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Archive for January, 2011

Prepaid phone plan costs update

January 31st, 2011 at 08:58 pm

AS lost her prepaid phone. Luckily they suspended her phone number and her nearly 500 minutes until she ordered a new one, so all we had to pay for was the cost of a new phone. Not as bad as I thought it could be! (I used the budget to pay for the amount of the cheapest phone; AS opted for the next-higher-priced one and paid the difference out of her spending money, so I'm not counting that portion against our budget.)

CJ 1000 minutes late-March T-Mobile fillup: $107.78
NT 300 minutes late-March Net10 fillup: $32.82
NT 300 minutes late-May Net10 fillup: $32.82
NT 500 minutes + new phone late June: $21.56
AS 1000 minutes late-August fillup: $107.78
CJ 1000 minutes late-September fillup: $107.78
AS new phone + $25 phone card (200 min?): $32.32
NT 300 minutes early-October fillup: $32.87
NT 200 minutes late-December fillup: $32.87
AS late-January phone replacement: $29.88

Total cost for the year: $538.48

This happened 10 months into our cellphone "fiscal year," so our average monthly cost for this year is $53.85. Our best average yet!

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009. We have 2 phones on T-Mobile prepaid and 1 on Net10 prepaid. AS and I refill in 1000-minute increments and only need to refill when we run out or when it's been a year since our last fillup to stay active. NT needs to buy 300 more minutes every 60 days to keep his phone activated.

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 for this year is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 will be a savings.

One more debt repayment; Jan. goals wrap-up; Feb. goals

January 31st, 2011 at 05:51 am

First off THANK you to those of you who braved my shared blog post topic. I didn't expect when I came up with the idea to do this that my first topic would be so BIG, but it's what was going on with me, and I appreciated the candor and bravery of everyone who shared. I've been avidly reading them all and feel really impressed with everyone's honesty as well as inspired by, moved by and totally in sync with various things that people shared. And I loved that there was as much celebration of what you wouldn't change as there was honesty about what you would. This is definitely something I'll try to do each month this year.

AS's last student loan payment squeaked in before the end of the month: $58 went to principal. That brings us up to $5901 of debt paid!!! I predict you will not soon see this level in my blog for the rest of the year.

Also, today I read a book! One of my goals that I thought I was going to fall short on this month. I chose one that looked do-able in a couple days, and it only took me a few hours. It was The Colorado Kid by Stephen King. I used to be a HUGE King fan, but in recent years I stopped reading because he just got so self-indulgent and his over-the-top writing style was making it hard to get into his newer books. This one was a bit more restrained, probably because it was written for a pulp-mystery series so he had to be brief. What's funny is that it wasn't pulpy at all; it was kind of folksy despite it being about a mysterious dead man. And it didn't have any supernatural elements, which honestly was kind of refreshing. I really enjoyed it and was glad to see he still has some thought-provoking, more disciplined writing in him.

I made good progress on my year's goals this month, so let me sum up (some will be repetitive from other entries):
-Paid off one of AS's student loans
-Saved $300 to Roth IRAs
-Increased EF by $1319.49
-Gave $35 to charities
-Got AS to within $6410 of having positive net worth
-Paid off $5901 of debt
-Lost about 2.5 lbs., getting to 153 lbs.
-Did some planning for trips we'll be taking
-Applied for 3 jobs
-Sent our estate-planning goals to our lawyer
-Read a book
-Organized a baby playdate
-Wrote a "share your thoughts" blog post

The only thing I didn't make progress on was making extra money with side hustles. (Which is an annual goal; I don't necessarily need to do it every month.) So I feel really good! Since I've completely failed to exercise this month, it feels like I'm falling down on everything, but I'm really not doing that badly. Especially since the extra monkeywrenches of finding a new parking-spot renter and a new daycare provider took time and attention away from my goals.

Now for February's debt goal:
Since I paid off that student loan, our MINIMUM principal payments come to less than $1000 ($957 to be exact). That would bug me, to pay off less than $1000, so I'm going to make sure I find money in the budget (by extra income or by skimping on another line item) to pay off at least $1000.

Share Your Thoughts: What would you change?

