It’s officially the last day of September. Can you believe there are only 3 months left in 2014? Yikes! So, how did things go for September?

Net Worth as of September 30, 2014

Net Worth as of September 30, 2014

I knew it was going to be an expensive month, especially with a week-long vacation with my Mom and sisters in Walt Disney World. I came in right where I thought I would on spending, although I may have some money coming to me from one of my sisters. She lost her debit card at the end of the trip, so I ended up paying for a few things she said she would cover. If I’ve learned anything about my sisters though, it’s not to count on them when they say “I’ll pay you back”. I’m better off just assuming that money is gone.

I’m a little nervous about how the rest of the year will pan out. The boyfriend is still in the process of looking for a new job, and as of October 1st, we get to start paying rent on the apartment. We’re still sorting through how we’ll handle things financially. I’ve volunteered to cover the rent and utilities at the apartment, at least while we’re in the process of making some changes (like selling a house, or two). He’s not very comfortable with that idea. But unless some very big changes happen very soon, he may not have a choice.

Change is always scary. I don’t know what the rest of 2014 will hold for us. But I’m optimistic that as long as we work together, everything will turn out fine!

– Cindy W.

I find myself stuck in the ultimate blogging paradox: A lot of big things are going on in my life right now, so I have a ton of things I could be writing about. But, a lot of big things are going on in my life right now, which means I have very little time to sit down and write about them. Isn’t that always the way it goes?

It’s been less that a week since the boyfriend lost his job, and so far, nothing has really been decided. We’re dealing with the little things, like cell phones, and email addresses, and rebuilding his contact list. He has a few job prospects, but he doesn’t want to jump into anything too quickly. We’re weighing out all our options, trying to decide what steps we need to take next. Everything from where we live to where we work is up for discussion right now.

On top of everything that is going on, I leave for vacation in a couple of days. There’s packing, and shopping, and planning left to do. I feel really bad about leaving on vacation right now. Especially on an expensive Disney vacation. But I’ve already paid for the most expensive parts of the vacation; I can’t get that money back! And it would hurt the rest of the group if I backed out now, especially since the plan is to drive my car. The boyfriend is fine with me going. And having a little time to himself to think and get things done may not be a bad thing.

As I get time, I’ll start posting about some of the things that are going on, and some of the choices we’re considering. But things might be a little quiet here for the next week or so!

– Cindy W.

Last week I posted about feeling stressed with everything that is going on right now in my life. You know how the saying goes though: It could always get worse. So, of course, it did. Thursday afternoon, the boyfriend was called into the office and let go.

It came as a complete and total shock, and we definitely weren’t prepared. He’s been with this company since day 1, and was working for one of the original parent companies long before the company was started. Over 25 years, gone. He didn’t just lose a paycheck though; The company also provided his cell phone ( and the only cell phone number he’s ever had, along with all of his personal and business contacts), laptop, everyday vehicle, fuel, and the apartment.

I don’t think reality has fully set in yet. And I don’t think we’ll feel the full hit for a few more months. We both have some money set aside, and he has a small severance coming. He already has some options for a new job. But it’s highly unlikely he’ll find a job making what he had been, and he definitely won’t be able to recoup all the benefits. We’re definitely going to have to start making some tough decisions in the coming months.

Changes are coming, and I foresee things getting rougher before they start getting better. But in the end, I think things are going to end up better for us. The boyfriend’s job was causing him a lot of stress, and everyday he looked forward to the day he wouldn’t have to deal with it. I was constantly pushing him to make changes, so we could prepare things for a day when he could quit, and that was causing a lot of stress and misunderstandings in our relationship. Doing it on our terms would have been easier. But sometimes, things have a way of working themselves out.

For now, I’m putting all my financial plans on hold. No more paying ahead on the student loan; We just lost 2/3 of our household income! If we decide to stay in the apartment, we’ll have the added expense of rent and utilities. My plan for now is to fatten up the emergency fund, and cut any expenses I can. We did spend a good deal of time at my house this weekend, working on getting it ready to sell. We started really looking at what needed to be done, and really discussing how we should go about things. So we might actually sell a house. See? Something good!

