2015 Goals Check-In #4

Red clipboard with blank checklist.  With clipping path.

I’m so excited that it’s May!! April was “meh” for my goals, but I’m starting my summer break from work, which means more time to work on goals this month. Here’s how April worked out:

  1. Try 40 recipes from Martha Stewart’s Cookies. ZERO. Again.
  2. Decrease debt total by $5,000. Our home equity loan balance decreased by $223.72 in April. As I mentioned when I described our new financial priorities, paying off this loan balance quickly is no longer priority number one. As a result, this goal will be revised this month, and the new goal will be discussed in a subsequent post.
  3. Read 15 books. In April, I read How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul, and several of the other awesome resources in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. I also started reading, The Omnivore’s Dilemma, but I had a hard time getting into it. I don’t usually do this, but I think I’m going to move on to something else. Life it too short. (You can follow my progress toward this goal here.)
  4. Create a weekly meal plan every week. Eighteen meal plans completed!
  5. Visit Aldi to develop an informed opinion, and, if appropriate, make it part of my shopping routine. Technically, this was completed in May (on 5/1), but I like to check things off of lists. :) I bought a few Aldi-brand things to experiment with. Prices of a lot of items were cheaper, but I found the selection to be somewhat limited, especially in the produce section. I see Aldi as being a place I go periodically, but will not go out of my way to go there. (The nearest Aldi is about 25 minutes from my house.)
  6. Develop and stick with a monthly cleaning plan. Finally done! I’m embarking on a new and organized month!
  7. Put together a chore list for my daughter, and make it a part of her routine. I love lists, and checking things off them makes me nearly giddy. Apparently, the same is not true for my daughter. While I like the concept of a chore list for her, what I really want is for her to get better at helping out around the house, ideally without being reminded. In April, she improved on remembering to bring her dishes into the kitchen after a snack or meal, as well as turning the lights off when she leaves rooms. Earth-shattering? No, but it has decreased my stress considerably. I may revisit the list at some point, but for now I want to keep the momentum moving in a positive direction.
  8. Grow 200 pounds of food in my garden. I planted cool-weather crops in my raised beds, started lots of tomato seeds, and plants mesclun, arugula, and buttercrunch lettuce seeds in containers on my deck.
  9. Have monthly financial check-in meetings with my husband. Success! In April, we talked about changes we may want to make to our retirement investments.
  10. Make-ahead and freeze two meals each month. Not this month. :(
  11. Sell all remaining small business inventory. My plan for completing this goal is here. Effective April 1, all of my remaining inventory is discounted by 30%. I had a few sales in April, and the retail value of my remaining inventory is $10,289. Obviously, I still have a lot of inventory, but I anticipate most of my sales to take place closer to the holiday season. (Shameless plug: The discount code is CLOSING30, if you know anyone who’s looking for high-quality children’s books, toys, and more.)
  12. Redesign blog. I don’t anticipate making much progress on this until the summer.

How are you doing with your goals for 2015?

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May Anticipated Expenses, Plus Meal Plan #18

April was not a great month for out-of-the-ordinary expenses. In fact, we spent more than $1,100 more than I anticipated – ugh. I’m hoping to do a better job of predicting this month, especially since I already know there will be at least one very hefty expense. Here’s what I know we have to look forward to this month:

  1. Car care: $900. Unfortunately, my car is going to need a good amount of work in May. First, it’s up for inspection, which is usually around $30, I believe. How did I get from there to an estimate of $900? On my way home from an out-of-town trip last weekend, I heard a strange, squeaking noise for a while, then right as I drove through a toll booth, I heard the unmistakable sound of metal being dragged by my car. I pulled over, and about 15 feet behind me on the pavement was a heat shield. Because I had no idea how important/dangerous this was, I took the car to the dealership last week, where I learned that it’s pretty important, but can wait a couple of weeks and be replaced at the same time as the inspection. That’ll be about $140. Then, the guy who checked out the heat shield for me told me that the treads on the tires are extremely low, and my car will probably fail inspection as a result. New tires and mounting? Approximately $640. And if we’re going to take it in for all that, I’d like to combine an oil change with it, which will be another $60, or so. I could be a little off with my estimate of $900, but that’s my educated guess. Ouch.
  2. HVAC club: $199. The company that maintains our heating and air conditioning system offers a “Comfort Club” membership, which cost $199, when I renewed it at this time last year. The membership means our semi-annual system inspections are free ($123 each for non-members), plus we get up to 50% off any services and/or parts needed throughout the year.
  3. Veterinary care: $200. I have no idea if we’ll actually need this, but it wouldn’t surprise me, if we do. Poor Tony has recovered from his $550 enema, but has been having good days and less-good days. Because he’s been through so many ups-and-downs already, I try to manage all but the most major ones using the array of medications I have on-hand for him, and getting the vet’s advice via phone or email. But whenever he seems really uncomfortable, or his eating slows dramatically, I take him in to be seen.

Yep, May looks like another expensive month! Fortunately, my husband received a raise about a week ago, and was told that it’ll be retroactive to April 1, and reflected in this coming Friday’s check. He also will receive a $1,200 expense check for April, this week. This covers parking, tolls, and mileage for work trips he takes. His employer reimburses him at the maximum per-mile rate, and he usually makes some money on this, since his car, (an Accord), is pretty fuel-efficient. Also, he should be receiving a bonus this month, but I have no idea what the amount will be. And on a much smaller scale, I participated in a children’s consignment sale yesterday, and will receive my earnings in about a week. My hope is that this extra money coming in this month will cover all of these expenses, plus a small contribution to my Roth IRA. Cross your fingers for me, please!

Finally, here’s this week’s meal plan:

2015 Meal Plan 18001

(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

My husband requested peanut noodles, and I came across this chicken picatta recipe, that I’m excited to try. I also decided to make turkey enchiladas in honor of Cinco de Mayo.

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

 

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April Side Hustle Income & Expenses Update

April Side Hustle Income

April was a pretty slow month for side hustle income, with dribs and drabs coming from several different sources. Now that I’m embarking on my four-month summer break from work, I’ll have more time to focus on earning money from other sources. Here’s a summary of what I earned in April:

SavingStar: $9.14

Amazon Store: $78.66

Swag Bucks: $3 Amazon gift card (x3)

Craigslist sale: $5

Small Business: $71.97

MyPoints: $10 Home Depot gift card

Payment for teaching classes: $73.88

Update on April’s Out-of-the Ordinary Expenses

April ended up costing much more than I expected, thanks to Tony’s $550 enema and double propane bills.

Propane (anticipated): $669.23 / (actual): $1,274.55 (Payment for our last delivery was due on the last day of April, so that basically doubled our anticipated propane costs for the month.)

Vet bill (anticipated): $0 / (actual): $552

How was April for you?
Kids Clothing

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May 1 Debt Totals

Until now, I’ve only focused on our credit card debt here on this blog, although I’ve briefly mentioned our school loans and car loan in the past. Since we took out the home equity loan to consolidate our credit card debt and pay it down at a more manageable interest rate, I’ve felt much more positive about our financial future. All of our debts are now predictable monthly payments, and I’m all about predictability. :)

One “downside” (if you can call it that) of consolidating our credit card debt is that our repayment progress appears more incremental and ho-hum. To keep things interesting in my monthly debt totals, I’ve decided to include our school loans and car loan, too. (Come on, admit it; we all like seeing ALL the numbers!) This will actually be “enjoyable” (again, if you can call it that) for me, since I really only check those balances twice a year, when I put together our first-of-the-year debt summary, and when I print our student loan tax documents. (Since all of the payments are deducted automatically, I don’t ever have to log into the accounts.) Also, I think this will help me craft new repayment goals and challenges, to accelerate repayment beyond the regular schedules. So, without further ado, here are my May 1, 2015 debt totals:

Home equity loan: $59,676.28 (-$223.72)

School loan #1 (mine): $3,695.53

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $57,334.29

Car loan: $TBD (I can’t locate the login information for this account – good thing it’s on auto-pay! – and the loan is in my husband’s name, only. I have to get him to call and request new login information.)