January 28th, 2011 at 09:14 pm

One thing I resolved to do this year was to write one blog post per month that invited anyone else in the community to write a post on the same topic.

Looking for a new job causes a lot of soul-searching in addition to Google searching. On the one hand, I've just delved into applying to jobs that fit very closely to my existing job duties and experience. But on the other, I'm trying to step back mentally and take stock of my past job history, the possibilities (whether likely or remote) that I see in my future, and just my life in general.

If I'm really honest with myself about what I like and don't like about all of the above, what I think I'm capable of (or think I could be capable of with some education or training), hopefully it will help me make the best decisions in the coming months.

So this is the question that's been coming to mind recently, especially today: What would I change--about myself, my job, my home, my life? I'm really interested to hear what others think when you take stock, so if you could write your own post, or just reply to mine, I'd be grateful.

Anyway, here's what I've come up with so far. Some things on the list aren't things I necessarily think are possible or know how to work toward; this is just a rough draft of thinking about a more ideal future.

What I would change about my job:

-I would work with people who respected me and were friendlier.
-I would work in an environment where the review and reward system, the management hierarchy, and the HR department were much more effective, where it was easier to make your voice heard when you had concerns or requests.
-I would either have it be easier, more straightforward and less stressful, OR I would want more money and a title that reflects the responsibilities I have.
-I would have my own office rather than a cubicle.

(What I wouldn't want to change is also important to consider: I wouldn't want to make much less money, and I wouldn't want to work much further from home. I'd still like to work with words in some capacity. I like having a private workspace so that when I do have downtime, I can entertain myself and/or do finances without worrying about people looking over my shoulder. And I wouldn't want to punch a clock; now that I have a kid but also in general, it's much more relaxing to not have to worry about coming in within a 5-minute window.)

As for what I actually would want to do, long-term I think I'd like to proofread or copy edit more creative, interesting things than what I do now. I wouldn't mind more writing assignments; I haven't gotten to write for over a year here, and I liked that. And I wouldn't mind branching into something entirely new, that isn't writing or editing, but I'm not sure if there are any areas I could move into where I wouldn't have to start at entry level all over again -- and at this point, I'm not feeling willing to take too much of a pay cut just to move into something different.

What I would change about myself/home/life:

-If I could wave a magic wand and become more confident, more able to navigate unfamiliar situations and rooms full of strangers without appearing nervous or tongue-tied, that is without a doubt the No. 1 thing I would change.
-I would be more energetic. Sometimes I just feel like such a slug, especially compared with my more industrious partners. I'd love to get more done in a week, be more creative, be tidier, work out more, go to more social and community events.
-Sure, there are some physical things I'd change. I wish I were more skilled at grooming so my hair looked sleeker and more professional. I know I should probably wear a bit of makeup to work. My wardrobe could still use some fine-tuning. These are things I can work on, so I probably will as I continue my job search.

But I still think the top thing (if only I could change it) would be to make myself more confident and outgoing.

The good news is, thinking about my home and home life, I can't really think of much that I would change (other than the above about being more creative, social and community-involved). Some parts are in process, but I like where things are now and where they seem to be going. I'm very comfortable with the lifestyle I have, my surroundings, etc., and I couldn't ask for a better family. If anything, my nice home life makes the bad work experience look even worse by comparison!

What about you?

More progress on goals, plus job doldrums

January 27th, 2011 at 12:58 am

One of AS's student loan payments went through with $121 going to principal. So that's $5843 to debt this month! This will be our biggest month maybe ever in terms of debt repayment.

AS donated $20 to the public transit nonprofit for our state, so that brings donations up to $35.

I'm kind of depressed about my job. There have been some bright spots: For instance, they took some of us out to a really nice restaurant for lunch for winning some awards on a project we'd worked on, and told us we'd get a $350 bonus in our next paycheck.

But on the other hand, people keep getting hired and promoted while I languish waiting for some kind of recognition for doubling my workload and responsibilities. And today a guy who really doesn't respect my role (proofreader) in the creative process got promoted to creative director. And then at the end of the day, he made fun of my winter gear. I mean outright laughed at and mocked my appearance. I came home and cried like I was in middle school again.

