Sunday, March 31, 2013

2013: First Quarter report

I can not believe it's already the end of March!  Even though my priorities have shifted from debt reduction to savings and purchasing baby stuff in preparation for the babies I still thought I would share the quarterly report:

Student Loan: $35,832
Car Loan: $7,925
Credit Card 1: $0
Credit Card 2: $346
Credit Card 3: $4,219
Parents: $0

Total: $48,322

Here’s my starting point back in October 2011:
Student Loan: $38,339
Car Loan: $11,684
Credit Card 1: $10,577
Credit Card 2: $3,635
Credit Card 3: $0
Parents: $600

Total: $64,835

Paid off to date:
4th Q 2011: $5,051 + $0 in savings
1st Q 2012: $1,298 + $150 in savings
2nd Q 2012: $2,771 + $506 in savings
3rd Q 2012: $3,195 + $344 in savings
4th Q 2012: $3,253 + $1,381 in savings
1st Q 2013: $945 + $1,454 in savings

Total: $16,513 paid off + $3,835 in savings

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Simplifying my to do list

I've always been a list maker by nature and I think this financial journey I've taken myself on has really reinforced some great practices of writing the important things out in an organized way.  I've learned that some clear planning and focused effort can really make what initially seemed impossible, totally manageable.  However, lately I've found that my to-do list and planning efforts are out of control, I keep piling things onto my list, making commitments to people when I'm already short on time and energy and just generally feeling
overwhelmed by the number of things that I feel need to get done before the babies come.  Everyone around me, including my doctors, kept saying I need to slow down and start "taking it a little easier" as the pregnancy progresses.  But I kept looking at my to-do list saying "there's no freaking time to take it easy!"  

Finally my body ordered me to slow down last week in the way of having some minor heart palpitations after a particularly strenuous day of work, then errands, followed by some house cleaning.  Everything turned out  fine but after a trip to the ER and just being scared that I had pushed myself too far, I realized I needed to rethink my priorities.  And then it hit me, I've learned how to differentiate between needs and wants when it comes to tangible items in my life... why couldn't I apply that same mentality to my mile long to-do list?!

That night I sat down and wrote out a definition of what a "Need" to do task is and what a "Want" to do task is.  Here's what I came up with:

Need to Do:  Those things that directly impact my (and the babies) health and well-being.  Kind of a loose definition but when I looked at my list only a few things really stood out as Need to Dos.  Some financial items fell in this category (like getting my life insurance in order and taxes) and some household tasks also (like getting healthy food at the grocery and keeping a generally sanitary house) but most everything on my list wouldn't actually cause me or the babes any harm if it didn't get done. 

Want to Do: All the stuff that I genuinely want to do, the stuff that brings me joy or pleasure in doing.  Some of my Want to Do items are things like making valances for the nursery and giving myself a pedicure, or writing on this blog!  These are all the items that either got pushed constantly to the bottom of the list or I did in such a hurried way that it felt more like another task I needed to get done and checked off... either way it was taking the pleasure out of doing them!

I quickly realized there should be a third category, all the Should/ Could Do stuff.  My to-do list is constantly crammed with all the stuff I Could squeeze into my day, some of which Should get done eventually but have no real critical timeline.  The problem is that I was subconsciously putting the Shoulds and Coulds into the Need to Do category.  I was driving myself crazy and making myself exhausted trying to pack my day with stuff that just doesn't seem that important now that I've redefined my priorities!

I realize that other people are naturally better at taking it easy (like S for instance who can genuinely become blind to the piles of laundry, the squeaky door hinge, the tarnished toaster oven, etc) but I also know I'm not alone in the world of people that constantly feel like they've got too much to do and not enough time to do it.  For me, having a clear definition in my mind about what really matters, what really Needs to get done has already helped take a huge burden off my shoulders.  I will keep reminding myself of these definitions especially when the babies arrive because I don't ever want to look back and realize that I put something as silly as scouring the toaster oven ahead of spending quality time with my family!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Returning baby gifts for the cash: prudent or tacky?

When I originally registered for baby stuff in advance of the baby shower, I went into it with the attitude of registering only for items that we A) absolutely needed like diapers, health kit, etc. and B) couldn't or would prefer not to buy used.  My thought was that our friends and family would cover all these items that way we could focus our limited cash resources on the stuff that I don't mind getting used like cribs and clothes.  

That kind of pragmatic thinking was my first mistake.  My middle sister, who came along when I registered, kept picking up cute and fun stuff that to me looked like a waste of precious registry resources since I could find it all at yard sales.  She said that people would not want to get the boring items like diaper rash cream or nursing pads.  She said that people would want to pool together to get the big cool stuff like cribs and strollers.  I ignored her and stuck with the plan, assuming that my loved ones would also stick to my plan and get all the utilitarian crap on my registry.

At the baby shower, I found out my sister was right.  I think I got a total of 5 things off the registry and at least two of them were items I only registered for to appease my sister's desire to scan cute stuff.  The shower itself was amazing, my mom, sisters, and bff did a fantastic job and the gifts were thoughtful, fun, adorable, and just what you'd expect to see at a baby shower!  I don't want the following to sound ungrateful, because I am truly amazed at the thought and care that people put into their gifts for our little babies and love that my friends and family came together for the celebration.  However, I did leave the shower feeling a little frustrated that we still didn't have our basics covered.

