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Archive for July, 2011: Ceejay74's Personal Finance Blog
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Archive for July, 2011

Day five of diet & exercise

July 29th, 2011 at 08:35 pm

Well, I made it through four days of workouts -- now I get three days off! Last night I went to the pool on our roof and did laps for 30 minutes. It was really tiring -- my arms aren't used to that kind of exercise. When I got back my entire upper body was in pain. I even felt a little hot-cold, like I had chills and a slight fever! I took ibuprofen and put on warm PJs and felt better in an hour or two. Today I'm sore but not immobilized, thank goodness!

Last night we fended for ourselves for dinner. I found some dry refried beans mix and cooked that up, salvaged the good bits of the too-ripe avocados and made guacamole with that, found a quick-cooking brown rice packet and microwaved it, and served it all on corn tortillas with salsa.

This morning I had oatmeal with stevia and cinnamon, and for lunch more chili with vegan cheese on corn tortillas.

Considering I did very little planning for this first week of the diet, I'm doing well. The big bag of corn tortillas was an unexpected lifesaver. But except for breakfasts and the one day I had tabouli, all of my meals have been either Tex or Mex or soulfood/creole style, which can all seem a bit similar after awhile, delicious as they are. I could use some variety next week. I'm working on coming up with some Italian and Asian ideas to add variety.

I feel like I did really well both in diet and exercise these first 4.5 days, which really makes me not want to sabotage any progress I might have made...I'm going to try to be very good this weekend dietwise. Knowing I have to record my eating in a log will hopefully keep me on the straight and narrow for the most part!

Huzzah, hit the debt goal! plus some savings progress

July 29th, 2011 at 04:34 am

First the savings: $25 went into the EF, so 2011 EF progress is $3357.78, total EF is $11869.73.

And AS's other student loan hit, with $60 going to principal. That means our July debt payment is $1943, surpassing our goal of $1900! I'm very excited this payment made it just under the wire, because sometimes it gets bumped to the next month. I have automatic debit so I don't control that.

I noticed (because I'm a dork) that the payment was 9 cents less than usual. I checked the interest rate, and it's gone down from 2.25% to 2%! Of course with only $610 left on the loan it doesn't make any difference, but it is kind of interesting because several of our loans have variable interest rates, so I wonder if any others will go down a bit.

Anyway, now that I've hit our July goal, I may set up August tomorrow, since I'll be busy all weekend.

Randomocity

July 28th, 2011 at 09:05 pm

Maybe it's because my brain's not weighed down with refined carbohydrates, but I feel like I've got all these random thoughts swirling around in my head that I feel like writing about, but none of them really go together. So, time for a random brain dump, I guess!

***

Day four of the new regimen is going pretty well. I had a 30-min. brisk walk home after work, and did 15 min. of resistance exercises (free weights, situps, squats, etc.) For dinner, I had quinoa-tempeh-veggie medley with corn on the cob and sweet potato fries.

This morning for breakfast I tried the oatmeal without the applesauce, adding stevia for sweetness instead, and the texture was much better. I like frugaltexan's idea of adding dried fruit; may try that next week.

For lunch I had some of the leftover quinoa-tempeh mix and some of the creole blackeye peas from earlier in the week.

Tonight for dinner we're going to have to wing it; we have plenty of food left from the cook-off party, so we'll be able to figure it out. I'm thinking big salad of some kind for myself.

I need to do a 30-40 min. endurance-level workout tonight, so I'm thinking I'll hit either the pool or the treadmill. Don't think I'll be keeping a very heavy pace for that long, but I guess "endurance level" is whatever you can take at whatever level of fitness you're at!

I'm feeling pretty good; very light and healthy but not too deprived. I just need to brainstorm some other meals when I get back from our trip this weekend, so I don't feel like I'm eating the same thing all the time.

***

I got an email from our real estate agent with some good news about our local market; sales were up and number of new homes on the market was down. It emboldened me to try and assess our condo's value.

