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Pumpkin Spice is BACK!!!!

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If you are like me, you anxiously await the return of pumpkin season since….well, since the last pumpkin season ended around New Years.

In fact, my mother-in-law gifted me a Starbucks gift card as a congratulation when I was first hired at the new job (so sweet of her, right?!). I purposely saved it and used it literally the first day that Starbucks had their pumpkin spice latte back. As in – I got my first PSL on the big preview day that required a special passcode. I was SO, SO excited because this is the first year that they have actual pumpkin in their pumpkin spiced latte. Yes, I’m that much of a super-fan to know these things (and I also follow TheRealPSL on twitter. Yes, it’s a thing).

And call me a trendsetter – I’ve been adding REAL pumpkin to my homemade version for years (see my post from last year as proof).

Here’s the lineup of key players

IMG_0370

 

Sorry for the terrible lighting! It was EARLY (= no sunlight) when I made my coffee and took this picture!

I start with a good vanilla flavored coffee (because vanilla + pumpkin = heaven!) I add a few shakes of pumpkin pie spice. Then I throw a heaping teaspoon of PUMPKIN into the bottom of my coffee cup and brew my coffee, pouring it in while still steaming hot and stir in the pumpkin until it dissolves. I like to add milk (almond milk for me) and sweetener (I use agave). If you’re feeling extra indulgent, add a little whipped cream on top. If you aren’t using vanilla coffee beans (like me), then I also suggest adding a tiny dash of pure vanilla to your coffee, too (buy it at Costco for cheap).

Heaven in a glass, I tell you!

IMG_0371

So if you want to save lots of money but still want to indulge in the famous Pumpkin Spice Latte, then try my homemade version. You will NOT regret it!

What’s your favorite pumpkin treat? Are you all aboard the pumpkin train or is it not your thing? What other seasonal food do you prefer instead?


Hand-me-downs

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We lucked out this weekend!

One of my very good friends recently moved out-of-state. She owned a home here and, although she took most of her furniture, she left a few key pieces in her home for staging purposes. Her mom lives in town so she’s been helping maintain the property while its been on the market.

Well, the house has sold and passed inspection and with the closing date coming up quickly, her Mom reached out to me to ask if I was interested in any of the stuff in the house. My friend’s Mom is a little older and has no interest in trying to sell the stuff through craiglist or something similar. She doesn’t need the money and doesn’t want to deal with the hassle.

So as soon as hubs had a day off we loaded up and headed over with both vehicles (hubs’ work truck & my Explorer). I was expecting mostly artwork and wall hangings. What we ended up with was enough to furnish a small apartment!

We got a new leather sofa, 2 end tables, a nice leather chair, a queen bed and bed frame, some mature potted plants, a big utility shelf for the garage, a couple lamps, some patio furniture, and about a million throw pillows and pieces of artwork.

I was absolutely over the moon!

Right now we’ve got everything moved into our house. We already threw away our old guest bed (truly too old/gross to even donate, as our dog has eaten a hole in the mattress that we have done a make-shift “patch” job, but is not adequate even for donation), we have the couch in the guest room, and we’ve scattered other pieces of furniture and artwork throughout our house (patio furniture in the backyard).  We’ve debated possibly selling some of the nicer furniture pieces (like couch and leather chair), but want to keep it for the time being in the case that we end up moving to a larger place that we may be able to furnish with some of this stuff next year. But it’s nice to know we’ve got possibilities, too, because I do think we’d be able to get a few hundred for the furniture if we were to list it for sale.

These types of scores are few and far between given that we live out-of-state from any family members and from the majority of our friends. But I feel very grateful for these items and it’s also made me appreciate the things we already own that much more. After the “move” (It really felt like we were moving!!! There was so much stuff!) we spent the rest of the afternoon doing a pretty thorough cleaning of our current stuff. It’s been a long time since the couches got a really good scrubbing, cushions removed for vacuuming, etc. Taking care of our possessions is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to make our things last as long as they have. And with any luck we’ll have these new things for years to come also!

Who needs new? Hand-me-downs are good as new, if you ask me (not to mention a heck of a lot cheaper!). Oh, how far we’ve come from the days of financed king-sized beds (remember that???) Never again, my friends! Never again!


Weekly Debt Update #23- Retirement Contributions Past, Present and Future

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Hey everyone! I hope you all are having a great start to your week.

After I posted last week of my after debt plans (here), there was some outcry, confusion and wonder over my retirement plan. Here’s the statement in it’s entirety:

“I’m going to decrease my 401K contribution to the minimum (4%) to get the company match. I’ll use a fairly good portion of my after tax income to fund an investment account for a, hopefully, early retirement. I’d like to do between $300-$400 a week. This is a big one, since I want to save up a pretty large nest egg, but there’s a ton I feel like I’m putting off (like home renovations) that I could do with an extra $400 a month.”

