Friday, September 28, 2012

mish mash

I have a whole mess of financial thoughts running through my head today.

First, Molly is sick today. Actually, she's been sick since about Wednesday, but this morning it started to get worse instead of better. I took my child to the doctor like any good mother, only she's not covered by my health insurance. $255 later, we had blood drawn, a shot, meds, and new food to take home. I had to put that on our joint Chase card since this is the paycheck where the mortgage comes out and we're going to Disney next week.

Speaking of Disney, I managed to put aside $300 to take with me. We leave Wednesday night and come back Monday afternoon. Saturday will be taken up with race day, so I'm hoping that other than food, my expenses will be minimal and I'll be able to come back with some of that money.

Yesterday, I received an email that my job is not continuing my health plan in 2013. Next month I have to decide whether to jump onto the hubs plan or to take the other plan that's offered. I'm leaning towards the former right now, but it'll depend on what kind of coverage they'll offer for my post-op doctor visits and physical therapy when I get knee surgery later this year. It's very frustrating decision to have to make. I'll admit I had a "poor poor Kathy" mindset last night, but I'm getting over it.

It's not all bad news, though. I've been very good at documenting my spending this month and I think I've managed to reduce spending - not by much - but a little. I was able to stick to a budget when buying a bridal shower gift last week and spent less than I usually would. I even went to Home Goods yesterday with some co-workers and didn't see anything I wanted to buy! That's huge.

Any news with my readers - who's got big weekend plans? We're having people over for the Jets / 49ers game on Sunday since the tickets were too expensive for us to actually go.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

double take

My coworker asked if I wanted to go with her to our work cafeteria. I wasn't getting any work done at the moment (a theme at my cubicle), so I agreed. I took a few dollars with me, in case anything caught my eye, but I wasn't really hungry.

A short distance later, we arrived. I saw the cafeteria had cartons of Tropicana, which was great, since I had forgotten to have some with breakfast. There are two things I need in the morning: orange juice & tea. Without them, my day is pretty much ruined. I grabbed a carton and took it to the register. Guess how much that carton was?


$ 2 !!!

I was paralyzed at the register. I certainly didn't want to pay $2 for 24 ounces of juice (more than double what I normally drank in the morning), but I didn't want to be that weirdo who put it back. Not surprisingly, I paid for it, but it'll be a long time before I make that mistake again.
Also, I should  have done a better job at checking prices. While drinks aren't labeled with prices in the cooler, there is a large peg board I should have checked first. But when my soda is 0.75 cents, I definitely don't think the orange juice is going to cost 150% (ish) more.

Anyone else ever have something similar happen? Are you better at putting the item back than I am?

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

magic isn't cheap

Next Wednesday, the hubs and I are traveling to the Most Magical Place on Earth (I feel the need to capitalize that, for some reason), as his cross country team is competing in the ESPN Cross Country Classic. Back when we first found out about the trip, we were both pretty psyched. I say we, because I was invited to attend as a chaperone. Sidenote: There are few words in the English language that make you feel old than chaperone.

Before you get your undies in a bunch about taxpayer money being wasted on a non-district employee such as myself (like my Mom), you should know we were responsible for paying our own way. Additionally, the girls cross country coach decided this year, the team would "upgrade" from a value resort to a moderate resort. For those of you who don't know, here are the differences:

Value Resort: Your basic amenities - food court, gift shop, pools (but no water slides), a lot of walking, sometimes long waits for the shuttles. Basically, we would be at the Wide World of Sports hotel (or other Value priced hotel) with every other cross country team attending.
Moderate Resort: A bit more upscale. There's a food court AND a table service restaurant and there are more pools (and some have water slides). The walking is about the same as well as the transportation (Disney shuttle).

I stayed in the Port Orleans Moderate resort when I went to Disney at 17. Honestly, I don't remember anything special about it. The two times the =hubs and I have gone to Disney as adults, we've stayed near Downtown Disney (because we're drunks). Personally, I would've been fine with spending less money on a Value resort this time around. But then again, when there aren't 500 obnoxious high schoolers around our resort while I'm trying to sleep - I'll be grateful.

