Monday Morning Check-In

Happy Monday! Our house looks like a bomb went off in it. My parents spent the weekend with us, and we had our Christmas celebration with them. Unfortunately, our vacuum quit on me just as I was prepping for their arrival. (Apparently, it contains several filters that need to be replaced periodically, which we’ve neglected to do. Ever.) It’s still under warranty, so I’m confident it’ll be up and running again soon. In the meantime, though, there are pine needles, crumbs, and bits of wrapping paper all over the downstairs floor.

The kitchen also needs a deep-clean, as I spent a lot of time in it over the weekend. My parents arrived at lunchtime on Saturday, and before the got here, I made Rice Krispie Treats, pignoli cookies (recipe from this book), and a “Famous Chocolate Wafer” icebox cake. We had sandwiches for lunch, and I made this awesome seafood pasta, with garlicky spinach for our Christmas dinner. The dishes are cleaned and put away, and the counters have been tidied, but everything needs a good scrubbing.

My husband is on vacation from work until the 30th, and our daughter has school today and tomorrow. This will give us some child-free hours together, which we plan to use to run a few errands, get all of her presents wrapped, and work on our home equity loan application. I also want to spend some time mapping out our 2015 financial goals.

full belly

On a completely unrelated note, I won a copy of the fantastic cookbook, Fully Belly: Good Eats for a Healthy Pregnancy last week. No, I’m not pregnant. The book was written by a high school friend of mine, and I wanted a copy. In addition to just wanting to see the great recipes, I’m quoted in it a couple of times. I read through it this afternoon, and am excited to try many of the healthy and delicious recipes included in it. It makes a great gift for a pregnant mom, or anyone else who loves good food!

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Catching Up on My Reading

You may recall that the awesome Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle came out a couple of months ago. Did you purchase it? I did, but I didn’t get to read any of the contents right away. However, I have a six-week break from my job at the holidays every year, so I’ve been using my time to catch up on my reading, including the great eBooks in my Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle. As you may recall, the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle is a package of eBooks, eCourses, and bonus products valued at over $1,000, that sold for just $29.97 (PDF version), and $39.97 (eReader version). The topics covered include green cleaning, gardening and homesteading, meal planning, cooking, and natural beauty

I’ll admit that I haven’t read all of the eBooks, yet,as some of the topics are more relevant to me than others, but I’ve been very impressed with the ones I’ve read. Here’s a sampling:

There are many more eBooks in the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle, and I’m sure I’ll have some new favorites to add to this list after I finish going through them all.

Are you looking to start living a bit more healthfully? Join me in the free 4-Day Healthy Living Challenge from the people who bring us the Ultimate Healthy Living Bundle! Each steps will take you no more than 5 minutes a day. I’m in; are you? Join here.

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December Goals Check-In

Whew, I simultaneously can’t believe it’s only December 16, and can’t believe it’s already December 16! Every year, the holiday season seems to race by me, but this month is has been even crazier than usual. We’ve had several days of snow, one of which lead to a school snow day, a stomach bug, and overnight guests.

snowI guess I don’t have to wonder if we’ll have a white Christmas this year…

Before the rest of the month gets swallowed up by Christmas and New Years, I thought I’d better check-in on my monthly goals. Here they are:

December Goals:

  1. Cancel cable. We estimate this will save us $100 per month.
  2. Learn about home equity loans. I plan to speak to two banks about the process.
  3. Earn $400 in side hustle income.
  4. Exercise 2 times per week. (I’m just being realistic here…)
  5. Maintain debt total without an increase. (Again, just trying to be realistic here, given the time of year.)

I’m pleased to say that I’ve already accomplished the first two. As it turns out, canceling cable is saving us closer to $73 per month, not $100, but we’ll take it! As for #2, I completed the first part of our home equity loan application today, and the entire process will be completed – assuming we’re approved – within 60 days.

I’m not even close to my side hustle income goal yet, (I’m at $46 right now), but I haven’t yet received my sales totals from the small business event I participated in earlier this month. In past years, I’ve earned around $300 at this event.

I’m averaging more like 1-2 days per week with exercise, which is disappointing, but not surprising. With everything else going on this month, it’s tough to carve out the time to go for a walk, during daylight hours.