It won’t be easy, but everything is going to be alright.

– Cindy W.

In August’s Net Worth Update, I mentioned that I put a chunk of cash towards paying off my student loan. I had $1,000 set aside in my saving’s account specifically for my student loan. I originally intended to wait until the end of the year to put a much large chunk of cash towards the loan. I hoped that I’d be able to come up with enough money to completely pay off the loan, although that’s looking less and less like it will be possible.

There were multiple reasons that I wanted to pay-off the loan in larger chunks, instead of bit by bit. The first reason is Sallie Mae’s reputation of “accidentally” messing up loan repayments when you try to pay ahead. My loan is set up on automatic monthly payments. I’m bad about remembering things, so automatic payments make things super seamless for me. Being on auto-pay also means that I get a small discount on the interest rate of my loan.

The second reason was because of my house. Although I was setting aside money ear-marked for the student loan, there was a little less stress knowing the money was there in case I needed it to sell the house. Like a secondary emergency fund. Which ended up being exactly the reason I ended up making the $1,000 payment last month. I saw that money as being available for something else. Giving myself permission to use money for something other than it’s intended purchase makes it susceptible to being poached for any number of reasons. If I was ever going to make progress on paying off the loan, I needed to start making progress on paying off the loan. Once the money is put towards the loan, it can’t be taken back to use for something else. Like the house. Or a vacation.

So I bit the bullet, and made a big payment towards the loan. When I made the payment, I set it up as an “additional payment”, and not to affect my normal payments. We’ll see how that works out. If it doesn’t? Oh well, I’ll just have to start making all of my payments manually. It’s not the end of the world. And the tiny discount I’m receiving will be more than made up when the loan is paid off.

When I made the extra payment in August, I started thinking about how often I should plan on paying more towards the loan. A thousand dollars seemed like a nice, round number. But at the rate of $170 a week, I’d be making an extra payment every 6 weeks. Call me impatient, but 6 weeks seems like too long. So I’m thinking maybe I’ll just start making an extra payment at the end of every month? Maybe a few days before the end of the month, so it will be adjusted for my net worth updates?

I’m sure there will be some bumps in the road, and I’ll change my mind as I go. I always change my mind as I go! But at least I’m making a plan to move forward. And forward is a great direction to go!

What do you think of my plan? Would you pay more monthly, at a set dollar amount, or save to make a larger payment?

– Cindy W.

If I’m being honest, life is a little overwhelming right now. Not in a dark, depressed sort of way. Just in a really, really, stressful sort of way. I feel like I have 5 million things on my plate right now, and I’m not really doing a good job with any of them. And over the last couple of weeks I’ve developed this lovely eye twitch, where whenever I’m stressed out my top and/or bottom eyelid starts spasming. Usually on my right eye, but sometimes on the left one too. So then I get to worry that, on top of being stressed and bitchy, that I look crazy as well. Fun times!

There aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything I need to get done at work. And I have to watch myself; I start getting ticked off about things, and then I find myself being less productive. Obviously that helps nothing. As much as I hate the cold, I find myself looking forward to when the weather changes. There’s only so much road construction that can be done in the Midwest once the cold and snow set in. A few of our departments work year round, but things are definitely calmer in the winter!

In less than two weeks we’ll be leaving on vacation! I’m really looking forward to the break, but getting ready to go is definitely adding to my stress. I’m sitting here early on a Saturday morning writing this as my car gets an oil change and a few other things taken care of in preparation of our big trip. I’m slowly working on pulling things together, so I’m not running around crazy at the last-minute trying to pack and get things done. I’m a procrastinator by nature, which usually means I get a little stressed (read: completely psychotic) as I’m trying to get everything done 5 seconds before we leave. Not this time! I’m trying to get as much done beforehand as possible, so I can just walk out the door when it’s time to go. But trying to squeeze everything in to an already tight schedule isn’t easy.

