Farewell to DebtGal!

You may have noticed that I haven’t been posting very much over the last couple of months. This is partly because life has been busy lately, and I haven’t had the time to devote to this blog. But the larger reason is that I just don’t have enough to say.

I started this blog to share my family’s struggle with debt, and to get motivation and accountability from my readers. That has certainly happened, and I’m incredibly grateful for it. But I’m not an expert on personal finance, and I never set out to create a how-to blog. I’ve found that sharing weekly meal plans and monthly debt totals isn’t enough to have the kind of blog I want. Also, personal finance and our debt repayment are just small facets of who I am as a person. Limiting what I blog about to personal finance feels constricting and false.

I really enjoy writing and sharing my life with readers, so I’ve started a new blog, My Upstate Life. It’s very new and still a work-in-progress, but I feel much more energized by, and excited about, writing there. I’m able to be more authenic, and that’s important to me.

A HUGE thank you to everyone who has read this blog, commented on it, and shared what I’ve written. I’ve loved communicating with you, and I hope you’ll follow me to My Upstate Life.

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June 1 Debt Summary & May Side Hustle Income

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May Overview

May was a decent month. I received my last two paychecks until the fall, and had a decent month for side hustle income (see below). We took a trip to Montreal over Memorial Day weekend, and while we had already paid for our hotel room and our tickets to see Cirque du Soleil (AMAZING!), we still had to pay for meals, tickets to the botanical garden, etc.

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My girl looking out at the Montreal skyline.

June 1 Debt Summary

Here’s what our (non-mortgage) debt looks like now:

Home equity loan: $56,251.32 (down $251.70)

School loan #1 (mine): $2,484.36 (down $93.89)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $53,887.58 (down $257.09)

Car loan: $1,732.36 (down $174.98)

One of my goals for 2016 is to pay off the car loan, which actually comes due in March of 2017. We currently pay the minimum monthly payment of $181.45 on it. While I’ll be happy to have this paid off at any point during 2016, the earlier we can start applying that $181 to something else, the better! I didn’t make an extra payment in May, but my plan is to do so in June.

May Side Hustle Income

I set a side hustle goal of $400 for May, and I came up short. Most of my side hustle income came from eBay sales, with a small amount of affiliate income (thank you!!), and other small sources. Here’s what I earned in May:

Affiliate income: $17.50

User Testing: $3

Amazon store: $23.82

Ebay: $251.81

Swagbucks: $3 Amazon gift card

June Side Hustle Goal

My side-hustle goal for June is $300. This is more in-line with where I ended up in May, plus school ends here on June 22nd, which means I’ll have less time to focus on earning money, while my daughter is home with me.

Looking Ahead

June is shaping up to be a busy month for me! There seem to be endless end-of-school-year events and activities, and quite a few requests for money. I’ve been working hard to find and list items on eBay, but I have to balance this with parenting, maintaining a reasonably clean home and yard, and working toward my goals for 2016.

How did May look for you?? What do you expect June to have in-store for you?

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What’s for Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #20

Monday Check-In

Happy Monday! As we headed into this past weekend, I was anticipating attending two kid birthday parties with my daughter, and my parents arriving for a visit on Sunday afternoon. Everything went according to plan until 12:45am on Sunday, when my husband and I were awakened by our daughter, who had just thrown up in her bed. (Side note for parents of older kids: At what age do they start heading to the bathroom when they have to throw up, rather than just sitting up in their bed??) I changed her sheets and readied her room for a potential Round 2, while my husband got her cleaned up. He opted to sleep with her in her bed for the rest of the night, and we all got up around 9:00 yesterday morning. Our daughter felt a lot better – until we told her she couldn’t go to her friend’s birthday party – and my husband and I still seemed healthy. My parents postponed their arrival until this morning, which, in combination with not having to go out for the birthday party, made for a more relaxed Sunday. As of the time I’m writing this (Sunday night), my daughter seems almost back to normal, and my husband and I have remained unscathed.

What’s for Dinner at My House

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money. If some of the things on this week’s plan seem very familiar, it’s probably because I meant to make them last week or the week before, and for various reasons, didn’t get to them.