The first place I tried was Homes.com, which gave an estimate of about $162,000. I was feeling pretty good because that's $2,000 more than I currently value it at. But then I checked Zillow.com, and felt like I'd been suckerpunched. $123,000, down $8,000 over the past 30 days!

I mean, either way we're not moving or anything. But with the threat of interest rates rising because of this debt-default idiocy in Washington, I would love to at least have a fighting chance to refi at some point (we have an ARM that we've been lucky with so far; right now it's at 3.5%, lower than our introductory rate). Right now we owe $168,000 If the condo were worth $162,000 we'd break even on our mortgage vs. home value in 14 months. At $123,000, we wouldn't break even for years!

So I'm proclaiming my results "inconclusive" since there was such a discrepancy, but I have a sinking feeling Zillow might be closer to the truth. I'll look into it again in a few months and see if either one has changed.

***

NT's renters in England are moving out and the rental management company has asked for permission to redecorate so they can attract new renters. When he wrote back to say hopefully it would only be painting and such, they wrote back to say that the carpets were in pretty bad shape and should be replaced. Well, as far as NT knows, his flat had all hardwood floors, and he wrote back to say so. Of course now I'm all suspicious that his management company might be incompetent and/or trying to shake us down for unnecessary repairs, but there's not much we can do about it! At least we don't depend on the rent for anything but mortgage payments, and we have enough in UK savings to cover that for a while if things go bad. But I do like having that extra money from the rental to put into EF/future house savings at the beginning of each month; it's always painful to spend it on repairs, new appliances, etc. instead.

***

The vegan-chef-in-our-home dinner party thing is progressing nicely! The chef sent us a huge list of menu items to choose from, and we've had 5 people RSVP yes, which means with us we've got 8 of the 10 minimum we need. Exciting news on the SA front -- one of the yesses is "kashi," whom some of you old-timers may remember for having a SavingAdvice blog! She lives in Mpls and is vegan, and we're Facebook friends but have never managed to meet. So this will hopefully work out and I'll get to meet my first (albeit inactive) SA blogger!

***

This upcoming trip is going to be strange. NT and I are traveling to Ohio with little AA to a family reunion for my dad's side of the family. The plane leaves at 6:30 tomorrow. The lightrail to the airport goes right by my and NT's office buildings, but he has to go pick up AA from daycare before we leave. So he's getting out of work early to do that. We think he should bring the carseat and I'll bring the luggage; shouldn't be too much for just two nights and two days, but with a small child, things seem to pile up.

We think we're going to wing it in terms of food for her; we'll bring crackers, milk and her favorite applesauce packet treats, but other than that we'll just get what we can from restaurants and stores along the way. She's usually pretty flexible, and doesn't always need a lot of food (her appetite varies wildly from day to day, which I hear is typical of toddlers). Actually it'll probably be harder to find food for me (a vegan trying out a wheat-free, rice-free diet) than for her (can't go wrong with bananas, cheese or crackers).

So NT will pick up AA from daycare, bring her back downtown, and we'll take the lightrail together. We called the hotel and they can provide a travel crib, so that's one less thing.

NT keeps asking what we're going to eat and do for two days in Strasburg, a town of about 2,000 people. I keep telling him, fast food and reunion. Oh, and the day before the reunion we'll be at a corn festival that my sister and her family attend every year; I'm sure it's great but I can't imagine it's going to take all day. I guess we'll probably do some sitting around in the hotel rooms together. Play cards and chat. It's only a day and a half, so we'll live. Smile I love my family, but the one and only reason I agreed to do this was to assuage my guilt and let my mom see AA; she's such a fiend for grandbabies and I know she's wistful that we don't live closer so she can see AA once in a while.

Meanwhile, AS decided to stay home this weekend. She is just really overloaded with obligations lately, both work and personal, and I think she'll benefit from a quiet weekend to herself. But it'll still be weird to be without her! We've been in different cities maybe a dozen times over the 14 years together. Separation is just not our thing. Smile

I don't think most of my extended family knows about my unusual relationship situation. I've brought AS to reunions before so I'm sure a lot of them just think I'm a lesbian, so it might confuse them a bit when I show up with a husband and child! I've decided not to worry about it; if someone asks the right sort of questions they might get to the truth, but otherwise I just won't say much about my personal life.

