Sunday, December 30, 2018

2019 Savings Stratgy


Five years ago, when we moved to Maryland, we had many future expenses that we needed to save monthly for.  Some of these were:  
  • Furnace Oil - two or three fill ups per year, depending on how cold it was, approximately $500 each
  • Dental Insurance - quarterly
  • Water/Sewer - quarterly
  • Summer Vacation
  • Used vehicle repair - $200 per month based on a history of what we'd spent in prior years
  • Pet Vet care - $100 per month - two elderly pets required more care
  • Annual memberships - Prime/Costco
  • House Taxes - that's a big one
We would save this money each month in a separate bank account called "Reserve" and pull the money out as it was needed.

After five years of discipline, it finally dawned on me that we were living so close to our budget, that we no longer needed to separate out this money in its own separate account.  I've decided to lump it in with our three-month emergency fund where as one bigger sum, it can earn more interest in a money market account.

I read recently from another blogger who had 17 different savings accounts to save for different things.  The time it would take to maintain that many accounts is daunting to me.  I fully believe we are finally disciplined enough to stick with our budget and not mistakenly use up these reserve funds and I feel better about putting it in one location where it's available but can earn more interest.


Friday, December 28, 2018

Giving Generously

I've learned to give generously as an adult, both through my Christian faith and heartfelt desire to help others.  I don't think one needs to be a Christian to have this desire, I've got many friends who are not religious and very generous, but for me it's a combination of both.

One of my favorite verses is this:
Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.  Luke 6:38
I don't attend a prosperity church, so I'm not of the mind that giving must be to the church, I feel it should be given to whoever you meet who is in need and you have the available resources to help that person.

We've gotten to a point where we give easily and without hesitation throughout the year but it still came as a surprise when this year, especially recently, we began to get many things in return!'

When we left Florida we gave away most of our furniture, some was old, some was fairly new but we were moving to my mom's fully furnished house and didn't have room or want to store things for years.

After moving to our new house, we had no chairs and living room furniture.  Family stepped in to give us a couch, recliner and chairs for our table.  These items felt like a huge blessing because we had so willing given away our own things 5 years ago!

A couple at church gave us three very nice high quality polo shirts for my son, just as I started thinking I needed to get him something that wouldn't need ironing.

In December, I noticed my daughter's coat was looking too thin for winter and started thinking I had better get her something warmer when suddenly an older girl decided to gift her a beautiful red coat that was just gorgeous and perfect.

We've wanted to get our youngest a beanbag as we only had 3, but 4 kids.  I'd looked but hadn't found any yet that were a color she might like.  Suddenly someone wanted to gift us a purple and white one!

Recently I started thinking about how much I loved macadamia nuts from my days of working at Bucks County Nut & Coffee company but thought they would cost too much right now with Christmas expenses.  Suddenly I got a bag from a co-worker who didn't even know how much I loved these!

This past summer we were given cowboy boots and a Wii system!  The boots were very needed as my husband's prior boots had a hole that we hadn't managed to get fixed.

My best friends from high school give us clothes their children have grown out of twice a year.

Recently we offered to help a school mom out by offering to let her child stay with us for the weekend while she went out of town to work and she dropped off what seemed to be over $50 in groceries!  Our fridge was filled to the max and we had more than enough for us and the child for the weekend plus the entire week!  We really didn't expect anything like that and had honestly offered with no expectations of anything. 

We live frugally, meaning we don't buy something the second we think about needing something.  This has helped in many cases that we think about a need, wait a few weeks and then suddenly someone gifts us that very item.

I don't give expecting to get anything in return, I'm probably the most surprised of anyone at how many things we've been given and sadly I feel that I'm forgetting a few things.

It's with a very grateful, thankful heart that I write this post and I hope this can serve as an encouragement to others to give freely; it feels good to meet needs and it feels great to have needs met in return!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Fired by Pinecone Research

At some point I stopped getting research requests.  I finally wrote to them to ask if I could be included in more surveys and got a vague respones saying from time to time they update their panelest and if I had been removed then I couldn't be reinstated.  I was kinda sad!  I liked doing their surveys but some were quite time intensive.  I see them constantly promoted in these blogs that like to suggest easy money making deals so just thought I'd put this out there that it might not be a long term gig.  Mine lasted about one year when I started noticing it taper off.  I think I made $23 in total and got a bag of free dog food for a review.

