for a fourth quarter, which is 4 months long (Sep-Dec) vs. the 3 months (Jan-Mar) of the first quarter.

I don't know what this will mean for her annual salary. I do know her fourth quarter will be lower if she accepts a second teaching position, as she's considering, so maybe it'll end up that her earnings are front-loaded, sort of the opposite of what usually happens. I know I can't get used to this level of pay, but it is exciting!

As for vacations, we've pretty much decided not to attempt the UK this year, since we're saving so hard for the kitchen. We're contemplating a couple of other warm-weather holidays, such as tacking on a week at a Virginia beach location after my niece's wedding in August, or accompanying AS to Incline Village for her college residency in July if she decides to do that again. So we'll see. I haven't decided what my solo trip will be. I'm kind of waiting to see what shows my fave band books for the year and where; right now they don't have anything scheduled much past the current bunch of St. Paul shows that I've been going to. AS is vaguely considering a writer's retreat for her solo trip but that's not a solid decision as of yet. NT has his planned for March; he just needs to actually book it. I might want to tack some time onto one of my Memphis business trips this year and see if the family can join me down there; it's a neat city, plus AA really wants to see the MLK museum. So that's another possibility.

Progress on goals, healthy habits, savings, etc.

January 17th, 2018 at 08:39 am

Over the weekend we received a few of the emergency supplies I ordered. I need to put in batteries, figure out how to use them and where to put them, etc. For now they're just in a box in the dining room. I'll try to keep the grocery budget low so I can get a few more this week.

I joined a live chat for my novel-finishing class and it made me consider some of my characters and how I could make them more interesting. I'm also going through my novel, getting reacquainted, reviewing AS's feedback and doing a light copyedit as I go. I've done 87 of 299 pages. (It started at about 306 pages, so it's also shrinking as I cut unnecessary copy.)

Yesterday my task was no drinking. Warm ginger juice and sleepytime tea again; it might be a new rut for now, but at least it's a healthy rut. Smile Tonight my task is no phone/computer time after work and Thursday will be no social media at work.

I finally yesterday had a day where I did all four of my healthy habits that served me so well last year: morning strength-training exercises, no breakfast, at least 10K steps, no night snacks. I'd weighed in over 135, the highest I'd been in a while, and decided enough's enough; I have to stop making excuses and get back to what worked. Today I weighed in at 133.2, so hopefully I'm on the path back to getting under 130.

Our UK rental income hit that bank account, and AS got a nice freelance payment, so I put some money in savings. US$562 went into UK savings, which is our emergency fund; $300 went toward kitchen reno savings, and I've just started saving up for vacations, so $300 went into a vacation fund. NT is already starting to plan his next solo trip (Colorado in March) so I need to start putting money aside.

We're now at:
$9,562.50 EF
$19,900 reno fund
$300 vacay fund

Our EF goal is $10K, so we're really close! Our kitchen reno goal is $30K, so we've got a ways to go on that. Our total savings are at $29,762.50.

Other random happenings in the past few days:
- I moved a bunch of books and bookcases and taped off the baseboard so NT could finish painting my book nook. It was a dark dull green and then it was half and half (he started a few months ago but ran out of paint); now it's all a nice cream color. It's still a bit haphazard up there -- the furniture is mismatched, I have some boxes of papers I need to clear out, and the books aren't all organized -- but it looks way better. It's so low on my priorities list for home improvement, but this paint job makes it feel nicer. We chose paint colors for the bedroom, so that room will get a little lift next weekend. It's another space that needs a lot of work, but this is a quick way to make it a little better, since it'll likely be a year or more before we prioritize it.

- I went to see my fave band for the third time this month on Monday. Two more shows that I already have tickets to! I've had friends say they were going to the past ones and every single person flaked except AS. She can't go to the next one, but I have about five friends who say they're going, so hopefully at least one of them won't flake and I'll have someone to hang out with. If not, I'm going anyway. Smile

- AS and I ordered new glasses. It came to about $525 each. Yikes! I would have thought it was crazy if PatientSaver hadn't said hers were $400. Mine is covered by flex spending, but now I only have about $70 of flex left for the year, so copays and any other expenses will pretty much need to be out of pocket. Here's hoping for a healthy year! But I think I made a good choice with glasses that will give me a new look. And I changed my hair style when I got my hair cut Saturday. I can't wait to get the glasses so I can start 2018 with a somewhat new look. Smile

- AS now has nearly $18K worked or booked for the first quarter! As a reference point, she made about $13K in Q1 2017 and less than $6K in Q1 2016. Her previous high first quarter was $19.5K in 2015 (kind of a fluke). Since we're only midway through the first month, it's hard to imagine her not breaking that record. But she does have to be very careful about accepting things for the next three months because her time is almost all booked up, so it won't be a TON more, I don't think.

