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New part-time job

March 2nd, 2013 at 04:57 pm

It's been over a month since I've blogged on here! Our first 2 months of this year have been good, financially speaking. We've kept to our budget each month and socked away extra money to our mortgage. And two months straight of contributing to our kids' college funds, and 15% to DH's 401k.

The biggest change is that I started doing freelance writing part-time and discovered there is a lot of work out there. I'm not doing anything glamorous, just writing for websites. But I made over $1000 in January and over $600 in February! Of course I have to pay self-employment taxes on those earnings, which are higher than normal...but I'm still thrilled with the extra cash!

Keeping it frugal with the kids

January 23rd, 2013 at 07:40 pm

I was tempted to go to a train show this past weekend. Kids 12 and under were free, adults were $8.00. But when we read the flyer, it said there would be lots of booths with Thomas the Train stuff for sale, along with other train things. DH was the voice of reason and said we shouldn't go, because even though admission was only $16, the kids could pressure us into buying them things.

So we went to a park instead. And the kids had a lot of fun and never knew the difference, since I never told them we were thinking about a train show.

I do want my kids to experience things other than just parks...and they do. But really just for special occasions.

In less than 2 weeks we will be on our Disney Cruise...and that's a special occasion! I already pre-paid for our parking at the port and pre-paid our gratuities and a small amount for souvenirs in our onboard account. Our only expenses not yet covered will be gas to and from port, and some food for the drive.

Changes for 2013

January 1st, 2013 at 07:56 pm

Woohoo, it's 2013!

Our emergency fund is in place. We paid all of our house taxes/HOA fees in December. We have paid off our February 2013 vacation. We have a small slush fund, car fund, and a vacation savings for the summer.

Our big goal this year is to pay extra principle on our mortgage. We are trying to pay off our mortgage early so that we can free up some cash to help our kids through college. Our plan is to pay off our mortgage in 8 years. It seems overwhelming and like it will take a long time. We have a goal of paying an extra $8244 in principle this year.

We already paid an extra $1000 from a bonus received in December. We will take $1000 from our tax return later this Spring and put it towards the mortgage. We already pay an extra $150/month with our bi-weekly automatic withdrawals. I will add another $300/month on top of that. Starting in September, I will have another $200/month on top of that because we will go a year without any preschool tuition payments. I'm cancelling our lawn service and I'll be doing it myself. Hopefully those changes will enable us to reach our goal.

Today, DH adjusted his 401k contributions back to 15% (we had lowered it to 7% in the back half of 2012 so that we could get our emergency fund in place).

We are also going to begin contributing to our kids' college funds, $100 each per month.

In December, I started a part-time job doing freelance writing online. I earned $400 in December (before taxes). I hope to earn $500 a month with that this year. Not much, but it's something!

Here's hoping for a great year! Good luck everyone on achieving your financial goals!

I Find It Odd....

November 6th, 2012 at 11:32 am

Ok, I realize that everyone has their own philosophy on personal finance. And different degrees of financial responsibility. And I know that I am not perfect and have certainly made a lot of mistakes with my finances.

But...

I find it odd that when most people want something they can't afford, their first inclination seems to be to either go into debt for it, or ask other people for money. My perception is that those are frequently the first 2 choices, rather than try to earn extra money, or spend less money on something else that isn't a necessity in order to afford the new thing.

Several times a year we receive e-mails from friends/acquaintances for fundraisers for their personal things (adoptions, medical bills, summer camps). As we have 2 adopted kiddos and we know how expensive all the travel can be, we want to be supportive of others. But I find it odd that someone can be fundraising for something at the same time they are posting pictures of themselves on a big vacation, or consistently going out to eat, etc. Or posting on Facebook about the awesome cute outfit they just bought their child for $50 through Smockadot Kids while asking us for $10 to support their fundraiser. It just seems odd to me! (By the way, I'm talking about personal fundraisers for a family expense, not school fundraisers or mission trip fundraisers, etc.)

I feel like as a society we have become accustomed to think that certain things are necessities instead of luxuries, and many people don't even think about cutting back on those things in order to afford something else that might be more important.

