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Archive for March, 2009

March wrap-up

March 31st, 2009 at 04:35 pm

Knowing we would be on vacation a third of the month, and that we'd be celebrating three birthdays, I didn't set any other goals beyond debt repayment and savings. Good thing, too: March felt like a very full and busy month, yet I did nothing very creative, fitnessy, philanthropic or environmental. I did keep up the green habits we have so far, and walked around a LOT in Vegas (6 miles one day!), and dropped off the food drive items I had already collected in February. So it wasn't a total wash in those areas, but I'm glad I didn't set any ambitious goals.

Debt- and savings-wise, I did great this month:

1. Pay off at least $2100 of debt
Balance as of 3/31: $400,680
Goal balance: $400,868
Progress: DONE! ($2,288 paid)

2. Save at least $540 for baby/emergency fund.
EF balance at 3/26: $2,953.79
Goal balance: $2,898.46
Progress: DONE! ($595.33 saved)

I didn't have to do any real work to reach these; the key is good budgeting and careful planning. I can look ahead to the next month and fairly accurately state the minimum I'll be able to pay off and save. Anything extra that comes in is gravy.

Yay March! It was a really fun month. Looking forward to coming up with goals for April.

Final payment in March

March 31st, 2009 at 03:30 pm

One of AS's student loan payments hit just in time to be included in my March totals! $57 went to principal, so that wraps up March with $2288 of debt paid off. I'll do my end-of-month wrap-up later in the day, and hopefully my April goals (if I've settled on the specifics yet).

365 days of dinner: March 22-30, 2009

March 31st, 2009 at 04:56 am

Our food looks so much better with our new camera! Smile

Sunday, March 22, when we got home from Vegas we were so tired we wanted something easy. Our friends had given us some fusilli and a jar of organic heirloom-tomato sauce, so we threw those together, with just a hint of margarine:

Monday, March 23, we had a very laid-back meal of tofu dogs, tater tots and Bush's vegetarian baked beans:

(I had my baked beans right on top of my dogs!)

Tuesday (March 24) is NT's night off school, so he usually makes dinner. This time he made Thai green curry with mock duck over rice:

Wednesday, March 25, our friend NJ cooked this delicious kidney bean and cabbage dish with arborio rice (and an awesome baked pear with chocolate filling that I forgot to photograph):

Thursday I made our standard mushroom pasta, but we didn't have farfalle so I made it with whole wheat rotini instead:

Friday NT cooked us a quick spicy garlic pasta with chopped breaded chik'n patty on it, so we could run out to a friend's party soon after:

Saturday, March 28, we had our old standby, pizza:

(OK, I forgot to take a photo, so I lifted this one from a previous post! Smile)

Sunday morning AS and I teamed up to make vegan sausage-apple brunch bundles, courtesy of the Vegan Dad Cookbook that we just got NT for his birthday (you should check out his

Text is site and Link is

And Sunday night, I made cheese-and-(veggie)chicken quesadillas, and NT made Spanish rice and beans:

Tonight we just had veggie burgers (though check out the super-flat buns we found at Target!), but I fancied them up with sides of potato salad and garlicky kale:

Cost of new prepaid plan

March 30th, 2009 at 02:26 am

I've gotten all three of our phones switched to prepaid. T-Mobile only allows two prepaid accounts per household, so I had to switch one phone to Net10. I bought a Net10 phone for $26.83, and it came with 300 minutes and 60 days of service. We have to order more (at 10 cents a minute) before 60 days are up in order to keep the phone active.

Then I bought 1000 minutes each for my and AS's now-prepaid T-Mobile phones, at $107.40 each. Our numbers will stay active for 12 months before we need to buy more minutes (though I expect us both to need more before then).

So far, I've spent $241.63. I'm going to keep track and see what the cost averages out to over the course of a year. I'm hoping to get costs down to $50 per month. Our old plan cost anywhere from $84 to $91 per month (depending on the number of texts we sent), so anything better than that will be a savings. But I'm really shooting for $50. That would be an awesome savings.

Another March debt payment

March 27th, 2009 at 06:34 pm

One of AS's student loan payments hit, with $116 going to principal. So now we're at $2,231 of debt paid off for March. And we're edging excitingly closer to getting below $400,000!

That will be an exciting goal to hit, though after that, I know it will take years to hit another 100K milestone. I'll find other things to get excited about, though, such as when our non-mortgage debt dips below $100K (which should take no more than five months, and possibly less).

