Sunday, September 16, 2012

My New Blog!

 I started a new blog, and I'm pretty excited about it! It's called Not Pinterest. Here's my description:

"Oh, hello. I didn’t see you there. Please, pull up a cozy chair (that you re-upolstered yourself), brew a cup of tea (that you keep in a mason jar with twine tied in a bow around), and sit in your perfectly cleaned living room (with pictures of your perfectly clean, blonde, children).

Oh wait. This ain’t Pinterest. And I’m me.

In that case, flop down on the couch, grab that last popsicle that’s been in your freezer for a questionably long time, and try not to look at the clutter on your coffee table. This blog’s for you, my friend.

I used to blog about personal finance, but after I got out of debt, that got a little dull. I miss writing, and want to write about life as a teacher and life at home. I like to share recipes, ridiculous stories about teaching seventh grade, cleaning and organization tips, and whatever else pops into my head. I’m actually pretty good at those things.

But, I’m going to be honest and real and tell you that I am not “Pinterest-good” at them. If I took a picture of my dinner, it would not look amazing and artistic. In fact, sometimes pictures of my food don’t even look appetizing. But the meals themselves-great.

My cleaning tips are more “real lazy” than “Real Simple.” My organization strategies are effective, but not in matching drawer liners with trendy contact paper.

So, I decided to own it. Join me for the ride as I live my life, share some ideas, and hopefully make you laugh. It’ll be like Pinterest, but it won’t make you feel bad about yourself."

I hope you'll check it out, link me, and maybe even read it, despite the fact that it's not personal finance focused. I'm going for a mix of practical and funny. I hope you'll enjoy it!

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Update

Well, I became what I was always annoyed with: the blogger who gets out of debt and promptly stops posting. Yup. I'm just not that interested in blogging about PF anymore, to be honest. But, I am working on a new blog, which I will get up and running in the next month or so. I'll definitely post the link here, and I'd love it if you'd read it. l

Basically, I'm alive, all is well, and I still read your blogs. I like them. Don't be like me, keep posting.

Smooches.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Getting Money Back-Moving

When BF and I moved out of the old apartment, we did the things you usually do in hopes of getting back my full $500 deposit. We cleaned like fiends, basically. Patched holes in the walls, scrubbed, soaked, and deep-cleaned the place. I think we did a pretty good job, so I am hoping for almost the full deposit back.

The other way I hoped to get some funds back is in my July rent. We had to pay for the whole month, but we were actually completely out of the apartment by July 7th. So, I emailed my landlord and asked if she could pro-rate the rent for us. She said that if she found someone to move in before the end of July, she would be willing to refund our rent for those days. SCORE!

I helped her along by posting the Craigslist ad on my Facebook, showing the apartment while I was still living there, and of course cleaning the place so that it would show well. And on Tuesday I found out that our efforts paid off: the apartment was rented and the new move-in date is the 20th! So, we will be refunded most of the deposit (I always expect a little to be taken off) plus ten days of rent! YES!

That money is going straight back into my Emergency Fund, since that's what I used to pay the deposit on this apartment. That will put me only $500 away from a completely stocked E-fund!

So, I encourage you to be assertive with your landlord when moving. She wouldn't have offered, but when I asked, she was willing to work with me, and it paid off!

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Market Research...Cha-ching!

A few weeks ago I was walking out of the Whittier Public Library when a woman and I made eye-contact. She asked, "Do you live in this area?" I had a moment of panic, because I grew up here and just moved back. I thought she might ask for directions, and that's not my strong-suit to begin with. :/ I said yes, hesitantly. She then asked if I would be interested in doing some paid market research on July 17th. She also said, "It pays $300."

WHAT?! Hell yes I am interested! So, she asked me several questions to see if I qualified, and then gave me a letter with the info. I had to go to LA, arriving by 8:00. The session went until 6:30. I would be paid in cash as I left and provided with lunch.

I looked up the organization to make sure it was legit, and according to Yelp reviews, it was. So, on Tuesday I headed out at 6:45 and attended. I signed a confidentiality agreement, so all I can say is that it was on local issues. We watched presentations and filled out questionares. At the end of the day, they put us in groups to discuss the issues while the watched and videotaped us. It was a long day, but the topic was fairly interesting. It's not how I'd want to spend every day, but when they handed me an envelope with $300 cash in it, it definitely felt worth it!

So, what am I going to do with the money?
$50=Desk for second bedroom from Walmart. I already bought this and put it together.
$50=Mac eyeshadow kit. My friend Rene works for Mac and got me to pre-order this item.
$100=New work clothes. I got rid of a few ancient pairs of pants and need some new shirts, so I'm going to start rebuilding with $100 at the outlets (I love you, Banana Republic Outlet).
$100=Vacation! We leave on our massive road trip next week, so I stashed $100 away to take on the trip.

I thought about putting some of it into savings, but I actually feel good about how I split up the money. I think it's a good mix, and since this month was VERY expensive, with moving and all, this couldn't have come at a better time.

I emailed the woman who recruited me, told her how much I enjoyed participating, and that I would love to be a part of more studies if she needs people. Fingers crossed she calls me again!

Have you ever done market research for money? Was it worth it?

Friday, July 6, 2012

So, About Being Debt Free

A few posts back I casually mentioned that I paid off my student loans and am 100% debt free. I did it in the midst of some other posts, and after a long-ish absence, so I thought I'd go back and write a bit about it, and reflect on how far I've come.

I was able to pay off the last chunk of my student loan because as a National Board Certified Teacher in LAUSD, I am able to earn money for additional hours of professional development (both as a leader and a learner) each year. This is money on top of my regular check and is part of the incentive to get the certification. (Alas, my new district does not participate, but hopefully they won't lay me off every year either). When I got that extra chunk of money, I decided to go ahead and just pay off my entire student loan amount and be done with it all at once.

Honestly, there wasn't the fanfare I felt when I paid off my credit cards or my car loan. I think  in part because I don't have any regrets about my student loans, and they never bothered me as much as my other debt. Also, I didn't entirely plan to pay them off that day, so it didn't have the build-up that the other debt payoffs had. To top it all off, I was/am going through HUGE transitions right now-laid off, new job, moving, etc.

Don't get me wrong; it feels pretty great to be debt free. But I guess I thought there would be more glee or jumping up and down than there actually was. I do occasionally think, "I am debt free." And it always brings a little smile to my face.

I did some number crunching, and from what I have figured, I have been on this journey to be financially responsible for 31 months (two and a half years). In that time, I have paid off approximately $28,000 of debt to become debt-free. I've also saved almost a three month E-fund, 25% of a house down payment, put money in a Roth IRA for seven months in a row, and increased my funding to my 403(b).

I got super serious about budgeting, tracking every cent I spend. I was really intense in the beginning, and have relaxed as I've gotten out of my high-interest consumer debt. I still took vacations during this time, and prioritized for the things that are important to me.

I remember taking Financial Peace University and hearing that it takes most people two to three years to pay off all their debt if they get gazelle-intense. That seemed like FOREVER. But, I have to say that being on the other side, it doesn't seem so long.

So, am I excited about being debt free? A little. But I think the better word to describe it is proud. I am proud that I did what it took to get here. That I worked hard for it, changed my patterns and habits, and became a financially responsible person. And that's even better than giddy, short-term excitement.

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Do I Need More Discipline or a Looser Budget?

For the last few months, I've gone over my budgets in areas like gas, groceries, and eating out/fun money. The fact that I've been absorbing other expenses into my "cushion" money hasn't helped (my CSET test and auto registration come to mind). I've also done a TON of driving to my new school/district office and back and forth from my old and new apartment. BUT, that doesn't explain all the overages.

On one hand, I think that I could be more careful in my spending, and get back down to what I've been spending in the past. I still have savings goals, and want to make sure that I don't start overspending when I don't need to.