***

I guess that's all my random thoughts. Oh, I realize I need to sit down with our various credit cards now in use, and make sure I pay off all the balances. But I think I can do that tomorrow. I don't like to wait the whole month since I do to-the-penny budgeting; it gets too complicated. Doing it every couple weeks works out much better.

Even after the expensive cook-off party, we have about $480 of extra money for July. Since the end of the month is going to be too hectic to have a detailed meeting about it, I suggested we just take an extra $20 each to help with the irregular eating situation this weekend, and put the rest toward student loan debt. They both agreed, so that's what we'll do!

Day three of new regimen

July 27th, 2011 at 09:27 pm

Last night I tried jogging through the park on the way home, after briskly walking the first leg of my journey. I forgot what an instantly exhausting activity it is for the out-of-shape: I jogged until it hurt to take a breath and I was slightly dizzy feeling, checked my time -- 4 minutes had passed. 4 minutes! So I walked for a few minutes until I felt slightly back to normal, then forced myself to jog for a couple more minutes. The second I hit the hill that leads to home, I stopped and walked. Even that was an effort at that point. Good grief, that was sobering! I did have a semi-heavy backpack on, but even without it, I'm not sure how much longer I could've gone without a break.

Tonight's exercise is a resistance workout (I'm going to use free weights and also do squats, lunges, pushups etc.) I don't mind weight training; it can get kind of boring if I do it a lot but I haven't done it in months, so it'll be novel.

Last night's dinner was a success with everyone: broiled spicy tofu, creole-flavored blackeye peas, and a simple broccoli and cauliflower medley.

This morning I tried my oatmeal-applesauce-almond milk-cinnamon combo. The flavor was pretty good but I really couldn't get past the weird mushy texture; I think the applesauce did that. I think I'm going to take the applesauce home and bring in some no-calorie sweetener (stevia). That with the oatmeal, almond milk and cinnamon will hopefully be good.

Today for lunch I had more of the chili I made. This time I had a smaller portion and ate it over corn tortillas and vegan cheese, for a change. I have more for tomorrow; if I remember I'll bring diced onion in for another slight variation. I know I'm going to be eating similar things a lot, but I don't want to get bored too early in the game.

Tonight was supposed to be avocado-mango salad, but the mangoes had to be eaten earlier in the week because they were about to start going bad, and I'm afraid the avocado may have suffered the same fate. It felt awfully soft last night so I stuck it in the fridge. We'll cut them open and see if anything is salvageable, but I doubt it.

We're moving Thursday's meal to tonight: tempeh (another variation of soy) for me and NT, salmon for AS. We'll have sweet potato fries and some other kind of vegetable. We'd bought some Ore Ida frozen sweet potato fries with a double coupon, so we want to use those up. I checked the package and there is rice flour in the coating, but I don't think that's much of a cheat on my no-rice rule, as long as I don't do it often.

Not sure yet what we'll do for Thursday's meal; we'll have to look through the pantry tonight and figure it out.

Friday night, all day Saturday and most of Sunday NT and I will be in small-town Ohio for a family reunion, so I'll kind of be at the mercy of the limited options there. I will probably have to cheat all three days, though I'll try my best not to go crazy; I'd hate to have all my efforts so far be for naught. I am kind of fantasizing about getting hashbrowns and toast at the diner though. Wink

Progress on debt goal -- so close! + lots of regulars missing?

July 27th, 2011 at 03:05 pm

One of AS's student loan payments hit, with $123 going to principal. That makes it $1883 down, $17 to go on the July goal! I'm rooting for her other student loan payment to process before I do my end-of-month wrap-up, because it would push us over the goal amount. I was thinking about it yesterday -- we have a family reunion this weekend and won't be back until late Sunday night, so I won't wrap up until Monday morning. That might mean the payment processes over the weekend and shows up in time!

