Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Middle Ground

This past weekend I held a "Bathroom Cleaning Seminar" in my house. It was actually because Frances frequently volunteers to clean the bathroom and Benjamin offers to help, but they often miss a few things or do them out of order. Henry has started wanting to try it too, so I wanted to make sure they were doing a good job. I went through, step by step, how to clean the entire bathroom. As a result the bathroom is really, really clean!

Last night after the kids went to bed, Ken called to me from the bathroom, "So much for your nice clean bathroom!" He was referring to the big blob of toothpaste in the sink that was already half-dried and stuck to the basin.

Sigh. The good news is that the kids brushed their teeth before bed. I appreciate that and I'm sure their dentist does too. The bad news is that the sink is a mess. The other bad news is that the other three nights of a clean sink were more than likely due to the kids not brushing their teeth at all. Statistically that 's more likely, right?

It gets me thinking about other things they do like this. Some nights I feel like a monster at bedtime. They won't get pajamas on, won't stop running around and when I finally get them in their beds they laugh and giggle and talk to each other. They even get out of bed because they forgot to hug each other!!!  I mean that sounds cute and all, be the reality is that it's 30 minutes after bedtime and they are just being "sweet" as an excuse to get out of bed again. Why can't they be sweet with each other when they're playing during the day? No, they yell and fight when they are allowed to be playing together!

I drive Frances to school in the mornings. She's typically very quiet the whole way there. She's reading a book and no matter how many questions I ask, I just get grunts. When I hit the drop off circle, she starts telling me about what is going to happen that day and other things she's excited about. I have people behind me in the pick up lane pulling out to pass me or honking. She takes 5 minutes to get out of the car! I'd love to talk to her, but NOT IN THE PICKUP LINE!

So I get good behavior at the wrong time. That means they are capable of behaving, right? They just can't behave when I want them to. Is there no middle ground? Am I the only one dealing with this??

Monday, March 13, 2017

10 ways to add more Green to your Pot of Gold

I fully acknowledge that this is a lot of information, feel free to scan for what works for you now and bookmark/Pin it to come back to it later! Also, please note that I've used a few referral links. They are clearly noted. If you use my links I'll get a kickback. Thanks in advance for helping me to save some extra cash!

Money, money, money. It's tax season in the U.S. and home buying/selling season for us. I feel like I've constantly got my mind on my money and my money on my mind! Actually, I've been a bit obsessed lately, especially because we sold our house in November, but haven't been able to buy anything. That means we've got the profit from our home sale sitting in the bank and I want to keep it safe. I don't want to lose any of it, because that's what we've got to make sure we can buy a new home. It needs to be protected. I'd also like to grow that money by being as smart with it as I possibly can. Today you get to benefit from my research!


1. First of all, if you don't already have one, make a budget! Ideally you should have a very concrete understanding of all the money that comes into your household and all the money that goes out of it. The best kind of budget is a "zero based budget" That means income equals outcome every month. When I first heard that it sounded scary. At first glance, that sounds like someone living paycheck to paycheck, but it's not. Zero based budgeting means assigning a place to all of your money and the first/best place to assign your money is to yourself. Obviously, you've got living expenses you'll need to assign some of your money to, but you should also assign some of your money to a savings account, some to investing (you might not be quite there yet, that's okay), some to an emergency fund, and some to fun money. Yep, fun money! Life's meant to be enjoyable. You are allowed to budget yourself some fun money every month: a guilt-less fast food trip, some new makeup, new pair of shoes, new video game or book, etc. Whatever makes you happy. And as you get a better handle on your money, you can increase this amount too. Here's a budget template in Google Drive that you can use. Download your own copy and save it. I didn't create this, but the person who did has made it available for sharing.

