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Archive for March, 2014

Line Drying, Library for Movie Rentals, New Recipe, Political Giving

March 30th, 2014 at 03:09 pm

Some things on my mind:

1. I can no longer hang D's clothes outside on the line to dry because of his allergies (which cause the vertigo). I only very rarely use our dryer, so I have to hang them in the laundry room instead (they take longer to dry there, but that's not a very big deal - we do live in the land of zero humidity, so it's only 2 days instead of 2 hours). Our sheets are another story. I am not supposed to hang those outside in the Spring either, so the plan is to hang them in the laundry room across several hangers and then get the last of the dampness out with 10 mins. in the dryer. Not using the dryer is not only a financial issue for me, but also an environmental one. But my husband's health comes first, obviously!

2. I rented the Last Exotic Marigold Hotel from the library. Cost: $0. We've wanted to watch it for a while. Since I can easily wait to see movies, the library is a really good option.

3. Trying a new recipe tonight, a penne and sausage bake that I saw here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/food/recipes/penne_and_sausage_pasta_3094. It's not my most frugal ($8 for the three of us for dinner, not sure if it'll create any leftovers), but good for a "meat" night. I'm using chicken sausage since we don't eat pork.

4. We went to a house party today for one of our gubernatorial candidates. I really loved what he had to say, and he was smart and eloquent. His wife is an architect (how could I not like him, right?). But I didn't give any money for two reasons: I do a lot of public work, and I have to declare campaign contributions on my proposals. I won't give money because you never know when my political preferences might alienate potential clients. And secondly, when I give money, I like to give it to charitable organizations. On the other hand, if he gets the nomination, I will gladly give my time as a volunteer to help him get elected.

This is what the EF is for...

March 28th, 2014 at 11:43 am

I am home today recovering from a very minor, simple surgical procedure I had to have (I won't go into it, but it took about 10 mins). Actually I'm recovering from the anesthesia (I got IV sedation rather than be put to sleep which freaks me out); the thing was so minor I don't even have any pain.

Anyway, I was at the surgery center (my dr. wouldn't do it in his office; I asked) for 2 1/2 hours total, and as I said the procedure was just 10 minutes. And the bill? It's going to be about $2900. I knew this ahead of time. Yes, I have insurance; my deductible is $2500, the rest is insurance co-pay (so you can imagine how much the real bill is).

We have the money to pay it, due to the EF, but I am going to ask for an itemized bill anyway. I am also going to call my insurance company and ask if they have arranged a price for something like this since they often do. And I am rearranging our budget, putting underspend categories into the medical "bucket" so we can minimize the hit to the EF.

Any other ideas? Or just pay it and be thankful I have insurance?

The Teacher Thing Again

March 26th, 2014 at 10:29 am

F started the week with her new teacher, and so far she's not thrilled. I think the new teacher is really nice (and nice goes a long way for me, better than really mean!). But F says she's not challenging enough.

The spelling words were "too easy" and there weren't enough (used to be 15 per week, now 10). F actually made me call her friend's mom to make sure that they had the same words; she was convinced that she somehow got the easy word list. (There is a small group of them who get challenge words rather than the regular words, but I think this week the whole class has the same list).

Soooo... I had to talk to the teacher this morning who looked shocked that F thought the words were too easy. I didn't tell her that F was screaming at me on Monday: "Purpose! Who doesn't know how to spell purpose?!! And injustice! We had that word in second grade!"

She yells with me, but with the teacher she's completely non-confrontational. Actually, I spoke to the teacher specifically because yesterday in school she'd asked F if the words were too hard, and F was too shy to say the opposite. I asked her what she did say, and she told me "Mommy, I just stood there. I didn't say anything, because I didn't want to hurt her feelings."

I told F we should see how the words are next week, and then maybe have another discussion.

I suspect that maybe it's easier for the teacher, being new, to just have one list of words. But my husband makes this point: we don't pay all this money for a private school to have it be easy for the teacher; we pay for things to be somewhat individualized and we go to this school specifically so that our daughter is challenged.

Snowflake and My Yummy Lunch

March 25th, 2014 at 12:17 pm

I got paid by the gym yesterday: $60. So that's another snowflake to the mortgage. And I'm happy to see that my gym pay has gone up $10 each month for the past few months. I used to get about $25 or $30.

This means I'll have $210 to put toward mortgage principal at the beginning of next month.