Hmm, I think that's all. 2018 is off to a brisk, but good, start for us!

Progress on goals

January 12th, 2018 at 09:40 pm

I know my posts are very repetitive; when trying to establish habits it's kind of mind-numbing to track! Smile

Thursday my task was no phone or computer time once I left work. I did succeed for the most part. I woke up and had about an hour of insomnia at 3 a.m., so at 4 I started watching a show on my phone and managed to get back to sleep after half an hour. I didn't want to, but I also didn't want to lose any more sleep, so I feel OK about that.

Yesterday I refined my emergency preparedness shopping list a bit, and after we did our weekly grocery shopping today (so I could see how much money we had left in the budget), I ordered the first few items for our kit. I used $69 of surplus grocery money and $40 of shared spending to buy:
- 2 first-aid kits (a larger home one and a small one for our "bug out bag")
- 2 flashlights
- 1 combo knife/whistle/firestarter
- 1 crank radio/flashlight/charger
- 10 foil mylar emergency blankets
- 75 "stormproof" matches and a waterproof container

I also looked into first aid/CPR classes in the area and found some Red Cross ones. AS and NT expressed interest in taking them too. We're thinking about taking a health day off work and taking one together; it runs from 9am to 3:30pm. I'm waiting to hear about business travel in February, and once I know what the days are, I'll see about taking a different day off and scheduling the Red Cross class. They're $80-$120 per person depending on level of detail and whether they include pediatric first aid, so we'll probably go with the higher-end ones that include pediatric. (There are free classes through other organizations but all are either filled up for the foreseeable or they're not geographically convenient for us.)

As for my novel writing class, I finished the "query hook" (brief teaser description of my novel) and gave feedback to quite a few fellow students on theirs. I went through a checklist and mentally answered the questions to make sure I didn't have any doubts about the message, purpose, what's special, etc. Now I'm going to start just going through re-reading my novel, making any easy changes that occur to me as I read, and deciding which of AS's edits to take. I'll start that a bit tonight and try to finish during my three-day weekend (I have Monday off for MLK Day).

Oh, and a couple bits of incremental progress on other goals: NT reached out to a designer to see if she'd consult with us on our kitchen redesign. And we pretty much decided we wouldn't go for a UK trip this year; we might tack a week at a beach or resort onto my niece's wedding in August. No firm plans other than that, but it's a bit of decision-making progress at least.

Progress on goals: social media, novel class, drinking, etc.

January 10th, 2018 at 10:24 pm

I've had a pretty good couple days in terms of my goals. I wrote the "query hook" blurb for my novel class and gave some classmates feedback on theirs. I at least opened my manuscript and figured out what version I'd be working from. (Turns out AS did edit about a quarter of it, so I'll use that version and review her changes.)

Yesterday was a no-social-media-at-work day, and I succeeded at that. It actually was pretty easy, so much so that occasionally I'd have a moment where I feared I'd clicked one of the sites automatically. But I never did.

Today was a no-drinking day. I liked the warm ginger drink and sleepytime tea last time, so I had those again.

Tomorrow is no phone or computer after work, so I've been kind of getting it out of my system today. Smile But I do feel like I've been spending less time on social sites, at least, so maybe these random days away are helping me be less addicted to them.

I finished the UK taxes for another year. The next tax year finishes in early April. I would absolutely love to list and sell the UK flat before then so we'd only have one more year of taxes, but I don't think we'll be able to do that. Still, I've got a note on the calendar to check in with the management company in February to see if the housing market is any better.

I seem to have restarted some of my good habits, namely my A.M. strength training exercises. And AS and I have walked to work three days this week, though we're getting another cold snap that may thwart our walks. But NT is interested in subscribing to Gilad workouts on Amazon, so that could be another way to get in shape on these really cold days. He's almost over his cold, so hopefully soon we'll do that.

I've had the same hairstyle for a couple years now, but I've had a sudden urge to get bangs. Our regular haircut day is this Saturday, so I might as well take the plunge. I also need new glasses. So I've been looking for good frames and trying to picture them with bangs. I hope I find a cute style and cute glasses. It would be nice to have a new look, though I do like the one I've been sporting. It's just getting a tiny bit old.