Friday, December 21, 2018

White Chocolate Cranberry Scones

December is cranberry month!  Time for Cranberry Surprise Loaf and these awesome scones!!

Ingredients
  • 3 cups self-rising flour
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup non-salted butter cold
  • 1 egg
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 1 cup white chocolate chips
  • 3/4 cup dried cranberries
Use a food processor to chop the white chocolate chips into tiny bits and then pour these into a small bowl.  Next, put one cup of flour into the same food processor with butter and pulse until combined.  I then move the flour/butter mixture into a Kitchen Aid mixer and add remaining dry ingredients.  

Mix egg and buttermilk in a 1 cup container and add to the dry ingredients.

Add all ingredients together and mix on high until well blended.  It will be very thick, you may need to dig the mixture off the whip and then continue mixing to get everything blended.

On a floured surface, roll the dough 3/4" - 1" thick.  I use a 2" circle cutter to make my scones, you could also go the traditional triangle route if that is your preference.  I continue rolling until all dough is used up; there is no such thing as wasted dough in this house.  The last scone is usually hand balled and flattened into a scone patty, much like you would make a hamburger.

Place the cut scones onto a cookie sheet and bake for 14 minutes at 325.  

Enjoy!



Thursday, December 20, 2018

Embroidery

Embroidery is something I learned as a young child where we had no TV at home until we were teenagers.  I got quite good at it but stopped as a teen.

In 2016, I went to visit a friends cabin in the woods for the weekend with my children and it seemed somehow suitable to bring a sewing project so I went to Michael's and loaded up on supplies.  Since then, I've found it very calming to do during long conference calls and I seem to be able to participate without missing a beat.  I do wonder sometimes, if I could get away with doing it in person?  Maybe I'll try it someday.  There has been much written on doodlers processing information better during meetings, so I figure sewing is a similar process of keeping ones fingers busy while listening and participating in a call.

Here are the items I've done since 2016:









Thursday, November 15, 2018

Snow in November!

One day before my birthday it snowed like eight inches!  We got to see how it looks in our new backyard.  The oldest kids stayed out for almost two hours with Sam trying to build an igloo. 






I paid off our student loans and vehicle!

I just felt this had to be announced publicly!  I'm 42 and my student loans are paid off along with both our vehicles. 

We sold the fixer upper property that we had bought end of 2015.  It had become clear to us that renovating that home and paying a mortgage on our new home was not possible so we sold it in October and I've used that money to pay off both student loan and our new-to-us vehicle bought in May/June this year.  We will invest the remaining balance in Vanguard.

So we are down to one debt, our mortgage and after reviewing the payments and seeing only $141.58 goes to principle I'll be happily throwing the money we were spending on student loan/vehicle on the house which is an extra $500 per month.  With the help of Dave Ramsey's mortgage payoff calculator, I see this will shave 6 years, 3 months and 45% savings on interest! 

We made 4 vehicle payments of $288.67 and when I paid off the vehicle, the interest had made it where we had only made a $100 dent in the loan amount.  If that doesn't freak you out enough to make double payments or pay off loans as quickly as possible I don't know what will!  It certainly drove me crazy. 

I hate debt with a passion.  I know some debt like a mortgage is necessary, but I'm counting down the time until that is paid off - 14 years!  Maybe we can get that down to 10 years!  We can only do our best. 

Friday, October 26, 2018

We sold our fixer upper house

It was hard to part with this house after putting so much time and effort into planning renovations, but the fact is we don't have the money or time to continue putting into this house. 

Our plan at the beginning of the summer was to get another loan that might allow us to continue working on the home but in the end, it was easier and faster to get a loan for a better condition home then to continue working on this one.  Once we had made the decision to buy another home, it just didn't make sense to continue putting money into the fixer upper.

I'm very disappointed in Maryland Washington County contractors for their complete lack of professionalism in not calling us back regularly, this is something you don't hear about in TV fixer upper shows.  The cost was always considerably more then what we'd budgeted for and not knowing the business of construction made it very hard to project manage our renovation. 

