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Archive for June, 2009

July goals

June 30th, 2009 at 05:07 pm

OK, I think I've got my goals settled. I decided to add two more categories, "Side hustles" and "Other," to allow for more flexibility. I won't necessarily give myself a goal in all eight areas every month; in fact, this gives me more room to be creative and think of goals that inspire me.

So, for July, my goals are:
1. Debt: Pay off at least $2,000 of debt. This will be a bit of a stretch, but I think attainable.

2. Savings: Save at least $800: $125 for AS's retirement, $675 for the baby/emergency fund.

3. Fitness: Swim at least three times in our rooftop pool. No time or duration requirements; just get up there and at least swim a little bit!

4. Environmentalism: Try to get off some junk-mail lists. We did the thing a couple years ago where you sign up to get taken off junk-mail lists, but we still get lots of credit card and other offers. I'll try to call each company and request to be removed from their lists as junk mail comes in this month.

5. Creative/crafts: Two goals this month; I have to finish the first one for sure, and the second is if I feel inspired.

First goal: Some super-secret crafts goal for AS for our 12-year anniversary. (We agreed this weekend to give each other handmade presents. I won't be able to talk about it till I give it to her, since she reads this blog, but I have one or two ideas floating around.)

Second goal: Start new blog. I know, I know. I already have this blog and one where I blog my thoughts about trying to get pregnant. But I want to try and make a money-making blog. I think I know what I'm going to do, but in this case I don't want to write too much about it until I've made some progress.

6. Philanthropy: Free month. If I see a charitable opportunity I may take it, but no specific goal.

7. Side hustles: Perform more tasks on Mechanical Turk. It's this thing on that I learned about from either The Simple Dollar or Get Rich Slowly, where you do small tasks online for pennies. The money gradually builds up and they pay you once you reach $10. I started it this month and made almost $2, but I had to stop and devote all my time to the RFE for NT's residency. Which brings me to:

8. Other: Finish compiling evidence and send out RFP by second week in July. This is an absolute requirement for NT to stay in the U.S., so I wanted to put it up there as a concrete goal and make sure I get it done in time!

June goals review

June 30th, 2009 at 04:13 pm

1. Debt: Pay off at least $1600 of debt.
Progress: DONE! $1804 paid
Balance as of 6/30: $395,579
Goal balance was: $395,783

2. Savings: Save at least $1440
Progress: DONE!
* $620 to the emergency fund
* $120 to AS's retirement
* $700 to the Wisconsin vacation

3. Fitness: Try out my new personal-trainer Wii game.
Status: Failed (unless I try it out tonight, which I'm not sure I will)

4. Environmentalism: no goal this month

5. Creative/crafts: Crop art. DONE! Created a beans-and-grains version of the Obama symbol. Smile

6. Philanthropy: Hold a vegan bake sale and raise money for a charity.
Status: While I started doing the research and recruiting friends, I soon discovered that Minneapolis ordinances are very strict concerning food sales, so I would be unable to hold a bake sale. One charitable act that came up randomly this month: donated $10 to a walk to raise funds for lupus research.

So overall, I completed 3 out of 5 goals, and one I was unable to complete through no fault of my own. (The fitness one, though, is down to pure laziness. Smile)

Another June payment toward debt

June 30th, 2009 at 03:27 pm

One of AS's student loans hit today, with $60 going to principal.

That means we've paid $1804 of our debt this month, exceeding our goal of $1600.

That's the last payment that will come today, and I don't think I'll do anything else toward my June goals (unless I work out tonight, which considering my recent lack of any desire to do so is unlikely), so I'll write a wrap-up of my goals shortly and set some for July. (I haven't really decided on them so I'm not sure how specific or fleshed-out they will be.)

Prepaid plan costs update

June 29th, 2009 at 04:43 pm

So I switched to prepaid in late March, meaning it's been 3 months. I initially paid $241.63 to get us set up with phones and minutes.

NT's phone is with Net10, and he started with 60 days of service. So we had to buy more minutes for him in late May, at $32.65 for 300 minutes and another 60 days of service. (He hadn't used up his previous 300, but they roll over as long as you re-up in time.)

AS just used up her first 1,000 minutes, so I bought her another 1,000 at $107.40. (We hope to get this batch to last longer than three months; AS has gotten much better this past month at controlling her conversations with her mom, and at insisting that she call her mom via Skype vs. her mom calling her.)

So our total cost so far is $381.68.

So far, if I divide our total cost by 3, our new plan has cost us $127.23 per month. However, we have a good chance of gradually getting that average down. I've barely used any of my 1,000 minutes and I don't need to re-up until March of next year unless I run out of minutes before then.

(Our cellphone bill, for three phones on a family plan, used to range from $80-$95, depending on texts, calls to 411, etc. Usually it was close to $85. My goal is to get my average cost below that, preferably to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 will be a savings.)

