Wednesday, October 31, 2012

rocked us like a hurricane

You're probably all aware of the absolute devastation Hurricane Sandy has brought to New Jersey, specifically the island communities. It's heart-wrenching to see photos of the communities I grew up in completely destroyed.

The hubs and I are fortunate that we did not sustain any damage to our home. There are a few tree limbs to drag out to the curb, but our power was restored over night last night and even our food made it through. Unfortunately, some of our neighbors were not so lucky. Our friends have not been allowed back onto the islands to see if their homes have been damaged. I was donating our extra supplies at the local shelter and a woman absolutely broke down in front of me - her home had been completely destroyed. It took everything I had not to cry as well.

I hope all of you are safe & dry tonight. If you have extra supplies; water, snacks, toiletries, etc., please consider donating them to the Red Cross or another local organization assisting with recovery efforts. If you are local and want get your hands dirty you can call 1-800-Jersey-7. You can leave a voice mail and they will contact you with volunteer opportunities in your area.

Be safe all.

Thursday, October 25, 2012


Oh readers, what a week it's been. Some of you have heard this saga already, but let's review it one more time for the people in the back.

On Thursday morning, there was a large puddle under the Hub's SUV (which I actually didn't notice until that afternoon). It was power steering fluid. We pour another container of fluid in it Thursday night. By Friday morning, it's gone again. At 5 PM on Friday, I get a call saying the truck won't start. Great. I called our mechanic & let him know we were going to tow it over. The Hubs was able to get it started before I called AAA and drove it to the shop. And so began our week as a one-car household.

In a nutshell, the power steering basically exploded. Not literally exploded, but it was kind of like getting a hole in your aorta and spewing blood everywhere. The entire engine was coated in power-steering fluid and driving for two days without fluid had damaged the pump. Both of those parts needed to be replaced. The car wouldn't start because the battery was on it's last leg, so that needed to be replaced. Then, because all that work was going on in the front end, we had to have a wheel alignment done.

But wait, I'm not done yet.

In August, we took the SUV for new brakes. At that time, our mechanic, Chris, let us know we needed new hub bearings. We didn't have the extra money to spare at that time (it would be about $600), but we made a mental note to plan for that service once school started. When Chris called me yesterday to let me know the worst of the repairs were over, he said "but I can't in good conscious let you drive it off my lot with the bearings as they are now."

What was I supposed to do? Those had to get replaced as well. The good news was only the left side needed to be replaced. The right side can hold out a few more months.

Still not done, though.

Last summer, the Hubs' gas sensor stopped working. A bit of googling revealed this was a common problem in Trailblazers, but Chevy would not acknowledge the problem with a recall. In Fall 2011, we received a letter from Chevy indicating they would be willing to cover half the cost of a new fuel sensor as long as we had it fixed at a dealership. Again, not something that was emergent, so we put away the letter for another day. In light of all these repairs, I went digging in my files for this letter. The Hubs and I both thought we had until the end of this year to have the repair done, but, of course, it needs to be completed by 10/31/2012. Yes, that's right, 5 days from today. Nothing like a little last minute action to light a fire under your ass.

We're picking up the truck up tonight and tomorrow morning bringing it back to our local dealer to fix the fuel sensor. They let me know on the phone the part was a little less than $150, so hopefully, they won't kill us on labor and we'll be able to put this epic repair on the books.

In response to this nightmare, we decided we're going to trade in this vehicle (and by we, I mean me, but the Hubs also later agreed). Although most people probably wouldn't bother to fix the car in that case, ultimately, I believe it will help us in the long run because we'll be able to take our time in shopping for a car and won't feel rushed into a decision that might not be the best in the long-term.

I'm a bit miffed that my husband is getting a new car before me, but I'll be so happy the day the Trailblazer is gone. Besides, now is the fun part: Car shopping! We'll definitely be downsizing - right now I'm digging the Kia Soul. The Hubs is a big guy (6'2" - I won't tell you what he weighs ;-) ), so we need something with head & leg room, but that's also fuel efficient. Feel free to send in your endorsement!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

twenty seven

Yesterday was my Twenty-Seventh birthday.