A quick note about my school loan: I took out about $35,000 worth of loans for my second year of graduate school. (Money I had been gifted by my grandparents paid for the first year.)  I consolidated about 12 years ago, and the interest rate on this loan is 1.75%. As a result, this will probably be the last loan we’ll apply additional money toward, even though the balance is relatively low.

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It’s That Time of Year Again

Summer starts for me tomorrow. Yep, it’s that time of year again… I work part-time at a college, and my job is to meet with students individually – that’s it. I don’t attend meetings, I don’t give presentations, I just meet with students. Every year at this time, the demand for my office’s services falls off a cliff, and my student appointments dry up. (This was my fifth academic year working at this college, and this pattern has played out like clockwork, every one of those years.) Since I’m paid only for working with students, I don’t work over the college’s summer or winter breaks. And since there are barely any students for me to work with now, my boss has decided that today will be my last day of work this academic year.

Each year, I approach my summer break with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I won’t receive my (relatively) regular paycheck for several months. While I’m far from being the primary earner in my family, any loss of income is not helpful with achieving our financial goals. At the same time, it’s nice to be home full-time, with more time to dedicate to home management, being with my daughter, errands, blogging, and side hustling.

So, what will I be doing to earn some money this summer break? Here’s my plan:

What else will I be doing with my four months off? Here are some things I plan to accomplish:

  • Numerous cleaning projects in my house, including cleaning the oven and freezer for the first time in the six years we’ve lived here – yeeks!
  • Gardening like crazy (in part to fulfill my goal of growing 200 lbs of produce this year)
  • Learning about blogging, and applying what I learn to improve this blog and my platform
  • Reading at least five books (you can follow my progress here)
  • Working with my daughter to keep her academic skills moving forward over her summer break
  • Getting back into exercising several times a week

What are some of your plans/goals for the next four months?

 

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The $550 Enema

I know I’m biased, but this guy is the sweetest cat ever!

I have two, 15 year-old cats. One of them, my sweet Tony, is kind of a wreck. He has inflammatory bowel disease, which is essentially the feline version of Crohn’s disease. He takes steroid pills to control the periodic flare-ups, when he stops eating and clearly feels miserable. He had been on a great streak, and only had a couple of minor flare-ups over the past six months. In fact, I was able to get his steroid medication down to once a week during this period, whereas when he’s experiencing a flare-up, he takes it twice a day until we get it under control. (Since prolonged steroid use is not good for anyone’s body, I want to keep Tony’s dose as low as possible, while still keeping him healthy and comfortable.) Unfortunately, he had a major flare-up right around Easter, and the poor guy clearly felt miserable. After a few high-dosage days, he was a lot better and back to eating pretty normally.

On Sunday, when I returned from my weekend away, I noticed that he had eaten pretty well, but not great. (I left out a few days of his food.) He didn’t eat at all after I returned home on Sunday, and was very restless and howled at times overnight. As a result, I decided to take him to the vet yesterday to investigate.

Hanging with is human sister

Because he was also exhibiting some symptoms of diabetes, the vet ordered (expensive) blood and urine tests. Upon physical exam, he also noticed a large mass near Tony’s bladder, which clearly caused him discomfort when he pressed on it. The vet said it could be any number of things, including constipation, a bladder stone, or a tumor. Therefore, an x-ray was ordered. After waiting 30 minutes for the testing to be complete and the results to be available, the vet reported that poor Tony was extremely constipated. (I saw the x-ray, and let me tell you, it was amazing that such a little guy could be so backed-up.) The treatment? A $29 enema. But because of all the diagnostic tests, the bill came to $552. Ouch. Thankfully, our emergency fund is sufficiently well-funded, and covering this hefty, unexpected expense, will not be a problem. It pains me to take any money at all out of our emergency fund, but not as much as it would to charge the vet’s bill and not be able to pay for it.

