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January 10th, 2009 at 08:42 am

I got a random e-mail from someone who was reading an old blog entry of mine, which made me fondly remember this site, so I thought I would pop back on for a moment to check in. Glad to see that many of the "old-timers" (in longevity, not age, of course!) are still around. Anyway, just a quick note to say hi and announce my latest addition, Margaret Elizabeth, born healthy and happy in October. She's a champ eater and sleeper, giving us a solid ten hours straight of sleep last night Smile I'm blissfully off from work until May, unless circumstances change and I need to go back sooner - although the EF is stocked and we are living quite cheaply these days. Hi to all!

Still kicking...

May 3rd, 2008 at 06:50 pm

Just not writing! I'm gotten very bad at posting here. (slaps own hand) I'll try to do better Smile

I was just checking out my debt column - $19645. As of today, that number was under $18k. I guess I should get around to updating it. Both of our student loans have gone done about $500. Our Lowe's debt is down to $500. Unfortunately, our cc is up a bit due to car repairs, but that will be paid off before any interest accrues. We just got slapped with a major car repair, but are using the stimulus to pay it off. It's no harm to the budget, but just more scrambling that we will have to do to come up with money for our Roths (since that's what we had the stimulus slated for). Oh well. I guess it wasn't the worst time for me to blow a transmission, although there never is a good time for that.

Running ragged...

April 13th, 2008 at 07:10 am

My clients have flown in from England and the frenzied search for a house has begun! I've spent the past two days looking at houses with them, traveling over 150 miles each day. We had quite a few disappointments this weekend, looking at houses that didn't quite measure up to their pictures and descriptions. Today I have found a few newer listings to visit. Most of the houses that we've seen so far have been on the market for 3-4 months, so I'm optimistic that these newer listings may be a bit more what we've been looking for. And if not, we have seen one spectacular house that my folks would be happy with if nothing better comes along.
I had my pregnancy check-up last week - so far, so good. Sonogram is in 5 weeks, at which point we'll hopefully know the gender (although they did tell us with last pregnancy that ds was a dd!).
I just checked the account online and it looks like we'll finally have some breathing room. It seems like ever since my cat's surgery back in January, we've been juggling the bills - always having enough, but never having extra. Now, it seems we can catch our breath. I'd like to get our EF back up to $5k (and eventually $10k) - it's at $3k now - and start on our 2008 Roth contributions. Lastly, I've still got that bothersome Lowe's bill to pay off before July ($500 left on a $2k bathroom remodel).

yeah, okay, I've been gone...

April 3rd, 2008 at 06:11 pm

But for good reasons. I'm still exhausted all the time (12 weeks prego - hoping this wears off a bit once I'm solidly in the second trimester - soon!). My youngest son had outpatient surgery today for a hernia. A little nerve-wracking - not really for the operation, which was apparently quite common and simple - but for putting your child under anesthesia for the first time, not knowing how he will react. Luckily, he did fine - only a bit of nausea after coming out. He rested today, but really was back to his old self within a few hours (thankfully!). I'm going to be picking up extra hours at work starting next week to cover a co-worker's maternity leave (I negotiated for "extra time" pay for this - yeah!) I can't get overtime as I only work 20 hours a week. Over the next six weeks, this should net us an extra $1000 or so. It will be a much needed boost.

So after dealing with all of that, we haven't been paying much attention to the finances. I did take an extra $1000 from our EF (which now stands at $3k) to put into DH's Roth for the 2007 year. That will get him up to $3500 - maybe the full $4k if we squeeze $500 from our next paychecks in a week. Once I file our taxes, the $600 we get back will go straight back to the EF. I've got a small Discover cc bill to pay off, but I have a month to do it - had to put my real estate MLS dues on there, as well as two tanks of gas over the past few weeks. Other than that, we are in decent shape.

I'm planning a small vacation, probably for May, to take my sons to see the Thomas train. It's coming to two different locations in NY. I was going to book a hotel room and make a weekend out of it, but DH suggested camping. A night at a hotel would cost (at the bare minimum) $87/night. We can camp at a NY state park for $20/night, in addition to saving money on food as well. I think I've picked out the campground, so tomorrow I may book it. We are also very close to finalizing our camping week in July, where we book a cabin with DH's family. Unfortunately, I can think of better ways to spend $350 right now, but cabins are going fast and we may not get 5 cabins together (that's how many we need for everyone who goes) if we wait much longer.

So that's the story in my neck of the woods. I'll try not to be so much of a stranger, but when I'm in bed at 10pm every night...sometimes it's hard to find the time between all my sleeping!


March 18th, 2008 at 06:49 pm

-Still prego Smile Broke the news at work today and everyone took the news quite well. I'm starting to climb out of this depressing fatigue that I've had for the first trimester as well. It won't be a minute too soon!
-Ds2 does have a hernia, requiring minor surgery. I'm waiting for the hospital to call to schedule it. It's a very minor surgery, but there's always that apprehension of putting your child under anesthesia, esp. for the first time. I'll be glad when it's over. At least it won't be a big medical bill as we have good insurance. I'm reminded more and more lately how lucky we are.
-I've made $2500 of DH's 2007 Roth contribution (I was able to make all of mine). I don't think we are going to make it to $4k, but I think I'll be able to squeeze at least another $500 out before April 15.
-Speaking of Roths, I'm just waiting to finish my contribution so I can file my taxes (we qualify for the retirement savings credit). I am literally less than $1000 from claiming the EIC. Anyone know of a way to lower my income???? (legally, of course!!!)
-I am generally pretty non-commercial when it comes to holidays, but I bought the boys a few presents last night when I stopped at Target with my girlfriends. They had board games on sale for $4 and I picked up a few small Thomas trains. So, less than $20...not bad, and I know they will make the boys very happy.
-I also spent over $125 on new clothes in the past week, both maternity and just "larger" clothes to get me through to when I can actually wear maternity without looking like I'm in a tent. My body shape has changed considerably since my last two pregnancies, and all my old maternity clothes are really quite unflattering. I may be pregnant, but I still want to look good Smile
-My sitters (day care provider and my mom) are both taking off for a long weekend, so I'm out of a sitter on Thursday - good news for me, as I justified taking a vacation day from work! Friday we are leaving for my niece's birthday party, than an early Easter celebration with DH's family in Binghamton on Sat. We come home Sunday for a second celebration. I just love the holidays!

