February 27, 2011

That's Not Good Enough!

Week 8 in Financial Peace University, which is all about finding good deals, is titled "That's not Good Enough!" It's funny how as you find better and better deals, what you consider to be a good enough price becomes lower and lower. $10 for a pair of jeans? Not bad, but after the deals we found this weekend, I'm not sure that will be good enough anymore.

We got this dress shirt, sweater, and jeans all for less than $5! 

Here's how:

Jeans (from Target)
Original Price: $24.99
Sale price: $6.24
Used a Target printable coupon for $5 off women's denim item
Final cost for jeans: $1.24

Then Nathan and I went to Kohl's as part of our date night (what a good husband!).
Dress Shirt
Original price: $38.00
Sale price: $7.60

Original price: $30.00
Sale price: $6.00

Used postcard I received in the mail for $10 off any purchase
Received an extra 15% off
Final cost for dress shirt and sweater: $3.06

$93 worth of clothes for $4.30...That's good enough for me. I know opportunities like this might not happen very often, but just knowing that they happen at all is very exciting!

February 25, 2011

Recipe Photos / My Photos

Isn't it great when you find a recipe that looks both amazing and so easy that you couldn't possibly mess it up? That's what I thought when I saw this recipe for biscuit and egg cups. They did actually taste great, but they sure didn't look like the pictures!

Exhibit A:

Exhibit B:

I really did flatten the biscuits before I put them in the muffin pan! I think I just tend to underestimate how much the biscuits will rise. It looks like this is another recipe where Grands just won't work, but I still plan on trying it again with smaller biscuits.

February 23, 2011

Dreaming of Summer

I honestly enjoy all four seasons, but there comes a time each winter when I'm absolutely sick of it and ready for some warm weather!

And after my car freezing to the ground at the beginning this month and the teaser of nice weather we had a few days last week, that time has come a little earlier than normal. For a few days I refused to wear my winter coat, but I decided that was a little crazy when it's snowing.

So let's talk warm weather. Between the wedding planning and moving and getting settled last summer, I didn't have time to enjoy the weather as much as I would have liked. This year, Nathan is finishing his MBA in the middle of June and taking two months off from school before working on a couple graduate certificates. In other words, we'll actually have lots of free time!

Here are a few things I'm looking forward to doing...
...Eating on the balcony
...Walking outside without a coat
...Taking long walks with Nenya
...Going camping
...Not scraping frost off my windshield
...Wearing flip-flops
...Getting a bike and going on rides with Nathan
...Visiting some parks (We haven't even explored much of the park where we were married)
...Digging my pretty skirts out from the back of my closet
...Walking places - to the library, to an ice cream shop with Nathan, wherever
     And a few of Nathan's summer plans that don't directly involve me...
    ...Taking a swimming and/or first aid class
    ...Doing some training for local triathalons
    ...Finding an agility course for Nenya

      How about you? What are you looking forward to doing when weather is warmer?

      February 20, 2011

      Married Filing Jointy

      It was interesting to see what happens when five W2's, tuition payments, an HSA, interest from multiple bank accounts, and two 401(k) contributions come together, especially when the two people combining them were living in different states at the beginning of 2010.
      We each had a different approach to filling out the paperwork, much like our different approaches to grocery shopping. While I like zooming through the store with my ordered list and getting out of there as soon as possible, Nathan prefers to go down every aisle to make sure he doesn't forget anything and is likely to get distracted by cookware or the goldfish. So when I started zooming through the tax form, Nathan wanted me to slow down so he could carefully examine every line. It was just too much for my type A personality, but rather than doing it myself, I let Nathan take over, which worked out well. My speedy method might be great for preventing impulse buys, but the extra time Nathan spent on our tax retun helped him discover a much larger refund than I would have found myself.

      I love how we complement each other like that.

      February 16, 2011

      Being a Good Wife

      Three words I love to hear while cooking dinner are "Something smells good!" Last night, what I heard was "Something smells funky!" Needless to say, it wasn't the best meal I'd ever cooked. And after spending the weekend out of town and having a date night on Monday, I was also way behind on my cleaning.

      I wasn't feeling like a very good wife.

