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Home improvement progress

April 29th, 2015 at 10:00 am

We are slowly making progress on the many home-improvement projects we are hoping to do this year. I bought a new kitchen sink and faucet at the Home Depot and had the plumber out last week to install them. (We also had him deal with some leaky fixtures while he was here.)

Last week I also met with the roofing company about our damaged gutters. I'm waiting on an estimate from them, along with an estimate for installing a vent in our attic.

This morning, I met with a landscaper about clearing out areas around our house and simplifying our landscaping. He won't be able to start work for a month, but it's nice to have that scheduled as well.

There's still a long list of projects, but it feels good to make progress even as more items get added to the back end! I've updated my sidebar with money saved vs. money spent.

Sister help

April 27th, 2015 at 06:30 am

It's been awhile since I last posted -- I've been tired and busy and chugging along. And I've been reading blogs even though I haven't been posting. Smile

My sister and are are currently helping each other out. She is pretty frugal and a good saver, but not really sure what to do with her money. So she has just been accumulating it in her checking account and letting it sit there. Like for 10 years! She does contribute to her retirement account at work and makes a Roth IRA contribution every year. But other than that, everything was just sitting in one account.

Like I said, she's a great saver, so she'd accumulated a fully-funded emergency fund, a downpayment for a house (she's thinking of buying next year), and more.

Anyway, I finally convinced her to let me come up with a plan for her funds. It was actually really fun, since our finances are pretty automatic at this point. We opened up a high-yield savings account for her EF and downpayment (not super high interest, but better than what she was getting before!) and opened up a taxable investment account at Vanguard.

After opening accounts and moving money around, we also set up automatic transfers for each month, so that her money won't just accumulate in one account again. Since she is a nervous investor, we left a big buffer in her checking account and chose pretty moderate funds to invest in. She seems happy with it, and I think she will stick with it!

In return, she is doing me a favor. She is in great shape and is very good about eating well and exercising. So now every time I eat something, I send her an email. (Thankfully Gmail threads them all together.) It seems to be working so far! Since she is my sister, I am completely honest about what I'm eating, but knowing someone is actually seeing what I eat (as opposed to just writing it down somewhere) is helping me make better choices.

So far it seems like a win-win situation. Smile

Opened accounts for the kids

April 2nd, 2015 at 07:31 pm

I took fifteen minutes tonight to open investment accounts for each kid at Vanguard. These are UTMA accounts with myself as custodian. The plan is to fund them with any gifts from relatives that are meant for college, as well as contributions from us so that $500 per year is added for each kid.

I had hoped to open them with $2500 for three-year-old DS1 and $1000 for zero-year-old DS2, but the minimum to open a Vanguard account is $3000, not $1000. So I put in $3000 for DS2 and $4500 for DS1. Since these will be in their names, I want to keep the contributions as fair as possible.

So that's another item off the goals list. I had planned to add $500 to each account on their birthdays (gifts from relatives plus additional from us), but since the opening amounts were higher than I intended, I'll call the goal done for the year.

We plan to put most of our "college savings" in regular investment accounts under our names, since we don't know what the plan will be to pay for college down the line. These will be the only accounts that are in the kids names.

March spending

April 2nd, 2015 at 08:19 am

Here's our variable spending for March, compared to the previous two months.

Mostly posted for my records, and to meet my goal of tracking/posting for the entire year. Not going to say much about it, except that overall it does appear to be decreasing a little bit each month...

Better day today

March 27th, 2015 at 07:40 am

Yesterday I threw myself a pity party. Thanks, everyone, for your kind words of encouragement.

Anyway, it appears DS2 reads my blog, because he gave me a six-hour uninterrupted stretch of sleep last night. I can't remember the last time I was asleep between the hours of 4 and 6 am. It's amazing what a little extra sleep can do!

For example, this morning I had the energy to actually take the five minutes to switch out the old broken bath toy container for the new one I purchased three months ago. And now there are no longer bath toys strewn all over our bathroom.

We also got our tax refunds -- state came yesterday and federal today. We had a $40 reimbursement from DH's work, too, so I sent it all to the EF. We've now added $4895.10 so far this year. Only $104.90 to go to meet the goal!

I'm disappointed in myself but I don't actually care

March 26th, 2015 at 07:53 am

This will probably sound a little (a lot) like a whine. I apologize in advance.

When I checked in on our monthly spending last week, I saw a few categories were already pretty high, so I made it a goal to not spend any more in those areas. One of them was leisure. Then, on Monday, I just went and ordered DS2 an exersaucer for $60! Since then I have also purchased two Kindle books, rented one movie, and purchased five TV episodes to watch. And it wasn't that I forgot my goal. Each time I thought about it and then went ahead and made the purchase anyway.