I don't like to give up but I think it's important to know when to walk away and this was one of those times to let it go. 

We sold the house for 50K, 10K more then what we bought for at the end of 2015, but 10K less then what we had put into it.  It's okay, we'd have lost more in taxes and insurance if we'd continued to hold until spring to hope we might get a little more.  We can now use this money to pay off debt and invest the balance which makes me a very happy person.

Saturday, October 20, 2018

Lamma Island, Hong Kong

After spending over 10 days in China I was so relieved to arrive in Hong Kong with a day off.  I had determined that I would go out and do something that required walking because after the prior weekend, I went back to work of sitting on my butt for 10+ hours.

Lamma Island is a place where friend blogger Grit lived for 1-2 years awhile back and she had me come visit her there twice.  It takes two ferries to get there + a taxi ride and when there I walked 3 miles to get to the beach so lucky for me it was a cloudy day in the high 70's.

Here are some photos from my adventure:






Only tiny work vehicles are permitted, like this.



Very lush and tropical.


This is the pretty view, the other side faces the electrical plant.


Mango smoothie at beach hotel/restaurant!

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Shenzhen, China 2018

My first week in China was spent working 10-12 hour days until Sunday, when the office was closed for a day.  My host took me to downtown Shenzhen for lunch and a walk around a park afterwards.  After a week of sitting, I very much enjoyed the walk and scenery.













Thursday, October 11, 2018

Orange Mushrooms 2018

This is all we got this year.  I don't know what happened but it makes me very sad.


Sunday, September 23, 2018

Purple Sweet Potatoes

Looking back on my posts from last year and they are all about purple sweet potatoes.  We didn't grow any this year and I'm really sad about that.  I just ordered two pounds on Amazon and the price came to $20.87.  Our favorite baked item from last year's crop was purple sweet potato scones.  Fortunately I learned to make them with about 2oz of paste for an entire receipe so I was able to really stretch those sweet potatoes.  Looking forward to these in about two weeks! 

Next year - it's about the purple! 

Saturday, September 22, 2018

Garden 2018


In the spring, we knew we'd be moving in 6 months or less and that our summer would be extra busy with the move so we scaled back on the garden to less tomato plants, a few bell pepper bushes, one jalapeno bush and butternut squash.  I think there might be some garlic and potatoes in there somewhere, I guess we'll see when it gets turned in a few weeks.  

My butternut squash was moved to a new location because it's had some mixed history.  In our first year of gardening at mom's house, we planted butternut and acorn squash.  It was a bumper crop on both and we loaded the freezer for a year.  The following year they mixed and produced a disappointing white pumpkin so the next year we skipped all squash.  Our compost bed seems to be a hot bed for repopulating squash because I toss out all the seeds into the compost and I guess it doesn't get hot enough to kill them.  So this year, we started a new bed that had not been cross contaminated with any other squash.  From 2-3 starter seeds, I ended with 10-12 butternuts in various sizes.

Butternut Squash can last up to 6 months in 55 degrees but I don't have a way to keep food at this temperature.  Maybe one day I'll have an extra fridge that I can keep at this temp, that would be awesome because then I wouldn't have to process all my squash by Thanksgiving.

After picking the butternuts at the beginning of September, I give them about two weeks to cure.  This simply means letting them rest in an indoor temperature of around 77 degrees to let excess moisture work its way out, if not completely ripened then I'll set them in the sun until green goes away or under a heat lamp if I'm worried about bugs.  I get super anxious about bugs getting my squash so sometimes have to pick them early to prevent loss.  After curing, I move them to the basement which is around 70 degrees and keep them there for up to 13 weeks.  I don't like going past Thanksgiving because my basement has too much moisture, even with a dehumidifier, and they tend to not last well after that point.