We’re headed to Montreal for Memorial Day weekend! My husband and I made this trip over Memorial Day weekend in 2009, when I was pregnant with our daughter. It’ll be fun to go back with her this year! We plan to visit the zoo, the botanical garden, Old Montreal, possibly the Olympic stadium, and see Cirque du Soleil. We paid for the hotel and show tickets a couple of months ago, and while the money for this trip could’ve also been put toward our debt repayment, we are not gazelles, and I want to balance paying off debt, with making family memories.

  • Monday (school event 5:30-6:30pm): Post-event pizza with my parents
  • Tuesday: Ravioli with green salad
  • Wednesday: Turkey taco salads
  • Thursday: Sausage and pepper sandwiches (didn’t happen last week)
  • Friday: Leftovers/fridge clean-out
  • Saturday: Dinner in Montreal
  • Sunday: Dinner in Montreal

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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What’s for Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #19

What’s Up With Me

Happy Wednesday! I’ve dragged my feet on putting this meal plan together because our week has gotten off to a somewhat chaotic start. My husband is extremely busy at work this month, and has to miss dinner with us several nights this week. When he gets home after 8pm, he just wants to eat a bowl of cereal and unwind before bed. Since he’s the only other person who eats “normal” adult food with me, I typically don’t do much for dinner when he’s not home for it. Also, with the end of the school year in sight, the number of school events – concerts, art shows, etc. – has ramped up, making those evenings more hectic. On Sunday, my parents will be arriving to spend a couple of days with us. My daughter’s submission was chosen to be in our school district’s literary journal, and she’s participating in a ceremony next Monday evening. Although they like to visit us for a few days periodically, my parents specifically timed this visit so they can attend the literary journal ceremony.

Finally, we took a day trip into Manhattan last Saturday. My husband and I lived there for several years, and while I don’t miss living there now, I want my daughter to experience all that the Big Apple has to offer. We took her to see the September 11th Memorial on this most recent trip. It was my first time there, too, and I was literally moved to tears. All of those names etched in stone is such a vivid reminder of the lives lost on that day, and the suffering of their loved ones. It’s a beautiful place, and I’m so glad we got to see it.

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What’s for Dinner at My House

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. (Some weeks – like this one – I get it out a little late.) I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money. If some of the things on this week’s plan seem very familiar, it’s probably because I meant to make them last week or the week before, and for various reasons, didn’t get to them.

  • Monday (ballet 5-6pm): Weekend leftovers
  • Tuesday (school art show 6-8pm): Yogurt and fruit smoothies
  • Wednesday (Girl Scouts meeting until 5pm): Plain old pasta w/ cheese and roasted asparagus
  • Thursday: Sausage and pepper sandwiches
  • Friday: Chicken cutlets with green beans
  • Saturday: Turkey meatloaf with frozen veggies
  • Sunday (my parents arrive for a few days): Ravioli with green salad

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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What’s for Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #18

A Big, Pricey House Project

In a recent post, I listed some of the house projects we’d like to and/or need to tackle in the near-term. Replacing our deck is one of the more urgent ones, since the boards started rotting a few years ago. For the past two summers, my husband has been replacing individual boards as they rotted and became unsafe to walk on. (Although he missed one last year, and our daughter’s leg actually fell through the deck surface when she stepped on it. She was shaken and scraped, but fine.)

Two summers ago, we painted the deck with a stain/paint that was supposed to seal and protect the wood. It didn’t. It started peeling off in sheets last summer. In addition to being subjected to the fairly harsh winters we have here in upstate New York, our deck receives full sun every (sunny) day. So with more boards rotting away constantly, we’ve decided to replace the deck surface this year. (The supports are fine.) It’s a big, pricey job, because it’s not a little deck. It’s 43 x 16 feet, and everyone who’s come to look at it has commented on the size. We’ve started to get estimates, and they’re not cheap. We haven’t determined if we’ll be replacing it with wood or composite, so we’re gathering quotes for both of them. Composite is more expensive, but should last a good bit longer, too.