For some reason when I was waking up this morning all dazed, it suddenly occurred to me that there are several regular SA bloggers who haven't written anything in a while, at least not that I can remember. Miclason, whitestripe, BA, ApprenticeBlissHunter ... are there others too? I hope they all check in soon! frugaltexan's been gone a while, but I know she's probably settling in at her new home and job.

Day two of food & exercise program

July 26th, 2011 at 07:30 pm

I don't think I'll write every day about this; it might get kind of tedious. But while it's new to me it's basically what's on my mind.

Yesterday I ate a banana with dabs of peanut butter for breakfast, tabouli (Mediterranean bulgur & parsley salad) for lunch, cherries for a snack, and veggie-bean fajitas for dinner (served on corn tortillas with avocado, salsa, lettuce, tomato and vegan cheese). I had a massive plate for dinner, and I felt very full at first, but the feeling didn't stick around for long. For exercise I walked home from work, about 30 minutes (I tried to pick up the pace from my usual stroll).

For breakfast today, I was stumped, so I had ...a banana. With a little bag of roasted peanuts that I picked up at the convenience store. Basically what I had yesterday. I realized I needed to figure out vegan, wheat-free, sweetener-free, potato-free breakfast options. Uhh ... finally NT and I figured something out together over lunch. I went to Target and got a box of quick oats, a carton of sugar-free almond milk, a jar of applesauce and a shaker of cinnamon. I'll try putting that together tomorrow and hope for the best!

Last night I made chili with beans and TVP (a soy product that can sub in for meat) for lunches. As I was smelling and tasting it, I kept picking up the TVP, which isn't good on its own. I finally gave up and left it in the pot on the counter overnight and today at lunch, it smelled and tasted really good! The flavor finally soaked into the TVP.

Tonight we're having blackened tofu, blackeye peas and some kind of veggie (we have a ton to choose from after our cook-off).

For exercise today, I need to do something at an "endurance" pace, according to the little guide I'm following. I wasn't sure I'd have time to work out when I got home, so I brought sneakers and workout clothes in a backpack to work. I'll change into that, put my purse and other clothes in the backpack, and walk home, except as soon as I'm clear of the crowds, I'll jog the rest of the way. (The last half mile or so is through a park-like walkway and then a park, so much easier to move quickly than when I keep hitting stoplights and throngs of commuters.)

AS and I are trying to figure out a way to bike to work. We take AA to daycare in the jogging stroller, which NT then attaches to his bike when he picks her up at night. There seem to be two main options:

- We discovered a "NiceRide" station near daycare. You can rent bikes and drop them off at another station. So if we found stations near our jobs, we could do that. There's also a station right near our condo, so we could pick up another bike for the evening commute home. It's $5 for unlimited rides in a 24-hour period or $60 for the whole season, and if you turn in your bike within 30 minutes, no additional charges. Otherwise, you get charged by the hour for however long you have the bike out.

- NT and I were also discussing the possibility of getting a second stroller attachment and adding it to my or AS's bike. He reckoned it would cost about $30 and we'd probably have to special-order it at the bike store or online. (We would want to test-ride his bike with the stroller attached to make sure we could do it. NT is a much more practiced cyclist than either me or AS.) That way we could bike to daycare, detach the stroller, then ride to work on our own bikes. NT could pick up AA after work as usual.

Either way, so much logistical stuff to figure out. Might be worth it in the end, though, if it helps us get more exercise this summer and fall.

New diet and exercise plan starts today

July 25th, 2011 at 09:49 pm

I weighed in last night and had gained nearly 3 lbs. -- back up to 153. Sigh. That's OK; I didn't binge or anything this past week, but I definitely didn't limit myself or watch my eating very closely. I knew I was going to try and be very disciplined very soon, so I was getting my kicks while I could.

Regular exercise and very healthy eating are something I always struggle with. Especially the exercise. I'm trying to go into this new chapter with confidence, but I also have a fair amount of skepticism since I always tend to fall off the wagon sooner or later. I now have 14 lbs. to lose before I get to my desired weight, so if I stuck to the diet really well and lost 2 lbs. per week, that would be 7 weeks. I think I can do this for that long, at least. And maybe some of the healthy habits will stick around longer than that.

