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.

Only one more month to go until I hit the road with my Mom and two sisters for our very un-frugal Disney vacation! I am super excited about taking this trip. I’m especially excited about the time I’ll get to spend with my Mom and sisters. I’ve already posted about our decision to take the trip, and the reason we, 4 grown women, are choosing to vacation at Walt Disney World. And I’ve admitted that this is in no way going to be a frugal vacation. What I haven’t done is posted anything about the costs. This is, after all, a blog about money!

The Trip
We’ve decided to drive down to Orlando for our vacation, instead of flying. To us, the trip is always half the fun! We don’t want to rush, so we plan to spend two nights in hotels on the way down, and one night on the way back. In a very un-frugal fashion, we’re planning on just winging it; We’ll drive as far as we feel like it, then find a hotel to stay the night. We should be able to share a double room each night, and will be driving my Escape.

Estimated Cost, Fuel: <$350
Estimated Cost, Hotels: <$450

The “Package”
When we first decided that we would go to Disney this Fall, I searched high and low to find the best deal. I checked the AAA discount on tickets and reservations. I checked through my Chase Disney Debit Card. I checked the special offers my Mom gets. I read the blogs devoted to doing Disney on the cheap. In the end, the best deal I found was booking directly through the Disney website. Go figure!

I ended up booking 6 nights in a Deluxe Villa Resort Studio, 6 day “Hopper Passes”, with the “Water Parks and More” option, and the “Memory Maker” photo pass all together. But not as a package; It ended up being cheaper to buy each thing individually than to buy one of their preset packages. It was expensive, but all in all, we got a good deal. We could have saved money on the resort by buying “points” from a Disney Vacation Club Member, but that can be risky; Disney doesn’t support those transactions, and the points owner retains all rights to your reservation. Meaning there is nothing to stop them from taking your money, and then cancelling your reservation. Yeah, I think I’ll pass.

The Deluxe Villa Resort is a bit of a splurge; We could stay at a  regular resort, and still get the benefits of being on property. But the Deluxe Villa Resorts are more spacious, and much quieter. Disney is, after all, a place for kids and families. Having a relaxing adult getaway is totally doable, but you have to take some precautions, and be willing to spend a little more. Like staying in the higher-end accommodations. And never, ever, ever, for any reason, stepping foot into the McDonald’s in Downtown Disney. For any reason. Monkeys at the zoo, people. You’ve been warned!

A regular Disney park pass allows you to visit one park each day. Upgrading to the Hopper Pass allows you to visit multiple parks in a single day. The idea may seem ridiculous , but it actually makes a lot of sense. We plan to spend most of our time in Epcot. But there are things in other parks that we want to see too, like the rides in Magic Kingdom. Or the animal exhibits in Animal Kingdom. We don’t want to spend an entire day at those parks, so the Hopper Passes allow us to visit those parks in the morning, and then head back to Epcot in the evening for only a couple of extra dollars a day.

The Memory Maker option allows us to get a DVD that includes all of the pictures taken of us by the Disney photographers at the parks. We do this every time we go, and have tons of great pictures. There are usually tons of photographers throughout the parks, so you can get a variety of pictures in all different settings. And they let you add special effects, and download the pictures online. Sure, you could take your own camera, and snap your own pics. But this allows you to not worry about your camera, or finding someone to take a pic of your whole group. Plus, my Mom is obsessive about photographs, and Disney is the only place she’ll willingly get her photo taken.

6 Night “Package” for 4 Adults: $3,438

Food
Food is admittedly going to be a big cost on this vacation. In the past we’ve always had a suite with a full kitchen, and eaten a lot of meals in the room. But we also had more people, the room was booked as part of my Aunt’s Vacation Club Membership, and we were dealing with a lot of dietary restrictions. The suite we’re getting this time only has a kitchenette. We plan to keep snacks and quick breakfast foods around, but we’ll be eating our meals out. The price difference between a suite with a kitchenette and one with a full kitchen would wipe out any savings we would have eating in the room.

Including the days that we’re traveling, at two meals a day, we’re looking at 18 meals out. Kind of; Since we’re going for International Food and Wine Festival, most of our food will be eaten in Epcot from the food booths. We all like to try new and different foods, so we’re likely to buy most of the foods offered. But we’ll buy one, and share. Otherwise it would get really expensive, and we wouldn’t be able to try as many things.

We also have a habit of sharing when we go out to eat, and we tend to prefer appetizers to meals. So when we go out to actual restaurants, we’re more likely to get several appetizers to share, instead of getting 4 full meals. Many of the popular restaurants book up months in advance for dinner, but we didn’t really make any reservations. Winging it means most of our restaurant meals will be lunches.