Granted, I'm sure we saved some money by traveling in a large group, but some things are expensive in Disney no matter which way you look at it. The biggest of these is food. I did some research the other night on this and there are a few websites with helpful suggestions, but the most informative one is Mouse Savers. Every tip you could ever imagine for any Disney vacation is there.

The number #1 tip I found was that you can now bring your own water into the theme parks and fill up at the water fountains as your day goes on. Considering bottle of water usually cost at least $2, this is definitely going to come in handy. You can also bring snacks into the park as well. This weekend, we'll be picking up some travel-friendly snack packs to bring in with us.

The hubs and I also agreed to keep our meals light. He's decided to stick with two meals a day, so if he eats breakfast, he'll skip lunch, and munch on the snacks until dinner. I can't skip meals without turning into an angry bear, so my plan is to bring oatmeal that I can mix up in the room to eat for breakfast then hit the produce stand of whatever park we're in that day (there's one in every park) for a cheap, nutritious filler. Hopefully, when our day starts to wind down I'll be able to grab a few pieces of fruit for the next day as well.

For times that we have to eat in the park, Mouse Savers points out a few money-saving options:
  1. Split a large meal between the two of us. For example, you can get half a rotisserie chicken with mashed potatoes & vegetables for about $10 in at least one restaurant at all the different parks
  2. Buy kids meal portions at counter service restaurant - no kid required!
  3. Anything offered as a combination meal you can actually get a la carte. So instead of buying a sandwich, fries, salad, and drink, we can pick & chose what we'll actually eat. No wasted food OR money.
A little planning, I think, is going to go a long way here. Does anyone have any other tips I can use? Anything I definitely should or should not bring with me? You think, after three other vacations, I would know what I'm doing!

Friday, September 21, 2012

all or nothing

During my senior year of high school, I was cast as Aunt Eller in our production of Oklahoma!. The movie's been on TV a lot lately, causing me to have at least one song stuck in my head at any given moment. Recently, I've been humming "All Er Nuthin" sung by Ado Annie (played by Gloria Grahame) & Will Parker (Gene Nelson). Never heard it? I'm not surprised. Have a listen:

Even though the song is about giving your partner your all in marriage, the phrase has really been sticking with me lately. Yesterday, I was reading My Year with Eleanor and came across a passage about perfectionists/perfectionism. And it never really hit me until that moment just how well it described me. Of course I can't find the passage now, but I'm at work, so I'll try to come back with it later. Lets turn to our friend Wikipedia for a brief synopsis:
Perfectionists have also been described as those who strain compulsively and unceasingly toward unobtainable goals, and who measure their self-worth with their productivity and accomplishment.[4] Pressuring oneself to achieve such unrealistic goals inevitably sets the individual up for disappointment. Perfectionists tend to be harsh critics of themselves when they do not meet the standards they set for themselves...Unhealthy perfectionists consider their mistakes a sign of personal defects. For these individuals, anxiety about potential failure is the reason perfectionism is felt as a burden.
It goes on to say that there are people who can use their perfectionism in a healthy manner to keep them striving towards goals; This reminds me most of my sister in law, Stephanie, who makes goals, re-evaluates her goals, and achieves them, all on a regular basis.

I talked about some goals in this post, but, honestly, haven't done a thing about it in the six months that have passed. Do I think those goals are unrealistic? Not really, but somewhere in my mind, I can feel myself thinking "you're not going to accomplish them anyway, so why even bother?" And I think that's the mindset I've gotten myself stuck into over the past eight years or so.

I say eight years, because that's the last time I felt like my life was full of positive promise - the summer of high school graduation. The first two years of college, I struggled immensely with the decision of "what to major in". I struggled with living on my own for the first time in my life - and that existance was funded a lot on credit. Then I went through this revolving cycle of paying off credit card debt only to tack on new (and usually more) in the next year(s). Then I graduated college and was faced with bleak employment options and massive student loan debt. And now, here I am, only three years away from my thirties with absolutely nothing to show for it, except some clothes that I really don't like very much anyway.

Author Julia Cameron wrote: “Perfectionism is a refusal to let yourself move ahead. It is a loop — an obsessive, debilitating closed system that causes you to get stuck in the details of what you are [doing] and to lose sight of the whole.”

