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Archive for July, 2012: Ceejay74's Personal Finance Blog
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Archive for July, 2012

My financial variables this year

July 30th, 2012 at 10:31 pm

I know I've mentioned most of these at one time or another, but I had some free time at the end of my workday and found myself going over them with impatience, because I love having my budget figured out to a penny, and that can't happen until we know:

- What health bills will come in for the rest of the year (expecting one for NT's operation and possibly more for AS's labor/delivery)
- When our adoption process will be complete, so I can add SL to my healthcare (the cheapest of our options; until this happens she'll be on NT's, which is about $70 more per month)
- What my paycheck will net out to once the above is established
- What AS's raise will actually net out to
- What NT's financial aid package for fall semester is, and whether we should cashflow by borrowing from EF, or just take the student loans they offer (I think it'll depend on current interest rates)
- What our mortgage payment will be when the interest rate resets on Nov. 1

Nice to have it all in one list. I'll be able to check these off gradually over the remainder of the year.

Fitness tracking, great weigh-in, and more England dreaming

July 30th, 2012 at 02:48 am

Phew, I was working on this entry a long time and would have lost it all if I hadn't done a select-all and copy right before I clicked Save and Publish!

July 27:
10 min. workout: No. 12/27
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,939. 26/26
No night snacks: Fail. 19/27

July 28:
10 min. workout: Yes, 20 min. 13/28
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 2,324. 26/26
No night snacks: Success. 20/28

July 29:
10 min. workout: Yes, 11 min. 14/29
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,274. 26/26
No night snacks: Fail. 20/29 (But, I was under my minimum calories by 6 even with the snack, so I don't feel guilty.)

All told, the social week and weekend was rough. I didn't work out consistently, and socializing for me equates to more calories and more night snacks.

It's been a busy weekend! Friday night AS and NT went to see the Olympics opening ceremony at a private party in a bar. She got the tickets from work. All food and drink was free! I had a friend over, and we snacked quite a bit, but at least I kept my calories under 2,000.

Saturday I was busy from about 9 am until 6 pm, constantly. I tweaked the grocery list, did the first round of groceries on my bike, dropped that off, walked to the store to do the second round, came home and put the groceries away, fixed lunch, made pickles with CSA cucumbers, cooked rice and lentils for the next day's lunch, cooked seitan for the next day's dinner, did all the dishes and cleaned the kitchen, tidied the house for the babysitter, cooked a quesadilla for AA, showered and got dressed for date night. Whew!

We had an awesome night out. I won't say how much we spent, but let's just say it was paid for from our summer fun fund, which is now much depleted. We went to a movie, which we hardly ever do, got overpriced movie snacks, went to a fancy hotel bar for drinks and more snacks, took a pedicab home, paid the babysitter extra because we were out a LONG time, and ordered pizza after the babysitter left. I did actually restrain myself more than I did when I wasn't dieting, but it really added up.

Today I lazed around a lot, though I did fix lunch, get caught up on budgeting (we've got a lot of credit cards in play right now so it's a bit complicated), and worked out. And my weigh-in was amazing: I lost 4 lbs. from last Sunday! I'm now at 134, my lowest in a LONG time, and just 5 lbs. away from my 2012 goal!

We were watching a documentary called "Fat, Sick & Almost Dead" that was about two men who turned their health and weight around with 60-day juice fasts. AS and I were reminded that we like to do raw-food cleanses every so often, and we thought the juice fast sounded like an interesting way to do it. We wouldn't want to until AS has stopped nursing, of course, because part of it is a reduction in calories. But maybe this winter if we both (or all, if NT is interested) want to lose weight.

I spent a lot of time this weekend dreaming about moving to England. Two more things have spurred our desire even more to follow through on this goal: the wonderfully uplifting Olympic opening ceremony and, on the other side, the mass shooting in Aurora Colorado. We talked about moving on our date last night, and I said we should really think before each purchase, how badly do we want this, and would that money serve us better in the moving fund?