      I looked at all of the empty boxes on my check list, trying to decide where to begin, before finally sitting down next to Nathan on the love seat to read a magazine while he studied. Although sometimes I feel like a failure if I relax, I realized relaxing with my husband would be just the opposite.
      "And the LORD God said, It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet for him." - Genesis 2:18
      A help meet...an assistant...someone to help with all the work that needed to be done in that garden...that's how I've always thought about this passage. But I think it's important to remember the first part of this verse: It is not good that the man should be alone. I don't know about Adam, but I know that Nathan cares a lot more about the time I spend talking to him and just being with him than the time I spend doing chores. He just wants a companion, someone to keep him from being alone.

      Early in our relationship, Nathan and I read The 5 Love Needs of Men and Women by Gary and Barbara Rosberg. According to their research, companionship is a man's third biggest need from his wife, right behind unconditional love and sexual intimacy. Nathan ranked it fifth among the list of twenty options, and he put domestic help as #19!

      Maybe the "perfect wife" is an expert chef who has a spotless home, but I need to quit trying to be her and just be Nathan's wife.

      February 10, 2011

      Living on One Income

      It might seem somewhat odd that I would read a book called Half-Price Living: Secrets to Living Well on One Income when we currently have two incomes and no plans of changing that in the near future. But I figure any advice on how to live well on one income applies just as well to people with two incomes, and we never know if life will go the way we plan. As Ellie Kay says in her book, "I dreamed of becoming a CEO for a major corporation in an effort to 'be' somebody...I found that the dreams God dreams for us are better than the dreams we dream for ourselves."

      This is not a book telling you that you must live on one income because it's a woman's job to stay home with her children but rather a book of advice and encouragement for those women who want to stay home. She gives 7 steps to create a stay-at-home-mom and offers tips on topics like cutting your grocery bill in half, buying a home, and retirement planning. One thing I learned from this book that really struck me was that as many as half of a grocery store's weekly sales are unadvertised. I knew some deals were unadvertised, but half? I guess I need to look up from my grocery list more often.

      While I did learn some things, I felt like the content of the book was a little disappointing. With less than 20 pages a chapter and a total of 168 pages, there aren't a whole lot of details on each topic; it's more of a starting point to further studying. And although it might be true that some moms who quit their jobs will automatically save money on things like childcare, wardrobe updates, transportation, lunches at work, or trips to the beauty salon, that wouldn't be much of a cost saver for me. I know childcare is an expense I don't have to consider now, but I almost always bring a lunch to work and don't think I would spend much less on clothing or haircuts if I weren't working outside the home. The only real money saver would be gas. Also, some of her money-saving tips, like house swapping to save money on vacations, just aren't things I would want to do.

      After finishing this book, I didn't really feel any more convinced than I was before that being a stay-at-home-mom would work for me. The book gives general advice on a broad spectrum of topics, but it wasn't anything life changing. However, reading this book did lead to a discussion with Nathan about how soon we can be debt free and have a down payment for a house with our current income. We basically decided that there’s no reason I couldn’t be a stay-at-home mom if I want to be, but the question is do I really want to. I can’t imagine giving up graphic design altogether, and although I could theoretically work from home, I don’t know how much designing I could do with a baby. We’ll just have to cross that bridge when we come to it.

      February 8, 2011

      How Not to Save Money

      When I'm making my grocery list, I always ask Nathan if he has any requests. This week, one of his requests  was banana chips. I didn't really want to put that on the list since banana chips cost about 10 times as much as fresh bananas.

      Then Nathan asked if we could make them.

      Of course! We would make them! After all, we don't pay for our gas, so we can use our oven as much as we want.

      I bought four bananas, sliced them, dipped them in lemon juice, and then baked them at 175 for 3 hours. But instead of looking like the normal banana chips in the photo above, they looked like this:

      I did some more research and found out a few mistakes I made:
      1. I bought ripe bananas instead of green ones.
      2. I sliced them a little too thin.
      3. Using a food dehydrator (if I had one) would have been better.

      So...my penny pinching kind of backfired this time. They aren't terrible, just not the right texture at all. There are plenty of times when DIY can save a little money, but for me, banana chips is not one of them.

      February 7, 2011

      Healthy Meals for Less

      Jonni McCoy promises a lot with this cookbook just in the title: Healthy Meals for Less: Great-Tasting Simple Recipes Under $1 a Serving. The first week I ever tried menu planning, I looked through all my cookbooks and compiled a list of recipes without giving any thought to what those ingredients would cost. It was quite the wake up call when I ended up spending about twice what I normally would that week. It's nice to see a cookbook written by someone who doesn't expect you to have unlimited income.