Met & exceeded March savings goal

March 26th, 2009 at 05:54 pm

Today I deposited $345 into my baby/emergency fund, bringing my monthly savings total to $595.33 and my EF total to $2953.79. My goal was to save $540 this month, so I've reached it and then some!

365 days of dinner: March 13-21, 2009

March 26th, 2009 at 01:07 am

I'm going to cram all of Vegas into one entry, so here goes!

Friday night we were too annoyed and tired to eat dinner; we'd had a snack at the airport before our flight that ended up being more filling than we expected. AS did go down to the store and get some OJ, so I took a pic of that just to have some record of the day:

Saturday for lunch we had amazing vegan Chinese food at a place called Veggie Delight. All the menu items were made with fake meat!

That night, we ate at Cheesecake Factory. OK food, but way overpriced for what it was. I had the tamale appetizer and a giant serving of spaghetti.

Sunday night (March 15) we went to the Spice Market buffet at Planet Hollywood. It was more expensive than later, better buffets we tried. Good hummus though!

Monday's lunch was at the Bellagio buffet, which was tastier, less expensive and more broad-ranging than the Spice Market. So good, in fact, that I forgot to take photos! I did snap one of my friend's dessert, luckily. Good thing I did, too, because I was feeling sick that night and didn't have dinner, and no one else photographed theirs.

Tuesday night (March 17) we had more amazing food, this time at Komol, a Thai restaurant.

The next day we had a hurried, but delectable, meal at a place called Red Velvet. I highly recommend it if you want something to satisfy vegans, vegetarians and meateaters. I forgot to take a pic till we got back to the room, so here's pics of my leftovers:

That night we just dinner at a place in the Luxor; it wasn't very remarkable and I forgot to take pictures.

Thursday (March 19) for lunch, we went to our favorite buffet, the Carnival World Buffet at the Rio.

That night we had dinner at a Chinese restaurant in New York, New York. Can't remember the name, but it was pretty good for being a Strip restaurant!

Friday, March 20: We decided to go back to the Rio for dinner, since we liked it so much for lunch!

Saturday (March 21) we had lunch at a delightful place called Cozymel's that did sort of California-style Mexican food. Really reasonably priced, and lovely outdoor seating as well.

And that night, for NT's birthday dinner, we had even more incredible food at an Indian restaurant called Ghandi.

And that was it for our holiday eating!

March net worth update

March 25th, 2009 at 08:26 pm

NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $3,473
AS's 403(b): $2,888
AS's CD: $500
CJ's 401(k): $19,956
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $2609
Total Assets: $485,376

Total Debt: $400,853

Current Estimated Net Worth: $84,523

February 2009 estimate: $80,612

Change in net worth: +$3,911

Summary: With all the excitement recently (especially NT being free of CC debt!!), I nearly forgot to do our net worth for March. My 401(k) actually increased in value, as did NT's, and we paid off a good amount of debt, so we gained some ground in our net worth.

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.

NT is CC debt free!!

March 25th, 2009 at 07:29 pm

I sent a payment off to NT's last credit card a few days ago, and AS confirmed it went through. In fact, they owe us 8 pounds 50! That means that NT is now completely free of credit card debt, joining the happy ranks with AS!

Happy dance, happy dance...whew! OK. So that means we've paid off $2115 of debt, exceeding my March goal of $2100.

AND I get to add to my Old Debt Graveyard page for the first time in ages!

Hooray! I'm so excited!!!

Vacation spending totals

March 23rd, 2009 at 08:41 pm

OK, it took me a while and I'm still not sure if it's exact, because some things needed to be cash and some had to be charged to the hotel room, while most I charged to my debit card. So you'll notice there's a large "miscellaneous" category that was just stuff we used our spending money for; I didn't keep receipts nor did I ask anyone to for those purchases.

Planned categories totaled $4,864.95, plus between us we brought $436.00 of our own spending money that we'd saved up, so we came to Vegas with $5,300.95 spent or available to spend. We came home with $174 between the three of us, which means our trip cost us $5,176.95. Whew!

The first few unplanned expenses: $15 each for two checked bags, there and back for a total of $60. And a $5 per day phone charge regardless of whether we used the room phone, so $45 total. (Grrr...just add it to the cost of the room upfront if it's required--it's not really an optional amenity then, IS IT???)

Right away when we got there I realized that my estimate of $150 per day for three people was naive at current Las Vegas prices. I resolved not to freak out about every cent but to try and keep it down to a reasonable level. I also realized that NT loves slots as much as me and AS, so we'd be spending more time (and thus more money) playing than previously considered. Lucky we'd all brought extra spending money along!