Since Google Docs is such a good way to control my spending and organize other aspects of my life, I'm turning to it for this new challenge as well. I set up a spreadsheet with two tabs: one for workouts and one for food. I don't know if this will turn out, but here are screen shots:


Basically, on the workout log I'll create goals for each day and then on the next line I'll say what I actually did that day. The food log doesn't have goals because my goals are always the same: to not eat wheat, white rice, white potatoes, chips, beer, or sugar/high-calorie sweeteners. So for the food log I'll just write what I ate at each meal. Not going to try for calorie counts, but I may go into more detail if it seems to call for it.

Today I only have to do a moderate workout, so I'm going to count walking home. The next few days I'll have to do something more athletic. I may bring jogging clothes to work and try to jog through the park on the way home? Or go for bike rides after work, or go use the treadmill in the other condo building's exercise room. We'll see.

I gave myself Friday, Saturday and Sunday off because I'm going to Ohio for a family reunion. Most weeks I hope to not take three days off in a row.

Small addition to EF plus foodie adventures

July 25th, 2011 at 07:40 pm

Put another $20 into the EF as part of NT paying for his parents' gifts, so that brings 2011 progress to $3332.78 and the total EF to $11,844.73.

Totaled up the spending for our cook-off party; it came to $216.69. I'm glad we're paying for this with extra income so it doesn't have to come out of our budget! About $25 was for small gifts for the contestants, $75 for drinks (including four bottles of wine for the contestants and the $20 bottle of amaretto liqueur, which will come in handy at a future party, I'm sure). The other $116 was groceries; much of it was left over. The fresh stuff we'll try to use up this week; the nonperishable staples will all come in handy down the line (I think we bought all things we would cook with ourselves).

As we were wrapping up planning for this party, AS got a message from a Facebook friend. He has a friend who's a vegan chef, and sometimes he does dinner parties in people's homes. Turns out he's coming to Minneapolis for a few days. He asks for about $20 per person and cooks a seven-course all-vegan meal (including cocktails) right in your kitchen! We thought this sounded like such a unique opportunity, so we signed up with him. He requires at least 10 people in order to make it worthwhile, so we have to find 7 or more friends to go in on it. I don't think it'll be too hard; even though we don't know many vegans, we know lots of vegetarians, and besides, how could you beat $20 for a 7-course meal plus drinks?

We're still waiting for final confirmation from him, but if it happens, it'll be Saturday Aug. 6. It would be so great! This has been a whirlwind of a summer; I'm so glad I have this blog because I think it'll all be a blur in the fall. If I wonder what I did all summer, I just have to look back here. Smile

Cook-off party!

July 25th, 2011 at 02:08 am

As promised, a wrap-up of our cooking party, which was FABulous!

We asked four of our friends to be contestants. They cooked one at a time. We provided a bunch of ingredients they could all cook with, including a table laden with vegetables, but they each had a mystery bag that included three mystery ingredients. Once they looked at the ingredients and had a couple minutes to think about it, we started a timer for 40 minutes. (They were allowed to finish up the last couple things for a couple minutes after; we were much more lenient than the show we based this on.)

The first person had grass jelly juice (a drink we found in the Vietnamese grocery store), refrigerated crescent rolls and mushy peas (a standard British veggie).


He decided to make an Indian-spiced mixture with the peas and roll them up in the crescent rolls.


Then he served them with a dipping sauce that incorporated the grass jelly drink.


The next contestant had amaretto liqueur, fruit strip snacks and wasabi roasted peas.


He made a pesto pasta with amaretto and wasabi peas in the sauce, and a gazpacho soup sweetened with fruit strips.



The third person got nori (seaweed) sheets, tomatillos and Diet Cherry Coke.


She made sushi (using Minute Rice!):


She incorporated the tomatillos into the rice and Diet Cherry Coke into the dipping sauce.


The last contestant's mystery ingredients were frozen shelled edamame, BBQ Pringles and HP Sauce (a British condiment similar to steak sauce).


She put the edamame in a vegetable salad with a creamy onion dressing, and made a dip that used the HP sauce to dip the Pringles in. She also made crostini for dipping.



