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Archive for July, 2013

Finished Fire Station

July 20th, 2013 at 02:56 am

I promised to post a few photos of the fire station I just finished... So here they are:





I still have one more meeting with the City and a tiny bit of work left to do (wrapping things up, giving the City some final documents) and then I can send the final bill!

Pre-Vacation Planning

July 20th, 2013 at 02:53 am

We are leaving on vacation on Sunday, so today was the "get everything done at work" day and tomorrow is "get everything done at home."

Both low cost days:

- Today: bought shelf brackets for F's new pig shelf (this is a shelf to display her many pig things - she loves pigs) - I have random wood in the garage, so I cut/sanded/painted and attached brackets, then put it up between camp pickup and the final Circus Camp performance. Camp performance was, of course, free - but I would have paid to see it! The kids were amazing and learned so much in two weeks! (unicycling, trapeze, clowning, stiltwalking, acrobatics, fabric, shadow puppets).

- Tomorrow: F's friend is coming for a playdate. She belongs to the same pool, so we might head over there. Although the weather has been rainy! It rained all afternoon. Not pool weather. Anyway, the playdate means D and I have time to finish up a little work, one last load of laundry (I hate coming home from vacation to laundry I didn't do before I left), pack, print the petsitting instructions for our friends who are popping in on our cat. Also pack lunches to take with us so we don't have to get expensive airport food.

Our vacation will mean it's not exactly a frugal month, but we're doing everything we can to make sure our trip is more about the experiences than about spending money!

Hard Day at Work, Stupid Tile, Confused Clients

July 19th, 2013 at 06:39 am

It's after midnight and I can't sleep - argh!

I am very nearly finished with the history display for a local hotel, and as I was working on it another client called.

The building I designed for him is a fire station, and the firefighters want the tile in the bathroom extended. He was asking me if I would pay for it out of my errors and omissions insurance! Huh? I asked what the error or omission was, and he said they don't have any more money in the project to pay for the tile. So I asked again what I did wrong... apparently I "left out" the additional tile that they now want. (He did understand that it was not something they asked for during design). And, "we don't have any more money for the project; who is going to pay for the tile?"

I've never had an errors and omissions claim, and even though this is additional and not an error or omission, I will end up paying for the tile rather than have it go to a claim.

I think that's why I can't sleep.

But the history window will be finished tomorrow, which is what I promised. Maybe the money I made on that project will pay for the tile?

It sort of makes me sick to think of it.

Also - just venting here - I think sometimes my clients, because I am female, think that I can't possibly be the primary earner in my family, and that what I make is extra and therefore expendable (which I gather from comments they make, that are meant to be funny, but seem like kidding on the sly: "why don't you have your husband buy you a new [car/clothes/whatever].

This same client was very complimentary about the extra work I put into the project during construction (with a difficult contractor) - with no extra compensation, though. I asked for some of the contractor's liquidated damage money, so maybe we can just trade that out for their tile.

(You know, they even asked me why there were no paintings or posters as part of my plans, and were suspicious when I explained that architects don't provide things like that...)

OK, I'm done ranting; I'm going to go to bed now!!

More Free Summer Entertainment

July 18th, 2013 at 03:21 am

The weather has been kind of bleh, but we still went up to Music on the Hill for some free music and hanging out with friends.

Our cobbled-together picnic came out really well, so I need to note what we brought for future reference!
- salad with the end of a cucumber, some turkey, sunflower seeds
- leftover veggies and hummus
- chips and salsa
- homemade chocolate chip cookies Yum!
- brought a plum, too, but we didn't eat it
- bottle with half apple juice/half water which we shared (poured into cups)

Total cost: $0

There are more zero-cost activities coming later in the summer and fall... glad to live somewhere there is so much going on!!

I did spend $8 today at Petco (we got a lot of stuff for the fish tank including a siphon so I could clean the tank out, but we used my Petco coupons). F's fish Fire died this morning, and it turned out it might have been an ammonia problem. So we also got some drops to add to neutralize that.

Self-Employment

July 16th, 2013 at 03:48 pm

The economy is still pretty slow for construction and building here so I don't have that "one big project" which will keep me going for a year or two. I'd come to sort of expect that type of project... about $3 million construction cost with a two year timeline from design through construction.

Still - I'm happy that I do have work, even if it's smaller projects (but more of them).

Right now:
- just got a fire station renovation/addition - our kickoff meeting is Thursday! - about $350,000 construction cost
- finishing up construction on two other fire stations
- did a little bit of work for the Community Art Gallery - about $500 fee - need to bill this at the end of the month
- picked up some work for a local hotel - today I am doing a history display for them (it's a historic hotel)

And of course I'm always looking for more work!