More money toward debt

June 27th, 2009 at 11:35 pm

One of AS's student loans hit: $113 went to principal, increasing the amount we exceeded the June goal: $1744 toward debt instead of $1600.

NT just got news in the mail that he's getting some kind of payment from one of his pension companies: 214 pounds if he agrees to have his fund rolled into a new company or something. Sounds good to us, so all we have to do is send back confirmation and they'll mail us a check (or cheque, I guess Smile). I don't know when it will come, but then we'll mail it back to his mom to put in his UK checking account (to avoid currency conversion fees) and we'll put it in our baby/emergency fund.

No other money news for now. It's a hot, lazy Saturday and I'm just trying to get my banking done before we go over to our friends' house for dinner. (Yay, not cooking! Smile)

Refreshing drinks for summer

June 25th, 2009 at 06:03 pm

Summer is definitely upon us in Minneapolis, in all its oppressively hot, stormy glory. So it's no wonder my mind has been on fresh (and refreshing) beverages to keep on hand in the fridge.

Here are my ideas. Do you have any to add?
Sweet tea
Fresh-squeezed lemonade or lemon-limeade
Arnold Palmers (half tea, half lemonade)
Agua fresca

(That last one is a relatively new concept for me, so I'll explain):

A Mexican beverage consisting of water, fruit flavoring and sweetener. So far I've made tamarind agua fresca from a flavor packet I found in the Mexican section of the grocery store; must add 2-1/2 cups of sugar for a whole pitcher because tamarind is TART. It was really, really good though. Going to try and find tamarind pods to boil per recipe on

I've also made cantaloupe agua fresca. Take a whole cantaloupe; put half the flesh plus 2 cups water in a blender and liquify, pour in pitcher. Put other half of cantaloupe and 2 more cups of water in blender and liquify; pour in pitcher. Add 1/2 cup of sweetener of your choice and then add up to 2 cups more of water; depending on size of pitcher/cantaloupe, you may or may not have room! This drink tastes amazing on its own or shaken with tequila; I'm thinking about calling THAT drink a "cantelita"!

Happy belated blogoversary to me

June 23rd, 2009 at 06:39 pm

Darn it, I missed it again! My two-year anniversary of being in this community was Sunday.

Once again, I have to thank all of you for reading about my journey, offering encouragement and advice, and sharing your own financial lives with me so I can learn from them and hopefully help you too.

With your support keeping me focused, I've paid off over $62,000 of debt, increased my household's net worth by $40,000 despite the market, and created a budget that I stick to and a set of financial-management skills that should carry me in a positive direction for the rest of my life.

It's a never-ending journey, so I would love to be part of this community for years to come!

June 2009 net worth update

June 23rd, 2009 at 03:40 pm

NT's UK pensions: 7,250 pounds ($14,500)
10,725 pounds ($21,450)
NT's 401(k): $4,241
AS's 403(b): $2,888
AS's CD: $500
AS retirement savings: $240
CJ's 401(k): $23,091
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $3,665
Total Assets: $490,575

Total Debt: $395,752

Current Estimated Net Worth: $94,823

May 2009 estimate: $92,118

Change in net worth: +$2,705

Summary: Numbers changed favorably, though incrementally, for a small improvement in net worth. Inching toward that $100K mark!

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.

365 days of dinner: June 12-20, 2009

June 21st, 2009 at 08:14 pm

Friday, June 12, we had a spicy pasta bake with garlic baguette:

On Saturday, we had a tamale-making party with a few friends. It was my first time making tamales, which was easier and funner than I thought it would be. The only problem was that the farmers-market jalapenos I bought and roasted to put inside the tamales were so hot, everyone could only eat a couple each. We also had mollete (refried beans on an AS-baked bolillo roll), guasacaca (Venezualan avocado dip) and a mango rice pilaf that NT just made up (he's awesome like that). Unfortunately, I only took a pic of some of the tamales, right before they went into the steamer:

Sunday NT did all the cooking. He made this salad with blackened cherry tomatoes tossed with balsamic vinegar, Bacos (did you know Bacos are vegan?) and vinaigrette. Yum! The main course was a fantastic risotto with Thai green curry, edamame, mushrooms and a topping of fresh cilantro that we grew!

On Monday, June 15, I was making penne marinara, and to make it unique decided to try making "beanballs" from a Veganomicon recipe. I didn't get the texture quite right (they were kind of falling apart) and I scorched them somewhat while pan-frying them, but the flavor was fantastic (actually the burnt bits were the most delicious), so I may try them again, with more gluten flour, and try baking them to see if that helps them hold together better.

Tuesday, I was meant to cook, but we got the request for more evidence from USCIS, so I was busy freaking out and digging out paperwork. So NT stepped up to bat and made Memphis BBQ tofu (from the Vegan Dad site), steamed asparagus and potato salad.