There aren't a ton of jobs out there in my field, and probably not many that pay very well. But I'll keep looking.

Random weight loss and other goals progress

January 24th, 2011 at 05:04 am

We finally weighed ourselves after missing 2 weekly weigh-ins, and there was good news despite no exercise. At first it seemed we'd lost tons of weight, but then NT noted it might be the new rug throwing things off. He and I weighed ourselves again on hardwood and were a couple pounds more than on the rug. However, even at the higher weight I'm at 153, and my Jan. 2 weight was 155.5. So I still lost 2.5 lbs. and am happy. 14 lbs. away from my 2011 goal of 139.

I calculated our net worth this weekend, and thanks to debt repayment and investing, it went up considerably. One of my goals is to get AS's net worth to positive. Well, it's gone up by $8257, so she's at negative $6410. So close! I calculate the minimum debt repayment and investing I have planned for her should bring her to positive net worth by October or November, as long as the stock and housing markets don't collapse again.

January 2011 net worth update

January 24th, 2011 at 04:14 am

NT's UK pensions:
#1: 12,663 pounds ($25,326)
#2: 16,005 pounds ($32,010)
#3: 3,709 pounds ($7,418)
NT's 401(k): $10,812
NT's Roth IRA: $3,167
AS's 401(k): $5,095
AS's trad. IRA: $1,682
AS's Roth IRA: $3,316
CJ's 401(k): $39,090
CJ's Roth IRA: $3,167
NT's flat: 130,000 pounds ($260,000)
CJ & AS's condo: $160,000
Baby/emergency fund (shared asset): $10,085
Total Assets: $561,168

Total Debt: $345,898

Current Estimated Net Worth: $215,270

November 2010 estimate: $205,961

Change in net worth: +$9,309

Summary: I wasn't able to access NT's 401(k) account online AGAIN. Second month in a row, so I wrote to tech support for that website. Anyway, we still did really well thanks to gains in retirement investments plus paying off one of AS's student loans.

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

Notes on the numbers above: House value estimates are fairly conservative. 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 (unless I happen to get some info by chance). 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 $1.60 per British pound.

Tons of updates (including debt payoff!)

January 21st, 2011 at 10:48 pm

Boy, life continues apace in the ceejay household!

It's been kind of a blur, but let me see if I can remember everything important...

First off, I made good on my plan of paying off one of AS's student loans! I transferred $1869 of extra student loan money from NT's loan -- so that portion didn't reduce our debt any -- and I took $4134 of lawyer money and paid the rest off.

So woo hoo! First student loan to hit the Old Debt Graveyard page. The lawyer fund has been decimated, but I have a plan for replenishing it, and AS already has two more freelance jobs that are going to bring in extra money. With the $4134 paid on the student loan, that makes $5722 in principal paid this month!

The daycare situation is looking up. We had an interview with another lovely old lady who runs an in-home daycare just 10 minutes by bus from home (about 30 minutes from my work). She only charges $40 more per week, and the only other difference is she doesn't provide formula (but AA is already 10.5 months old, so that won't affect us for long). We'll probably visit her one more time (we didn't have a chance to explain the three-parent thing, which would be weird not to mention before we start there), but she's available to take AA as soon as the other daycare ends, and her references checked out, so I think we're about good to go! Trimming $175 from the budget to afford her was easy: We took $50 from the medical fund line, $50 from the misc. line item, $50 from the travel budget and $25 from extra debt repayment. Really hoping this works out!! It will add about 20 minutes to the morning and to the evening process, but that's nothing compared to adding $1000 per month in cost, which was the only other option we'd found!

Just in case, we mocked up a few other budgets based on other scenarios of having to go with a more expensive daycare or having NT quit work and stay home with AA while still going to college. So we know other options are doable, they would just involve more-painful budget cuts and lifestyle choices.