Finally, I’m waiting until the 31st to confirm my last goal. But we’re really pushing for it…

Today, I’m taking this old lady for a check-up and senior bloodwork. She has early kidney disease, so her bloodwork is monitored every six months. This is one of December’s “out-of-the-ordinary” expenses, and I’ll be paying for it by check.

sophie“Please don’t cut back on my kibble to save money!”

On a completely unrelated note, I made Ree Drummond’s salisbury steak recipe for dinner last night. I made two batches of Christmas cookies during the afternoon, so the kitchen sink was overflowing with dishes. I tried to multi-task, and washed some dishes while the meat was cooking. Here’s how that worked for me:

salisbury steakDon’t you wish you were invited to dinner at my house last night??

 

 


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Stay the Course

One important lesson I’ve learned about my personal finance psychology is that my vision is clouded by good news. Despite the fact that we have thousands of dollars of debt, I get a little giddy when we get some extra cash. I don’t go out and buy lots of expensive things, but I mentally loosen up on my frugality. This may mean buying extra things at the grocery store or Target, getting a new pair of shoes for my daughter, or treating myself to a new scarf or book when I hear about a great sale. None of these are helpful to us.

The most costly example of this happened around this time last year. I did a bunch of events for my small business, and brought in a good amount of cash. It felt great! I spent more on Christmas gifts than I should’ve, and decided with my husband to buy new furniture for an empty room in our house. We’re on-track to pay it off at the end of the winter, before the 12-months-no-interest period runs out, but that $300 a month we’ve been paying toward the furniture could’ve been used to pay down our existing debt. I also ignored the fact that I had spent a LOT of money building up my inventory for all those events. As it turns out, I way over-ordered, and I’m still in possession of some of that inventory today.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t take a Mega Millions win for this mentality to kick in. A relatively small amount of money is all it takes sometimes. For example, I recently sold a glider on Craigslist for $100, then learned that my husband had received his $1,000, ($850 after taxes), holiday bonus at work. I immediately felt better about our finances. That’s not to say that an extra $1,000 isn’t a good thing – it is! – but that won’t even make a dent in our debt. It also doesn’t mean that I’m a total pessimist, and can’t allow myself to feel some relief. It just means that I have to work hard to stay the course.

I’m so grateful that I’m finally learned this about myself. This awareness helps me talk myself out of those purchases I’ve talked myself into, and provides a mental check to keep me in-line.

So what’s the plan for the money? Deposit it into our checking account, and use it to pay by check for last month’s propane delivery ($501), and for at least one of this month’s “out-of-the-ordinary” expenses.

What have you learned about your own personal finance psychology that helps you make better choices?

 

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Recipes

I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful weekend! Here are a few recipes I tried/used recently, with mostly good results:

Meatloaf. I typically make a ground turkey meatloaf, but sometimes it tastes a little too, well, turkey to me, so I went looking for a beef recipe. I didn’t have any bacon, so I skipped that part, but this turned out well. Even my picky daughter ate it!

Alfredo Mac and Cheese. This was easy and delicious. Once I scraped off the top layer to ensure there weren’t any “crunchies”, my daughter ate it.

Ritz Cracker Chicken. This is so simple, it’s laughable. My husband and daughter enjoyed it, but I did not. I’m not much of a chicken fan, and this just tasted too chicken-ey for me.

Seasoned Rice Pilaf. I love rice pilaf, but never realized how easy it could be to make – and with things I already had in my pantry. My daughter did not enjoy this, but my husband and I did. The recipe makes quite a bit, so I’ve been eating it with sandwiches for lunch.

Homemade Pizza Dough. I didn’t technically make this, but instead used the second crust I froze the last time I made it. I topped it with leftover (jarred) sauce that was in the fridge, plus extra cheese I had grated for the alfredo mac and cheese. My daughter even took a few bites before discovering a “crunchy” and setting it aside.

What have you been cooking lately?

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Updates on Life Without Cable and More!

Happy Friday! I have updates on life without cable, the plan for a home equity loan, and side hustling to share:

Side Hustle Action

As I type this, it’s 8:30pm, and I’m waiting for a Craiglist buyer to come to my house to pick up the glider that has been in my daughter’s room since before she was born. A number of people told me they had trouble selling theirs, but I was lucky enough to receive two inquires very soon after I placed the ad. I took a shot and listed it under Furniture, rather than Baby & Kids, and I think this is the reason. The potential buyer coming tonight says she has a back problem that prevents her from sleeping laying down, and she thinks the glider will help her. Let’s hope this purchase helps her out.

