March 27, 2011

Nenya After Bath

Ah, baths...they make a dog so clean, so fresh, so soft, yet so uncomfortable!

March 23, 2011

Vacuuming The Car from a Second Story Apartment

Nathan is the official family vacuumer. He was apparently hit with a bit of spring cleaning fever this past weekend and decided he was going to vacuum out both cars in addition to the apartment. I didn't really think about the fact that he would have to find a way to plug in the vacuum in order to do this. Not finding any outdoor outlets, he resorted to this:

A chain of power strips running from the closest outlet to the hallway...

All the way down the stairs...

And outside to the sidewalk! Unfortunately, the cord still wasn't long enough for the vacuum to reach the entire car.

So then he found an outlet in the laundry room.


You may be wondering, why didn't we just go to a gas station and use a coin-operated vacuum? Well, while I tend to be the frugal one, there are some things that Nathan just doesn't like to spend money on. (He thinks clothes at Goodwill are too expensive.) Why pay to use a vacuum when you already own a perfectly good one?

What crazy things have you done in the name of saving money?

March 17, 2011

Marriage Doesn't Give You Every Right

Even though Nathan and I are supposed to be one unit, it turns out there are some things we can't do for each other. When Nathan received a check from his grandma for his birthday, he gave it to me to take care of. I had him sign the back of it and then took it to the bank to cash it. After handing the check to the teller, she asked,

"Who's Nathan?"
"That's my husband."
"Okay, well he would need to come in to be able to cash it."
"Really? Even though we're on the same account?"
"Uh...can I just deposit then?"

I realize policies are policies, but I was still caught off guard. All I have to do to take money out of our account is fill out a withdrawal slip; I've never even been asked for an ID. But cashing a check made out to my husband? Apparently that's stealing.

Have you run into any surprises about what you can't do for your spouse?

March 15, 2011

To Buy or Not to Buy Organic?

We're going to die no matter what we eat, so what does it matter? That was the conclusion I came to after taking a Science of Food class in college. But since it's been a few years and the professor of the class was a former geneticist for the USDA, I figured it wouldn't hurt to reexamine the issue.

One of the main reasons I originally decided organic food was a waste of money was that a video we watched in class talked about a young boy who died after contracting E. coli from organic spinach. In To Buy or Not to Buy Organic, Cindy Burke says the 2006 E. coli breakout in spinach was not in fact linked to organic produce, despite reports to the contrary. After learning that information, I became much more open to trying organic food.

What I liked about the book is that Cindy Burke tells you it's not actually worth the money to buy organic in every case. I'm more concerned about whether or not the food I buy is safe than whether or not the food I buy is supporting big business producers or the farm subsidy system. A chart in the back lists foods alphabetically and gives Burke's recommendation of whether it's best to buy organic, conventional, or local food for that particular item. Broccoli and cauliflower, for example, are naturally pest-resistant and contain very little pesticide residue even when conventionally grown. I also found it interesting that she recommends not eating organic fish at all since it's better to eat wild caught fish and fish must be farm grown to be certified as organic.

The thing I found troubling about this book was that I don't know how factual some of the information is. Cindy Burke says that you cannot trust the government to keep your food safe. While that may be true, how do I know I can trust the information a food journalist and former chef is giving me? It's difficult for me to think of an author as credible when she begins a sentence with "According to" She referenced one theory that the reason a woman's risk of breast cancer decreases the more children she breastfeeds is that the babies are draining toxins from her body. The first baby will get the worst of the toxins. While this is absolutely terrifying, from what I could tell it's just a theory of one man.

I would recommend To Buy or Not to Buy Organic if you're on the fence about organic food. If you're already 100% convinced it's a waste of money, it probably won't change your mind. This book did make me think switching to organic for some foods might be a good idea (potatoes, strawberries, and peaches for example), but I can't see us ever going completely organic. I'm not giving up Chick-fil-A anytime soon.

Do you buy organic?

Other Books Read in 2011

March 13, 2011

NewlywedTrek on Twitter

I finally jumped on the Twitter bandwagon just to see what it was all about, and I'm actually enjoying it. I don't plan on ever becoming one of those people who tweet 20 times a day, but I have been tweeting random thoughts and happenings that can be expressed in 140 characters. My account also automatically tweets links to my new blog posts. So, if you can't get enough of my cooking disasters, stories about my dog, and whatever else goes on in my newlywed life, follow @NewlywedTrek on Twitter. If you don't use Twitter, you can also see my Twitter feed on the right sidebar of the blog.

March 11, 2011

Happy Birthday!

Two of my favorite dudes are celebrating their birthdays today!

My wonderful husband turns 28 today!