I got my eyes tested last year but never got around to buying glasses (so many other expenses kept coming up). So I probably need a new test and prescription. For some reason I hate getting my eyes tested, but I know I need a new prescription; I actually can't read up close with my current glasses, and I can no longer compensate for seeing farsighted. (I think I have astigmatism now in addition to being nearsighted in one eye and farsighted in the other. I'm trying to remember what the last doc said; I think it was that I needed progressive lenses?)

I got a free lunch today; my mentor/boss took me and my other boss out on a whim. I was kind of hoping there would be raise/promotion talk, but it was just a friendly get-together. Still enjoyed it though!

This weekend NT and I aim to get the walls of my book nook painted. He already painted some of the walls but there are a few with bookcases full of books against them. So I just need to help him take all those books out, move the cases, and tape off the edges. It's really not much painting once we get that done. It'll be nice to have it all one color, even if it's still not all that decorated. (I've just got random free/cheap furniture in there.)

I also want to continue my emergency preparedness planning this weekend and read through my novel, applying AS's edits and seeing how it hangs together. (Since I combined two years' NaNoWriMo into one, I've never read it all together to see if it flows OK.)

I guess that's all my news for now!

Progress on goals: emergency preparedness, guitar, novel

January 8th, 2018 at 02:34 pm

I spent several hours yesterday researching emergency preparedness and came up with a pretty comprehensive shopping list, which I'll purchase incrementally when we have spare money in the budget. I started looking at written plans and what documents we need to include in our kit, but I'll need to work on that some more.

I also need to do location-specific research on what disasters I should prep for and how. And I want to look for CPR and general preparedness classes I can take locally, hopefully for cheap or free.

I finished signing up for guitar lessons; I'll be going every Tuesday in February. They'll set me up with a loaner guitar to take home and practice with, which is great because it'll give me a chance to try it out and see if it's really something I want to continue before I commit to buying one myself.

I can pay for these lessons with my spending money, but if I wanted to continue, it would be more than my spending money can handle, so I'll need to chat with the family about it.

My online novel-finishing class officially opened today. I took a survey the teach posted and read and responded to messages on the class forum. This week I want to reread the novel I'm going to work on, because I haven't touched it in a while. I'll also complete the first two assignments: writing a short "query" blurb about the novel and answering a list of questions about the novel.

Other random happenings: NT was able to download the tax software to his computer, so I'll try to work on UK taxes this week.

And I got a notice that my ordinarysavers.com domain will be expiring soon. I need to decide whether I'm going to keep it active. I paid $100 for hosting last year and don't think I published a single new post, so I'd need to think about whether I really have enough new stuff to say about personal finance to make it worth my while. Especially with possible guitar classes eating up funds. Is there a way to archive a site so I don't lose the posts I did do, but don't have to pay to host it anymore? I wonder...

Progress on two more goals: less screen time, learning guitar

January 6th, 2018 at 02:29 pm

Last night I was successful in not using my phone or computer at all after work. Well, I did play music on my phone on the way home from work, but that was it. There were times I felt tempted but it wasn't too bad.

I didn't even take my phone to bed, which I usually do so I can watch a show on mute until I fall asleep. Luckily I didn't have trouble falling asleep and didn't wake up in the middle of the night like I do sometimes.

Today's task was to sign up for guitar lessons for February. I filled out an online request form and the store will get in touch with me, apparently. So I'm not quite signed up and won't check off that task, but at least I did what I could on it.

I also started NT's UK taxes (ugh), but couldn't get the software to download on my work computer (which is the main computer I use at home too). So I'll have to get NT to try and download it onto his. At least I gathered all the mortgage and rent info to plug into the software once we get it up and running. This just has to be done by the end of the month.

We're having a quiet day at home. We'd arranged play dates for both kids with friends, but one got sick and the other flaked. I don't want the kids to grow up, but one benefit will be when they can handle their own social life! There's so much work on our end to get them together with their friends. I was lucky when I was a kid and had friends on my same block.

Tomorrow's task toward a goal is to start researching emergency preparedness. I'm looking forward to it!

First step on another goal (less drinking) and other trivia

January 4th, 2018 at 09:04 pm

Today was the night I designated to not have any alcohol. I had a warm (nonalcoholic) ginger drink and a cup of sleepytime tea instead. I've developed a cold, so I didn't feel up to trying any other relaxation techniques, but I will try some on other nights.

The goal tomorrow is no phone or computer time after work. So once my work day is done, no more checking or using either device for the rest of the night.