Also, we discovered today that my daughter has outgrown the coat she wore with her snow pants last year. (The snow pants still fit.) I’ll be taking it to the local children’s consignment store tomorrow. And fortunately, we have another winter coat that still fits!

Life Without Cable

I called our cable company yesterday, and told them we wanted to cancel our cable service. Amazingly, it was turned off before I even hung up with the representative. It takes several days to make a four-hour-window appointment to have it turned on, but they cut you off with the words still hanging in the air!

To be perfectly honest, we’re not truly living without cable, yet. Our HD box is useless, but they haven’t “capped the line” yet, so we still get a bunch of non-HD channels. My husband is holding out hope that we’ll magically continue to get these channels indefinitely. (Can you tell which one of us is the optimist in our relationship?)

So the biggest change has been that our daughter lost access to her on-demand Disney Junior shows. (Yes, I realize that this is an obnoxiously first-world problem. Please don’t judge me.) But I’ll be picking up some DVDs for her at the library tomorrow, and she can always watch some of her shows on my husband’s iPad (a birthday gift from his parents).

Home Equity Loan

I spoke to the bank that has our mortgage, and got the lowdown on home equity loans. The amount we can borrow will be determined by the appraisal. We refinanced our mortgage two years ago, to go from a 5.75% interest rate, to 3.5%. At that time, our house was miraculously appraised for a good bit more than we paid for it. When I looked it up on Zillow recently, the “Zestimate” was equally generous. So hopefully we won’t have any problems getting the loan amount we’d like. We estimated that we’d get an interest rate of 7%, but it looks like it could actually be 5-6%. I’m planning to start the application process early next week.

We have a weekend of holiday parties coming up. What about you?

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Ramping Up the Side Hustles

Amazingly, when I put together my list of December’s out-of-the-ordinary expenses, I forgot all about the most expensive one: propane. That’s going to be $501.14. Can you say, denial??

Although I’ve maintained several side hustles for as long as I can remember, I’m ramping up my efforts this month. Here are some of the things I’ve been keeping busy with lately:

  1. My small business. I sell children’s books, puzzles, toys, and more via an online marketplace, via my Amazon store, and at targeted events. I’m doing an event at a local school this week, and expect to earn $250-$300 at it.
  2. Taking surveys. I only spend about 30 minutes a day doing this lately, but it’s been a good way to easily earn Amazon credit, most of which was used to buy my daughter’s Christmas gifts. I use a couple of survey sites, but the bulk of my time is spent with MyPoints. In addition to taking surveys , I earn points for printing and using coupons and clicking through emails to various websites.
  3. Consigning children’s clothing and toys. My daughter is five, and growing quickly. I’m very lucky that my mother loves to buy her clothing, and she purchases items from brands that are easy to resell. I’ve also been cleaning out my daughter’s room in anticipation of the influx of Christmas gifts. I’ll be making several trips to the local children’s consignment store this month!
  4. Selling clothing I no longer wear. I recently discovered Twice, a site for buying and selling women’s clothing and accessories. I have a pretty basic wardrobe, but it does include some items purchased in the last couple of years, that I’m no longer wearing. Twice buys current items from a variety of brands, in excellent condition, and then pays cash or store credit from them. I’ll be taking cash. :)
  5. Listing unused household items on Craigslist. I currently have some Christmas ornaments and decor we received as gifts and don’t like listed, along with the glider from my daughter’s bedroom. I also plan to list a set of snow tires we have from a previous car.

How are you earning extra cash this holiday season?

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Why Is It So Hard to Ditch Cable??

One of the first things my husband and I agreed to do after we had our first big money talk, was to get rid of cable. We currently pay $129 per month, for cable and internet. This is one of those obnoxious bundles, that our beloved (yes, that’s sarcasm) cable company loves to force upon their customers. Every 6-12 months, we call to get the current “deal”, and prevent our bill from going even higher.