Fortunately, the husband of one of my husband’s coworkers is a regional manager at local home improvement store chain, and can get us a very good price on the materials. He came by to take measurements today. We have one estimate for a contractor, and another one is coming this week. And my husband is removing the surface himself, which will save some money on the project.

What’s for Dinner at My House

What does our deck replacement have to do with this week’s meal plan? Needless to say, we need as much cash as possible to put toward the deck project. As a result, I’m trying to clamp down on our grocery spending as much as possible. We still have plenty of Zaycon chicken in our freezer, plus lots of pastas, grains, and snacks. So with the exception of milk, eggs, and fresh produce, I’d like to eat from what we have for at least the next couple of weeks. That likely means pretty boring meals – even more so than usual!

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. (Some weeks – like this one – I get it out a little late.) I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money. If some of the things on this week’s plan seem very familiar, it’s probably because I meant to make them last week or the week before, and for various reasons, didn’t get to them.

  • Monday: Plain old pasta with grated cheese and cut up veggies
  • Tuesday: Risotto (from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Italian) with peas (This has been on my meal plan for several weeks, and I finally made it this week.)
  • Wednesday: Sauteed chicken with Irsaeli cous cous and asparagus
  • Thursday: Leftovers/fridge clean-out
  • Friday: Dinner at my parents’ house
  • Saturday: On the road home from NYC, so we’ll probably stop on the way. I have a Panera gift card set aside for this.
  • Sunday: Homemade mac and cheese (still need to select a recipe)

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Are you planning to do any major home improvement projects this year?

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May 1 Debt Total & April Side Hustle Income

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April Overview

April was a good month. I received three paychecks, and had a great month for side hustle income (see below). We didn’t have any significant, unusual expenses, which really helped.

May 1 Debt Summary

Here’s what our (non-mortgage) debt looks like now:

Home equity loan: $56,503.02 (down $500.08)

School loan #1 (mine): $2,578,25 (down $93.65)

School loan #2 (my husband’s): $54,144.67 (down $247.66)

Car loan: $1,907.34 (down $398.14) (I think this reflects two monthly payments, not one.)

One of my goals for 2016 is to pay off the car loan, which actually comes due in March of 2017. We currently pay the minimum monthly payment of $181.45 on it. While I’ll be happy to have this paid off at any point during 2016, the earlier we can start applying that $181 to something else, the better! I finally made an extra payment on this loan!! It was only $50, but that’s something, and it felt great.

April Side Hustle Income

I set a side hustle goal of $350 for April, and I earned even more than that, mainly thanks to a very successful children’s consignment sale. I also did very well with eBay sales in April, but I haven’t completely calculated my profit, yet. My Amazon store and small business are still puttering along, and I plan to post most of that inventory on eBay this month. I also was interviewed for a focus group, for which I received a $50 Amazon gift card. That was through UserTesting, and I hope to qualify for more of these studies in the future. Here’s what I earned in April:

Children’s consignment sale: $429.45

Focus group interview: $50 Amazon gift card

Amazon store: $26.37

Ebay: $678.71 (This is my sales total, not my profit. I’m still calculating my profit.)

Ibotta rebate: $20 (Not an Ibotta user, yet? Sign up with my referral code (rbkhnjf), and you’ll get $10 credited to your account!)

Small business: $37.50

May Side Hustle Goal

My side-hustle goal for May is $400. While I don’t have a big children’s consignment sale to rely on this month, my eBay store is up and running, and if the current trend continues, I’ll sell between five and seven items per week. These are not big-dollar items, but every few dollars of profit helps.

Looking Ahead

As is the case every year, I finished with work this first week of May. (I work part-time in the career center of a local college. I work exclusively with students, helping them plan their internship and jobsearches, reviewing their documents, and helping them prepare for interviews. When the student traffic slows or stops in the office, I go on hiatus. It’s not ideal for cash-flow, but I have tremendous flexibility with this job, which is invaluable for the parent of a young child.) I’ll receive my two final paychecks this month, and will not receive another one until the fall. My husband is by-far our primary earner, but any additional income I bring in is a big help. (I want to keep up with the extra payments on the car loan!!!) Without a paycheck coming in for the next few months, I want to replace as much of my “regular” income with side hustle income.

