31 December 2008

Health is Wealth

I'm attempting to get into better shape for this new year, but I've started already. I'm a big fan of Self magazine and their Self Challenge exercises, and I'm doing those, plus not eating junk and trying to get in some extra aerobic exercise, which is never easy. I've recently gained some weight, and although I don't think I look bad, I certainly don't FEEL good, and my clothes are a little tight.

Part of this getting in better shape resolution will include visits to the chiropractor and the acupuncturist, to see what it's like. Luckily, it's mostly covered by my health insurance, so it won't cost me too much, and I think after the insane amounts of stress I've been under for the last couple of years, plus my terrible sleeping habits, and the total absence of water in my diet (I embarrassingly live on coffee and tea), I need to sort of cleanse myself. I'll definitely keep updating on how this goes, because I've never done either before and I'm really curious!

I also need to schedule my yearly check ups and a visit to the dentist, which I'm not looking forward to, but is obviously necessary. Yesterday I went on the website for my health insurance and found a list of all the "health" discounts I get with my plan, which included gyms, acupuncture and other good stuff, so I really recommend checking that out. You might be paying for great benefits you didn't know you had!

29 December 2008

ticker change

I changed the ticker to remove my student loan, the money I saved for the lawyer, and my savings account. As of now it reflects my credit cards, auto loan and another random debt. My student loans will take me a long time to pay off and I really want to focus on getting rid of the "bad debt" so that I can buy a house, so I'm going to use this new number for 2009.

grocery shopping day

I try to have a devoted "grocery shopping day"- Thursday. I have found that the less often I go to the grocery store over the course of the week, the less food I end up buying and inevitably wasting.

Another reason I like to go on a specific day is that it causes me to be a little creative about making it to the next grocery shopping day. For example, by Tuesday or Wednesday I might be out of half and half or bread. Instead of running to the store to pick up those couple of things, I try to get creative and use up what else I have in the house. This is also great because it makes me use up little bits of leftovers in creative ways, instead of letting them go bad and throwing them out.

One last thing that I find works well is to buy twice the amount of meat I typically use, and freeze half. I always have some frozen veggies (which are actually really healthy, because they are flash frozen at their prime freshness and therefore retain a lot of their vitamins) and boxes of rice and couscous in the pantry. Then, no matter how bare the fridge is, there is always something for dinner!

28 December 2008

Organize me, please

I'm in desparate need of a home organization makeover. There are things everywhere! I live in a small house without a lot of storage. We have a decent amount of closets, but few usable shelves and a galley kitchen that's more than problematic. Frankly, there's stuff EVERYWHERE.

In an effort to find a solution to this problem, I went to Target (I know) and bought two square bins- the kind that are thick cardboard covered with a tweedy fabric. I measured the spot under my coffee table and they fit under perfectly, so now I can sort of shove all the toys and books in them if I need to clean up, and they slide under and out of sight enough to just look nice. Plus, the kids can help put things in them, so that is an added bonus. They were 17.99 a piece, which is more than I'd typically spend, but I did it because a) I really needed something to deal with the clutter and b) I wanted something that would look decent and not dorm roomish.

Over the course of the year, I've thought a lot about when it's a good idea to spend money- and this is a good example. Spending 36 dollars on something that will make my life easier to manage is a good investment, and I could have easily blown 36 dollars on a sweater I didn't need or a crappy dinner at Friendly's.

I also scoped out what I want when the Target Christmas stuff goes to 75 or 90%. Fun!

27 December 2008

What's next?

I removed the Christmas Challenge from the "Current Projects" list and frankly, there isn't much left! The Paper Towel Challenge was to get to the end of the year without buying any more paper towels, and unless my cats eat alkaseltzer between now and then, we're going to make it to next Thursday with about 3 rolls.

I'll be working on "Step Two" of the payoff plan for like 3 more years, unless I win the lottery or get swept off my feet by a millionaire, so that's not going anywhere.

So, what's next? I have a bunch of goals for 2009, but many of them are not very financial in nature at this point. For example, I haven't been working out at ALL, and you can tell, so that's a goal. Also, I am Russian/Czech on my mom's side and I want to learn to make pirohi by heart so that I can make them for my children. My mom gave me my grandmother's Russian cookbook, so I'll have fun experimenting with that this year.

I want (need) to potty train my 2 year old, and get my 4 year old bunk beds (my inlaws are helping me with that one, so no saving required there). I also want to start chores with him, and am planning on checking out that book LauraC recommended (see comments for this post).

As for the financial goals, the garden and the tag sale are really for the summer. There will be some great clearance sales over the next couple of weeks, so I'll probably be spending more than I'll be paying off during January, but that helped me get the clothes and things we needed last year without spending too much.

So, January might be the Month of Frugal Spending, but that works, too!

