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Free Museum Day

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It’s museum day 2017!

http://www.smithsonianmag.com/museumday/museum-day-live-2017/

We’re taking advantage by hitting the Tucson Children’s Museum for free! They also have a ton of exhibits set up outside with free books, snacks and treats, arts and crafts, science experiments and more!! Having a blast! Take advantage in your city, too!!

 


Hope’s Weekly Budget – Week of Sept 24

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I use an Excel spreadsheet to track my income and expenses. I have it set up all the way through July, 2018 to keep me looking toward the future. I thought I might post every week’s budgeted items, the Friday before.  This will help keep me accountable, and give you a real life view into my financial life to advise and guide me on.

This coming week’s items are pretty self explanatory. I am at the end of my monthly grocery budget, have a few debt payment’s scheduled, the kids’ weekly allowance and our family gym monthly fee.

Groceries 25-Sep-17 -50
Debt Payment 25-Sep-17 -100
Auto-Gas 26-Sep-17 -35
Debt Payment 26-Sep-17 -100
Gym 28-Sep-17 -50
1099 Income 29-Sep-17 850
Allowance 29-Sep-17 -80
Debt Payment 29-Sep-17 -100

The 1099 income is from one of my regular income sources, I’ve been part time with this particular company going on 2 years now. It is the one I got right after I lost my full time income. It has steadily grown and I now work 25 hours a week, every week. I enjoy the work, I love my ‘bosses’ and it’s one of those jobs I can do anytime, anywhere while at the same time being flexible when I need some time away.

Today I am spending the day with my siblings. All four of them flew to Georgia with my mom for a few days. It’s the first time we’ve seen them since last Christmas when we went to Texas and the first time we’ve all been in Georgia in several years.

Let me know your thoughts on my Friday Budget posts?


Phone Cost and Should Kids Pay It

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I think almost every person in debt struggles with the cost of phone service at some point or another. There just don’t seem to be any cheap AND reliable options. And then add to that, the cost the phones these days. Yikes!

The Situation

This was brought to the forefront in our home this week when Princess, who is super responsible and takes very good care of her stuff, accidentally dropped her phone and it shattered. If this was Gymnast who literally breaks EVERYTHING or History Buff who threw his phone to the ground to test the “shatter-resistant” claim, I would think nothing of it, they would just have to do without.  But Princess is devastated and this is highly unusual for her.

Princess and Gymnast have iPhone 5s (I think that’s what it’s called.) I got a really good deal on them earlier this year. I wanted them to have a way to stay in touch, especially since we were moving states and I was beginning to work outside the home.

The mom in me wants to get her a replacement as soon as possible. On the other hand, I want to make better financial decisions.

What are your thoughts?

She does have money, she has a healthy spending account and some savings. I guess my question is do I leave the burden of replacing her phone on her at 13 years old with no regular means of working and earning money. Do I match her in some way? Do I just replace the phone, knowing this was truly an accident and not a pattern at all?

I pay for her service (and her brothers’) and am under contract.The service can not be cancelled to save the monthly fees until she gets a new one. Although I think Verizon offers a way to put the account on hold for a certain period of time, but it extends the contract period.

I am torn. Your guidance is greatly appreciated.


Always Check Your Receipts

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In my continual battle to lower our grocery bill, I’ve been making lots of lists:  lists of meal ideas, lists of sale foods, and standard grocery lists. I’ve set ourselves a strict budget and have been following it to a “T.”

I estimate food costs in advance (it’s written directly on our grocery list). Then when I go grocery shopping I make little tally marks so I can keep a running total of what our bill will be (to ensure we don’t go over the limit I’ve set).

Even with all this preparation, you have to have a watchful eye on how items are scanning!  We used to be a Velveeta Shells & Cheese family, but at $2.50/box, we’ve decided the cheaper Kraft variety (usually $1.29/box) is just as good. This week, all the macaroni and cheese was on sale for only $1 per box. I decided to stock up, getting 5 boxes in total. But when scanning my receipt after checking out, I realized that somehow only one box rang up for the correct price. No idea why/how it happened. But I was overcharged 29 cents per box.

The old me would likely have let it go. Not worth the hassle of going to customer service over about a buck and some change.

But the new me is focused. Determined. We’re counting every single cent over here. Even the pennies matter.