2. Once you've got your budget made, you need to keep track of it and make sure your money goes where you tell it to. Lots of people use a cash envelope system. In this system, you would take cash out of the bank and put it in a physical envelope each month. When the money runs out, it runs out. If you use up all the food money, you'll have to survive on the groceries already in the house. If you spend all your fun money, you have to wait until next month to replenish. I personally don't care for this method, but it works really well for lots of people. I use Mint to keep track of my budget categories. You can link your bank accounts to it and they will update automatically. There's a desktop version and an app.

Mint will categorize your transactions and give you a graph that shows where all your money goes.
3. My other best practice tip for assigning money and saving more is to have money automatically diverted to your savings account each paycheck. I started an online savings account with Ally bank about four years ago and I assigned 5% of my paycheck to that account. That money never showed up in my regular bill-paying account, so I essentially didn't miss it. Slowly, little by little, I bumped that 5% up to the current 23%. And I don't miss it because I never saw it! I've also made a point to put money in my kids' savings accounts. Ben is 6, so he get $6 of each paycheck, Henry gets $9 and Frances gets $13. Again, all this money gets put where it belongs before I see it, so I don't have to think about it and I don't forget it. Also, Ally has a 1%APR on savings, which is one of the highest rates around, so I'm putting that money to good use. And if there was an emergency, I can get to it within 3-4 days. (You can get an Ally checking account with a debit card, but I haven't. I want that money to be difficult to access. I find it to be safer that way.)

4. If you are one of the 38.1% of Americans who carry credit card debt or the 40 million who owe for student loans, you'll be familiar with paying interest. Paying interest is no fun because it just seems like wasted money. If you are paying interest, you should be working hard to pay off your debt. That means a good portion of what you earn should go towards servicing that debt. In fact, if you are paying interest, most money experts say you should not be making investments. The money you waste on interest is more than the money you make on investments. So get rid of your debt first!!

That can be a hard thing to do and it seems very overwhelming when you first start out. Do this: take a deep breath and look at your budget. Collect all your credit information: How much is your interest? What's the minimum payment? What (if any) extra do you have that you can put towards this debt? Now take those answers over to Unbury.me.  Click "enter a loan" and enter your first loan with all the required information (principal balance, interest, minimum payment). Do this for each loan that you have. You'll get a graph that shows how long it will take to pay of each loan, making only the monthly payments. It will tell you how much to pay towards each debt each month. This might look scary! That's okay!! Keep reading.
By making minimum payments, it will take you 12 years to pay off these loans!


Now that you have your loans entered, you can slide the minimum payment bar up to pay more than the minimum payment on your loans. You can see the graph change and your "debt free date" get closer! You can also choose from two different ways of paying off your debt: the avalanche method or the snowball method. They both have their merits, so think about what suits you better. The avalanche method is a very math-oriented method. You simply pay the most money to the largest interest rate because that saves you the most money in interest. That's a great way to do it. However, the snowball method has some good points too. The snowball method tells you to pay the most money on the smallest balance first. There are great psychological benefits to paying off a debt. It gets you excited about paying off the rest of the debts you have. Once that loan is paid off, you'll take all the money you were using for that one and pay it towards the next lowest balance. Either way, you spend the same amount each month towards paying off your debt. Then, when you are debt free (PAY ATTENTION; THIS IS IMPORTANT!!) keep paying that same amount somewhere important to you: your savings account, an investment account, etc. Don't let that money go straight to your fun money account, let it work for you!
By finding just $100 extra each month, you can be out of debt 4 years sooner!

5. So you've got your money figured out and it's working for you. Now what? Well, if you want more money, you've either got to make more or spend less. Ken and I have good, solid jobs, but they are state jobs, so making more is difficult to do. We could try to get new jobs that pay more money, but for our own personal reasons, that's not what we want to do right now. We have chosen to focus on spending less, but there might be some easy ways to make more that you aren't thinking about!