      I was a skeptical about this book though because "great-tasting" is very subjective, and I'm married to the pickiest eater I've ever encountered. As I suspected, the majority of these recipes would not work for us unless I made a lot of modifications. Many recipes have all kinds of spices in them, possibly because Jonni McCoy and her family lived in Pakistan for a time. There seems to be a prevalence of ginger (which Nathan hates) and curry powder (which he probably would hate). Some of the dishes seemed a little odd to even me. However, as I was going through the book page by page, I wrote down the page numbers and titles of 17 recipes that I thought would be worth a try, including 5 main dishes. We tried the first one, honey chicken, for lunch yesterday. I left out the curry powder and ginger and played around with some other spices, and I ended up with a slow cooker meal that Nathan and I both enjoyed.

      This isn't the perfect cookbook for me, not that I believe there is one. I borrowed this book from the library to see if it would be worth buying, and obviously it's not. However, I do love the concept behind it and would recommend it to those trying to consider both the nutrition and cost of the food they eat. If you like vegetables and spices, you would probably get a lot more out of it.

      February 6, 2011

      Identity Crisis

      Going through the name change process can feel like a bit of an identity crisis. After years of living with one name, suddenly you become Mrs. Soandso, and then the next day, you go to check in at your hotel for your honeymoon and have to give them your maiden name. When you use your debit card and sign your name, you're still signing your maiden name since that's the name on your card. For a few weeks, I had my name half changed and felt like half one person and half another.

      I thought I had it all taken care of within the first month of being married, but there were a couple places I overlooked. One example of this popped up a week ago. After weighing the pros and cons, Nathan and I decided to renew our lease for another year. We went to the apartment office all ready to sign the paperwork only to find out that they had prepared our new lease with my maiden name on it. And of course, they had to see a copy of my driver's license to be able to change it. Does it ever end?

      My name change went something like this:
      • Drive to the City County building downtown to request copies of my marriage certificate
      • Wait in line to pay for my copies along with a bunch of men there to pay child support
      • Walk several blocks to the social security office to apply for a new social security card and wonder why there's a security guard there until he has to throw someone out
      • Wait in line with my paperwork from the social security at BMV to get a new driver's license
      • While at the BMV, confirm that I am not currently in prison in order to change my voter registration
      • When my new driver's license and social security card come in the mail, take those to my HR department at work and then fill out new paperwork for taxes, life insurance, health insurance, and all that fun stuff
      • Go to my bank to get my name changed on my checking account, debit card, and credit card
      I did not change my name on my passport since I didn't want to pay the fee when I currently have no plans to leave the country. I didn't change my name on the title for my car either since the BMV told me I didn't need to. I also realized recently that although I have my health insurance in my married name, I still need to change my name on my health savings account. There's probably still something I've forgotten.

      Learning to sign your new name is another story. I had tremendous difficulty applying for my library card, scribbling things out and rewriting them, probably confusing the librarian...

      And, after all that work, my own husband has me listed in his phone under my maiden name because that's still who he thinks of me as.

      February 4, 2011

      Marriage Musings

      I (Nathan) have intended to post on the blog for quite a while but either could not decide on a topic or simply never get around to it. However, I chose to start by writing my thoughts about a blog post Amanda came across a few days ago expressing how hard marriage is.

      Granted we've all heard this and I do understand that marriage has its challenges but neither of us feel it has really been that difficult. We were surprised to see so many comments wholeheartedly agreeing with the post. I have never had second thoughts or doubts about my marriage, and in fact have had many reassurances simply through things Amanda has done or said that make me love her even more. We sincerely enjoy being together and spending time with each other and haven't had any real fights. I don't know that there's any magic formula or secret key that we can point to, but it seems to me that in today's society so many couples spend most of their time preparing for the wedding rather than preparing for the marriage.

      Sometimes people just don't know each other well enough or long enough before committing. I think the focus shouldn't be so much on an arbitrary amount of time passing but instead on whether you've experienced a variety of life circumstances together. Almost anyone can be happy and pleasant when times are good, but how does your partner react when times are rough? For us there were many trials and stress including college, unemployment, moving, miserable job, extreme financial hardship, and death of grandparents. These situations ultimately strengthened our love and commitment to each other. You also need to ensure you are on the same page about various viewpoints and aspects of life as well as any expectations (assumed or real). It would be very difficult to be in a close relationship with someone who does not feel the same way about issues as you do. This of course requires communication and time.