bills, bills, bills

March 10th, 2008 at 06:24 pm

Ooh, the bills are piling up - luckily none too big.
$35 for hospital outpatient procedure last month
$100 for DH's "driver responsibilty assessment" (btw, in case you don't know - and we didn't - if you get 6 or more points on your license in NY within 18 months, you have to pay a $300 fine over three years. Installment #2 is due by the end of the month) DH has been ticket free since, though!
$46 in lab bills for my two pregnancy blood tests (and that was AFTER insurance)
And now it looks like we might need to take ds2 back to the doctor AGAIN as he is being incontinent all of a sudden. We took him last week for swelling in the groin area which could be a hernia or could be nothing - but it sure seems like something's going on, when after 6 months of hardly having any accidents, he has four within two days. Hmmm...hoping it's nothing but a fluke, though.


March 3rd, 2008 at 05:59 pm

-Took ds2 back to the dr. today for swelling in the groin area...doc said possible hernia, possibly nothing...we'll have to keep an eye on it. $18 co-pay.
-Still eating like a crazed pregnant woman (oh wait, I AM a crazed pregnant woman). I did go to the store last week and really stocked up on some good stuff so I wouldn't be so tempted to eat all the bad stuff. I filled the fridge with yogurt, raspberries, blueberries, strawberries, watermelon, grapes, whole grain bagels and English muffins, etc. to the tune of $55. I thought I was doing pretty well - still eating every two hours (I'm pretty sure you could actually set a clock by my stomach), but keeping my snacks healthier and higher-protein - till my parents came back from vacation and bought a dozen doughnuts at the store today! I walked in from my son's Dr. appt, saw those yummies sitting there, and caved. Oh well - tomorrow's another day.
-I've definitely gained a few pounds from above binging. My waistband is just enough snugger to make me uncomfortable. Drat. And I'm only 8 weeks along! I'm seeing my midwife on Friday, so I will get her opinion on what type of exercise is safest to start at this point in the game.
-All these medical bills and the price of gas has put us a little behind in the budget. I'm not sure knocking ourselves out to make our 2007 IRA contribution is really the best plan. I might just (sigh) contribute less for 2007 ($2500 at this writing) and try to get the entire amount in next year.
-Another busy weekend coming up - DH and I are playing in a pinochle tournament at my uncle's house this Saturday, then making a day trip to Binghamton for his grandmother's birthday on Sunday and coming home to bowl in our league on Sunday night. But, it beats staying home, where I sit like a lump on the couch because I'm too tired to move. Five more weeks of being in the first trimester...I can't wait!!! I guess you never remember the negatives, but this is my third pregnancy and I'm always surprised at how completely exhausted I am from doing absolutely nothing. Speaking of...time for bed!

Blows to the budget

February 26th, 2008 at 06:11 pm

$18 copay for ds2 (ear infection)
$18 copay for DH (possible strep)
$10 antibiotics for both
Ugh! We were doing so well too. Granted, it's not much, but it's almost $50 that we won't be putting toward our Roth this month.
I am eating like a maniac. If this keeps up, I might blow the grocery budget too Smile Today's menu:
breakfast:two bowls of Wheaties with strawberries
2nd breakfast: bowl of oatmeal with 1/2 banana
lunch: frozen meal, chicken with potatoes
snack: handful of almonds and cheese stick
2nd snack (about 4 pm is where the willpower breaks down - yesterday it was -gasp- friend Spam on white bread! -which tasted SO good): Doritos/corn chips snack mix
dinner: steak, two piles of mashed potatoes, asparagus
dessert: butterscotch pudding

I said at the beginning of this pregnancy that I would not gain 55 pounds, like I did with my last two..but I'm so hungrrrryyyyyyyy.......I think I need to start exercising or this is going to be disastrous.

Still around...somewhat!

February 25th, 2008 at 06:03 pm

Okay, seems that I have gone MIA from my blog again. It's been a busy week - we went to Binghamton again to help my MIL clean out her house to put it on the market. While we were there, she took us to see an adorable little house that she wants to buy, only a few minutes away from my SILs. She's going to put in an offer tomorrow (fingers crossed). However, we had to rush home Sat. night because ds2 was feverish and saying his ear hurt. We gave him some drops for the pain and Tylenol for the fever and he finally went to bed around midnight. I thought we would need to take him to Urgent Care on Sunday, but he woke up fine and has been great ever since.
I'm am definitely beginning to feel this pregnancy, which is a mixed blessing. It's great, because I never felt pregnant with my last pregnancy (miscarriage) - I always thought something was a bit off. Now, I am really feeling pregnant, complete with the exhaustion and CONSTANT eating. I cannot believe how much I have eaten in the past three days. But I'm feeling like a real slug, not doing much besides eating, sleeping, and watching t.v. (which I rarely do non-prego!). I feel bad because I don't have the energy to do anything around the house or with my kids, but this too shall pass. Luckily, I can hold off nausea by eating Smile
Moneywise, we're doing pretty well. DH and I have stuck to the budget, aside from a few small purchases (less than $20 total). We've made $500 of our $2000 remaining Roth contribution for 2007. Still, March is going to be hectic, as we still have $600 on the cc to pay off, and make as much of a contribution as we can swing. I am going to pick up some hours at work starting in late March due to a co-workers maternity leave, which should net us an extra $1000-1200 over 6 weeks. It will be great to use that to get a start on our 2008 Roth contributions!