With all this worrying and planning, it's been hard not to let my 2011 goals fall by the wayside. Well, healthy eating and exercising (and thus weight loss) have been a no-go so far this year. I've even forgotten to weigh in every Sunday! But the other goals are making a bit of progress. In brief:
--Pay off AS's DL student loan: DONE, as mentioned above!
--Save to Roths: we've saved $300 so far; $200 to AS's and $50 each to mine and NT's
--Give to charities: I've only donated $15 so far, but we have more money set aside so as soon as we feel more settled in our budget, we will make some more donations
--Get AS to positive net worth: What with the above payoff and Roth contribution, we made some big progress that will be reflected in my next net worth checkup (probably this weekend)
--Pay off debt: Lots of progress, as told above
--Go on trips: Hotel & airfare taken care of for our March vacation as well as some rough planning of what we'll do when we get to SF
--Get a raise or find a job: I sent out another resume this week; only my second, but at least I'm doing something. No word on a raise, so new job still seems the best option
--Estate planning: We sat down and hashed out some things, and I sent an email with our wishes to our attorney, so we just have to wait to hear from him on what we need to do next
--Read a book or creative project: Sorry, nope. I did finish a book I started back in October, but I'm not counting that. Still hoping to hit this for January!
--Make money with side hustles: I did decide to look into using the credit card for mortgage and association dues, to earn rewards money, but I haven't actually set it up yet
--Organize get-together: We had a playdate with several other parents and kids, so I'll call that one a success for this month!
--Write a shared blog topic: Haven't gotten on this, but it won't take me long once I do it. I have been thinking of what would be fun topics to hear everyone's take on, so it should be soon. It might be completely non-financial, depending what kind of mood I'm in when I do it!

Phew. Now that I write everything down, I'm not doing as badly as I felt. Considering it's been kind of insane at work and with the daycare drama, I'm actually pleased with the process so far!

Huge curveball smacks right into our budget

January 18th, 2011 at 08:16 pm

Whew. I'm so busy at work but I just had to take a break and write about the craziness that's been going on here.

Financial progress for all my goals was chugging along for the first part of the year. There was the small hiccup of our parking-spot renter passing away, but last night we got a new renter for $10 more per month, up to $85.

NT's UK flat suddenly needed several repairs, which is going to eat into our EF savings, but we're already ahead in that area so I wasn't too worried.

Then last night--Kablooey! Our wonderful daycare lady, who is in her 60s, said she got an out-of-the-blue offer on her house, which (unbeknownst to us) had been on the market for several months. She's taking the offer, moving, and retiring from daycare in mid-February!

We're trying not to panic or make too big a deal over it, but here are the facts that make this an extremely significant financial event in our lives:
- Finding a new daycare provider in less than a month will be nothing short of a miracle.
- At $110 per week ($477 a month), our daycare is BY FAR the cheapest I've heard of or seen advertised anywhere near us. The centers in downtown Minneapolis, by contrast, start at $1200 per month and run all the way up to $2500! NT's been doing some research, and most in-home providers charge about $1000 per month.
- We don't have a car, so this severely limits our options. We could consider getting a car if that would be a cheaper option, but besides the cost of the car, gas, insurance and maintenance, we'd also have to factor in losing $85 per month in parking-spot rental. So that plus whatever price we could find for a farther-out daycare provider equalling less than the cost of a downtown center is highly unlikely.
- We should look at the option of having one of us stay home; we shouldn't rule anything out. The person who brings in the least money by far is AS (I'm talking her full-time job; her freelance income brings her overall income up considerably). But we need her building her career for our eventual move to England. She'll need to get to the UK on some kind of employment visa, and her current job is adding to her resume in a very good field, plus she's making international contacts. Still, with the full-time job bringing in just over $1750 per month, and daycare possibly increasing to $1200 or more, it feels like a hard choice. Even though I'm sure it's best for us in the long run.
- I saw one ad for a $150-per-week provider -- but she mentioned having a PCA license, not a daycare provider license, so I'm not sure if it would be eligible for flex spending reimbursement. And she hasn't gotten back to me anyway.
- Oh yeah, any consideration does have to include thinking about the $5000 of money I'm setting aside in dependent-care flex spending. Would I be able to stop contributions if I stopped using daycare or didn't use someone specifically licensed for childcare? I have to check that out.
- All of this is moot if we can't find daycare in three weeks. At that point we go into damage control, I guess. Working from home? Trying to get friends to watch AA for reasonable amounts?