We'll see how I feel about that, but so far, rotating my bad habits so I can have some but not all of them seems to be a good way to dip my toe into reducing/omitting them.

My goals this weekend are to book guitar lessons for February and start researching emergency preparedness. (I also hope to get the UK taxes done; they just need doing before the end of the month so we don't get fined.) We also have some activities for the kids planned, so it will be a brisk weekend! And poor Anitra has been trying to get the cigarette smell out of our basement since her mom left, and NT has a couple of meetings or other activities.

The good news side of things:

AS's mom's visit is over! It was challenging in many ways but it could've been a lot worse.

We're a little in the hole on shared spending but only because we had to reorder the kids' beds and request a refund, which hasn't come through. If it had, we'd actually be in the positive by about $500. Pretty amazing considering the holidays and everything.

AS's business has started with a rush of offers, and she's already worked or booked nearly $14,000 of jobs for the next couple months! As a reference point, her first quarter of last year grossed less than $13,000. And we're only 4 days into the quarter! I don't know if it will all get paid in the first three months, but I'm positive she'll book other work in the first quarter as well, so I think it's going to be a big 'un.

She also connected me with one guy she works for (who I actually connected her with initially, when he used to work at my company a couple years ago and used AS as a freelance writer). He's going to need a lot of freelance help and I figured I should pitch in a little extra to try and build up the kitchen reno savings, since my entire paycheck goes to bills, groceries, spending money, retirement etc. So we'll see how that is; if I can juggle it with my regular job without feeling burnt out, it would be awesome to have another income stream. If not, I can always bow out after the first assignment if it proves to be too much.

I think that's all for now; my sleepytime tea plus my cold has got me all dazed so I may be forgetting something.

First step on a 2018 goal: social media at work

January 4th, 2018 at 08:15 am

I think one mistake I (and probably many other people) make with New Year's goals is try to go 100 MPH on the first day of the year, then get burnt out and/or so intimidated or overhwhelmed that I don't do some of the things.

So this year, I very deliberately plotted out my January with lots of little incremental tasks on my calendar.

Yesterday my task was not to do social media at work. Even though I left early and worked from home part of the day, I succeeded even at home. From when I got on the bus toward work until signing off at 5:30pm, I stayed off Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, SavingAdvice, and for good measure I'm throwing in Yahoo email, Google news and my budgeting spreadsheets, because those are all big time sucks. The only things I allowed myself to look at were Google calendar and Slack (which my household has started using to communicate and plan). And I let myself briefly go into one spreadsheet to help AS with a specific task.

Today, obviously, I'm letting myself back on at work. Smile But that's the point of these incremental goals. In February I'll go up to two days per week for each of these tasks.

Today my task is not to have any alcohol.

I'm also trying to be gradual but persistent about adding back in healthy habits that fell off over the past couple months of 2017. Although not part of my 2018 goals, I want to restore them because they served me so well last year. So I've restarted my weekday morning strength exercises (4 days in a row this week) and skipping breakfast most days (3 days but then I did have a little breakfast today).

I still haven't gotten back into the walking 10K steps habit--I'm going to try for that once temps get back in the teens and 20s, which should hopefully start this weekend.

And I haven't gotten back into not snacking at night; there are still so many snacks in the house from the holidays. As they start to get eaten down, I'll try not to bring more snacks into the house, and gradually I hope to get rid of the night-snacking habit.

Baby steps!

January 2018 debt payments

January 2nd, 2018 at 10:52 pm

All our mortgage payments hit:
US: $711 to principal
UK1: $178
UK2: $37
UK3: $40

All told, that's $966 toward debt.

Current debt amounts:
US Mortgage $391,136
Loan from friends (duplex) $9,000
UK Mortgage 1 $33,393
UK Mortgage 2 $7,039
UK Mortgage 3 $7,413
TOTAL DEBT $447,981

Happy New Year! My 2018 goals

December 31st, 2017 at 11:01 pm

So here are my goals for 2018. As I've mentioned before, I tried to identify why some of last year's didn't work out, and apply what I learned to creating this year's. The main parameters:
1. It has to be something I'm genuinely interested in doing.
2. It can't depend on anyone else to get done; it has to be something I can control. (Exceptions are the net worth and retirement goals.)
3. There have to be concrete steps to the goal, ways to measure results, or some combination of the two.
4. Preferably, many of the goals will be about slowly creating and building up a habit. I'm interested in behaviors that will continue to benefit me, not just one-off achievements.

