Once again, Friday has rolled around, and I’m super excited. I look forward to weekends, when my time is actually mine, and I can spend it the way that I want. This weekend that means working in the yard, spending time with friends and family, and doing some last-minute preparations for my sister’s wedding. Next week’s work week will be delightfully short, with the wedding and Holiday combining into a long 5-day weekend. Weekends and Holidays are a constant reminder of why I need to stay on track, and what I’m working for: Freedom from the corporate world, from being tied to a desk 9-5 (actually, 7:30-5, but whatever).

I’m also feeling a little apprehensive lately about my finances. Overall my financial situation is slowly but steadily improving, and every month ends better than the last. And I’m continuing to make strides in paying down my car loan. But I’m having to play a bit of a “shell game” week to week, moving money from one pot to the next until it all balances back out. For example: I didn’t have the cash in my “Spending” account to cover my glasses and eye exam. So I “borrowed” from the money I’d set aside for the wedding, until my FSA reimbursement check came through. I was only able to set aside $500 for wedding related expenses; If my costs go over that, I’ll end up borrowing from next months extra car payment, and paying it back throughout the month out of spending money. At the end of the month, it will all wash, and everything will end up as it should have been. But it still feels a little unorthodox having to shuffle money around. And then I realize it’s (almost) September, and I don’t yet have a plan for the Holidays! I’m still thinking through how much I need to set aside, and where exactly that money will come from.

All of this is a reminder that I need to start working on a plan for the future. Part of my rush to pay off my car loan is the realization that, once I’m debt free, my living expenses are fairly minimal. Not having to make as much money opens up a world of opportunities for me. I have a lot of ideas, but so far, they’re just ideas. I need to start trying things out, see what actually works, and what doesn’t. Right now is the ideal time to fail, when I still have an income to support me. Figuring out what I’m going to do will also help me build a realistic timeline. Maybe I’ll decide to switch employers, in which case, I can take the plunge as soon as the car loan is paid off. But if I choose to go a less conventional route, I’ll need time to build up a cash cushion. After all, life costs money, and minimal expenses doesn’t mean no expenses!

In all of my thinking, and planning, and dreaming of the future, I’m trying not to forget to live in the present. After all, I don’t want to become so wrapped up in an unknown future that I forget to take advantage of today. And, as great as weekends are, I don’t want to waste the better (or larger) part of the week waiting for the weekends to roll around. Having a job you don’t enjoy doesn’t have to suck the life out of every minute of the day!

– Cindy W

I’ve been terrible at keeping up with posts on this blog. This isn’t something new: I’ve struggled with this since starting the blog. It isn’t for lack of time, although some weeks are definitely better than others. And it isn’t for lack of ideas; I can think of a million and one ideas of what to write about, and have started and deleted more posts than I can name.

So what exactly is my problem? Appropriateness.

There are so many things that are affecting my finances right now: Bryan’s financial situation. Things that are happening in my sisters’ lives. Medical issues. The reality is, money isn’t just about numbers. If it was, we’d all be rich! Our financial situations are shaped by emotions, and history, and relationships. And some of those things aren’t very pretty. What is appropriate to share, and what isn’t? At what point am I crossing a line, and over sharing? There comes a point where personal finance becomes a little too, well, personal.

I’ve always been an overly detailed story-teller. Whether I’m writing or talking, I feel like the details are important. Sure, I could strip my stories down to the bare necessities. But how fun is that? I want to be able to share what I’m thinking, and the reasoning behind the decisions I make. But I also don’t want to risk hurting the people I love.

When I first started this blog, I had ambitious plans of growing this blog into something grand. At one time I even had the opportunity to share a story on a really big platform. It would have brought a lot of attention to my little blog. I did nothing. Why? Fear. The story would have been about my job, and how it had been affected by Bryan and my relationship. The idea of tens of thousands of people reading about the personal details of my life seemed like too much. And then they’d come here, and read about other really personal things I’ve written about myself, and other people. Which really made me question what I’m writing, and why I’m putting it out here, if I wasn’t okay with thousands of people reading it? Am I really writing about things I shouldn’t? Or have I just not gotten over the feeling that money is taboo?

