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This past weekend, my sister-in-law and I got together to “batch cook.”  We had been talking about it for a month, and we finally decided to do it.  I’ve read on so many blogs, namely on The Simple Dollar about cooking large quantities and freezing them in smaller containers for later consumption.   Some people call it “once a month cooking” or batch cooking. 

This seemed like the perfect idea for a busy family who is trying to eat healthy and not spend so much money eating out.  My SIL and I were not willing to tackle an entire month on our first go-round.  Instead, we settled for two weeks of prepared and frozen meals.  We made 9 dishes.  It’s just her and my brother at their house and just Henry and myself eating “real” food at our house, so 9 meals is about 2 weeks worth of meals once you count leftovers for lunch and the one or two meals Henry and I usually eat out.

The surprising thing to me about the whole process was, it was not as exhausting as I thought it would be.  Maybe it was because we were working as a team, or maybe it was because we had an awesome 90’s music station blaring on iHeart radio. 🙂  Either way, it was pretty fun.  I realize that if we keep doing this every 2 weeks, it may get less fun as we go.  However, right now, I am enjoying not cooking again for 2 weeks.  I feel so super woman-ish having food all ready to go in my freezer.  I think it’s a new form of empowerment for a modern woman to be able to take care of work, children, AND dinner.  haha!

Another benefit of this system, all of the supplies to make these 9 meals (18 total with SIL’s share) was just a little over $100.  So, two families, 2 weeks of meals, about $115.  Not too shabby.

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Gratitude Instead of Attitude

Today’s commute was so much better.  At my husband’s suggestion, I took a different route from MIL’s house to work.   It shaved off 15-20 min. and I think it would have saved even more time if there had not been an accident on the highway.  Henry would take Baby Girl to MIL’s house, but he has to leave for work at 5:00am most mornings, and he would have to leave at 4:00am if he took her.  That is not sustainable for anyone who wants to say awake past 7:30pm. 

Yesterday I was stressed out, worried, and wondering how the heck I was going to be able to take Baby Girl to MIL’s house every day.  I was scrambling for ideas of who I could leave her with.  I know from co-worker’s that daycares in this area are BOOKED and if you want in, you have apply while the child is still in utero.  I’m so glad today went better.  I know now that I can do this 3 days per week without too much hassle.  Sure, it’s inconvenient, but Baby Girl is in great hands.  I’m hoping that being at MIL’s house, and being only around 2 other babies, that she will not get sick as frequently as some of my friends’ kids who are in daycares.  Probably not, but here’s to hoping.  🙂

I also realized last night that I needed to be grateful and thankful for so many things.  Here are just a few of those things:

1. We have a beautiful Baby Girl that needs to be cared for.

2. Henry and I have  jobs that we love (most days) that requires someone else to care for our child.

3. We have wonderful family members nearby (comparatively) who are willing to take care of Baby Girl.  Many of my friends do not have family close and don’t have that option.

4.  Henry picked up Baby Girl from MIL’s house so I could stay a little later at work to make up for my very late arrival.  It also gave me time to get home and clean up the kitchen and prop my feet up for a few minutes before they arrived home.  He’s a sweet and thoughtful man.

So, I’m done with whining…for now.

Hell on Wheels (or the Super-Whining of a Working Mom)

The full effect of being a working mom did not hit me until today.  For many moms, today was the first day of school.  For me, it was the first day of hell on wheels. 

Up until today, I have been spoiled.  Very, very spoiled.  My MIL has been coming to my house and keeping Baby Girl while the husband and I earn a living.  It’s been a good, no GREAT, arrangement.  Not only has she watched Baby Girl, she did our laundry…and folded it…and cooked…and cleaned.  I could cry right now thinking how incredibly awesome that arrangement was. 

However, we don’t pay grandma (MIL) enough for her to give up her day job to take care of Baby Girl.  We would if we could, but we simply can’t afford it.  So, grandma went back to her day job today as a school bus driver and I made a 50+mile round trip commute to her house.  Once there, the great-grandparents will watch Baby Girl until MIL finishes her bus route every morning. 