After reading your comments and looking back and this statement, I left a lot of my recent activity and thinking on the subject off the table. But before I go into depth on my present and future retirement plans, I want to give you a history of what I’ve I’ve done previously.

  • At the start of my career, in May of 2009 with the federal government (in the Dept of Veterans Affairs), I started out contributing 3% of my salary to the federal government’s form of the 401k- the Thrift Savings Plan, or TPS, for short. I knew up front that the government would match every percent to 5%, but I also felt I needed every penny to pay my rent, utilities, food and looming student loans. At least I knew enough to contribute SOMETHING. What I didn’t realize at the time (but learned sometime after) is that the government will provide 1% of your salary (w/no match) into a separate money market account as a FERS (federal employees retirement system) basic benefit.
  • After a year of service I not only got a substantial raise, but a fellow employee found out I wasn’t contributed enough to max out the government match. I got a good scolding (she was a motherly type) and increased my contributions to 5% for the remainder of my stay with the government.
  • At the point I left the government in January of 2013, I had somewhere in the neighborhood of $20,000 in the TPS account and $1,500 in the basic benefit account. When you leave the government, you can either elect to cash out the basic benefit (which was tax deferred) or leave it with the government if you plan on returning. I elected to take the money, which I used to pay down my student loans.
  • When I started with my new company, they have a policy that new employees need 6 months of service before you are eligible for their 401k program. I started at the end of January 2013, and with my six months plus some waiting time for the next enrollment period, I got into the 401k program in November of 2013. I immediately started contributing 4% to get the company match. The company match, however, is subject to vesting: you get 20% on your 2nd anniversary and an additional 20% for every year after until you are fully vested on your 6 year anniversary.
  • I was in the 401k program for 10 months when I met with a Dave Ramsey endorsed CPA in September of 2014. While I don’t agree with a lot of what he says, I do agree that he’s helped a lot of people get out of debt with his debt free program, so I used his service to find a local CPA (plus I didn’t know how else to look someone up). After giving the CPA my story and financial run down, he agreed that I should cash in my government TPS account and stop contributions to my current 401k. I immediately did both of these (well documented in my first few posts here).
  • After 7 months of not contributing anything, I elected to go back to 4% in May and having feeling this still wasn’t enough, I’m now at 10%. My current vested balance is $6,200.

So that’s my history on the subject. Recently (within the past month), I met with a retirement adviser that my company utilizes to oversee the 401k program. After telling him my history, my financial rundown and future plans (the early retirement/financial freedom) he gave me some advise to stop all but the 4% contributions and instead contribute into a non-retirement investment portfolio (one with minimal fees) once I’m debt free. His logic was that if I want to retire at or around 40 (the age I gave him when he asked) I would want to have immediate access to the money without having to worry about income taxes and penalties that are associated with 401k’s. He also suggested that I could split the investments into a Roth IRA and the investment portfolio. This would give me two pots of money, one for pre-55 and one post 55. So that pretty much sums up the rationale behind my previous post. As a few of you said, my thinking nd history on the subject appears scattered, but I would say it IS scattered. I got some amazing feedback on what to do on my last post (looking at you, Angie), but I would like more. Any help is appreciated- anecdotes, references, tips, anything on the subject would help give me some clarity.

As for my current debt balances, here you go:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,719.92$4,117.32$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,604.04$3,592.98$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$4,045.23$6,304.95$410.45
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00$0.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$46,369.19$64,218.47$410.45

I hope everyone has a great week!


New Phone Network

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Hi all! First, I just wanted to say thank you for all your kind comments about my Dad! I’ll let you know when I know more about what the future may look like in that regard. In the meantime, I’ve got a few more financially-oriented posts planned for today. I hope you all have a great Monday!

Similar to Hope’s recent post about saving money on her cell phone, we just made a change, too!

For years and years we had T-Mobile (loved their customer service), but as an Apple family, the iphone lured me away and we switched to Sprint 2 years ago (this was before T-Mobile picked up the iphone).

Well, our 2-year contract is up and although we aren’t dissatisfied with Sprint in any way, I’ve been looking to make a change in the name of saving a buck.

At first I thought about trying to go with one of the super cheap wireless networks (like Ting or Republic Wireless), but we wouldn’t get to keep our iphones, and given that we take long road-trips through remote areas at least twice a year (during which time cell service would be spotty), we decided not to make the switch at this time. It was tempting….but ultimately we decided its not for us at this time.

Then a couple weeks ago a T-Mobile rep called to try to win us back. They offered us new, upgraded phones, more data (which really matters for me because I’ve been having to really carefully ration my data with Sprint so I wouldn’t run out every month), AND free personal hotspots (which doesn’t matter for me as much, but hubs uses it with a tablet he takes to customer’s homes so he can do immediate estimates and have invoices signed on-site). All that, plus unlimited talk + text and the determining factor for both of us….it’s a little bit cheaper!