Involuntary water consumption and a house full of sickies

February 18th, 2008 at 12:19 pm

Sound fun? It could be worse, I guess. I don't have to do any housework Smile DH and I share a house with my parents, and my parents run a farm. There is a problem with the pump (perhaps - they don't yet know the exact cause) for the water source for the barn - and drinking source for the cows, cleaning source for the piepline. So, they had to switch the barn over to the house well. And a barn full of cows can drain a not-so-deep well very quickly. In two days, they have already had to buy one load of water for the well, and are going to buy another today. A load of water a day adds up very quickly, at $50 or more a load (that's what it was in the summer - may be more in the winter).
So...we are on a water restriction. Super quick showers - and stretch the time between them. We haven't washed dishes in two days, nor laundry. Wait a little between flushes, if you KWIM. But, I am trying to wash my hands often for the reason below.
Both DH and ds1 are sick. DH felt it coming on Saturday night - some aches, then a cough on Sunday. Today he moved from the bed to the couch, but has not moved again since. Ds1 woke up at 6 am gagging - never threw up, but sluggish and feverish today. Needless to say, we've spent ALL day in front of the tv with me asking him if he wanted to eat yet. Ds2 and I are fine...for now. My parents are going on a cruise next week and are keeping as far away as they can from us! My dad was sick for their last vacation and it was horrible. Hoping for some healthy vibes to come our way -

Heading out of town

February 16th, 2008 at 06:54 am

I think DH and I are going to take the kids to Binghamton today to help my MIL clean out her house a bit in preparation for selling, many in 3-6 months. I say clean out a bit because there's not much of a dent we can make in two days (we have to be back tomorrow night to bowl). Let's just say there is many years of accumulation, as well as neglected repairs. She had a realtor over who quoted $90+...but as a realtor (and admittedly not knowing her market, but I do know that there are no inflated markets in our part of NY), I think that's a big stretch. The house has holes in the foundation (when they got their furnace replaced, they were told that it was lucky they did, or else the carbon monixide leak probably would have killed them). Her heating bill is $800 a month on the budget due to the horrible (or lack of?) insulation. Apparently, there are septic problems as well. The kitchen and bath need to be gutted (probably the bedrooms too) and they just need to start over. I'm thinking more like $50-60k tops. But, I wasn't asked, and I am not offering any opinion. Last thing I want to do is get in the middle here. I just hate to see her pinning her hopes on $90k when I just don't see it happening. Maybe I'm wrong about their market - I would LOVE to be wrong here. Anyway, we're going to go down and help where we can. I'm thinking of stopping on the way to the science musuem that we have a membership to. The kids will love it and it will tire them out a bit Smile
A bit of free entertainment yesterday - a trip to the local library and cards at my brother's house next door. We were able to take the kids and set them up with a movie in the basement (both fell asleep on the couch), so no cost for babysitting either.
And, now, a week off from school - that means a week without daycare expense either! We are lucky that our daycare provider does not charge us for days that ds2 doesn't attend (since he only goes two days per week). That's $54 that can stay in the bank!

I stood in the return line at Wal-Mart for $.53

February 14th, 2008 at 06:41 pm

Am I nuts? Probably! But it's the principle. I used to embarrass DH by going to the return line for any overcharge - even a dime once. But, you know, I just hate getting ripped off, and I figure if they're doing it to me then they are doing it to everyone and making a mint. So, I questioned the cashier about charging me $2.50 for my apple juice while we were literally in pointing distance from the sign on the apple juice display that boldly proclaimed $1.97. Unfortunately, I didn't catch it in time, so off to the return line I went to reclaim my $.53 (standing behind about seven other people). Ugh. I hate Wal-Mart.
Some good news - my HcG levels were very good yesterday, meaning this pregnancy (at this very early point) is progressing well. Sonogram is scheduled for late next week.
Not much else to report - although I did feel like a mean mommy today. Well, not exactly mean, but not the nicest mommy either. My two boys have money saved up and I've been telling them for weeks that I will take them shopping for new Thomas trains. I went to Wal-Mart after work (it's across the street), so I didn't have them with me. I called them to ask them which trains they wanted, then asked them if they wanted me to buy them and they could pay me back - they said yes. I brought home the trains and asked for the money, which they gladly handed over (still too little to really understand the value). I really wanted to reinforce the idea of spending money on something you want (especially since they did some chores to earn extra), so I made a point to take the money. Still - what kind of mom takes money from her kids on Valentines Day? Hopefully one whose kids grow to learn the value of a dollar!
Oh, and speaking of Valentine's Day, DH came home with quite a haul from the kids at school. One kids gave him a $5 Dunkin' Donuts g.c. and two boxes of Girl Scout cookies! (ok, admittedly, she does have a crush on him, but c'mon). He had lots of candy, cards, and even a little glass vase. Is it just me, or do there seem to be a lot more gift giving occasions, as well as a wider net of people that you are 'expected' to give gifts too nowadays? DH isn't even a teacher - he's an assistant, and only sees some of these kids for a few hours a week! I was really glad to hear that my son's pre-k does not celebrate any holidays. We didn't send anything in, but he still received Valentine's from 7 out of the 11 kids in his class. Oh well.

A few positives in the budget

February 13th, 2008 at 07:48 am

As some of you may know from my forum post, I have a strict budget set out for the next two months in order to attempt to sock away as much as I can for DH's 2007 Roth IRA contribution before I have to dip into my EF for the rest. I had a few nice surprises along the way:
- $61 mileage check I had forgotten to figure in
- $30 vet bill for a Sunday emergency re-staple of my temperamental cat with anesthesia. I was expecting $100 or more. Another reason I love my vet!
- $20 cash from MIL for lunch (which we paid for with a gift card. We didn't want any money and DH refused several times, but somehow the money still found us. Saves us a trip to the ATM for another few days).
- a week off from school for winter break - that means no day care costs since DH is home!

A couple minor bleeps in the budget:
- an outstanding $36 in co-pays that my midwife's office informed me of yesterday (I don't know why they can't tell me about them at the time of service!)
- gas...we seem to be running through it quicker than usual, somehow

Other than that, I'm feeling pretty good about the budget. I figure I'll be able to put in $500 with our next paychecks at the end of this week, and probably $1000 more by the first week of April. That will only leave me $500 short (I've already done $2k from EF), which I can switch over from EF until our tax return comes in (about $600).

