Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Month in Review- December

December was filled with family and fun. It also brings us into month 10 of the Frugal Optimist. 

December also proved to bring some financial planning satisfaction. We had saved up every month for Thanksgiving and Christmas and went into the holiday season with a little nest egg to cover gifts and travel. This was actually an idea I got from  my mom's financial planning. She puts aside money each month into her "Christmas Fund." Great idea Mom, and I hope to keep it up for next year.  

Unexpected Costs: 
Our short term savings was diminished with Thanksgiving and Christmas, and somewhere in the last two months we stopped saving for the "unexpected" costs. 

I got the flu the week before Christmas and I've never paid attention to how much getting sick can cost! Holy crap, I am glad that it was just the flu and thankful that Nick and I are both healthy! 

Our AAA and Sirius Radio membership  are both due at the end of December, and I forgot to save up for these two items. We are looking at January's budget to get these covered, but it is not looking good for January's saving goal....

Additional Income: 
AirBnB income over Christmas, as well as a referral bonus by a Watertown friend in our apartment building! Both, helped us get through the holiday's without any debt :) 

December Splurges:
The holidays are a splurge by themselves! We had a great time with family and even made it into the Watertown Daily Times for our Christmas morning run with my sister and brother. 

Fun Memory:   
For my nephews Christmas presents, we gifted an experience. We went to a place called Wonder Works in Syracuse, NY. This place was amazing. Nick and I had just as much fun as the boys- if not more! 

Wonder Works is an interactive museum that is filled with scientific experiments, a ropes course, laser tag, an life size games! I have had dreams of this place  :) 

Thanks for an awesome day Richie and Camden! 

Lessons Learned: 
Our short-term savings each month have been a financial life saver! It has covered oil changes, hair cuts, gifts and life's little needs that come up in a given month. 

For December and November, we've used this line item to cover our trips home and we are now feeling the pinch of not having that little nest egg. I've learned that savings really needs to be considered a bill, and I hope to try harder to not compromise on our short-term saving goals. 

This is really difficult to do, and forces me to say no to things I want to do in the moment. A consistent battle of living now versus saving! 

Total Payment to Debt: $302.00 
I really didn't like the idea of giving up payment to our loans for our travel plans in May. So, I decided to take on a few cocktail shifts to help pay down my loans.  

Current Debt: $163,963.25

 We are on to our 33rd of 35 Student Loans.

#33 is currently at $1,395.64 with an interest rate of 11.5% . 

Current Savings for Trip: $210.44 

Monday, December 22, 2014

Edward the Car

I bought Edward, my 2004 Pontiac Vibe, the summer before my senior year of college. Nick and I finished paying him off about two years ago, and like most people- this car was the first thing that I officially owned!!

Edward has gotten into two fender-benders over the past 6 years, and the first one got us a new bumper and a little cosmetic work to the frame. Other than that, we have had no problems with the car and have done our regular maintenance and drove our 8 hour trip to Long Island and Watertown usually 4-5 times a year. He is now sitting with roughly 132,000 miles and a heater we sometimes need to hit to get it to work :/ 

Last month, while commuting home, a driver of a SUV decide to make a U-Turn in rush hour traffic right in front of Edward! Nick was amazing and swerved to the left so that the car was only hit on the wheel well of the rear passenger side of the car; otherwise we would have been T-boned on the passenger side- aka where I was sitting. Thanks Nick!!

We are lucky that the car is still drivable car and what looks to be only cosmetic damage was done to the car. The other driver took full blame and there insurance was willing to pay for all damages. So we brought the car in for an appraisal and took home a rental car.

The next part of this story can be summed up with one quick analogy: you go into the dentist for a cleaning and they tell you you’ll need a root canal or better yet, a new set of teeth :( 

Our Insurance Company called to tell us, our car had been TOTALED :(

Mind you, when Nick and I dropped the car off, it was driving fine and really just needed some cosmetic work on the rear wheel well, so this came as a bit of a shock!! We soon learned that "Totaled" for an insurance company equals the repairs adding up to more than 75% of the value of the car.