Although we knew our friends liked to cook, I thought the mystery ingredients would be way too hard, but they did an amazing job! Everything tasted and looked great. We had the rest of the guests rank their favorites in taste, presentation, creativity and overall favorite and handed out presents. As it happened there was pretty much one winner in each category (well, two people more or less tied for Taste, but one of them won the Overall category, so I gave the Taste prize to the other one). We awarded kitchen gadgets for each category and also gave each contestant a bottle of wine.

Not a frugal party, although we'll be able to incorporate the unused ingredients into our menu for the next week. But it was SO much fun! I'm really pleased that our friends stepped up to the plate. A couple of them said they were surprisingly nervous beforehand and that the clock was nerve-wracking, but that it was kind of a rush to figure out something delicious and make it.

Small addition to EF; AS net worth progress; other ramblings

July 21st, 2011 at 09:24 pm

$20 went into the EF as part of NT's slowly paying off his recent gifts to family. That brings our 2011 progress to $3312.78 and our total EF to $11,824.73.

I just realized I never calculated individual net worth after I did our collective net worth statement earlier this week. I'll do that now and add to this entry; I'm eager to see how close AS is to positive net worth!

UPDATE: Great progress this month! AS's negative net worth decreased by $1216; her net worth is now just negative $1400! Another month or two and she should be in the black.

The heat wave finally broke here in Minneapolis! It's now in the 80s and feels marvelous compared with the "95 feels like 115" type days we've been having here. This was the worst heat wave I've seen in my 13+ years here, I think.

Our party is coming up fast and we have lots of planning to do! At least, since we announced it on such short notice, our guest list looks small. That means fewer canapes and drinks to prepare or buy. Usually I like bigger parties but I'll be just as glad to have just a handful of people over, since this cooking-contest thing is totally new to us and we don't actually know how hard it's going to be to pull off! NT and I walked through the farmer's market and Target today and brainstormed potential mystery ingredients.

The day after the party, my new food and exercise regimen begins. The menu creation for this next week might be a bit harder than usual, since I'm taking many of the staples of our diet off my plate. I really hope these changes help kickstart my weight loss. And that I don't feel totally deprived. We shall see!

Productive day (just not for my job!) + one more freebie from Chase?

July 19th, 2011 at 06:06 pm

Today has been pretty slow at work, which has been great because I had a ton of stuff to do that's not work-related!

- Canceled AS's old Visa card she never uses (the annual fee [which we always weaseled out of anyway] was going up to $55 per year, so it motivated us to get rid of it)
- Paid AS's dental bill ($580 -- yikes, but the good news is we have a medical fund, plus this helps her get to the 2nd set of Chase Sapphire rewards points more quickly)
- Called my doctor to resolve an unanswered question from my annual checkup
- Did some MySurvey and MyPoints things
- Researched NT's and my new Amex card. It has a $75 fee but offers 6% back on groceries! I just want to make sure one or both of our main grocery stores we shop at qualifies. (It looks like Rainbow, the big chain we use, will qualify. The natural foods co-op may not, but I found a link to a story where some woman pressured them to add her local natural foods store and succeeded, so hopefully we can do the same.) Even if only one of our stores qualifies, we should be able to net $75 per year minimum after the $75 annual fee--and there's a $100 bonus that will offset the first year's fee!

Looks like I may delay closing our Chase accounts a bit longer. Yesterday we got a voucher in the mail for one free night at a new hotel, courtesy of our Chase Freedom card. We checked and there are two of the hotels in our area. I believe the offer will turn out to be for double occupancy only, but even so we'll probably take advantage; hotels are fun! I was thinking two of us could have a date night away at one of the areas -- probably AS and NT; it's been awhile since they had some time for just the two of them.

I saw some interest in the cooking-competition party I posted about yesterday, so I'll try to take pictures and give a detailed description of it once it happens! I've never done anything quite like this, so I'm not really sure how it will turn out. But it's very informal and all in good fun, so I think it'll be a nice change from the usual cocktail party.