Monthly Archives: January 2016

Before I Buy a House

house on a hillLast year I made a big deal of getting debt free. Paying off my student loans was one of the biggest financial achievements of my life.

My next financial goal is to save up 6 months of expenses as emergency savings. I only have 4 months currently, but it won’t take me much longer to save up the last 2 months of expenses. Once I have my emergency savings where I want it, I will be formally working towards homeownership, something I wish to obtain by the time I’m 40 (within the next 7 years).

A couple of jobs ago I did some housing counseling. This was during the housing market crash and was eye-opening. I couldn’t tell you how many people I met with that were entirely upside down in their house. On top of that, most of them also had thousands of dollars of credit card and other debts and were often unemployed or underemployed.

That experience makes me very cautious about buying a house. It doesn’t scare me off entirely, but I am aiming to have a 20% downpayment. I can’t protect myself from all financial uncertainty, but I can wisely choose to make preparations now that will put me in the best possible place when adversity happens.

In addtion to a sizable downpayment, I want to have two other funds in place before buying a home. The first is I am calling my “Big Bad Wolf” fund.

My “Big Bad Wolf” fund will be a separate emergency savings account (my bank allows me to create up to 25 different savings accounts, and name them)  with the intent to cover expenses like a new hot water heater or roof. These types of expenses will come, but it’s just a matter of when. (This is essentially an extension of my freedom fund.) I’ve set a seed amount for this fund to be $5,000, with the intent of continually paying into it monthly so it stays funded at this level.

Finally, (and this is the fun one!) I want to have a house upgrade fund. This will be the money that I can use for planned upgrades. Because I know that whatever house I will get will not fully meet my wishes, I want to start out with $1,000 in this fund. I imagine most of that will be going into the garden and some new furnishings. This fund can be depleted, but I’ll allow myself to put money in it each money to continue to make the improvements that I would like. Once I have my place, I’ll estimate the types of upgrades that I would like to do and on what time schedule and balance that against my desire to have my mortgage paid off in 15 years or less.

Will I have all this money in hand when I make my house purchase? Probably not. These are personal goals, not requirements. When I have some of it in hand, I will start to look for mortgage assistance programs that I may qualify for. The market itself will also dictate when I may buy, as right now I’m paying in rent about the same amount as I would pay for a mortgage for a house twice the size of my apartment.

How are you working towards your long-term goals?

Photo by Kevin Saff

Groceries Update

My trusty grocery sacks.
My trusty grocery sacks.

As has been mentioned here on more than one occasion, groceries are one area of our budget that we have a good amount of control over.  As the primary grocery shopper in the family, I am always on the lookout for new ways to cut costs but still keep some semblance of nutritional value.

To that end, I wanted to give you a little update on two modifications to my grocery shopping habits–while one has worked remarkably well, I am still on the fence about the other.

First up: being more flexible with how often I go shopping.  For the longest time (we’re talking years), I stayed true to grocery shopping every two weeks.  Any longer than that and we ran out of fresh produce and dairy, and any shorter than that was a scheduling inconvenience.

These bananas fell victim to my "old" way of shopping.
These bananas fell victim to my “old” way of shopping.

For the last couple of months however, I have only gone when I needed to.  Sometimes that’s once a week, and sometimes that’s longer than three weeks.  I make it a point not to go for one tiny thing, and still continue to go by the grocery list. But if we need, say, diapers and milk, I won’t hold out–I go out and get what we need, plus whatever is on the list at that point in time.

What I’ve discovered with this modification is that I wind up spending less because I’m not as focused on stocking up on things we don’t need for the immediate future.  We also waste a lot less because I’m not as determined to stretch the food for longer periods of time (which meant that produce often went bad before we used it).  The verdict:  I think I may keep doing this…it’s working well for us.

Also, we have paid for some groceries using cash.  A quick search for how to save money on groceries will invariably point you to the cash-only route.  While I love how this method forces me to stick tightly to the list and all but eliminates impulse purchases, I find that I am a bundle of nerves when it comes to checking out, because I am fearful that my cost estimates are off and I won’t have the right amount of cash on me.

If we decide to continue this grocery shopping modification, I am going to have to continue to carry my debit card on me, just in case.  This will be especially critical with larger purchases, at least until I become more confident in my math skills!

So once again, I am reminded that flexibility is a key trait to exercise, especially where groceries are concerned.  How do you stick to your grocery budget?