On the plus side, we ended up not doing a couple of the activities that would have cost money, and a few of my budget categories actually had surpluses, so this helped with the overspending on food.

So here's our spending, the best I could figure it out. Deviations from the planned budget are noted in parentheses.

Flight & hotel package $2,226.95
Food $1,446.20 (overshot goal of $1300)
Crazy Horse show $151.50
Comedy Stop show $0.00 (canceled; was going to be $65.85)
Liberace museum $40.00
Spa $275.00 (budgeted: $300)
Rollercoaster $0.00 (didn't do; was going to be $20)
Car rental & insurance $111.37 (budgeted: $200 for this plus gas)
Gas $21.77
Other transportation $65.00 (budgeted: $100)
Park entrance fees $43.00 (budgeted: $100)
Gambling $300.00
Baggage fees $60.00 (unexpected expense)
Hotel phone fees $45.00 (unexpected expense)
Misc. food, drinks, slots, etc. $391.16 (various things paid in cash and not tracked, mostly extra gambling)
TOTAL $5,176.95

For you math geeks out there, that averages $172.57 per person per day, if you count travel days (which you should, since the plane was one of the biggest expenses!).

So, without the extra money we'd all squirreled away out of our regular weekly allowance, we'd have really struggled to come in under budget, but with that money, we made it! Vegas tried its best to bust our budget, but with a little restraint and strategizing, it all worked out.

More about the vacay itself when I post some pics tonight or tomorrow!

Fiscal fitness (inspired by momsents)

March 23rd, 2009 at 07:01 pm

I'm a sucker for quiz dealies. Smile

(1a) What major financial hurdles do you face?

So, so many! Nearly $31K in CC debt, nearly $75K in student loans, and mortgages on two properties totaling nearly $300K. Insufficient retirement funds that keep falling, and very little in savings. An ARM that I can't refinance because I owe more than my home is worth. Taxes that are about to get very complicated as NT's flat in England starts to make more of a profit, and AS contemplates starting a business.

(1b) How do you think you got to this point, and what would you like to see change?

I got here by being underinformed, irresponsible and very gullible. I bought into the consumerist fever of the 1990s-2000s. Thought that since everyone else was buying whatever they wanted and putting it on credit cards, it must not be a problem. Believed the mortgage and real estate people when they assured me my home would rise in value so that I'd be able to refinance at the end of five years. Failed to really understand finances on any real level and didn't have any good information presented to me from those around me or the media.

(2) State your financial positives in terms of income, debt management, savings.

Household income is still close to $100K even with one laid-off family member. I've paid off over $50K of debt in two years, and two of my three household members are about to be free of credit card debt. Currently saving an emergency fund, with a goal of getting to $10,000; we hope to reach that this year.

(3) How well are you prepared for a financial emergency?

If NT and I were laid off and AS was still unemployed, we could cut back expenses enough to live on unemployment and savings for six months. That's if we continue to pay the minimum on all debt and we don't walk away from the house.

(4) Write it down now: The amount we have tucked away for a rainy day fund is:


(5) How is the topic of money addressed in your family: Emotionally or rationally?

Mostly rationally. If emotionally, it's usually the positive emotions of feeling safer, more in control of our spending, smarter. Occasionally one of us will feel a bit trapped by our regimented budget, but it hasn't caused us to break ranks yet, and I don't think there's any real danger of that.

(6) Who makes the financial decisions?

I make the financial decisions. I keep the family informed and ask their input on major decisions, but they're quite happy to let me take care of things since I actually enjoy it. It's one of my main hobbies as well as my main responsibility!

Another financial milestone

March 23rd, 2009 at 06:11 pm

A couple months ago, I added another little widget to my total debt spreadsheet: It subtracts my monthly average amount going to principal(A) from my monthly average debt payments (mortgage payments included)(B) and divides it by my monthly payments. It looks like this: (B-A)/B. This gives me a sense of the percentage of my debt payments going to interest and fees. For the longest time, it was up over 50%.

Granted, there's the escrow and mortgage insurance and the fact that my 30-year mortgage is only in its sixth year, but still, that really sucked to see that more than half my payments were just going to maintaining my debt.

Now, with AS's newest student loan payment going to more than just interest, and with my personal loan's principal going up, it's down to 48.59%! That is a huge jump and makes me feel much better about my debt payments!

I don't look at that formula frequently, because it's just one line at the bottom of the spreadsheet and plus, it was depressing. So I just randomly noticed it while glancing at my spreadsheet after updating my numbers. I guess it's still a depressing percentage and will start bugging me in a couple days, but right now it's making me really happy because of how awful it was to see it up over 50% before!

