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Archive for February, 2009

Added to savings

February 27th, 2009 at 02:01 pm

My automated biweekly savings deposit of $25 hit. I'm putting this into the baby/EF, bringing it to $2,358.46. Almost a quarter of the way toward our overall goal!

I realized today that once I pay off NT's UK credit card, I can start saving all the extra rental income in his UK savings account and count that toward the EF/baby goal. It's perfect, because we can get to it within a couple of days, but it's not so easily accessible that we'll be tempted to dip into it. Since my 2:1 savings ratio is a bit off (but I want to be consistent across all my record-keeping), I'm going to make my goal $11,000 instead of $10,000, and that should handle any shortfall from my outdated exchange rate calculations.

What that means is that soon, extra funds will be freed up in our U.S. account for saving toward a modest fall vacation and for paying off debt a little faster.

Reached February debt goal!

February 27th, 2009 at 08:06 am

One of AS's student loan payments hit, and $114 went toward principal. My goal was to pay off $2100 in debt in February, and I paid $2153! It was touch-and-go because I forgot the month was only 28 days long and so some of my payments that I can squeak in on the 30th or 31st won't come due until March 2 or so. But I made some extra payments and we got there.

As for my other goals, I worked out last night, bringing my total to 10. I know I won't be able to today; we're rushing home to dinner and then rushing right out again to a party. And tomorrow is a full day of haircuts, grocery shopping and another party, so I don't know if I'll be able to get even one workout in. But, at least I tied my number of workouts from last month, and I was sick the first week in Feb., so I don't feel too bad.

The planting of basil and cilantro, I'm not going to get to. It's just been too cold and snowy recently to contemplate rooting through the balcony closet for soil and pots. NT pointed out it would be better to wait till after our vacation anyway, so they won't have to fend for themselves for 10 days early in their lives.

So of my six goals, it looks like I'll have three complete successes and three partial successes. I'll do a wrap-up this weekend to go over everything in more detail.

365 days of dinner: Feb. 21-26, 2009

February 26th, 2009 at 09:30 pm

Saturday, Feb. 21: A simple, light meal of veggie burgers and fries before we went to a party (where we knew there'd be more good food).



Sunday, Feb. 22: A vegan version of a British classic--fish and chips with mushy peas. I beer-battered something (kelp-powder-crusted tofu) for the first time, and it turned out awesome (if messy). The mushy peas were canned; we'd picked one up on our trip to England and had been meaning to have fish and chips for a while, since that's what it traditionally goes with. This was soooo good, but we don't usually eat super-greasy food, so it's not something we'll have often.



Monday, Feb. 23: A really low-key meal of sloppy joes (made with vegan burger crumbles), tater tots and salad.



Tuesday, Feb. 24: Since I made a classic British meal, NT turned the tables and gave us a vegan soul-food treat--BBQ "ribs" (Morningstar again), mashed potatoes and turnip greens. He nailed those greens! I was really impressed. Payback for how impressed he was with my British meal. Smile



Wednesday, Feb. 25: Top Chef night again, so our friends came over and brought dinner: squash pasta bake with vegan parmesan. I thought it was quite nice.



Thursday, Feb. 26: Potato-and-cheese stuffed Anaheim peppers with a side of Oaxacan beans and rice. Two new Mexican recipes that were time-consuming, but so worth it!

Small credit card payment

February 26th, 2009 at 03:29 pm

The regular payment to the UK credit card hit: $38 to principal. (That sucker is definitely getting paid off as soon as we get back from Vegas in late March!)

$2139 down, $61 to go. Soon, very soon! Time to go work out now. I think I'll try Dance Dance Revolution on the Wii and see if that gives me a good workout--I've never tried to play it for a full half hour before, but I hope it works up a sweat.

Progress on my February goals

February 26th, 2009 at 09:49 am

I cracked and sent an extra payment to my personal loan to make sure I hit my February goal. $106 went to principal. I took it out of money I would be putting into my emergency fund, but they're both good causes.

Speaking of EF, I was looking at my spreadsheets and getting all excited that I'd have about $1500 for the EF in April. Then I suddenly remembered we'd have to pay something for NT's adjustment of status for his U.S. residency in late March/early April. Went to the USCIS (formerly INS) site to check the fee amounts. Grand total: $545. Yikes! Love is expensive. Smile But at least it's coming at a time when I had extra money anyway, and I'll still get to put about $1000 to Ef in April.

