Monday, November 10, 2014

Month in Review- October

October was month #8 in this debt elimination story and if you read my last post, The Bad Decision Train, you might think that it had been 8 YEARS. We hit a hard brick wall and neither of us where able to help the other one over the wall to get back on track. We were a bit irresponsible, but we have decided that November is a new month and we need to get ourselves back on track. 


We went a little over board on our spending splurges, but somehow managed to not over spend our total income for the month. Student loans and our savings suffered from our financial decisions, but we are happy to say that the credit card did NOT get used to cover costs, so there is our silver lining! 


Unexpected Costs: 
We got in a car accident this past month (we are both fine, the car is okay, and it wasn't our fault), but even with insurance it ends up costing a few dollars here and there. Our car is now labeled "Totaled," but I'll do a follow-up post on the car in the coming week.

Unexpected Income: 
We dog sat for our friends and stayed at their place for Columbus day weekend, Thanks Jason and Leslie :) The apartment went up on AirBnB, and we made an extra $290 this month.

October Splurges:
Nick and I celebrated our 4th Anniversary in October and treated ourselves to an amazing 5 course tasting menu dinner at Birch and Barley. We had always wanted to do their tasting menu, so we bit the bullet and enjoyed EVERY bite :) It was an added bonus to have a $100 gift certificate to use from a summer beer fest we worked. Volunteering has its perks!!

Fun Memory: 
Halloween is not Nick and my favorite celebratory day. We rarely dress-up and most likely won't go out, but this year we found a play to go to on Halloween. We got tickets through our membership with Fill-A-Seat, a yearly membership provides you tickets to shows in the DC area for free. We bought the membership at 45% off, and have used it for three shows, so far, so I definitely think it has already paid for itself.

So anyways, we went to the show and then stopped into our friends restaurant for a cocktail! Our friend is simply amazing and covered our bill- Thanks Gabby :)  and so for the price of tip and street parking we were out on Halloween and had a blast people watching :)

I don't seem to have any action photos for Halloween, so here are some pretty fall hike pictures!


Lessons Learned
We need to find a way to let off steam in the money arena before letting our impulses take over our decision making. Something for us to work on. 

Total Payment to Debt: $0.00
Yup... Well the positive side is that we didn't go into debt this month, and trust me when I looked at our expenses that was a miracle :) 

Current Debt: $173,746.44
Same as last month...

We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.  We are on to our 33rd Student Loan.

#33 is currently at  $1,737.79 with an interest rate of 11.5% . 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Bad Decision Train



This is not a pity or a woe is me post. This is a "Now and Again in Life" post.

I've hit a point where their is nothing wrong, there is nothing to do, and there really is not much to worry about. When I hit these moments instead of embracing them and relaxing I usually try to find a project or I seek out problems to fix, usually where there is no problem.I love to be busy!

Over the course of October, I think I created my own problems so that when November rolled around I would have something to fix. October can be summed up in three words the BAD DECISION TRAIN. I even have a song and choo-choo train motions that go with the song! It is absolutely fabulous. Everytime I was about to or just finished making a irresponsible decision I turned to Nick and sang my song with the choo-choo motions. I think it made the decision even better :)
Now, let me put this quick caveat on this discussion- I don't regret a single decision I have made over the past month, but our bank account might feel a little different!

Everyone has different daily priorities in which they base day-to-day life decisions. At this moment and time, my priorities include: My Husband, Work, Finances, Fitness, and Food.  With all five areas chugging along why not spice it up a bit???

Husband- No complaints and celebrated our 4 year anniversary this past month :)
Work is awesome. Loving the job and my review last week was the best it could have been.

So now was the time to play with life and hop on the bad decision train!!

Fitness- Though I have kept up a decent workout routine, training for my half-marathon next weekend,  I have not seen the inside of the gym, in which I pay a membership, in 2 months. All my clothes are back to pre-workout tightness, oops!!

Food- Fast meals with no regard to calorie intake have been the norm for dinner and we have eaten out more times then I can count in October. We treated ourselves out to a fabulous dinner last week that was a five course experience all in itself :) We have gone out to brunch with friends, fed burger cravings after hikes, and indulged in pizza Fridays.

Financially- I have yet to balance the budget this month and lord knows it is going to be rough, but yet I am not dreading it and I know we over spent by a lot in October. Also, with the blog- yeah I haven't posted since October 8th, that's pretty lame on my part...

So, why do I get in these rut where I just say screw it and do whatever I want, even though I know I am making some irresponsible decisions?

Finances really wind me up pretty right, and now and again I just need to spin out!! It is irresponsible and financially detrimental. But now and again, sometimes making bad decisions really are the RIGHT decision.