I'm home from the office right now; I came home from lunch, and to start dinner (it's in the crockpot). So I was able to make a hot lunch (which is nearly done cooking). I'm having an artichoke. I love artichokes, and have since I was a kid; so glad they're coming back in season and are on sale right now! I'll have it with a piece of cinnamon raisin toast and some fruit. This is much nicer than the lunches I bring to work!

A Weird Car Thing I Have to Fix

March 24th, 2014 at 03:35 pm

I only fix things on my car that I have to fix. When Nissan told me my fuel gauge may be on its way out, I decided just to track my mileage and not go too many miles rather than spend $700. Seriously - $700?!

But there is now a problem I absolutely have to fix. I've made an appointment for next Monday. I wonder how much this will cost.

Here is the problem:

- I can't get the passenger side door open. My key clicker won't unlock it. The door unlocker inside the car won't unlock it. And here is the weird thing - I can't even pry the door lock open physically. I mean that is the failsafe, the easy way to open the door from the inside; it's a safety thing to be able to unlock your door, right?
- Oh - and the trunk is also locked and I can't get it open either.
- And there's stuff in there. I can kind of remember what the stuff is, and if I really need it, my car is a hatchback so I can let down one of the seats and pull stuff out.

I am slightly concerned that the other doors are going to stick shut, too, and I am afraid to leave the dog in the car for even a second while I pick up F from school, just in case she's locked inside.

And what if I'm somewhere, and I can't get the doors to unlock and therefore can't get home? (These are the times I'm glad I live in a small town where we're never far from anything, and a friend could just pick me up. But still...)

And if I haven't vented enough... we found out yesterday our good friends (remember my friend C who just got a job at a non-profit?) bought a new used car (it's a year or so old Mini Cooper S). I'm not jealous. I don't want a new car. I don't want a more expensive car. I just want my car to open!!

OK, now I've definitely vented enough.

I am going to take F to piano lessons and hope we don't get stuck there!

A Frugal Grocery Week

March 23rd, 2014 at 01:44 pm

Thankfully it's a frugal grocery week.

We're having:
- tuna melts
- mexican eggs and spinach
- pasta with courgettes and goat cheese
- asian meatballs over rice
- italian soup with ground turkey (crockpot) - this will make about 4 meals (we'll put three in the freezer)
- tamales out of the freezer and salad
- and tonight we're going to F's friend's house for kids and adult party (two of her friends have birthdays - both boys - that are just a few days apart, so they often have a celebration together)

Now I just have to work out what we're having on which nights. Soccer has started again, which means that on soccer nights we need to having something easy. (That is the mexican eggs, crockpot things, something from the freezer).
Monday - piano (we get back at about 5:45)
Wednesday - soccer practice (we get back late - like 7:30)
Friday - soccer practice (7:30 again!)

It's a juggling act, isn't it? But it is absolutely a requirement for me to have a nice meal as a family.

The grocery shopping came to $88.41
- dinner ingredients $35
- lunch ingredients $20
- fruit $6
- staples $11
- breakfast staples $13
- dessert items $3

OK, need to go wrap birthday gifts and play a game with F.

Back from Spring Break

March 23rd, 2014 at 08:36 am

For a week I didn't do any work, and I didn't work on my financial spreadsheets or track anything or stress about things.

We went to California last Saturday, and D flew home on Monday, but F and I stayed for the week, and then went home on the train (Southwest Chief).

We had so much fun! My parents were really wonderful; they didn't want us to pay for anything! They took us to miniature golf, and my mom bought tickets for Disneyland (I treated F to meals - spent a total of $98 there (including parking and food; we didn't buy any souvenirs - that place is expensive!).

My dad wanted to go down to see the USS Iowa (in San Pedro); he used to be in the Navy. That turned out to be a really cool experience, and again, my parents treated. They took us out to lunch afterward. F and I also went to the Getty Center (which is free - you only pay for parking, but since my parents live nearby, they just dropped us off). My mom also bought F a couple of new shirts and leggings and socks.



The only way I could pay them back was to cook for them and do the dishes, etc. I helped my mom pick out a new countertop for the kitchen and fixed the rattling noise coming from the refrigerator.

We spent the rest of the time relaxing and going in my parents' pool.

It was a great week, and now I'm back to the usual. Spent the morning vacuuming, put in a load of laundry and I need to do the weekly food shop later in the day.

Will write more about the train later. And also a report on D's allergies.

No New Clothing (Sort of)

March 14th, 2014 at 12:31 pm

I've been very good about not buying any new clothing (after my determination in December that I have more than enough clothes already).