We sold our baby swing for $85, so today I transferred that money into our house/moving fund. $1,085 saved, $78,915 to go!

Right now it seems like we won't make progress for a while, because we have other financial goals of paying down student loan debt, getting our EF to $20K, renewing our medical fund to $5K, and saving for a trip to England in May. But we can still put a little bit away while doing these other things. And as these other goals are knocked down one by one, we can start to put more and more toward moving.

I think I'll do what I can without any real plan until the end of the year; we still have so many variables and unknowns coming up. Once I see where we are with all our goals, I can map out a strategy to attack them all; whether it's putting everything to one then another then another, like a debt snowball, or just rejiggering the amount I put toward each so that we feel we're approaching them all at a good pace.

July debt goal reached; more fitness tracking; various news updates

July 27th, 2012 at 05:17 pm

AS's student loan payment hit, with $127 going to principal. That takes us over our $1025 goal with $1052 paid toward debt!

For August, we can start putting more toward debt now that we're all back to work full time (starting Monday). So my goal is to pay off at least $2000 of debt in August.

***

I didn't work out yesterday, BUT I did both the daycare drop-off and pickup, which involves a lot of walking and pushing, and I hauled the farmer's market produce around a lot. So I feel like it wasn't a lazy day. Still, this is turning out to be a bummer month for workouts.

July 26:
10 min. workout: No. 12/26
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,356. (Woo hoo!) 26/26
No night snacks: Success. 19/26

***

Two credit card rewards checks came in the mail: $105 and $440.96. I'm using them to cover the budget shortfall from my miscalculation of NT's paychecks. We'll earn two more soon: $150 each for me and NT from Citi Dividend cards. NT has already spent the required amount and I need to spend about $100 more on mine. That $300 of rewards will cover a window replacement we did recently.

It's a bit depressing that my recent rewards keep being needed for unexpected shortfalls and expenses, but I cheer up when I realize how our budget would otherwise have been damaged by these events, which were going to happen with or without the rewards!

Tonight we should be selling an infant swing via Craigslist. The buyer has promised $85, the same amount we paid for it when we bought it off of Craigslist. It's a great little swing, but SL is a very alert baby and prefers to be where the action is, so she only liked it for about a month.

Since we weren't expecting to get rid of the swing so soon, this is an unforeseen windfall. I should put it to the medical fund which is kind of skimpy these days, but I need the psychological boost that we're saving toward a new house/moving, so I'm going to put it in that fund instead.

AS let the publishing house she freelances for know that she was about to end her maternity-leave break, and they sent her a job offer right away. Another freelancer snatched it up before she had a chance to respond, but the editor promised she'd send AS more offers now that she knows she's available again. This is an amazing side hustle that can earn AS anything from $300 to $600 a pop, so this will boost the house fund immensely when it gets going again. I hate losing her company in the evenings, but we can't really turn up our noses at that kind of money when we have so many financial goals!

NT's summer semester ends next week, and his fall classes are going to be in the afternoon, so he won't be away most nights! I know he'll still have homework, but maybe I could start looking for freelance proofreading jobs to do in the evenings.

Menu planning for the upcoming week

July 26th, 2012 at 08:18 pm

Our CSA is taking a break from deliveries this week to tend their crops. NT and I decided to continue with local food while it's in season, so we went to the farmer's market downtown today at lunch. (It's a combination of real local farms and grocery-store rejects, but it's easy to tell which is which now that we've been doing the CSA for a few years and know what's in season in Minnesota right now. Hint: Tropical fruits are not. Smile )

We spent $26 and got:
Thai basil
Green tomatoes
Cherry tomatoes
New potatoes
Leeks
Onions
Garlic
Summer squash & zucchini
Green bell peppers
Portobello mushrooms (the only non-local purchase)
Baby bok choy
Purple kale
(plus free samples of hummus, Sun Chips and Pepsi!)