And my baby brother Brandon turns 21!

Happy birthday, guys!

March 9, 2011

Giving Audio Books a Try

Since I spend 5 hours a week driving to and from work, I knew audio books would be a great option for me to make use of that time. Being a visual learner, I was a little worried that I wouldn't retain much. It's almost impossible for me to remember anything from lectures or sermons if I don't take notes. But I recently decided to give it a try. I started the book on my drive to work on a Monday and finished it that Wednesday on my way home. It was really nice to finish a book during time that would otherwise be lost. Since I was driving in rush hour interstate traffic, I wasn't able to fully focus on the book, and there were also a couple times when I focused on it too much and almost missed my exit. Overall, it was a better experience than expected. I would estimate that I retained about 80% as much information as I would have had I read a physical copy of the book.

The book I listened to was Linchpin by Seth Godin. I found it a little disappointing. With a subtitle of "Are You Indispensable?" I was hoping for insight on how to be indispensable in my current job. Instead, Godin says that if your current boss doesn't appreciate your talents, you need to find a new job. Maybe I'm just not the target audience for this book. He talks about how the creators of the Apple computer went three days without going home or showering. If that's what makes you a linchpin, I think I'll pass. The book did help my professional life in some ways though. Listening to it on my way to work helped get me in the right mindset to start the day, and I woke up in the middle of the night once and started brainstorming ideas for a spreadsheet I want to create to make my job easier. I would say it's worth reading for any creatives trying to better themselves in their profession.

Have you listened to audio books? Do you feel that you retain more or less than you do by reading physical books?

Other Books Read in 2011

March 8, 2011

10 Wedding Tips

There was some talk on Weddingbee recently about wedding regrets. I don't like regrets. While there's something to be said for learning from past mistakes, focusing on what you wish you had or hadn't done gets you nowhere. I'm happy with my life, and I feel that every decision I've made, good and bad, has gotten me where I am today. I'd rather not talk about wedding regrets or even think about them. However, I would like to share 10 wedding tips that I learned from my experience.

1. Remember that you're preparing for a marriage, not just a wedding.
This might seem like an obvious one, but in the rush of planning, I constantly had to slow down and remind myself why I was doing all this work. You're entering into a covenant; that's kind of a big deal. Take the time to discuss things like how you'll handle finances, child rearing, your fiance's expectations for marriage, etc. either through premarital counseling or just through discussions with each other. You'll still have a lot of learning to do after tying the knot no matter what, but I felt like our relationship grew quite a bit during our engagement.

2. Only plan a wedding in 6 months if you're willing to make sacrifices.
We had limited options in certain areas. I didn't have time to order a dress from any place other than David's Bridal, and we had to pick a venue within the first few weeks of planning. But by getting married when we did, Nathan wasn't in class during our honeymoon, and I was able to move out of my apartment the month my lease was up. It was the best choice for us, and I definitely don't regret getting married when we did.

3. Don't be ashamed of going on an inexpensive honeymoon.
Nathan gave this an "Amen!" when I read him my list - it's the biggest one for him. Do I hate the "oh" reaction I get when I tell people we went to Cincinnati for our honeymoon? A little bit, yes. But do I wish we had spent more money? Not at all! There's no need to go to some tropical paradise to begin your marriage. I really hate the term "mini moon" and the implication that spending only a few days away is somehow not worthy of being called a honeymoon.

4. Never look at Style Me Pretty.
Okay, you can look at it, but real weddings don't look like that, at least not where I come from. I've never even seen a croquembouche. I was reading several wedding blogs when I first started planning, but Weddingbee was the only one I kept reading the last couple months of our engagement. And even some of the posts on Weddingbee can make you feel like you aren't spending enough time or money on your wedding.

5. Expect your fiancé to have opinions.
Some grooms might have a "yes dear" attitude on everything, but mine dreamed about his wedding when he was younger and didn't want me making decisions without his input. He was flexible for the most part though and decided he liked some of my dreams, like having an outdoor wedding.

6. Carefully calculate the cost savings of any DIY projects.
While I loved our cupcake tower, the supplies and ingredients ended up costing over $100. I don't know that putting in all that extra time and effort was worth the small amount of money we saved.

7. Try to say hi to all of your wedding guests.
I kind of felt like a jerk at my wedding because all these people came from miles and miles away just to see our wedding, and then I hardly even had the time to talk to them. I'm glad Nathan and I dismissed all our guests from the ceremony personally so we could at least give them a hug and thank them for coming.

8. If you're having an outdoor wedding on a hot and humid day, don't expect your hairstyle to hold up.
My hair was curled three times before the ceremony, and by the end of the reception it was wavy at best (it's naturally pin straight). I think the hairspray evaporated the instant I walked outside. Looking at the photos, I don't think it looks bad, just more natural than glamorous, which is fitting for me anyway.