Wednesday, June 17, our friends weren't able to come over (they were bringing dinner), so AS and I scraped some spending money between us and treated ourselves and NT to Thai food from one of Minneapolis's favorite mini-chains, Sawatdee. We had spring rolls, pad thai and massaman curry:

Thursday I made a massive taco salad, with burger crumbles, leftover refried beans and guasacaca, black-eyed peas, tofu sour cream, etc., etc. So good, but I'm ashamed to say I finished mine while NT and AS left some in their bowls. Hey, it had lettuce and tomato, therefore it was healthy!

NT got off work early on Friday, so when I got home he was making fresh pasta with CSA spinach and sun-dried tomatoes. He topped this dish with homegrown basil.

Last night, June 20, we had friends over. They'd just gotten back from Tanzania and wanted Thai food, but since we'd just had that, we talked them into getting food from Kindho, our now-favorite Vietnamese restaurant since Lotus on Hennepin closed down. They also have some Thai elements in their food so it worked. At AS's request I also made tofu spring rolls and Lotus-style dipping sauce for everyone.

Woo hoo! I'm all caught up!

Met June savings goal!

June 18th, 2009 at 02:23 pm

Today on the regular biweekly deposit, I put $725 into savings. The original plan was to put it all toward the Wisconsin vacation, but we're scaling back by $100 to help compensate for my upcoming furlough, so I put $625 toward Wisconsin--fully funding the vacation at $2900--and the remaining $100 toward the baby/emergency fund. (I will deposit $100 less to the EF next month, if you're wondering where the $100 actually gets removed from our budget.)

So that's most of my goals taken care of. The only ones I haven't met are my fitness goal--no excuse for that but laziness--and the philanthropic goal. I did go so far as to get a friend interested in helping me, brainstorm locations and look up Minneapolis law on bake sales--and there my goal stalled, because apparently you need an $80 license and an industrial kitchen--no home-cooked food can be sold to the general public in Minneapolis. Sigh. But at least I did something slightly philanthropic this month: donated $10 to lupus research in the name of a co-worker who has the condition.

Reached June debt goal! Green card stress

June 17th, 2009 at 06:23 pm

Well, my personal loan payment hit today, and almost the whole payment went to principal! $614, to be exact. So that means I've paid $1631 off this month, exceeding my goal of $1600. And I may still have another of AS's student loan payments hit yet this month.

Even more exciting for me, the personal loan, which is my highest-interest debt and a $623 monthly drain on the budget, is now under $10,000! Yep, it looks a lot prettier at $9,803. Even more incentive to snowflake the hell out of it, now that I can see the end in sight.

I've been meaning to write a blog entry about "side hustles" (thanks to Frugal Dad for the cute term), avenues for extra income that I'm thinking about pursuing, such as creating blogs to make ad revenue with. But we just got an RFE (Request for Evidence) for making NT's U.S. residence permanent, so I'm going to be throwing all my energy into creating an exhaustive packet of evidence to send off to them. Don't want to screw this up! I will talk more about side hustles once this task has been taken care of.

Progress on the June debt goal

June 16th, 2009 at 02:14 pm

One of AS's student loans hit, with $76 going to principal. I also tallied her student loan debt and realized she is only $451 away from getting it under $30,000. Nice! I like symbolic turning points.

$1017 down, $583 to go on June's debt goal. I should wipe that out in the next day or two, since my regular personal loan payment will be nearly all principal thanks to my two snowflake payments this month. But if not, AS has another student loan payment near the end of the month that will tip us over the edge.

365 days of dinner: June 1-11, 2009

June 15th, 2009 at 04:18 am

Time for some more dinner pics. Let's see how many I get done before I get tired!

Monday, June 1, I had a completely bland white beans and grain dish and some steamed broccoli. NT and AS also had these tomato-rosemary-olive tarts (I can't remember their exact name, but they're from this great cookbook called Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone).

Tuesday, last day of my cleanse, I had a lentil-buckwheat salad, and AS and NT (lucky bastards) had veggie "chicken" parmesan over spaghetti.

Next day, June 3, to celebrate the end of my diet, AS made me vegan Rice Krispie treats! Very exciting, since marshmallows have gelatin and I haven't had one of my favorite snacks in years. I won't show them because they didn't stick together enough, but they tasted sooo good, we all just ate handfuls of it. Our friends came over and brought dinner, so we had two lovely curries and roti, and NT heated up these neat roulade appetizers we got at the Indian grocery store a few weeks ago--greens and chickpea flour rolled up together and cut into little rounds. Everything was especially good, possibly because I was so happy to be eating spiced food again. Smile

Thursday, June 4, I made fajitas with zucchini, yellow bell pepper and pinto beans:

On Friday, we had an easy dinner of veggie burgers or chicken patties, with a salad of some of the veggies we got from our very first CSA box of the year!

Saturday, June 6, we had a couple of friends over, and we had build-your-own-salad (which I fo