On the other hand, I now have zero debt. ZERO. My budget can loosen up a bit, and I will still be able to max out my Roth IRA this year, as well as contribute to a 403(b), and save $550 per month. Which is great, and I'm thankful that I have found a job where I am able to do that. BUT, if I lock down and get more careful, I could add another $100-$200 per month to that number.

I think there's a reason people talk about being Gazelle-like in debt payoff. Not that I'm suddenly buying designer purses or throwing money out the window. But I think now that I've accomplished that big goal, I want to loosen the reigns a bit. Maybe when I am closer to buying a house or paying for a wedding, some of that gazelle-intensity will come back. I know I have it in me. But for now, I'm going to enjoy being debt free and slow down to a leisurely jog...more giraffe-like. Or excited puppy-like. I don't know, I don't like animals enough to know which one to compare myself to. But you get my point.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

We Found an Apartment!

Well, it's official: I am moving back to my home town. Yes, Freddie and I are moving to Uptown Whittier. We get the keys on Thursday. The apartment is two bedrooms (so no more printer in the living room, and we'll have his fold out couch as a guest bed). I'm excited about the size, since it was feeling REALLY crowded in our one bedroom apartment.

It also has a garage with room for one car and some storage space in the back. The other person can park their car in the driveway in front of the garage, so that means we both have a parking spot. Holla! After living here, where parking is INSANE, it will be a relief not to have to worry about that.

It is about halfway between our two works, so that's better than some of the other places we looked. We're going to be paying $170 more per month, but the other places we looked were almost that much more for a ONE bedroom, so I'm satisfied with the price.

I am sad that we will no longer have a washer and dryer in the unit, and that there's no dishwasher (again. I haven't had a dishwasher in forever). But overall I think it's a good move for us.

The worst part is that we have to pay deposit, first month's rent, and our rent for this apartment all at once. Ugh. The current landlord told me that if we're out early (we will be) and she can rent it before the month is over, that she will refund us money/prorate the month of July. So, if anyone's looking for a lovely one bedroom apartment in Long Beach, let me know.

I'll post pictures once we've actually moved, but if you're wondering what I'll be doing over the next few weeks, it will be hauling loads of boxes and bags to my new apartment, packing, trying to convince boyfriend to goodwill things, and figuring out how on EARTH we're going to get my couch out of here. (It came in over the balcony, hoisted on top of the moving truck. I don't know how this will work in reverse).

Saturday, June 23, 2012

How I Saved $30 Today AKA Studying at Home

Due to the fact that I almost get laid off every year, and in fact did get laid off this year, I decided that it would be in my best interest to broaden my opportunities by getting another credential (this will be my third, in fact). I am taking the test to get a history credential on July 14th. I went for history since I've taught 6th grade history for seven years and was a US history concentration in college. And I like it.

However, sixth grade history is only a small part of the test, and college was eight years ago, so it's definitely time to study. This was confirmed when I took a practice test online, and upon seeing the first question, said, "oh shit" out loud. This morning I came up with a plan to get some studying done.

"I know! I'll go to Barnes and Noble and buy a prep book ($20, at least), then take that to Coffee Bean ($6 for coffee and pastry) and study. I should get a nice, new spiral notebook at Staples too ($3), so I can take notes and do practice tests in it."

Then I remembered that June has been a crazy expensive month and that I shouldn't be spending that kind of money. Also, the prep books got TERRIBLE reviews online, so I am better off using the state standards and my good friend Wikipedia. So, I came up with Plan B.

First, I got up, took a shower, and changed out of my pajamas. I did my hair and makeup too. This put me in the "time to do something" mode.

Why yes, I did choose black and white because it's more flattering.
Next, I dug around and found a spiral notebook with PLENTY of blank pages in it. It was in the BF's drawer, and he tore out the used pages, so I snagged that and some highlighters, a pen, pencil, and post-it notes.

Exhibit A
Then, I poured myself a diet Cherry Pepsi into a glass with ice and a straw. I also made some popcorn and put some wasabi almonds (they're like crack!) into a bowl.

Exhibit B
For ambiance, I put my flowers on the table (thanks student on last day of school!) and tuned my Pandora Station to Death Cab for Cutie for some mellow tunes.



And voila! I am now set to study for the next few hours. If I can get enough studying done and actually pass the test, that will save me the $200 it would cost to take it again. Enough procrastinating, I need to look up all the Constitutional Amendments and remind myself what the Federalist Papers were. And try to get the difference between inflation and deflation straight in my head. Etc, etc. Over and out!

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I'm alive.

I officially got laid off by LAUSD.

I got a new job teaching seventh grade in West Covina.

Freddie and I are looking for new places to live, somewhere betwixt our two works.

We're also planning a road trip or some sort of vacation for the end of July.

Oh...and I paid off my student loan. So, you know, I'm debt free.

I think all of these minus the "I'm alive" statement will warrant a post of their own. And I do want to get back to blogging, if any of you are still reading. Miss you. Hugs and Kisses.

Jess

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Some Updates

So, here are some updates:

I got a letter from a collections agency claiming I owe Verizon $27.99 for a phone bill. FALSE. I have never had Verizon for my phone (just internet). It also claimed that Verizon had tried to contact me about the bill several times. FALSE! I will be calling Verizon tomorrow to inquire and make sure it is not a scam. If it is in fact collections, I will be writing a letter disputing the claim, since I have received no contact from Verizon about it.

Rumor has it that most pink slips will be rescinded on Tuesday after the school board meeting, but that 800 will not be rescinded at this time. No way to know if I'm in the bottom 800 until then. So I hold my breath and hope that I am one of the lucky ones. If I'm not, that most likely means unemployment for the summer and either getting called back in August or long-term subbing my own class in the Fall. I'm trying not to think about this too much, though it is making me want to beef up my savings in the next few months.

In July I will be losing about 1/4 of my paycheck all at once for furlough days we are taking in June. Luckily, July will be when I get my pay for the National Boards hours I've done this semester. I'm thinking I should break even on that deal.

I stopped putting money towards my house fund for now, so that I can get my Emergency Fund where I want it to be. I am also still putting $100 into my travel fund, but both of those savings accounts could be tapped for a true emergency, so I'm leaving the money where it is for now. If I add up what I have, I have almost four months of emergency expenses covered.

I'm keeping up with tracking my money and doing what I'm supposed to be doing, but the prospect of possibly getting laid off takes some of the fun out of it. Of course I'll still do it, but it's not as fun to plan for unemployment as it is to plan for paying off my student loan or saving for a house.

I guess this post is kind of a downer. Let me end on some positives: I lost seven and a half pounds in three weeks on Weight Watchers. Boo-ya! My Inbox Dollars check came so that's $27 more in my pocket. My mom gave me a $10 Starbucks card today that she didn't want, so that will be a nice treat. I have been successful in keeping my electric bill below $20 for the last three months!

There. It's not all bad stuff around here. I should have an update about the pink slip on Tuesday or Wednesday, so that will either be an even bigger downer or super super exciting. Fingers crossed for the latter!

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Little by Little

Today I made another lump sum payment on my student loan. I paid my $300 extra I've been paying every month and also threw in $28 left over from my April budget. This payment brought my total to 90% paid off! Holla!

I also found out that I we will be having furlough days in June, meaning on the plus side I get out a week early, but on the minus side I lose almost a week of pay from my July check. Ugh. That will definitely hamper my loan payoffs over the summer, but I still hope to be on track to be debt free before my birthday in October.

That's all for now. Just wanted to share my excitement in reaching the 90% mark! :)

Friday, April 27, 2012

IT'S HERE!!!!!!!!!

My last loan cancellation just posted this morning. YES! So, I now have $2,297.39 left to pay on my student loans. That is my last debt, and after that I owe nothing! I almost can't believe I am this close to being debt-free!!!!

Of course, knowing that I have that money in my Emergency fund, I'm tempted to just pay it off...but that would leave me with almost no fluid E-fund cash (the house fund is not as easy to get to). As much as I'd like to see it disappear, it's going to have to be in smallish chunks over the next few months.