As I’ve been struggling along deciding what I should and should not write (and often feeling guilty after hitting the “Publish” button), I’ve also been paying attention to what brings people to this site. There are a core group of people, mainly other bloggers, who visit this site on the regular. These are the people I feel are helping to hold me accountable. The random, search engine visitors? They seem to be brought here searching for one thing: Spaghetti Squash.

What?!?

Okay, I did mention spaghetti squash in two of my very early posts (here and here). And I do love growing spaghetti squash. We have three plants that are going crazy this year, despite the inconsistent weather we’ve had. But that’s the reason most people are finding my personal finance blog? Because I talked about gardening? Obviously, I’m writing about the wrong things!

Okay, I’m not going to dedicate this blog to all things spaghetti squash. That would be ridiculous! But it’s really gotten me thinking about what I write about, and what I would be more comfortable writing about. Maybe I’m not at a place where discussing the ins and outs of my financial situation is such a good idea? I’m definitely not at a place to be shelling out financial advice. I can’t figure out how to write about my own finances without feeling like I’m violating someone else’s privacy.

I’d like to continue writing, and I think I’ve decided what I’d like to write about: A blog about finding happiness in the simple life. More of a hometown, lifestyle blog. Do I scrub this blog clean, and take things in a different direction? Well, I don’t think my idea really fits for a blog called “Growing Her Worth”. And part of me would like to continue posting net worth updates, to hold myself accountable. But discussing net worth seems a little too personal for a lifestyle blog. Do I start a new blog, while trying to maintain this one? What do I write about here?

I’m at a crossroads of deciding where to go with this blogging thing. I’m definitely open to suggestions! What do you think about what I’ve been doing so far on this blog? Are there things that I’m doing well? Other things that I need to abandon? Have I crossed boundaries in the things that I’ve talked about here? What keeps people coming back? What does the future of Growing Her Worth look like?

– Cindy

No, not my wedding. Maybe someday, but definitely not anytime soon for Bryan and I. But my older sister will be walking down the aisle in 3 weeks time. Or not: She keeps insisting it will be a casual affair, and there will be no aisle to walk down. But I digress.

My sister and her fiance will be tying the knot in the most no frills way they could imagine. They’re having an outdoor ceremony at a beautiful garden location (where the groom happens to work, and was able to snag a deal), officiated by an uncle. The bride will wear a cute sundress (that we picked up at an end of summer clearance sale for less than $30), and carry local flowers arranged by a friend who works in landscaping at a local landmark (i.e. free flowers!). The happy couple will then bike off to their favorite pub, and buy a round of drinks for everyone (21 and over, of course). The party will continue on from there (maybe hitting a few other bars?) until they make their way to a little historic hotel, where they’ll be staying the night. The next day we’ll all have brunch, and then they’ll pack up for a week-long trip of biking trails and camping.

Simple. Sweet. Personal. Frugal.

But, weddings being weddings, there are still underlying costs for everyone involved. I don’t mind one bit. It’s my sister’s wedding, after all, which is (should be) a once in a lifetime thing. Plus, this will be way cheaper than a traditional wedding, where I’d be looking at an expensive bridesmaid’s dress, plus all the extras, like hair styling, and bridal showers, and bachelorette parties. This will even be less expensive than the Vegas wedding she always joked she would have.

So, what am I looking at cost wise?

Wedding Attire. Their idea is casual, but not too casual (i.e. No jeans). They aren’t having a wedding party, but I’m the witness, and will be by her side through much of the festivities. Her suggestion has been that I wear a light sundress. I don’t currently have anything that’s appropriate in my closet, so I’ll need to go shopping for a dress (and probably shoes). On the plus side, I’ll hopefully be able to find something in all the summer clearances. That is, if I haven’t waited too long. $50-100?

Girls Day. The afternoon before the wedding, we’re having a girls day. What does that involve? Well, we aren’t exactly sure yet. She definitely wants to do mani/pedis. The rest of the day will probably depend on how much time we have before dinner. ~$50.

Food and Drinks. The night before the wedding, we’re all getting together for dinner, somewhere downtown. The day of the wedding, we’re having a “bridal lunch”. I’d imagine there’s going to be breakfast at some point there as well, or at least a Starbucks run. The bride and groom plan to provide a round of drinks and an appetizer after the wedding, but other than that, we’re all on our own. The day after the wedding, we’re all getting together for brunch. There’s a possibility at some point that someone will be feeling generous, and pickup a tab. But I’m not going to plan on that. $100-200.