On the baby news, I had my second round of bloodwork yesterday and am waiting anxiously for a phone call to tell me the results. It's still very early (5 weeks), but if my hcg levels are rising appropriately, it will be a good sign.
(fingers crossed)

9 things I have learned from making mistakes

February 11th, 2008 at 06:05 pm

1. Buy a used car.
Actually, this was DH's mistake (although he won't admit it because he has always, always wanted to be the first to own a car after years of hand-me-downs). After I figured out the cost in terms of how long I had to work (approximately one year), I decided never to buy a new car again. A newer used car will be just as good for thousands cheaper.
2. Never lend money to friends or family that you can't afford to never see again.
This was the most expensive lesson - to the tune of $5000. If I had to do it again, I would in a heartbeat (DH's parents furnace went out in November right after his dad went into the hospital for a triple bypass. They had just entered credit counseling and had no credit available. We found out that the ductwork was leaking carbon monoxide and fronted the $5000 for a completely new heating system). My mistake here was in expecting the money back, not in lending it. I carried around some bitterness for a few years at not seeing the cash (DH on the other hand, never expected it back). If you have the ability to help out, and you don't want to ruin a relationship, give a gift instead of a loan. If you can't afford to spare the cash, don't give the loan.
3. Don't buy a house just because it's cheaper than rent.
You can also substitute any number of reasons here for not buying a house, but in our case, it simply was cheaper than rent (by about $90). We were also newly married and completely uneducated. We bought a cheap house, poorly maintained, in a declining area. We also did not plan to stay in the area for more than 3 or 4 years. Somehow, after seven months on the market, we managed to get close to our asking price. This could have turned out much, much worse, but we walked away from it with a little more than our downpayment. I loved our house and, again, wouldn't change our decision, but it certainly gave me a new perspective on future housing and the right reasons to buy.
4. New clothes are usually not worth the price.
It took me years of shrinking, staining, and otherwise ruining expensive clothing that I had only worn once or twice to realize this. Of course, there are always going to be certain items that you have to buy new, but in general, 90% of my wardrobe comes from thrift stores, hand-me-downs, or garage sales. If I tire of an item, or ruin it, I have no guilt about getting rid of it.
5. Full price is usually negotiable.
Once I started trying, I found that you can get the price down on just about anything if you ask, bargain, or threaten to take your business elsewhere. I managed to find this out by accident one day when I was shocked by the price of a car repair. Instead of authorizing the work, I told the mechanic to hold off while I checked around for prices. Lo and behold, about 15 minutes later, the mechanic called me back with a significant discount, saying that he "happened" to find a part cheaper somewhere. A little light bulb went off in my head, and I now check around before any major purchase, including searching the Internet for coupons for anything from coffee, restaurants, photo processing, or oil changes.
6. Invest as early as you can.
DH and I started early, by most standards (age 25). However, in the few years leading up to our investing start, we were sitting on $10k+ in the bank. If we had just started investing some of that a little earlier...
7. If something is wrong, complain.
If you are not getting a service that you paid for, or are getting overcharged for it, call the company. If you do not get a favorable response (and feel you are being wronged), take it one step higher until you get what you need. The company president, the Better Business Bureau, even the local news can be powerful catalysts to right a wrong. I started heeding this advice several years ago, once getting a $50 credit and another time getting out of a contract that was misrepresented to us. However, I missed many opportunities to get what I deserved before I found my voice.
8. A fancy college is not always worth the price.
I'm not going to make a blanket statement here, but for me, I do not think a private four year college gave me any more of a head start than a community college would have. I still remember this mistake every month when I pay off my student loan (which would have been done about 4 years earlier had I went to a community college for two years, then transferred).
9. And, finally, not money related (unless you count him as the best investment I ever made!), don't overlook your best friend when looking for love.
This would have been my biggest mistake ever, had DH not been so darn persistent. He was a good friend and wanted it to be more, but I could only see him as "just a friend". Sometimes what you really need is right under your nose Smile

10 things I have learned from my kids

February 9th, 2008 at 07:23 pm

1. Don't be a slave to labels or the Joneses.
It doesn't matter whether it's new, used, free, or handed down - if it's an appropriate item of clothing, toy, or book, the child will love it, no matter what it's origin.
2. Decide what your priorities are.
Some things are worth the money, like health care, wholesome food, museum memberships, and education. Other things are not, like brand name toys and clothes, expensive games, and fads. My sons get more pleasure and benefit out of our museum membership than they will from any video game system.
3. Education is priceless, but doesn't have to be expensive.
Reading a book is just as much (if not more) fun as watching a movie or playing a video game (not to mention cheaper, more portable, and better for you). Look for opportunities to learn all around you in the "real" world (wish I had known this before going into debt to go to a private college).
4. Take care of yourself.
Exercise is free! Just follow a 3 and 4 year old around for a day.
5. Don't leave money on the table (or floor).
Finding a penny on the ground makes your entire day! (Ok, I have to admit that I didn't learn this from my kids - I've known it for years! But my oldest son did find two pennies on the floor of a restaurant today and was over the moon).
6. Life is not all work, and it's not all about money.
We have started to offer my oldest son, age 4, chores that he can do for extra money. If he's in the mood, he'll do it and add a quarter to his piggy bank. If he's not, he'll turn us down. It's a good reminder to not give up all your pleasure for a little more money and to balance yourself. (Of course, there are still chores he MUST do without getting paid!)
7. Choose your purchases wisely.
My sons love to look at toys on the computer - for hours if we let them. They have money in their piggy banks, but have not yet decided on what they would like to buy (although it will, without doubt, be some Thomas the Tank Engine toy). Take your time and look over your options - then you will be truely happy with your decision instead of regretting it the next day.
8. Stop eating when you're full.
My kids are great at this one. When they are full, they stop eating. When they are hungry, they eat. How many of us truely listen to our hunger when we eat? I know eating can be a habit, a crutch, or a hobby - and the more you eat when not truely hungry, the more you spend (not to mention health-related costs of overeating).
9. A kiss is better than a Band-aid.
Sometimes all you really need is a kiss, a hug, or a kind word - not medicines, flowers, or retail therapy.
10. The best things in life - hugs, kisses, and 'I love you' - are free!
No explanation necessary Smile

