Blog Sprucing.

October 26, 2010

I’m not a techie.

Don’t get me wrong, Microsoft Office and I are BFFs-4-life.  Seriously.

But when it comes to making this here blog more unique beyond typing up stories about my own life, I’m completely out of my realm.

One of my goals of my 25-by-25 is to make this blog a little more exciting.

So, this is my plea…help!  Does anyone know of any good websites, want to throw in some of their own help, or have any suggestions of what I should do??

It doesn’t need to be fancy or overdone.  Just fun and maybe a little more unique.  I do love all of the white space on the homepage, so I want to keep that as much as possible, but I know I could use a personalized header and maybe I could add some more pages.

K, I’ll be waiting for suggestions.  🙂

Developing a Budget.

October 13, 2010

Ok, so if you’ve been following along (if you haven’t, feel free to start here, here, and here), you’ll know that Mr. Windows and I do not have a budget. 

In other words, we spend blindly.

Well, this is changing.

For a very long time I’ve been bothered by the fact that we don’t save as much as we could (arguably, could translates to should).  We spend, spend, spend–almost entirely on our credit cards with the exception of our reoccurring bills–and then pay for it.  This leaves us with the feeling that we’re living within our means (woot!), but sometimes I wonder if we really are.

So, I went to my credit card online banking website and clicked on the spend analyzer to see where I’m spending my dinero at (by me I mean we..Mr. Windows has his own card for this account).

Here’s what I got for this last year:

I did edit this for some privacy because the dollar amounts don’t really matter.  What matters is WHERE the spending is occurring.  Almost half of it has been in merchandise.

At first I thought, “What classifies as merchandise and why do I need so much of it?!”

So, I clicked on the “Merchandise” link and it showed me.  Turns out this category also includes all of my purchases at places like Walmart (food, household items, etc.), buying my computer, buying our new couch, and even our Netflix charges.

I have to say that I don’t exactly agree with how my credit card broke all of that information down, but it gives me a good place to see where we can realign some of our spending.

Since we tend to spend, spend, spend and then look at our bill and think “how the heck did that happen?!” I’ve decided to allot dollar amounts to our activities.

Beginning Oct 14–our next payday–and through November 10 (two whole paychecks, essentially) outside of our normal bill paying activities, we’ll have the following items to budget:

Groceries
Eating out
Misc. Spending – Mrs. Windows
Misc. Spending – Mr. Windows
Entertainment (movies)
Gifts

Everything else is worked into our budget with a finite number.  Right now I’ve allotted dollar amounts to each of these categories and we’ve decided to reevaluate after the first month.  Also, hopefully by then we’ll have some other changes to make because we might have our refinance procedures completed (fingers crossed).

If we stick to the budgets I’ve outlined on our spreadsheet, we’ll be able to put an additional $750 into savings with the potential to add more to another savings arena–like home projects, our vacation account, or paying down one of our car loans.

So, here’s hoping we can finally start living on a budget!

Ok, for previous posts about our financial situation, click here and here.

Today’s topic is our budget.

Actually, I’m not even sure we can call it a budget because frankly, we don’t have one.

Because of the way we use our credit cards, I find it difficult for me to keep track of our daily spending.  I know that probably sounds like an excuse, but it’s incredibly hard for me to find the patience to analyze all of it.  So, we just spend. 

We buy whatever food we want to eat, whatever clothes we want to wear, and whatever else happens to come home with us.  Generally we have an idea of how much money we have at all times and what we’re comfortable with spending.

On larger purchases–like all of the furniture we’ve bought in the last year–we set a budget that is generally based on how much of our savings we’re willing to part with for that project which is typically based on how long we’re willing to contribute to our savings to counter the deficit.  For example, my budget for my office furniture was $150 for the desk, $300 for some sort of chair/sofa, $150 for the desk chair, $100 for the file cabinet, and all other furniture had to be okayed by us both before spending.  As it turns out, the desk was $35 (after refinishing it), the loveseat was $300, the desk chair was $150, the file cabinet was $40.  So, all-in-all I did well on that room.

One thing that Mr. Windows and I have agreed on is a spending limit.  If we intend to spend over $60 at a place on an item (or items), we should inform the other and get the “ok” to spend the dinero–or be prepared to take the item back if there’s an issue.  So far we’ve never had an issue, but we also aren’t extremely frivolous either.  This spending limit, however, does not apply to grocery shopping because normally we’re both there and food is expensive.

If you have problems talking about money, or even dealing with it at all, I suggest you implement a spending limit–even if you don’t have a spouse.  This will allow you to better understand your needs and wants and what really matters to you.

I personally have a hard time spending money at all sometimes.

Right now we’re doing a lot of spending and some days I’m scared I’ll wake up with hives all over me from the stress.  It’s not that we don’t have the money, it’s just that I have a hard time separating myself from it.