Oh yeah, and I haven't even figured in the fact that NT's mortgage interest rate got dropped AGAIN, this time to 1.49%! That drop will be reflected at the first of the month, when I see what portion of his payments go to principal.

I'm back + steps toward debt goal

March 23rd, 2009 at 05:01 pm

Hi everyone! I'm back from vacation, full of photos and stories to share. The pics are on my home computer, so that will have to wait. I did try to keep up with 365 days of dinner and I think I have most of our dinners and even a few lunches captured, though my eating schedule was a tad irregular. I did some money-tracking during the trip and am awaiting one more dollar amount before I post my totals.

Anyway, while I was gone two payments hit. One of AS's student loans hit, with $107 going to principal. I got a letter from them saying they were capitalizing some interest, but I didn't see that reflected, so I'm not sure what that's about. All I care about is that the principal went down by $107 from what I had recorded!

Also, my personal loan hit, with $549 going to principal. With my official CC debt under $31,000 (and keeping in mind the $4K or so I transferred into student-loan debt), I now declare us halfway to our Big-Picture Goal of no CC/personal loan debt!

All told, $1,553 down, $547 to go on the March goal. Woo hoo!

365 days of dinner: March 10-12, 2009

March 13th, 2009 at 03:32 am

Tuesday night we had fresh pasta with pistou sauce, pine nuts and veggies. NT has perfected making pasta on a pasta's just amazing.

Wednesday I made pasta primavera with whole wheat pasta and a soymilk/nutritional-yeast based sauce. Fresh broccoli, carrots, frozen peas were the main veggies. I thought it was only all right, but everyone seemed to like it.

Tonight I made oven-roasted cauliflower, herbed potatoes and marinated portobello mushrooms, with our favorite gravy, "chickeny sauce," for the potatoes.

These are our last homemade meals for awhile, because tomorrow night we'll be in Las Vegas! I'll try to remember to take photos every night. I figure we'll be taking our new camera everywhere with us anyway, so hopefully we won't forget!

First step toward savings goal

March 12th, 2009 at 04:06 pm

$250 went into the savings account today, all toward the baby/emergency fund, and 33 cents of interest was also applied toward the goal. So $289.67 to go on my March savings goal. EF balance is $2608.79.

365 days of dinner: March 5-9, 2009

March 10th, 2009 at 11:40 pm

Thursday was taco night. I like to do build-your-own tacos so everyone can have just the right filling for themselves. We each took a picture of our results (note the face NT made with his, middle picture):

Friday was (of course) pizza night:

Saturday was AS's birthday party. I'd been feeling kind of gurgly and not-right in my stomach for a few days, so I ended up not eating anything for dinner. Here's a delicious avocado dip called guasacaca that one of NT's co-workers brought over. I just tasted it tonight, and it's fabulous!

Sunday NT and I were both feeling kind of yucky, so we skipped dinner and AS fended for herself. At about 11 p.m. I did have a piece of AS's birthday cake, which we bought from the local co-op:

Yesterday we were feeling mostly back to normal, so I made Asian marinated tofu with a side of stir-fried veggies, served over quinoa. I left the tofu under the broiler a bit too long, so it ended up more like Asian flavored croutons, but they still tasted pretty good. Smile

365 days of dinner: March 4, 2009

March 10th, 2009 at 09:29 pm

Last Wednesday was AS's birthday, and we had takeout Chinese food over at our friends' place. I just got the photo of the food last night.

The restaurant is Evergreen Chinese, recommended by a couple fellow bloggers. It's really near our place, reasonably priced, and chock full of vegan and vegetarian options as well as meat! We split about 7 dishes between the 5 of us, so that we could try a bunch of different things. It was amazing! We'll definitely be going there from time to time. It's good to know there's an option like this nearby.

We've been eating out a LOT (by our standards), but it's all been using spending money or money that's in the budget for that purpose. In Vegas next week, of course, we'll be eating out every night. Very unusual year so far, compared with our eating habits of the past two.

365 days of dinner: Feb. 27-March 3, 2009

March 5th, 2009 at 09:25 pm

I don't have last night's dinner yet because I took it with my friend's much better camera. But I have plenty to catch up on:

Friday, Feb. 27: We had a nice pasta bake that NT made up the night before and AS popped in the oven to be ready when we got home. We were going to a party later, so we needed something fast, and this worked out perfectly (and was delicious!) NT divided the pasta bake into two loaf pans so one could have real cheese.