I pay myself a steady wage from my business rather than just taking out money randomly, which helps me budget on a personal level and means that the business has money to pay me even when I'm not billing a lot (since the money stays in the business account). It's a small wage, and I also take a distribution. (Business income is reported on a Schedule K).

My husband reports on a schedule C (he's also self-employed) and he also moves a set amount each month from his business account to our personal account.

I wonder, though, if I'll ever feel comfortable giving myself a raise given the unsteady economy... I guess since we can live comfortably on what we pay ourselves, we don't need to worry about raises. It's just a morale thing.

Busy Weekend = Random Spending

July 16th, 2013 at 02:52 am

Well, Folk Art Market is over. Phew! It was great, though. On Saturday alone 7,000 people attended and the artists made $1.37 million. My 26 volunteers were amazing; I'm so proud!

I worked so hard. My legs were sore, and then I had to sub for a friend's exercise class today (even more sore!).

The downside was that the spending was erratic and not what we'd normally do on a weekend. I bought a few things at Folk Art Market (within my budget) on Friday night, but then spent another $20 on these gorgeous crane-shaped scissors from Uzbekistan for my knitting.

We knew we'd have at least some food/dining out expenses because I was at Market most of the day on Saturday and all day Sunday. All in all we spent probably $30 total on lunch, a big juice and a snow-cone.

Our tickets were free, and we took advantage of the free entertainment, taking F to do the kids' passport program (where kids go to the artists to get flag stickers from each country) and listening to the music.

And as a Chair of a volunteer group, I got to attend the big dinner last night (free dinner!) and both D and I got dinner on Friday night at Market.

Our weekend spending was balanced out by an unusually low grocery bill. We leave on vacation on Sunday, so I'm keeping the meals simple and cheap!! Here's the plan:
- socca (chickpea flour pancake with courgettes and basil from the garden)
- Mexican scrambled eggs and salad
- hot dogs at the pool with corn on the cob
- general tso's chicken and chinese cabbage
- homemade pizza (sauce and mozzarella are in the freezer)
- stuff (picnic style! mish-mash! whatever!) to take Music on the Hill

Extra Volunteering

July 13th, 2013 at 02:20 pm

I haven't posted a lot because it's Folk Art Market weekend. I am the Chair of a committee, in charge of 24 volunteers, so I've been pretty busy!

Last night was the Opening Party - $175 a ticket, but as a Chair I get to go for free (and my husband gets a press pass because he does a lot of photography for them). It was like date night (F was a at a friend's house)! The food was really nice, so we had dinner. (But first I checked in with my volunteers).

The shifts that were difficult to fill were the Sunday shifts, so that's when I'll be filling in... need to preserve my voice until then! Today I have to relieve someone who has a double shift for about an hour.

(I did buy a few things, but I stuck with my budget!).

Sunday is kids' day - we'll bring F to the Market to meet the artists and listen to music. Sunday night the Chairs get to go to a party with the artists... so besides my purchases, a weekend of hard work and free entertainment!

Made me think that if we're visiting a city and going to a festival like this, it might be worth seeing if we can volunteer (we have a lot of out-of-town volunteers) for a free ticket and a rewarding experience!

Weekly Recap and Craigslist Woes

July 8th, 2013 at 04:45 am

This week was ok in terms of spending/savings. I put $44 into the 52-week challenge.

It was a low-cost weekend...
- went to the pool twice ($0)
- held the training session for my volunteers for the Folk Art Market (bought some pastries and grapes, but they didn't eat much, so that will be breakfast for D and F, and the grocery bill was still in budget)
- went to a book launch for a book that D's photographs were in this evening ($0 and some yummy food)
- got pizza (this is the only time we're eating out until we're on our trip - $26)

I already finished the declutter tasks for the week (removing crumbs from the toaster, cleaning the microwave)

The meal plan this week:
- bready/cheesy: quesaillas, guacamole
- eggy/potatoey: crash potatoes and broccoli
- chickeny: chicken sausage, rice, corn on the cob
- fishy: home-made sushi with cucumber/shrimp/avocado
- pasta-ish: penne with goat cheese/bacon/peas
- something from the freezer with a salad

We are down to $84,179 on the mortgage (our only debt).