26 December 2008

the haul

I'm so happy with how Christmas went. It was certainly full of presents, but by no means a "carnival Christmas." I only ended up buying the automoblox cars (awesome!!), the bilibos (very fun), the drum set (both boys said that was their fave gift), bathtub instruments, and some random stocking stuffers like funny glasses and coloring books from the dollar store.

I got two vacuum cleaners, I guess my mom and mother in law were on the same page, lol.

But the saddest, and funniest, present I got was a very sweet card from my ex husband about how he misses us and is glad we're getting along- with a 10 dollar gift card to Dunkin Donuts in it. Weird, right? It's been cracking me up so much. I mean, why? What would compel him to buy that for me? It's just so weird. It's like saying, "Sorry I ruined our marriage, but maybe an egg and cheese on a croissant will help ease the pain." :o If I know him at all, and I think that I do, he HAD to do it to be funny. It's just too random and weird any other way!

So, Christmas is over, and I'm frankly relieved. Ready for a new year, big time!!

24 December 2008

dreaming of bears

I'm not really the prophetic-dream type of girl, my occult tastes lean more towards astrology or the occasional weird deja-vu moment. And honestly, I'm not a big dreamer, either. If I dream, then 99% of the time I forget what I dreamed.

But last night, I had a vivid and memorable dream about a bear. I wasn't nervous or scared, mostly exited to see it. Bears in dreams mean a new begining- a new phase of life.

Merry Christmas to you. We made it, through the holidays, nearly through the year, ready for a new begining. Through a divorce, a crash in the economy, the election of a new president. I got the permanent position at my job, was picked for a nationwide leadership program, and potty trained my child. It's like a dream, only it's true, and better for that.

23 December 2008

like a Survivor contestant at a food reward challenge

I finished my Christmas shopping tonight, and I went to Target to do it. It was the funniest thing- because I was shopping without real restraint for the first time in so long, I practically lost my mind! I kept seeing things I wanted for myself and ended up buying jeans and sheets (though I have to say they were both on sale). I could barely control myself! It was really like I was blind to all the things I liked, I wanted, for so long that once I saw some I couldn't stop seeing them!

So, once again, STAY OUT OF TARGET!!! lol

22 December 2008

FICO Score!

Get it? lol

I checked my FICO score last night using the FICO website (www.myfico.com). They have a 30 day free trial that allows you to not only check your score, but monitor any changes in it during that time. The site emails you any time your score changes, which is a great thing if you are trying to attain a certain score to get a lower interest rate, or if you lose your wallet and want to be sure your identity hasn't been stolen.

So, the last time I checked my score (not my report, which I do yearly) was several years ago- I think maybe 2006. I know I was married and living in my old apartment, so it was obviously a while ago. Anyway, my score has gone up 50 points since then! I was shocked, and very happy. I know that the more debt I pay off, the higher it will go, which will be very helpful when it does come time to buy a house. And now I can check it again at the end of 2009, and see how far I've come.

Score! (just had to get that in there one more time)

21 December 2008

Starting to think about next year

Now that I have a little bit of closure about this year, I'm starting to think about next year. This is the first time I have felt so hopeful and so motivated about a new year in a long, long time- I really have that "new beginning" feeling. So far, these are the goals I've come up with for 2009:
  • Pay off another 20% of my debt
  • Continue with the vegetable garden for another year
  • Have a tag sale!!!!!
  • Start my four year old on an allowance with a chore chart, to begin teaching him about money

I'm sure there will be more to come, but that is what I've come up with so far. If you have a great goal for 2009, I'd love to hear it!

20 December 2008

The Christmas Challenge isn't as easy as I had thought

So, I've spent 80% of my Christmas budget (leaving me with 60 bucks), and still have a bunch of presents to buy. Sucks! At this point, I am sure I'll go over, but it's a question of how much. Part of that is because when I budgeted for presents, I missed some things I bought last year that didn't come through on my accounts until January (I don't really know why, but that's okay). Part of it is because I spent too much on my kids, because I love them and like to buy them things and haven't bought them anything all year. And the last part is I forgot to budget for my Christmas tree, which was 40 bucks, and I cut it down all by myself, and it looks like this:
Did I mention I cut it down myself? Yeah, I'm really proud of that. It's one of those things that when I separated from my ex, I thought "OMG, how will I do this by myself?" But I did, just like I learned how to cook chicken (I have an excuse, I was a vegetarian for 13 years!) and shovel my own driveway and kill (or liberate) spiders.

It's incredible how you think that you CAN'T do something just because someone has always done it for you- but you can. And I have.

19 December 2008

Done deal

It's all over. We made it to the courthouse, despite the totally random and untimely pink eye I seem to have contracted. The kids went to their grandparents house, and since I didn't really want to drive because my eye hurt so much, my ex picked me up. Yup, we carpooled to our own divorce. It went fairly quickly, especially since the courthouse was closing at 12 for the snowstorm, and it was very emotional and sad and hard. I even had a moment when I was testifying that I thought "Do I really want to do this?" Of course, I don't really want to do this, but it's the right decision, and just because we're getting along today doesn't mean he won't do something awful tomorrow.