This time of year I hear lots of people who are really excited about their tax refunds. There are ads all over the radio and newspaper, as well as in my email: "How will you spend your tax refund!?!" The problem is, you don't really want a big refund. That might sound crazy, but here's why: Your tax refund is based on how much money the government takes out of your paycheck each pay period. If you get a refund, that's because they took too much. The government isn't giving you free money; it's giving you back your money that they borrowed FOR FREE! If you find yourself continually getting large refunds, then you need to adjust your withholding (the amount of money taken out of your check each pay period). Ideally, when you file your taxes, the difference between what you paid and what you owe should be very minimal. In fact, if you're looking at just the numbers, it would be better to owe taxes every year. That would mean you had borrowed money, interest free, from the government! Of course, that also means, you might have to cough up a couple thousand dollars all at once to pay it back, so do what works best for you.

6.  Speaking of ads for how to spend your tax refund, I'll bet you'll be surprised that I'm going to tell you not to use coupons to save money. Sorry, Karen, your highlighted grocery list has no place here!! LOL! I really don't use coupons very often. Why? Because I found that I was frequently buying things I wouldn't have bought otherwise. If I save 25 cents to buy a name brand item, when I would normally buy the generic, I haven't actually saved money, have I? So I guess I won't tell you not to use coupons, but I will tell you to use them carefully.

7. Instead of using coupons, we choose to purchase generic for most products. In most cases, the taste is the same and they are often even produced in the same factories. There are a few things I prefer to buy name brand, but buying most other things generic allows me to do that. My peanut butter has to be Jif, my syrup has to be Log Cabin, and my mayonnaise has to be Miracle Whip. Other than that, I often don't care!

8. We also avoid paying full price for meat. This goes against the other popular idea to meal plan before you go to the store. We actually rarely carry a list, in fact. If you get to know your local grocery store, you'll get an idea of when they mark down their meat for a quick sale. We are lucky in that ours is often done on Sunday mornings, which is when I do the shopping. Instead of meal planning before our trip, I will scan the meat department to see what is marked down for a quick sale. I can usually pick up a variety of beef, chicken, and pork. And my hubby loves it when the pork chops are marked down! As long as you use (or freeze) the meat within a week, it will still be safe to eat. We actually got into such a habit of buying marked down meat, that we have too much in the freezer and we haven't actually bought new meat in about two months!

If you do want to save money on things you're already buying, I've got two recommendations:

9. Ibotta is a great app for your every day shopping. I use it every week for my groceries. The reason I like Ibotta is because it saves me money on things I would have bought anyway. They frequently have rebates for milk, carrots, onions, and pasta sauce. Some of the rebates are brand specific, but a lot of them are not. That means I can buy the store brand pasta sauce and still save money! And I've never seen coupons for milk and carrots anywhere else. Each week, usually Saturday night for me because I shop on Sunday, I flip through the app and see what rebates there are. Sometimes you can just tap the rebate, sometimes you might have to watch a short video or answer a question. I do my shopping at Food Lion, so the app is already linked to my MVP card. That means that as long as I enter my MVP card when I check out, Ibotta will give me the rebates automatically. Some stores, you might have to scan the barcodes of what you bought and take a picture of the receipt. If you sign up using my referral link, you'll get $10 in your account and I'll get $5.

Ebates is another way to save money on things you were going to buy anyway. I use Ebates when I do online shopping. First I sign in to my Ebates account, then I pick the store where I'll be making a purchase, for example Amazon.com or JCPenney.com. Then I shop as normal, and when I check out, I get a portion of what I spend back as a rebate. The percentages and stores allowed change on a regular basis, so it's always good to check before any online shopping trip. If you sign up for Ebates with my referral link, you'll get $10 extra back after your first purchase, and I'll get $25.