We weren’t able to save a hundred bucks a month or anything, but our regular Sprint bill has been $115/month. With taxes and fees and everything included, our new T-Mobile bill should cost us $100/month. It’s just a bonus that we’ll be returning to a provider that we’ve previously had good experiences with (seriously, they have fantastic customer service!)

We just received our new fancy-pants upgraded phones in the mail and I’m already obsessed! I have a little bit of blog money I haven’t touched, so I told hubs I’d splurge to buy us both new cases so we can (hopefully) avoid broken phones or shattered screens (I’ve shattered my iphone screen TWICE since I’ve been blogging here and the replacement screens are not cheap!)

It may only be a savings of $15/month, but that’s $180/year! Every little bit helps!

Have you saved money on your monthly bills recently? 


Month in Review- June 2015

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Hey Everyone! I hope you’re all having a great week.

It’s July 2nd, so that means it’s time for a month in review. June went by in a flash, didn’t it? The summer months always seem to fly by so fast.

Since I didn’t post on Tuesday, I want to share a couple of items that happened over the weekend:

  • The same couple that I went out with earlier in June, invited me and GF out again; this time for dinner AND a movie (BTW- Jurassic World is AMAZING). I happily said “Yes!” but it also broke my “fun” budget for the month, which I carried $50. It wasn’t a big deal since my buddy asked me earlier in the week and I was able to budget for the dinner and movie out of my paycheck vs. having to dip into my emergency fund. I’m just really excited that I don’t have to say “No” to everything anymore.
  • I didn’t have a debt update to share since my last paycheck of the month is delegated to paying my mortgage and some other smaller bills. If I didn’t have any plans during this week, I could normally set aside $70-80 for a debt payment. Since I went out to dinner instead, I made no debt payment this week.

As for June, there was a lot that happened, so to review:

  • Firstly, now that most of my smaller debts are paid off (with only one more to go below $10,000) I had an internal struggle (The Hard Wins) on how to deal with the the fact that the payoffs are going to be few and far between now.
  • The day after my “Hard Wins” post, I increased my 401k contribution from 4% to 10% (which I mentioned in the comments of that same post). Update: I think this was a wise decision. For one- I haven’t noticed much of a difference in my take home pay. It ended up being about a $60 difference, but it’s definitely not hurting my ability to pay my bills. Plus, it’s awesome to see my retirement account grow so much faster!
  • In the following post (Time Off), I decided to use the month of July as a vacation from paying off debt to both enjoy my vacation to Disney and clear my head so I can hit August refreshed and ready to go. Update: vacation is only 7 days away (yay!) and this Wednesday’s paycheck marks the first paycheck in a LONG time (if ever) where I didn’t have to make a debt payment. I’m using all the extra  money to buy myself some new clothes and to stock up on supplies (more on this on Tuesday)
  • I went out for dinner and drinks with a with an awesome couple, in which my “fun” fund came in really handy (here) and was most definitely worth it.
  • In this post (Birthday Party), I went to a good friend’s son’s 1st birthday party. Since I started an ESA account, I figured I give the gift of some cash for my buddy to start one of his own for his son.
  • In the same post, we began our planning for Disney. Since we are driving down, a lot of you had some great ideas our how to make our trip as fun and as frugal as we can. We’ve incorporated many of the ideas into our plan as we want to spend as little money as we have to on our drive down and then back up.
  • Lastly, we had a little Father’s Day celebration (Father’s Day) where GF did some amazing little things for me, as I am the father to our kids (lol, they’re dogs). We also started cementing our Disney plans and GF used her couponing skills to get us a whole bunch of goodies on the cheap.

As for my debt paydown, no big milestones met this month, but I still paid off $1,592.21. Down to a balance of $48,466.83. Not my best month, but not my worst, either.

Hope everyone has a great holiday!


Retirement Options

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Let’s talk retirement.

Until just this past year, hubs and I had saved absolutely nothing toward retirement. And, even this past year, we had just started saving $100/month (only in the months where we had an extra $100 to spare). In April we opened our very first Roth IRA for 2014 with a whopping $1,000 investment. That’s it. That’s our full retirement.

I’ve had in the back of my mind that I would start more aggressive retirement contributions after we’re completely consumer debt-free (the only thing left is the car!). But now that I’ve landed a full time job things are shaking up a little.

One maybe odd thing about this job is that they require mandatory retirement contributions. I’ve never heard of that before (but this is my first full-time job, so maybe it’s more common than I think???). Also, there are two separate retirement options. At first I mistakenly thought I could switch between the two, but that was inaccurate. After reading more (and speaking with HR), I’ve learned that once I select a plan – that’s it. There’s no changing the plan. Ever. For the entire duration of my career at the university, I am locked into the retirement plan (note: I can still change investments within the plan, see more below).