This month we’ve already purchased our couch (paid for entirely by selling our sectional–woot!) and we’re planning to buy a chair, a coffee table, paying for a photography session, buying new outfits for Mr. Windows and me for our photos (and baths, manicures, and new collars and leashes for the puppies), and buying Christmas presents (I like to be ahead of the game).

So really, we have no present spending limit on the things we buy each month.  It works well for us, but we ARE trying to establish a budget of some sort so that we can try to do some more saving.  We’re a work in progress!

So, there you have it.  Our financial situation.  It’s complicated and heavy, but it’s ours.  We earned it, and we live it.

In case you missed it (or don’t want to scroll down), start with this post.

This time around we’re going to talk about debt.

I’m going to tell you about the debt that Mr. Windows and I are responsible for, our opinions on debt, and how we’ll handle debt in the future.

We are of the impression that not all debt is bad.  In our neck of the woods, being in debt because you are a homeowner is not only incredibly common, it’s the norm. 

We have so much debt we don’t even know what to do with it sometimes.

We owe about $74,000 on the Gilbert House.
We owe $54,000 on the New House.
We owe $6,000 on our Toyota Camry.
We owe $9,000 on our Nissan 350Z.
We owe $25,000 in student loan debt.

All of these numbers are approximate..and no, I’m not embarrassed to show them to you.  This is my reality, not yours.

If you do the math (please don’t), that’s quite a bit of dinero for a couple of youngins like us.

Every month that equates to about $2060 in payments.  This is about 41% of our income.  Btw, income=net after taxes and insurance is taken out of our paychecks.

When I was 20-years-old, I was hell-bent on buying a house.  I had this kick ass job and I was going to do the responsible thing and buy myself a house.  Today, that house is worth $10,000 LESS than it was when I bought it.  I’ve been fighting this reality.  The sad part is that I have an FHA loan and I cannot rent it out–in fact, the mortgage company is threatening foreclosure because I don’t live there–even though I make the payment every month, on time AND satisfied the FHA owner occupancy rules because I lived there for more than 1 year.

This, my friends, is a really good example of what NOT to do.  Do not buy a house because everyone around you thinks it’s a good idea.  I had ZERO dollars for a down payment (and couldn’t fathom why I’d need such a thing), I had no idea what real estate purchasing entailed, and what’s even worse is I never really liked that house in the first place.  It met my requirements–3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, and affordable on my income.  So I bought it.

Mr. Windows always wanted to own a house and we intended to get rid of mine, but didn’t want to be homeless (ha, how crazy we were to even think about that), so when we found the new house, we bought it. 

Now, more than two years later we still have both houses.  We have my mortgage on the Gilbert house, our mortgage on the new house, and a second mortgage we took out to remodel the new house.

Now the cars.  I came to our marriage with a 2006 Dodge Ram truck.  His name is Roger (uh, yes, I name everything..snicker all you want; my friends and family find it endearing).  Today, Roger is 100% paid for.  Why?  Cause he got beat to hell by a hail storm in 2009.  This was a HUGE win for us.  It eliminated the $225 a month car payment, I bought the truck back from the insurance company, and now we have a bona fide work truck with 26,000 miles on it.  Who cares that it looks like a golf ball?!

So, months later we decided that we should look into getting a 4-door family car in the event that we decided to have a family.  Oh, and we couldn’t travel with Andre and his big self (Ralphie comfortably fits on a lap in the car..he’s 12 pounds).  So, I negotiated us a hell of a deal on a 2003 Toyota Camry.  It’s the car we drive every day.  Btw, this car does not have a name because I refuse to call it “Yoda” and Mr. Windows refuses to call it anything but, so I pretend it doesn’t have a name.

The Nissan was Mr. Windows’ biggest happy mistake.  Nelly (the 350Z), was one of those incredibly rare (thank goodness) impulse buys on Mr. Windows’ part.  Nelly was in the picture just a few days before I was.  Too bad he couldn’t have waited just a couple of days–I would’ve gone with him to negotiate the price of the car.  We both have a lot of love for this car, though, so it’s not a regret.  It’s a learned lesson–one we won’t make again.

Here’s how we’re trying to remedy this: We’re refinancing the new house.  We have so. much. equity. in that house that our financial advisors recommended that we refinance to obtain some of that equity to eliminate some of our bad debt.

Bad debt is our car loans.  The interest on those loans is not tax-deductible, so eliminating them is top priority. 

By refinancing our house, we’ll save $200 a month on our mortgage payments and $400 a month on the Nissan payment because it will be the first to be paid off.  This will allow us to do a few other things (namely, pay off the Toyota and a few other things).

The student loan will remain there, haunting me, until it becomes a priority.  Right now it’s just not a big deal because we have such a mess in other areas of our financial lives.