Big Problem

The trip to MIL’s house every morning is no problem.  The real problem is getting from there, back to work.  We live near the home offices for the nation’s largest retailer.   The time I need to travel through is the time EVERYONE in the area is heading to work.  And they all pretty much work at the same freakin’ place.  The trip should take 1 hr. 10 min. total.  NOTE:  IT DID NOT take 1 hr. and 10 min.  Nope. I left my house at 6:40 am and arrived at work at 8:40am.  Work starts at 8:00am.  Obviously, something is going to have to change. 

The Solution?

I’m not sure yet.  I’m thinking I should leave my house 30 min. earlier (yay) and wait to put on my makeup after I get to work.  The wall of traffic is on the return trip, so if I can get a bit ahead of it, maybe I won’t be so late to work.  My firm is understanding, but let’s face it, they aren’t paying me to cart my kid around.  I’m a salaried worker and time not at work means time they are paying me to do nothing.

I’d prefer to drive a tank or a small personal aircraft.  Since the government probably would frown upon my stealing a tank and technology has not advanced as fast as I’d hoped, I guess I’ll keep slogging along in my car.

Idiot Tax

Today I did something that is going to cost me what I like to call “idiot tax.”  An amount of money I’m paying because of an idiotic thing I did.

Right now, I’m driving my husbands large Ford F150 truck, not my little Honda Accord.  He works 30 min. from our house, I work 10, so he drives my car to save gas.  Anyway, I was coming back to work from a meeting and all the parking spaces were full except for one, very narrow spot.  I managed to squeeze Big Bertha into the spot and still leave a modest amount of room for the Tahoe driver next to me to get in and out. 

Bad Driving Hurts

Not 30 seconds after I pulled in, the little car to my left pulled out.  They had been hogging the line of their spot and now there was ample room.  I decided to back out and move over a little to give the Tahoe more room.  As I back out, I’m looking everywhere except where I should have been looking.  I hear the sound of plastic cracking and slammed on my brakes.  I had hit the Tahoe with my right mirror.  The mirrors are designed to fold INWARD, but I had managed to fold it halfway back.  Thankfully, I didn’t knock the mirror off of the much nicer Tahoe, but I did leave a quarter-sized dent and removed a noticeable paint chip.

Upon further inspection, I realized this brand spankin’ new Tahoe belongs to one of our assistants at work.  She’s a good, hardworking person, and is a friend of mine.  No way in heck I”m not going to confess and offer to fix it.  Rather than involve insurance, she’s going to get an estimate and we will pay her cash. 

That will be $200-$500 that could have gone to pay off student loans.  But nope, I had to be an idiot and not watch where I was going.  It makes me so angry at myself.  The only bright side–I did not damage Henry’s truck at all.  The mirror easily folded back to the original position and doesn’t seem to be worse for the wear.

The really, really bad thing is……………this is not the first time I’ve damaged Henry’s truck.  He used to have a Nissan and I crushed the driver’s side fender on a concrete pillar in a parking garage.  That happened when we had only been married about 6 months.  He may not be in such a forgiving mood after 7 years of marriage.  Fingers crossed.

The State of Our Finances (part 4 of 4)

I have laid out the other 3 areas of our finances:  income, debt, and assets.  Now, we move to the part I struggle with the most–The Budget.

The Budget

The Early Years:  Henry and I are terrible, terrible, terrible at sticking to a budget.  We’ve tried the envelope system.  Didn’t work for us.  It seemed like we spent MORE money not less when we used envelopes.  We would look in our coupon folder (our version of using envelopes) and see all this money and think, “yeah, let’s go eat out tonight.”  Or, we would forget our envelopes at home and have to use our debit or credit cards.  Kind of defeated the whole purpose. 

The Not-As-Early Years:  After I graduated from law school, our income doubled and budgeting kind of went out the window.  We were flush with cash and it seemed like we didn’t need to budget.  Then, we decided we wanted to buy a house.  That meant saving money.  We tightened our belts and just saved what we could after we had paid our bills and set aside some money for fun.  If we didn’t have money in our checking account to go to the movies, we just didn’t go.  There wasn’t a lot of rhyme or reason to it, but it was sort of working.  We saved enough money, put the downpayment on the house, and did some “fixin’ up.”  At that point, we realized, we owed a lot of people a LOT of money.  Neither of us like that feeling of owing poeple.

