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November and Future Trip

November 18th, 2019 at 07:19 pm

Hi! I feel really bad that I haven't written anything in a while. I've been saving money and spending money, still sticking with my budget.

I have developed a spreadsheet that works really well. It's based on YNAB, but I ended up divorcing YNAB for two reasons (that you couldn't carry over a negative balance and that it was expensive!). I still have buckets and every dollar has a job.

The thing I am saving for now is: college. It's not that far off (F is in 9th). So I'm putting all of our extra in there, plus $230/month from our budget.

We also have a big vacation planned for March: we are going to Ireland (to see family and friends) but stopping in Iceland for 5 days on the way back. The tickets were $1714 total for all three of us out of Denver and I had purchase eraser rewards, so in the end $1264. We have to drive to Denver. The 5 day layover in Iceland is free! I am spending a little extra because we have to buy some clothes (long underwear! Sorel-like boots) where there are gaps in our wardrobes.

So the key buy of the week were Aleader boots - they are cute, super warm and mine were $50. They look like Sorels; I can't wait to try these out this winter here in New Mexico - it's supposed to snow this Thursday, actually.

Other savings:
- I got at $10 credit for Amazon from Whole Foods
- I got a $25 gift certificate from Swagbucks
- I got a $13 Big Fat Check from Rakuten
- I bought Hannukah candles online for $4 as opposed to getting them from Whole Foods which is the only place that carries them here ($11!!!!!)
- I am knitting a cute little ball for my baby nephew for Christmas rather than buying more plastic stuff
- I am still making money teaching at a gym (and I've added running to my exercise routine - doing a 5k and also a shorter run each week; there is a nice track near our house at a local elementary school).

Thinking about Banking Differently

March 19th, 2019 at 09:16 am

So it's Spring Break!! D had to go to the UK to see his parents, but there wasn't enough for all three of us to go, and F has soccer and track anyway, so she and I are having a staycation.

Try explaining that to my clients, though! I've had to do at least some work every day. Thankfully, I can do some work while F is at practice. And she is also working on a musical about the suffrage movement (no, not for school; yes, she is a super focused person), so I try to do work while she's doing that.

I still haven't finished our taxes (I probably have one more hour to finish up - grrrrr).

And I am trying to figure out a workable banking system for us. My local bank is being bought by another bank, and I am seeing some really annoying changes. I have a business online account with Barclays and personal accounts with Capital One 360. I am thinking of opening an account with HBSC because they have an opening bonus, sweep money into there to earn some interest, and then using it to move money back and forth from our personal account so we earn some interest on the money we don't need right away. Specific categories we let build up are: household repairs/projects, vacations/rewards, camp. I could sweep in a lot of money, and return it to our account as necessary so that the bricks-and-mortar bank will act only as a check-writing bank. Have any of you done this?

Spring Break

February 17th, 2019 at 01:22 pm

So, Spring Break this year - a two week break, and we are staying put.

D is going to the UK to be with and help his parents ($713.53 flight plus rental car but no hotel or food because he'll stay with family). F and I are not going for several reasons:
- why spend an extra $1400 to go over there to only stay 1 week (when we go, we maximize our time there)
- F has soccer and track (practices, meets, games)

So we will give him a list of things to bring back (Nairn's rosemary and sea salt flatbreads and Tesco GF chocolate wafers which are like kit kat for F), and then plan a fun couple of weeks.

On the agenda:
- a chocolate tour and tasting at a local chocolate factory that was a gift (so no charge to us)
- trip to Albuquerque to get lunch, hopefully find an 8th grade graduation dress
- online scavenger hunt (also already paid for Christmas present)
-a splurgy lunch out (not somewhere expensive, it's just that we are normally pack lunch people)

The weather will probably continue to be cold for a while, so that eliminates a lot of outdoor activities, but if we get some nice weather, we can go on some hikes. Or just play board games at home.