Last week, I was pretty depressed about the whole thing. Not in an "I'm so old" way, but more in a "what the eff am I doing with my life" kind of way.

As I was telling my mom last night, I feel like my life has become so routine that I've lost the spontaneous nature I used to have. My days pretty much look like this: get up - go to work - come home - make dinner - zone out on the couch - go to sleep - repeat. There's no za-za-zoom. I think the part that bothers me most is the lack of fufillment; I don't find any meaning in my job, so I probably rely on the hubs (& Molly) to make up for it. That's a tall order for anyone and an unfair one at that. So then I rely on "things" to make up the difference. And we can all see where that's gotten me.

It's time to get off my hamster wheel. I'm not sure what that means for me yet, but I'll be sure to bring you all along.

Thursday, October 18, 2012

three points

I was passing the time at work reading A Cup of Jo 's archives yesterday and I happened upon a post about authenticity. Joanna's mother wrote this to her regarding the subject:
"It seems to me that being authentic is being brave enough or just candid enough to be honest about what you are experiencing or who you are, whether it is popular are not... Whenever you are honest, you are speaking for a thousand silent people who don't have the voice to say what they really feel or are really experiencing. So, if you ever talk about [the thing you went through], you will touch a million hearts. Because you are speaking for more than just yourself. You are never alone in what you are feeling."
It resonated with me the whole day.  I think I've done an okay job being authentic (so far!) with those that read this blog, but lately, I think I've been sticking my short-comings in the corner and not acknowledging them as I should. I don't want, nor can I afford, to resort back to the "ostrich syndrome" (sticking your head in the sand to avoid something). So with that, here's a list for you of what I've been able to do and what I still need to do in my financial life.

For Better:
  • Writing down daily expenses/purchases in a mini-notebook, including anything auto-debited from my account 
  •  Transferring chunks of money into my short-term savings account - I've learned that the less money I see in the "available" column, the less I spend overall.
  •  Spending less money on groceries, overall. I'll have a post about that soon.
  •  Being able to say no/put things back/be more realistic with my purchases. For example, I was in Target on Tuesday, and put back more than a few things that I just didn't need.

  • Still Needs Work:
  •  Using coupons. I'm doing pretty good with using coupons at major retailers, especially if gifts are involved. My grocery couponing is pretty much non-existant.
  •  Giving up some other non-essentials, like soda, specialty lattes from Wawa/Starbucks, & eating out when I don't feel like eating what I've made for lunch/dinner.
  • Increasing retirement contributions. I've upped the contributions on my Deferred Compensation & Roth plans to 2% of my annual salary. Still no where close to the 10% I used to be at, but we're getting there.

  • Has Been Totally Ignored:
  •  Not using credit cards. This could probably go in the "Still Needs Work" column, but I'm going to put it down here. In this post, I talked about not cutting up the cards after they were paid off, which was a stupid move on my part. My friend, Jenn, warned me that paying everything off in a lump sum probably really wouldn't "teach" me the lesson I needed, and she was right. I haven't used them lately, but I did during the summer, and now I'm not only paying the minimums on those, but my loan as well. Lesson definitely learned.
  •  Automatic savings. Confession: I have no auto-save from my paycheck set up. I did go to the credit union and get the paperwork, but I never turned it into Human Resources and now I have no idea where it is. That's my only goal for next week.
  •  Budgeting - in the sense of giving myself X amount of dollars to spend on a certain thing (like gas/groceries/shoes) per month. I am reviewing my Virtual Wallet Spending Tracker a few times a month to see where I need to cut back, but I just can't seem to give myself a hard & fast number.

  • So that's where I'm at. I'm getting there. Like most things, this takes a lot more time and effort than I initally think it will. I try not to get too frustrated with myself, but the perfectionist in me makes it hard somedays. I still get moody and want to buy a shirt sometimes, but I'm getting better at realizing that shopping high is going to last about as long as my bad mood.