How did April look for you??

Disease Called Debt

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What’s for Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #17

Monday Check-In

Happy Monday, and happy May! It’s gray, rainy, and chilly here in upstate NY, so May is not starting out the way I’d like it to. However, looking ahead about a week, the forecast looks good – sun and highs in the low 70s. It doesn’t get much better than that!

I hope you had a wonderful weekend! Last week was school vacation week here, and it was a big success. Seriously, I’m much happier with we handled this school vacation than any other one in the past, and it’s all because I created an appropriate amount of structure for us. We attended several programs at our local library, hosted several playdates, met my husband for lunch near his office once, and my daughter went to a friend’s house for a five-hour(!) playdate. We had at least one thing planned each day that my daughter could look forward to, but not so many things planned that I felt harried. We also did a little bit of my daughter’s homework from school each day, and played many hands of her current favorite game, Shopkins Go Shopping.

We ended the week with a get-together with the families of two of my daughter’s school friends on Saturday evenings. They all came over to our house for a potluck dinner, and their daughters both spent the night at our house. It was our first time hosting more than one friend for a sleepover. Overall, it was fine, but they didn’t all finally pass out until just before midnight, and were all up just before 7am on Sunday. (These girls are all six or seven years old.) Whew!

What’s for Dinner at My House

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money. If some of the things on this week’s plan seem very familiar, it’s probably because I meant to make them last week or the week before, and for various reasons, didn’t get to them.

  • Monday: Leftovers from Saturday’s potluck
  • Tuesday: Risotto (from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Italian) with peas
  • Wednesday: Turkey taco salads
  • Thursday: BLATs (bacon, lettuce, avocado, tomato)
  • Friday: Waffle with berries
  • Saturday: Homemade mac and cheese (still need to select a recipe)
  • Sunday: Mother’s Day = No cooking for me!! (It also probably means take-out for dinner.)

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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Bringing Home More Bacon

Within three minutes, I can easily come up with a list of five or more projects I’d love for us to complete in the near future. Don’t believe me? Here’s what comes to mind:

  1. Refinishing the hardwood floors, at least in the most highly-trafficed areas. My daughter actually got a splinter from walking barefoot on the hardwood floors in one area!
  2. Redoing our deck, which is looking really rough. My husband has already had to replace several rotted boards.
  3. Replacing the carpet in our bedroom. My sweet Tony was wonderful in many ways, but at some point, he decided to stopped peeing in his litter box. I’ve probably used 25+ gallons on Nature’s Miracle on that carpet!
  4. Paving our driveway. I love the natural look of a gravel driveway, but not when the weeds start growing through the gravel in the summer. And snow-blowing gravel can be tricky.
  5. Painting the trim on our house, which is peeling in some spots that are nearly impossible to reach with standard ladders.
  6. Replacing our stone front walkway. When we moved in, there was just a ratty mulch path, and my husband found some (ugly) pavers/stones behind our house and used them to create a path. Several of the stones have literally disintegrated in spots from the snow melt I throw on the walk in the winter.

Some of these are more cosmetic, (painting the trim and replacing the front walk), than others. The deck is becoming a safety concern, since the boards become weak as they rot. Last year, one broke when my daughter was standing on it, and she fell down with her leg sticking through the floor of the deck. But the thing they all have in common is that they are going to be costly, some very costly. My husband is pretty handy and loves to do DIY projects, but he works full time, commutes almost an hour each way, and no matter how much he’d like to, he simply cannot pave our driveway on his own.

I work very part-time at a “real” job, so I’ve been doing various side hustles to increase my income for the past few years. (Our daughter is six, and we prefer that I be home to get her on the school bus in the morning, and off in the afternoon. As you can imagine, this schedule is incompatible with most jobs requiring more hours.)