The Gilbert House is on the market–hopefully someone buys it.  It’s looking like we’ll probably have to drop the price.  I’m also planning on looking into refinancing it, but that would easily cost a few thousand dollars and I’m not sure I’m willing to spend even more on that house.  Decisions, decisions.

Now for our opinions on debt….

I feel like we definitely are novices when it comes to debt.  We’re more experienced than a lot of people we know, but we’re not exactly proud of that.  We’ve done a lot of things the hard way, but luckily we’re on top of it enough that it hasn’t negatively impacted us (and by that I mean we’re not facing bankruptcy..although it’d be nice to be able to go on a vacation sooner!).

When I met Mr. Windows I had some serious credit card debt.  I’d been paying for school with my credit cards–NOT a good idea.  So, we worked diligently to pay that debt off and Mr. Windows taught me how to use my credit card.  We pay them off every month.  We use them for EVERYTHING.  I even get a little peeved if we can’t use them.  This is how I know how much we spend on groceries, fun stuff, etc.

If we could go back and redo the last 4 or so years, I’m pretty sure we’d have 1 house and 3 paid-for-in-cash cars.  We wouldn’t have made those mistakes.  We also wouldn’t know better if we hadn’t made them to begin with.

We do not think that all debt is bad.  Owning a home and having student loan debt AT LEAST allows you to collect some tax benefits.  However, debt is not for everyone.  My brother, for example, has a hard time paying his monthly utility bills much less a car payment or a mortgage payment.  It’s just not for everyone.  I am of the impression that you do what is best for you…and if it’s not best for you, at least you figured that out!

What our future looks like…

I’m pretty positive that we’ll have a mortgage well into our old age.  That’s something that neither of us has a problem with.  If we can help it, we’ll never have another loan for any other thing–not a car, not a piece of furniture, nothing. 

We are a little different in our financial planning as we’ve met with a financial advisor and have a permanent life insurance policy  that we’ll be making monthly contributions to for the rest of our natural lives, but this policy allows us to do a lot of other things (another story for another day) including not having to take out any other loans if we don’t want to.

So that’s what we owe in dollar amounts and what we’re doing about it.  It’s a work in progress-like most things.

Next up: Our “budget”.

If you’re looking for a financial advisor, or just curious to know how it works, contact Ryan by clicking here.

Ok, and by tacky, I mean honest.  Personally, I have no problems talking about my financial situation and don’t find it to be the slightest bit tacky (unless I’m being braggy…which, I suppose, probably happens more than I know it does).

A couple of my favorite blogs have been talking dinero the last few days and I’d like to chime in.

I’m going to break this up into a couple of posts because there are a few things that I’d really like to focus on: our jobs and what comes with working where we work, our debt situation (namely houses and cars), and our budget–or lack there of.

First off, our jobs.

Mr. Windows and I have good great jobs.  We both have multiple degrees and we both make more dollars per hour than we are years old.

I’d like to first point out that no one spoon fed us these jobs.  We went to school, got good–sometimes great–grades, and applied our hineys off until we got the best job and best offer we could.

Our company provides us not only with a better than competitive salary, but also with some of the greatest benefits I’ve seen a company provide.  We pay next to nothing for our health insurance–$40/month each and no copays  to our Primary Care Physician and $5 for prescriptions (and having ADD like I do, that’s HUGE when my monthly prescription would cost over $100 alone without insurance)–and another major benefit that Mr. Windows and I fully take advantage of is their tuition reimbursement program. 

My master’s degree was 98% financed by the company I work for.  I paid $400 out-of-pocket to Uncle Sam (because ya gotta pay taxes on it just like you do for any other income).  Mr. Windows is currently taking classes to obtain his masters degree and we’ll pay a similar amount for his degree.

I’m getting a PhD and the company will almost entirely finance that as well.  Let me remind you that this is a BENEFIT of working at this company.  If I’m being entirely honest, it was both mine and Mr. Windows’ primary reason for seeking employment at this company. 

On top of that we work relatively flexible schedules–if we need time, all it takes is a simple e-mail to the boss and we’re cleared for the time off.  Oh, and we both wear jeans to work everyday–we have a very casual work environment.

Now, I know some of you might think this sounds like a dream–don’t kid yourself.  It’s still a job.  We work every. day.  We’re here early in the morning and leave in the afternoon and devote at least 10 hours of every day to our jobs (not just working, but getting ready for and traveling to and from work).  If we didn’t have to come to work, we just might hang out in our pjs all day every day (I’m serious), so this time spent getting ready for and travelling to and from work counts.

I’d like to follow this up with another reminder that we aren’t just being given this money.  We had to earn our jobs here and continue to do so everyday. 

We’re young, but we’ve made some incredibly wise decisions at a very young age and here we are making the most of it.  We’re opportunists and right now, working for this company and earning these degrees is the greatest opportunity we have.