Money is stressing me out right now as well. It really shouldn’t be; I’m “fine” financially. I can cover all my bills, and have money for all my needs, and most of my wants. But I’m spending a lot, which means I might not make my goals for the year. This vacation is going to be pricey. I finally got a tree guy out to the house yesterday to quote trimming the tree the neighbors are complaining about. Yes, it’s been forever. We’ve had someone lined up to do it all this time, at a great price ($100!). But week after week, something else would come up. It was time to face the facts, he was never going to do the work. I’ve worked with a great tree guy before, but I’m guessing he retired, since his business no longer exists. The neighbors have worked with 5 different companies, and had issues with all of them. So, I found a company listed online with good reviews, and called them out. The guy quoted me to prune the tree, and “top” it. $1,250. Are you f-ing kidding me?!? He shrugged and pointed out that it is a 70+ foot tree. We finally came to a compromise; $550 for them to trim all the dead wood, and stuff hanging over the house.

I have $2,500 set aside for the house. But that money was intended for finishing things out to get the house ready to sell. I have been pairing back lately on the things I want to do before putting the house on the market. After all, I bought the house when it was far from perfect. I don’t need to turn it into a model home just to be able to sell it. I just need to sell it! Which is another stressor for me right now: The house! I’m way past ready for it to be gone. The boyfriend doesn’t understand. He sees the house as something I own. Security. How can owning something be a bad thing? I see it completely differently. The house is my past life. I was ready to sell the house years ago. Every dollar I put into that house is a dollar I can’t spend on the life I actually want to live. It’s costing me $500-600 a month on the mortgage and utilities alone. That doesn’t include the money I’m spending getting it ready to sell. Or the extra money for the tree, or the flood in the kitchen, etc. All the time and money I’m spending on the house is time and money I’d rather be spending on other things. I’m done.

Add in family, and being sick a lot lately, and life in general, and my nerves are fried. But in 2 weeks, I’ll be on vacation! Things are going to get better. I just have to buckle down and make it through. But that’s life!

Are you finding life stressful right now? What are you doing to try to improve things?

– Cindy W.

I’m a little late on posting August’s net worth; I wanted to wait until the long weekend was over before calculating the numbers. How did things pan out in August?

Net Worth as of September 2, 2014

Net Worth as of September 2, 2014

I had an almost $700 increase last month. Actually it should have been more, but the long Holiday weekend meant that my employer’s contribution to my 401k hasn’t posted yet. That would add an additional $263, making me solidly over $12,000 in my 401k plan. It may not be much, but it’s better every month. Little victories!

You’ll also notice that my student loan balance dropped significantly this month; $1,083 to be exact. Why? I had been setting aside money in my savings account towards paying off my student loan. Originally, I wanted to wait until I had a larger chunk of money to make a payment, because I worry about Sallie Mae messing up my regular monthly payments, which they are notorious for doing. But I also realize that large amounts of cash just sitting around in the bank have a way of finding other uses. Like, oh, I don’t know, Disney vacations? I started to feel like I’d never pay ahead on the loan if I didn’t start, you know, paying ahead on the loan. And, in the end, decreasing the balance by $1,000 was more important than keeping my $100+ monthly payments on track. I’ll just have to keep an eye on things, and if the regular payments don’t happen, I’ll just have to do them manually.

Slowly but surely my net worth is inching up! How was your August?

– Cindy W.

I keep forgetting that this weekend is going to be a Holiday weekend. Ya to long weekends!

Coming up on this weekend, the boyfriend and I didn’t really plan anything. He’s going to be taking on older friend to Kentucky for a family reunion Friday/Saturday, so he’ll be away for part of the weekend. Even though I started with zero plans, things are quickly starting to pile on. I agreed to go to a cousin’s baby shower. My sister decided we should all get together on Sunday to celebrate my Dad and Nephew’s birthdays. I need to work on the house some more. And the boyfriend would like to at least carve out some time for the two of us to spend relaxing.

Several of the things I have planned for the weekend will involve spending money: I need a gift for the baby shower. I need gifts for my nephew and Dad. I’ll probably need to buy some more things for the house (paint, or wood, or something along those lines). I’m hoping to keep things in line though. In the past, I would have used gift-giving as an excuse to spend extravagantly. Now that I’m keeping more to a budget, I try to keep things more reasonable.