Cost: Unknown

Yikes! As you can see, this is going to be a fairly pricey vacation. The $3,438 for the room and tickets is already paid for; I paid the initial total, and my Mom reimbursed me for $2,000. I estimated the travel expenses high, just to be on the safe side. I’ve set aside $100 a day for the trip, to cover travel expenses, food, alcohol, and anything else. I’m hoping that will be high, and I can reallocate some of that money into my student loan after the trip.

You may have noticed that, so far, my Mom and I have paid for everything. The reality is, neither of my sisters are living financially stable lives. We realized when we planned the trip that they wouldn’t have the money to go. So, we made a deal; Mom and I are splitting the cost of the resort. At the very least, my sisters need to come up with the money to cover food on the trip. If they can, we’d like them to pay us back for the park passes, and contribute to the travel costs. I know my younger sister will be stretching pretty thin just to cover food. My older sister isn’t really talking about it, so we don’t know where she stands right now. That’s kind of how she is though; We won’t know until we get there how the money worked out for her.

I’m sure some of you are questioning why we’re taking such an expensive trip. And I know some people will argue that I can’t “afford” the trip either, since I have debts. But I am able to pay cash for this trip. Sure, that money should have gone towards paying ahead on my debts, but it doesn’t change any of my regular payments on anything. My only debts right now are my student loan, my car loan, and my mortgage. While no debt is “good debt”, I don’t consider any of those to be terrible. The mortgage will be gone when we sell the house (hopefully sometime in the next year), and the student loan should be gone in the next 6-8 months. I’m aiming for the end of the year, but if not, I should be able to take it out with my tax refund. I even still have money set aside to continue working on the house.

After all, the whole point in being good with our money is so we can spend it on the things that are important to us, right? Maybe for you that’s a house, or retirement, or kids. For me, right now, it’s having an awesome week-long getaway with my Mom and sisters.

- Cindy W.

Just wanted to post a short note today, so people won’t think I’m going MIA again! A good friend of the boyfriend’s is in town this week and staying with us, so I’ve been spending most of my free time hanging out with the guys. Spending is definitely up this week, although we have been cooking at home mostly, so it could be much worse!

Hope everyone is having a fabulous week, and gets a chance to enjoy whats’ left of the summer this weekend! I should be back around more next week!

- Cindy W.

I came across an article online a few days ago that really got me thinking. I’m choosing not to identify the article, since it was very political in nature, which is irrelevant to this post. But a portion of the article brought up an interesting point about motivation; What are we doing out of anger? And what are we building?

Anger can be a great motivator. Anger pushes us to take action. We change things because of anger. Or frustration. Or hate. But we don’t typically build things out of anger. We build things out of love, passion, desire.

It really got me thinking about my motivation for what is going on in my life. I’m building a life I love with my boyfriend. It isn’t perfect, and it’s still a work in progress. But it’s based on the things that we enjoy, our passions, and our love for each other. I’m looking for a new job out of frustration. Maybe hate and anger are too strong of words, but I’m definitely not happy where I’m at. So, I’m looking to make a change.

And that’s what I found so interesting; I’m trying to change my job because I’m not happy, but I’m not building anything. My career isn’t based on what I love, it’s based on changing what makes me unhappy. I’ve always been a person who believes that if you aren’t happy with something in your life, you’re responsible for changing it. But this isn’t the first time I’ve changed jobs/careers. Every time I change because I’m not happy. I’m frustrated. I’m angry. Why am I constantly changing, but I never thought about building something?

There are a lot of people who build a career: Entrepreneurs, small business owners, even people who “build” a position within a company. But building takes time, and dedication, and knowing where you want to go. Changing jobs isn’t necessarily easy, but it’s easier than building something. I have to admit though, in the back of my mind I’m constantly worried that changing jobs is only going to be a temporary fix, and it won’t be too long before I’m right back where I am now, working a job that I’m unhappy with.

I’m not going to stop looking for a new job. It’s a temporary fix, but sometimes you just need to change. But, I do need to start thinking about what I’m building, and moving in that direction. I’m not sure what that is right now, but it’s time I got more serious about figuring it out. Actually, in all aspects of my life I think I would benefit from thinking not in terms of changing something I don’t like, but building something I love.

What are you building in your life?

- Cindy W.

Last week I mentioned that my job search was picking up steam, and I was feeling much more confident about the process. Apparently, I spoke too soon! Just as quickly as things had started, everything came crashing to a halt.

This week I found myself right back where I started, with no job prospects, and tons of anxiety about my status at my current job. What happened? Honestly, I only vaguely know the answer to that. The last few months have been some of the weirdest I’ve ever had job searching!