I'm talking about things like vacations, smart phones, pre-school or Mom's Day Out programs for kids with a stay-at-home parent, designer clothes, dining out in restaurants, Starbucks runs....while those things might be nice to have, and maybe are a priority to people over something else, they are not necessities.

A friend just confided to me they might lose their house because they are behind on the payments. And just a few weeks ago I was looking through their wonderful vacation photos. Now I love a vacation as much or more than anyone else, but I can tell you that if we were in any danger of losing our house, the first thing we would do is cancel our vacation.

I just find it odd.

October wrap-up and Home Insurance

November 5th, 2012 at 12:02 pm

First the good news: I earned $102.21 on mturk.com during the month of October. That will be used as cash spending money while we are in Cozumel in February (Disney Cruise).

We are on track with our savings to have enough for our property taxes. With the Nov 15th paycheck we should be able to pay our property tax. Our HOA dues are due in January, so we will use some December savings to pay for that.

Now the bad news: We were about $160 over our October spending budget. And it's because my DH went to the dentist for his cleaning and they found a cavity. We have dental insurance, which completely covers cleanings every 6 months, but cavity fillings are not covered nearly as well. I'm looking forward to having our "slush fund" up and running by the end of this year so that it can cover these unexpected expenses.

At the end of December, we should have our emergency fund fully funded and a small slush fund. At that time, we will increase DH's 401k contribution to 15%. And we will start our new budget (which will include putting money aside each month for our property taxes/insurance and $100/month for each kiddo's 529 plan). In January we will also be starting extra principle payments on our house. It will be a tight budget, I hope we can do it!

Switching gears:
Today I called our home insurance company. Our premium has increased by $684 over the past 2 years. When we bought this house, the premium was $1060. Then a year later I switched insurance companies from AllState to Progressive (switched both auto and home policies). The net of the 2 was a savings of about $600 a year. But our auto was substantially lower and our home insurance increased. Then the next year, our home insurance increased a few hundred more dollars. And now it's at $1744.

I've been going through the paperwork and I noticed that our dwelling coverage seemed overstated, so I called Progressive to ask about lowering that. They told me it was an algorithm that could not be changed, but they went through all the facts about our house and lo and behold the dwelling number was high. So that change brought my insurance down for the year by $146. They are going to pro-rate the difference and send us a check for $75 since we are half-way through our policy.

But, I've done some online quotes from other insurance companies and those quotes are still coming in closer to the $1100 a year. I know if we switch our homeowners policy, our auto insurance policy will go up since we a discount for having both together. I guess I need to price out what the net difference would be in switching. I think our home insurance is still about $500 higher than it could be.

It seems like such a pain to keep pricing our insurance...does anyone do this every few years? Or do you stick with the insurance you have?

Visitors stress me out

October 26th, 2012 at 06:07 am

We don't have many overnight visitors, but sometimes when we do it really stresses me out!

My family recently visited us. The thing about my family is that when they come they don't just like to hang out. They always have to be doing multiple touristy things each day. And we don't live in a real touristy city (like Orlando or New York) so it's really hard to please them.

When they are here we end up spending SO much money!

I think the issue is that this year we have been in our own little bubble--our budget bubble. We go out to eat about once a month, we mostly do free activities with the kids (with the exception of some major splurges like our vacation)...our home life is very simple and frugal. But then when we have visitors come and we are forced to conform to their way of living, even for just a few days, it totally throws us off.

We asked my family in advance what they were planning on doing and they told us 2 activities. We looked up the prices and the cost for my family was about $130. Not a big deal, we could plan for that by cutting back earlier in the month.

But the bigger thing is that they always want to go out to eat. Like they insist on it. So we went out to eat for most meals while they were here and spent around $150-$200. I made one meal at home for everyone and would have done more but they don't like hanging out at home.

When we go to these touristy places, their kids raid the gift shops and their parents buy them at least one thing from every gift shop we encounter. And then my kids are like hey, we want something too (when we are by ourselves they don't expect something from every place we go).

I have a friend from college coming to visit me in a few weeks. She is single, no kids, and leads a totally different lifestyle. She travels all the time, is very social, and is just the total opposite of our frugal family lifestyle. She is already making suggestions on stuff we can do while she is here and I'm hoping to reach a compromise. Like instead of all 5 of us going places with her, maybe just I can go. She will be here on a Sunday and Monday (and I already warned her about weekdays not being a good time for me, with 3 kids and school and their activities). So I guess the whole upcoming visit is stressing me out.