Anyway, back to my February goals. $2,001 down, $99 to go on the debt repayment. Student loan should hit tomorrow and finish this goal off.

I missed one more day of fruit since last time I wrote, but I've worked out three days in a row. So it's 9 workouts done, 3 more to go to hit my goal. We'll see; Saturday is going to be a very full day but I'll try to fit one in. Friday there's a party so I don't know if I'll have time. Tonight I should be able to get one in.

On the replacing products with green ones: We found a loofa. Too bad it came with another plastic shower scrunchie. Oh well, we'll use that up and next time we need a loofah, we'll hold out till we find one that comes on its own.

Several more food items and eyeglasses collected for March donation!

Ways the stimulus will affect me

February 23rd, 2009 at 03:21 pm

The stimulus will help us financially in several ways:

- $25 more per week in unemployment benefits for AS, probably starting in late March.

- $30 per month extra in NT's paycheck and $30 per month extra in my paycheck, beginning maybe in June.

- A $2500 tax credit instead of $1800 for NT's Hope credit, about $60 per month. We'll see this benefit in our tax refund for 2009, since I can't figure out a way to just decrease my withholding $60 per month. Also, I think I read that he'll be able to take Hope credit beyond just the first two years of college.

- First $2400 of AS's unemployment pay won't be taxed. Not sure how much this will pan out for us dollarwise, but it will make her refund bigger next year.
Edit: Here's the wording: "The new law also makes up to $2,400 of unemployment benefits tax-free. If you received jobless pay in 2008, however, the full amount is still taxable on your 2008 return. The new break applies only to benefits received in 2009."
SOURCE: http://www.kiplinger.com/features/archives/2009/02/how-to-ge....

- AS unemployment benefits extended. She could basically stay on unemployment through the year if needed. I hope it doesn't come to that, but jobs in her desired field are virtually nonexistent right now, and she's thinking she might try to start or work for a sewing business in the meantime. She talked to unemployment and knows how to do this while still having benefits during slow times, so this may be a good fix to bide her time waiting for an ad job (or it could be a start in a whole new direction; who knows?)

We are probably going to spend AS's increased benefits on some kind of car-sharing or car-rental deal. The other parts of the stimulus I will put toward the emergency fund.

Have you figured out how the stimulus will affect your income? If not, Kiplinger's has some articles that lay it out very clearly and specifically.

February 2009 net worth

February 23rd, 2009 at 09:38 am

Assets:
NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $3,178
AS's 403(b): $3,074
AS's CD: $500
CJ's 401(k): $18,803
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $2333
---
Total Assets: $483,838

Total Debt: $403,226

Current Estimated Net Worth: $80,612

January 2009 estimate: $83,649

Change in net worth: -$3,037

Summary: We paid off a ton of debt and added our emergency fund as an asset. Still, it wasn't enough to stop the bleeding: My 401(k) lost about a grand, and I confirmed from two sources that our condo is worth $10K less than the last time I valued it.

For all I know, the UK condo has plunged in value as well. And NT's UK retirement assets. We could be just breaking even or, even worse, have a negative collective net worth. If I find anything out about those numbers, I will update them accordingly.

I will update my "Individual Net Worth" page shortly so you can see how it breaks out.

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are conservative, and retirement totals don't include amounts currently unvested. I don't have a way to check NT's UK pensions or flat value, so their values stay static for the purpose of this update. UK asset values and debt amounts are calculated figuring $2 for every British pound, which was the exchange rate when I started keeping track. I maintain that ratio for the purpose of tracking progress, even though the exchange rate is now closer to $1.50 per British pound.

Debt repayment progress

February 23rd, 2009 at 08:33 am

An extra payment to NT's UK credit card hit: $603 toward principal! He now has just $600 in CC debt to his name, and I should be able to pay that off by late March. I'm so excited that two out of the three of us will soon be free of credit card debt! And I will finally be able to add to the Old Debt Graveyard, which hasn't had any new residents in ages.

$1895 down, $205 to go on the debt repayment goal.