Anyway, check out my sidebar and observe that my student loans are now 89% paid off! Have a great weekend everyone, I know I will!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Your Best Advice

My friend Ursula has started a blog called My Twelve Weeks, in which she's been writing about her various goals in twelve week cycles/phases. I like this idea because it gives built in reflection and a chance for a fresh start every three months. Brilliant! And I like her. :)

One of her many ambitious goals is to work on getting out of debt...I've been there, and I know a lot of you have. She wrote her budget this week (Holla! Get it girl!) and is getting on the right track for sure.

I can remember when I was first trying to get out of debt and get my finances in order, I was hungry for tips and tricks and strategies. I read blogs like crazy before I started mine. I got to thinking of the most helpful advice for when I first started out. Here are my top five:

1. STEP AWAY FROM THE CREDIT CARDS! I had a bad habit of paying an ambitious, unplanned amount on my cards right after payday, and then getting to the end of the month, running out of money (I wasn't budgeting or changing my habits) and pulling out the credit card to get by. I would end up undoing most of what I'd paid, and sometimes making the balance even worse than when I started. The only way to get out of credit card debt is to STOP USING THE CARDS. Even if that means a smaller payment at the beginning, make it one you can stick to and put those cards away!

2. TRACK ALL OF YOUR SPENDING. I cannot guess how much I spend in various categories, even now. I sometimes take a few days to update totals and am unpleasantly surprised by how much I manage to spend. For me, it's written in a little black book (forget guys' phone numbers) and divided into categories. It's low-tech, but it works for me.

3. MAKE A BUDGET! I have to have boundaries. Tracking spending isn't useful unless you have limits and boundaries of how much you are allowed to spend. It takes time to get your perfect budget (I still build a cushion into mine every month for unplanned expenses or overages), but you have to create one to get anywhere.

4. YOU DON'T HAVE TO KEEP UP WITH THE JONES'S. This was more implicit advice, but in reading PF blogs, I saw that not everyone is rushing out to buy the latest gadgets or going clothes shopping all the time. Plenty of people limit themselves, and most find they are happier that way. I gave up clothes shopping for a year, until my credit cards were paid off. Some of my friends thought I was crazy; some said they wished they had that discipline. But when I stopped caring if my friends thought it was odd that I collected cans and bottles to recycle for cash, I did MUCH better in my finances.

5. EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS! This is the idea of "snowflaking" small amounts of money toward that debt snowball the Dave Ramsey talks about. I have record of transferring amounts as small at $3 toward my credit card debt. I sold books, DVDs, and CDs on Amazon to have more to put toward my cards. I recycled bottles and cans, unplugged appliances when not in use, and requested free samples of feminine products. Yes, those are all small things; but it led to big results in my debt payoff (check out my sidebars if you don't believe me!)

Okay readers, it's your turn: what's the best advice you received when you were first starting to get your debt paid off? And feel free to visit my friend's site to offer encouragement as she starts down this road.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Data Analysis...Good for a Laugh.

So, I found a list of things people have searched, which have led them to my blog...it's pretty funny (feeling gassy?!?!), and reveals that I should do more recipe posts (so look forward to those).

Keyword Results:
Homeowner by 30
I'm alive and going pretty well blog
avocado spring rolls recipe
cilantro chicken pasta
envelope system blog
feeling gassy
track net worth
vegetarian spring rolls with avocado recipe
cheap hipster panties

I just remembered that one of my posts about saving money on gas is cleverly titled, "feeling gassy." That makes more sense now. I thought I had overshared again.

Anyone else look up their keyword searches?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Finding Motivation

I would definitely say I am not the most disciplined person when it comes to food. I am about five pounds above my recommended weight for my height, which is about fifteen pounds above my ideal weight for my frame (still a healthy weight for me). I fluctuate five to ten pounds pretty consistently. Part of the problem is that I really like eating and I have a big appetite. I can eat A LOT, people.

Anyway, I decided to rejoin Weight Watchers in hopes of losing about fifteen pounds. I've done WW before, and it works for me, though I have trouble sticking with it long-term. But, I have a new way of thinking that should help me find some motivation this time.

This week, BF is starting on budgeting again. He's tried before, done okay, but has fallen off the wagon. He says that he just has trouble sticking with it, and since he knows that sometimes it's hard to start. He also says it's hard for him to let someone see his finances (that someone being me). It's something  I've conquered, and he knows he should too but he just has trouble with it.

That is EXACTLY how I feel about Weight Watchers. He thrived at WW, while I floundered. He stuck with it, showing AMAZING self-control, I made excuses and quit. We've both been here before. But, this time when I want to say, "Screw it, I'm EATING what I want!" I'm going to remember that I want BF to persevere with his finances and not say, "Screw it, I'm BUYING what I want!" When I think that it's ridiculous to weigh lunch meat and count the handful of jelly beans I ate into my points, I am going to remember that I want him to track the one dollar soda he buys as part of his grocery budget.

I'm not saying this will be the magic bullet...but it IS changing how I think about this. I know many people (myself included) have made the comparison between finance and weight loss before. But seeing it acted out in my house does seem to be making a difference.

And now, if you'll excuse me, I made a two point Weight Watchers dessert that I need to go and try.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

It's Coming...

I just pulled up my APLE account (student loan forgiveness for teaching in a low-income school) and saw that my final payment of $3,000 is on it's way to Sallie Mae as of April 2nd. It says to allow four to six weeks for it to show up...so obviously I will check once a week until I see it I will be checking it obsessively at least once a day until it shows up, starting right now. Sometime within the next month, it will be there! Once that's posted, I plan to continue my regular payment plus $300 per month, as I have been. BUT, I will also start snowflaking any extra money that comes in toward that goal, hoping to get it paid off even sooner than my goal of October (in time to be debt free by thirty!).

I'm actually excited to start throwing all my extra pennies at my loan. I've held off doing so, because I knew the $3,000 payment was coming, and I wanted to be sure there would be $3,000 left for them to pay off. Is it weird that I feel a little nostalgic for my hard-core debt payoff days? I do, so I am looking forwarding to conquering this last debt.

Okay, I gotta go check to see if it's posted again. I'll keep you posted, internet.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Tracking Net Worth

In January of this year, I started tracking my net worth each month. I use a calculator from CNN that I really like. I keep it pretty simple and just count actual funds in various accounts (retirement, savings, bonds, etc.). I don't record my checking, because all of that money is budgeted to be spent each month. I also don't record actual belongings like my car or jewelry. I understand it has value, but my goal is to calculate my financial progress. I also put in my student loan and then hit calculate.

It's been really cool to see how far I've come in just four months! I don't feel comfortable sharing numbers...I'm not anonymous. BUT, I have increased my net worth by 700% since January! Yes, that's seven hundred percent. And that includes a trip to Europe. This number has been shooting up because I have been putting around 50% of my paychecks toward either debt or savings in the last four months. And my tax returns helped for sure, since I paid $2,000 to my student loan from that money.

I'm really glad I started tracking this number, it's been a fun motivator. I'm also glad I didn't start when I was in a lot of debt...then I think it would have just been depressing.

Do you track net worth? Do you find it satisfying or depressing?

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Envelope System for the BF?

The other night on the way home from the Dodger game, BF and I got to talking about money. He said,
"I need you to help me with a budget again. I want to do it, but I just don't get how you plan for how much you'll spend on things."

My answer: "You have to track your spending. You have to record every expense or there's no way to know if you're in budget."

We talked a bit more about why it matters. He agrees with me in theory, but the execution has been hard for him to get down. He did a great job in paying off his credit cards a few months ago, but since then he hasn't made progress in saving or paying his car or student loan. I mentioned that he should do an automatic deduction to savings from each paycheck, which he agreed with. Then I casually mentioned the envelope system.

He had never heard of it, but when I explained the idea, he was very intrigued/interested. He compared it to Weight Watchers points (when you use them, they're gone) which is always good, since he kicked ass at Weight Watchers. I suggested that he and I work out what would go in his envelopes weekly, and then any leftover money for each week could go into a jar and he could decide what to do with it at the end of the month (I'm pushing for debt payoff or savings, but it's his money).