So I walked right on over to customer service (I hadn’t noticed until after I’d already paid and the transaction at the register was complete). It didn’t take more than 2 minutes for me to get a whopping $1.16 handed back in cold hard cash. I stuffed the dollar in my cash envelope (oh yeah, totally doing the cash envelope thing again! More on that to come.), and the change went into my wallet. Virtual high five to me for catching the mistake and following through with seeking the reimbursement I was owed.

So let this be a reminder to always be watchful of your purchases and how they’re ringing up! If you’re expecting to buy something on sale and it doesn’t ring up correctly, don’t be afraid to ask for a price check or to return to customer service for a reimbursement if needed. It wasn’t nearly as much of a “hassle” as I’d assumed it would be. No hassle at all, really!

If you notice an overcharge, do you go back for the refund? Have you ever just walked away (< I know I have before!!!)


Instant Pot Homemade Yogurt

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Remember when I made my own homemade yogurt in a crockpot and made the bold declaration, “I’m Never Going Back!”

Well, it turns out I lied. Because I’ve bought a great deal of yogurt in the 2 years since then.

Don’t get me wrong, the homemade yogurt was DELICIOUS and significantly cheaper than store-bought varieties.

But it also took forever and was kind of a pain to babysit all day in the crockpot. I did make several batches, but the habit didn’t stick.

This weekend, though, I tried the new-age version of crockpot yogurt. I introduce you to Instant Pot Yogurt!

My mom got me an Instant Pot this last Christmas and I honestly haven’t used it nearly as often as I’d thought I would. The whole idea of cooking using pressure is cool in theory (cook from frozen in 30 minutes!), but it still takes awhile to come up to pressure (and release pressure after cooking), and I haven’t fallen in love with it as some others have.

But even so, I’ve been looking for ways to save money on our grocery bill and thought I could likely use the Instant Pot to make some homemade yogurt. Faster than the crock-pot method, less counter space used, and still the same great end result product!

I followed this recipe and had great results. I’ve reposted the recipe below (with my comments and modifications):

Instant Pot Homemade Yogurt

Start with a cool cooking pot. Pour milk into instant pot and cover with lid (note: it’s not going to be cooked under pressure, so the lid can be removed at anytime but keeping it covered helps the milk warm up faster).

Press the yogurt button and adjust until the screen reads “boil.” Whisk the milk occasionally while the heat kicks up. You must get your yogurt to at least 180 degrees (I usually aim for a few degrees higher). It took me two complete boil cycles for mine to get hot enough.

When the boil cycle is done the pot will beep and you can check the temp. Once you hit the magic number of 180, get the cooking pot out of the instant pot and soak in an ice bath in the kitchen sink. Continue to whisk the milk occasionally so it cools evenly. You want it to cool to 95-100 degrees.

Once the milk cools to 95-100 degrees, remove a cup and mix it together with a yogurt “starter.” This can be from previous homemade yogurt or store bought. The best yogurt to use is plain with nothing added. Just live yogurt cultures and milk. I used a 2% plain yogurt variety from Chobani.

After the cup of milk and yogurt starter are thoroughly combined, pour all back into the instant pot and recover with a lid. At this point, you want to let the yogurt sit for about 10 hours. Less time (8ish hours) will result in a milder taste and longer time (12ish hours) will result in a tarter taste. I made my yogurt so it would rest overnight so it was right about 8 hours.

Push the yogurt button on the Instant Pot again until it displays 8:00 (8 hours). You can adjust the time, if desired.

After the pot beeps that the incubation period is complete, use a glass cover or plastic wrap to seal the pot and put it in the refrigerator to cool (about 6-8 hours).

At the point, the yogurt should be thick enough for a spoon to stick in it!

Scoop out to store (I store mine in glass Ball jars in the refrigerator).

Or scoop into a bowl, top with fruit and granola, and enjoy!

I also like to make smaller batches with fruit. I’ll muddle some strawberries, add some lemon juice and sugar, and blend into the yogurt. If I do that, I try to eat the yogurt the same day because I don’t have any preservatives in the fruit mixture (so don’t, for example, make a giant batch of strawberry yogurt to last a week because the strawberries will start to go bad!). The plain yogurt should store for at least 2 weeks as-is.

To get Greek-stye yogurt, just strain once or twice using a cheesecloth. Voila!

Makes a great breakfast, snack, or side! I’ve been sending some for a lunch side-dish for my kids by putting into the little portion-sized containers (like these for example) and including a spoon in the lunch box. They LOVE the homemade yogurt and gobble it up! It’s a win all around!