10. Saving money is great! What can you do with the money you've saved? Well, I'm not the best person to answer that question, because other than a retirement account, I've not done a lot of investing. I've got a suggestion for you in a bit, but first I'll mention one fun type of investing that I've seen. It's called CD Laddering. Again, trust Ally Bank if you want to try it out. They've got great rates, and I'm not getting anything out of telling you that! Here are the basics: Decide on your initial investment. Divide it by three. Invest a portion in a one year CD, a two year CD, and a three year CD.  When that first CD comes due, you can keep all the money, keep just the interest, or roll it all over into another 3 year CD. The first choice will break your ladder. Only do that if some emergency has come up that you can't cover any other way. You can keep just the interest and roll the initial investment back into a 3 year CD. That would give you some fun money to play with as a reward for investing. If you don't really need it, roll it all up and keep earning money! Once you've got the ladder set up, you'll have money come available to you once a year that you can use for a variety of different purposes. Obviously the best choice is to keep investing. CDs are probably best for investing between $1,000 and $5,000. With more money than that, I'd look into stocks, bonds, or mutual funds.

BONUS TIP: So, I'm not a financial strategist. I obviously don't just know most of this information off the top of my head. When I started looking for a safe way to hold on to our home down payment, I found Reddit. Now, depending on your level of internet savvy, that might be a scary sounding thing. And I'll admit, Reddit might not be the place to hang out for everyone, BUT the personal finance section is AMAZING and chock full of resources and advice.

Here are the basics for how to use their resources. First, you don't need an account to just browse. You can read all you want without anyone knowing you're there. If you want to ask a question or reply to something you'll need an account. Second, in the personal finance section you'll find a lot of impersonal advice. The best advice you'll get will be straight numbers and money. There are people who will advocate getting rid of a sick pet if you can't afford the treatment. You'll also see (possibly callous) advice for victims of identity fraud to turn their parents or siblings in to the police. My advice is to keep reading and take it with a grain of salt. This is all head advice, not heart advice. When it comes to money, that's really more of what I want to hear anyway. Thirdly, don't venture outside the thread I linked without caution. It's very easy to go to their "Bad Finance Advice" subreddit without noticing. Here you'll find people who get a laugh out of offering the worst possible advice for people. And, as long as you know that's what they're doing, it can be funny. Just don't follow internet advice blindly without using your actual brain first!


Did you make it through all that?! Well, I've got some more "green" to share with you! The theme for this month's Blog With Friends projects is green. I went with money, but other people cooked, baked, made artwork, and examined the word more closely. Keep reading for more about green.


Karen of Baking in a Tornado has green, egg, and ham.

Dawn of Spatulas on Parade has Green Bunny Poop.

Melissa of Heartfelt Sentiments has DIY: Nuggets of Fun.

Kia of Think in English as a study of the word green in other languages.

Eileen of Eileen's Perpetually Busy has a fun graduation cake.

Kristin of Little Mama Jama has Mint Mocha Cupcakes.

Lydia of Cluttered Genius has a project to use up all your old crayons.

Tamara of The Three Gerbers has an adorable Leprechaun craft you can make.


Didja make it all the way to the end? Good for you!

Friday, March 10, 2017

What You Think About, You Bring About

I watched a clip of some daytime talk show a while ago. I think it was even an ad. They were talking about statement bracelets. One of the women was showing off her bracelets and mentioned why she had chosen the words she did, "What you think about, you bring about."

I really liked the saying, but of course, forgot the exact wording fairly quickly. I tried searching for variations of it, but I just couldn't find it. Then I saw the ad again and watched just to get the phrase written down. It's really stuck with me since then.

I'm not sure exactly where it comes from. Googling the phrase yields a lot of results, but no concrete source. It seems that it's a very quotable quote. It's certainly stuck with me. I even mentioned it to the kids and they quote it at each other sometimes.

I've had reason to think about it again lately. I am slowly coming out of something that in retrospect looks a lot like depression. Situational? Post-partum? Who knows? I just know that the last year has been a lot of tree-staring and not much forest visible. Does that make sense?

Things are looking up in terms of housing and the stress that had been holding me down is starting to lift. We still have struggles, and I'm still worried about fallout for the kids from all the stress. One of them has had an exceptionally hard year and I'm in the process of scheduling therapy to get a handle on that.