Transportation. Did I mention that the bride and groom are biking? They love biking, and it’s a pretty serious hobby for them. They’ve encouraged everyone else to bike as well. I haven’t biked since I was a kid, so the idea of getting on a bike, in a dress, during rush hour, downtown, going into a Holiday weekend, is a bit terrifying. Add in alcohol, and multiple stops, and it seems like an accident waiting to happen for someone who is known for being clumsy. Plus, I’m way out of shape, so the idea of hopping on a bike and riding ~10 miles in one evening seems like a bad idea. While there are several people planning to bike with them, the rest of us will need a plan for getting from place to place. And, since there’s drinking involved, and 10-20 people who would need transportation, that plan will likely include hiring out something. My mom and I are trying to figure out what options my sister will be comfortable with. Ex: Would it be weird if we hired out a party bus, and rode around sans bride and groom? Mom and I would likely split the cost. $100-200?

Hotel. I’ve agreed to stay with my sister the night before the wedding. My thought was we’d get a hotel downtown, close to the festivities. That isn’t in their budget, so I’d cover that as part of the wedding gift. We have an Aunt who is coming in from out-of-town, and has offered to see if she can use points to get a room free, or at a discounted rate, at the hotel she and her husband will be staying. The Aunt is part of the “girls day” activities, and we’ll likely have a drink (or two) with her after dinner that night, so it makes sense for us all to stay in the same place. Then there’s the question of whether Bryan and I should get a hotel near downtown for the wedding night, so we don’t have to drive home. Although, Bryan is unable to come to the afternoon wedding, and will be meeting us at some point in the night, so he may not be drinking that night. And my younger sister, being pregnant, has offered to serve as designated driver to get members of the immediate family home that night. $0-250.

Wedding Gift. My sister and her fiance have both been out on their own for many years (we’re OLD, after all), and have lived together for over three years. There’s really nothing they need, so they’ve told people no gifts. That being said, she’s my sister; I’d feel weird not getting her anything to mark the occasion, and I know them well enough to know they’d happily accept something. But their taste and mine are vastly different, so I don’t want to get them a knick-knack or something that will be totally useless to them. I’m toiling over a variety of ideas: They just bought a house, they’re very passionate about supporting local restaurants and businesses, and they love a good local craft brew. I’m considering a gift certificate to someplace local; Likely a restaurant or small brewery (nothing chain!), or maybe to one of the little home shops they enjoy browsing. ~$50.

Yikes! Adding it all up, I could end up spending close to $850! Honestly though, I think I’ll end up spending less than $500. Still a lot, but not out of bounds for a sister’s wedding. I probably spent around the same amount on my younger sister’s wedding over 10 years ago, and it ended up being cancelled the week before! And many of these costs are completely within my control, like how much I spend on food/drinks, and what I wear to the wedding. And hey, at least I’m not having to fly Bryan and I out to Vegas!

Is there anything I’m forgetting?

– Cindy

July marks the second month of tracking my spending for this site. I’ll be honest, it’s a less than perfect system: I don’t actually track my spending, or even break my budget down into detailed categories. My paycheck gets divided into 3 categories: Expenses, Savings/Debt Repayment, and Spending. But, since I use online banking and my debit card for just about everything, it isn’t too hard to pull the information together each month to create a breakdown:

A breakdown of spending during July, 2015

A breakdown of spending during July, 2015

As I noted in early July, I’m covering 100% of our rent for the time being, so that amount has doubled. Our Grocery/Household spending is also a little higher this month. Although, I am making a small weekly trip for my Grandma to pick up anything she wants/needs that isn’t provided in her new assisted living facility, which I pay for with my debit card, and I haven’t been very good at keep track of what I get reimbursed for. Again, my system of tracking this isn’t exactly perfect!