4 Organizational Projects

A couple of weeks ago I mentioned that I identified a few projects that would help me keep my apartment clean from an organizational standpoint. Today, I’m going to share with you what those projects are.

While I tend to have homes for most things, I tend to be lazy and not take the time to put things back where I know they belong. And once you’ve done that with one thing, you do it with two…

There are 4 areas I identified that could have organizational quick fixes:

1. My shoe pile by the door
2. My pile of coats and bags on the couch
3. My spices in the kitchen
4. My pens on the couch

Here’s how I’m going to address each of these:

1. My shoe pile by the door

shoe pileI always kick my shoes off before I get to my carpet. Problem is, they never seem to find their way to my closet. All the shoes I regularly wear end of up in a pile by my door.

When I read Marie Kondo’s book, I remember she talked about her coming-home routine included putting away the previous day’s shoes. While she didn’t say her reason, this makes sense: today’s shoes are sometimes too wet to be put away immediately and can use the time to breathe.

Instead of a pile, I’m going to allow myself two pairs of shoes by my door: the most recent shoes I wore and my outdoor flip flops.

My first thought was to buy a solution: a small shoe organizer to put my door, but I’m going to attempt to fix my problem by self-discipline, first.

coat and purse2. My pile of coats and bags on the couch

When I come in after work, I not only kick my shoes into the pile by the door, but I put my coat and purse on the couch. You can bet if shoes never walk themselves to the closet, coats (who don’t even resemble feet) never do either.

Instead of the couch, I’m going to put hooks on my entryway wall for these things to have a place that is “away” within easy reach.

3. My spices in the kitchen

I use a lot of herbs and spices, as I make a lot of things from scratch. When I cook, I don’t always put the spices away in my cute little rack, because I may need them still. The rack is always a few steps away and sometimes blocked by other items.

I’ve decided to fix this issue by moving my spice rack to the counter where I do all my cooking (right next to the stove). By having them more convenient, I’m hoping I’ll be less likely to leave them out.

4. My pens on the couch

I do almost everything at my “spot” on the couch. I use 5 pens (4 fun colors and 1 black), a Bible highlighter and a nail clipper regularly in this spot, so they tend to hang out on the couch cushion with whatever book I’m reading. But as you might guess, they don’t like to stay put, regularly getting lost in the couch or on the floor.

To combat this, I used a birthday gift card to buy a cheap pencil pouch.

I’m hoping by having these 4 areas neater, it’ll inspire me to be neater in other areas as well. I’ll let you know the outcome after I’ve had a few weeks to test them out!

Joint Book Review: Free by Mark Scandrette

61Iimn4GlcL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_The appropriately titled Free:  Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most by Mark Scandrette focuses on several ways to better align your time and money (both of which are valuable resources) with your values.  Using a faith-based slant, the book discusses stewardship in great detail, making it a good read for “newbies” in particular.

Amanda’s Take

I’m going to be honest:  this book wasn’t exactly what I thought it would be.  Clearly I misread the summary on the back cover, because I thought it would be more memoir than workbook.  In that regard, I was a bit disappointed in what I found the book actually contained.

That said, as far as simplicity movement texts are concerned, I found Free to be in my top ten.  As Ronnica will note in her review below, this book would be ideal for a person new to the simplicity movement.  The exercises contained in the book encourage interaction and soul-searching, and provide ample guidance for those embarking on this path.

Take note:  if you follow the book’s advice to the letter, expect to take several weeks working through the book.  This is not a text that is conducive to skimming and putting into practice.

Ronnica’s Take

I think we can all agree with the subtitle of this book: “Spending Your Time and Money on What Matters Most.”

I did like how practical this book was, helping you apply the principals it taught. I also like that it touched on both time and money: the ideas of budgeting both are the very similar. They are both also areas that we struggle with selfishness and wastefulness.

I appreciate the emphasis of this book on aligning how you spend your resources with your values. This application of my ideals is where I struggle the most.

However, as someone who has spent well over a year considering this subject, I didn’t find that this book added much to this conversation. If this is a new focus for you, however, you may benefit from this book.

2016 Spending Goals

I’m an obsessive budgeter. I know exactly where each dollar should go, planning months ahead.

But until a few months ago, I didn’t pay a lot of attention to where my money actually went. If I went over in a category, I would find money to make up for it in another, which helps to cover up overspending.