While everyone in our family will miss something about cable – CNN and The Pioneer Woman on the Food Network (me), ESPN (my husband), Disney Junior On Demand (my daughter)  – I’m confident we can adapt. We have a great library, with lots of awesome adult and kid DVDs, we have a laptop and a tablet, which can be used to access shows via websites and apps, and we’re seriously considering purchasing the Google Chromecast HDMI Streaming Media Player. For about $33 – approximately half the cost of a month of cable service – we’d be able to stream online video from our smartphones, laptop, and tablet. I’m sure it wouldn’t be just like having cable, but it would give us a lot more options than we’ll have without it.

So, after dragging my feet for a few days – I’m going to miss you, Ree Drummond! – I called our provider and said I’d like to cancel our cable service. Naturally, the rep asked why, and she took my response, “cost”, to be an opportunity to sell me a cheaper bundle. Here’s what I learned from her: For $74 per month (for 12 months only, of course), we can get their most basic cable (20 channels), plus our current internet speed (15 Mbps). I said that was too much money, and asked how much it would cost to eliminate cable altogether, and simply maintain our current internet service. Amazingly, that would cost just $10 less per month, or $63. Seriously??

Perhaps more amazing is that the company’s website offers just our current internet service for $35 per month (for 12 months). When I inquired about this, the rep said said I would have to order online to get that price, and she cannot extend online pricing to me.

What frightens a technical illiterate like me about this, is the timing. Do I have to cancel all current services over the phone, then order internet online? Is there a delay in getting the service set up via the website? Basically, I don’t want to be without internet service for any period of time. I got overwhelmed, and said I’d speak to my husband and call back tomorrow. Now I have to speak with someone about my timing concerns, and map out our strategy.

Why is it so hard to cut cable??

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December’s Anticipated Expenses

As I’ve learned, each month has it’s somewhat predictable, out-of-the-ordinary expenses. I don’t mean complete surprise expenses, like getting into a car accident and having to pay for repairs. Instead I mean things that are not regular, monthly expenses, but do come up with some predictability. While we’re not yet in a position to be able to save in advance for all of these expenses, when planning how much we can put toward our debt each month, it’s helpful to have a sense of what we need to pay-out, first.

Here are the out-of-the-ordinary expenses I anticipate for the rest of this month:

  1. Christmas.  We purchased all of our daughter’s presents from Amazon, using credits I’d saved throughout the year from MyPoints, and other survey sites, plus our health insurance reward program. The total for everything else – gifts, tree, donations, will be about $300.
  2. Contact lenses. I have horrible vision, and thanks to a pretty bad astigmatism, I see better with contacts than I do with glasses. My current prescription is for quarterlies, and I’m nearing the end of the first quarter. This “trial” set cost me $244, and I believe the rest of the year will cost an additional $300.
  3. Vet. One of my geriatric cats is due for a physical and kidney-function bloodwork this month. I anticipate this will cost $250.

What about you? What “out-of-the-ordinary” expenses are you anticipating this month?

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November Goals Update & December Goals

I’ve been dragging my feet a bit on this post, because with so much going on this month, my main goal is just to keep my head above water! But when I think about it, I’ve definitely got some other goals to aim for. First, though, here’s an update on my November goals:

November Goals Update:

  1. Continue tracking all monthly spending. PASS! This has become a way of life now, so I’m no longer going to include it in my monthly goals.
  2. Finish reading Little Girls Can Be Mean by 11/15, and start and finish reading The PlanPASS-ish. I finished Little Girls Can Be Mean early in the month, then started reading The Plan. I didn’t really like it, though, so I returned it to the library before I finished reading it. Instead, I started reading Anxious Kids, Anxious Parents. I’ve read about a third of it.
  3. Earn $500 in side hustle income. PASS! I earned $652.95!
  4. Exercise 2-3 days per week. PASS-ish. I got off track with this at the end of the month.
  5. Decrease debt total by $300. FAIL. I had an increase of $752.92.

December Goals:

  1. Cancel cable. We estimate this will save us $100 per month.
  2. Learn about home equity loans. I plan to speak to two banks about the process.
  3. Earn $400 in side hustle income.
  4. Exercise 2 times per week. (I’m just being realistic here…)
  5. Maintain debt total without an increase. (Again, just trying to be realistic here, given the time of year.)

How did you do in November? What are you December goals?

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