    In the wise words of Alanis Morisette: "And what it all comes down to/ Is that I haven't got it all figured out just yet"

    How are you doing in your financial life?

    Monday, October 15, 2012

    too soon?

    I come from a pretty traditional family. Not the "you can't live together until you're married" traditional, but the "you can't decorate for the holidays unless it's the same month." For most of my childhood, we didn't decorate our Christmas tree until Christmas Eve.

    When we bought our house, I couldn't wait to start decorating... except it was the end of February with no major holidays in sight (St. Patrick's Day doesn't count for me) and we were getting married in less than three months, so there were other things I needed to spend my money on. I tried to resist the urge to buy holiday decorations at full price, but I couldn't pass on the Christmas cheer, regardless of how much it cost.

    Now, we've got swag decorations for pretty much every occasion, thanks to the clearance rack at Tar-jay. Which leaves me with the conundrum: What do I get everyone for Christmas this year?

    I can see your heads spinning now. Christmas??? You say.... It's not even Halloween yet!

    I know, I know. For most people, it's entirely too soon. But, if there's one thing I've learned from all my financial hiccups over the years, it's much better for me to spread out buying everyone's presents over the course of three-ish months, than to try to cram it all in between Black Friday & Christmas. The latter almost always reverts to me using my credit cards, which is a no-no this year.

    I actually have three presents so far, two for my mom and one for the hubs (which I bought yesterday). Then I have a bonus present, which means I haven't decided what family member or friend will get it, but it'll be good for someone. Momma Q has given me a few ideas about what she wants, which is great, plus there's always a nice stand-by of gifts I know she needs/will use. It's always hard for me to practice gift-buying restraint when it comes to my Mom, because to me, she deserves everything!

    I'm going to suggest to the hubs that we pair down the gifts we give each other and maybe get something for the house that we'll both enjoy or go on a trip somewhere instead.

    Has anyone else started their holiday shopping yet, or am I the only one?

    Thursday, October 11, 2012

    den decisions

    Hello, world! I'm back. A little tanner, a lot more tired, and still with a few bucks in my pocket (just barely).

    Disney went swimmingly. I spent a bit more money than I anticipated - maybe about $50 more - but overall, it was good. Buying snacks & fruit in advance definitely helped. By the time we go back for the next race (in two years), I'll be a pro.

    Today, I want to talk about our next big purchase: Re-doing our den. Which, actually, will be a series of smaller purchases. Last night, we decided it's finally time to stop procrastinating and start doing. The reason is kind of gross. For the past two summers, Molly has gotten fleas. I don't know how she's getting them because we put the drops on her (and now, she wears a flea collar too), plus I vacuum and wash everything more frequently than I'd like to. I've come to the conclusion that they must be living in our Berber rug and the only way to totally eliminate them is rip it all out and start over.

    We don't plan on staying in this house very long (if it were up to me, I'd put it up for sale tomorrow), so we're looking to do some smaller updates instead of spending a large amount of money on a total renovation. Our first objective is to figure out what kind of flooring to put down.

    I've been in luuurve with the idea of staining the concrete underlayment since I saw Chris & Julia do it in their basement. The hubs is digging it too, and it's currently the front-runner. My favorite bloggers on the planet, John & Sherry at Young House Love, did it too (& then, they re-did it with an oil based floor paint).

    The second option would be to install some kind of hardwood or laminate flooring to match the existing flooring in entryway/living room/kitchen. We estimated we'd need about 300 square feet of flooring; The room is shaped like a wide "L" & is 21' feet long.
    rough rough rough sketch

    Our design dilemma is how to make the room function. Currently, the TV is mounted on the wall directly across from the sofa,  about 6 feet away, which means you're always kind of staring up at the TV & it can get uncomfortable (we watch a lot of TV). That also leaves a lot of empty space on the other side of the room. We're having a hard time trying to integrate the room as a whole or divvy it up into two separate, but equal spaces.