We were kind of brainstorming what we'd make, but mostly just buying what looked good and was reasonably priced. Now I have to make sure we plan our menu so none of this goes to waste! The greens and herbs are most delicate, so we've got to use those first. Tonight's dinner is already planned, and we're not cooking Friday night. I'm thinking:

Saturday lunch: Creamy kale pasta
Saturday dinner: N/A, date night
Sunday lunch: Rice-lentil salad, zucchini boats, leftover Harvard beets
Sunday dinner: Holy basil seitan w/sauteed bok choy & rice
Monday: Sauteed cherry tomatoes & basil over pasta; garlic-butter crostini
Tuesday: Gardein BBQ "ribs," fried green tomatoes, leeks & carrots, cornbread
Wednesday: Portobello sandwiches w/sauteed peppers & onions, potato salad
Thursday: Southern fried tofu, cross-hatch squash & biscuits
Friday: Depends on CSA box

We shouldn't have to buy much for this menu. We already have:
- At least 2 boxes of pasta, may need to get one more
- Vital wheat gluten so I can make seitan from scratch
- Fresh basil (non-Thai) and parsley growing on the balcony
- Thin baguette in the freezer
- Gardein "ribs" that I bought with my own spending money as a treat recently
- Leftover carrots from last week's CSA

We'll need to get:
- Maybe 1 box of pasta
- Maybe some nutritional yeast for southern fried tofu mix
- Brown rice
- Lentils
- 1 shallot
- Cornmeal
- Bread for sandwiches
- Tofu

Also on the grocery list so far:
Rainier cherries
apples
bananas
berries
Silk soymilk
lemon juice
foil
formula
bagels
English muffins
Tofutti cream cheese
Earth Balance buttery sticks
EB shortening?
toothpaste
Bonne Maman jam

I'm excited! I hope we can stay well under budget this month. We've got to use our CSA months to catch up on the budget so we don't fall farther behind when winter comes and we have to start buying grocery-store veggies again. Also, we're now buying disposable (well, compostable) diapers for SL going into daycare, and some formula to supplement the breastmilk. So we need to conserve our grocery dollars more carefully than ever. Plus, this is one of the half-months that has 3 weeks of grocery shopping instead of 2. Hmm, thinking about all that, I may skip Rainier cherries for a week, and probably the Tofutti cream cheese as well.

Fitness stumble, but hopefully just a small one, and other randomness

July 26th, 2012 at 04:30 am

This morning as I was sitting at my desk, I suddenly felt a painful pinching sensation down my spine. Sometimes my back just goes out like that. It was pretty painful all day but manageable, but it didn't heal up enough to allow a workout; I couldn't think of a vigorous activity that wouldn't make it hurt worse.

July 25:
10 min. workout: No. 12/25
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,565. 25/25
No night snacks: Success. 18/25

I also went over a bit in calories, but only because there was a load of fresh fruits at work and I had a big bowl of pineapple, blackberries and strawberries.

It's too bad I went over because AS made an amazing-looking berry-peach cobbler that I just knew I shouldn't have. But I'll have some for my breakfast tomorrow, so that'll be something to look forward to! Smile

Earlier today I saw a Facebook ad for a good sale at a fashion online store, so I signed in and got an offer for 50% off my first item, plus free shipping. AS and I are celebrating our 15th anniversary,* in a very low-key way since we're so busy this year, so I let her choose something to be her present. She got a handbag and it was only $19.95. As I was going through I scanned the terms & conditions, but as I submitted my order I saw something that concerned me. I went back into the Ts & Cs and saw that it's one of those sites where you have to make one purchase of $40 per month or else they'll charge you $40 anyway. Uh, no, I don't think I'll be spending $40 per month on fashion accessories! As soon as AS receives her bag, I'll cancel.

*(For those who are curious, AS and I had already been a couple for years when NT came into the picture. We've been with him about 7 years.)