Here's the thing. I'm really, really tired. We are in the fifth month of not getting adequate sleep, and I am tired. I don't want to watch my spending. I don't want to pack my lunch. I barely get any time for myself right now, and if I want to watch the newest Hunger Games movie then I want to watch it. If I want to have new TV shows to watch while pumping, then I want to watch them. If a new toy has the potential to keep my son entertained for a few minutes so that I can make dinner, then I want to buy it. It's selfish and entitled, but there it is. I am too tired to care if I don't meet my goals.

It's the same thing with food right now. I should really be giving up treats so that I can lose the rest of this (not a small amount of) baby weight. I should be able to resist temptation. But I'm really tired and I know that the sugar will keep me going for a little but longer, so I buy it and eat it anyway. Again, I am too tired to care if I don't meet my goals.

It makes me think of the advice a good friend gave me after DS1 was born. She basically said: Don't beat yourself up about not losing the baby weight. Cut yourself some slack until you are sleeping a reasonable amount on a regular basis.

So that's it. I'm going to cut myself some slack. I am going to keep tracking and posting my spending. It may not be pretty, but I'm not going to feel bad about it right now. (I *will* make sure we're not spending so much that we can't pay off our credit card each month, but I'm not going to actively try to cut back further.)

Also, I'm going to go ahead and hire someone to clean our house twice a month, even if it means that we are saving a little bit less. And I'm not going to feel bad about it. I'm just going to feel grateful that we have the means to do it.

Gardening help?

March 22nd, 2015 at 05:44 pm

I would like to help my DS1 grow a couple of plants this summer. He was very interested in the seed packets last time we were at the hardware store, and I think he'd enjoy growing a few things -- planting, watering, hopefully harvesting. He has expressed an interest in growing carrots because he saw Curious George do this.

Anyway, my DH and I are lacking thumbs in any shades of green. Also, I have no idea of the quality of the soil around our house. Ideally, I'd like to grow a couple of things in big pots, so I can use new soil and move them around depending on sun and possibly move them to the neighbors while we are on traveling this summer.

Is this even possible? I know there are some expert gardeners on this site. Do you have any suggestions on something that would be easy to grow in a pot and enjoyable for a three-year-old to "tend"? Eventually, we might be up for putting in some raised beds and having a bigger garden, but for now I'll consider it a success if we can keep one plant alive all summer. Smile

Any advice would be appreciated!

Subscribe and Save?

March 20th, 2015 at 09:15 am

Has anyone here ever used Amazon's "Subscribe and Save" service? Any comments or advice?

I've decided to give it a try. With Amazon Mom (come on, Jeff Bezos -- dads buy diapers, too!) , I can get 20% off of diapers if I subscribe. And with 5 or more items coming a month, I can save 15% on the rest.

I've always resisted in the past for two reasons: (1) by the time I'm on Amazon to buy something it means I need it ASAP and don't want to wait for my subscription delivery day and (2) I have a hard time estimating how long an item will last before needing to be replaced. But it seems like it's pretty easy to see what's in your upcoming order and adjust if necessary. And I feel like I might be better able to plan ahead this way.

So far I am only subscribed to things I would buy on Amazon anyway -- diapers, wipes, shampoo, etc. I will check the price of other household items and personal care items at Target next time I'm there, to see if they would be comparable or cheaper with the 15% discount. It would be nice to have these things just show up at my door instead of schlepping them home along with two small children.

Odds and Ends

March 19th, 2015 at 10:16 am

I filed our taxes today. We are getting $3306 back ($2156 federal, $1150 state). Once it comes, I will send it to the Emergency Fund. After that, we'll only need $145 to meet our goal of adding 5K this year.

We spent $175.27 from the home improvement fund last weekend. We bought two new lamps and a bunch of LED lightbulbs. The lamps have already brightened up our space, and the lightbulbs will hopefully lower our electric bill. Plus, it will be nice not to worry about having to change them for a LONG time. Eventually, I'd also like to replace all the bulbs in our recessed lighting with LED ones, but I will wait until they start burning out before doing that.

I checked in with our March spending so far. A couple of categories are already higher than I'd like, so I hope to spend nothing more in these categories -- leisure (entertainment) and clothing. Overall, my goal is to keep the variable spending under $3000 for the month of March. I'm pretty sure we can do it, and it would be a substantial improvement over January/February.

I had a nice lunch with DH today, and we spent much of it talking about our finances and our financial goals. I handle (by my choice) all of the finances in our household, although I check in with DH as to how we're doing periodically. So it was nice to talk more concretely about our current financial picture.

DH really doesn't know (or care) about the details, just the big picture. Today I had to explain to him how a flexible spending account works. Smile But, I think it would be a good idea for him to know more than he does, so I'm going to try to check in with him more often. And I need to update our account list so he can access everything if necessary.

February spending

March 18th, 2015 at 12:00 pm

We're more than halfway through March, but since tracking my variable spending was one of my goals, I still want to post the results from February.