    But this isn't a design blog- it's a money blog. Back to the flooring. Staining the concrete looks like it might be our best bet financially. To tell the truth, I had a bit of sticker shock when looking at flooring prices. Of course, everything I liked (bamboo/cork options) was between $3 and $5 per square foot. Realistically, we need to be under $2 per square foot, plus any additional tools we'd need like underlayment. We haven't set an "official" flooring budget yet, but I think anything over $800 is out of the question (& that's for everything, not just the flooring).

    Yesterday, I spoke with our contractor/handyman, Jack, whose done most of the work on our house so far and he's going to email me a quote for prepping the concrete that's already there. While this is a step we could do ourselves, I think buying or renting the tools we'd need might be about the same as paying him to do it. Plus, we can barely hang a picture, so I'm not sure this is the first major project I want to jump into.

    We don't have many local flooring places in our neighborhood (in fact, I can't think of any), so we'll most likely be shopping at Lowe's. The hubs has a credit card there and we'd get 5% back on any purchases, which is nice. I'm going to do some Craigs List-ing, too, but I don't know how successful that will be considering the amount of flooring we need.

    Any one else have a current house project going on or have any experience with flooring? The hubs and I are definitely not DIY-ers; I prefer reading about it to doing it any day of the week!

    Wednesday, October 3, 2012

    tricks for treats

    Well, Readers, I'm all packed up for our four day Disney excursion. I'll be back Monday to detail if I was able to stick to the budget. I am happy to report that I did not buy any new clothes for this trip, which honestly, might be a first. Actually, I did buy a new pack of socks, but those I can use all the time, so we won't count that ;-)

    I'll leave you with a Yahoo article about how stores trick you into spending more money. There's some sneaky stuff going on- like increasing the size of the shopping cart so you spend more money (just another reason to use the handheld basket on smaller trips).

    One of the points I could definitely relate to was rasing the price on an items just to mark it down so you feel like you're saving more money. Their example was people are more likely to buy a mixer for $399.00 marked down from $499.00 rather than buy the same mixer which isn't on sale for $349.00. Another trick is the 10 for $10 "deal": I definitely will almost always buy more of something when it's marked 10/$10 (which is what they want!) I can't tell you how many times The Hubs has said something like "You know, you don't have to buy ten of them."

    Do you ever fall victim to one of their price tricks? Knowledge is half the battle!

    Also, speaking of knowledge, check out my sister's blog for a post about Banned Books Week and see how many of the classics you've read. I've read a paltry 9 out of 46 books. Had I read this morning, I would've gone to the library instead of buying magazines for the plane ride tonight!

    Monday, October 1, 2012

    ten days

    I was reading my favorite blog this morning, Young House Love, and John posted about his annual tradition, Aquatober. As the name suggests, he takes the whole month off from other beverages except water (and sometimes milk).

    In any personal finance book or article you read, one of the suggestions you'll see over and over again is to cut out the small spending because it really adds up. The other day, I found myself justifying my Wawa coffee purchase because (and this really was my internal dialogue) "it's not like I buy $3 Starbucks everyday, or even that I buy coffee everyday. It's a twice, maybe three times a week purchase, so at $1.45 per purchase, it's less than $20 a month."

    But you know what? It's still $20 I don't have at the end of the month. It's still 250 calories (in the 12 ounce; 300 in the 16 ounce) and 29 grams of sugar that I don't need to be taking in.
    what 29 grams of sugar looks like (photo from Sugar Stacks)
    I can probably give up Wawa coffee for a month. I can probably give up my weekend Starbucks (actually, I know I can because I don't have any money left on my card). I definitely can't give up hot tea though. But, since that pretty much is flavored water, I'm going to let that slide in. I also have four cans of Diet Pepsi in the fridge. One can by the time we leave for Disney on Wednesday. This is already not going well.

    Then I discovered the 10 Days program. Created by college students back in 2007, participants drink only water for one week. The money saved is used to provide 10 Rwandan communities with clean safe water.
    from 10 Days
    10 Days? I can handle 10 Days. Is anyone else up for the challenge?