This is not healthy, especially when in last four weeks. So my next step is to figure out how to integrate fun decisions into our budget, so every 6 months I don't hop back on the bad decision train without looking back.

November provides us with a clean slate and hopefully Nick and I can both get back on track. I am in the process of refocusing my priorities and trying to get back into some kind of routine that will allow for a better fitness and healthier food.

I'll let you know how it goes and please enjoy this month's review later in the week because we sure as heck enjoyed this past month!!

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

The Stuffed Pumpkin

Tis the season to cooked gourds :)

Nick will tell you that I am simply obsessed with all things squash at this time of the year. By the time we get through the Fall, if I even bring up an acorn squash, butternut squash, pumpkin, or spaghetti squash I am banned from the kitchen :)

I finally found a recipe that fills my need for a dinner gourd and Nick's need to not feel gourd overload... The Stuffed Pumpkin!

1 3lb Pumpkin
1/4 lb of sourdough bread, cut in 1/2 in' blocks
1/4 lb of cheese (we use half cheddar and gruyere), cut into small 1/4 in' blocks
4 pieces of crispy bacon broken into small pieces
4 cloves of minced garlic
1/4 c of minced shallots
1 T of thyme
1/3 c Heavy Cream
Pinch of Nutmeg

Super simple recipe from Around my French Table by Dori Greenspan call a Stuffed Pumpkin with Everything Good 

I love how Dori writes her recipes in a story telling- Julia Child format, so it is worth clicking on the link above for her full recipe, but the quick run through is below:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees
Cut lid of pumpkin and clean out- like a jack-o-lantern
Mix all other items, except cream and nutmeg, in a bowl
STUFF your pumpkin!! Keep squishing it in :)
Mix nutmeg and cream together and pour inside the pumpkin

Attempt to place your lid on the pumpkin!

Cook 2 hours, you can remove the cap with 20 mins left to help liquid evaporate

It is AMAZING :) Though it does take two hours to cook, it is a great plan ahead meal and can be served when ready. I am thinking pre-dinner party with friends or a lazy Saturday :)

Financially, depending on the cheese you choose to use, this can be a cheap or a treat meal! We did a bit of a more expensive cheese so this meal cost us around $14. It provided us 4 portions, so one dinner and one round of lunches- appx $3.50 a meal. Not too shabby for an amazing dinner :)

Happy Fall and enjoy your gourds :)


Thursday, October 2, 2014

AirBnB- The Good and Bad

I hope anyone reading this blog who is traveling somewhere looks into using AirBnB for accommodations. The AirBnB model is something I enjoyed when Nick and I were traveling in Belgium and now, as a host, I truly see the hard work many people put into providing these accommodations at a low rate. If you missed last week's post, check out our Financial AirBnB Breakdown.

When breaking down our AirBnB experience, Nick and I came up with the good, the bad, and- because this is the frugal optimist and not some negative Nancy blog- the fabulous.

Good

·         Hearing about our visitors experiences. We got some really nice thank you letters, and one family even left us a picture of them at the Washington Monument. Nick and I took a hand's off approach with the AirBnB and gave people their space, but you could tell that some guests would have preferred to meet us, so in the future perhaps when we are in town we will try to swing by and say hello. 
·         New sheets, towels, and a lamp shade. In order to host we needed to get a few new things to spruce up the place. It was nice to come home to a few new towels and an extra set of bed sheets. These items even come in handy when we have family visiting. It was a great excuse to add a few new pieces to our linen closet and get a much needed lamp shade.
·         AirBnB offers a free photography service to hosts. They hire a local photographer to come to your apartment or home and take photos. These photos are then added to your host page and make your space look incredible. Nick and I are pretty sure this service was one of the main reasons we had success booking so many reservations!  

Bad
·         On Vacation, you're not fully on vacation. Nick and I had to keep our phones with us just in case there was a problem. We got called twice by the front desk to go pick-up delivered food from the lobby. We quickly realized that we needed to add a note in the welcome letter indicating the food delivery policy for our building :) 
·         Cleaning the Apartment. This makes having a BnB a job!! By the end of the process, Nick and I were not interested in having any one-night guest, and two nights was pushing it. Our favorite guests were those with 4-5 nights :) Cleaning an apartment you are not using gets to be tedious and frustrating.
·         Use of items, not met for Guest use. Nick and I unfortunately left out some wine and expensive beers during our most recent AirBnB stay and our guests decided that met it was for them. So, we did lose a few good beers, so that sucked, but it is only stuff.  This experience has put us on high alert to make sure anything we don't want touched is put away. 