So here are my goals, along with the first step if applicable. I've also added reminders to my Google Calendar to prompt me to keep making progress on them, and assess them to see what the next step should be.

Creative - get a novel publishing-ready. Step 1 (Jan): online class (already enrolled)

Creative - learn guitar. Step 1 (Feb): private lessons @TwinTown (borrow guitar).

Health - limit drinking on everyday nights. Step 1: 1 day a week of 0-1 glasses.

Health - limit screen time outside of work. Step 1: 1 night a week of no computer/phone use after work.

Health - Try relaxation/destress tactics on nondrinking/no-screen-time days--tea? Meditation? Reading?

Pragmatic - emergency preparedness. Step 1 (Jan): research on cdc.gov, ready.gov & dps.mn.gov. Make a kit, make a plan, get informed. First aid training, e.g. CPR.

Work/professional development: Look for class on Agile; see if work will pay for it.

Work/professional development: Start to limit social/personal internet to bathrooms/breakrooms. Step 1 (Jan): Limit it for one day per week.

Financial: Retirement assets to $475K. Net worth to $650K. Bump NT's 401(k) up 2%.

Financial: Kids' savings up to at least $1K per year of age. (SL: $6,000. AA: $8,000.)

Home: Full kitchen renovation. See what other improvements we can save up for after that.

Vacations: UK or warm weather family trip. Solo trips for adults. Weekend at lake. Niece's wedding in Va. in August.

2017: A look back

December 31st, 2017 at 04:05 pm

Whew, what a year. Besides my goals, my family and I did TON of traveling:
- I had 4(?) business trips to Memphis, 3 overnight and one for 3 days
- I took a solo trip to NYC for 4 days
- AS and I went to Wisconsin for 3 days
- We all went to a lake up north for 5 days
- We all went to Va. for a week
- NT went to Chicago overnight
- NT went to England for 10 days
- AS went to NYC for 4 days
- AS went to Va. for 2 weeks to take care of her mom
- AS went to Nevada for 4 days for work

I think that's it, anyway. Like I said, whew! This was the first time we tried taking solo trips for the adults (except required business trips) since we were married, and it's been really positive to indulge some of our individual interests. That said, I still love family trips, but I think we'll continue this solo-trip idea in 2018!

I felt like I developed a lot of healthy habits over the year but I also started drinking more, starting in mid- to late 2016 with the stressful election and continuing with the constant stressful stream of bad news out there. But I know that's not going to end any time soon, so I can't just self-medicate until it's over. Reducing the drinking will be one of my 2018 goals. I also have been glued to my phone the same amount of time, due to the same factors. Another of my goals will be to consciously unplug a little at a time, hopefully increasing over the course of the year.

I got way back into music over this year, mainly one band, but it also reawakened my love of older favorites and made me start listening a bit to new acts as well. I'm going to continue seeking out my favorite band and new acts, because it gave me a lot of joy. I'm even going to try guitar lessons and see if I like making music as much as I like listening to it!

I really feel like I acquitted myself well at work and gained a lot of visibility and respect with both co-workers and clients. That said, it didn't translate to any material gains or title change, so I'm really hoping this is the year for that. I'm getting much more involved in our huge client's annual report this year, which is a high-visibility project, and another client from that same company has been asking for some really creative stuff including videos that will hopefully get me even more attention. So I feel optimistic and determined to keep upping my profile, but what I really want is more money and a higher title.

The rest of my family is doing incredibly well too. NT got a new role at work at the end of this year that he's excited about, and he's been selling his hats and now T-shirts at lots of shows, which has a double benefit because he also has gotten to see a lot more live music. He hasn't made a ton of profit but it's at least a fun and challenging self-funded hobby.

AS had her lowest income in three years (only by a couple grand, so not much lower), but it was after she quit accepting jobs from my company for a while because they were really bad about paying. They've gotten better and she's agreed to work for us again, so this next year looks really promising. Anyway, what she made this year was totally sufficient, so anything she makes above that will just be icing on the cake. She also added another college where she teaches editing; she thinks there's an opportunity to package some of the things she teaches at her publishing and editing classes into one-off seminars and/or speaking engagements. I think that would be a really smart way to repurpose the great material she's worked so hard to develop for her classes. Even though the teaching doesn't pay too much by the hour, it's a really prestigious and challenging part of her work.