Whatever happens, we seem to be look at at least a $600 chunk (probably much more) being taken out of our current budget and reallocated into either childcare or due to lost wages or car purchase. So we'll need to go over the budget and come to some agreement on what we would choose to cut first. Luckily there are lots of "wants" as well as extra money going to saving and debt repayment in our budget, but it's not going to be easy deciding what to eliminate.

So the new year is already looking completely unpredictable. I am fairly optimistic that we'll be able to work out some solution that won't leave us broke and/or miserable, but I'm also stressed and a bit overwhelmed.

Coming to a decision re: student loans (and Jan. debt progress)

January 16th, 2011 at 06:16 pm

We had a great date last night, first one without AA in over a month! We got a babysitter in, then went to a fancy cocktail bar in downtown Minneapolis, then to a sushi restaurant.

The sitter (one of our friends) said AA was upset that we were gone and kept trying to crawl down the hall to look for us. But the sitter did manage to take her mind off things and play and watch videos, and she went to sleep quickly as usual. Maybe she's getting through this stranger-fear stage!

Today we were meant to have an acquaintance come over to give us an in-home yoga session; he's an instructor trying to raise extra money for an upcoming trip to China. But he had to cancel, so I'm going to try and work out on my own (first time in weeks; I've been REALLY bad since Xmas). It's just as well because I spent a ton of money last night and would have had to dip into next Friday's spending money to pay him. We can reschedule for a week when I'm not going to pricy bars and restaurants! Wink

Anyway, I'm really rambling away from the point of the post...

One of AS's student loan payments hit; $137 went to principal, meaning we surpassed our $1575 debt-repayment goal for January! In total, $1588 toward debt so far this month.

That brings AS's balance on this particular student loan down to $6003.

On Friday we got a $1869 check for the excess money on NT's latest student loan. I thought maybe I'd put that toward AS's student loan, since that's the highest interest loan that's currently in repayment. That would bring AS's student loan down to $4134.

Then I thought about the $5735 we have sitting in checking for lawyer fees. We've been accumulating this money through additional income streams. Now our ultimate goal is to have $9000 saved for lawyer fees, but the lion's share of this money won't be needed for over a year (if at all). And the extra income shows no sign of slowing, between AS's freelance editing and NT's overtime.

I currently pay about $147 per month on AS's student loan as well as an extra $700. About $35 per month goes toward interest. So I thought, what if I take $4134 of the lawyer money we've saved so far and pay of AS's student loan? To build up the savings again, I could take the $850 per month that would have gone to the student loan and have the lawyer fund built back up to today's level in five months. This would probably save us over $100 in interest, and wouldn't set us back for long in our saving for the legal procedures.

So, I think that's what I'm going to do. I might even get to $9000 with other income sources before the five months is up. Either way, once I've got the lawyer fund back to where it was (or all the way up to $9000) I can start hitting the next student loan.

So, the January debt repayment total is going to get very impressive! (But then, of course, debt repayment for the next five months decidedly unimpressive.)

Cool stat!

January 6th, 2011 at 11:24 pm

With recent additions to my medical and emergency funds, I realized we are over $12,000! I've estimated our emergency budget (assuming we would have no jobs and would all need to purchase private health insurance) would be just over $4,000, so that means we have about three months of expenses in our EF savings!

OK, I calculate our British funds at a 2:1 dollar-to-pound ratio, so that total is a tad higher than real-life exchange rates. But I just calculated our funds with the actual exchange rate, and we have just over $11,000. So we're really close to having three months' expenses saved away.

When people tossed out the "and of course you should have three to six months' worth of living expenses set aside," I used to think that was such an impossible number. But we're getting there very soon!

Progress on debt goal, etc.

January 5th, 2011 at 06:20 pm

My extra payment to AS's student loan went through, and $674 was applied to principal. Also, NT's mortgage payments hit; $258, $54 and $57 went to principal. All told, $1043 paid, so that's $1451 down, $124 to go on the January debt-repayment goal.