Restaurant spending more than doubled in July. When bad things happen in life, I turn to restaurants as a way to comfort everyone. A cancer (mis)diagnosis equaled BWW, Olive Garden, and Red Lobster. And an extra 3 pounds on my already chubby body. I obviously need to rethink this…

Yes, I did spend $40 having my dog groomed. And yes, I do think it was worth every penny. Hannah is a rescue from a puppy mill. Her full history isn’t known, but her injuries and personality show she suffered a lot of trauma during the first half of her life. For years I tried grooming her myself. She doesn’t get aggressive, she just completely wigs out. Like, drooly, trembly, liquid poo everywhere kind of freak out. I’m not very skilled with clippers or scissors, and Pekingese have a TON of hair. It took hours, sometimes there was blood, and in the end we were both traumatized. And she would look ridiculous for weeks until it finally started growing out. I tried taking her to a variety of places, but a lot of groomers have refused to groom her because of how stressed out she gets. They’re worried she’ll stroke out, or they’ll hurt her, or one of her buggy little eyeballs will pop out (which does happen when buggy eyed dogs get overly stressed). Bryan found an older couple that run a little grooming salon by us. They are a Godsend! They take their time with her, and do a pretty good job. She still stresses out, but not as bad. And more importantly, they have the experience not to stress out about it. She isn’t thrilled about the experience (or the bows they insist on putting in her hair each time), but she trots around the house for weeks after a haircut showing off her new ‘do. Her whole personality changes after a haircut, and it’s great to see her acting so confident and energetic. We don’t do it as often as we should, but I’m willing to shell out $40 four to six times a year to make it a better experience for everyone.

Tracking my spending has helped me realize how much money I’ve spent in the last two months on co-pays and medical expenses. It isn’t out of bounds, and I fully believe in spending money on your health. But, I have a FSA account at work, and I haven’t turned in any expenses yet this year for reimbursement. I hadn’t really thought about it, because I haven’t had any “big” expenses yet this year. Just $20 here, $38 there. But when I saw I’d spent $119 in July without even knowing it, I looked back to see exactly how much I’ve spent the rest of this year. Turns out, it’s close to $300. Which means I need to get some receipts together and turn in a form to get reimbursed! That’s my money, which could be in my pocket (or on my car loan), not hanging out in my employer’s bank account!

Ah, the car loan. Notice I only have listed an “extra” payment this month? That’s because I messed up last month. I thought I’d be fine making extra payments out of my online banking, the same as I make normal payments. However, the company that holds the loan considered the extra payment in June to be a really early regular payment for July. Which means part of the extra payment went towards interest, and moved my next payment to August. Instead of making another regular payment in July, I went on the lending company’s website, and made a “principal only” payment in July. In August, I’ll go back to having my regularly scheduled payments, along with a principal only extra payment. Lesson learned.

Overall, July wasn’t a bad month financially. I spent less than I earned ($2,179/$3,212). There is definitely room to make some cuts, but I don’t feel like anything was ridiculously out of bounds. More importantly, my spending stayed within my budget. Even if the rest of my life got a little crazy!

– Cindy W.

I was going to post this on Friday, but having posted about my sister having breast cancer on Thursday, and finding out Friday morning that the cancer diagnosis was wrong, I thought it made more sense to give an update on that situation. But, I did have the numbers together:

Net Worth update as of July 31, 2015

Net Worth update as of July 31, 2015

I’ll be honest, I was worried about how things would pan out this month. With the weather keeping Bryan from working, my contributions towards the household expenses have almost doubled. On top of that, my automatic reaction to bad news is to try to fix it by feeding people. My sister’s cancer (mis)diagnosis led to several extra restaurant visits this month. I had to smile when we were sitting in the radiologists’ office, listening to all the different treatment options, and my sister catches my eye and mouths the words “Olive Garden”. Obviously! Was she even questioning that I’d try to feed away her cancer with bread sticks and alfredo sauce?

Despite everything seeming out of control, I still managed to grow my net worth by $1,831. I didn’t pay down my car loan as much as I would have liked, but I did make a $600 dent in it. The nice thing is, I’ve finally gotten in to a groove where my money is almost effortless. I don’t have to give much thought to when bills are due, or where the money will come from. The money gets deposited, and automatically gets transferred where it needs to go. Sure, I still have to keep an eye on my spending. But even that is starting to become a habit. I’m more aware now that there are limitations to what I can have in life, and there are many things I value more than what I can buy.