That sounds all too familiar.

Obviously it's not all bad. I'm lucky to have some very awesome people in my life who support me no matter how many times I make mistakes (even if they're the same ones over and over again). And I am thankful for that everyday.

Phew - I did not expect this post to turn into an emotional analysis. Your turn. Any personality quirks (good or bad) you want to reveal?

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

under my umbrella

2011 to 2013 has been, is, and will be an exciting time for us as well as our family & friends.

In October 2010, we kicked off the start of "Wedding Fever" with one of my best friend's wedding. In April 2011, we got married. We had weddings in May and June 2011. Then our two other best friends got married (to each other!) in September 2011 and with that came the responsibilities of throwing a shower & a bachelorette party.

Then we had a lull - we missed a wedding in November 2011 due to Brian's track schedule. In June 2012, we started back up with a wedding in the Poconos. In August, we not only had two weddings, but the weddings were on the same day. I went to one, while the hubs went to the other. Besides the wedding, I also went to the shower, bachelorette party, & helped plan her office shower. The day after her wedding, I went to a bridal shower for Brian's cousin. Three weeks later, I attended a wedding for my co-worker.

Besides the weddings, I've also been to at least two baby showers in January 2011 and May 2012 (which was for triplets!).

Which brings us to the present. Lots of presents.

But don't get me wrong. I love weddings. I love bachelorette parties and I love showers. I'm a weirdo. I love planning them and I love going to them. Most women I know dread going to showers, but not me. Food? Presents? Cheesy games? Possibly Mimosas? Count me in.

Remember way back in April when we were talking about Financial Literacy Month? I briefly discussed back then that I have a hard time sticking to budgets when it comes to gifts. Weddings are fairly easy because all you have to do is write the check and buy a card (although our standard amount has risen about $50 since we first started dating). But now having gotten married and done the whole she-bang I find it harder to stick to a budget for my engaged friends because there are so many products out there that are useful.

Coming up, I have a shower in mid-October followed by a family wedding two weeks later. Throw in multiple birthdays in October/November and that takes us right to Christmas. We have a wedding in January 2013 and a long distance wedding in Colorado in May. I *think* Wedding Fever offically ends in October 2013 when two of our close friends get married, but a lot can happen in one year.

So we have some friends who are engaged, some who are married, and some who have started to segway into the baby portion of their lives. With all of these life events intersecting, it's become even more important that I stick to any budgets I set for each event.

I've been hoarding collecting as many Bed, Bath, & Beyond coupons as I can so when the time comes for wedding showers, I'll be able to buy a few mid-range items without totally breaking the bank.

Anyone else hanging out at the intersection of weddings and babies? It looks like I'll be here for awhile, so get comfy!

sidenote: There will be no budgets, ever, for my future neice. That goes against the Aunt code (that totally exists, right?)

Monday, September 17, 2012

seven minutes in shopper's heaven

This morning, while purusing Yahoo, I came across the article 7 Signs You're a Shopaholic. Immediately, I thought, "Tell me something I don't know." But, just for fun, lets go through their criteria together.

1. You have many tagged or unopened items in your closet.
Hell no. When I buy something new, I immediately wear it as soon as possible. Otherwise, what's the point of buying it?

2. You often purchase things you don't need or didn't plan to buy.
Guilty. For reference, see this post about a trip to Target.

3. An argument or frustration sparks the urge to shop.
Nah. I quell my frustration and anger through drinking.

4. You experience a rush of excitement when you buy.
Most definitely. You know those Kohl's commercials about "shopping to win"? That's me. One time, My savings total was $1,022 at Kohl's and you might as well have shot me up with heroin. I was high on savings.

5. Purchases are followed with feelings of remorse.
Eh. I'll go half-sies on this one. Sometimes, I'll feel guilty about a purchase, especially if it's one we really didn't need, but this doesn't happen too often.

6. You try to conceal your shopping habits.
Again, half-sies. Have I done it in the past? Yes. But it's not something that happens more than once or twice a year. I can't remember the last time I snuck a bag into the house.