I am trying to sell some things on Craigslist. The first time I listed them, I got an error when I tried to reply to the people who were interested (I had people interested in both items). So I put in the ad to leave a phone number when they responded, but this time only one person was interested in one item. And we arranged to meet, but she canceled last minute and said she'd reconnect next Fri if it's still available. Ugh. I guess I'll lower the price on the other item. These items are really too good to sell at the garage sale, but I will if I have to...

Our Irish House - new interest rate, ugh

July 4th, 2013 at 07:33 pm

We just got notice that they are raising the interest rate on the mortgage for our house in Dublin to 4.4%. Ugh. It makes me kind of sad, not for us, because we'll own the house in 2015, but for other people in Ireland, many of whom are upside-down on their mortgages. I don't understand why interest rates are going up with the economy the way it is.

Anyway, here is the calculation (this is all in euro):
Incoming:
rent - 1200

Outgoing:
mortgage - 452
life insurance - 54 (646/year)
neighborhood management fee - 23 (270/year)
prop. insurance - 64 (770/year)
taxes - 234 (2800/year)
second home charge - 17 (200/year)
new property tax - 42 (495/year)

Net:
314 per month (we save this for repairs and for money to use when we are in Europe)

When we own the house we'll have an extra 508 euro that we can use to pay down the principal on our US house.

I should mention that we didn't intend to have investment real estate... when I met D he had the Dublin house and I had the house here. So we ended up with two houses, and have lived in one (and rented out the other) since we got married. First we rented out this house, now we rent out the Dublin house (to friends).

Our Budget Priorities - Tuition

July 3rd, 2013 at 01:33 am

I just worked out that 15% of our spending is for tuition to F's school (and this takes into account the financial aid we receive). I am probably opening up a can of worms discussing this, but I am ok with paying for school. The public schools where we live are not good (there are a few ok elementary schools and everyone asks for a transfer). There are other reasons I won't go into. Trust me - for us and for F, her school is worth every penny.

Anyway, the problem is not paying this tuition, it's being able to save with this large fixed bill as part of our budget. We've done so much to tighten up in other areas in order to save.

We could probably do more.

Our other huge expense is the trip we make to England every other year. If we don't go, F doesn't get to see her grandparents, aunt, uncle and cousins. And D doesn't get to see his parents, sister, nephews and niece. I earmark money each month for this expense, and we use the profit (which is not that much) from the rent on our house in Ireland when we are over there so we just have to buy plane tickets (I gather as many credit card travel points as I can to offset the cost).

I feel like rather than some formula, spending is really individual. We buy private school and trips to see D's family because those are priorities for us. And we do without other things some people would think are priorities.

Do you have non-negotiable expenses like this?

A New Helper at the Office

July 3rd, 2013 at 12:22 am

Since F is not in any camps this week (I set a camp budget and stuck to it, so she can't go every week) she is helping me out at the office. I told her I'd pay her $3 an hour, and she's worked 3 1/2 hours so far. At the end of the week we'll go to our bank (a great local bank) and open an account for her with this and some of the money she's saved up that is stuffed in a drawer in her dresser.

She's a very hard worker, and I really need the help (ironically, I need the help because she's not in camp, and my work hours are limited).

She works in the morning, and at lunch both days, we've brought a picnic. On Monday we ate on the Plaza and listened to the lunchtime music. Then we went to the pool for a quick afternoon swim. (Cost - $0)

Today we got to work earlier, and our wonderful neighbor came by and took F to the gelato place (this outing was her birthday gift to F). When she came back we worked a little more, brought our picnic to the park next to the Cathedral, then walked down to the Five and Dime and bought candy bars. After lunch we met her second grade teacher (who is now my friend) and her son (who will be in 5th grade next year) for a hike. (Cost: $2 for candy bars)

They've closed the National Forests, so we hiked a trail I haven't done before, and it was amazing. We had a great view of the city and the watershed.

We have to conserve money this month because we're going on vacation later in July, and I know we'll be eating out more and there will be admissions fees to things... I'd rather spend money on experiences like that than on day-to-day stuff.

June Review

July 2nd, 2013 at 02:24 am

June was a good month!

Our spending was lower than last year, and our savings were higher.

- earnings - up 16% (because D is now putting in the same amount each month from his business account
- spending - down 10%
- savings - up 188% (yay!)

June is a difficult month for me (mentally) because that is when we pay our $600 annual homeowner's association dues. I set aside $50/month so it's not a financial issue. It's just that I've watched the dues double since I moved her 14 years ago, and it's hard to see what they spend the money on (some snow removal, some landscape trimming, but not much else).

I have stuck to our budget for camp, and our plans for frugal fun (so that we can go on a vacation) and it's been a GREAT summer so far!