The highs and lows

February 7th, 2008 at 05:11 pm

Yesterday I found out first that I was pregnant (yeah!!! - just 4 weeks along - too early to get really excited though), and about ten minutes later, the vet called to say that the lump removed from my cat was cancer. Talk about your roller coasters! Basically, there's nothing to do about the cat other than chemo, and I'm not taking that route (which isn't even that effective, per the vet). My cat is healthy right now, and she does not appear to be in any pain, and she just had a huge chunk of skin/lump removed, so it could even be months and months before it comes back (at least, that's what I'm telling myself). She's ten years old and we've had a good time together. So, I'm dwelling on the positive right now - a baby! Blood test yesterday confirmed it, but I'm due back in a week for more tests. My midwife is being very cautious because I lost my last pregnancy. Send some good wishes and healthy baby vibes my way Smile

Leaking money left and right...

February 5th, 2008 at 05:53 pm

I am getting realy quite frustrated. The bills are mounting here, and there is no way we are going to be able to make our full Roth IRA contributions for 2007. We transferred $2k from our EF to get a start. We haven't had to touch the EF in at least 6 months, so I feel okay about doing that. However, transferring anoth $2k would only leave us with $2k in there, which is a bit too low for my tastes. So that means we need to come up with $2k between now and April. In the last month or so, we've had to pay:
-nearly $600 for the cat's surgery and recovery
-almost $200 for DH's contacts
-$550 for my yearly Realtor dues and quarterly MLS access fee
-gas! (at the price gas is, it warrants its own mention, despite being an ongoing cost)
-two student loan payments totalling $300 each month
-$400 on our Lowe's card (actually, this is 0% until July, but I thought we had some extra cash last month - I really wish I had that money back now!)
-about $200 in medical co-pays and eye exams

We still have to pay:
-$200 for my contacts
-$100 for my Realtor key rental
-$850 on the Discover (only $250 by the end of February, the rest by the end of March)
-$200 rent/utility payment to my mom

On our income of roughly $1200/every two weeks, it doesn't leave us enough to make the Roth contribution. Our money is spent before we get it every week! I feel like a loser to complain, since we live without a housing payment, but I have just been really down about the finances lately and needed to vent a little. That's okay here, right?

My very expensive cat

February 3rd, 2008 at 01:58 pm

Remember that $300-400 surgery I posted about a while back? Wellllll.....
Day 1: Cat had surgery. Paid about $420 for surgery, pain meds, etc. Brought cat home without collar since cat will not keep one on.
Day 2: Cat pulled out her stitches and had a gaping hole in her back. Took cat back to vet, where vet looked at me disapprovingly for not getting the collar, but stapled cat up. Said she would be fine and put a collar on her. Paid $10.50 for collar. Cat kept collar on all evening.
Day 3: Sneaky cat waited for us to go to bed, then took her collar off and proceeded to pull out almost all her staples. Gaping hole in cat. Took cat back to vet, where he had to resuture her wound underneath the skin, then tried glue on the top. We said "Told you so" to the vet. Vet replied he had never, never had any animal pull out her own staples. Vet conceeds that we are dealing with an extraordinary cat. Vet charges us $100 because he had to anesthetize cat for sutures.
Day 4: Cat keeps collar on. Seems to have given up the battle to open up her wound. DH and I go out of town, leaving instructions for my parents to give the cat her medicine.
Day 4, evening: I get a call at 10:30 pm that cat was terrorizing my parents. They had it wrapped in a towel to give it medicine, but she ran away and popped the glue. Gaping hole in cat. I'm 2 hours away. Sh*t. Frantic phone call to vet, who calls me back after 11 pm to tell me to sit tight until morning, since there's not much to do tonight anyway. The nearest emergency clinic is an hour away, and nobody but me can get near the cat to get her there.
Day 5: There go my Sunday plans to visit with DH's family. Get up early, get in the car to pick up kids at my MILs, then come home. Coax terrified cat out of hiding (I'm the only one she'll come to), pop her in her modified kitty carrier (AKA cardboard box), and take her to the vet. Vet sedates her and sews her back up. More staples, and a harder plastic collar. It's Sunday, so the computer wasn't on, but I'm sure there will be a bountiful charge to my cc for today. I do have a greater appreciation for my vet, who lives next door to the clinic and was wonderful about meeting us there today.
More to follow, I'm sure. Just checked on the patient, and she is resting quietly (still sedated, so I don't think she's figured out how to get the new collar off yet). She is turning out to be one damn expensive cat. I have to laugh about this, or I might just cry!

the continued quest for organization

January 31st, 2008 at 06:56 pm

Closet and clothes: check
Books: check
Junk room (spare bedroom where all the..well, junk is stored): check
Kitchen cabinets: check
Today's goal, which I'm about halfway through - my recipes. I have a huge stack of cooking magazines which I kept because I didn't want to rip out the magazines. Forget that! I don't want them taking up all the space, so I'm cutting out the recipes that I want and freecycling the rest. Getting rid of a few cookbooks too, since the vast majority of my recipes come from online (thank you recipezaar!). I'm using a magnetic photo album to keep the recipes I want to try (once tried, I either discard them or copy them into my "keeper" file). I should have this finished by tomorrow morning.
Now, what should the next task be??? I have freecycled a TON of stuff, although after two no-shows, I did finally take the leftovers to be donated. Here's a very partial list:
about 50 items of clothing
non-working CD player
bag of old towels for rags
old magazines
old sewing chest
bag of packing peanuts
baking and cooking items
metal bookshelf
picture frames
and on and on...took up half the dining room! But boy, did it feel good to get all that stuff out and reclaim some space in the house. I am really having a blast doing this. Maybe a career as a professional organizer should be in my future??? Classes are cheap, and there are no organizers listed in my immediate area (closest is 45 minutes away), so there's not much competition. I wonder how much potential there is in that business...