We were left with two choices, either we get the Kelly Blue Book value for the car now and our Insurance Company buys the car off us


Take roughly $1,000 less and keep the car, but it will be labeled as "Totaled," and we will need to get a new title for the car and re-do our inspection. This will also mean that we will be accepting the final payout for our car.  

So Nick and I had to make a hard decision and figure out financially what was the better option. If we sold the car we would get more money for it, but we would need to add a car payment to our budget. If we took the smaller check, we get less money for the car but hopefully get to keep Edward for another year or two before we need to start looking for a car, which would also means less student loan debt and hopefully more wiggle room to add a car payment into the budget.

So, needless to say we went with the smaller check. Our final rational really ended up being that we didn't plan on making money on this car to begin with. We planned on driving Edward until the repairs were worth more than the car, so we think we made out well. Plus, I like Edward and want to keep him around for a while longer!!

Financial decisions with emotional undertones are hard, but really laying out the pros and cons of this decision helped us come to a conclusion we are happy with. We will need to spend a little money on car cosmetics, but the rest can go into savings or the stock market to hopefully make us money until we need it to buy a new car. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Month in Review- November

November and 9 months in...

We got back on track for November and did fairly well staying in budget, even with Thanksgiving. Saving money every month for the holidays really paid off!!
I was reminded this week by a good friend and mentor that this quest to live debt free is not always about paying off debt, but also about the shift in your mindset to stop living in debt. Making financial decisions based on money you have vs. spending money and finding a way to pay for it later. 

With this in mind, Nick and I have decided to attend a wedding in Egypt this upcoming May. We found an amazing deal on flights and looked through our budget to ensure that we could save enough money for the trip BEFORE we depart. We will be saving every penny we can and must stay within our monthly budget to make this happen. In total, we will be trying to save $3,500. 

This will also mean that additional payments to our student loan debt will fall to the back burner for the next few months. It is important to us to adjust our financial goals to ensure that we are not missing amazing opportunities to live life! Debt can be a shackle on our ankles, but we are lucky enough to have the ability and option to adjust our financial goals and still make progress toward a debt free lifestyle.

 November was filled with new financial decisions and a shift in our financial goals. 

Unexpected Costs: 
Happily nothing! We planned out ahead for Thanksgiving and we stayed within our monthly budget. 

Additional Income: 
AirBnB income over Thanksgiving helped to cover gas and drinks out with friends over the holiday weekend :)  

November Splurges:
 I don't think we had any splurges this month, but we definitely did enjoy ourselves with friends and family throughout the month!
5kTurkey Trot on Thanksgiving Morning- brrr!!!
Fun Memory: 

Nick and I both completed our first half marathon. It was called a Half-n-Half, you have to run half the race and eat a half smoked (A sausage like thing from Ben's Chili Bowl) and then run the second half of the race! It was a good day :) 

We also hosted a going away dinner for our two best friends in DC. It was alot of fun and also a very sad end to our November. We worked hard to plan the meal within our budget and adjust elsewhere so that we could put on the get together we really wanted to for their going away!  

Lessons Learned: 
We need to go back to a cash system for weekly expenses. This has worked well for us in the past. It keeps both Nick and me in check on how we spend money throughout the week on all the little things. If we forget toothpaste or bread at the grocery store and we each go out and spend money here and there it adds up quickly over the month to $100, something $200 dollars. This can really screw up our budget :) 

Total Payment to Debt: $0.00
Our additional money this month, $180 was moved to our Christmas fund. Nick and I originally weren't going to do Christmas presents for one another, but then changed our minds and decided to move the $180 to Christmas gifts. 

Current Debt: $173,746.44

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

#33 is currently at $1,711.16 with an interest rate of 11.5% . 

Current Savings for Trip: $0.00 

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.


·         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!  

·         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. 


·         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 **