My daughter is such a great kid - she says she doesn't care about going places and that all she wants is to go see her new cousin in August in San Francisco (and see Hamilton!). Her friends will be going all over, though - one skiing in Pagosa, one to Belize, etc. What are you doing to make Spring Break special?

Raise v. Expense Increases

February 15th, 2019 at 10:06 am

My husband got a raise this year- yes! Not a huge raise, but we are super happy! The result is $98.90 per month net.

Now for the increases in expenses for 2019:
- 83.33 more to the IRAs which gets us to our limit
- 58.67 increase in F's tuition
- food cost increases - our old food budget is not cutting it anymore - probably need to add about $75 more a month to be safe but $50 more would be ok

So budget needs to change by about $192 and we have $98.90... need to find another $93.

One way to do this is to take money out of other categories:
- 20 from karate (since she does so many sports that there isn't time for a lot of privates and the testing will slow down, too)
- 10 from camp (since F doesn't really like camp anymore and will do one or two at most - one karate and one soccer)
- maybe some money from the tuition savings (we try to save a little extra each month) to offset the tuition increase

Another option is a small distribution every so often from my business, but I hate doing that.

What categories do you use to offset budget increases?

Taxes - Two Ways

February 9th, 2019 at 01:42 pm

Because I had been reading so many stories about refunds v. owning money as a result of the new tax changes, I decided to do our taxes two ways: using last year's tax code and this year's because everything else could be a result of withholding/different earnings/other factors.

This was easy to do, because I do my own taxes and I use Turbo Tax. I just opened a new file in last year's program and entered the info side by side with this year's program.

My dad said he had been planning to do the same thing: like father like daughter! My dad is 86 and still does his own taxes. The first time I did mine, he sat patiently with me as I did my (then) very simple return.

Ok, so this year we are getting back $4475 more than we would have under the old tax code. That is insane (and not in a good way, except for us it's good, but not for the country).

This is the part of the post where things get nerdy. But this is SavingAdvice, so you're probably into this! This is why I think the difference is so much in our favor:
- Standard deduction - we always took the standard deduction so the difference is pretty dramatic for us (we never itemized)
- Child tax credit - this gained us $2000 (would have been 0 under the old tax code)
- I made some pass-through money (my business profit which is taxed as personal income, and under the new rules, 20% of that is just written off
- I guess we end up in a lower tax bracket because they changed the brackets (we would have been in the 28% tax bracket last year, and now the same income is 24%)

All of this is great for us, as I mentioned, but completely unfair. Of course we can use the money (D may have to go back to the UK, but that's a different post and we are saving for college) but we shouldn't have been the ones to get a tax break. We make a good living (with both of our salaries about 120k) and I feel like this should have been aimed more at people less fortunate. Besides giving to college, some of this refund will be given as a charitable donation (along with the money F raised by making friendship bracelets for a local non-profit that deals with domestic violence).

School Re-Enrollment, Tickets to CA, etc.

February 4th, 2019 at 07:12 pm

Frugal stuff....

1. Spent the weekend playing around on Excel to make sure we have enough to pay for school. I also called the school's financial office to find out what we save if we pay the full tuition by June v. paying monthly. It's $75, and it would be super hard to pay by June, plus we keep the money that we're saving for education in an account that makes interest. So - monthly it is! But good to do the research.

2. We bought our plane tickets to visit my brother and sister-in-law after they have their baby. Not cheap, but it's our vacation this summer and we're going to help with the baby for a few days. (We'll also do some driving trips around our state - maybe Chaco, Very Large Array). My mom let me know there was a sale, so I got on Southwest. The choice was Oakland v. San Jose, and although San Jose would've been more convenient (a little closer to Palo Alto), it also meant two flights and a lot more time spent traveling, so we opted for Oakland.

3. I am finishing up a library book - Nine Perfect Strangers by Liane Moriarty (one of my favorite writers!). A super fun book! I'll return it tomorrow along with books that F read. I truly love our little library.