I realize as I write this that I probably sound like an old fuddy-duddy set in my ways. I am thankful that we have people that want to visit us, I really am. I just get stressed out about the money part and feeling like I have to keep people entertained.

Anybody else go through the same things with visitors?

Bonus and Borrowing

October 13th, 2012 at 07:22 pm

Ok, it's been almost 2 weeks since I've blogged and it's time to catch up.

The biggest news is...we found out we are getting a bonus (unexpected) in December and it will be about $7500 after taxes. Woohoo!

We've been trying to decide where to put our small windfall and after having changed our minds a bunch of times, I think we've reached a conclusion.

First, we are going to take $5000 and put it into savings as a "slush fund". Our emergency fund balance is where we want it to be for 6 months of living expenses, but on top of that we want a cushion to pay for things like car repairs, car registration, unexpected vet bills or medical bills, etc. So, boring as that sounds, that's where it's going.

Now the next part is a little more exciting...we are taking $1900 and going on a Disney Cruise in February! Can't remember if I mentioned this or not, but last summer we went on our first Disney Cruise. It was probably our favorite vacation, ever. The kids had a blast and DH and I got some alone time. It was hugely expensive, though, and we had to save up a long time for that. We had planned on going on another cruise in 2014.

Well, that was until Disney decided to offer some big discounts on their cruises that sail out of Galveston (about 6 hours from where we live). I saw those sale prices online from our travel agent, and I called DH out of the blue and said, "Hey, don't think I'm crazy....but there are some really good prices on Disney Cruises coming up in early 2013!" I thought he would say I'm crazy, but he was more for the idea than I was! So we booked a cruise. We will have to pull our oldest son out of school for 4 days, but I believe that as long as he's doing well in school and he's young enough, it's no big deal (we did it last year too).

So now, we are no longer going to San Antonio in the Spring, we will do the cruise instead. So my mturk earnings will go towards spending money on the cruise. My goal is to earn $200 before February.

We also got $200 in onboard credit from our travel agent and from using our Disney Visa, so almost all of our tips are paid for. And we're using DH's hotel points to stay closer to Galveston the night before.

We haven't told the kids yet--I think we will surprise them at Christmas. I still can't believe that we are going on another Disney cruise so soon after our last one--but the price is less than half of our cruise last summer!

We will take the rest of the bonus and divvy it up to some charitable causes.

Which sort of leads me to talk about another "charitable" cause we are dealing with...friends who keep asking to borrow money. They are actually the reason I started this anonymous blog, because blogging about us trying to save up for an emergency fund made me uncomfortable with them asking us for money.

These friends are going through a hard time--they've asked us twice to borrow money and they asked us for a 3rd time today. We gave them $100 the first time--I guess it was more like a gift than a loan. I'm sure we will never get it back.

The second time, we said no, but we bought them some things to help out their household. Another $100+ of stuff.

And now they've asked us again for this latest emergency--one of their cars was towed away for nonpayment and they have to pay to get it out of impound plus the amount they are overdue on.

My mother-in-law told us that once you give someone money, they will keep coming back to you and asking you again and again. She was right.

The thing is, this couple has made some horrible financial decisions. They are both college educated and had good jobs (one was laid off). I'm trying to stay out of the situation completely. But part of me would like to tell them some practical things they could do instead of asking everyone around them for money--like sell their iPads and Kindles. Get rid of their smart phones. Do some work on mturk or anywhere to get some extra money. Have a garage sale. But I think suggesting any of those things would just piss them off.

So we've decided we just can't give them any more money. Because there will always be the next "emergency" and although I feel bad for their kids, they have got to learn how to get themselves together.

Anyone have friends like this? Do they ask you to borrow money? How do you respond?

Saying No to Too Much Halloween

September 25th, 2012 at 12:40 pm

When I was a kid, my memories of Halloween were mainly of one thing: trick-or-treating on actual Halloween night.

We may have gone to one other Halloween-related event (like a school dance or a random Halloween party), but I just remember Halloween as being a simple, one-day event.