Luckily, coming up with the money won’t be an issue. Every week I give myself a set amount of “spending money”, which gets used to cover gas, food, and pretty much anything else that isn’t a regular expense. It equals out to around $124 per week. It used to be $154, but I’ve started setting aside an additional $30 a week for debt repayment. Most weeks I don’t spend all of this money, and so I move it into a temporary “slush fund”. Then when I need to buy gifts, or clothes, or anything else outside the ordinary, I can pull money out of this fund. So far, my system is working pretty well for me.

But having so many “gift-giving” events this weekend reminds me of another thing: The Holidays are coming! Come November I have numerous family birthdays, including my own. And then there will be food to buy for Thanksgiving, and gifts and food for Christmas, and overall just more spending in general. Being in the middle of a heat wave, it’s hard to remember that it’s practically September, and the Holidays will be here before you know it!

Last year I put aside $800 for all costs associated with the Holidays, and I think that worked out pretty well. I think I’ll switch the extra $30 a week over to Holiday savings, just to get that ball rolling. Hopefully I’ll also come back with some money left over from my “Disney Fund”, and can transfer that over to the Holiday Fund as well.

In the past, I used to have to pull money from other things in order to cover gifts and Holidays. Or, worse yet, in my twenties, everything just went on the credit card(s), with no worries about what that meant for the future. I actually find that, even though I spend less on gifts now, my gifts tend to be more personal, more heart-felt. I guess that’s what happens when your money has more meaning; You know how hard you work for it, how limited it is, and what you’re exchanging for it.

How are you spending your Holiday weekend? And, more importantly, have you started thinking about your Holiday spending?

– Cindy W.

Our Vegetable Garden

Our Vegetable Garden

In my post Growing Some Green in the Garden, I talked about why the boyfriend and I garden. Hint: We don’t do it to save money on food. But does that mean you can’t save money by gardening? Of course not!

To me, gardening can be as frugal or expensive as you make it. It all depends on your goals, your tastes (both aesthetic and food based), your budget, and your climate. I’ve done raised beds, with soil amendments and specially ordered seedlings (expensive), and I’ve tossed some seeds in the ground and let it go (cheap). Time is also a huge factor in how you garden.

Gardening for me is usually more about having a hobby, and accomplishing something. When I was living on my own, with my own garden, I usually delighted in growing more unusual plants: Unusual varieties of tomatoes. Spaghetti squash. “Lemon” cucumbers. That isn’t exactly the way to save money in the garden.

So how do you save money by growing your own food?

First and foremost, you should find out from fellow gardeners what grows well in your area. In my area, your best money is on tomato plants. Start seeds cheaply a month or two before the last frost, or buy seedlings just about anywhere from $1-4 each, depending on their size when you buy them. Toss them in the ground, water them occasionally, and watch them grow. I’d recommend cages of some sort, to keep the fruit from rotting on the ground. Just about everyone likes tomatoes, and they are super versatile; You can eat them raw or cooked, and you can easily can or freeze them.

My "Tomato Weeds" that popped up from last year's garden.

My “Tomato Weeds” that popped up from last year’s garden.

If you aren’t careful, tomatoes will grow like weeds in my area. Literally. Every year I have problems with squirrels and raccoons carrying off fruit, and without fail by the next year I’m pulling new little tomato plants out of all of my flower beds. We didn’t plant anything at my house this year, but found a patch of tomato plants growing where my garden had been last year when we went to mow one day, despite the fact that the boyfriend mows every week. Since I mainly grew grape and cherry tomatoes last year, and the boyfriend refused to plant any this year (he feels they produce too abundantly), we decided to let them go and see what we ended up with.

Which brings up another good point; On heirloom plants, you can “seed save” from one year to the next. I’ve never personally done this, but there are tips and tricks all over the internet on how to save seeds from one year’s crop to be replanted the following year. The plants have to be of the heirloom variety though; Hybrid plants won’t reproduce from one year to the next. And the majority of plants you buy at “big box” retailers are hybrids.

The fruit from one of our heirloom tomato plants.

The fruit from one of our heirloom tomato plants.