I did the envelope system just for my fun money when I first started out, and it wasn't my favorite. BUT, I also wrote down all my spending anyway, so I didn't really need it. So, sometime this week we're going to sit down and go over a budget for him, hopefully planning to try the envelope system. I would love to see him get stronger in this area. He's not out of control...he has no CC debt, and pays his bills. But I know that I am so much more peaceful and content now that my financial life is in order. Not that the money makes me happy, but having control over it does.

Any envelope system users have suggestions for how to make it work well for BF? I'd love tips or tricks you've used!

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thanks, Stranger

You all know how much I love using Swagbucks to get free gift cards from Amazon. For a while, I was super on top of it, making sure I did searches for EVERYTHING, getting lots of referrals, I was on a roll.

In the last few months, I've been a lot more lax about using it. I still use Swagbucks, but I also use my Google toolbar (since they got rid of the Safari toolbar...boooooo). I don't do the Daily Poll daily. But, I decided to get back into it and make an effort.

I logged on and noticed that my total seemed a little higher than I would have expected. Then I saw that I have a few new referrals, one of whom is all over it! In the last week that one referral has earned me 56 Swagbucks. Score! I also have a few others that are still plugging along, which is great!

I have no idea who the new referral is, so if it's a reader who used my referral link, thank you! It not only added to my total, but it's also motivated me to get back on there and earn those Swagbucks everyday. And if you're not yet doing Swagbucks to earn free gift cards, you should be. And you should use my referral link to make me happy. :)

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Europe Trip: The Numbers

Before I went to Europe, I built up a travel fun in my ING account, totally separate from my other savings and checking. I am SO glad I did it this way. While I was there, I withdrew from ATM's using that account and bought tickets and other things with my debit card from ING. I didn't have a way to track my exact spending, because of the conversion rate and fees. I did check on the account from time to time while I was in Europe just to make sure I wasn't getting close to overdraft (I didn't.). I had $1,400 in my travel fund when I left, and I came home with $525 left in that fund (which I will use toward a trip to Yosemite for BF's birthday next month).

I didn't track what I spent that $875 on while I was there. I can tell you it was a lot of food, part of the B&B bill, museums, train tickets, and very few souvenirs. And I'm fine with that. I'm sure I could have been more frugal, but that wasn't my goal. I just wanted to come home with some money left in that account, and I succeeded.

So, how much did my eight day (including travel time) trip to Europe cost me? Here's the breakdown:
Flight: $890
Hotel in Bruges: $185
Pre-paid Museums: $40
Money Spent while on Trip: $875
Total: $1,990...so let's just say $2,000 since I'm probably forgetting something.

Like I said, I'm sure someone out there has done the same trip for fifteen dollars or something. But I am actually fine with my total. It was an amazing trip, and I had so much fun with my friend, Shelley. And, since I kept the fund separate, I have no regrets about using them for the trip.

I've decided to put $100 per month away in my travel fund, even when I don't have a trip planned. I love traveling, and being able to do it IS a priority for me. I have been on six international trips in my twenties, five of them to Europe, one to Jamaica. I'm happy that getting serious about my finances doesn't mean never going on a big trip...it just means planning for it a little better.

How much do you spend on your vacations? Do you make travel a priority?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Bruges in Pictures

The last two days of our trip were spent in Bruges, Belgium. Bruges is beautiful and old and lovely. You should go there. It was a nice end to our trip after being in crowded Amsterdam for four days.
Canal View from our hotel room!

View of the city from the top of the tower

At the top of the 366 steps to the top of the tower

The Tower

Enjoying a local Bruges beer

Belgian chocolate is famous for a reason

So are Belgian waffles....YUM

More pretty canal views

Michaelangelo

Ikea style beer instructions at the brewery we toured

The brewery tour was a lot of fun and very informative. :)

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Europe Pictures: Part 1

Yes, I've been back for a week. I just haven't been on the blogging bandwagon...but here I am, with some pictures from my trip. Today I'll post pictures from Holland, tomorrow will be Bruges, and Tuesday, the financial side of the trip. :)

I took over two hundred pictures of my trip, posted over 100 to Facebook...but I really tried to narrow it down here. So if you think this is a lot, HA!

Amsterdam was a lot of fun and I enjoyed a lot of the activities we did there. It's not my favorite city that I've visited (too dirty and crowded), but I'm definitely glad I went! Without further ado...

We met Richard Simmons during our layover in Newark!

The Anne Frank House. GO THERE. It's amazing.

This is the kind of breakfast we got each morning, in our room. YUM.

Canal View.

Darth Vadar and the Royal Palace.

You know I was all about this touristy picture. A giant wooden shoe!

French Fry Stands are big in Amsterdam.

So are bikes. And they have the right of way. Watch out, pedestrians!

Stopping to smell the flowers at Keukenhof Gardens.

Tulips, windmills, and wooden shoes: Check!




Stop being so pretty, tulips!

It's not a trip to Europe unless you go to a beautiful, old church.

Inside The Hiding Place in Corrie Ten Boom's House

Train station in Haarlem. It was COLD.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Big Mail Day

The other day when I got home from work I had two awesome pieces of mail. First, I opened a card from my grandma. It said, "Bon Voyage!" and included a fifty dollar bill. Awesome! I have the best grandma! Then, I opened an envelope from my insurance company, and it was a $50 check for having my annual woman appointment at the doctor. YES.

I put the fifty from my grandma into my travel fund and the fifty from my insurance company in my Emergency Fund. Half for fun (which is what she intended) and half for security. An excellent mail day, I'd say.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

A New Kind of Vacation

In just a few days, I will be leaving for Europe with my friend Shelley. I'm SO excited! I love traveling, and haven't been to Europe in almost five years. I've got most of my ducks in a row and I think it will be a great trip.

The trip itself is not that different from other ones I've taken (though most of the other times I had a friend to stay with or did hostels...this time it's a B&B and a hotel). Shelley and I have lots we want to see, and I've read up on the countries we're visiting. But, this trip feels different than my other big vacations.

Why? I saved for it ahead of time.

I've taken some smaller vacations without going into debt, so it's not totally new. But in the past, my other international trips were funded with my credit card, I'm sorry to say. I paid for pieces in cash, but I've always come back to the US with a hefty credit card balance to deal with.

This time I set aside specific funds in an ING account. Saving for this trip didn't empty my savings or stop me from putting money into my Roth IRA. I still made extra payments on my student loan, and I even came out with extra money in my March budget to put into my E-fund before I leave.

So now, my trip can be 100% fun. No nagging feeling that I shouldn't be spending or worrying about what I'll face when I get back. My goal is to come home with money left in my travel fund (to put toward a smaller trip this summer), but if I spend all of my ING account, that's allowed. That's what it's there for.

Have did you pay for your last vacation?

Monday, March 26, 2012

Overpayment Options

Back in September, my principal told us that we had been overpaid for the time we came in and worked during the Summer. Since we are a brand new school, there were funds set aside for planning and prep last August. The new office clerk put it in at our higher rate, so my September paycheck was HUGE. I knew it was a good chunk of money I needed to pay back, and she told us that the district would be contacting us to get it sorted out. If someone owed me five hundred bucks, I'd be all over it! But LAUSD took their time, which is fine by me.

Fast forward six months later, and I just got the letter from the district to deal with the matter. (The same week I got my annual notice that I may be laid off. They must need my money for the postage on thousands of layoff notices.) I was overpaid $542.66. I have two options for repayment. One lump sum which I pay for via check, or they will take $200 each month, starting with my May paycheck, which means it will be taken care of by July.