I can't say I wasn't tempted by some of the sales in early February, but I didn't buy anything.

However, I did finish this cardigan that was on the needles, so I get a new sweater.

I had to borrow my friend's wooly board (that's the wooden contraption that it's sitting on) in order to stretch it a little bit. I so want a wooly board, but it's about $100. I am going to look in craigslist and ebay to see if someone is selling one used for less.

Anyway, hopefully the cardi is big enough now (I must have knitted tightly!).

PS - yarn was purchased last year (yarn comes out of my knitting budget - yes, I budget for knitting!) and was about $30 (maybe a little less); it's a very soft wool/acrylic.

Some Thoughts on Lifestyle

March 12th, 2014 at 06:35 pm

I am so excited for my friend C - she has been looking for a really long time for a not-full-time job, and finally found one with a great non-profit here in town. I personally wish there would be more part-time jobs for people like me and C who want to drop our kids off at school and pick them up and hang out with them while they do their homework, etc. (This is one of the main reasons I opted to start my own firm rather than work for someone else; I work about 6 hours a day plus about an hour more at home and maybe a few weekend hours).

Anyway, C's husband makes alone what D and I do combined. But they really needed her income because they can't make it on his alone. She used to ask me how we made it on the amount we make, because from the outside our lifestyles are remarkably similar.

We both have one daughter, and they both go to the same private school. We both live in nice houses. We both have cars made in this century. We both eat good, fresh usually organic food that we make ourselves, and neither family eats out very often. We love potlucks and hanging out with friends. We belonged to the same pool last summer. Our daughters both do a few activities after school; both girls take piano. We all have masters degrees (all four parents); C has a PhD. We all like to exercise and hike (this is a beautiful place to hike). We'd all be making a lot more in a different city (ours is known for low pay) but we'd probably have to spend more, too.

There are two really big differences in our lifestyle that account for their need for more income:
- Their mortgage is about double what ours is. This was mostly lucky timing on our part (and some sweat equity! and of course I didn't have to pay for an architect to draw up plans!). Their house is smaller, but it's in a slightly more high-end neighborhood.
- Everything we own, they have the upgraded/fancier equivalent. This goes for food (we shop at Trader Joe's and they shop at Whole Foods), cars (us - Nissan and VW, them - Audi), barbecues (they have that egg thing), art (we have photos that D took and some 20x200's)... and of course their neighborhood. C's husband believes in having the best of everything.

I don't know how I feel about all of this. I do think it's nice to have nice things. Sometimes you just can't afford it. Sometimes you have to be content with what you can afford. Sometimes you can spend more on something you'll have forever. Sometimes it's hard not to be able to buy exactly what you want.

I think that is the essence of budgeting; there are sacrifices (some are easy and some are hard) and some things you won't compromise on.

Work on the Office and other Stuff

March 11th, 2014 at 11:52 am

We've worked hard on the new counter in our office kitchen (that is me and my office-mate J). Nearly done. I just need to paint some edges and caulk. Michaels had the paint on sale, just over $1 each. That's a business expense, but I still try to keep my business expenses as low as possible. Which is probably why I'm still in business even though I'm an architect (and many of my colleagues are really struggling).

Other stuff: Discretionary spending is way down. I think it's the act of tracking it that helps. We always tracked every dime we spend, but looking at discretionary spending on a day-by-day basis is a different thing.

More other stuff: We are going to California to visit my parents. We leave on Saturday. Staying with my parents allows us to do things we couldn't afford if we also had to pay for a hotel. And my mother got Disneyland tickets for me and F (D comes back home on Monday, so this will just be a mother-daughter thing). We've been to Disneyland a lot. It's great to be able to spend the day there, and still come home to Grandma and Grandpa at the end of the day. We are also planning on mini-golf and maybe a horse ride (F is a really good rider) in Griffith Park.

Even more other stuff: My mother has asked for me to send her a grocery shopping list. See? This is way better than a hotel!

Can you have too many books?

March 9th, 2014 at 09:44 am

When we were married, we marveled that we had only one book in common (it was a Douglas Coupland book - I actually despised that book so not sure why I still owned it; I've since gotten rid of my redundant copy).

When D and I moved back to the US, he sent over a partial shipping container; it contained a lot of books! (and some other stuff, but there really were a lot of books).

I don't remember when I stopped buying books and instead borrowed them from the library. D still buys books (and likes to receive them as gifts), and he won't part with books he already owns.