So I’ve decided to use the best information I have to reconstruct what I spent in each category each month. In 2015, I spent $19,203.52, not include debt payoff, savings or giving.

Looking over my numbers, I’ve decided to set goals for several categories for 2016 to try to lower my spending from 2015 levels. While I don’t believe my 2015 spending was necessarily too high, I want to fight to keep it in control as I work towards my longer term financial goals.

Important note: I have not changed what I’m budgeting in any category. My budget still reflects what I believe I may spend each month, so will necessarily be higher than the numbers listed below for my goals. Any difference between actual  and budgeted spending will go towards savings (80%) and retirement (20%).

There are a few categories that I will not be setting goals in. This is what I spent in these categories in 2015:

Rent $10,903
Utilities $1,356.98
Insurance $765.34
Gas $750.57
Car (repair/registration) $589.75
Cell phone $548.22

Now for the categories that I am setting goals in:

Groceries
2015 actual: $2,026.04
2016 goal: $1,820

I’m actually pretty happy about this number, as it works out to just under $39 a week. Still, without Diet Dr Pepper and hopefully even less food waste, I should be able to trim it down even more. My goal reflects $35/week.

Ronnica on mountaintop
Views like this make traveling worthwhile.

Travel
2015 actual: $743.35
2016 goal: $1,400

Yes, this goal is going up! This is an estimation of what the trips that I hope to take in 2016 will cost. I already have some of it saved up.

Hobby
2015 actual: $625.93
2016 goal: $260

I spent a lot on outdoor gear this year as I have started to settle into being a Coloradan. I don’t have as many of those types of purchases planned for 2016, though I do hope to go to a few events.

Garden/homesteading fund
2015 actual: $319.60
2016 goal: $75

This is incredibly high, as I settled in to gardening on my balcony, and I don’t like it. I absolutely will not allow myself to spend that much in 2016. I should only need to buy a few seeds and possibly a few starter plants.

Eating Out
2015 actual: $281.98
2016 goal: $200

Though decent, this number can definitely go down since I’ve given up Diet Dr Pepper.

Gifts
2015 actual: $179.61
2016 goal: $120

I like blessing others, but I need to be more creative in how I do so to get this under control.

Clothes
2015 actual: $60.86
2016 goal: $20

I love this! Thanks to some generous Christmas gifts, I don’t think I’ll need to buy anything this year. I am setting a small goal for myself in case I need new tights or finally find the brown or navy skirt that I have been hunting for.

Christmas
2015 actual: $52.29
2016: $50

I’m happy with this number for 2015 as well so I’m only slightly lowering the goal for 2016.

I’m a competitive person, so I’m hoping by setting goals for myself, I’ll be able to spend even less this year!

Early Mornings

51-9Mm6NK9L._SX325_BO1,204,203,200_Late last year, I listened to the audio book version of What the Most Successful People Do Before Breakfast.  I guess one could say I was desperately trying to figure out how to better structure my mornings.

The day I started the book had not started well, with a child almost late to preschool, and another missing socks on his feet, and myself not fed (or caffeinated) yet.  We were all in terrible moods because we started out hurried, and thus cranky.  I don’t like to start my day out like that, and I certainly didn’t want to pass that legacy on to my kids, so the premise of the book intrigued me.

What the Most Successful People Do… did not disappoint, and offered both practical advice on how to get the most out of your mornings, as well as anecdotes that inspired me.  I finished the book convinced I could make a 5 a.m. start every day a reality, and not only find the time to work-out, but also to read and write the next great American novel all because I woke up before dawn.  In fact, I was so inspired after reading it that I incorporated it into my list of New Year’s resolutions.

Fast forward a couple of weeks after that initial harried morning, and the early morning experiment is still in full swing, although 5 a.m. has most definitely not happened (yet).  I appreciate the quiet time for reflection, minor housework, and coffee that comes with the house still asleep.

Right now I get up about 30-45 minutes before everyone else, feed the pets, make coffee, get dressed for the day, and straighten up the house in that time–all things that were being done in a huge rush with small people underfoot before I began the early morning experiment.  Ultimately, I want to wake up even earlier (maybe 5 a.m.?) and make time for devotions and exercise as well.  These are things that help to nurture me, which help to make me a better wife and mother.  Plus, we aren’t so rushed and cranky in the mornings if I can get these things done distraction-free.