Now I don't know if it's where I live, or if it's a sign of the times, but Halloween is like a 6-week long party & event fest here. And I've discovered that it's so easy for me to get carried away with activities and overspend our entertainment budget, based on all the activities available and the peer pressure from other people to do all those things.

Where we live, here are some of the things that happen around Halloween:

* School parties (free, we usually volunteer to bring something)

* Neighborhood HOA party (free, or rather included with our HOA dues, but usually a nice festival with bounce houses, etc.)

* Neighborhood Mom's Club party (free except for candy we buy to hand out)

* City activity (trick or treating downtown, pumpkin patch, other activities)

* Fire department Halloween festival for kids (free, we've never made it to this one)

* Mall trick-or-treating in the afternoon

* Arboretum Halloween event ($10 plus $5 parking)

* Church Fall Festivals (most of them around here have one)

* Several museums have Halloween events (varies, around $10)

* Boo at the Zoo (3 local zoos do this, included with cost of admission)

* Pumpkin Farms (we have 5+ that are close to us; admission ranges from $8-$12 a person)

* Lowe's Build & Grow Halloween event (free)

* Haunted trolley rides, ghost walk tours, haunted houses (varying admission prices)

I'm sure I haven't even captured all of the local events above.

The list of events seriously overwhelms me. Two years ago I tried to do it all. Well, not all, but more than I should have. I think we went to 3 pumpkin farms (1 as a family, 1 with a mom's group, then my son went to one on a school field trip). The cost added up! Not to mention the overwhelming amount of candy my kids accumulated from all of these events.

And it's not just about the cost of all these events X 5 people in our family...it's about the stress of trying to keep up with the Jones' and constantly being on the go. Last year, we decided to do just one pumpkin farm. One. And it was totally fine. We still did the school parties, the neighborhood party, the Mom's Club party, and I think that was it. And of course the actual Halloween trick-or-treating.

I've already turned down 3 invites to events this year--2 pumpkin farms and 1 museum. We're going to try to keep it simple again this year.

I know we're lucky that we live in an area with all of these activities (many of them free) and it's nice we can pick and choose where to go.

Do you get overwhelmed by activities around Halloween or other holidays? (Am I the only one?) How do you decide what to do?

Added $225 to our Christmas Fund

September 23rd, 2012 at 12:07 pm

DH just got reimbursed for some mileage from a work trip, so we were able to add $225 more to our Christmas fund. So now we've got $700 in there, our goal is $1000. Yippee!

I'm so glad I won't be stressing in January when we see our credit card bills from November/December, like we've done for so many years in the past.

Friday Savings and Spending

September 21st, 2012 at 09:34 am

So...some of you may know from my previous entries that my daughter broke her leg last week. I decided to look on our insurance site to see how the charges are looking.

I'm not sure if all the charges are there yet, I sure hope so, because right now the total is $6039.71. That includes one ER visit, with x-rays, one pediatrician visit, and another doctor's visit at the Children's Hospital with more x-rays and a cast.

Luckily (?) we have already met our $4500 deductible this year, so I think our out-of-pocket cost will be 10% of our total bills, so around $600.

Wow, what do people with no insurance do? It's crazy. I'm very thankful we have health insurance and we can absorb the cost of this with our emergency fund.

Anyways....today is Friday and my 4-year-old doesn't have school and my 1-year-old is also home with me. My husband usually works from home but I suggested he go into the office today so that I don't have to work so hard at keeping the kids quiet while he's working.

I've realized, now that my daughter is in a cast and can't swim or go to parks, how much time I usually spend with my kids doing those 2 activities and how much I miss doing those things! Going to parks, being outside riding bikes, etc. are my go-to activities for cheap entertainment with my kids. Because typically on a Friday with the 2 younger ones we'd be at a park right now.

So instead, our big outing today was going to Petco. I needed to get some pill pockets for my cat (he's 17 1/2 years old, has stomach cancer, but is still holding on!). A trip to Petco with my kids is very entertaining because we stop and look at all the animals. Ferrets, birds, mice/gerbils/rats/hamsters/guinea pigs, frogs, turtles, snakes, lizards...and of course all the fish. It's like a mini-zoo trip. And we can easily stay for 30 minutes checking out all the animals. Does anyone else do this with their kids?