Oh, and I completed my weaving project! The fabric turned out much smaller than I intended it, so I'm not sure what I'll be able to use it for. But at least I did something sort of creative this month!

I haven't missed any more days of eating fruit, and I will be searching for a loofah at lunch today (thanks cptacek for the suggestion!). Also, we collected two more items for the food drive. (I've been buying one item each time I'm at a grocery store, so it doesn't seem a financial burden but I will have accumulated quite a little pile by the deadline.)

365 days of dinner: Feb. 15-20, 2009

February 21st, 2009 at 11:35 am

Lots to catch up on here, so let's get into it!

Lunch on Sunday the 15th was so pretty, I had to take a picture! NT made spicy bean patties with a side salad, and topped the salad with lentils and his own vinaigrette. Wonderful! I don't think AS cared for it as much, but NT and I will definitely have this for work lunches in the future.



Sunday night we had baked flautas, salsa fresca and cold avocado soup. The flautas and salsa were a hit, and the soup was...edible. Not really our cup of tea, but at least we tried something new!



Monday the 16th was our old favorite, mushroom farfalle. Usually I use dried parsley, but we had some fresh left over from other stuff so I threw that in. (This dish, plus an instructional video I saw, have changed how I serve pasta. Basically, don't drain or rinse pasta: drop it into the sauce along with 1/4 c of pasta water and some extra fat [butter, margarine or olive oil], and turn the heat up high under the sauce as you gently mix all together.)



Tuesday, Feb. 17, we had another recurrent favorite, spicy crispy vegan over rice. Gingeriffic!



Wednesday the 18th was a semi-experimental meal, mock duck and peppers in a spicy peanut sauce over millet. Our friends were over for Top Chef, and they were crazy for it. Little did I know NJ is a peanut-butter addict! Lucky break. Smile



Thursday the 19th we had spaghetti and red sauce with vegan "meatballs" (available in the frozen section of our local co-op). I can't believe it's the first time this year--I love spaghetti marinara!



Last night, Feb. 20, we went to happy hour and brought some pizzas home with us. I totally forgot to take pictures, and there were no leftovers, but you can pretend there's a delicious BBQ seitan pizza in this box! Smile

Progress on goals, car-sharing dilemma, etc.

February 20th, 2009 at 08:01 am

Day before yesterday I missed another day of fruit, but yesterday I had some, and I brought a banana to work so I wouldn't forget today. So far I've remembered 12 days and forgotten 7. At least I'm having fruit more than half the time! It's not stubbornness, just forgetfulness, that's keeping me from meeting this goal.

I worked out on the Wii yesterday, so I'm halfway to my workout goal. I won't be working out tonight because I'm going straight to happy hour after work, so that means I'll have eight days to do six workouts. Oh well, nothing says I can't go twice on weekend days. I'll make it!

I finally started one of my crafts challenges: I'm weaving a piece of woolen fabric on a cardboard loom. I will probably sew it into a sunglasses case and see if it fits AS's sunglasses, but right now my goal is just finishing the weaving. I got about halfway in just a few hours last night, so shouldn't be a problem. I hope to plant my basil and cilantro seeds on Sunday.

Our homemade dish detergent isn't working out; it leaves a film on plastic stuff and doesn't clean as well as Cascade. We're going to try a greener storebought powder and see if that does the trick. Now we have a bunch of borax and washing soda to use up; but I think it's good for lots of other cleaning things as well. I got a bar soap instead of bodywash (thanks...Analise, I think? for the idea) and a greener brand of shampoo. The next thing to replace will be our plastic shower scrunchie. I love those things, but I've got to find a greener alternative.

Now, car-sharing. I've recently been feeling guilty that NT has barely seen any of Minnesota because of not having a car. Buying a car doesn't make sense because we don't need one; and we'd immediately lose $75 per month that we get renting out our garage space. So I'm looking into these carshare options. If I can't find a workable carshare solution, I'll probably just set aside money for us to rent a car one or two days per month, so we can go on some day trips, explore St. Paul and other places, try some restaurants that are out of our way.