Automobile $103.45 (Jan: $63)
-- Gasoline $66.95 (Jan: $44)
-- Parking $36.50 (Jan: $19)
Cash $80.00 (Jan: $40)
Clothing $591.70 (Jan: $167)
Food $1576.83 (Jan: $1681)
-- Alcohol $50.69 (Jan: $0)
-- Groceries $986.08 (Jan: $1051)
-- Dining out $540.06 (Jan: $630)
Gifts $0 (Jan: $14)
Household $160.51 (Jan: $393)
Leisure $353.30 (Jan: $74)
Miscellaneous $225.44 (Jan: $111)
Personal care $207.92 (Jan: $807)
Total $3299.15 (Jan: $3350)

Overall, not much better than January. We spent less in some categories, but then just turned around and spent more in others. Personal care was much lower this month, but clothing and leisure were quite high.

I would like to be able to hire someone to come and clean our house twice a month, but to do that I will need to make room in the budget. I refuse to decrease the money that is going towards savings or draw from the Opportunity Fund money. So we will have to do better. It feels like March is going well so far, but I won't really know until I see the numbers. I thought February was going well, too!

Maybe I will check in with the March spending this week, at just over the half-way point for the month. Then, if it looks bad, we can still make adjustments by the end of the month.

Long time no see

March 17th, 2015 at 11:27 am

It's been almost a month since I've last posted -- wow! We were hit by a bunch of things all at once, and I just didn't have the energy to write anything. A close family friend was dealing with some serious medical issues (still not sure exactly what's going on!) and DS2, who had been sleeping pretty well at night, decided to start waking up every 2 hours again (google "four month sleep regression"). But I haven't given up on my blog!

I did tally all of our spending in February. Still not pretty. I'll detail in another post. We had two paydays come and go, with additions to all of our various funds, so I've updated the sidebar. I still need to file our taxes; I think it's all done, but I need to double-check one number before I'm comfortable submitting it. Hope to do that this week.

The big news is that DH got his royalty payment for the last quarter of 2014. After setting aside money for taxes, it ended up being $12,268, so our Opportunity Fund is up to $13,454. More than a quarter of the way to our goal!

Winter gear costs

February 24th, 2015 at 10:51 am

Neither DH and I are really big winter sport enthusiasts. We both used to have some ski gear, but after packing and moving it over and over again without ever using it, I finally got rid of it during one of our recent moves. (We have moved a LOT over the years.) Our winter clothing is more geared towards walking around a city in winter -- jackets, scarves, hats, non-athletic gloves.

Fast forward to now...we are still not winter sport enthusiasts, but we have a three-year-old who LOVES to go sledding and play in the snow. He gets snow pants and boots every year because of this, but we've just been using double layers of sweatpants and running shoes over plastic bags for ourselves.

We finally decided to upgrade. So we went to REI last weekend to take advantage of the end of their big sale. DH got some ski pants at 30% of the original price (they are bright green Smile ) and some boots, and we both got good quality hats and gloves that are actually waterproof. I will probably eventually buy ski pants and boots as well, but with a three-month old in the house, DH has been the primary snow playmate this year.

It was not inexpensive, but I feel like any snow gear we buy now will last us for years and years.

Do you have a payday routine?

February 19th, 2015 at 07:09 pm

I'm curious how other people manage their paychecks on payday. I have a routine which seems simple and straightforward to me, but other people might find overly complicated.

DH and I get paid on the same day, twice a month. Retirement contributions are already taken out of our checks pre-tax, so we never "see" that money. With the money that is direct deposited into our checking account I do the following:

(1) Transfer a set amount into our online checking account with is designated for fixed expenses. All regularly occurring bills get paid out of this account, such as the mortgage, utilities, memberships, insurance, childcare, etc. The amount that gets transferred is roughly 1/24 of what we spent on all these things in the previous year.

(2) Transfer a set amount into an educational account for the kids.

(3) Transfer set amounts into separate "short-term" savings accounts for car repairs, vacation, charitable donations, home repair/improvements, and health care. I pull from these accounts whenever we spend money on one of these things, but they all get something added each payday.

(4) Pay off the current balances on the credit cards (DH's, mine, Target), which contain all of our variable spending.

(5) If there's anything left over, it gets swept to one of our savings goals.

I have it set up so I can do this all in 15 minutes from my smartphone while laying in bed on payday morning.

Anyone else care to share their payday routine?

Very cold

February 18th, 2015 at 05:49 pm

It is bitterly cold outside right now, and it's just supposed to get colder. I am so grateful right now for shelter and heat and the ability to pay my gas and electric bills.

I just went online and made a donation to our local fuel fund. Nobody should have to worry about paying their heating bill when it's this cold outside.

Stay warm, everyone!