I decided that some of the items that we received should be returned, particularly the ones that we could find used in near perfect condition or for a much cheaper price.  In the end, we will still end up with the item we received as a gift but we will also have some extra cash left over to get some of those boring things we need.  For instance the $200 new pack n play was returned and we can find a $60 used one that's just as good.  That leaves $140 left over for other stuff.  I've only mentioned that I did this to a few people and have had mixed responses.  For some, this breaks some rule of gift giving that I apparently didn't know about.  For others, they seem to agree with my thinking but even a few of them seem to think I'm being a little too frugal.  

In the end, I just have to keep reminding myself of this financial journey I am on and try to make the wisest financial choices I can.  I can't be concerned with other people's opinions about what is prudent or what is tacky, what is a need or a want, or what is going to be best for my family. Our goal is to not increase our debt this year while covering all our extra expenses and if I feel like we need to return expensive gifts for the cash to meet our goal, then that's what we'll do!  

Friday, March 15, 2013

Wading through the bewildering world of baby products

Warning: the following is a rant about the insane amount of useless stuff that marketing campaigns, websites, blogs, magazines, and people (some of whom are close friends and family) tell me I need to have in order to provide for my babies.

I realized going into this whole parenting thing that I have a very limited knowledge of what baby stuff exists out there to make my babies lives better and to help me get along a little easier.  I accept that and I embrace the opportunity to learn but I am getting sick of the buy, buy, buy culture surrounding baby stuff.   On one hand, I’m taking this as a great sign that all of the progress I’ve made over the last two years in identifying my needs versus my wants has really taken hold.  On the other hand, I’m tired of being bombarded by all the stuff I “need” to get for the babies. 

Since this post is purely to allow me to vent, I’d like to list some of the stuff that has been suggested I need (either by a magazine, blog or well-meaning friend)...
  • A $70 contoured pregnancy pillow for sleeping.  Um, no!  I did however break down and get a $14 body pillow from Costco that has made sleeping more comfortable. 
  • Wipes warmer… yes this one is nice to have but it’s not essential although I do appreciate receiving one at the baby shower.
  • A decorative light switch cover (sorry sis but this one had to go one the list).  Yes, the nursery would look cuter with extra decorations and maybe the babies would benefit from a more stimulating environment but seriously “need” is the wrong word here.
  • Specialized towels for burping, changing, bathing, etc… this one I just don’t get and maybe I’ll change my mind after the babies are here but to me every piece of cloth that comes into contact with the babies including the clothes I’m wearing  is going to get something gross on it at some point.  Why do I care if I have the right cloth for the exact mess that’s occurring??  Can’t I just have a boat load of soft rags to take care of whatever mess needs to be addressed at the moment?  I seem to remember my mom using a lot of old socks, cut up t-shirts, and cloth diapers to take care of our childhood messes.  As a matter of fact, I’ve got some old blankets and t-shirts that can be repurposed for just this very task!

I could go on but I feel better having vented a little so I’ll stop here and say that so far my dad has had the best advice (and funniest) on what the babies need:  “you have your boobs to feed them and as long as you have a safe place to put them down when you’re tired of holding them, what else do you really need for the first few months?”  Of course this comment got an exasperated look and some choice words from my mom, my two sisters, and me but it really did help me put some perspective on what babies really need.  They need to be fed, they need to be diapered and clothed, they need to be bathed, and they need a safe place to hang out/ sleep/ travel.  As I wade through the bewildering world of baby stuff I just need to remember those basics and get the stuff that helps me meet those needs.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Overtime authorized

The project load has been steadily increasing over the past month at work which has finally led my bosses to ask all of us underlings to work extra.  At my last job that would have meant more hours for the same amount of pay since they had a "you are salary so we own you" kind of mentality but here it means extra cash money!  How much extra cash depends on how many extra hours I can get in a week above my 40.  It's going to be difficult since each week I'm already scrambling to make up extra hours to cover the ridiculous amount of time I have to spend in the doctor's office for the twin pregnancy.  However, given that I'm not having any complications so far in the pregnancy I feel like now's the time to push for some extra dough to cover my maternity leave.  Thankfully my job is not physically difficult and I sit at a desk all day with my feet up but I'll confirm with my doc next week to make sure I'm not overdoing it and sending myself into bedrest!

Friday, March 1, 2013

February summary

February was a complete wash as far as savings and only made the tiniest progress with debt reduction.  I realize that we are in savings for baby prep mode and not focusing on debt reduction but after so much time watching my numbers continuously fall, it's a little tough to see the numbers stagnate.  I just have to keep reminding myself that the whole goal for this year is to not accrue any new debt while we handle all the additional baby needs and financial transitions.  

We had some major expected expenses last month as follows:

$250 for my annual parking pass
$76 for car taxes
$66 for my professional license
$275 to register for parenting classes
$300 for a trip to my hometown for a baby shower

Even with all that we were still looking to be able to save $500 which I was pretty happy with until our oldest dog started getting sick.  A trip to the vet confirmed that he was in desperate need of some dental work and had a serious infection spreading into his sinuses.  When the vet brought out the estimate for all the work he needed I thought I was about to have a heart attack! We decided to go on the pet plan offered by Banfield which at least reduced the cost of the proposed work considerably and also allowed for some of the cost to be spread out in monthly payments.  His surgery is this coming Monday and we won't find out until they get in there how much the final balance is but I'm pretty much kissing the $500 we had set aside for February savings goodbye.

On the bright side, we were able to cover all these expenses without dipping into existing savings and March looks much better... right now I'm only anticipating a few small non-regular bills that need to be taken care of.