I think you CAN have too many books. Look at our bookshelves - wow! I dust the books every week. And I just did a mega-dust where I took every book off and dusted behind them. And aside from our reference books (one shelf) and photobooks we've had made, we rarely open those books at all. I'd also rather walk by the shelves and see only my favorites - and I do have favorites that I would never part with! (Jasper Fforde, Kate Atkinson, Milagro Beanfield War, One Hundred Years of Solitude).



So I have decided to select one book a week to sell (http://www.amazon.com/gp/seller/sell-your-stuff.html?ld=AZSOATEXTJOINT) or donate to the library.

We used to do PaperbackSwap (which is brilliant if you want another book to come into your life to replace the book you just got rid of. That was my first step to forgoing new books altogether and just visiting the library).

Book no. 1 - Animal Dreams (Barbara Kingsolver). I really loved her book The Bean Trees. I didn't love Animal Dreams, but I bought it and kept it. I am now selling it for $1 over shipping costs. It's not much, but it'd be another snowflake, right?

When I think about the money I wasted buying books I feel slightly ill.

Meal Plan and No Spend Days Last Week

March 8th, 2014 at 01:05 pm

Our meal plan for the week is intended to use up some food that's already in the fridge, since we are leaving next Saturday to visit my parents in California. (Yay! It's going to be about 80 deg. and since it snowed here today, we're pretty excited!).

Potato pancakes and salad
Tilapia with paprika and curry powder and asparagus
Something out of the freezer (probably chicken black bean corn salsa stew)
Grilled cheese with tomato soup
Chicken tacos and guacamole
Pasta with butter and parmesan with peas

We need to have a little food left for D for the following week since he returns on Monday (F and I are staying longer and returning on the train the following Friday). I will be sure to update you on that!

No Spend Days
So this past week I not only kept track of our No Spend Days (discretionary spending), but also kept track of the triggers that caused spending (and the situations where I didn't spend).

Sunday - NSD
what I did to avoid spending: stayed at home in the morning “hanging out” with the family and doing chores, met friends for tennis in the afternoon (free!)

Monday - NSD
what I did to avoid spending: worked hard, brought a Luna bar to avoid sweets craving (peanut cookie flavor - yuck!)

Tuesday - went to the rolfer (I have an appt. every other month)
what I did to avoid discretionary spending: didn’t enter any shops, brought a Luna bar again (this time coconut with chocolate - yuck, again)

Wednesday - gelato $7
spending trigger - promise to F that we'd get a treat. I wasn't going to get a gelato, too, but they had my favorite flavor (honey) - grrr!

Thursday - NSD
what I did to avoid spending - F has an afterschool class, so there was no time to go to a store

Friday - bought lunch at a local supermarket for me and F (goes into grocery budget, but just should have made something at home)
spending trigger - hunger! not having enough time to eat lunch before F’s friend arrived! store is on the way home! Basically I wouldn't have stopped if it was just me, but wanted the treat for F.

Saturday - NSD (just groceries)
what I did to avoid spending - went to the grocery store after eating, so not hungry for "extras" - went to the library to get books for F, stopped by the office, went home to clean house. Too busy for discretionary spending!

Not Getting Much Finished Today

March 7th, 2014 at 12:42 pm

It's a no-school day (parent teacher conferences) and things are not getting done. Here is a list of what I have started but not completed:

- The laundry - sheets are sitting wet in the washing machine. At least they're clean; need to hang them.

- Office kitchen - did an hour's work on it - got a lot of the construction waste tossed, cut the countertops and one backsplash, sink cut-out done (but we still need to install the countertops, put in the backsplash, patch/touch up paint, install sink, caulk and clean up).

- D's Birthday Plans - started his card (which I am doing as a "Design-your-own Birthday" - he'll get to choose different options for breakfast, etc.). But not done, and I'm running out of steam (and ideas).

- Chocolate Cake - I promised this to F. Need to go downstairs and just DO IT - it won't take very long. Procrastinating.

- Taxes - This one isn't my fault. Turbo tax is still missing a form. Otherwise, I'm ready to file.

- Check - There was a check that arrived when we got to the office, and I meant to take it with me to deposit. And I forgot it. Oops. While I was at the bank I was going to pay down the mortgage principal with the $205 D made on the side last month. It's popcorn day at the bank.

- Library - this was on the to-do list since a book came in that I'd requested for F; but the countertop took longer than expected. So we didn't get to this.

- Post Office - Also didn't get to the post office for the same reason. Should have left the house earlier this morning!

OK, now that F's friend is over, I am going to stop procrastinating and get something FINISHED!