Too used to thrift store prices!

January 29th, 2008 at 01:05 pm

I think I've been spoiled by our Thrifty Shopper store, where I always stop to pick up a few children's books everytime I drop off some donations. However, they are moving their store and were closed today, so I took my donations to the Salvation Army instead. Children's books there were $1-$2 each, instead of 4/$1. Since I only had a few bucks with, I only bought 3 books. I can't believe I was sitting there thinking, "Man, $2 for one book?" Seems I haven't been to a 'real' bookstore in a long, long time Smile
(side note: my SIL thought it was disgusting that I gave my kids used books, which she figured to be crawling with germs. I figure any germs died off a long time ago, since they've been sitting on a shelf for months. Am I nuts, or is she?) BTW, we have literally hundreds of books, and two kids who 'read' (or, rather, look at the pictures) everyday. Since I can't afford to keep them in new books, I find this alternative works perfectly. Books are one thing I will always buy for my kids.

So, you don't have time to cook?

January 26th, 2008 at 07:18 pm

Yes, you do! Yesterday, in about an hour and a half, I made the following:
-one batch of granola, enough for 6-8 breakfasts (original recipe: http://www.recipezaar.com/23108, but I've made some changes)
-one loaf of blueberry oat bread
-chicken supreme, dinner for 6 with leftovers for two lunches (http://www.recipezaar.com/183972)
-chocolate raspberry cake (http://www.recipezaar.com/63073)

How did I do it? Follow along on my culinary adventure. It just takes some planning and prep work.

Pre-heat your oven. Start cooking the bacon for the chicken on the grill. Mix dry granola ingredients. Heat wet granola ingredients and stir in. Pop in the oven. (time: 10 minutes)
Remove bacon from pan and set in fridge (not needed until you serve dinner). Brown chicken breasts on both sides (5 minutes). Remove to crock pot. Heat cream of chicken soup in pan and pour over chicken. Add one can of drained mushrooms. (5 minutes). Dinner is done. (needs to cook for 4 hours - add cheese before serving)
Add bread ingredients to bread machine. Set on dough setting (5 minutes).
Start cake. This was the most labor intensive part of kitchen session, taking a good 30 minutes due to multiple steps and being the first time I have ever made this particular cake (not to mention the interruptions from kids, of course). It timed out about right, though, as I had just taken the granola out and turned up the oven temperature when it was time for the cake to go in. About a half hour later, my bread dough was done. It took me less than 5 minutes to roll it out and slap it into a bread pan. I let it rise for 45 minutes (no effort on my part) and threw that into the oven too. My crockpot and bread machine are probably my two biggest timesavers. To round out dinner, I just threw some lima beans from the freezer on the stove for 10 minutes and added applesauce for the kids. The chicken was divine, the bread was warm from the oven, and we had cake for dessert. Ahhh...

On a down note...

January 24th, 2008 at 06:13 pm

It's been a bummer of a week, financially. Let me count the ways...
1. DH's "check engine" light came back on, after we spent $75 last week to get it fixed. I shouldn't have been so excited over the cheap repair bill! I can almost guarantee the next one won't be so low.
2. My cat needs surgery next week for a recurring lump. It's going to be biopsied this time so we know what we're dealing with. $300-400
3. DH needs to see a PT and get orthotics - luckily, most will probably be covered by insurance, but I'm sure there will be co-pays.
4. Saving the worst for last...for some reason, I was sure that we had already contributed $2k to DH's Roth this year. We have not. In fact, we have contributed $0. So, we need to come up with $4k between now and April (preferably sooner, so I can file my taxes and get my refund). I was going to take $2k out of the EF to cover the balance, but I really don't want to take $4k out. It would only leave us with $2k, which is not enough of a comfort zone for me. I guess the only answer is to buckle down and save harder for a few months.
Income: $600 (me) + $600 (DH) every two weeks. That's $2400/mo. I have to pay off our Discover before 3/1 ($284) and the Visa ($25), but that's all the debt besides our student loans (and a Lowe's card with $500, but no interest or payments until July). I can take care of both credit cards with the next paychecks (1/31), and then I'll just have to start socking it away. Of course, I also have to pay for a car repair and vet bill between now and than. Darn, darn, darn.
The high point of the week? DH just heard about a new grant position that will be offered at the school where he works. The only details we know at this time is that it is a crisis intervention, 3-year position. He has a LOT of background in the area, plus he now has the school experience to boot. He's very excited...

health care rants

January 23rd, 2008 at 05:31 pm

DH just went to the doctor a week ago for a lump in his foot, thought to be a gangleonic (sp?) cyst. After one doctor visit, two specialist visits, one x-ray, and one MRI, he found out today that they think it is a "strained tendon" and recommended he see a physical therapist and get orthotics. Our total cost: $18 copay x 5 = $90. However, I did get the statements from our health insurance and had a touch of sticker shock.
x-ray: $75 (ins. paid $36)
primary care physician (who referred to the specialist): $60 (ins. paid $45)
initial consult with the specialist (this is the one that got me): $235 to see the nurse practitioner! (ins. paid $111).
Follow-up appt. with specialist to read MRI: $100
cost of MRI: ???

So, if we did not have good health insurance, we could have easily paid $500 out of pocket to find out he has a strained tendon (and that's not counting the PT or expensive orthotics yet). Ouch. My sympathies to everyone who struggles with this issue. DH and I are truely lucky to have never been caught without health insurance. Even though we have had jobs that did not pay well, we always had a health insurance provider.
I have just finished watching my parents assist my brother and SIL to obtain insurance. They were just kicked off Family Health Plus due to a rise in income and needed to get something ASAP. I was not involved in the process, but I did hear them bat around numbers like $10k per year for coverage! I don't know what my brother makes (he is a partner to my father on the family farm), but I know it's not much above $30k. How are families expected to do this????