The Nasty Now & Now:  We want freedom.  Not freedom to the point of where we can quit our jobs and live on the beach (although that doesn’t sound too bad right now).  No, we just want freedom to not have to pay so many freaking bills every month.  We want to invest and earn interest instead of paying interest.  So, we have come up with a quasi-budget.  It’s not overly restrictive, yet it allows us to throw all our “leftover” money at debt every month.  This is what it looks like:

Paycheck 1 $1,300
Car Payment $355
SallieMae #2 $265
Groceries $125
Eating out $75
Gas $175
Child Care $160
Total $1,155
Paycheck 2 $1,381
MOHELA $64
auto insurance $150
electric (avg.) $150
water (avg.) $60
Child Care $160
Groceries $125
Savings $200
Savings (automatic) $345
Total $1,254
Paycheck 3 $1,300
Mortgage $940
Groceries $75
Gas $125
Child Care $160
   
Total $1,300
Paycheck 4 $1,381
Trash $30
Citi student loan $117
Phone $144
Internet $51
Child Care $160
Miscellaneous $50
Savings (automatic) $345
Groceries $125
Total $1,022
Total Income $5,362
Total Costs $4,731
extra payment fund $631

I’m too technologically illiterate to know how to import my Excel spreadsheet, but in Excel is where I keep the budget.  I have it divided according to paycheck because the makes the most sense to me.  Child care is a pretty expensive category, but that is because we have someone come to our home to watch Baby Girl.  Starting in 2 weeks, Henry is taking a position where he will only work 3 days per week.  This should chop our child care bill down to $120 per week and free up $160 more per month to throw at debt.  There are areas where we could trim, but we are pretty happy with our categories as they are right now.  They are loose enough that we don’t have to micromanage every penny, thus ensuring that we actually will stick to our “budget.”  Also, any extra money we get, Henry’s overtime, tax refunds, bonuses, etc. go towards debt. 

How do you budget?  Do you manage down to the penny or are you like us, prefer it a little more loosey-goosey?

The State of Our Finances (Part 3 of 4)

We have talked about income and debt, now we move to the fun stuff–what we actually own outright.  It’s not much.  This post will be short. :-/

The Assets

We own Henry’s 2008 Ford F-150 outright.  If all goes according to plan, we will own my 2008 Honda Accord  by next February.  In addition to those vehicles, we also own (outright) two other motorized “things.”  Henry owns a 1999 Harley motorcycle and a 2000-something 4-wheeler.  Not sure of the make/model but I’d say it’s worth between $700 – $1,000.   Other than the vehicles/ATV, our only other assets are our savings and retirement accounts. 

Currently our savings sit at:

Emergency Fund (EF):                   $7,300

Vacation Fund:                                  $1,350

New Roof Fund:                                    $1,250

Henry’s “man trip” fund:                    $650

Our emergency fund was at almost $10,000 when Baby Girl was born, but thanks to maternity and paternity leave (all unpaid), we went through several thousand dollars in those weeks (8 for me, 4 for Henry).  I have no regrets on spending that money or taking that time.  That was our plan all along–to save so we could both take time off without worrying how the bills would get paid.  We want to build that back up to $8,000, then start throwing all of the money we save per month ($890) at our debt.

Henry has around $40,000 in his retirement account.  I have approximately $16,000 in mine.  That’s it.  That’s our assets.  $10,550 cash, about $56,000 in retirement, $16,000 in motorized objects (truck, motorcycle, ATV).

We would love to own property some day, but we don’t feel financially secure enough yet and want to be done with all of our “Life Happens Debt” before we tackle any other investments.  We also need to start a 529 for Baby Girl.  It’s on my to-do-list, but we most likely won’t do that either until we are out of debt (Dave Ramsey would be so proud 🙂 )

The State of Our Finances (Part 2 of 4)

Yesterday I talked about the income side of things.  After all, one must have first things first.  Today, “Let’s talk about [debt] Baby, let’s talk about you and me.” (Salt ‘n’ Pepa throwback 😉 )

The DEBT

We have quite a bit of debt, in my opinion.  I totally get that whether our debts are HUGE or small is completely based on perspective.  Some people may be struggling with $5,000 in credit card debt and feel utterly swamped, while others may have $50,000 in debt and feel that it is manageable.  I think our debt is manageable, provided we don’t become unemployed, but it still makes me angry/scared/upset/frustrated. 