Have you had to pay for expensive care for your pets?

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2015 Meal Plan #17

I’m home after a relaxing weekend away with my sister. This was the third year we’ve spent a weekend together, catching up without kids or husbands, and every year I find it very rejuvenating. I also love that I get several nights off from cooking out of the deal. :)

Alas, I’m back to reality, which for me includes a weekly meal plan and grocery shopping trip. My daughter starts gymnastics on Friday evenings this week, so I had to start accounting for another tricky evening each week. (She also has ballet on Wednesday evenings.) Usually those tricky evenings entail leftovers or a slow-cooker meal, and this week is no different. Here’s what’s for dinner at my house this week:2015 Meal Plan 17002(Like my meal planner/grocery list sheet? It’s from the List Plan It Meals ePlanner.)

 

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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What I’ve Learned About Controlling Grocery Costs

I started blogging just over a year ago. At the time, my husband and I were in a lot of debt, and it just kept accumulating. Sure, high credit card interest charges made it difficult to to dig out from under it, but the bigger issue issue was that we were continuing to add to the debt.

Around the time I started this blog, I also started reading lots of PF books and blogs. I learned a HUGE amount from them, and continue to do so today. One of the most valuable lessons I learned was the importance of tracking our spending. (There are many online tools and apps to help with this, but I use a good, old-fashioned Excel spreadsheet.) From the very first month I tracked our expenses, I was shocked to see how much we I spent on groceries. I was spending up to $700 a month on groceries for our family of three. Gulp.

From the many great blogs I’ve been reading, here are the key strategies I’ve learned to help reign in my grocery spending:

  1.  Plan ahead. Before I started reading PF blogs, the concept of “meal-planning” was completely foreign to me. As a result, I often had no idea what was for dinner, leading to desperate, last-minute pleas for my husband to pick something up on his way home. I now create weekly meals plans, which has eliminated the guesswork around our dinners.
  2. Shop with a list (and stick to it!). Shopping with a list helps ensure that I have everything I need for the meals I’ve planned. No more giving up because I don’t have all the ingredients I need for a recipe, or making extra trips to the store for forgotten items. And sticking to the list keeps my costs under control. If it’s not on the list, don’t buy it!
  3. Use what you have. I used to scrap my plans for a recipe if I realized I didn’t have all the necessary ingredients on-hand. Now I look for appropriate substitutes in my pantry, or forgo the missing item altogether.
  4. Maximize your savings. There are so many ways to maximize savings in the grocery store, from buying in-season produce and using coupons, to meal planning, stockpiling sale items, and using coupon apps. Finding the right mix of these options helps make the most of every grocery store trip.
  5. Embrace the freezer and the slow-cooker. If I didn’t have ample time to prepare dinner on busy nights, I used to make it a take-out night. Now if I know we’ll be getting home at dinnertime, I plan to make dinner in the slow cooker, and it’ll be ready when we’re home. To increase efficiency even further, I’ll sometimes prep two sets of the same meal, and freeze one for future use. When I pull the bag out of the freezer to defrost the night before, and dump it into the slow cooker in the morning, I feel like I’ve won the homemaking MVP award!

The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle, a complete library of 99 eBooks and eCourses covering a wide range of home management topics, includes great resources for all of the above strategies:

  1. Meal-planning: Backwards Meal Planning, Frugal Real Food Meal PlansGluten Free Aldi Meal Plan, Healthy Mom, and Simply Scheduled: On the Go
  2. Shop with a list: ListPlanIt: Meals ePlanner
  3. Use what you have: Coffee Filters to Cheese Graters: Creative Ways to Use Just About Everything and From Your Garden to Your Family
  4. Maximize your savings: Supermarket Ninjas: How to Find Real Food in the Store Without Losing Your Mind and Grocery University
  5. Embrace the freezer and the slow-cooker: Costco Slow Cooker Freezer Meals and No Cook Freezer  Meals

At $29.97 for all 99 resources – plus bonuses, like a free Craftsy course up to a $60 value! – the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle is an amazing steal! Seriously, that’s less than $0.30 per eBook/eCourse!! But it’s only available for purchase through 4/27, act quickly if you’d like to take advantage of this deal.