Although we’ve never seed saved ourselves, the boyfriend has a good “old-timer” buddy in his 70’s who’s been doing this for decades. It was something he and his brother always did together; They’d save seeds from their heirloom tomatoes, and then start hundreds of seedlings the following year, giving away many to their friends and family. Actually, most of our tomato plants came from this friend, as he gives the boyfriend 20-30 seedlings every year to plant and share. And they grow some amazing, gigantic tomatoes! Like I said in my last post, gardening is as much about community as anything!

Aside from what you plant, HOW  you plant is another place where you can save money. You can plant in the ground, in raised beds, or even in pots. When my Mom lost her kidney, planting a whole garden was out of the question. So, she bought a couple of bags of dirt, stood them up on the ends outside, cut the tops off, and stuck a tomato plant directly into the dirt. Enough light and water, and voila! The ultimate Hillbilly container garden!

Each way of planting has its pluses and minuses. Planting directly into the ground requires you to till the ground. I always did this by hand, using a plain old shovel. I’d remove the sod first (with a shovel), to make it easier to turn. The boyfriend borrows a tiller from a friend, and usually just sows everything into the soil, grass, weeds and all. You may or may not need to add amendments to your soil. I always added peat moss and compost to my garden, just because I felt like I should. I’m not sure how much good it did; The boyfriend doesn’t add anything, and our garden grows just fine.

In raised beds you’ll need the materials to make the beds, along with the soil to fill the bed. It’s usually recommended that you add compost, etc. to the soil in raised beds. You don’t have to worry so much about tilling the soil in a raised bed, and the soil tends to thaw quicker in the Spring than the ground does. But raised beds tend to not hold water as well, so you’ll have to pay more attention to watering your plants.

With a container garden you’ll need a container of some sort, and soil. Your container can be as fancy as a cute pot, or as economic as a bucket (or the bag the dirt came in). It’s also recommended that you fertilize your plants in containers, since nutrients will drain out more quickly. Some gardeners fertilize their plants regardless, but we’ve never bother. But then, depending on your soil, you may have to fertilize no matter which way you plant. Container gardens also require more diligence in watering, since the water will drain more easily.

Another way to get more “bang for you buck” is to get the most out of your growing season. Tomatoes are a great example of this. When I was growing up my Mom would plant a ton of tomato plants every year. Usually anywhere from 50-75 plants. As soon as the fruit would turn from dark green to light, we’d start making fried green tomatoes. I’ve also known a lot of people to make green tomato relish, or use green tomatoes for guacamole. Once the tomatoes start ripening there are endless ways to use them. And then, as the season comes to an end, you can preserve the last of the fruit by canning or freezing them.

Whew! Saving money is a whole post unto itself, and I haven’t even really talked about our garden! I guess I’ll save that for another day!

– Cindy W.

The boyfriend and I have been dating for over two years now. We’d both been living the single life for a long time before we met, so it probably took us longer than most couples to find our balance. Eating, sleeping, communicating; We’ve had to make a lot of adjustments and compromises to make things work as a couple. And one thing that has taken us a little longer to figure out? Money.

Dating and finances are always a tricky thing. I mean, sure, your money is your’s, and his money is his. But who pays on a date? Does he pay? Do you go dutch? How many dates until you can quit playing the check dance? One of the benefits of dating a much older man is that he’s pretty old fashioned; He believes as the guy that he should pay for everything.

But the more time we spent together, the more awkward it became. I’d pickup something and bring it back to the house, and he’d want to pay me back. Sure, I was saving lots of money, but he was spending a lot. Our system wasn’t fair. The increased spending wasn’t sustainable for him, and I wasn’t really comfortable having someone else footing the bill all the time. It took some convincing, but I finally convinced him he didn’t need to always pay me back. So, when I ran to the grocery to pick things up for dinner, or stopped and bought him some soda, he didn’t need to worry about giving me money.

I’ve learned that making changes in relationships often takes baby steps. Letting me cover some of the costs was better, but it still wasn’t really fair. It wasn’t long before we were basically living together. Me paying for one dinner a week and a few random items here and there wasn’t really cutting it. I offered to start pitching in a weekly amount to cover more of the food costs. He wasn’t at all comfortable with that. For a long time we were at a stand-still, unsure of the best way to balance things out.

