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Archive for January, 2008

the continued quest for organization

February 1st, 2008 at 02:56 am

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 09:05 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 27th, 2008 at 03:18 am

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 25th, 2008 at 02:13 am

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 24th, 2008 at 01:31 am

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 23rd, 2008 at 02:47 am

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 03:58 pm

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

Text is http://www.savingadvice.com/forums/general-discussion-food-etc/33718-well-stocked-pantry.html and Link is
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 15th, 2008 at 04:00 am

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 13th, 2008 at 03:34 am

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 13th, 2008 at 03:17 am

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 9th, 2008 at 02:15 am

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 6th, 2008 at 03:17 am

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.

Contacts schmontacts

January 4th, 2008 at 07:20 pm

Oh, bugger. DH and I are each on our last paid of contacts. DH tells me last night that the pair he just put in that day were making his eyes water in the middle of the night, so he threw them away. WHAT? Those contacts cost $10 per eye. There's $20 in the garbage can. He couldn't have soaked them for a day and tried again? Ugh.

Time to hit the websites to check prices. Last time I got good deals for both of us from shipmycontacts.com. A year's supply that cost me $280 from my eye doctor cost me about $140, after rebate. If I had been a little more on the ball about ordering them, I could have saved an extra $5 with an Internet coupon they sent me, but it expired a few days ago. Oh well.

I'm just coming off an "eye ulcer" (yes, it is as nasty as it sounds). This is the first day I've had my contacts back in this week. I have missed them so! I detest wearing glasses - probably because I am so blind, if I take them off for a second I'm lost. I would love to do Lasik, but I'm just so paranoid that my vision will be messed up permanently (I'm a moderate risk for the procedure due to astigmatism). However, that was a few years ago...might be worth asking my eye doctor about again at my upcoming appt. Hmmm...

Clean out the fridge soup (AKA lunch today)

January 4th, 2008 at 07:15 pm

two carrots, chopped
one rib celery, chopped
1/4 head cabbage, shredded
1/2 onion, diced
Saute in olive oil and Italian seasonings (I used bread dipping seasonings) until soft.

half can of leftover tomato soup (rinse container out with water and add to soup)
one can of diced tomatos (rinse can out, add to soup)
a few slices of meatloaf, crumbled
a few jumbo pasta shells, cut up
anything else that's hanging around the fridge and might be good in soup. Simmer for 15 minutes, or a half hour, or an hour...really it doesn't matter. Just don't boil it or all your liquid will evaporate. Add cheese when you serve, if you like. Mmm, mmm, good.

Now that wasn't so hard, was it? I just read in a book about living to be 100 that you should eat soup everyday, so my aim is to eat soup...well, almost everyday. It's so easy and filling - I had two bowls of this for lunch with a few cucumber slices, and that's all I needed. And really, unless you're using a lot of butter or cream, it's really quite good for you. Eat up!

Another charge

January 3rd, 2008 at 02:46 am

Just when you think you're caught up...I was so proud of not being in any cc debt from Christmas (usually we charge some, but pay it off in January) - but now we are back to being nearly $1k in debt. It will get paid off, of course, but that means another month before I can retire the Lowe's cc and really start hitting the student loans. I had nearly forgotten to pay next year's dues for being in real estate ($440) plus my quarterly MLS access fees ($114), plus a few tanks of gas for the minivan (it adds up quickly!), so here I am at $979 on the cc. Ugh.
On the bright side, I still have to submit for my dependent care account reimbursement. That will be $500 in my pocket in a week or two. WOOHOO!

2007 was better than I thought...

January 2nd, 2008 at 02:50 am

I just checked out net worth. Last year in Feb. it was $372. Right now, it unbelievably stands at $27,212. Wow. That really puts this year in perspective. I mean, I knew it was a good year as we had negative net worth last year when DH finished school. And I knew what out current net worth was...I guess I just never sat down to think about how all this happened in a year. Several things helped:
1. Apple stock! I've never had an i-phone, and probably never will, but I love them! We bought our first Apple stock at $35/share, and just sold some of it for $192/share. We probably made $10k on it, all told, and still own some. Even with the last few months of 2007, we still came out pretty well on our investments thanks to Apple's dramatic rise earlier in the year (and continued rise).
2. Paying off DH's college tuition on our cc (at 0%, so it never cost us anything). Paying off that $5k really bumped up our net worth.
3. Continued payments on our student loans. We paid off about $1000 on both our loans this year, so that bumped us up another $2k.
4. A good year in real estate (by my standards). I had a few good deals this summer which netted us about $6-7k in addition to our regular salaries. WOO-HOO!
And now that DH has regular employment, hopefully 2008 can be just as productive!