Previously I was a very happy, glass-half-full kind of person. I don't feel that way as often anymore. I'm trying to, though. One of the things that has helped me seems a little silly, but it works. I have two rings that I wear on my right hand. One says "Be still" and has a bible verse on it. The other is a simple silver band with the word "hope" on it. Seeing those words on my hand on a daily basis has helped me to refocus my brain and look for the positives. It does seem that what you think about, you bring about.

Welcome to a Secret Subject Swap. This week 12 brave bloggers picked a secret subject for someone else and were assigned a secret subject to interpret in their own style. Today we are all simultaneously divulging our topics and submitting our posts. Here are links to all the sites now featuring Secret Subject Swap posts. Sit back, grab a cup, and check them all out. See you there:

Baking In A Tornado 
Dinosaur Superhero Mommy
Spatulas on Parade
The Diary of an Alzheimer’s Caregiver  
The Bergham Chronicles
Never Ever Give Up Hope
Simply Shannon 
Confessions of a part time working mom 
Southern Belle Charm 
The Angrivated Mom 
Climaxed 

My subject is “How to make positive life changes.” It was submitted by Confessions of a part time working mom.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Spoilers

Spoilers get a bad rep. That's understandable. When you're reading a book or watching a movie, you'd like to do so without already knowing what happens. It seems to take away the fun of the story if you already know where the story is going.

Spoilers don't really bother me too terribly much though. Stories, whether they are in books or movies, seem to follow some pre-scripted notions. For the most part, we know the guy gets the girl. The protagonist achieves her goal. The kids gets to keep the puppy. Right? It's not very often that you begin a story without having some kind of an idea about where it ends up.

It's the details of the story I care about. The way the pieces intertwine to make the characters come alive. To make me feel the anguish of the man as he chases after his love. To have me on the edge of my seat as the main character stumbles time and again on her road to victory. To have me crying tears of sorrow as the puppy gets lost and then tears of joy as he finds his way home again.

But while those details are fun in a story, they can be maddening in real life. Real life doesn't follow the same scripts as the fictional world. The guy doesn't always get the girl. The protagonist doesn't always reach the goal she was striving for. Sadly, sometimes, the puppy just doesn't make it.

This past year has been quite a whirlwind for our family. I'm still processing it. I'm a verbal processor, can you tell? When I'm dealing with something I talk about it. Sometimes in person with my husband or my mom. Sometimes through text messages and emails between friends. And sometimes I process right here on this blog. (My goal isn't to be preachy. I'm mostly talking to myself and trying to come to my own conclusions. If you see yourself in my problem and my solutions make sense to you, that's just an added bonus.)

I've had a lot of people telling me that "things would be okay" or that "it would all work out in the end." And in a way that's true. I know where my story ends up. I have faith that God has a plan for my life. I also know that the script only gets passed along to me one paragraph at a time. I've seen the last page. I know where I'm headed. I just have no idea how many pages this story has. How many chapters are there?

So I can honestly say that the events of this past year haven't really tested my faith. I know that things will all ultimately work out, but that doesn't make dealing with hardship any less difficult. With a miscarriage there is no happy ending. I take comfort in the fact that we will see Lucky again in heaven, but that doesn't lessen the sorrow.

I've never truly believed that we would be homeless, but with the local real estate market at a record low and home rentals outrageously priced in a college town, there have been some really stressful months. I knew we would find a place to live. We had friends offer us their basement. Townhouses are plentiful, but not ideal for us. There would certainly be a solution, but not knowing the specifics is allowed to be stressful.

At this current moment, we have signed a lease to rent a house. The terms are much better than I could have realistically predicted. The house is in a good location and we'll have plenty of room. We'd still like to buy a house, but this gives us time and space to do that without the stress of a lease ending or not having access to our stuff.

I allowed some people their "I told you so moment," but I, too, knew it would work out. I just didn't know how and that was how my anxiety levels were so high. Spoilers wouldn't have helped here. It's the details that got to me.
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