7. You feel anxious on the days you don't shop.
No. I don't have the shakes or anything yet.

Okay, so I'm not a full fledged shopaholic, but it looks like I'm well on my way.

Yahoo suggests I "find a new activity" to substitute for shopping, which frankly, is ridiculous. Jogging will never be more fun than shopping, at least in my book. Although, I could get some cute new sneakers (just kidding, don't worry!). Or I could watch more TV, if that's even possible (and thus see commercials for things I want).

Then, I should "identify my triggers" which I think in the course of this blog, we've already done. I know I tend to shop before social events or when I'm feeling sad about something. Whether or not I "avoid shopping at all costs" at those moments is debateable. Next, we "remove temptation", by limiting shopping trips and going when only necessary. Unfortunately for Yahoo (and my wallet), I am the best execuse-maker I know, and I can make every shopping trip a necessary one.

They also advise to carry only the cash you need. There are a few schools of thought that harp on this principal, but I've never tried it. There's something about it I just don't like... I can't quite put my finger on it.

Lastly, "if you're still struggling with compulsive spending, don't be afraid to ask for help." I won't lie to you, my three faithful readers, lately I have thought about seeking some professional counseling on the subject. If for nothing else that some objective thoughts on the matter at hand. Maybe there's some deep-seeded reason for my shopping habits that I've been forcing into the deep recesses of my pysche. Probably not though.

Any thoughts on the article? Is there anything you would to the definition of a shopaholic?

Friday, September 14, 2012

sub or hero?

Disclaimer: this post is not actually about the linguistics of a sub/hero/hoagie. I don't want this blog to be the start of geographical warfare (because that's totally what would happen). Authors Note: If you're visting South Jersey, it's hoagie.

I was reading Stephanie's blog this morning and she noted she has never made zucchini bread with nutmeg, simply because she didn't have it in her pantry. Instead, she uses pumpkin pie spice and it works out just fine. This got me thinking about all the times I haven't had something in the pantry/fridge that a receipe called for. When, and if, I meal planned, I usually just went right down the list and bought everything a receipe called for. This can get very expensive and half the time I don't use the ingredient again. Talk about a waste of money.

Lately, I've been getting better at checking out substitutions for common (and not so common) ingredients. I thought I would share with my lovely readers (all three of you) my favorites so far. Just know that these are necessarily "healthier" substitutions, but perhaps, easier.

Allspice: equal parts nutmeg, cinnamon, & cloves

Bread crumbs: rolled oats (crushed up a bit) or even plain potato chips crushed finely

Butter: 7/8 cup of oil for every one cup of butter

Buttermilk: just under 1 cup of milk combined with 1 tablespoon of vinegar or lemon juice. Let sit for five minutes then use as needed

Egg: applesauce, half a banana, or plain yogurt can be great egg substitutes in baked goods, just remember to add a pinch of baking powder if you need the food to rise when cooking. If you're really in a pinch, try mixing two tablespoons of water with two tablespoons of baking powder.

Fish sauce (my secret ingredient in a lot of things!): 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce

Ginger: 1/2 teaspoon ground to substitute for 1 teaspoon fresh

Molasses: 3/4 cup brown sugar, 3/4 cup white sugar combined with 1/4 cup water, OR 1 cup dark honey or maple syrup

Vinegar (white or cider): 1 tablespoon lemon or lime juice

That's just a very brief list - check here if you're looking for something specific.

It might take a few more minutes to make a substitute, but your wallet will definitely thank you when the receipe is done! What's your favorite?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

what we have here...

... you know the rest.

We had a slight failure to communicate this week regarding our finances this past week. Luckily, it didn't cause any major damage, but I'll get to that momentarily.

Last month, we had to take The Hubs' vehicle to the repair shop. It was making this ridiculous clunking noise. Obviously, not good. If he were a single man, he would have let it go until the car didn't start anymore. But, since he decided to get married, I did my wifely duty and nagged him about it until he agreed to get it looked at. As it turns out, he needed new hub bearings (whatever those are), but more urgently, he needed new brakes (another thing I had nagged about for months, but wasn't as successful at getting replaced). We agreed to have the brakes replaced and once he started bringing home paycheck again, he would take back the car and fix the hub bearings.