The toughest part so far has been turning off and turning in at a reasonable hour each night.  I have found that the last hour or so I am up at night is essentially wasted on social media, TV, or other not-so-constructive activities.  I continue to work on better managing my time–after all, it is a precious gift!

What time do you wake up in the mornings, and why?

Ronnica’s Resolutions for 2016

Sometimes I think that I just write this blog to provide myself some accountability. I’m pretty sure I’m 75% more likely to do something if I have put the idea to paper, and three times as likely if I share it with others. (I’ve arrived at these numbers less than scientifically.)

Now that 2016 is here, it’s time to share what my goals are for the year. Because I have my 101 in 1001 list, I don’t make formal goals for the year, but I do want to use the opportunity that comes with a new year to try to work on things that I’ve been struggling with.

The biggest area of opportunity for 2016 is the general mess of my apartment. I know what needs to be done, I just need to do it.

To this end, I’ve decided to dedicate 30 minutes each day for cleaning/straightening until I get it under control. Hopefully it won’t be something that has to take 30 minutes a day forever, but I need to change the momentum of my mess.

A part of this effort has been identifying a few organizational steps that I can take to maximize my efforts. I’ll be sharing more about those projects in a future post.
journal and BibleSimilar to Amanda’s resolutions, I also want to focus on starting my days more intentionally. I know from experience that how I start the day sets the tone for the rest of the day.

While I’ve broken myself of the habit of sleeping with my phone, it has become the first thing I turn to when I wake up. I am still going to allow myself to check for any incoming texts (otherwise I will be focused on what I may be missing), but then I will be putting it back down until I have completed my Bible reading and journaling time. No TV, radio or music whatsoever during this time either.

I hope by allowing God’s Word to be the first thing to speak to me (instead of whoever’s posts or tweets I happen to run across) will help shape my day and make it easier to notice His promptings throughout the rest of my day.

With both of these resolutions, there are going to be days I fail. Maybe even weeks I fail. I’m not demanding perfection of myself, just a willingness to change and some effort even when I don’t want to give it.

I’ll be updating in February to let you know how these efforts are going in addition to the results of my 3rd Buy Little month.

What are you working on this year?

My “Small” House

Our house is not nearly this big.
Our house is not nearly this big.

When Riley and I first moved into our current home back in 2010, it seemed huge to me–likely because we were only moving the two of us and one dog from a small apartment, so we had fewer possessions.

Thought we still have quite a ways to go in the culling possessions/organization department, I think we make very good use of the space we have:  approximately 1100 square feet for four people and an assortment of pets–three bedrooms and 1.5 baths.

On more than one occasion, however, it has come to my attention that, according to the standards of many, our house is rather small.  The first time the size of our house was brought to my attention was about two years ago, with the comment of, “Wow, your house is so cute…and small!”

Variations on this comment have been said with relative frequency since that time, particularly when we have company over (admittedly, it can be a tight fit for more than just a couple of guests).   We don’t have a guest bedroom (instead using a blow-up mattress in a private area of the basement).  We don’t have an office for the three days a week Riley works from home (instead using part of the sub-basement for an office).  We don’t have a dedicated playroom (probably for the best though–instead the kids’ rooms house the majority of their books and toys).

I suppose that, compared to some houses in this country, our house is rather small (though nothing compared to tiny houses).  Conversely, our house is a mansion compared to other homes in the world.  I am pretty content with our “small” home, but falling into the comparison trap with the homes of others is something I’m not immune to.  Here are a couple of things that aid me in staying content with our abode.

I remind myself what living in a modest home permits us to do.  Staying at home with our kids is one of our top priorities, and not having a large mortgage payment each month helps make this possible.  Bonus:  we paid for the house ourselves–there’s something to be said for pride of ownership.

I remind myself that our home has everything we need (and want).  Would I like an upgraded kitchen and bathrooms?  Absolutely.  Would I appreciate a two-car garage for more storage (since we only have one car, we wouldn’t need the space for a second car)?  Sure.  But we have a fully functioning kitchen and bathrooms, and not having a whole lot of extra space means we keep our clutter under control.  Having a smaller house also means we have ample opportunity to spend time together as a family–no one can go off and do their own thing without anyone else knowing.  This “small” house gives us all we need and more.

I remind myself that less house=less cleaning.  Pretty self-explanatory.  I like a neat space, but I also don’t want to be a slave to housework.

What about you?  What are your thoughts on living small?

Photo by Fotorus.