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.

In 51 days my two sisters, Mom and I will be hitting the road to Walt Disney World. I am so excited! That’s right, 4 grown women headed off, sans kids, to spend 7 days at the happiest place on earth. The tickets are bought, the resort is paid for. We’re ready to go!

I’ll admit, I never was much for theme parks. Sure, it’s something to do with your friends or family during the summer. A nice change of pace. I can see the appeal, but honestly, I could take them or leave them. Growing up, going to Disney wasn’t even a possibility. And I never felt like I was missing anything.

The first time I went to Disney was in my mid-twenties. It was our first all adult, all female get-away. I was mistaken in my post in June about deciding to take the trip; We’ve only been to Walt Disney World 3 times as a group. On another trip we went to the Disney Resort at Hilton Head. Four girl trips total before we decided to call it quits. Our last trip together was almost two years ago.

The first few years we went were fun and exciting, but by the last year, we were starting to feel the strain. I love my family, and am very close with most of them. But, 5-6 grown women spending 10 days on vacation together every year can start to cause some issues. We all wanted to do different things, but some people wanted the entire group to stay together the whole time, and would get their feelings hurt if they missed out on something. We had different expectations of what we wanted in a vacation. We had different ideas of when and how we should eat. And, under it all, there were tones of inequality; It wasn’t everyone’s vacation, as some of us were just invited guests. After a couple of years the newness had worn off; It just wasn’t the relaxing vacation most of us were hoping for.

Of course, none of that was Disney’s fault. Well, other than being very expensive. Which gets back to the main question: Why are 4 adult women planning a trip to a children’s theme park?

Because Disney isn’t just for kids!

I’m sure Disney spends more money than I’ll ever see in my lifetime marketing their theme parks to families. But they do a terrible job marketing themselves to adults. And the reality is, a Disney vacation can be a wonderful trip for adults! Especially if you’re staying on property. Full Disclosure: I’m Irish-Catholic. We drink. A LOT. And Disney is a great place for drinking. Aside from the Magic Kingdom, which only serves beer and wine at Be Our Guest (and good luck getting a reservation there!). Honestly, Epcot is the best place for drinking. You can drink around the world! Beer, wine, liquors from across the globe. And there’s a bus that will take you safely back to your resort. And security out the wazoo, to help ensure that you stay safe. Not that I’m encouraging over-consumption. But, if you want to relax and have a good time, Disney is a great place to go.

We’ve always planned our trips around one of Disney’s concert series at Epcot. They don’t have live music all year round, but there are various times throughout the year when bands will be playing at the little outdoor amphitheater in Epcot. The first year we went, my Aunt planned the trip around the concerts in May (maybe Flower Power?) so we could see her favorite band as a teenager, The Grass Roots. She was so excited about seeing them in concert. We made sure to arrive early for the first concert of the night (they usually have a band do 3 short sets a night, usually for 2 nights in a row). We had our drinks in hand and were all geared up for a great show. We may have perhaps been a little tipsy. I will never forget the look on her face when the lead singer started across the stage, slowly, with his walker.

It seriously looked like they’d dug this guy up to play a concert! But the great thing about older rock and roll bands? They usually sound the same as they did back in the day. It was an awesome concert! It became our running joke that Disney is where old bands go to die. From there on out, we’ve always planned our trips around there being live music at Epcot. And we’ve seen lots of great concerts: The Grass Roots. The Pointer Sisters. Hanson? Alright, not all the bands are all that old. This trip we’ll have the chance to see Jo De Messina, The Pointer Sisters, Rick Springfield, and Christopher Cross. All included in our tickets to Epcot. No parking, no fighting traffic, no waiting in line. The concerts are short enough that you’re pretty much just hearing their biggest hits.

We’re also looking forward to the food. Yep, Disney does actually have great food! You just have to know where to look. Hint: It’s not usually at the parks. Some of Disney’s best restaurants (some of which are known to be the best restaurants in Florida!) are actually at the Resorts. Plus, there’s Downtown Disney, which has some awesome places to eat. And the Boardwalk. Bonus: You don’t need a park pass to eat at any of those places! Epcot is also a great place to try a variety of foods from all around the world.

I’ll be honest, I love food. A big part of vacation for me has always been food; I love trying new and different things. This year we’ve planned our trip around the International Food and Wine Festival at Epcot. We’ve been to this once before, and it was awesome! Epcot always has the World Showcase, which features a variety of restaurants and shops from around the world. But every Fall they add something more; Dozens of food carts setup throughout Epcot’s World Showcase, featuring food and drinks from all around the world. Each cart offers 2-4 food items from a specific country, and most offer an alcoholic beverage common to their area. Appetizers, desserts, sides, entrees. Beers, wines, liquors and mixed drinks. You can sample it all as you meander “around the world”. Most items cost $3-5, and are small enough to be considered “samples”, but not so small that they can’t be split. Last time we ate our way around Epcot over several days, splitting most samples 4 ways. It’s a great way to try lots of things, without completely breaking the bank!

This will be the first vacation we’ve ever taken with just the four of us as adults. Although, I have taken a variety of trips with one or both of my sisters. We’ve discussed this trip thoroughly, and are all on the same page on what we want out of this trip. While we plan on relaxing some, and all agree that we don’t want to be rushing around all week, we all want to stay active and see as much as possible while we’re there. We’re all okay with splitting up if everyone in the group doesn’t want to do the same thing (my sisters and I have frequently done this on trips, so I know it won’t be a problem with us). We plan to eat all of our meals, aside from breakfast and snacks, outside the room. Hey, I never said this was going to be a frugal trip!