9. Expect multiple things to go wrong.
Having heard that "something will go wrong," I was fully expecting a minor disaster of some sort and even wondered what that thing would be. In our case, a lot of things went wrong. But you know what? I didn't care. I was completely happy that day. As long as you don't expect to have a perfect day, you'll be fine.

10. Let people help you.
If there's an item on your to-do list that you don't need to complete personally, assign it to someone early in the planning process. People would tell me "Let me know if there's anything I can do to help!" While I appreciated this, I had difficulty coming up with tasks that others could handle for me, particularly since no one lived in town. Also, let people ask questions about your wedding - you never know how they might be able to help. A coworker asked where I was getting my hair done, which I thought was an odd question, but a few weeks later she happened to get a coupon for the salon that saved me $25!

 Bonus tip: While people might not see your feet during the ceremony, your 
shoes will be visible in photos like this! It might not hurt to have some pretty 
shoes for photos if you aren't wearing them the entire day.

What are your top wedding planning tips?

Top Ten {Tuesday}

March 6, 2011

Baby Step 2, Phase 1: Complete!

Our debt snowball has rolled all the way down the hill! Baby step 2 in Dave Ramsey's plan is to pay off all debt except your mortgage. Since we don't currently have a mortgage, we've modified Dave's plan a bit. After putting $1,000 in our emergency fund, we paid off all debt except student loans for Nathan's graduate school. Over the past eight months, all of my take-home pay and then some has gone towards paying off debt. While we can't officially say that we're debt free, it's still a nice feeling to not have any credit card payments, car payments, or any other debts.

Putting our final payment in the mail

How We Did It
For the most part, we avoided lifestyle inflation after Nathan started a better paying job. When he first called to tell me the news, I was so excited about how much money we would have that I went to Panera for a $12 lunch that day. But I haven't done that since then. Our way of living hasn't really changed all that much. We live in the same apartment, drive the same cars, and wear pretty much the same clothes. We've made a few splurges, but we budgeted for them. I'm a tightwad by nature, and I've managed to reign in Nathan a little.

The Next Step
Over the next three months, we'll be putting the same amount of money we have been using to pay off debt into our emergency fund. Since it will take us quite a while to pay off the graduate school loans, we didn't want to pay off those with the same intensity without having an emergency fund of 3 to 6 months' expenses (Baby Step 3). Our emergency fund is in a special type of bank account. Unlike our standard savings account, from which I can transfer funds with just a few mouse clicks, we must actually visit a branch or call the 800 number to withdraw money from our emergency fund. We also have a Health Savings Account that we can use for any medical expenses, but we want to have 3 to 6 months' expenses saved in addition to the money in our HSA.

After Our First Anniversary
Starting in July, assuming all goes well, we want to start setting aside money for two purposes: paying off the student loans and saving up a 20-25% down payment for a house. It's hard to say how long this will take - our income could go up or down, we could have another mouth to feed - but we'll still be paying off student loans a lot faster than most people, and we're in no hurry to buy a house when Nathan has only been at his job for 7 months. I'm just thrilled that we've already made it this far on our road to financial peace.

For those of you who have gone through Financial Peace University or are familiar with Dave's teachings, have you followed his steps in order or switched things around a bit?

March 1, 2011

5 Goals for 2011: February Progress

I think I took some steps back with my 5 goals this month. I don't feel like I've made much progress at all.

1. Exercise on a regular basis 
This one has been terrible. I'm not sure what it will take to motivate me to exercise. Gaining 10 pounds? Developing health problems? The idea was to start exercising to prevent these things from happening. Maybe I just need a workout partner.

2. Wake up earlier.
I also did worse on this during February. I don't think I got up in time to eat breakfast at home on a weekday even once the entire month.
3. Keep our apartment clean.
I wouldn't say I've improved in this area, but I haven't slacked off either. Nathan has been helping a lot more, which is great. I think vacuuming once a week is starting to become a habit for him.

4. Continue to find ways to decrease our expenses and increase income.
I'm improving on my grocery spending. We actually raised our budget for these last four weeks since I had been having trouble staying within the limit I had set for myself, but then I ended up spending much less than that. I've also learned not to buy anything online before checking to see if I can earn cash back or other rewards first. We've earned $7.78 so far this year just buy going through Ebates to buy Nathan's textbooks.

5. Write at least 2 blog posts a week.
I had one calendar week with just one post, but I had written 4 posts the previous week. I'm trying to get better at scheduling posts to publish in the future to spread things out more.