SL started kindergarten and absolutely loves it. She reads at probably a 2nd grade level, while our 2nd grader AA reads probably more at a 3rd grade level. Both have gotten more into art and AA joined the school choir. SL might be a mathematical genius, as well. She definitely has a grasp of time, dates, addition/subtraction, and geography that's well beyond where I was in kindergarten. This will be our last full year at our daycare, which is very sad, but I can tell our kids are really growing up fast, so it makes sense. AA will probably do something else for the summer but we'll have SL go there one more summer. When school starts again in fall 2018, we might use the school's after-school program for both, or see what the YMCA near their school offers. So August 2018 might be the end of our time at the daycare. Sniff! I never dreamed we'd find a place that we'd gladly keep our kids at forever. But we'll keep in touch with them; they're like family at this point.

Our extended family has hung in there this year; AS's mom having open heart surgery was scary, but she seems to be recovering for the most part. It's still up in the air as to whether she'll move to Minneapolis (more on that in a later post in a few days, probably). My mom and dad are doing pretty well, about where they were last year. One niece got married and another got engaged! NT's gran and dad are both having health issues but it doesn't seem to be too serious. His gran's boyfriend passed away, which was sad, but she seems to be hanging in there.

Living with our downstairs neighbors is still going well, though a few things are frustrating here and there. First, that they wouldn't consider turning the basement into an accessory dwelling unit for our other friend; even though they've only used it as a guest room about three times in the three years we've lived here. And the fact that the one who's a lawyer still hasn't given me a rough draft of the agreement to purchase their share of the home. I feel like I'm being fairly generous letting them veto the ADU idea even though they don't have any ownership and pay below-market rent for their unit. I'm not even sure it will work out, although I hope it will, but I need to get the agreement in front of a lawyer before I know for sure. I hate to have them draw this out forever and then maybe it doesn't work out and they're stuck deciding whether they just want to rent from us indefinitely or get their own place. They asked about getting a permanent bed for the basement and I told them not until we get the purchase agreement worked out, so hopefully that will spur some movement. I also don't intend to sign anything until I'm satisfied that back-tax issues have been cleared up, because I'm not tying myself financially to someone who may face future issues with the IRS. But all that said, we get along really well and work well together on various things, and we usually have dinner together twice a week. Plus we get free babysitting from time to time, and cat sitting! And we just love them like family, so even with the frustrations, it's an incredibly rewarding living arrangement.

I'm sure there's more to write about, but those are the highlights of the year as I'm thinking back on it right now. I hope everyone had an overall good 2017 and will have a wonderful 2018 too!

2017 goals review

December 31st, 2017 at 11:02 am

It was a mixed-bag year in terms of hitting my goals, but overall I'm happy.

- Get assets above a million
Result: $1,030,555

- Get debt below $450K
Result: $448,947

- Get retirement above $350K
Result: $390,774

- Try about one new recipe per week (at least 50)
Result: I stopped counting somewhere around 54 new recipes but I tried at least a few more since then, so I bet I'm over 60.


- Attempt refi on US duplex if it appears home values are strong enough to give us 80% LTV
Result: I worked quite hard looking into it but it wasn't feasible.

- Increase 401(k)/SEP contributions up to 10% for NT, 10.5% for me and 11% for AS. (We started with NT at 8% with match, me at 9.5% with match, and AS at 10%)
Result: AS now putting 11% aside, CJ 10.5%, but we didn't increase NT's contributions.

- Continue home renovations
Did upstairs bathroom (complete redo)
Didn't get insulation for whole house
Saved up as much as we could for kitchen (complete redo) (currently saved $19,450)

- Re-establish nearly daily walking and no breakfast/snacks habits; get weight below 130
Result: I was really good with my habits until November, when I fell off both the walking and eating habits somewhat. I got my weight below 130 in early August and bounced above and below that mark until mid-November, when I bounced above and stayed there. I'm currently at 131.2. But considering I started the year at 137.4, I'm not too displeased with that result!

- Self-publish two novels (already written, need editing) and write at least one more
Result: Wrote one more novel, and did some work on editing another, but did not self-publish. I got stalled out waiting for AS to review one of them and she never got around to it.


- Get net worth to $600K
Result: $581,608

- Declutter/reduce stuff, beginning with boxes of paper
Result: total failure. I was going to go through a few boxes today but my book nook where they're stored is a disaster area due to putting in new beds for the kids and bringing some of their old stuff out to my area. Just too chaotic so I'm not going to attempt it.

- Take a more active role in garden/yard maintenance
Result: total failure. At least I learned that I'm not at all interested in this area, so that's something.

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