The "I hate debt" part of me just wants to send them a check and be done with it. I have the money in my savings and I should be able to make up for it in the coming months. But, I can also see this as an interest-free loan, and let them take the money over the next three months. It will also hurt less to have a slightly smaller check each month than to see my balance in my savings drop suddenly. So, I'm going with option two. Since I got my National Boards raise and do tutoring, the amount won't be much different than what I was getting in December, which is more than enough to meet my basic goals.

A few years ago this would have been a worse situation. I would have blown the money and been hurting to miss the amount from my paychecks, since I was spending above my means. Just another reason I'm thankful I got my financial act together.

Have you ever been overpaid by your company? How did you handle it?

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Weekend Update: I'm Alive Edition

As you may have noticed, I haven't blogged in a week and a half. I'm alive and well, just busy with work and BF, and feeling like I don't have as much to say about the financial side of life. Though as I read other blogs today, I thought of several things to post about...just gotta set aside the time to do it. And I do really like blogging, so I am going to try to do more writing on the weekends to keep this little blog alive.

Weekend Update-I went and saw Hunger Games last night, using an AMC gift card BF and I got for Valentine's Day from a friend. Of course the books are better, so much more depth and detail, but I enjoyed the movie. We went to the 11:15 show, and of course I was wound up when we got home at 2:30, so I didn't fall asleep until 3:30 or so. BF's dad took us out to brunch this morning, which was a lovely treat. We came home and watched a movie on the couch and now I'm in bed, blogging as the rain comes down outside. Not a bad Sunday.

Yesterday I did some pre-trip shopping (leaving for Europe in five days!). Things are coming together for the trip and I'm really excited! Just four more days of work to go! I can't wait!

How was your weekend?

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Well, duh.

Yesterday I got my Real Simple magazine in the mail and was interested to see that the cover story was Save $5,000 This Year. I was excited to read the advice.

Except, I already do all of it.

In a way, this is great! It means I am already saving lots of money and being responsible. Unplug electronics when not in use? Don't leave things on the charger? Puh-lease, I haven't charged my cell at home in weeks (thanks car charger!) I haven't charged my laptop at home in two weeks.

Buy milk at the drugstore? Bf works at Walgreens, we get our eggs there too, with his discount! Lower my cable bill? Don't have it! Get rid of call waiting on your landline? I don't have one!

I think you get the idea. Don't get me wrong, I have areas I can work on. But, when it comes to little tips and tricks, I've got them pretty covered. Which is cool, but also sort of disappointing since I can't save more money by reading the article. Now it's just about being responsible and doing what I know I need to do.

Anyone have any really unusual tricks to save money? Anyone else in the same boat with these kinds of articles?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The last few weeks I have not been the most disciplined. I've over eaten, haven't exercised, and been too free with my spending...I drove through at McDonalds for coffee and ended up getting food too three times last week. Ugh.

So, this week shall be called A Return to Discipline.
Goal 1. Run intervals three times.
Goal 2. Have three no spend days.
Goal 3. No fast food or eating out alone.
Goal 4. Track spending each night, so I can really se what I'm spending.

I know that I can be a very disciplined person, I just need to get back on the wagon! I haven't gone wild, but I know I could be more aggressive in my savings goals and more disciplined about my health.

Do you ever find yourself lacking discipline? How do you get it back?

Resisting Temptation

Over Christmas I bought a new set of sheets from Marshall's, opting for a super cheap set. Turns out, they were not only inexpensive cheap, but also cheap cheap. Boo. I should know better, but I learned the hard way. Every night the bottom sheet came off and required wrangling back on. This morning BF finally said, "so are we getting new sheets or what?"

I thought about buying a new set from Overstock.com, figuring I could read reviews and make sure they were good. I started looking, and then decided I wanted a new duvet cover. The one we were using actually tore on one side, so it seemed like a good time to get new bedding. I overused the site for about an hour before I made myself get up and dig through the cupboard where I put a bunch of the stuff BF had before he moved in last year. I found a set of white sheets in good condition that I put on the bed. Then I got out my old Ikea duvet cover and put it on the bed, with it's matching shams.

And you know what? It looks really good. I opened the shades and cleaned off my nightstand, and I'm quite pleased with the effect. And since I almost spent fifty bucks on bedding, I decided to move that amount to my savings, a new idea I picked up from someone's blog, I can't recall whose.

So, three lessons here:
1. Sometimes cheating out doesn't save you money.
2. Making do with what you have can feel just as good as buying something new.
3. If you were willing to find a way to afford to buy something, you can also find a way to save that amount. So do it.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Hello, Lover.

Wanna see my new boots? I need it to cool down here so I can break them in before Europe. I wore them out Saturday night, and I want to get some leggings and a new dress or two to take with me as well. I really just want a reason to post this picture, so I'll stop writing now. Enjoy.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Europe Fund Full!

I got paid on Friday and after doing my monthly student loan payment, Roth investment, E-fund and house fund savings, I moved $400 to my travel fund, and with that I am ready for my trip at the end of this month! I think I planned for plenty of spending, but I'd rather come home with some money in my savings than not have enough.

I'm happy I've been able to fund this account without derailing any of my other goals. And, since I've been tutoring after school once a week, I was also able to put a little extra into my savings as well as budget some shopping money. Which I used to get a pair of riding boots that I want to marry. And will wear to Europe.

This will be the first international trip I've paid for WITHOUT using a credit card. It's still a lot of spending to do, but knowing that I put money specifically aside for the trip makes me feel excited and comfortable with the cost.

T-minus twenty five days!!

I made the list!

Check out this list of the ultimate women money bloggers! Holla!

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Electric's Down, Now for Gas & Water...

I posted about how I've been obsessively tracking my electricity use and got it down to a place that I'm pretty excited about ($16.31 last month). I'm still tracking it, and my goal is to consistently keep it under $20 (though that will get more difficult as we move into Summer).

My new plan is to get our gas/water/trash bill down as well. The BF pays this bill, but I'd still like to get it down. In part to use less resources (go green!) and in part because eventually his bill will be our bill, and his money will be our money. And because I want to see how low I can get it.

The trash is set, and is pretty high. So there's that. But, here are some of my plans to lower this bill:
1. Shorter showers (obviously). I think I could cut my showers by a minute or two each day could save up to 150 gallons per month.
2. Turn off the water while I wash my face instead of letting it run.
3. Use the restroom before leaving work each day. This might seem silly, but that's a gallon and a half each day.
4. Stop turning on heat in the morning when I get ready. We don't leave our heat on at night, but I do often turn it on as I get ready in the morning.
5. Don't let the dryer run its whole setting. Our dryer works pretty quickly, and if I wait until the buzzer, I waste energy. I'm going to work on using the dryer for less time.

These are five relatively simple measures, but I am looking forward to seeing how much I can lower our bill. Our bill this month was just over $50 (though I can't find the stub), so if I can get it into the forties, I'd consider it a success. Wish me luck!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Bitches Get Stuff Done!

I was reminded of this Tina Fey quote by my sister last weekend, when I had to get a little bitchy to get stuff done. If you want to see the original context (and you do), check out this video (the part I'm referring to starts at about 1:20). (Also, Hillary 2016!)

First, I had to go to CVS to return a recalled prescription. (Yes, the one in the news). (No, I'm not.) I called to see if they'd have the replacement, and the woman on the phone basically said that mine wasn't recalled. Ummm, yeah it was. I got the letter, checked the lot numbers. It was. She said most people got those letters two weeks ago. Well, I got mine three days ago, and that doesn't make me feel better. She said to just come in and the pharmacist could, "check to see if it was recalled." When I got there I showed the pharmacist my pill packs (one of which I had already taken...yikes) and she casually said that I was right and that they could have the medication the next day. I pushed back, telling her I was unsatisfied with their service and how I was treated on the phone. I also said that I wanted to medication that day, since I'd already taken a months worth of recalled medication. She got on the phone and found a local pharmacy where I could pick it up that night.

Bitches get stuff done.