Extra Income

March 6th, 2014 at 08:51 am

Since D started his real job (an an employee, no more self-employment!) in the autumn, he's had a few side jobs. Some are photography, some are small web design/updates.

When he makes any money through self employment, he puts a little bit in his business account (which he still has), 20% in our "taxes" account (from which we pay our estimated taxes) and the rest in our personal account.

I haven't done anything with the money. When he was self employed, his income was up and down, so I just left it in the account and took another look at the end of the year. I was used to leaving the money in the account because it all just averaged out to his yearly income.

But now he has a steady income, so the side jobs are all extra. How did I not realize this?

Since January, he has deposited $120 and $85 into our personal account. I talked with him last night, and he said "Put it toward the mortgage!" Yes!

So I get to make another principal payment this month. And he just did another little side job, so there will be more coming in. This is significant money compared to the piddly money I get from the gym each month.

I was talking to the woman I go to for rolfing (rolfing, by the way, is the best thing that ever happened to me, but that's another story). She and I are on the same page on lots of subjects, and I just found out that she paid off her mortgage a few years ago. She's about two years older than I am. I am so happy for her! She said that some people advised her not to do it, but that the piece of mind has been so worth it. Talking to her made me feel even more strongly about getting the mortgage paid off. (Although I still want to put money in our Roths, so it'll be a little more slowly than the way she did it).

What we are now paying toward principal:
- $150/month from our regular income
- gym money (last month it was $50)
- David's side income (probably averages $100/month)
- anything I sell on Craigslist and any other misc.

Summer Camp

March 4th, 2014 at 03:47 pm

I've signed up and paid for the last of F's summer camps. Our budget for camp is $1500, but we've paid $1057, and it looks like her summer is as full as we want it to be. I'm going to keep the additional money in the budget, but it looks like we're over $400 ahead!

She'll have two weeks off with no camp, then camp for two weeks, then the next week off, then three weeks of camp, then our trip to the UK, then another week and a half off before school starts.

That's 4 1/2 weeks off with no camp, which is great - we can go hang out at the pool together, do some road trips around the state, go to Albuquerque and play mini-golf...

I got a $10 discount for signing up early for one of the camps. And we are probably going to host a counselor for one of the other camps. We have to make them food, but we get $80 for a food stipend.

Got Tuition Assistance!

March 3rd, 2014 at 03:29 pm

We are so relieved! We heard from the school that we are getting about 17% off of tuition. Also, when you have tuition assistance, you get the after school classes for half off (F will probably want to do Geography Club again in the Fall). And... we can choose the monthly payment option without having to pay a convenience fee.

I wrote a very short thank you email. Should I write a note, too?

There is an annual gala to benefit tuition assistance. We didn't go last year, but this year it's much more casual (theme is Western), and tickets are massively reduced for people on tuition assistance so that everyone can go. The year before was a bit of a shock (I couldn't believe that things were being auctioned off for thousands of dollars). But I'm glad because that's where our tuition assistance money comes from!

I think we'll go this year. The ticket price will come out of our dining out budget. Just have to check with my close friend to see if she can babysit for the evening.

Two-for-One at Sprouts Market

March 2nd, 2014 at 05:34 pm

Tonight it's Baker's Wife Potatoes - new recipe; I'll let you know how it turns out. It's a pretty frugal recipe, just potatoes, onion, salt/pepper, some sage (which I have in the freezer from the summer garden), a little parmesan and some veg stock, so I hope it's good.

The meal plan for the week (each meal feeds three of us):
baker's wife potatoes with asparagus ($4)
quesadillas with guacamole ($7.66)
homemade pizza ($8)
black bean salsa chicken ($9 - but we will get three to four meals out of this!)
risotto with sundried tomatoes/goat cheese/spinach - D makes this, but I promise I will get the recipe!
very, very sweet salmon with broccoli ($9)
homemade tamales from the freezer with a salad (? - $1 for the salad)

I spent $111 on groceries, but that's because of the two-for-ones at Sprouts Market. I stocked up on chocolate bars (I keep them in the drawer and have a square after dinner) and Luna bars and some other stuff like tea.

- dinner ingredients $35
- lunch ingredients $26
- fruit $4.50
- staples $12
- breakfast items $18
- dessert ingredients $16 (all those chocolate bars and luna bars!)

The weekend dessert this week was Crostata (this is a long story, but basically, I had an Italian friend call a little town in Italy to get this recipe; I make it gluten free. It is amazing, and the whole family ate it all up in a few hours time).