So it's done. Financially things are good, he's going to continue giving me money until our debt is paid off, and then I'll just get child support, which is fine with me.

I'm ready for 2009.

D Day

Today's the day of my divorce. The even more thrilling news is the hearing is scheduled for 10, and there is an impending snowstorm coming at roughly the same time. Everything is closed, all the schools are cancelled, and yet court is still on. I'm figuring it will be my luck to finally get divorced, only to be killed in a weather related car accident on the way home.

Please, please let me (and my children, who will be at their grandparents') get home okay.

I need this to be over. 2009 needs to be a new beginning.

18 December 2008

the year in six words

I read about this book today that asked authors to summarize their lives in 6 words. It's called Not Quite What I Was Planning (one of the entries). So, if I was to summarize this year in 6 words, I think it might be:

I spent less but learned more.

Anyone else? (It's fun!)

16 December 2008

Where did the time go?

It must have been because I'm sick, or the holidays, or because I'm so busy, or all of the above but I have been letting things get away from me! I haven't posted here, I haven't updated my Christmas spending percentage- I almost forgot to pay a bill! Here's a quick rundown of what's going on:
  • My divorce is set for Friday. I'm not sure if its going to happen because I don't know if my ex has all his paperwork in order, and its supposed to snow. Yikes.
  • I'm not done Christmas shopping, and I did end up getting the kids a couple of other little things.
  • I bought myself some clothes on clearance from J.Crew. I really needed new work clothes and I had a lot of guilt about it, but things have been going really well at work and I really need to look professional. Some of my work pants are frayed on the bottom, they're so old! That's not good!

But, I'm hanging in there. The Year of Frugal Living Part One is almost over and it's been amazing. I'm very, very excited to see how much of a dent I put in my debts over the last year. I'm even more excited to put a bigger dent in them next year!

07 December 2008

FICO scores

One thing that I wish I had done is gotten my credit score when I started the Year of Frugal Living. Then I could have seen how much it improved over the year. One time I signed up for this free trial on Fico.com that emailed you any time your score went up or down and it was really cool. I'd actually really like to try that again.

If you don't want to pay for your Fico score, you can use a score calculator that will give you the range your score is in. For me, this was sort of motivational because I did it a few times with different debt to available credit ratios, and saw what a big difference it made.

Right now a few years to being credit card debt-free (my student loans are a whole other story) seems like a long time, but seing as I'm only 30, in the grand scheme of things its nothing. Even if it takes 5 years, my kids will still be in elementary school. That's really exciting!

06 December 2008

Can you believe it's December?

It's been nearly a year now since I started this challenge and this blog. It certainly doesn't feel like it! Even though I'm not close to being debt free yet, I still feel like I made some major changes in my life and in my bank account balances. It's really awesome!

I have been doing some Christmas shopping. I used my Pampers points to get some free Shutterfly photo calendars and prints, and even Christmas cards which I don't typically send. Every year I make a calendar of my kids for my ex's parents, and one of all the grandkids for my ex's grandfather (aren't I the best ex-daughter in law ever? :) ) This is a great, cheap way of making grandparents happy, so keep an eye out for free shipping offers from Shutterfly or Snapfish.

I just had a total heart attack because I thought the box with one of the Automoblox and the drum set in it didn't get delivered, but then I remember I stashed it because the kids were here when it came. I literally started crying! What a relief.

I also got my Nine West shoes- and I have to return them both! I don't like the boots and the shoes are a half size too small. I'm a little relieved to return them because of the buyer's remorse. I found out there's a store near me and I'm going to return/exchange them there so I don't have to pay for shipping. I have to go to that mall anyway so it's not a waste of gas.

Sometimes I feel like Doogie Houser MD when I write these... did anyone see the repeat of How I Met Your Mother last week, where they had a Doogie scene at the end? Too funny.

03 December 2008

Opt out and coupons

Sorry for the lapse in posting, between the birthday party and us all being sick, I've been a busy bee.

I received a letter in the mail from Citibank stating that they were changing their terms, and that I could opt out. I did a little research on the change in terms and the impact of opting out and decided to do it. What this means is when my card expires next year, they will close my account and I will pay off the balance at the terms I have now, rather than the new terms. They keep emphasizing that my rate could still go up because its based on prime, but frankly, who does Citibank think they are kidding? Like they will really raise interest rates now! Anyway, this is sort of a relief, because this is my one card with a very high balance, and I love the idea of not having it anymore.

I also realized that now that I have a working printer again, I can get back into couponing. It got a little overwhelming there for a while, but I think I can handle it again. So that will be a good YOFL 2009 project.

I also nearly spent a bunch of money at Old Navy on Cyber Monday, but luckily got it together and didn't do it. Last year after Christmas I cleaned up at that 50% off the 50% off clearance, and I hope to do that again this year!