Then I had to do a return at Victoria's Secret for an online order I received as a gift, and to make a long story short, after one very helpful phone rep explained how I could return the gift and order the new item in store, the women at the counter said I couldn't. I pushed back, saying I was told I could. After a few tries, I specifically asked if there was a form I could use (since I didn't have the packing slip...it was a gift). And suddenly, after I pushed back, they "remembered" that they had the form.

Bitches get stuff done.

I didn't yell at anyone, or use harsh language, or throw a fit. But I didn't back down either. I pushed back and asked for what I want. I let them know when I was unhappy, and though I couldn't see my facial expression, I probably made it clear how I felt by the look on my face. When I got good service at the second CVS and on the phone at Victoria's Secret, I thanked people sincerely and told them I appreciated their help. I was quite nice, in fact. But I think sometimes as women we're a little too worried about being nice. I'm sure those women I didn't back down from don't think I'm nice. But I made them do their jobs. I demanded good service. And if they don't think I'm nice...I don't really care.

Oh, and my students would know the capital of Vermont too. I'm no nun, but I get stuff done!

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Don't Be Shy

Around holidays or birthdays, most of us will get asked this question: "What do you want?"

For some reason, the polite answer is, "You don't have to get me anything." or "I don't know, I don't need anything."

Now, there are genuinely some people who I really feel shouldn't get me anything. So, I have said that. But there are others who I KNOW are going to get me something: my mom, grandma, etc. I would include BF, but we have a policy of not asking what the other wants and just surprising each other. I do hint though. :) And give positive reinforcement for the gifts I really like.

But for those of us who are striving to pay off debt or build a savings, this is an opportunity to allow someone to help you in your goals. So when one of the people who is definitely going to get me something asks, I try to come up with something that I need or have been wanting to buy anyway. For example, around Christmas my mom asked me and I told her that I wanted new wine glasses, since I had managed to break most of mine. This gave her something to get, and I am pleased to have new wine glasses (in fact, I am using one right now to drink a bottle of wine that BF's dad got for me for Christmas). My grandma mostly does gift cards, so I made sure to tell her that I really liked my gift card to Marshalls that I got last year (and used the one she got this year to get new knives and sheets...both things we really needed). A friend asked what I wanted for my birthday, and I mentioned that I missed getting the magazine Real Simple, and she got me a subscription.

Of course any gift I receive is great...and I've gotten some great things that I didn't ask for. Obviously I'm not advocating running around and announcing demands when they're unsolicited. But, if someone asks what you'd like, TELL THEM. It makes everyone happier, and it can definitely help you reach your financial goals faster.

Do you tell people what you want as gifts, or do you prefer the surprise?

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Feeling Gassy?

The other day I heard a report on NPR that said that in more expensive states (like California) gas prices could get to $5 per gallon this year.

I said, out loud, alone, in my car: "WHAT?!?!"

Are you freaking kidding me? I immediately texted a co-worker to see if she wanted to try to start carpooling a few days a week again. I also decided to do some research on how to get better gas mileage. I knew a lot of these, but it was good to remind myself of these simple tips:

1. Get rid of extra weight: no, I don't mean go on a diet (though it couldn't hurt). Carrying around 100 pounds of extra junk in your car (which could add up fast) can reduce your MPG by 2%. So, today I cleaned out my car. I don't think I had 100 pounds in there, but it's a good reminder to keep it cleaned out.

2. No aggressive driving: Avoiding speeding, rapid acceleration, and braking can improve MPG by up to 33%! I wouldn't say I'm incredibly aggressive on the road, but I'm going to try to remember to RELAX behind the wheel.

3. Obey the speed limit. Sigh. This is a weakness. The article I read said that for every 5mph you go above 60 is like paying $0.28 more per gallon. Yikes! I confess that I am a speeder, but I'm going to remind myself of this and try to save some moolah.

4. DON'T IDLE: This means that I need to plug in my cell phone before I start the car. I need to put on my seatbelt before I start the car. I read that idling can use up a half gallon of gas per hour, so it's important not to sit and idle. This seems like something I can work on right away.

5. Leave earlier for work: by cutting down commute time, you can definitely improve your MPG. For me, that means not hitting snooze so many freaking times, and getting out the door a little earlier.

How do you save on gas?

Monday, February 20, 2012

Thanks, Insurance!

I hadn't gone to get my eyes checked for over a year, so yesterday I headed over to Lens Crafters and got my eye exam. My goal was to get any services that were covered by my insurance, but not to pay for any extras. I got out the door for $15, so I'm pretty happy.

I got my regular exam and discovered that my left eye is 20/20. My right eye...not so much. But, my prescription hasn't changed in the past year and half, so I'm fine with the free glasses I got from Coastal Contacts about six months ago. Since I am due for new frames (up to $100 is free), they suggested I get a pair of prescription sunglasses.

I found a pair of Ralph Lauren glasses that I liked and got them done. The tinting cost $15 (includes UV protection). I like the pair I ended up with...though when I tried them on for BF he said (in a perfectly conversational tone), "those look like older lady glasses." Thanks honey. :/

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Giving for Free

Andrea posted a link to this post about donating without spending money. I've posted about this topic before, but since the post inspired me, I want to give credit where credit is due.

Yesterday, I went and donated blood at the Red Cross. It's free, it only took me about half an hour (make an appointment), and it can save up to three lives. I am type O Negative, so they are always on me to give (universal donor). Afterward, I got free snacks, and I also got a coupon for a free appetizer at Mimi's Cafe.

I used to be super terrified of needles. It got a little better as I got older, and while I still don't want to watch the needle go in my arm, I am able to give blood without getting panicky. I also make myself do it because I believe in it. It can't be made any other way, and it's free to give.

So, if you are able, I challenge you to give blood this week. The need is constant, and how often can you say you saved someone's life? If you give blood, you can say it every 56 days. If you do give, please comment and let me know! I'll give you a shout-out in a future post!

Friday, February 17, 2012

I Never Thought I'd Say This...

But I love SoCal Edison. That's my electric company. A while back, I posted that I started using their budget assistant to track my electricity usage. You set a goal for the month and they send you a weekly email saying how you're doing and what your projected bill is, based on your usage so far. You can also log in at any time and see where your at, how much electricity was used each day at different times. It's great, for a nerd like me.

I tracked it this month and made a few changes to keep my electric bill down. I primarily charged my phone in my car, and also started charging my computer at work and letting it run on battery power at night. I was also aware of turning off the lights and using natural light whenever possible. I set a goal for $20 for the month.

Piece of good news number one: I came in under budget at $16.31! That's my cheapest electric bill ever, I'm happy to say. Whoo-hoo!

Good news item number two: I got a coupon in the mail saying that if I sign up for the Budget Assistant, I can get a free $10 gift card. I tried it, and even though I'm already signed up, it looks like it worked, and I'll get a gift card sometime in April. You could choose from Amazon, Fandango, or Mastercard gift cards. I went with Mastercard, since that gives me the option to use it almost anywhere. Score!

So, even though I never thought I'd be singing the praises of my electric company...tonight I am. That puts me under my utility budget by $12...which will go straight into my Europe fund at the end of the month!

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Am I the Only One?

Am I the only one who likes Valentine's Day?

First, I am just a holiday person. I like decorations and cards and all sorts of seasonal stuff. As a teacher, even when I'm single I was able to have fun with the holiday in my classroom.

And I was single on Valentine's Day for a LOT of years. In fact, this is only the second year EVER that I've had a boyfriend. And that, of course, makes it even more fun. I like picking out a card for him, wrapping presents in heart patterned tissue paper. And of course, I like getting a card from him, and this year the box of chocolates (heart shaped, even) he left for me this morning. He closes tonight, so we're not doing anything, but we're exchanging gifts and he's making dinner on Thursday.

We were talking about Valentine's Day and he was going on a little rant about how it's silly to buy gifts six weeks after Christmas, and he shows me he loves me all the time, and blah blah blah. I reminded him that in my 29 years, this is only my SECOND Valentine's Day. I'm not ready to be over it. I told him that in the years to come, I'll probably be cool with just a card, but for now, I still want to enjoy having a real Valentine's Day.