Fabulous

·         Making money on an apartment not in use. This was a great way to use a space that we were already paying for and make it work for us. We have also learned that the rent we paid for the apartment during the days it was used can be a tax deduction. I am not sure how this works yet, but I will let you know!
·         A Clean Apartment!! Even when we came back to the house, most guests left the apartment in great shape. We only had two guests that left it a bit of a mess, but at the end of a month and a half our apartment was still just as clean as we had left it and it felt great to come home to a clean clutter free environment. 
·         An opportunity to travel and usually close to free lodging. It has made weekend getaways not only doable now, but enjoyable. We have gone out of town a few times and been able to use the money made on AirBnB to cover our AirBnB stay.

That sums up our experience with AirBnB in a tiny nut shell. We have kept our apartment up on the market and added days of availability as opportunities to duck out of town come up. We have been very fortunate to book almost all of our available days!

To all those looking to travel check-out AirBnB for a more frugal accommodation option, to all the AirBnB hosts reading- happy cleaning :) 

**Sorry for the lack of photos **


Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Month in Review- September

September has hit and the crisp air is starting to settle us into fall. Nick and I have had a great month and had an opportunity to really test our financial goals. We have had multiple opportunities to give up and a few moments of excitement when we realize we are making really good progress. 


We are now Seven months into this debt elimination quest and we had a fairly good month staying in budget and even pre-planning for our spending splurges. We are getting to see where we fall short when it comes to budgeting and how to help each other stay focused, while still not giving up living life :) 

Unexpected Costs: 
Gas :) We spent like double this month on gas. Oh well! The car adventures were worth the extra money. We just had to dip into our AirBnB money to help cover the extra trips.

Unexpected Income: 
We had signed up for the Dogfish Head Dash a few months back, and so we put our apartment up on AirBnB for the weekend of the race. We ended up getting renters and had extra income to use toward food and a place to stay for the race.
We also worked a beer fest and were paid for our time! Nick also got a tip, so yay for Nick :) 

September Splurges:
Nick's Birthday is in September, so his mom came down and joined us for a long birthday weekend. We planned a good number of our meals in, but we also went out to dinner and I would consider this our monthly splurge. A huge thanks to Olga for covering a fabulous meal at Le Diplomate :)  

Funniest Moment: 
Calling Nick at work and telling him that we could pay off loan #34. He was having a kinda crappy day and being able to tell him that we had made it 3 months early was really AWESOME :) Loan #35 was one of my loans and so this is Nick's first loan we've paid off.

Yay US :) 

Lessons Learned
We are doing well with our short-term savings! Each month we put a good chunk of change away in our short-term savings. These amounts are pre-determined based on when they will be needed, but saved in smaller chunks. 

For example, we need an oil change every three months and that cost $30, we save $10 a month and at the three month mark we have $30 ready to go and have no excuse not to get our oil changed. This has worked great for haircuts, "get away fund", holidays, and medicine. 

This month we had our race in Delaware and I was excited to see that we had been contributing to our "get away" category, so magically we had money to help cover a AirBnB and gas money! This also came in handy when Nick went to get his hair cut. Sometimes it is the little things, but it feels great to know that pre-planning comes through :) 

Total Payment to Debt: $366.04*
*This amount is in addition to our minimum payments

WE PAID OFF NUMBER 34 :) 
YESSSSSSS!!! 
12.5 % Interest GONE!!

Current Debt: $173,746.44
This amount does not go down no matter how much we pay :( Nick's Federal loans are on a income-based repayment plan, so we continue to make monthly payments but they are not as high as the interest, so it just keeps going up, 'Tis our financial life! 


We started with a total of 35 Student Loans. This month we eliminated #34 and now we are on to our 33rd Student Loan.
#33 is currently at  $1,737.79 with an interest rate of 11.5% . 

We  anticipate this loan taking us  7 months to pay off- April 2015. 

Thursday, September 25, 2014

AirBnB- Financial Breakdown

I've mentioned our successful summer with AirBnB enough times now that I think it is worth sharing with you the overall financial impact of our experience.

Nick and I moved out of our apartment on July 3rd and didn't move back-in until August 17th. In that time, Nick and I have hosted 11 groups through AirBnB.


We divided our income into four categories:
  • Set-Up/Management Expenses
  • Taxes
  • Summer Vacation
  • Student Loans 
Set-Up and Management of the AirBnB had various small expenses that I am glad we used income to help offset,; otherwise we would have been dipping into grocery money. These expenses ended up equalling 12% of our overall earnings. They included things like new bed sheets, cleaning supplies, and breakfast treats for our guests. We also set a little money aside for gas, as our commute to and from the apartment became a business expense.