For those of you who have missed out on my job searching mishaps: I’ve been casually searching for a new job for about a year now. Things heated up a few months ago when I interviewed with a company for a Payroll Accounting position, and was offered the job. Yay! The hiring manager asked me to think about it overnight . I followed up the next day and said I was very interested, I just needed more information. What information you ask? Well, they never told me about the benefits, and they left out that little detail about how much they were paying. I went back and forth for about a week with a woman from the company, me trying to delicately and politely push for information, her evading the questions. Mind you, I was told the position was mine; I don’t think it’s out of line to ask about the pay at that point! Finally she told me they had decided not to bring on anyone new, and would be trying to utilize people from other departments.

I had my reservations about working for that company anyways, so I can’t really say I was disappointed when the job offer disappeared. I had an interview scheduled with another company around the same time, but they cancelled the interview after deciding they wanted someone with more tax experience. Fine. Shortly after that, my boss began making recommendations for jobs I should apply for, under the guise of taking the next step in advancing my career.

I interviewed with a company I loved, but I didn’t get the position. The hiring manager told me I was one of their top choices, but they still had one more person to interview. Maybe that person was a better fit? But I also know that my boss talked to the hiring manager at an industry event before the decision was made. I don’t know what all they discussed, other than my boss confirming that I was one of the top candidates for the position.

A couple of weeks later, I was called in for an interview with our parent company’s parent company for an Assistant Controller position. The Controller called to inform me that I didn’t get the position, but only because they decided it would be better to hire someone who had a CPA. But they were very impressed with me, and were looking in to other promotional opportunities within the companies.

A couple of days later, I was asked to come in for an interview for a Project Accountant with our parent company. The interview seemed to go really well. I was barely out the door when  they called my boss to confirm that I was a good employee. Things were looking good.

That was last Friday. My boss made several snide comments about our parent company paying poorly, especially their female employees. I didn’t say anything; I would have preferred she not be involved in my job search, let alone discussing potential future salaries. First thing Monday morning she was rushing into my office, excited to share her newest gossip: Apparently our parent company was looking in to making me an offer, when they discovered that I was already making more than the person who previously held the position. So they were looking in to whether they could justify paying what I was making. It turns out, they couldn’t. I received the email this week that someone else had gotten the position. I kinda feel it’s inappropriate that I know who I make more than. And I wish that if salary was an issue, they would have discussed it with me, instead of with my boss. But, it is what it is.

So, I’m back at square one: Issues at my current job, and not a single new opportunity in sight! I have to admit to being a little down about watching so many opportunities slip through my hands. But I have to believe that something better is going to come my way. When one door closes, another one opens, right? I just have to get out there and put more effort into my search!

- Cindy W.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve been working through all my regular expenses to see where I could cut costs. I cut the cable cord. I switched my phone plan to Republic Wireless. I created a budget that works for me. But one place where I’m still struggling? My internet connection.

Honestly, I’m not spending a fortune on internet, which is probably why I haven’t made any changes yet. I’m currently using a T-Mobile HotSpot for $28.19 per month. That’s with my student discount, which will go away next month. I don’t expect losing the discount to add much more than $5 per month to my plan.

The problem? My HotSpot is getting old. The battery is pretty much useless. It struggles to connect, and once it is connected, it disconnects at random. It’s become such a hassle, I only use it when I can’t find another option. Our neighbor at the boyfriend’s place is a good friend, and has given me his WiFi password with permission to use it whenever I want. He has internet through AT&T; The boyfriend thinks he pays $50-60 per month. Ouch!

I’ve thought about just pitching in for the bill and piggy-backing off his internet. But the signal only works in our living room; If I’m looking up recipes in the kitchen, or working/playing on the patio, I have to use my HotSpot. I don’t use a ton of data, but I am using more now that I only have WiFi data on my cell phone (I chose the $10 plan at Republic Wireless).

I don’t really know what my options are as far as internet goes. I know that the phone company and cable company both offer plans in our area, but those options are expensive. The boyfriend has Dish Network for TV (he tried cutting the cord a year ago, but isn’t a fan), so bundling isn’t an option. I could purchase a new HotSpot through T-Mobile, or look into a plan with another wireless provider. Since I don’t use much data, I could probably switch to a less expensive wireless plan. But are those the only options available?

Does anyone have any suggestions for shaving costs on internet access? Is there an option I’m not considering? Or is what I have as good as it gets?

- Cindy W.

Slowly but surely, the job search keeps rolling along. Things have definitely picked up steam over the last few months. Oddly enough, the further into the process I get, the more confident I become. You’d think rejection would have the opposite effect? Instead, I’m feeling more sure of what I do and don’t want, and more confident that I’ll find something better out there.