I’m noticing that the more my finances become second nature, the more consistent my progress becomes:

Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

Chart of net worth growth since the start of time (or the start of this blog)

Sure, some months are better than others. And I’m often surprised the months that turn out the best: I’d assumed I’d have very little growth in July, with all that was going on. But it ended up being even better than June! I’m happy to see that, aside from January, my progress has been fairly consistent for all of 2015, despite everything that has been going on in my life.

Hopefully August will be a smooth month both financially and personally. This girl could definitely use a break!

– Cindy W.

I just got the new from my sister: She’s officially cancer free! Yay!

Wait… What?!?

Apparently something about her case wasn’t sitting right with the breast surgeon. So this week, while away on some exotic vacation, he had the tissue that was taken from the biopsy sent in for further testing. The new pathology came back showing no cancer. Twice. Despite all the previous tests indicating that there was cancer, including positive hormone receptors. Despite a breast surgeon, radiologist and oncologist all agreeing it was cancer. Days before she was scheduled to have the breast removed, she gets the news that they were wrong.

Of course, the fact that all the other tests came back positive has them scratching their heads about what the lump actually is. They’ve sent everything off to the Mayo Clinic, in hopes that they can shed some light on what is going on, and whether or not anything needs to be done. Of course, since it isn’t the invasive breast cancer they thought it was, any further treatment that may be needed will likely wait until after the baby is born.

Obviously it’s been an emotional couple of weeks. I can’t imagine going through a cancer diagnosis, only to find out later that the diagnosis was wrong. Doctors are human too. I’m glad that her surgeon listened to his gut, and took the time to look into things further. I’m glad he had a vacation scheduled this week, and wasn’t able to do the surgery earlier. I’m glad that my sister doesn’t have one more hardship to go through in an already difficult time in her life.

– Cindy W.

For all the financial strides I’ve been making in 2015, it definitely has not been a good year. I keep hoping that things are going to turn around any moment, and everything will start getting better. After all, what else could possibly go wrong?

Last Thursday my younger sister was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.

It’s shocking enough when a 33-year-old is diagnosed with cancer. Especially something like breast cancer, which typically affects women over 50. But when you throw in the fact that she just lost her fiancée in April, and she’s pregnant with her third child (which was not at all planned), you start to wonder how much more one person can take. Abigail’s “Why You? Why Not?” post definitely resonated with me this week. The reality is that life isn’t fair, and people rarely get what they deserve, good or bad.

The best my sister can take away from all of this is that they found the cancer very early, and her prognosis is very good. She has a very rare painful lump: Most doctors will assure you that cancerous breast lumps are not painful, and not to worry about one that is. Luckily for her, being pregnant and wanting to breastfeed, her doctors decided to look into whether the lump could/should be removed, only to be surprised to discover it was in fact cancer. Things are moving very quickly now. She’ll have a mastectomy next week, but if all goes well, she shouldn’t need radiation or chemotherapy, and should be able to carry the baby to term.

Of course, that isn’t to downplay anything. Cancer is a terrifying thing. She’s losing a breast at a young age. Depending on what further testing reveals, she may eventually lose the other breast. She’ll face years of daily medications to reduce the risk of recurrence, along with a lifetime of follow-up testing and worry. Not to mention the pain of surgery and recovery.

2015 is definitely not going the way I expected. Yes, I expected some struggles as I sold my house, and Bryan figured out his career. But I also expected to celebrate both of my sisters’ weddings, and for everyone to make strides towards a better future. Things are definitely not going as planned. In the midst of everything, we’re learning to appreciate what we do have, celebrate the good, and support each other in healthier ways.

Life isn’t fair. We just see it more clearly in bad times than in good.

– Cindy W.

The Spring and Summer of 2015 have been relentlessly wet here. It seems like every day brings showers or storms. The ground is soggy. The streets are flooded. Our tomato plants look pitiful. The jalapenos are another story.

You know what doesn’t happen when it rains? Construction. My job has been a little slower, which doesn’t bother me in the least. There’s still enough work to keep me busy, and I’m a salaried team member. But Bryan’s now working out in the field. Or, more often than not, not working. After all, you can’t dig in the rain. And, even if it isn’t raining, most job sights are under water. What should have been the busiest time of the season is turning into a 2-3 day work week, if that.