Does anyone else make their own homemade yogurt?

What’s your favorite instant pot recipe?


3.5 Years Into Debt Repayment: Reflections & Looking Ahead

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Let’s get brutally honest. I never thought I’d still be blogging here right now.

When I first started blogging back in February 2014 (see my introduction post here), my goal was just to get out of credit card debt. At the time I had nearly $150,000 in total debt, and that amount seemed totally insurmountable. (See my first ever debt post here or read about what lead me to start my debt-reduction mission here). I had over $10,000 in credit card debt, so that was my original goal when I started blogging here. With a household income of about $45,000/year, I thought it would likely take 12-18 months to pay it all off.

I shocked everyone (myself most of all!) when I somehow managed to pay off my final credit card (over $10k in total credit card debt), in just shy of 3 months!!!! 

Where had all that money come from? It didn’t even seem mathematically possible, but the second I put my mind to it, things just started happening. Hubs’ got some big checks, I got some big checks, and we absolutely slashed our spending and expenses  down to next-to-nothing.

We ended up paying off over $25,000 of debt (+interest) in 2014.

We went on to pay off over $26,000 of debt (+ interest)  in 2015. 

And we kept the train rolling, paying off over $30,000 of debt (+ interest) in 2016!

Source

After just shy of three (long and hard-fought) years to get to this point, I finally reached the half-way mark in my debt-eradication journey in February of this year.

I received a lot of encouragement around that half-way point:

“The debt will just start melting away”, they said.

“It will start going so rapidly”, they said.

“It will feel so easy in comparison to the start”, they said.

“They” lied. Or maybe not lied, per se. But they were wrong. It’s not any easier. The debt is NOT falling away. And I do NOT feel like it’s a downhill run, easy in comparison to the start of the journey. If anything, it’s the hardest now that it’s ever been.

Why? What’s changed?

At the beginning of the year I’d set some pretty lofty financial goals for 2017 and beyond. My goals included:

  • Pay $30,000 toward debt
  • Fully fund a Roth IRA ($5,500)
  • Take a Mom & Dad Getaway trip

One goal about debt eradication, one about saving, and one that’s just a total splurge.

Guess which of the three actually happened? Just the splurge. That’s it.

We will likely have nothing to put into a Roth IRA this year. No extra money for savings of any kind really* (*caveat: my employer requires a mandatory 7% retirement contribution and provides a full match,  so I do have a pre-tax retirement account that’s being funded. But no additional savings of any kind – no liquid cash in a savings account, no Roth, etc.).

In terms of debt, we’ve managed to actually increase our debt burden. Things have been rough since April – first discovering a HUGE tax liability we had (still have), and then when my part-time job ended, hubs’ work ended, and the entire summer (May-August) we kept on spending like we had this phenomenal income (we’ve grown used to an income around $10,000/month), but my first full-time paycheck at my new rate of pay indicated that I’d likely only be bringing home around $4,500/month. It was a HUGE wake-up call. HUGE.

We’re still making pretty hefty debt payments, but it’s to the IRS and credit card companies in addition to the student loans I’d finally thought were starting to get under control. We’ll still have paid a good amount toward debt this year, maybe $20-25,000. But I doubt we’re going to hit that $30,000 mark that we’d planned on. Oh yeah…..and now we’re starting off in a worse place than we were at the start of the year because of all our new debt that’s been tacked on for the ride.

I have lots more to share about how our debt increased – all the over-spending we’ve been doing (and some unavoidable medical expenses, as well). But I’m going to save the nitty-gritty details for another post.

Right now, I just wanted to reflect on where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we hope to be in the future.

Getting out of debt is hard work. Especially with the amount of debt that our family was grappling with. $150,000 is no joke. No small stuff to scoff at. It’s the real-deal, legitimate, takes years and years and lots of hard work and persistence type of debt to get out from under.

Life continues to happen. Life doesn’t care about our financial goals and our hopes and dreams and what we’ve got planned. Life just comes right at you full-force with job changes or job loss, unexpected health issues, costly car repairs, etc. Kids grow up! When I first started blogging here my twins were 18-months old! Now they’re five and entering kindergarten! Life doesn’t just “pause” and allow us to get out of debt real quickly so we can take our kids on fun trips, make lifelong memories, and  allow them to participate in all the activities and extracurricular that I would prefer None of that stuff happens.