One of the carshares is super-convenient, with drop-off spots in walking distance from our condo. Another one is cheaper, but we'd have to take a bus about 30 minutes to get to the drop-off. Then there's Enterprise, which has a location about 10 minutes busride/30 minutes walk from our place. The carshare places would allow us to take a car and pay by the hour, which means we could have several shorter trips. A rental car we wouldn't have to worry about time, but we could probably only afford one or two times a month.

So I'm still working out all the possibilities. We wouldn't do this until AS starts getting the extra unemployment money from the stimulus plan ($25 extra per week), which should start happening in late March or early April.

Met savings goal!

February 18th, 2009 at 10:10 am

Well, I determined $1100 of tax refund money could go into the baby/emergency fund, plus $.28 of savings interest, so that means I exceeded my February goal of putting $168 into the EF! I might even put more savings in by the end of the month, but I'm waiting to see if I need to put it toward debt to reach that goal instead.

I also managed to put an extra $63 into the vacation fund for another day of car rental, and $550 away for home improvement (we'd originally saved that up to buy a new couch, but now it sounds like AS's mom will help us get fabric and spruce up our old one, so we may use this money to get material for curtains and maybe still have some left over for any unexpected repairs that come up!)

Finally, some progress in debt repayment

February 18th, 2009 at 08:13 am

My personal loan payment hit: $717 went to principal. I used about $200 of our tax refund money to pay a little extra because I was afraid I wouldn't hit my goal.

$1292 down, $808 to go on my February goal. I'm still going to be cutting it really close on my goal; I may have to figure out another extra payment to put somewhere. I mean, I have over $1000 of my federal refund going into our EF, so it wouldn't hurt to put a little more of that toward debt repayment. Better, psychologically, than missing my first debt-repay goal!

Speaking of missing goals, I'm doing terribly on eating fresh fruit every day; yesterday was the 6th day I've forgotten! And my crafts goals I haven't even started yet. But the month's only two-thirds over, so there's a chance I'll get to them. At least I worked out again last night, bringing my total to 5. Now I need 7 workouts in the next 11 days (gulp) to reach that goal. Sigh...

Back to debt repayment, to cheer myself up: I'm now $309 away from having my own credit card debt under $25K! You know those commercials that say "Do you have $5000, $10000, even $25000 in credit card debt?" Well, I always yell "shut up!" at the screen, because I've had more than that for years. But now, subtracting the loan from my dad, and NT's credit card, I have just $25,308 in credit card debt. So close to being slightly under the number that announcer uses to terrify people! Woo hoo!

365 days of dinner: Feb. 12-14, 2009

February 16th, 2009 at 11:11 am

This first dish, which we had Thursday, is my No. 1 favorite meal and has been ever since I discovered it. Pasta Della California, from Veganomicon, with my personal twist of putting baked, chopped-up Morningstar buffalo wings on top at the end. It's pricier than most of our meals because it requires not only buffalo wings but avocados and arugula. But it's simply the most delicious dish in the whole world!



Friday I wanted something simple and laid-back, so we had spaghetti in a really simple recipe, with olive oil, garlic, fresh flat-leaf parsley, and crispy breadcrumbs on top (I sauteed them in oil to crisp them up). AS and NT also had shredded parmesan on top. It was quite tasty despite its simplicity!



Saturday night AS made danishes for us to have the next day. We split one before we went out to dinner! Breathtaking, and 100% vegan. This pic doesn't really do them justice...



We had our Valentine's dinner at a little organic, mostly vegetarian, locally sourced restaurant. Right away coming in you could tell they were having some kind of drama. I think they had more customers than they were used to or something, and they were out of several dishes. The waitresses were tense and stressed-out. Despite all that, our food came promptly and with no problems and tasted perfectly fine, so we're still not sure what was going on.

I had a very tasty falafel appetizer with dill-tahini sauce:



My main course was a vegan mac & cheese. I could tell they did a nutritional-yeast sauce similar to what I do at home. Mine's better though, much more flavorful.



NT's main course was a gorgeously flavored portobello tureen over roasted cauliflower. I wished I'd ordered that!



AS had a barbecue tempeh sandwich and salad. The tempeh had a really different texture from what we're used to, but the waitress said she couldn't really ask the chef about it. Tension!



For dessert we had a cappucino brownie and some cookies. Nice, but nothing compared to what AS can come up with at home. She spoils us!