A couple of months back, we finally figured out a solution. It seemed so simple, I don’t know why we didn’t think of it before. What’s our solution? A grocery list. We still do dinners on a night by night basis. I know, that probably sounds crazy to most people, but we actually waste a lot less food when we just buy what we are eating that night. Otherwise we end up with things like the “broccoli incident”. Broccoli is now a sore subject in our household, due to my stubborn refusal to have it for dinner for an entire month, despite him having bought it, and even cleaned and cut it in preparation of “tomorrow night’s dinner”. I swear, it was the longest lasting broccoli I’ve ever seen! I kept praying for it to just go bad, so we’d never have to speak of it again.

So, whoever is cooking dinner that night usually buys. But, there are all those things that normal people keep on hand in the kitchen. Like eggs, and butter, and seasonings. Sodas. Household items like toilet paper and paper towels. Anything that we’re getting low on goes on the list. And then, at least once a week, I’ll go to the grocery, and buy anything that’s on the list.

It isn’t a perfect system; It’s impossible to make things 100% even in any relationship. But now I feel like I’m contributing financially to the relationship. And he isn’t having to shell out so much money every week. It’s an adjustment for both of us: I’m not used to anyone supporting me financially, and in his marriage, he was accustomed to paying for 100% of the living expenses. It may seem small, but it’s getting us used to combining our efforts and each contributing to our common goals. We’ve talked about bigger goals for our future, like buying a house. If we’re going to retire mortgage-free, it’s going to take both of our financial efforts.

– Cindy W.

 

Our Vegetable Garden

Our Vegetable Garden

In the comments section on GRS a few weeks ago, someone asked about gardening as a way to save money on food. It’s a valid question, and it really got me thinking about how, and why, I garden.

I grew up in a poor, urban neighborhood. The produce section of the grocery store left much to be desired; fresh fruits and vegetables were limited, expensive, and not the greatest quality. We were urban gardeners long before the concept was trendy. Every Spring my Mom and I would carefully lay out a large (for the city) garden in the narrow space between our house and my Grandparents. We planted tomatoes, peppers, and whatever other produce seemed exciting at the time.

How much money did we save? How did we make the most of our bounty? How much effort did it take?

I laugh in understanding during Steel Magnolias when Ouiser brings a sack of tomatoes to the beauty shop.

     “Somebody’s gotta take em, I hate em. I try not to eat healthy food if I can possibly help it.”

      “Then WHY do you grow them?”

     “Because that’s what Southern women do!”

The first garden I planted at my house grew a huge assortment of vegetables: Tomatoes, cucumbers, soy beans, corn, green beans, melons, radishes… Did I mention that I don’t even like half of those things? So, why did I grow them? Because it’s exciting! And, that’s what we do!

Tomatoes ripening on the vine in our garden

Tomatoes ripening on the vine in our garden

Growing up, tomatoes were always the central point of the garden. They were the whole point of having a garden, so to speak. Store bought tomatoes just can’t compare to the home grown variety. Speaking of variety: There was only 1 type of tomato available at the store. At home we could grow cherry and grape tomatoes. Roma tomatoes. A seemingly endless variety of big tomatoes. And green tomatoes; We were big on fried green tomatoes, and the only way to get green tomatoes was to grow them yourself.

From there, gardening was more of a hobby. There was a sense of accomplishment in being able to grow food yourself, especially in the city. My Grandpa tried for years to grow watermelon. Year after year, we’d laugh about his “water-grapes”. Never once did he manage to get a watermelon. There was a sense of community in gardening; Not just the community between gardeners, but the community of sharing fresh produce with your neighbors who didn’t garden. Like I said, quality fresh produce was hard to come by. And some produce ripens in abundance; Unless you’re into canning, and we weren’t, you’re likely to end up with more red tomatoes than you can possibly use at one time.

So, to me, gardening is about quality food, and community, and accomplishment. It’s a wonderful hobby. And I love knowing that sustaining myself is possible. Maybe one day we’ll have a green house. Or do canning. Or extend our gardening season with more cold weather plants.

Does that mean gardening can’t be a way to save money? Of course not! Stay tuned!

– Cindy W.