There are a lot of things to consider when looking for a new job. It isn’t just about the work you want to do, or even the amount of money you want to make. You need to consider the benefits package. The hours. The atmosphere. The transition from one position to the next.

I’ve had a lot of time over the past year to think about a new job. And, the more I interview, the more things I realize I need to consider. Work atmosphere has been a big consideration, since it’s one of the #1 reasons I’m looking for a new job. Basically, I don’t want to be in a “gossipy” environment. You can’t always tell what the atmosphere will be like from the interview, but I’m learning to pick up on small clues.

Hours are also a big consideration. Most of my previous work experience has involved evenings and weekends, with a fluctuating schedule. A “9-5″ schedule has been one of the biggest positives of my current position. I feel lazy saying it, but I don’t want to work crazy hours anymore! I like having my evenings and weekends free to spend time with my boyfriend, and family, and work on things around the house. Also, I have an extensive background in management, but I’d prefer to stay away from a management position. I don’t mind having some management responsibilities, but I don’t want a job where my main focus is managing others. I just don’t feel like managing others is one of my strong points.

I’m hoping that my next position will involve some sort of pay increase. Benefits have been a huge consideration for me as well; I have great benefits at this job. Losing some of my benefits, such as healthcare, could end up costing me hugely.When I’m looking at a position, it’s important to compare total packages, not just the pay.

What are some of the things I’ve been thinking about?

The 401k. I have a great 401k at my current employer. They contribute 6%, whether or not I contribute anything. The investment options are great (They include Vanguard Index Funds!), and the fees are low. I was 100% vested from day 1, which means I won’t lose any of my 401k by switching jobs.

If I find a position with another company, I plan to roll my 401k into a Vanguard IRA. I could keep it in the company plan, but it seems like less of a hassle if I just moved it. I’d also move my Roth IRA (with Edward Jones) over at the same time. If the new company didn’t offer a 401k, I’d need to consider starting back up my investments in my Roth IRA.

If I find a position with one of our parent companies, I’m not sure what happens. Technically I’d be a new employee to them, so I might have to follow the policy of waiting until the start of the next quarter for contributions to begin again. Or maybe since our companies share the same benefits, one would roll into the other?

Health Insurance. I have awesome health insurance at this job: I pay $7 a week for coverage, have a very low deductible ($250/year) and out-of-pocket max ($1,250/year), and have a huge amount of provider options. If I found a position with a new company, I’d really have to consider the cost of health insurance. All of the companies I’ve interviewed with so far offer insurance. I’m not sure how it is today, with all the changes from the Affordable Care Act, but in the past most companies made you wait 90 days before you could enroll in the insurance. Just in case, I’ve already looked into the cost of “gap insurance” for 3 months. These are temporary insurance policies that you can only keep for a short period of time, that basically just offer catastrophic coverage. The limited amount of coverage makes them very affordable: It would cost around $300-500, depending on the plan, total for 3 months. I would have the option of picking up COBRA insurance, which would mean staying on my current company’s plan temporarily, but paying the full cost of coverage myself. COBRA plans are notoriously expensive, so I doubt I would want to go in that direction.

If I found a position with one of our parent companies, my insurance would stay the same. New employees are covered from day 1, so there shouldn’t be any lags in coverage.

Vacations. I currently get 3 weeks (15 days) of vacation time a year, plus 6 personal days. So far this year I’ve used almost all of my personal days, but have all 15 vacation days remaining. I haven’t really taken much time off this year, and my only plans at this time are our Disney vacation in September. We have an annual “use it or lose it” policy on vacation and personal days. However, since vacation days are considered “earned time”, if you leave the company before the end of the year, your remaining vacation time is paid out. Three weeks pay would be an awesome bonus when heading off to a new job!

All of the companies I’ve interviewed with offer some type of vacation pay, although 2 of them didn’t allow vacation for the first year. Ouch! The parent companies offer the same vacation packages as my current company. I’m not sure if I’d start over (at 10 vacation days and 6 personal days), or get to roll forward on my current status. Honestly, I’m not used to having that much time, so the difference between 2 weeks and 3 weeks isn’t a huge deal to me. I assume they wouldn’t cash out my current time if I went to work at one of the parent companies, but I’m not really sure.

At this point, I’m not really sure what the future holds. I could have a new job in the next few weeks. I could still be looking at the end of the year. The entire process has been odd, but I do feel like I’m making progress. I haven’t landed a position yet, but my most recent interviews have led to more opportunities. That isn’t a bad thing! With all the uncertainty, it makes me feel more secure knowing I have a transition plan in place, and have already thought through many of the possibilities.

- Cindy W.