To help pay down our debt faster and pay for the house projects, I’ve become focused on bringing in more money. I’ve settled on selling items online – mainly eBay, but also Craiglist and in Facebook groups – as my primary additional income stream. I’m doing a combination of selling unused items from our home, and dabbling in retail arbitrage. Despite netting $429 at last weekend’s children’s consignment sale, I still have some items that didn’t sell and I brought home. I’ll be putting most of them up on eBay. The same is true of some of my remaining inventory from my small business selling children’s books. And I’ve purchased some clothing items that were on deep clearance – like cute baby Christmas onesies for $1.99 at Gymboree – and will be selling them on eBay, too. There’s some risk with purchasing items to resell (“retail arbitrage”), but I’ve done a huge amount of research, and am proceeding cautiously. My plan is to achieve $1,000 or more in sales (on eBay, Craiglist, and Facebook) by Labor Day.

Do you sell on eBay, Craigslist, or Facebook? Do you have other side hustles?

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What’s For Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #16

Hi there! Another week, another tardy meal plan…

It’s spring break week from school here, which means I’m home all week with my daughter. It also means that regular activities are cancelled, presumably because many families travel during this week. For us this means, no ballet (Monday) or gymnastics (Saturday). Since my daughter is an only child and both wants and needs socialization on her days off, I’ve packed our week with free activities at the library, and playdates with some of her friends. Here’s what’s on our schedule:

  • Monday: Musical performance by children’s theater group at the library
  • Tuesday: Playdate at our house
  • Wednesday: Program with wildlife educator at the library, baking “butterfly cupcakes” from her Fairy Cooking cookbook.
  • Thursday: Playdate at our house, visit to my husband’s office and out to lunch with him.
  • Friday: Playdate at a friend’s house, trip to school playground to meet friends

I’m pretty proud of myself for putting together a schedule of free activities. I briefly considered signing my daughter up for an art camp and/or some cooking classes, but our library has a great schedule of free activities, and I knew that she’d really want to have playdates with her friends. Sometimes free really is better!

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. (I aim to publish these on Monday, but I fell short a little this week. Again.) I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money.

  • Monday: Leftover spicy peanut noodles
  • Tuesday: Pork ternderloin with stir-fried broccoli and jasmine rice
  • Wednesday: Veggie pot pie (recipe from April issue of Real Simple Magazine)
  • Thursday: Leftovers
  • Friday: Risotto with peas from Michael Chiarello’s Casual Cooking
  • Saturday: Leftover risotto
  • Sunday: Chicken cutlets with green salad

What’s for dinner at your house this week? Is is school break week where you are, too? If so, what’s on your schedule?

Frugal Real Food Meal Plans

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What’s for Dinner at My House: 2016 Meal Plan #15

Exciting News!!

I participated in a semi-annual children’s consignment sale this past weekend, where I typically earn about $100. I set a goal of earning $200 for this sale, and did much better than I expected. I netted $429 – woo hoo!! I sense an additional car loan payment coming…

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Also, I learned that the other part-time person in my office found another job, and will no longer be working in my office. I checked with my boss, and he’ll probably have me go back to working three days a week next (academic) year. It won’t be a tremendous increase in earnings, but every little bit helps!

This Week’s Meal Plan

One of my goals for 2016 is to create and publish a dinner meal plan every week. (I aim to publish these on Monday, but I fell short a little this week.) I enjoy neither cooking, nor meal planning, so I’ve found that having a meal plan is a great way to save my sanity, time, and money.

I’m a wee bit tardy in sharing creating this week’s meal plan, so Monday’s and Tuesday’s dinners are what we actually had.

  • Monday (ballet until 6pm): Plain, old pasta with cheese and raw veggies
  • Tuesday: Takeout pizza with raw veggies (Please don’t judge me!)
  • Wednesday: Leftover pizza
  • Thursday: Pork tenderloin with asparagus and rice
  • Friday: Chicken cutlets with roasted broccoli (Chicken cutlets are my husband’s favorite! I hate pan-frying, so they’re a labor of love for me.)
  • Saturday: Leftover cutlets and raw veggies
  • Sunday: Shrimp and veggie stir fry with rice

What’s for dinner at your house this week?

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