So I'm not going to be cool and cynical and say how Valentine's Day is lame. I'm going to say that it's sweet and fun. And having a boyfriend helps that, but I also sent cards to my mom, sister, and grandma. And really, I hope I'm never cynical about it. I like holidays and chances to focus on showing love to people. And eating candy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

This is Financial Peace

The other day I was working on financial planning and such, making sure I'm on track for my 2012 goals. (I am, by the way). I decided to plan a budget for if I have to go on unemployment this Summer. I sincerely hope I don't, but my goal is to keep calm and carry on when I get my inevitable pink slip next month, and having a plan for unemployment seemed like a good place to start.

I did it a few times, because I thought it couldn't be right. But it was.

I could live on unemployment with an average of $200 left over per month. Seriously.

I budgeted for fun money each month. Not as much as I spend now, but enough to still enjoy life. I'd still be able to get my hair did every other month. I could pay for car insurance, and all my other bills. I would stop my aggressive loan payoff and just pay the minimum. I wouldn't be contributing to retirement. But I could do it.

I figured that I'd put $100 into savings and $100 into my Roth if I get laid off this summer. The fact that I could live on unemployment and still be saving and investing for retirement is pretty amazing.

And the ONLY reason I have this peace is because I got intense and paid off my credit cards and car loan. Two years ago I would have been in a panic. A full blown freak out. In fact, I was, when I got my pink slip. A year ago, I would have had to get way more strict in my lifestyle and still would have barely made it. But now, because my only remaining debt is student loans, I could live on under two grand per month.

I don't want to get laid off. In fact, it will piss me off. And I'll probably have a breakdown of some sort. But, I am WAY less panicked and scared now that I know I could live on unemployment just fine. And that, my friends, is part of what Dave Ramsey means when he talks about Financial Peace.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

What's Happening...

So, this is happening tonight, as we speak. And it shall be delicious.

So is this, for my friend's birthday present.

So is this, for a pick me up gift for a friend who's having a rough time at work.

This is happening tomorrow at work, for BF's Valentine present.

So, I better get on it!

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Holla!

My federal tax return came in today. Holla! I was able to pay $2,000 on my student loan, bringing my balance down to around $6,000. Yesssss. Once my loan cancellation comes through ($3,000) sometime this Spring I will really be in the home stretch of being debt free. It's such an exciting feeling!

So, my tax returns came and went. $2,000 to my student loan, about $300 in my travel fund, allocated for Europe. I was able to come up with another $120 from my regular budget to go my trip fund. I'm on track for how much I want to save for that. My automatic transfers to my savings/house fund went out, as well as my automatic Roth deduction.

Things seem to be going smoothly on the savings/moving money around boat. Now if I can just find a phone that doesn't make me get a data plan for under $60, I'd be golden.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Excited and Relieved

Last week was a big one in our household...the BF paid off his credit card debt!

He really gazelled it in January, paying $1800 off in one month to get it all done before any more interest accrued. He used his tax returns, the $200 he made from selling his old bed, and his regular $400 per month payment.

I'm so excited for him to get a taste of the feeling of debt freedom. He still has student loans and a car payment, but this is a big step for him. He told me that if he weren't with me, he probably wouldn't have worked so hard to pay it off. Awww. I love it.

And I'm relieved to see him changing the way he deals with finances. He's being much more strategic now, and making better choices in general. He's talking about using the money he makes selling his couch and what he would have spent on CC debt to replace his laptop this month, looking into a cheaper option than a Mac (which is heartbreaking, but probably wise). His is on it's last legs, but I'm proud that he held out and didn't just add it to the CC, which I think he would have done in the past.

Seeing this growth in finances really makes me feel confident about growing our life together. We had a marriage talk and it looks like we won't get engaged this year, which is what it is. But, I also feel good about both of us working on finances this year in order to be in an even better place when we do take that step.

Have people in your life gotten more responsible because of your influence?

Monday, February 6, 2012

Finally!

Way back around the time I started this blog (so, about two years ago), I joined Inbox Dollars, as a way to make some extra money. You can do surveys and other offers on there, and you get paid two cents for each paid email you read. The emails come in waves, but I usually get two or three per day.

I've done very few surveys, on any site. I rarely qualify, and it doesn't seem worth the time it takes. But reading the emails is just clicking on "confirm paid email" and then ex-ing out of the email. Simple.

Inbox Dollars requires you earn $30 before they will pay you out. And finally, after over two years, I made it! The check would actually be for $27 and change since there is a check processing fee. It wouldn't be mailed until April if I requested it right now.

So, now I'm torn. It will take FOREVER to earn another $30 and I almost want to quit the site after I cash out. Meanwhile, I'm earning six cents or so per day that I keep reading the emails. So, do I cash out and call it quits? Cash out and keep doing the emails? Or let it ride and keep earning more money before I cash out?

I don't NEED the money for anything specific now. I could use it boost my E-fund a little. It won't come until after Europe, otherwise I'd put it there. My student loan payoff is on track, and I can't really pay it off any earlier, since I'm waiting for the state to forgive part of it. I really don't know what to do, so for now I'm doing option three, keeping it in there and still reading emails.

Anyone else done Inbox Dollars? Even if you haven't what's your vote?

Sunday, February 5, 2012

My Week of Discipline

I've been hemming and hawing with a few ideas that would improve my life, but that require discipline. So, I've decided to take the plunge this week and commit to doing a few of the items for a solid week. If I realize that it's working, I'll definitely continue, but I'm making myself DO IT for a week. What are the activities? Read on...

1. Wake up thirty minutes earlier in order to go running in the morning. I want to do this so that I make sure I fit in a workout, even on days where I'm exhausted or busy after work. I also have a TERRIBLE habit of hitting snooze for up to an hour in the morning, so it kills two birds with one stone. My goal is to do this Mon-Thurs (taking Friday off for a little bit of sleeping in). I'm going to lay out my running clothes each night and just do it. This goal is inspired by Katie!

2. Calorie count, sticking to a 1500 calorie diet this week. I've played with various calorie calculators to see what I can eat and still lose weight, and 1500 was about the middle. I'll try this and see if I can lose weight with this amount. I spent some money to do this, buying pre-made Trader Joe's salads to have for lunch at work. I also bought some Luna bars and 100 calorie packs. I figure in order to get started I'll go with this stuff, and once I have established the discipline, I will find ways to calorie count on the cheap. I'm actually hungry now, but waiting until Super Bowl time, since I know I'll use up the rest of my daily calories on those snacks. (Yes, I've calculated what I'm exactly allowed to have already).

3. No FB or blogs at work. I don't do this often (I really don't have time), but I'm super busy at work and using my conference period and after school time wisely will relieve some of that stress. Also, after school I will shut my door and work not wander the halls talking to everyone I can find. There's a teacher happy hour on Friday, and I see people at lunch. I don't need to stay at work an extra hour just to socialize and vent.

That's it. But, I think if I can do all three of these things, I will have a very satisfying, productive week. I need to remind myself that if I can be disciplined with my money after having bad habits for years, I can do the same things with food and exercise.

Do you have any goals this week?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Changing my Savings Goals

In January I set the goal of having a six month emergency fund set up, as well as $5,000 saved toward a house down payment fund. I've been making progress on these goals, as well as investing some of my savings. 

However, I got to thinking about how much I need in my emergency fund. I just chose a six month emergency fund because it's on the high end of what's recommended. And I'm a high achiever. But, it makes more sense to consider what my E-fund would be used for:

*Possible layoff: I'd get unemployment, which would pretty much cover my bare bones expenses. I'd only dip into savings for things like car registration/repairs or other emergencies.
*Illness/Disability: I have sick time for smaller things, as well as a $200 cushion in my budget each month. For something bigger, I pay for disability insurance.
*Car issues: Can't see this being more than my three month fund could cover.
*Moving: Could probably absorb this into my regular budget and just need the deposit covered until I get my deposit back from this place.