Once NT's UK mortgage payments hit, I was able to transfer the remaining funds into his savings. We had some money hanging out in checking for Xmas shopping, plus surplus from the last UK rent payment. I transferred GBP654.16 (US$1308.32 by my 2/1 ratio calculations). 20 pounds, or $40, of that was a gift for AA from her great-grandma, but the rest will be applied to our emergency fund. That makes our 2011 EF savings $1293.32 so far. Well on our way to the $7000 goal!

In other goal sort-of progress, AS found me another job to apply to. It's editing for a personal finance site--talk about a dream job--but it isn't full-time and probably doesn't come with benefits. I might apply anyway, just to see. It's the age-old dilemma: choosing between enjoyable, mentally fulfilling employment and a job that keeps you in the lifestyle to which you've become accustomed. Wink I still haven't applied for the other two jobs she found for me.

We have a multiple-baby playdate scheduled for this weekend, so if it comes to fruition, that will be progress on one of my 2011 goals; to have small-group get-togethers each month.

Two exciting happenings on the home front: NT painted AA's nursery, so it finally looks like a nice kid's room vs. a bare-bones storage closet! And we had our first visit from the cleaner, so all those hard-to-reach nooks and crannies in the house are sparkly clean. It's really nice! Of all the luxuries we've been able to afford since sorting out our finances, this is one of the best.

January debt-repayment goal; progress on said goal; other news

January 3rd, 2011 at 07:47 pm

Forgot to post my January debt repayment goal! I hope to pay off at least $1575 of debt this month.

To that end, our U.S. mortgage payment hit, with $408 going to principal. $1167 to go!

Made some progress on one of my 2011 goals: The new year has come with no sign raise or promotion at my current job, so AS found some employment opportunities online, and I spent my morning updating the information on my resume. I also looked around for job postings, but didn't find any as good as the two AS showed me, so I'll just work on applying to those two this week.

Oh, and our automatic deposit to the EF hit late last week, so that's $25 toward our $7000 goal. I think NT has some money in UK checking that I can transfer into UK savings to count toward the EF, but I have to wait until the UK mortgage payments hit to see how much is left for savings.

I weighed myself last night expecting the worst; I really stuffed myself this past week, and a minor health annoyance (plus sheer laziness) meant no workouts. Amazingly, I only gained .9 lbs! I'm at about 155.5, so I've made my 2011 goal of getting down to 139 just that little bit more challenging. Wink

The issue with our recently deceased parking-spot renter resolved itself this weekend; the man's sister sent us a check for January rent and a note that she won't be needing the spot after this month. So glad she cleared that up for us! Now we can post a notice that we're renting out the spot beginning in February.

NT listed some books, DVDs and games on Half and eBay; the book sales will offset the cost of his new semester's purchases, while the game and DVD sales will help pay for the purchases enumerated in my last post. We've already sold some of the books, and there are bids on all the eBay stuff.

After a rescheduling, the cleaner finally came today. I've been at work so I don't know how it went. Hoping to see a big difference when I get home!

New Year's Eve was the mellowest I've had in my adult life. We had a few friends stop by early in the evening, and then one of our best friends came over to ring in the new year with videogames and snacks. He left soon after midnight and we stayed up a bit longer, then headed off to bed. It was exactly what I was in the mood for this time around!

New Year's Day, I heard AA stirring around 9 or 9:30 -- a bit late for her, but then again she'd stayed up later than usual. When I peeked in, she slowly turned her head and looked at me with a serious expression, and I could tell something was wrong because she usually breaks into a huge grin and bounces around when she first sees someone in the morning. I picked her up and her skin felt burning hot, so I took her temperature. 102.5. It was the first time she'd ever had a fever, so I called the nurseline and they gave us some tips and told us to take her to the ER if it reached 105.

We monitored it as it fell to about 101, then got complacent for a few hours, until just before bedtime when we took her temp again. 103.5! We put her down for a couple hours, checked it again and it was 104.5. For the rest of the night we took turns checking her temperature every two hours, and luckily it slid down from that high point until it was nearly normal in the morning, and completely normal by the afternoon of Jan. 2. Phew! Needless to say, AA was a bit tired and overly sensitive for the day, having been woken up so many times during the night, and she seemed to have a sore throat or something that put her appetite off, but she was well enough to go to daycare this morning. What a way to start the new year!