He has enough seniority in the union that he can easily switch employers. But that’s zero help when the weather is keeping everyone from working. So, he’s sticking with a large company that has plenty of work, and waiting out the storms. In the mean time, he keeps himself busy painting around the apartment, running errands, and cleaning. Gotta love a man who can’t keep still!

Obviously though, not working is not a good thing when you’re an hourly employee. We try to split our living expenses equally: We each pay half the rent, I pay for the groceries each week, and a few other bills, while he covers the electric and internet. But he still has a house payment every month, while mine went away in May. It isn’t like I’m living high on the hog now that I have fewer expenses; I’ve been keeping to a budget, and throwing all my extra cash towards my car loan. After all, paying off that loan opens up a lot of options for our future. But, it seems ridiculous that I’m working to create a better future, while he’s struggling to afford the present.

For months I’ve been pushing him to let me take over more of our bills. At least until he’s working more, or he can get rid of the house payment. He’s been very reluctant to let me “support him”, as he refers to it. But, as time goes by and the rain keeps coming, he’s started getting a little resentful of my position. I’ve finally had to put my foot down; After all, we’re a team, and this is our life. There will always be times when one of us is pulling in more money than the other. Does it really matter? So, for the next 3-6 months, I’ll be paying the rent, and possibly taking over some of the other bills.

I’ve also noticed lately that my spending each week is going up. At first I panicked, thinking I was letting lifestyle inflation creep in. Then I realized we were buying more on our weekly grocery trip, and Bryan was making fewer small runs throughout the week. In all honestly, it’s probably a good thing: Overall we’re spending less, and getting better at eating what we have on hand. We’re also wasting less food.

All of this means that “my” expenses will be going up. I’m adjusting my budget accordingly. I’m also watching to make sure I don’t get careless as my spending increases. Just because I’m spending more doesn’t mean I should waste money. My progress on paying off the car loan will be much less than I was originally planning. With the tax refund I typically get in February or March, it should only slow things down by a few months. I’m okay with that. Like I said, paying off the car loan is working towards the future; Right now we need to get the present under control.

When it rains, you have to adjust your plans!

– Cindy

Since I sold my house, there’s one question that keeps coming to mind: What now?

Over the past couple of years, it seems like Bryan and I have talked over hundreds of different options. Maybe we’ll move somewhere warm, like Florida, or Arizona, or New Mexico. Maybe we’ll save up and buy a little house on a big piece of land, and have a big garden, with chickens, and mini goats, and yaks (Bryan says no to the chickens, and mini goats, and is completely confused on why I want a yak. Who wouldn’t want a yak?!? They look like a cross between a buffalo and a muppet! ). Maybe we’ll get a little place on a lake, where he can spend his retirement fishing, and I can work on my tan (Note: I really don’t tan. Pretty much at all). Maybe we’ll become snowbirds, and do some combination of those things.

But for now? We’re staying right where we are. Honestly, we might end up staying here forever. We rent the two-story unit of a triplex. Bryan is good buddies with the owner. We’re in the city, but on a huge plot of land. Across the street from a state park. Within walking distance of a great Mexican restaurant, along with a variety of other small shops and restaurants. We have a great little patio out back, with plenty of room for a big vegetable garden every year, and bonfires and fish fries with friends. The neighbor in the one bedroom unit is a good friend, and joins us on the patio from time to time for drinks or dinner. And the third neighbor? She’s a nice older woman, who leaves for months at a time. The rent is cheap, the location is perfect, and it suites our needs. We’ve even talked to the owner about buying the place some day.

Slowly but surely, Bryan and I are changing our financial picture. We’re paying off debt. We’re decreasing our expenses. We’re making better choices with the money we bring in, and looking for ways to increase our cash flow. The better our finances become, the more opportunities we have. When your expenses are low, you have more freedom in life. Freedom to live wherever you choose. Freedom to work how and as much as you want. Until we have a better picture of what our future looks like, it would be silly to tie ourselves to another home. I proved with my last home purchase that you can lose just as much owning a home over the short-term as you can renting. Real Estate is not always the winning investment people think it will be.

We don’t know exactly what the future holds. But we certainly aren’t short on possibilities!

– Cindy W.