Kids grow, parents age, emergencies (of the major + minor kind) occur. All while just trying to scratch and claw and slooooooowly climb out of the giant hole of debt that is our financial life. It’s tough. And it’s not fun. But I also cannot wait. I want to scream it from the rooftops: I CANNOT WAIT TO BE DEBT FREE!!!!!

Back when we made our financial goals for 2017 we were anticipating being debt free by early 2018.

Sorry to say, but it’s going to be longer than that, folks.

Hubs is back in school (= no income currently and only the possibility of part-time employment at best) and my income is pretty well “set” without a lot of room for flexibility. I just got a huge raise, but had to sign a non-compete for the next 3 years (lucky I love my job and where I’m at, but it means no chance of additional or outside employment in my current field for the time being). Without a chance for any significant increase in household income for now, our only option is to get our spending down. Spending, which has been a HUGE issue this summer.  This, to undoubtedly be the topic of several blog posts in the future.

I have to be honest. I don’t feel as much excitement as I used to. I don’t feel the same level of passion and enthusiasm. Right now, I’m just worn down and tired. We slacked off big-time this summer – I must admit. So it’s not like we’ve been living the rice-and-beans life for the entire 3.5 years. We did for the first 2 years, but our spending as of late has been unacceptable. So there’s certainly room for improvement.

But that doesn’t make it any easier.

So right now I’m just going to put out the big “pie in the sky” type of goal. We’ll get around to all the numbers and the concrete financials. But for now I just want to declare: 2018 will be our year!!! I don’t know that it’s possible. In fact, I think it’s likely a mathematical impossibility right now. But so was that $10,000 of credit card debt. And somehow, someway we managed to pay it off in 3 months. So I will keep the hope. We may not be done in early 2018 as originally projected, but I’m going to make it a personal goal to figure out how to sell any and everything of excess, how to totally scrimp and save and cut out all unnecessary spending and once and for all just GET OUT OF DEBT BY THE END OF 2018. December, I’m looking at you! What a wonderful Christmas present it would be to our family and ourselves to make a final debt payment in December 2018. It’s happening, folks. This debt is going down!

Who else is with me?

What are your current debt-reduction goals? When do you plan to be fully debt-free?


Kids and Money: Allowance

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I’ve written several times about my kids and money. One of my main goals is to teach them all about money everything from managing their own checking and savings accounts to monthly budgets and even on to credit scores. I didn’t have an inkling about what a credit score was until I went to purchase my first home with my husband back in 2003. Way too late for me to have done anything about it if I had screwed up. My kids will go in to ‘adulting’ and managing their own money with their eyes wide open to the good and the bad.

I think I mentioned in a recent post about Sea Cadet remaining in VA for the summer and working at the same summer camp he worked at last year. He loved it! He was required to save 50% of every paycheck, and he did very well with that. When he officially moved down to GA in August, he and I had a sit down about how that money should be handled. This is what we agreed on:

  • $400 was put into a joint savings account.  It will be used towards car repairs as needed.
  • The remainder will be doled out to him $20 a week as spending money.
  • I am giving him another $20 per week as spending money.
  • At this time, I am paying all his monthly bills: gas, insurance and phone.

With the younger two, they are given $20 a week as allowance. It’s not earned, it’s given.

With their own monies, they all are responsible for any activities they want to do, personal hygiene purchases and Gymnast must pay for hair cuts if he wants more than 1 per month (I pay for one per month.)  They are able to earn extra money with odd jobs, but when they earn money they must save 50% of it in their savings accounts.

Sea Cadet it not working at this time. I wanted him to focus on his college classes.  He is completing his senior year of high school as a college student at the local technical school.  He is taking 11 hours, and thusfar doing really well.  I imagine I will encourage him to seek a part time job beginning the next semester, but I wanted to give him every opportunity to be successful as he begins the EMS program and wasn’t sure how challenging it would be for him.

Princess has started cleaning houses (family to start) to earn some money after the opportunity presented itself.  And Gymnast almost daily asks for paid jobs from everyone he knows.  Little does he know how busy he will get as these leaves start coming off the trees.

All of my kids pitch in around the house, everyone cooks one night a week, cleans the kitchen after themselves, takes care of their own laundry and so on.  These are not paid jobs, it’s just expected that we take care of our home and our belongings.  We are to that age and that expectation level that I do not have to push them or schedule ‘chores’ anymore, they just do it.  I couldn’t be more proud, and frankly our home has never been cleaner.