Saturday, Feb. 28: Another party to go to, and NT had to get his DJ equipment there early, so I bought pizza delivery for all three of us. This time we went with Galactic Pizza, the other wonderful vegan-friendly place we love besides Pizza Luce.

Sunday, March 1: Lemon pepper pasta courtesy of NT, a staple in our house. It had loads of fresh veggies including spinach, basil, red peppers and mushrooms. Yummy!!

Monday, March 2: It was my birthday so we went out to dinner at Namaste, a little Indian cafe near our place. I forgot to take our camera! Luckily I found a photo of NT's appetizer online, some kind of potato-yogurt thing with spicy rice crispies (I don't know, but he was ecstatic over it!) I had a wonderful potato croquette thingie with mushroom filling called aloo chop, and our main dishes were these mild bean concoctions. Not the Indian food I'm used to, but tasty nonetheless. They had a spicy coconut chutney on the side, which I've never had but really liked.

Tuesday, March 3, I made a vegetarian pot pie in a square casserole dish. I even made the crust myself (usually I make AS do it)! We had leftover mashed sweet/regular potatoes on the side. It kind of came apart, but I wanted to show off the creamy (yet vegan) insides as well as the crust I did myself (did I mention that?)! Smile

Another debt payment and under $25K!

March 4th, 2009 at 04:00 pm

My credit card payment hit: $219 went to principal.

$897 down, $1203 to go on my March goal.

And...drumroll please...with this payment, my own personal credit debt is less than $25,000! $24,983 to be exact. I also owe my dad $6,000 and I count it in my credit card/personal category, so my total personal debt in that area is $30,983. Within two months, I'll get that under $30K. It's not going away as fast as it once was, but it's going!

Two more payments to debt

March 3rd, 2009 at 03:20 pm

The U.S. mortgage hit, with $275 going to principal, and one of AS's student loan payments, with $55 to principal. $330 total.

$678 down, $1422 to go on my March goal.

I love the first few days of the month for all the little payments that chip away at my debt!

First step to March debt goal

March 2nd, 2009 at 04:46 pm

Our UK mortgage payments hit: US$348 went toward principal. NT's mortgage interest rates are at 1.99%! They keep lowering them. The payments keep getting smaller yet the amount going to principal keeps growing. It's kind of amazing. I wish my U.S. mortgage was that kind of variable. Smile

$1752 to go on my March goal.

Happy birthday Dr. Seuss! And March goals

March 2nd, 2009 at 03:52 pm

Today is my birthday! Along with Dr. Seuss, Sam Houston, Jon Bon Jovi and Lou Reed.

March has become a month of anniversaries of new beginnings. AS's birthday is this month, and NT's, and two of our moms'. It's also the month I started my current job, as well as the job I had before this one. And March is the month I really threw myself into decoding my financial mess and getting on a path to recovery for good.

This month looks like it's going to be especially festive: Dinner out tonight for my birthday, takeout at our friends' place Wednesday for AS's birthday, a party for AS (it's her 30th so we're making a big deal) on Saturday, leaving for Vegas on Friday the 13th, seeing our friend from New York for the first four days of the vacation, St. Patrick's Day that Tuesday, NT's birthday that Saturday, and--when we get back--sending out the packet to the government to ask them to lift the conditional status on NT's permanent U.S. residency.

That said, I've decided to give myself a freebie month in terms of goals. If I do healthy, green, craftsy or philanthropic things I will take note of them, but if I don't it's OK too.

For my debt-repayment goal, I want to pay off $2100 of debt again. And for my savings goal, a modest hope to save $540 toward the baby/emergency fund.

February wrap-up

March 2nd, 2009 at 03:15 pm

February was a partial success for my goals:

1. I exceeded my debt repayment goal by $53, for a total of $2153.

2. I exceeded my savings goal by $957.28, saving $1375.28.

3. I worked out 10 times (just 2 short of my goal), and ate fresh fruit 20 of the 28 days (I was going for every day).

4. So far, we've replaced every product we've run out of with something greener, whether it's a homemade product or something storebought. Our main focuses are reducing packaging and number of harsh ingredients.

5. I completed weaving a piece of fabric out of yarn on a cardboard loom. However, I decided to leave the planting of basil and cilantro to another month.

6. I didn't do much research on philanthropic opportunities, but I did start collecting food for this month's food drive, checked my eligibility for the blood drive (not eligible), and several people brought us more eyeglasses that we'll donate next time we go to the mall.

Overall, a partial success, but considering it was such a short month and I was sick for the first week, I feel good about my progress.