Next up: Our debt.  Eww.

So, I mentioned  that I’d help as much as I can, so why not SHOW you all what a cake looks like at my house while it goes from batter to crumb coated?  THIS I can do!

So, while you’re mixing your batter, you should do this:

Now, here’s my advice!  Don’t use Pam.  It doesn’t come out well.  I promise.  A few things you can do is go old school and slather the pan with shortening and then dust it with flour.  Or you can do what I do and buy Wilton’s Cake Release.  It’s amazing.  I’ve NEVER had a cake stick to the pan when I use it.  The best way to use Wilton’s Cake Release is to squirt it in the pan (I’m pretty stingy…you can always add more if you need to!) and use a silicone basting brush (I use this one) to swirl it around and cover the entire inside of the pan.

See inside that measuring cup?  That’s my silicone basting brush.  If you don’t have one and you bake a lot, you should get one simply because not having one is such a pain in the rear!  I’ve never used it to baste anything with, but I’ve sure slopped a lot of non-stick on my cake pans with it!

side note: pretty mixer!

I tend to be pretty generous on the batter front.  I like my cakes to be similar in height and the best way to achieve that is to make sure the cake batter is plentiful in the pan so that when it bakes, it bakes high enough that it develops a lip over the pan.  This is where I’ll normally level the cakes off and therefore have a uniform height on all of them.  Trust me, though, this doesn’t always work.  I’m no chemist and sometimes things just go wrong.

However, that’s how your cake pan should look.  Full of batter.

I also use these wonder inventions called bake-even strips.  They’re also a Wilton product.  They keep the cake from having that mysterious hump in the middle and the edges of the cake from crisping.  Also, I dish out the batter with a 1-cup measuring cup because it helps me keep track of how much batter I’ve put into the pan.

Ok, so I forgot to take a picture of me leveling the cake, but you get the idea.  Buy this tool–it’s $3 and you’ll thank me later when all of your cakes are level.  Also, if you have a husband (or anyone that lives with you who loves cake but doesn’t get any very often), he’ll love you for the leftovers you level off the top.

This picture shows the crumb coat in process.  It’s pretty ugly.  That’s really all there is to say about it!

And then, after many more hours of work, you get this!  For the record, the cake in these pictures is the cake that was served at this wedding!

It’s not difficult to bake and bake well, you just have to know a few of the tricks along the way.
-Use a good no-stick agent so your cake flips out of the pan
-Level the cakes
-Bake even strips are amazing!  (and you can buy them at Michael’s with a 40% off coupon!)
-Crumb coat first, your final layer of icing will be much easier to deal with!

Maybe next time I’ll take some pictures of smoothing and decorating and assembling…maybe 🙂

Alright, folks, this is what it looks like to have a back hoe dig up your yard and replace the broken, misshapen clay pipes with PVC.

Look!  My driveway is still intact!

This tree was not the root (pun intended) of our plumbing issues…however, it is in dire need of a good trim!!

Driveway: still intact…

Grief!!  My driveway!!!  😦

*sigh* There’s a 2.5’x16′ gaping hole in my driveway right now.  But at least we can flush the potty and do laundry!!

Dirt, dirt everywhere!

NEW plumbing!!  Including a new “clean out” for when kids flush their stuffed animals or some crazy person gets carried away with the TP…or in 75 years when the plastic has out-lived us all, but has seen better days.  Nonetheless, I’m sure someone, somewhere will thank us for it later.

This is a picture of some of the old broken pipe.  Rumor has it that it came out of the ground this way.  I’m no rocket scientist plumber, but this doesn’t look like it was doing a very good job.  In fact, it looks like it failed at its job quite a while ago.

For serious, that’s a LONG ways down, y’all!!  Mr. Windows said it was more than 8 feet.  Yikes.

This is what I came home to.  I was not. happy.  Seriously, the highest point of this mountainous terrain is higher than my waist!!  For the love of pete, it looks like one massive disaster.

And this makes me sad.   Not only is there a hole, it’s freaking dirty!!  I guess that’s to be expected, though.

So. Much. Dirt!

And not even an hour after I took all of these pictures, this happened:

Torrential downpour!!!  It’s good for settling the mountain of dirt, but Mother Nature decided to throw in some hail for good measure….

See, lots-o-hail!!

By the way, that tree in the back IS the root of all plumbing evil!  The clay pipes didn’t stand a chance to the powers of it’s roots.  But guess what?  PVC never dies!  At least I hope….

All in all, this has been an interesting experience to say the least.  The driveway will be fixed, we’ll flush the potty as often as we want to, and even though we’re $1630 poorer, at least we don’t have to wake up dreading our morning showers anymore!

Oh, and I should mention that our humble abode officially has 100% new plumbing.  Not many 60+-year-old houses can say the same!