So, all this points to a three month emergency fund being enough for me right now.

I know there could be a shit storm where all of these things would happen at once. But that's pretty unlikely. And if it did go down that way, I could raid my house fund to cover it. So, I've decided to switch up my goals. I've decided that I want to have three months worth of expenses in my E-fund by the end of the year, and $10,000 invested in savings for a house down payment fund.

This goal makes me feel that owning a home is actually in reach in the next few years, and it still makes me feel secure because I'll have a sizable savings in case something big comes up. My investment money is liquid, so I could pull it without penalty, but it's nice to have my down payment fund earning higher interest and in a less reachable place.

So, one month in and I've totally changed my goals. Anyone else change your mind yet?

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Starting to Track my Net Worth

I know several other PF bloggers who track their net worth each month. Many even have cool graphs to go with it. In the past, I never did it. In the beginning I chose not to because I figured it would be horribly depressing. Later, because I had most of my assets in my credit union it seemed pointless as well. I could take on look and see almost everything-except my 403(b).

Now, I've decided to invest more of my money. I am keeping a savings in CA Municipal Bonds. I am contributing the maximum to my Roth IRA, and I am also contributing to my 403(b). Then there's my ING account for travel, and my regular savings and checking with my credit union.

That's a lot of accounts to look at.

I don't want to obsessively check my investments...I think it will stress me out to see them going up and down a lot. But, I want to be aware of how much money I have in my various accounts, so I'm making the goal of checking all my investments at least once a month and doing a Net Worth update to see where I'm at.

My dilemma is whether or not to share my Net Worth. Since I'm not anonymous, is this a bad idea? I was thinking even if I don't share the amount I can just share the percentage increase/decrease from month to month? Also, if anyone has a net worth tracker to recommend, I'd love to see it!

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Taxes Done!

I stayed home from work yesterday because of a pinched nerve in my shoulder (fun, fun). It sucked, but on the bright side, I used the time to do my 2011 taxes. I knew I'd be getting a refund, but it's exciting to know the exact amount and to start playing with different scenarios of how I'll use it.

I'm getting $2,300 back in taxes. Holla! So, I'm going to put $1,700 toward my student loan (to make $2,000 above my regular payment this month with the $300 allotted for that in my budget). The remainder is going into my Travel fund, which puts me on track for my goal.

It's interesting, I'm not tempted to go and buy anything with the money...I am tempted to leave it in savings to boost my E-fund, or to put it all towards my trip fund as a "just in case" amount. But my old routine was to splurge on something big with my taxes. Now, I want to do something significant with it...whether it's savings or paying down debt, I want it to go towards something. I like that most of it is paying off debt, while the rest is going towards something that is memorable and I will be glad I did forever.

Now, I just have to wait for the direct deposit to come in! My loan sidebar should be getting more blue in a couple of weeks!

What are you doing with your tax returns?

Monday, January 30, 2012

My New Addiction

A few months ago I got a notice from SoCal Edison (electric company) that I can track my bill online throughout the month. I can also set it up to email me a weekly update of where I'm at and if I'm on track to stay within my goal for how much my electric bill will be.

That sounds cool, I thought. Then I didn't do it for two months.

But, I finally set it up a few weeks ago, and I LOVE it. I can log in and see what my current bill is and how much they predict I'll owe at the end of the month. I check it a few times per week, and it's really made me more mindful to unplug different things when they're not in use. I resisted the temptation to use my space heater the other night, and instead grabbed an extra blanket. I've been opening windows and turning off the lights during the day. I've also been letting my laptop charge all day at work, and then not plugging it in when I use it at home (as much as possible). I think this is making a big difference, actually.

Right now, I'm on track to be $4 under my goal for the month. I set my goal on the lowest end of what we've paid in the past. So, if I can keep consistent for the rest of the month, my electric bill will only be $16 this month. No, it's not saving me millions of dollars (heck, even hundreds). But it's nice to be in control, and it's also good for the environment.

And I'm really nerdy, so it's even kind of fun.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Weekend Update: +/- Edition

--I woke up with a really bad crick in my neck. It still hurts, but it's slowly improving...I really want to run today, so hopefully it's better by four or five. BF even offered to jog with me, so I really want to go.
+BF brought me breakfast on a tray since my neck hurt.
+Got seven of the 92 hours I need to accrue to get my summer bonus for National Boards.
--Had to go to a 7 hour training yesterday in LA. The follow up is this Thursday from 4:30-8:30. Yuck.
+I'm under budget in a few areas, so I should be able to put a little money in my travel fund for Europe.
+My W-2 was in my sign-in sheet on Friday.
--I didn't sign out, so I didn't get it yet. But I'll be doing my taxes tomorrow night!
+This is the last week of the semester, and my classes should get smaller for second semester, which will be GREAT.
--Lots of work to finish and grade this week!
+Went to a USC basketball game with BF and his friend last night. Fun to do something different.
+I'm cooking dinner with all ingredients we have on hand, since I don't want to go to grocery store 'til I get paid on Friday. We'll see if I can make it!

Overall more plusses than minuses. How was your weekend?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Money, Old News

Because I am at a brand new school, we didn't get all of our funding right away. But now that it's second semester, they've released some of our funds so I'm actually going to start getting paid for some of the extra work I'm doing. Whoo-hoo!

So, I'm getting paid to do an after school tutoring session once a week. I will get about $50/hour. I've been doing tutoring every Wednesday from 3:00-4:00 all year, so it will be nice to get compensated for that work.

I am one of the Lead Teachers for my academy, which means I lead meetings, help handle discipline, and attend admin meetings for our whole school. For this job, I'm getting $25 per week flat, as well as $25 every other week for the meeting I attend.

So, for those of you keeping score, this means I'll be bringing home an extra $350 per month before taxes. Add this to the $200 or so I'll get for having my National Boards, and I'm looking at a pretty amazing monthly bump! For now, a lot of my extra money will go toward my Europe trip, and then I'll use it to meet my 2012 goals. There is a chance that we'll have to take furlough days at the end of the year, so the extra money could also help compensate for the loss of pay.

Also, the old news is that I know I will be getting a pink slip again this year. I hope that it will be rescinded before school's out, but there is a definite chance that I will be laid off for the summer and have to go on unemployment. I'd most likely be brought back before school starts, and be back-paid for the unnecessary layoff. But, time will tell for all of that.

My goal is to try not to freak out about the pink slip thing...it's awful, and stressful, and frankly insulting to the job I do each day. I have been teaching for seven years. My classes are huge, so the thought that we can layoff more teachers is a crazy thought. I am National Board Certified, I am a lead teacher, and I do a million other things each day. But, rather than focus on all of that for now (and hopefully in the months to come) I will enjoy my trip to Europe, and then start stocking money into my emergency fund. I can't control what will happen next; but I can be prepared.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Taking Time for...

After a conversation about fitness/weight loss with the BF yesterday and reading Jolie's post about health, I decided to focus on taking care of myself today, and hopefully in the days to come. So, I'm not committing to doing this regularly (I'm terrible with doing series of posts), but for today, I'm counting how I cared for myself, in hopes of reminding me to do this more often.

*I tried a new church, and though I didn't like it, I made the effort to go=taking care of my soul.
*I ran two miles and then came home and did the Active 2 workout for today=taking care of my health via exercise.
*I am drinking a cup of green tea and eating a nectarine as a snack instead of having a soda and chips=taking care of my health via diet.
*I am about to start grading papers=taking care of my stress level later this week by getting ahead. This will hopefully enable me to make time for exercise later in the week, as well as some other professional goals.
*I am making dinner in the crock pot, with ingredients I had, using up some things that were about to go bad=taking care of my finances and not wasting food, which connects me to the Earth (wow, that one sounded new agey.)
*I opened the shades and am working by natural light, so I am not using extra electricity=taking care of my finances and the planet.
*I plan on cleaning the bathroom and vacuuming=taking care of my home, which makes me feel more at peace when I am here.