The big difference is that one plan is a defined benefit plan, whereas the other is a defined contribution plan. The defined benefit plan has a higher mandatory contribution and match (currently 11.48%, compared to 7% for the defined contribution plan), but it scares me that someone else is entirely in control of the investment. Plus, the defined benefit plan pay-out isn’t based solely on the amount contributed (like the defined contribution plan), it’s based on years of service, average monthly salary, and an actuarial formula.

In contrast, the defined contribution plan benefits are based solely on the amount I’ve contributed and how the investment performs across time. It allows me to select the investment company and investment allocations myself. So even though the match is a smaller percentage, I may be able to make it up with interest and growth across time (and benefit pay-outs aren’t contingent upon years of service, average salary, etc.).

There are lots of other factors to consider as well (e.g., the defined benefit plan offers health care subsidies after retirement and better long-term disability than the defined contribution plan). It kind of sounds, to me, like the defined benefit plan is similar to a pension….only it’s not free money from the employer. It’s money that has been paid-in by the employee (and matched by employer) all throughout the employee’s career. When I googled “defined benefit versus defined contribution” everyone says to participate in the defined benefit plan, at a minimum, and to add the defined contribution plan if possible, too. But I think this is different because the websites I looked at were assuming that the defined benefit plan was paid in full by the employer (not by employee contributions). Also, at my job it is not possible to participate in both. It’s an either/or (and no moving between them).

I’m leaning toward the defined contribution plan simply because the peace of mind of being in control of MY money instead of relying on someone else to be in control (also, I don’t like that the percentage of contributions in the defined benefit plan varies and that vesting doesn’t apply until termination of employment).

Reader thoughts or opinions? For anyone who would like to see the fine print, I’ve attached a retirement comparison chart I received. Thanks!!!

Retirement_ComparisonAug_2014

If you had the option, would you select a defined benefit plan (similar to a pension, but with mandatory employee contributions) or a defined contribution plan (just like a regular 401(k), with a 7% company match)? Why?


Weekly Debt Update #18- A Birthday Party and Disney Planning

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Hey everybody! I hope you all had a great weekend.

With not much to discuss this week- I want to touch on a couple of items. Firstly, a very good friend of mine and his wife had a birthday party for his son who just turned 1, on Saturday. The party was in Ohio, a couple hours away from where we live. I drove down and spent a majority of day celebrating with them and their family. Instead of getting them a new toy, since I figured everybody else would be doing that, I gave them $25 in cash to start an ESA account for their son. Once the present opening began, I realized my suspicions were right- they had more toys and clothes than I think they knew what to do with. I told my buddy how to quickly set up an account (much like I did for my nephew) that will allow the money to grow for the next 17 years.

Secondly- the money saving planning for Disney has begun. So far, we know of 2 ways that are going to save us a ton. 1) We’ve been talking to GF’s mother, who lives only a couple miles away, to watch the dogs for us while we’re gone. She agreed to come over, let them outside, and play with them a couple of times each day and we’re going to give her $200. When I was looking into having the dogs boarded for the week, the prices ranged form $350-$450 depending on how much activity we wanted the dogs to get. Besides the financial aspects, I don’t really feel comfortable keeping our dogs in a kennel where they have limited space. I feel that keeping them in our house, where they can roam anywhere and play with all their toys, is a much more inviting scenario. 2) Since we’re driving to and from Disney (16+ hours away) we’re going to pack as much as we can for the drive. GF has already started couponing and buying foods that we can eat on the way that won’t go bad. The day before we leave, we plan on making pasta salads, normal salads and fruit salads- food that we can eat straight from the cooler, are healthy, filling and will give us plenty of energy for the drive. This will certainly keep us from hitting the gas station food when we stop for gas, at least on the way down. We haven’t yet figured out what we are going to do for the trip back up.

For anyone interested in my current debt totals, here they are:

Loan NameInterest RateOriginal Balance- May '09Current BalanceTotal Paid OffPaid Since Last Week
Sallie Mae 015.25$27,837.24$23,896.61$3,940.63$0.00
Sallie Mae 024.75$22,197.02$18,750.50$3,449.52$0.00
Sallie Mae 037.75$20,692.10$0.00
$20,692.10$0.00
Sallie Mae 045.75$10,350.18$6,271.63$4,078.55$305.85
Sallie Mae 055.25$6,096.03$0.00$6,096.03$0.00
Sallie Mae 06 and 074.75$6,415.09$0.00$6,415.09$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 015.25$5,000.00$0.00$5,000.00$0.00
Sallie Mae- DOE 025.25$3,000.00$0.00$3,000.00$0.00
AES6.8$9,000.00$0.00$9,000.00$0.00
TOTALS$110,587.66$48,918.66$61.669.00$305.85

I hope everyone has a great week!