We decided that it would be best to save 30% of our earnings for Taxes. Come March, I think we will both be happy to have this money on hand rather then be surprised by an impending amount owed. If we don't owe it all then we can put it toward a student loan payment, but we'd rather be safe and have it sit in our savings account until we complete our taxes.

One of the reasons we originally decided to put our apartment up on AirBnB was to earn money to stay a few nights in Vermont on our Vacation. We made that money, and then Nick and I did not stay on budget for our vacation at all :( It was a very Bad frugal vacation. So we used 28% of our income to offset the money we had saved to cover our expenses. We came back from vacation without anything on our credit cards- first time I can say that in like 7 years!!

We were also able to put 30% of our income toward our Student Loans. This allowed us to pay down our highest interest rate loan (12.5%) down in 5 months, versus the 8 months we thought it was going to take us. This was a huge accomplishment :)

Nick and I will be hosting our 12th group this upcoming weekend, who are helping us pay for our weekend in Delaware for the Dogfish Head Dash. AirBnB has been a great way for us to make money while we aren't at home and keep us off our credit cards.

This post would not be complete without a HUGE thank you to Rob and Sally for their over the top generosity. Over the summer, they allowed Nick and I to stay in the guest room, while making money on our own place. We truly appreciate the support :) 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Month in Review- August

Hey Everyone! This has been a crazy summer filled with some great opportunities to make extra income through AirBnB, but it has also been a summer filled with trips and the first crazy work season at my new job. Now that we get into Fall, I think it is about time I got back on this writing horse and get you some new posts. 


Month Six provided an opportunity to evaluate where we stand financially and determine if we are on the right path toward financial security. 

Unexpected Costs: 
Nothing unexpected. We were living in three different places for three weeks and stayed in budget, but as soon as we got home from the gypsy lifestyle we were living, we realized we needed to bulk up on staples, so we went a bit over budget on groceries. Thanks Costco :) 

Unexpected Income: 
I get paid bi-monthly and Nick gets paid every two weeks. We always budget for a 4 paycheck month, so when Nick (twice a year) gets a third paycheck in one month it is always a happy surprise!! August happened to be a three paycheck month, which helped us cover overspending in our grocery line and put a dent in our student loan payments. 

August Splurges:
We bought a membership to a program called Fill A Seat. It provides tickets to theater and art events around the DC Area. We found a Living Social coupon for 45% off and have already been to one event. 

Basically, they give away seats to productions on days that they aren't selling enough tickets. We go and "fill a seat" with our membership and don't need to pay anything extra. Nick and I give up a lot of opportunities to go out, for the sake of saving money, so this provides us a great chance to actually keep exploring the city we live in for the next year without paying anything more then our membership fee.

We already went to a Shakespeare play and we are headed to another play on Thursday :) Fun little date nights! 

Funniest Moment: 
We got to dog sit for TWO dogs in August, Beth and Chopper. Now we both can't stop talking about dogs :) Seriously people, we ended up calling my uncle a few weekends ago and asking if we could pick-up the dog and take it on a hike. We just missed her :) 

Yup, getting a dog would not be frugal of us and not really fit into our work schedules so it is probably not happening, but I do think that a dog walking volunteer gig is in our future. Or perhaps more of our friends should get dogs so that we can dog sit!! 

Lessons Learned
We have a breaking point!! As a couple, Nick and I have been pretty flexible for two months, but we both came to a point roughly two days before we got home that we knew we needed to just STOP. 

We have been out of a normal routine, normal commute, and normal cooking habits for 2 months. We were ready for home base. I had two work trips and Nick had been over the top fantastic about dog sitting alone for a few days and managing the AirBnB. 

When we finally got back to our apartment mid-August I think it took us a week just to run the dishwasher. We wanted to do nothing but SIT and watch TV, hence my lack of posts for the past month :) 

We both agree that our crazy summer  was worth a great vacation and the extra payments to our student loans, but we also learned how to work as a better team which was even more important. 

Total Payment to Debt: $1,386.65 , on top of our minimum payments for August

AWESOME month for us with an extra paycheck and AirBnB income :) 

Current Debt: $166,777.53 This amount is out of date, but I'll have an updated amount for you next week in the September run down! 


We started with a total of 35 Student Loans.
We are currently at 34 Student Loans and we need to pay $358.06 more in order to reach #33 :)

Student loan #34 has our highest interest rate at 12.5% ! We originally anticipated this taking us a total of 8 months, this being month 4, but I think we may be able to get rid of this one in 1 more months, cutting off 3 months from our initial plan!!