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4 Steps for Moving from Grouchy to Great

When I first saw the title of the book, From Grouchy to Great: Finding Joy in the Journey of Motherhood, I thought, “Now there’s a book I have to read!” Seriously, it sounds like it was written with me in mind! I’m an introverted, impatient, slightly controlling wife and mother of a five-year-old, and parenting challenges me every single day. (Yes, I know some people may be rolling their eyes and thinking, “Really? With just one kid? Try having two/three/four/more!”)

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So many of the experiences and anecdotes in this book sounded familiar to me:

  • Getting frustrated, snapping, then feeling guilty almost immediately? Check!
  • The desperate need for quiet time when it’s simply not possible? Check!
  • Feeling conflicted about the competing desires to maximize “alone time”, and getting enough sleep? Check!
  • Explaining away unkind words with, “I’m just cranky”? Double-check!
  • Reacting out of anger at someone or something, when I’m really upset about being out-of-control? Most definitely.

The last one – reacting with anger at someone or something, when I’m really upset about feeling out of control – is a BIG one for me. I like feeling in control, especially in my home, and parenting tests this on a regular basis. One of my most painful mommy memories was finding my then-four-year-old daughter frantically trying to clean up a yogurt she had spilled, without me knowing about it. She was using a torn napkin to try to clean the spill on the floor, to no avail. The look on her face when I walked over to investigate broke my heart. She looked frightened. Undoubtedly, I had gotten upset with her over past spills, and she was trying to prevent this from happening again.

Woods ladies

While I remain far from perfect, that experience was a turning point for me. I never want my daughter to look at me with fear, at least not over something as small as spilled yogurt. (Wrecking the family car when she’s older? Maybe…) I’ve noticed over the last few months that she tells me about spills and messes most of the time, and even asks for help with them. There may be a little reluctance in her voice, but she no longer seems afraid to tell me. I’ve made of a point of saying things like, “Okay, no big deal,” in my better moments, and “Let me help you clean it up,” (sometimes said with a hint of irritation), in my less-shining moments. Sure I get crabby and grumble a bit, too, but I try very hard to stay away from the dark mommy place. Here are several strategies I’ve used to help keep myself in-check in those difficult parenting moments:

  1. Try not to let things escalate. This is easier said than done, but it’s critical. If I can put the brakes on at the beginning, things will go a lot more smoothly. As cliché as it sounds, I really do take a deep breath and respond as calmly as I can, early in the incident. I do not wait until I can’t take another second of the noise she’s making, or the mess has completely taken over the dining room table/living room/front walkway.
  2. Ask myself what’s really bothering me. Nine times out of 10, I’m feeling out-of-control, frustrated with myself for not imposing limits appropriately, or feeling overwhelmed by all I have to accomplish, and one additional thing is sending me over the edge. I use the stop-and-take-a-breath time mentioned above, to ask myself what’s really going on in my head. That quick acknowledgement usually forces an internal reset, and keeps me from taking out my feelings on someone else.
  3. Ask myself what message I’m sending, or impression I’m giving. Nothing stops me in my tracks like asking myself if my words, tone of voice, or actions, are giving my daughter the impression that I don’t love or value her.
  4. Follow through on expectations. Getting my daughter to consistently remember to clean up after herself is a one of my biggest parenting challenges at the moment. I have to remind her to bring all of her meal/snack dishes and/or wrappers into the kitchen on a daily basis. I finally realized that I never attached consequences to her not meeting this expectation. I really don’t enjoy punishing my daughter, but sometimes losing the day’s screen time or a favorite toy temporarily, is the only way she gets the message. No consequence = lesson not learned.