(oh, and I forgot to mention that I just found out that my cat needs to have surgery to have another lump removed - to the tune of $300-400. Just when you think you have everything caught up!)

taxes are starting to look up...

January 22nd, 2008 at 06:47 pm

I did a rough draft of my taxes a few weeks ago and thought we would have to pay about $500 for federal and state. I've been revising my taxes as I get paperwork in the mail and got some good news. I had forgotten that my health care premiums are not taxed, as well as my health care and dependent care savings accounts. That dropped my taxable income from my job by about $3k, which dropped our taxes to about $100 out of pocket. I made a few more tweaks today after I went over last years records for a few more deductions, and got it to a small refund. Back to Turbo Tax to run through the Deduction Finder and, lo and behold, a Retirement Savings Credit of $200 each brought our refunds up to about $500. Happy day! Still waiting on our interest statements from our banks to complete the taxes (although I did get one already from a short-lived account reporting $.04 in interest income - do I still have to report this or is there some threshold at which you have to start reporting?). When I get the rest of the statements, then I can file and get some unexpected cash back. Oh yeah, I do have to remember to make the final 2007 Roth contribution so that we can validly claim the Retirement Savings Credit! I still have $2k to go...I planned to save up for this contribution, but I think I will take it out of the EF in order to get these taxes filed sooner. I can put $500 right back in when I get my refund and should be able to catch the rest up quickly. I know, I know, not ideal...but I can't let this credit slip away, and i just don't have $2k in my checking right now! Plus, it sure seems like a good time to be buying stocks (although it pains me to look at my net worth nowadays - down 12% since 12/31). I'll still have $4k in my EF to tide us over...and no big expenses on the horizon.

Best ways to save money on food, creatively!

January 21st, 2008 at 07:58 am

Here's a little rambling of some of the tactics that have helped keep our food costs down.
-Learn how to cook! If you can cook, you can take several staple or bulk-bought items and turn them into a meal. If you cannot cook, you will have to rely on restaurant or store-bought prepared meals or meal "kits" that cost more and are much less healthy for you. If you can cook, you can also recycle leftovers into new meals instead of letting them linger in your fridge until they turn green.
-Find the space and keep a well-stocked pantry and freezer (see http://www.savingadvice.com/forums/general-discussion-food-e...). Although it will cost more in the short-term to build up your stockpiles, having the items you need on hand will stop you from having to make quick trips to the store to buy one or two items (which probably will not be on sale when you need them, and which will probably encourage you to pick up a few more things while you are there).
-Be open to substitutions. If you don't have sugar, will brown sugar do? Can you use crushed tomatoes instead of diced? Will hamburger work instead of sausage? If you are flexible, it can avoid last minute grocery runs.
-Keep a price book. Although I no longer do this (I have the prices I need in my head now), it was incredibly valuable to me when I first started trying to save. Keeping track of prices on items you buy often will help you know when you have found a bargain. If you don't know how to make a price book, read The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn.
-Garden. The cheapest food there is. I just saw an ad today for seeds at Walgreens - 10/$1 with coupon. Ten different kinds of veggies for $1 with some work (or fun, depending on your attitude) involved.
-Find a cheap source of food. No, I don't mean the dumpster (although I have heard of some enterprising people getting food there). Do you have a local scratch and dent store? An Aldi's? A bulk seller? About a year ago, I found a Mennonite-run store about 4 miles from my house (how did I never find it before???) that sells not only bulk items, but exppired brand-name foods. I took my mom there recently and she was thrilled to find Ballpark hot dogs for $.59/package, which we immdiately threw into the freezer. Many items are good past the expiration date. Whenever I'm in a "typical" grocery store, even when I'm not there to buy meat, I do a quick check through the meat aisle for marked-down meat that is near the sell-by date. It is immediately used or thrown into the freezer.
-Be creative! Instead of throwing away that last bit of leftover veggies, throw them into a "soup bowl" in the freezer for your next pot. Take a half-eaten apple (if you have kids, you'll know what I mean) and cut off the eaten parts. Slice it up and serve it back to your kids later. Try your hand at pancakes or waffles from scratch instead of a mix. You'll be surprised at how much better they are, and how they are not as much work as you thought.

What's absent here? A section on coupons. I rarely use them. That doesn't mean they aren't helpful - but they just aren't particularly helpful to me since they are not taken at the stores I usually shop in. However, they can be a valuable money saver for some. I just found that they took to much of my time for minimal returns.

My closet ROCKS!