AS's gift to me, besides the cobbler, was that she cleared off that fabric cabinet! It looks so much better with the bolts of fabric not piled on top. I'm so happy about it! To make it even better, NT rearranged his DJ equipment so it hardly blocks any of the window any more. Our place is slowly looking better and better.

Got a fun, busy summer ahead of us! Thank goodness for our shared Google calendar, because things keep getting added and it would be so hard to keep track. Especially with all the medical appointments we've all had this year, and the shared parental leave, and NT taking summer classes.

Tomorrow is AS's publishing house's regular happy hour; it's our good luck that it's outside the museum across the street from home! Close by AND kid-friendly, so AS and I can both go and bring the kids. And they have vegetarian hot dogs, which lil AA loves.

Friday AS and NT are going to an Olympics opening ceremony viewing party at the local British-themed pub, and I'm having a friend over to see the kids and watch a movie after they go to bed.

Saturday we'll be having an anniversary date; with NT if we can find a sitter, otherwise just me & AS.

Next week is NT's last classes until September, and then one of my sisters and her family comes on Saturday for a 4-day visit. Should be lots of fun, and they're staying at a hotel so we won't feel overwhelmed.

The weekend after that, we've got a little road trip planned to a small-town festival, leave on Friday & come back Sunday.

After that the calendar is mostly clear -- but we're almost into September! Wow, summers go so FAST in Minnesota. I'll never get used to that. Smile

Fitness tracking and debt repayment progress

July 25th, 2012 at 04:39 am

Finally my fitness results are starting to look better again. (I did need to snack tonight and last night for my antibiotics, but I'm now done with the pills, so I won't need to again.)

July 23:
10 min. workout: Yes! 11/23
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,431. 23/23
No night snacks: Necessary fail. 17/23

July 24:
10 min. workout: Yes! 12/24
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,439. 24/24
No night snacks: Same as above. 17/24

Also, last week I sent a small extra payment to NT's student loan to make sure I hit my monthly goal. (I just took it out of what I plan to pay next month, since we've got a cushion in the checking account.) $44 went to principal, so that takes us to $925 down, $100 to go. AS's student loan payment will hit soon and take us over the top!

Forgot to blog about our $100 per month raise!

July 23rd, 2012 at 06:10 pm

Well, not a raise, but as good as one. I've been factoring in $575 per month starting in August for SL's daycare tuition. Then it occurred to me that our daycare lady might charge more for infants, as some places do. (She's in-home but has a lot of pro daycare experience and runs hers really professionally.)

So AS finally asked her how much it would be and she said $475! She's actually charging less since there are two of them. When AA starts going to school in a couple years, SL's will go up to $575 since we won't have two full-timers at that point.

So awesome! Right now I'm putting the surplus to our house down payment/moving fund. This may change in November when our mortgage rate adjusts; but I won't know probably until August or September. Of course, I may have underestimated AS's net take-home from her raise, so there's a chance we'll have more than we thought.

So now because of AS's raise and this unexpected daycare discount, I'm estimating we'll have $185.70 per month for that new savings goal. Of course, it would take us our whole lives to save $79,000 more at that rate, but we'll put any other windfalls or income increases or expense decreases into that fund as well. This is just a starting point. Last month, we had no money earmarked for an expensive international move. Now, we have $1000 saved and $185.70 per month designated to go there.

Clothing count: What's in YOUR wardrobe?

July 23rd, 2012 at 02:46 pm

OK, so Banker Gurl's recent posts have gotten me intrigued about what (and how many) clothes I own. They're divided between hangers and drawers, laundry baskets, ironing pile and such, and I never really thought about it. Once in a while, if I get a windfall, I'll buy a few more things and get rid of things that are worn out or don't look good on me anymore, but I don't think I've ever analyzed my entire collection. Which is funny because AS and I have mentioned it in passing once or twice.

This was a great exercise because it also made me neaten up my drawers, toss a few things I haven't used for years, and realize that I'm probably going to need to fill a few gaps before winter comes.