Other somewhat frugal things I'm doing today:

I saw that the Disney Channel has Return to Neverland on this afternoon, so I'm recording it for a future family movie night at home.

I got an e-mail from Groupon this morning for $5 off any deal. And they have a Studio Movie Grill deal for $5 for a movie and a drink. So I bought 3 movie/drink tickets for a total of $10 (that's $3.33 a movie ticket, not bad). I should preface this by saying that we rarely go to the movies. I think my kids have been to a movie theater once so far this year. So my plan is to take my 2 boys to see that Hotel Transylvania movie sometime in the next few weeks. Since this is one of those theatres with tables and real food, I'm going to try to keep it frugal and go at an off-eating time (like a mid-afternoon show) and just order one thing of food to split. Like popcorn, or french fries.

Our spending splurge:

We decided, last minute, to sign up for another Parents' Night Out that is tonight. We usually try to have a date night once a month, and there is a local church that does a Parents' Night Out childcare for a reasonable amount of money. We already had our date night 2 weeks ago, but there is another local church that is now doing this for slightly cheaper (it costs a total of $24 for our 3 kids combined and that includes pizza for them for 3 1/2 hours). So we decided to splurge and have a second date night this month. DH and I are just going to go out to eat at our favorite Mexican restaurant.

How's your Friday going?

Mid-September Financial Update & Zulily Purchase

September 15th, 2012 at 12:44 pm

Well, since DH got paid today I was able to move some funds and allocate things to the necessary places.

(Remember, we cut back on DH's 401k contribution, now down to 7%, and we are claiming more exemptions on his W4 in order to get to our emergency fund goal and get our property taxes/HOA fees before the end of the year).

So, the good news is we now have our $20k emergency fund! Yippee! I'm not as excited as I should be, though, because if you saw my last post you will know that we expect some big medical bills to roll in from our daughter's accident. I have no idea how much those bills will be, not a clue. That's the thing about medical bills....there are never any prices posted anywhere, of course the prices are different for each insurance company, and then there's the percent covered....who knows. I'm hoping it's not more than $1000 out of pocket. We have already met our $4500 deductible for this year, so our expenses are now just a straight 10%.

We also now have some money set aside for our property taxes and our HOA fees that are due toward the end of the year. $1712 set aside, and we need $5000.

More good news--we came in $100 under our September credit card budget, so when it comes time to pay that card in October I will take $100 and put into our Christmas fund.

I have money in our budget this month to buy our kids some things--light jackets and Halloween costumes. In October I was planning on buying winter jackets. I've been out looking at resale shops and online for a good deal on jackets, and today I got an e-mail from Zulily and saw they have the puffy winter jackets for $20 each. With Disney and Marvel characters on them. So I pulled my oldest son into the office and asked if he liked any of them (he's 8 and the pickiest about what he wears) and he picked out one. I bought one for each of my kids, and went online to search out a promo code, so with shipping I got 3 winter jackets for around $62. Not too shabby!

Have any of you bought clothes from Zulily before? (I guess it's kind of like a Groupon site for kids' clothes?)

Another deposit into the Christmas Fund

September 6th, 2012 at 07:25 pm

We have a budget of $1000 to spend on Christmas gifts. We have 3 kids (we spend about $150 on each child) and 4 nieces/nephews, plus parents/siblings, etc. And we have 5 kid birthdays around the holidays which we loop into the same fund. Until I sat down with pencil and paper last year and detailed all the people we bought gifts for, I never knew we spent so much around the holidays!

So now we plan way ahead for it. We can no longer afford to charge $1000 of gifts in one month and expect to be able to pay off our credit card in full in January.

Last year was the first year we saved up our Christmas money before Christmas. I started in July and by the end of November we had squirreled away all $1000. We had a garage sale, sold some stuff on Craigs List, put aside health care reimbursement money, and I did some survey work on mturk.com.

This year we've done some of the same. Minus the garage sale (not so many things to sell this year). I just deposited some of hubby's work travel reimbursement money into our Christmas fund. We now have saved $475.25. And I've spent some of it already. Got a great deal on some Little People toys at Toys R Us last month.

And I took $200 of the fund and bought Amazon.com gift cards, since our grocery store is offering 4X fuel rewards for gift cards. We usually order quite a bit of our Christmas presents form Amazon, so this way we also get a discount on gas.