Since my hubs is a teacher, we are on a pretty tight summer budget, we tend to blow through our summer budget by the end of July, and have to pinch our pennies until the first paycheck in September (what can I say, we like beer). We agreed to put his car expense on my Chase card and pay it off at the end of this month. Sounds okay, right?

Let's just say, I've never been so happy to have a car repair before. Had it not been for this charge, I would have never logged into my online account (since I haven't used the card since paying it off a few months ago) and I would have never seen all the other charges he put on it without giving me the heads up. Late fees and general chaos would have ensued.

It's not like this caused a big fight or anything. I was mildly annoyed for about an hour. I may have shot off a sarcastic text. But now it's over and done with - I'm over it.

So consider this a Public Service Announcement/Reminder to let your significant other know when using their credit cards ;-)

P.S.: I'm taking my car in for work this Friday - keep your fingers crossed this doesn't blow up our savings account like Bat Gat.

Monday, September 10, 2012

the bottom line

This past Friday, while en route to my nephew's first football game of the season (go Delsea!), I stopped at a local Wawa to grab some cash. Apparently you can't swipe your debit card at the local ticket stand (it's 2012, people, get on it!).

Anywho, I'm waiting for my cash to dispense, and I happen to look down in the trashcan where everyone throws out their receipts. I'm reminded of a friend who once said he used to write his number on the back of a stranger's ATM receipt with a large balance. This way, the girl would think he's loaded and go out with him. At the time, I thought this was incredibly shallow. It still is, but now I can laugh at it.

In any case, the first receipt I can see has a balance of $12,689.47. My mind? Blown. I'm immediately jealous of that person, even though I have no idea who they are. Then I start thinking about why that number seem so unattainable to me. I can't even envision having that much money, ever, let alone just having it hanging out in my bank account.

Who is this person and what are they doing that I'm not?

Thursday, September 6, 2012

philanthropist in training

You know those people who say if they won the lottery they would donate the money and keep on working?

Yea, I think they're crazy, too. I am not one of those people. That's not to say I wouldn't donate a portion of my winnings, but I have a lot of other, more selfish things I'd do first.

I don't remember what got me thinking about donations. It might have been the tenth piece of mail I received from the Atlantic City Rescue Mission asking for donations, or it could have been the "Code Red" photo album I was looking at on Facebook of dogs that needed to be adopted or they would've been put to sleep (Don't do that, you won't be able to sleep at night). In any case, I started thinking about how a few years ago, I used to give away a pretty big (at least, to me) chunk of change annually. I remember getting my 2010 taxes done and I was shocked that I had donated close to $900 that year. And that was when I was making a lot less than I did now.

Then reality gave me a nice slap upside the head (probably in the form of a bank statement) and I remembered in 2010, I had no mortgage, no phone bill, essentially no real monthly expenses other than my personal bills and gas. How quickly times change.

Actually, when the hubs and I had our taxes done this year, our accountant encouraged us to do less financial donating and more "actual" donating (that's a technical term, I swear). Meaning, we should be cleaning out our closets more and our wallets less. Which actually works better for me, since getting rid of old clothes is my favorite reason to buy new ones! She told us to aim for once a season, but it looks like we'll be on track for three donations. We did one in spring and I currently have two bags full (just a matter of getting the hubs to dig through his stuff - the man has more clothes than I do!) Hopefully, we'll be able to get in another donation before the end of the year. Goodwill is great because you can use their computer at the drop off station to print your own receipt.

This year I haven't been able to donate as much money as I would have liked to, but I've managed to send a few dollars to a few of my favorite charities. As you can probably guess, animal charities are my go-to donation of choice. This year I've been supporting a friend's organization, The Lexus Project, which provides legal defense for endangered animals (usually dogs) who have been taken away from their owner(s). I'm also a member of the ASPCA & WWF organizations. I also made my first contribution to an alumni fund of my first alma-mater, Assumption Regional Catholic School. That donation made me feel old.

But enough about me, what about YOU? How do you donate? Do you prefer to donate your time rather than your money? Do you set aside a certain percent of your income?