So, we’ll eat, drink and be merry! All while taking in beautiful scenery and lush landscapes. We’ll probably relax by the pool a bit, or maybe hit the hot tubs at night. We’ll enjoy the wonderful service that Disney Resorts are known for. We’ll get to experience all the attractions and rides that Walt Disney World is known for. But, most importantly, I’ll get a chance to spend some much-needed time making memories with my Mom and sisters.

And that’s my idea of the perfect vacation!

- Cindy W.

Another month is coming to an end, and summer is starting to wind down. I can’t believe how many schools are already back in session! Summer break seems to get shorter every year! Although, I guess a lot of the schools in our area are switching to the “balanced year”, which means shorter summer breaks, but more/longer breaks throughout the year.

So, how did I fair in July?

Net Worth as of July 31, 2014

Net Worth as of July 31, 2014

I only grew my net worth by $434. Growth is growth, so I’ll take it!

Of course, if I’m going to make my overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 this year, $434 a month isn’t exactly going to cut it. If you look closely at the numbers though, there was a lot going on this month. I paid off $451 in debt. My liquid assets grew by $656, despite some spending on the house, and some clothing purchases. My 401k went up by $327.

So why did I only have $434 in total growth?

Well, the car. I bought a shiny new car in October. And, as we all know, shiny new cars lose value. Fast. At first, it was kinda hard to get a good gage on how much my car was worth; Kelley Blue Book doesn’t always list values of the brand new model years when they come out. Why would they? People don’t typically sell a brand new car a few months after buying it. So for the first few months I owned the car, I was just guesstimating. My guesstimate ended up being right on with Kelley Blue Book, once they finally added my model year to their listing. But, it’s been a couple of months since I looked, so I figured I should check again.

Kelley doesn’t give an exact price, but rather a range of prices, depending on condition, and whether you would be selling to a dealership, or a private party. So, this number is still an estimate. In reality, the car is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. I have no intention of selling the car anything soon. So this number is more for the purpose of balancing my books than anything else. Same for the house; The value I put on my house is probably too low. But, until someone actually buys the house from me, it’s all just a guess!

So, I gained some and I lost some this month. Luckily I gained more than I lost. And, given the numbers, it speaks well of what I should see going forward. But it also reinforces my point in yesterday’s post, about how I may end up making my goals of growing my 401k by $5,000 and paying off $5,000 in debt, and yet not make the overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000. My net worth involves more than just the balance of my 401k and debt, and there are many factors that will come into play between now and December.

Here’s hoping for an awesome August! How did you fair this July?

- Cindy W.

At the start of 2014 I set a goal to increase my net worth by $10,000. I should have done an update shortly after my June 30th net worth update, since we’re halfway through the year. But, obviously, I was a little silent on the blog during that time. I figured I should post the update before I post July’s net worth. Better late than never, right?

As of June 30th, my net worth stood at $6,587. I ended 2013 with a net worth of $1,216, which means a gain of $5,371 in the first 6 months of 2014. I’m 53% to my goal!

Or am I?

While the overall goal was to grow my net worth by $10,000, I broke it down into 3 steps that would get me to that goal:

1) Grow my 401 k by $5,000
2) Pay down $2,000 in debt through regular monthly payments
3) Pay down $3,000 in debt through additional principle payments

So, how did I do on those steps? I ended 2013 with a 401 k balance of $8,861. As of June 30th, my 401 k has a balance of $11,522, or $2,661 in growth. Halfway through the year, I’m 53% towards my goal of growing my 401 k by $5,000.

I ended 2013 with $78,512 of debt. It’s a little hard to separate goal #2 and #3, since I pay slightly more than the minimum due each month on my car and mortgage. For tracking purposes, I combine them into one goal of $5,000 in debt reduction. As of June 30th I had $75,863 of debt. I’ve decreased my debt by $2,649, which put me about 53% on the goal of decreasing my debt by $5,000 as well.

So far I’m doing fairly well on reaching my goals for 2014. But if I’m being honest, I have to admit to being a little worried about making all of my goals. Why? A few months back, I decided to stop contributing to my 401 k plan at work. My employer still contributes 6% each month to the plan. But to grow my 401 k by $5,000, I was counting on both their contributions and mine. Since I was contributing 6% as well, I’m missing half of the contributions I was planning on when I set my goal.

As luck would have it though, the stock market has been robust enough this year to make up the difference. So far. But I can’t really count on the stock market to continue going up. And since I’m looking at changing jobs, I can’t be certain I’ll continue getting employer contributions either.

I’m on track with my debt payoff; I don’t foresee any problems with making my $5,000 goal there. I may even be able to exceed that goal, as I’m still hoping to pay off my student loan. But I’ll also be spending down most of my cash between now and the end of the year; I have my Disney vacation coming up, and I’ll also be spending some money on finishing some projects around the house. That means it’s possible that I grow my 401 k by $5,000 and payoff $5,000 in debt, but don’t make my overall goal of growing my net worth by $10,000 because I’ve spent down my liquid assets.

We’re more than half way through 2014. I’m more than halfway to my goal of growing my net worth by $10,000. Will I be able to make all my goals? I don’t know. I’m not sure what the rest of 2014 holds. The best I can do is keep working towards my goals, make adjustments where I can, and hope for the best!

- Cindy W.