I lump our debt into 2 separate categories:  1. Life happens debt, 2. House debt. 

1.  “Life Happens Debt”

Our “Life Happens Debt” includes two things:  Student loans (puke) and a Car payment. 

Student Loans:  A Necessary Evil?  Neither Henry nor I took out very many student loans during our undergrad days.  In fact, we both graduated with about $5,000 each in undergrad student loans.  We also both worked part-time throughout most of our college careers.  However, we still have student loan debt, thanks to my law degree.  I racked up approximately $35,000 in student loans and interest in 3 years.  Notice I say “approximately.”  Honestly, I’m not 100% sure how much the debt was at the start.  I know the ball park figure.  When I started paying it off, I was scared of the number and I did not take a long, hard look at it.

What I do know is, today, my law school student loans look like this:

Sallie Mae $17,822.76
Citibank SL $630.72

We also still have our two, small undergraduate loans hanging around because the interest rates are so low that it made more sense to pay off my law school loans with a whopping 6.8% interest!  Those two undergrad loans started out at approximately $5,000 each and now look like this:

MOHELA $1,547.21
Great Lakes $2,334.77

When I first started keeping track of my student loan payoffs in February 2011, this is what our numbers looked like:

Sallie Mae $20,932.20
Citibank $8,965.53
MOHELA $2,561.06
Great Lakes $2,347.03

As you can see, the Great Lakes loan hasn’t changed much.  I paid ahead on it a long time ago and I don’t owe another payment until summer 2013.  So, I am not currently paying on it and will not do so until I pay off the higher interest SL’s or the bill comes due–whichever happens sooner.

Car Payment:  Yep, this one was absolutely necessary.  I will blow money like it’s going out of style on food, travel, and fun, but I am stingy to a fault when it comes to buying new “stuff.”  We found out last September that we were going to become parents.  At that point, Henry had caved and purchased a new-to-him truck to replace his that literally died in our front yard.  Like, manual transmission grease/fluid (whatever, I’m not a car expert) pouring, gushing out of it and into the street drain (we didn’t mean to be environmentally unfriendly).  I, however, refused to get rid of my hooptie.  That car deserves a post dedicated entirely to it’s existence, so I’ll save the story.  It was unsafe for me to be driving that car and I certainly was not going to drive our little bundle of joy around in that death trap.  Enter the 2008  Honda Accord.  Asking price was $16,000.  I got $1,000 trade in on the piece o’ junk, and paid $3,000 down.  Financed $12,000 at 3.7% interest in December 2011.  Today we owe:

Chase auto loan $9,452.10

2.  “House Debt”

We rented a little duplex for our first 5 years of marriage. In fact, we rented the same little duplex for those 5 years.  It was close to Henry’s work and it was close to work, then school for me.  It was fairly cheap for the area, although the rent seemed to go up almost every year. 

We were very selective in our home buying.   Even after I graduated in 2009 and got a job I loved before I even took the bar exam, we still did not jump immediately into home ownership.  We looked and waited for almost a year before purchasing our current home.  It was a short sale and we got the home for a bargain.  It was originally on the market for $195,000 and we got it for $145,000.  It has 3 acres, 2,000 square feet, and a pool.  Virtually no neighbors, yet it is 10 min. from downtown where I work.  Henry is not quite so lucky, he has a 25 minute commute, but since he’s a nurse working 3-4 days per week, it’s not as rough on him to drive to work as it would be for me working 5 days per week.

We paid $7,500 down and took out a mortgage for $137,500 at 5.25% interest.  It would have been more like 4.75% interest if Henry had a decent credit history. He is a cash or debit cardman and at that time had never had a credit card…EVER.  He had the one tiny student loan, but it wasn’t enough to give him a very good credit rating.  I, on the other hand, with my poor spending habits, had great credit!  Today, our mortgage is approximately $131,000 (the interest makes this number change daily).  Seems like an incredibly paltry amount considering we have paid on it for 2 years.  Makes me wish we had saved longer and made a bigger down payment.  Oh well, we love the house, so no regrets yet.

Total debt?  A LOT!!!

Total debt I am keeping tabs on?  $31,787.56.  That is the number I want to get to $0.  The house, in due time, in due time.