January 14th, 2008 at 08:00 pm

and I owe it to this book: "Scaling Down: Living Large in a Smaller Space" by Judi Culbertson and Marj Decker. It's about downsizing, organizing, decluttering - and it just makes sense. I was totally blown away by the chapter on clothes - so much so that I could not WAIT to get my hands on my closet. Isn't that just nuts? Anyway, I carted out over 50 items from my closet (there's plenty left, don't you worry!). The floor of my decent sized closet was jammed with stuff, the hangers were jammed together, and yet I seemed to spend every morning thinking how much I disliked my clothes and had nothing to wear. Sound familiar? (I feel like an infomercial for this book, but I swear, it's awesome - and I'm not even halfway through!). Anyway, the authors talk about critically examining your clothes to really decide what to keep. I found that I kept a lot of so-so clothes because 1. you can never have too many white (or black) shirts, or 2. it was my favorite shirt (3 years ago, when I still had the baby weight - or was pregnant!), 3. it carried good memories, even though I didn't like the article of clothing itself anymore. So with these affirmations in mind, I tackled the closet and dresser:
Repeat after me and you can do the same-
"This does not look good on me."
"This is too tight (or loose)."
"This makes me feel frumpy."
"I already have three white shirts."
"I don't even like to wear skirts (or shorts, or sweaters)."
"I just don't like the way it looks, even though it fits."
"This is no longer in style."
"I do not have to wear this because it was a gift (or free, or cost $50)."
"This has a stain, or a tear, or a button missing (that's been missing since the Reagan administration)." and go tackle your own closets! (I did literally say these things out loud as I was sorting). It feels SOOOO good to look into my closet and see the back again, not to mention the wads of professional and dress clothes I just gave away on Freecycle (three responses within ten minutes - who knew that many people were trolling for clothes at 10:30 pm?)
With what was left, I took my favorite clothes and moved them to the front. Now when I look into my closet, I only see the clothes I love. Turns out I really only have five good pairs of dress pants and three pairs of jeans, about a dozen long-sleeved shirts, and three sweaters. That's the bulk of what I wear everyday anyway - now it's just easier to get to. I also found out that my favorite clothing share characteristics, which is going to make it easier to shop. For example, I can no longer tolerate pants that come anywhere near my belly button. However, I also only like shirts that come down wll past my waist. I used to be exactly the opposite, but since I lost the baby weight, my curves are different and I can now dress to accommodate (and accentuate!) that. Begone, high waisted pants! Adios, cropped tops! It sounds silly, but I was holding on to a lot of clothing simply because it used to look good on me, even though I had to admit that I hadn't like the way it fit in a long time.
As for sentimental favorites, I decided to get rid of my wedding shoes, the dress I wore to my bridal shower, and the sweater I wore when I told my family I was expecting ds1. The sole reason I held on to any of these was the memories, but I have the memories in my head and in pictures - no need any longer to clutter the closet. Phew. It really does feel good. Now I have to decide what's next...

The best ways to NOT buy it

January 12th, 2008 at 07:34 pm

How to resist temptation when that new gadget, latest style, or flashy toy is calling your name? Here are a few ideas:
1. Borrow it. Whether it's a dressy outfit for a one-time affair, a movie or CD you want to check out, or a tool you will only need once, find another was to get it - temporarily. At least then it won't be taking up space in your closet when you no longer need it.
2. Get it for free. Put the word out with friends and family, or ask on Freecycle.org. You'd be surprised what other people have laying around and are happy to get rid of.
3. One of my favorites - calculate how long you need to work to afford it. I have backed out of a lot of purchases after realizing just how many hours I had to put in to make the money for it. A shirt is not worth a day's work for me, but a vacation is worth two weeks!
4. Put the purchase off. Tell yourself that if you still want it tomorrow, next week, or in a month, you'll go back to get it. Many of the times, you'll decide you don't need it (if you even remember about it in a week).
5. Same principle as #4 - don't buy it unless you can do it in cash. Seeing how long it takes you to save up the cash might deter you from wanting it. It might just feel TOO good to have that money sitting in savings!

And after all this...if you still need it - find it used. But that's for another post Smile

How the other half live...

January 12th, 2008 at 07:17 pm

That's what we saw today. DH got me, my mom, and his mom gift certificates to a very posh spa for Mother's Day last year. We finally turned them in for our massages and lunch - and use of the facilities for a day. Wow. It was very nice...but I just could not get over how many people were there - and looked completely natural, like they do this all the time (meanwhile, we were the hicks clearly out of place!). I'll be honest, I nearly choked when I got this gift because it was THAT expensive! It was definitely a one-time treat for us, but it looked as though some of these people went weekly! Anyway, it was a lovely day. The massage was wonderful, the food was good (although I thought the portions were tiny, given the cost!), and we hung out for the rest of the day reading, sitting in the whirlpool, or dangling our feet in the little heated pond (for lack of a better description!). It was a great day...but I can also get a good massage for less than half the price elsewhere!

Need to change our exemptions

January 8th, 2008 at 06:15 pm

Every time DH and I calculate our exemptions for tax purposes, we get a ridiculously high number. Up until now, it's been okay as we have been getting wads of cash back at tax time (thank you, EIC!). However...we paid nearly nothing out of our paychecks for federal or state taxes last year, which happened to be the year DH started to earn money again. So, I tentatively figured out our taxes last night and it looks like we'll owe $300-400 in federal and about $100 in state. It could be a lot worse, but I think we'll have to make a change this year, as DH is going to make more money still.
We ended up missing the EIC credit by about $4k. Bummer. I was hoping we'd get a little back to finish funding our Roths for the 2007 year ($2k left to go), but it's not to be. We'll just have to tighten up for the next few months to get that money in before April. It can be done!

I won't spend it all in one place...

January 5th, 2008 at 07:17 pm

the $.04 in interest I earned at one bank, that is. I got my annual interest in my statement today. This was an account I opened at a local credit union, but never used as it was less convenience than my BOA account. I haven't got around to closing it yet ($5 left), so I still get the statements. Whoopee, $.04. Geez.
My mom picked up Turbo Tax today (my parents, myself, and my brothers all use it, so it definitely pays for itself). I plan to get started on our taxes tomorrow. I honestly do not have a clue whether we'll be paying or getting back this year. We have paid very, very little taxes in, but that's because we have gotten back huge amounts in the past two years thanks to the EIC (since DH stopped working and went back to school). I made about $20k in my PT job and another $7k selling real estate, and DH probably made around $12-13k in his various teaching gigs (5 different schools - it's going to be a mess this year), so based on our family of 4, I don't think we'll be paying much...but I really won't know until I get the numbers in Turbo Tax. I actually look forward to doing this every year (usually because it brings me good news) - I really find it interesting. DH and I were talking over dinner last night about what I might want to do when our kids (some of whom haven't even been born yet!) are in school - I mentioned that I definitely want to switch from what I am doing now and might look at taking some classes in the next few years. Maybe accounting/payroll/benefits admin. might be something to look into. I like money, I love to crunch numbers, and I've had enough of working directly with people in my last three public service jobs (that probably comes across as pretty rude, but I'm thinking the occasional solitude and non-travel requirements of an office job might do me well). Ah well, plenty of time to think about that, since we want to have two more kids.

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