So here's my total (I found it kind of hard to pick categories, so not sure if some of them make sense):

Tops:
T-shirts, camis & tanks: 17
Short-sleeve tops that are not Ts; blouses, dress shirts, vest, etc.: 12
Long-sleeve shirts (both pullover & button-down): 7
Pullover sweaters: 3
Cardigans, hoodies, suit coats, etc.: 10
TOTAL tops: 49

Bottoms:
Shorts: 1
Jeans: 4
Slacks & Khakis: 4
Skirts: 4
TOTAL bottoms: 13

Other (one-piece, underclothes, fitness, etc.):
Dresses: 13
Romper: 1
Long johns (thermal pants): 2
PJs: 2 sets
Undies: 11
Bras: 3
Swimsuit: 1
Fitness bottoms: 4
Fitness tops: 4
TOTAL other: 41

Shoes:
Sneakers: 3
Heels: 4
Sandals: 4
Flats: 6
Flip-flops: 2
Slippers: 1
TOTAL shoes: 20

Did not count: coats, winter gear, socks, tights, a couple things I keep at work, costumes

So not including the areas I didn't count, I have 123 articles of clothing.

Some of the areas seem skimpy -- 3 sweaters and I live in Minnesota?? -- but if I think about it, the cardigans etc. category is what I mostly wear. Indoor temps are typically pretty high in winter here, so dressing in layers is a must.

I did spot a few problem areas for winter:

- My slacks are going to be too big if I continue my fitness regimen. Even though I haven't lost a ton of weight this year, my fitness regimen (assuming I start back up and keep it up) has trimmed down my figure. My work pants were already on the too-big side last winter. If I keep up my progress they'll be falling down by the time cold weather hits.

- Same with my bras. It's time for a smaller cup size.

- All my shoes are getting in pretty bad shape except my workout sneakers, two pair of flats and one pair of sandals. And the flats that are still nice, one pair is purple and the other is a pair of ankle boots, so neither goes with a ton of things. I need a basic black and a basic brown pair that go with everything. My current ones won't last the winter, I don't think.

Everything else I feel is at a decent level. I don't have a ton of clothes compared with my closet in the past, but nor do I feel deprived or like I lack a bit of variety.

What do you think? How do my numbers compare with yours?

"Fitness" tracking

July 23rd, 2012 at 05:07 am

Ay-yi-yi.

All I can say is, after the weekend I had, I felt fortunate that I gained less than 2 lbs. at my weigh-in tonight. I knew I was going to be heavier, but I wanted to at least stick to part of my routine so I can hopefully get back on track soon.

Even though I didn't work out, I feel like I've been on my feet much of the weekend. Maybe that's why I didn't gain as much as the calorie counts and lack of workouts would warrant.

July 21:
10 min. workout: No. 10/21
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated (gulp) 2,824. 21/21
No night snacks: Sort of? No. I don't know, I felt like I was constantly eating until pretty late, so I don't know where dinner ended and snacking began. I'm going to say I did snack. 17/21

July 22:
10 min. workout: No. 10/22
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,945. 22/22
No night snacks: No, I needed to eat something for my antibiotics. 17/22

It was a mostly fun if hard weekend. Saturday was haircut day, as well as having our friends over to celebrate their 5-year anniversary. I ran around lugging bottles of wine and a massive box of Chinese takeout food and we all ate at our place. Then we rushed out to catch fireworks; the best Minneapolis fireworks are always late July, rather than on the 4th.

Lil AA fell out of her big-girl bed very early this morning; second time it's happened. NT positioned a beanbag chair by her bed tonight so if she does it again, hopefully it won't be such a bad shock for her. We're thinking about whether we can do anything else to help. She REALLY travels in her sleep. Frown

Today we only had one Skype call to England, but I promised my parents one, so I spoke with them later in the day. We got a new bedframe and put it together; now we'll have more bedroom storage space. I made a new complex dish for dinner (seitan stroganoff; seitan is a fake meat made of wheat) that was a big hit with everyone, so I'll probably get practice getting better at it!