From Grouchy to Great: Finding the Joy in the Journey of Motherhood is one of several great parenting books in the Ultimate Homemaking Bundle. What else is in the Bundle? Oh, just about 90 other eBooks, eCourses, and bonuses on topics such as homeschooling, marriage, meal planning, green cleaning, and running a business from home. (Check out my full description here.) But it’s only available until Monday, 4/27, so act quickly to take advantage of this great gift for yourself and your family!

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Blogging as a Business

When I started blogging just over a year ago, I saw it as a way of sharing my debt story and learning from others, and also as a way to force accountability with our debt repayment. I’ve been surprised at how much I’ve enjoyed blogging, but it can take a lot of time. Since I only work two days per week and have the summer off, I’m always looking for ways to increase what I earn. However, I feel guilty devoting a lot of time to blogging, when there are other things I could be doing around our house. (Did I mention that I’m not an especially great homemaker?) As a result, the thought of earning some additional money, while doing something I enjoy, from home, is very enticing.

So, the very first book I read from my Ultimate Homemaking Bundle was How to Blog for Profit Without Selling You Soul by Ruth Soukup. I had heard a lot about this book from other bloggers, and had recently just put it in my Amazon shopping cart. (For whatever reason, none of the libraries in my area have it.) Literally about two hours later, I learned that, as an affiliate, I could advance-purchase my Bundle, and that this book was included in it. I quickly set aside the other book I had been plodding through reading, and finished How to Blog for Profit, in a couple of days. Wow. Now I get why people rave about Ruth and this book.

I learned a great deal from How to Blog for Profit, not the least of which is that I have a lot of work to do, if I want to turn this blog into a business. As Ruth herself says, it’s impossible for one person to do everything she recommends, so I’ve picked the things she emphasizes, that I believe are most achievable for me, will be the most impactful for this blog, and can be done for free, or relatively cheaply. Here’s what I’ll be working in for the next few months:

  1. Site redesign. I already wanted to do this; in fact, it’s one of my 12 goals for 2015. But after reading, “You can write the best, most interesting, most compelling articles in the whole world, but if the package doesn’t sell it, you are doomed,” in How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul, I feel a greater sense of urgency about getting this done. It probably goes without saying that I can’t spend much money on it, but I also have NO IDEA what I’m doing. I plan to price paid WordPress templates, as well as a consultant who can maybe talk me through it, without actually doing it for me. (If you know of anyone good who fits this bill, please feel free to let me know.)
  2. Incorporating more images. I take pictures with my phone, which limits their quality, but paying for images can get pricey very quickly. I obviously need to figure out a better DIY photography solution, not to mention tackle photo editing. (My completely non-creative head is aching just thinking about this…)
  3. Figuring out Pinterest. Perhaps because I’m not at all creative, Pinterest has always been a mystery to me. I just don’t get the appeal. But How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul raves about it, and really stresses its importance to bloggers. Of course, I first need to have more images to make the most of it, so I’ve clearly got my work cut out for me!
  4. Plan ahead. I tend to blog by the seat of my pants, meaning that I don’t have an editorial calendar, or even necessarily know what I’ll be posting in a given week. Some weeks I have a million things I want to share, and others the well is completely dry. To help even this out, I plan to put together a monthly calendar of post ideas. I’m not sure how far ahead I’ll get in writing them, but at least having a schedule put together in advance will be a big help.

Do you earn money through your blog? Have you read How to Blog for Profit Without Selling Your Soul? What were the most important things you learned from it?

The Ultimate Homemaking Bundle – which includes this fantastic book – is available for purchase through midnight on 4/27. The amount of high-quality content in the bundle truly blew my mind, and I think you’ll be amazed, too. Learn more about the 100 eBooks, eCourses, and bonuses in the bundle here.

 

This post contains affiliate links. These affiliate links help support    this site, and cost you nothing. Thank you for supporting my blog!
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