4. We now have a professional soccer team in our state (second division, but still - how cool for our young soccer players)! The are having a youth clinic up here (they play in Albuquerque, so that's super nice). You get to watch them practice, then you get a meet and greet, then a training session with them!!! I had to get a ticket but the ticket was FREE! They just want people to register. The whole team is going.

5. More free stuff - our wonderful soccer coaches have been putting together some winter programs for the team including what they call "soccer class." These are in addition to indoor practices, and each week covers a different subject: athletes + sleep, focus + relaxation, goals + habits, game day prep. And I talked to the owner of the gym where I teach and she let me do a class for three weeks on resistance training for free.

6. Track is starting and uniforms are - gulp - $95. But not unexpected, and since it's a school sport, everything else is covered. F told the coach she wants to run the 800 and 1600 and his eyes lit up. She came in first in the soccer team timed mile (6 min. 45 sec.), and I'm excited to see what she can do with training. The coach said he has picked several meets at lower altitude to take advantage of the fact that our students train at 7000 feet.

7. We spent $138 on groceries this week, which isn't great. May need to do "eat out of the freezer" at the end of the month. This does include bringing a meal to my friend B who has a concussion (and is a single mom).

Working from Home

January 30th, 2019 at 11:22 am

So F got either food poisoning or a stomach bug in the middle of the night last night (not very bad, so I am super thankful) and is staying home today. She's already done all her homework, and I am making her relax and get better. This is her first day absent this year.

She needs to recover for the timed mile for soccer on Saturday. If they do it in under 7 minutes, they don't need to do the timed two mile on Sunday. Sunday evening is the parent-student Varsity Track meeting. It's going to be a busy Spring!

I just finished the work I need to do today and am now going to do a little brainstorming on career stuff. I have a book to read, too.

Some ideas/thoughts:
- My work style - I am super productive and responsible, but in exchange for that I like flexibility in my schedule. I don't mind having commitments at certain times, but I like to control when I commit to something.
- I like people! I like helping people. But I don't like when people are working for me (like engineers, consultants) - it's better when I can just get the work done myself.
- I like variety, so I don't mind cobbling something together that is a mix of all sorts of part time things that equal full time work.
- The mix of architecture and fitness instruction (maybe pulling back on some of the architecture and increasing fitness instruction) seems like a good idea.

I met with a woman at a local non-profit that takes care of people with disabilities (mostly Downs Syndrome) and I am volunteering to do some core fitness work with them. I connected with the people at the center instantly. I really like doing exercise work with people in under-served populations, like the older women who take my exercise classes.

That's it - just some thoughts...

Time to do a little research.

Frugal Choices

January 26th, 2019 at 08:01 pm

Frugal choices this week:

- I lost my sunglasses (not frugal, but it happens). I bought a new pair at Target for $14 (100% UV protection) rather than the very enticing pair of super-expensive Ray Bans I saw online; I need the sunglasses - not optional here in the high desert!

- My friend who is moving (wahhhhh!) gave me a book on back pain and a foam roller. I am going to try it out after I finish this post.

- Got a new book from the library by Liane Moriarty who I love!

- I got a 50% off coupon for an oil change at the dealer. They said I probably need new brake pads soon, but instead of getting the work done there, I called the other place I go, and it's a lot less!

- My husband found a driver that may work with our old scanner, so I am going to try that out before I buy a new one! I am digitizing all of my old photos.

- I just upgraded to Mac High Sierra (not Mojave yet) which of course is free, but I was worried that none of my old programs would work. They all do!

- Put together a frugal menu for next week (we have $89 left in the grocery budget):
Chinese chicken salad with cabbage and almonds - have everything I need! Nothing to buy!
Stuffed red peppers (black beans, corn, quinoa) - Need beans, red peppers and salsa but have everything else
Elote pasta with corn, green onions, feta and cilantro - Have everything!
Potatoes dauphinoise and a salad - Need potatoes (might try yukon golds this time) and lettuce and cream
Coleslaw and baked potatoes with chile on top - Have pretty much everything for this, too except potatoes
Veggie spring rolls in rice paper wrappers with dipping sauce (I have the wrappers and some red cabbage, everything for the sauce, probably need cucumbers and more carrots)

- Entertainment this weekend: walking the dog, reading my book, chatting with the parents at F's karate class, relaxing.