      Despite the stereotypes we are constantly bombarded with, everyone is different. Not too long before my wedding a close family friend mentioned "you don't need to learn about women, you only need to learn about Amanda." This advice has stuck with me and illustrates the point that you must learn what is (and is not) important to your spouse. One way to do so is to read (and discuss) books together. Regarding this specific topic, I recommend The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman which explains how to express love in the particular way that is meaningful to your partner, and The 5 Love Needs of Men and Women by Gary and Barbara Rosberg which explores several love needs and also provides a list of twenty needs to rank in importance to you.

      Additionally, I believe there is some wrong by both partners (though not necessarily equal) in almost every relationship fight or problem (even including affairs). We are so quick to point fingers, but most of us neglect to look at ourselves first. Using the example of the fight about trash given in the post, the husband is wrong for not recognizing and fulfilling his wife's need and the wife is wrong for blowing it out of proportion and for how she addressed the issue. There are always two sides to every situation. A tip I read in a book once which I have never forgotten is "seek to understand before being understood." This is such a simple yet profound and challenging concept. When you get in a disagreement or fight, is your motive to truly understand your spouse and thus improve your relationship or is it really to push your own desires and defend your viewpoint? I have always held that the definition of true love is self-sacrifice. Are you going to make your spouse your top priority and put their needs above your own? Are you willing to put aside the TV or computer or whatever it may be in order to give your spouse your undivided attention and address their concern(s)? This is a hard goal as we all are by nature selfish, but one I continually strive for.

      Just to be clear, my point in writing this post is not to brag but simply to provide a different perspective by sharing my observations and possibly help others who are currently in relationships.

      February 1, 2011

      5 Goals for 2011: Month 1 Checkup

      I've now been working towards my 5 goals for one month. I've made progress in some areas but still have a long way to go. I suppose they wouldn't be very high goals if I mastered everything the first month though.

      1. Exercise on a regular basis 
      I haven't been doing too well on this one. Since our laundry room for our apartments doubles as the exercise room, it's a good use of my time to use the elliptical while my laundry is in the washer, which I did three of the four times I did laundry this month. But that's it. Other than a couple longish walks with Nenya and burning a few calories on the Wii Fit, I really haven't exercised at all this month. Part of my problem is working it into my schedule, part of it is the weather, but mainly it's just a lack of motivation.

      2. Wake up earlier.
      This is also an area of slow progress. I have been able to get myself out of bed early enough to eat breakfast at the table, but obviously I haven't been getting up early enough to exercise. Going to bed earlier isn't happening yet either most nights.
      3. Keep our apartment clean.
      This has been my biggest victory! I made a chore list of what needs to be done on which day, and Nathan made my list into a check list and put it on the bulletin board. It's amazing what a difference it makes just seeing it all planned out for me and getting to put a check in those boxes. I hate leaving any box unchecked. I guess chore charts aren't just for kids! While I had a general cleaning plan before, my new list is broken down into smaller and more manageable tasks. Before, I hated the day I had to clean the bathroom because spending that much time in a small, windowless room for that long and cleaning the entire time is just torture for me. Now, I mop the floor Sunday, clean the bathtub Tuesday, the sink Wednesday, and the toilet Friday. I need to make some adjustments, but I'm still cleaning a lot more often than I ever have. 

      4. Continue to find ways to decrease our expenses and increase income.
      Now that I'm more aware of what good grocery deals are, how often they happen, and how much we consume, I've gotten a little better at stocking up on items when they go on sale. But due to limited cabinet space, I can't really stockpile too much. (I mentioned to Nathan the other day that I sometimes put soup cans and cereal in my dresser, a fact that he found somewhat disturbing.) I still feel like we're spending a lot in other areas, but we're at least spending less than we're making and putting nearly half of our take home pay towards paying off debt. I haven't made any major progress on increasing our income but did sign up MyPoints, which will eventually get us a little money.

      5. Write at least 2 blog posts a week.
      This one I've managed to accomplish. I wrote 12 posts last month, with at least 2 every week. This is further proof that not exercising is due to lack of motivation, not lack of time.

      Any tips on how to improve? How are you doing with your goals?