I don't really know why the weekend felt so overwhelming. Part of it was NT being somewhat out of commission after his surgery; partly the lost sleep due to AA falling; partly I had my own illness to deal with, along with antibiotics. Tomorrow is my last day of parental leave, so I'll try to take it easy, get back on working out and a sane amount of calories, and just generally find my equilibrium.

Fitness tracking, menu, grocery list

July 21st, 2012 at 03:43 pm

I've pretty much written off this week in terms of my health goals, but I'm still going to record everything so hopefully I can get back on track next week.

July 18:
10 min. workout: No. 10/18
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,851. 18/18
No night snacks: Success. 16/18

July 19:
10 min. workout: No. 10/19
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,461. 19/19
No night snacks: Success. 17/19

July 20:
10 min. workout: No. 10/20
Calorie counting: Yes, estimated 1,847. 20/20
No night snacks: No, I needed to eat something because I started antibiotics. 17/20

I thought I'd share my menu and shopping list, since I like reading LuckyRobin's. This week we have more eating out scheduled than usual. We've been buying more fruit than usual because it's fresher and cheaper during the summer. Also, during the summer we hardly have to buy any vegetables because we get most of them from our CSA.

Friday dinner
Get takeout & take it easy. Pizza Luce

Saturday lunch
super Saturday scramble - tofu/eggs, diced potatoes, fried tomatoes, toast, facon
AS making cupcakes for fireworks display tonight

Saturday dinner
Friends' anniversary dinner (eat out or takeout)

Sunday lunch
Veggie burgers, lemon-butter broccoli

Sunday dinner
Seitan stroganoff over pasta; Harvard beets

Monday
Chikn-fried steak or chix patties, potatoes, carrot-walnut salad

Tuesday (NT has class until 8:30)
Bacon-avocado sammiches (tomato if we've got some), corn

Wednesday (NT has class until 9:00)
Parsley-breadcrumb pasta

Thursday (NT has class until 8:30)
Corn, cilantro, black beans, tortillas

Ideas for next week: Buffalo salad (if we get corn in CSA); something Mexican; portobello sammies & potato salad; BBQ

Grocery list (we divvy it by the stores we got to for each):

Rainbow:
cremini mushrooms
avocadoes
peaches
small bag Rainier cherries
apples
strawberries
blueberries
Silk soymilk (coupon)
veg burgers BOGO
bread (coupon)
white vinegar
grape jelly
spaghetti
Athenos feta BOGO
cheddar cheese
Smart Ones desserts (coupon)
cotton balls
gauze pads

Wedge:
nutritional yeast
sweet brown rice (1 C for pudding)
slivered almonds (1/2 C)
pistachios (1/2 C)
walnuts (1 c)
dried cranberries (1/4 c)
black beans
firm tofu
silken tofu
loo rolls
fig cookies
flour (all-purpose, unbleached)
coffee beans
vegan wide noodles

Target:
facon
pita chips

Prepaid phone costs update

July 19th, 2012 at 09:37 pm

FY2012 Spending:
AS's April T-Mobile fillup (500 minutes): $53.90
NT's May Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36
CJ's May T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
AS's June T-Mobile fillup (1000 minutes): $107.78
NT's July Net10 fillup (300 minutes): $33.36

FY2012 total so far: $336.18

Since we're only in our fourth month of the "fiscal year," that means our average is $84.05 per month! I hope that will go down quite a bit since we all just filled up, but we also have been using more minutes because of the new baby: more calls to the proud grandparents, and people staying home with the baby = more use of cellphones vs. work phones.

But, it's netting out to be cheaper than our old family plan, just barely.

RECAP: I switched to prepaid in late March 2009, so our phone "fiscal year" begins each April. 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 ideal goal is to get my average cost to $50 per month, but any average number below $85 is a savings.