- Cleaned the house. This is not really frugal, but EVERY one of my friends has a cleaner, so I'm counting this. (I'm serious - everyone has a cleaner; it can't be that way in the general population, right? I just have friends who prioritize this?).

This Week's Meal Plan

January 20th, 2019 at 01:21 pm

Just made this week's meal plan...

Breakfasts:
- still have cinnamon raisin bread on hand
- scrambled or fried egg
- hash browns
- granola and plain yogurt with fruit
- oatmeal

Lunches
- tuna wrap
- avocado/radish wrap
- burrito
- caprese on toast
- hardboiled eggs

Dinners
- lentil coconut soup
- salmon souvlaki bowls
- posole from the freezer with edamame
- jackfruit tacos
- artichoke pasta
- chinese chicken salad with toasted almonds and cabbage
- roasted berbere vegetables (sweet potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, chickpeas)

So that's one fish night and two chicken nights (but not a lot of chicken in either recipe). The rest are vegetarian or vegan. Sometimes I am not sure how to explain to people how little animal protein we eat (because we are not vegetarian but we never eat red meat or pork and eat so little chicken. But I just saw an article on the Flexitarian Diet, and I guess that's what we are. Lots of vegetables, also grains, fruit, nuts, fish/chicken a couple of times a week.

Total grocery bill was $119.

Do you eat less animal protein than you used to? If so, is it for health or cost savings or planet-saving or ethical reasons? Or a combination or some other reason?

What is Going Well v. What I'm Struggling With

January 18th, 2019 at 04:28 pm

I'm going to start on a positive note... these are the things that are going well (and there are a lot, I feel very grateful!)
- my family
- went to California to see my niece (and spent too much money, but we did stay with them, so no hotel cost)
- I have Asian Meatballs in the crockpot and a rice cooker of rice cooking away... tonight F has soccer practice at 8 pm so we had to have dinner worked out.
- School was canceled today due to snow; so got to hang out with F all day! She came to the gym with me. It was the third time I'd taught in 2 days, and I'm pretty exhausted
- I'm reading the new Robert Galbraith novel (really JK Rowling) from the library
- I am in decluttering mode, and getting a lot done; I feel really proud. I have 62 books to take to the library (they have a little store).
- I think my husband got a small raise, but not sure yet - haven't seen a new paycheck.


And here are the things I am struggling with... it's pretty much work stuff.
- I worked my tail off last year in order to make enough money for 2019 to buy myself some time to figure out my work situation, but I've been so busy with work, I haven't had the chance.
- I had a really awful experience with the civil engineer I used on this fire station project; the County would not let me use my usual civil, and so I had to use someone new. It is a very reputable company, but I was driven crazy by the project manager I was working with. I made the uncomfortable call to his boss, and just laid out my displeasure (and the County's). I asked for three things: make things right with the County (by assuring them that they will perform for the rest of the process), do not bill me 100% when the project is not done, assign a new project manager. It was a really hard phone conversation, and I almost went home and went to bed at 10 am!
- The County made what we call a "change in approval" on my project, and now want me to change my drawings in a way that would be detrimental to the cost of the project. But I still have to come in on budget. I came up with a way forward and the Fire Department (my actual client) is happy. I am working up a price for additional services to change the drawings if that's what needs to be done. But the hand-holding and hysteria on this continue, and I'm not up for the stress.
- I don't think there will be any more work for architects with the County; they have decided to go Design-Build (hire the Contractor to do a turnkey project without anyone to represent their interests). And I don't really want to work with the County anymore anyway (see above).
- Which brings me back to the first bullet point: I need to rethink my career (about 30-40% of my billings are to the County currently). And I need to find the time to do that.

So, there you go... Starting fresh next Tuesday to spend a couple of hours each day figuring out different options, and what I would need to do to get to those options (classes? certifications?).