I actually LOVE saving for Christmas and trying to find the best prices on the things I'm looking for. I comparison shop for toys every week through the ads. Many people think I'm nuts for shopping this early, but I really enjoy it.

Have you started thinking about Christmas?


So proud of my hubby!

September 5th, 2012 at 06:55 pm

My husband is a cyclist. It's a rather expensive hobby--who knew that bike stuff could cost so much?

Anyway....he needs something new for his bike because it's not working up to snuff. Don't ask me what it's called...I don't speak the cycling language. It costs $70.

In our old lifestyle, hubby would have just gone to the bike shop immediately and purchased the part.

In the past year, he probably would have mentioned he needs it and asked if we could squeeze it into this month's budget instead of just immediately buying it.

But yesterday, wow, did he ever surprise me. He told me that he decided to sell some stuff on Ebay in order to come up with the money.

Wow, really???

Yes, he already sold 3 things and made about $38. He's looking for more stuff to sell. And this was totally his idea.

Now that's progress!

Our 3-Year Transition from 2 Incomes to 1 Income

September 3rd, 2012 at 02:18 pm

Since I am new here, I thought I'd give a little more background on our situation.

Approximately 3 years ago, I quit my full-time job to be a stay-at-home mom. We had just adopted our second son and my job was not very family friendly. I was really looking forward to my new role and since we had about $15-$20k in the bank and had done a budget on paper, I thought we would be ok.

And let me just say that is has taken us 3 years to adjust to living on one income and we are almost to the point of rebuilding our $20k emergency fund.

Why has it been so hard? I guess when we were both working, we had a budget but we had a rather large amount at our disposal for entertainment and buying miscellaneous stuff. That bucket totally shrank with one income but in the beginning we spent money like we had on 2 incomes.

When we had 2 incomes, we could absorb large expenditures in one month. The kids needed clothes for going back to school? I could buy them all in one month. Not anymore.

We were also blessed with an additional child--unexpected, and we made some major changes to accommodate our bigger family. We bought a minivan and took on a car loan, and moved into a bigger house in a different suburb. Major changes!

I had this vision of all the things I would do as a stay-at-home mom. Take the kids to museums, jump house places...you know, fun things every day. However, the reality is that those places all cost a lot of money! Now I still take the kids places, but they are mostly free places--the neighborhood pool, parks, the library, etc.

For the past 3 years we had this pattern of over-spending our budget every month, and then sneaking some money out of our savings account into our checking account so that we wouldn't carry a balance on our credit cards. And we also had the maximum amount of taxes pulled our of my husband's check so that we'd get a big tax refund. So we had this mentality that even if we dipped into our savings, we'd replenish it back with our tax refund.

And we repeated that. For 3 years. Every year we'd drain our savings down to almost zero, then replenish it with a big tax refund. Repeat.

So we maybe had our "emergency fund" for a month or two out of the year.

Last year we had a goal of getting our emergency fund up to snuff and keeping it there. But then we had some major pet health expenditures (like surgery and other treatments) and we got derailed.

This year, we have done much better. Of course, things happen to dig into our savings like they always will (both cars needed new tires). But, we have been sticking to our monthly budget. We are also not taking the maximum amount of taxes out of my husband's paycheck and using part of that to live on so that we won't have to wait on that money until tax refund time.

Overall, we are doing more planning ahead so that we're not caught off-guard during the month. I spread out the kids' school clothing purchases over many months. In July I bought backpacks and jeans. August was socks and underwear. September will be light jackets and long-sleeved shirts. October will be heavy jackets.

We have been putting aside money in a Christmas fund. I'm also spending it as I find things that the kids want when they are on sale.

Mid-year we decided to take Dave Ramsey's advice and cut back on our 401k contributions until we have our emergency fund in place. So we are down to a 7% contribution until the end of the year when we have enough money in our emergency fund and enough to pay our property taxes. Then we'll go back to 15%.

Anyways...it's been a tough road transitioning from 2 incomes down to 1 income and I feel like we are finally on our way to living smartly on the money we have.

Can anyone out there relate to this? Has the transition from 2 incomes to 1 income been tough for you?