I have 4 basic recipes that I use all my squash on:
* Butternut Squash Casserole - uses 2lbs
* Butternut Squash Pie - 1lb
* Butternut Squash Bread or Muffins - 1 cup
* Butternut Squash Mac N Cheese - 1lb

I bake the squash for 1 hour and 15 minutes, then put the squash (not including skin) into a food processor until smooth.  For casserole and Mac N Cheese, I simply weigh it and put into containers that freeze well.  For pie, bread and muffins, I drain the squash overnight in a strainer to get excess liquid out.  For baked items it's best to work with a more solid squash.  I used to strain all my squash but it takes up so much room in the fridge when baking 2 giant squash at one time!  This helps divide it up better over the fridge/freezer space.

I really should have named this post "Butternut Squash Strategy". 

This is definately a favorite squash and when we don't grow it, I find myself hitting up local farmers quite a bit and it can feel expensive buying 10-12 squash at $3-4 per squash and in grocery stores it's always by the pound.  This year I grew mine from seeds and it's quite satisfing to save  $40 - 50!  

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

We bought a Town House!

We started looking at properties in May with our trusted real estate agent and the market was moving fast.  Everything we looked at and liked was gone in 24 hours.  We got pre-approved to make things go faster but due to our nature of wanting a night to think and pray about a home we continued to lose out on every property.  Some might have been due to not having a decent down payment, our money was still tied up in the property we bought in 2015 so we only had 3.5% to put down and sellers like to bet on a buyer who will be able to complete the deal.

I had set my heart on 120K as the price we needed because I wanted my mortgage to be just under 1K so that we could afford to make 1.5 payments. 

This is one of the reasons houses were going so fast as we were looking in this low range.  Homes either needed tremendous work, no thanks, already tried that, or they were snapped up extremely fast.  We tried looking upwards to 150K but I was very reluctant to move forward and lost several homes in that range as well. 

At church one day, we let a friend know we were looking for a house and they just happened to be selling their townhouse.  I was really hoping for a bigger yard and stand alone house, but their price was 120K, 4 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms and recently renovated.  I literally had no compelling reasons to say no, in fact, it really did seem like heaven opened this opportunity just for us.  Our friends put us in touch with a fantastic mortgage broker who we absolutely adored working with, Integrity Home Mortgage Byron Reed, these guys were incredibly easy to work with, highly enthusiastic and encouraging.  They made it fun to buy a house.

There is a bit of work to do throughout the home to finish the renovations that our friends did, but it's very livable and we can get these things done over time. 

Monday, September 10, 2018

How we saved 10K for closing costs

Throughout 2017 and at the beginning of 2018 I was certain my mom's husband was going to pass away and this would be our trigger to look for new housing.  We were living in my mom's house, while she lived with her 2nd husband in town at his house and she would of course want to come back to her home.  We saved while paying off loans but it wasn't adding up fast enough.  By the end of 2017 we had $660.97 in Vanguard and I realized my biggest problem was I had pockets of money in too many locations so I decided to consolidate all savings into the Vanguard money market account.  Easy to drop in, easy to take out.

Acorns - I wrote a post here about my experiment with this app, it didn't work out for me, maybe I wasn't aggressive enough but I figured at the end of the day, money will grow faster if it's all put into one location and can grow based on size so this was the first account to go.  Cash out value $270.39.

Jury Duty, Ebay Sales, Unused Medical, Surveys - $1140.45
Most of these are self explanatory.  Unused medical is from saving $200 per month in a basic savings account.  We have Samaritan Ministries which is a cost sharing plan where members pay a base monthly fee, ours is around $450 and this covers other members medical fees.  We pay our own routine doctor visits out of pocket from the $200 per month, this includes flu shots, contacts,  and prescriptions; whatever is leftover at the end of the year goes into our master savings account.

Costco Rebate - $526.33

State Farm savings account - $1067.59

Consolidated another savings account and closed a non-performing E-trade account - $635.51

Side Hustle Account - $1452.38 (from consignment sales)

By this point we were in June and with dividends we had around $5800.  We had already found the house we wanted to buy and were working with a mortgage company so we knew we needed 10K by August or September.  We realized we needed to save $1500 per month for the next three months to reach 10K.  Those last three months were hard, especially as they went through the summer months where we tend to spend a little more on vacation and had to get new tires for the main vehicle but somehow we managed to make it to the 10K mark in time to close on September 12th!

When I look back at the specific amounts that went into this closing cost, it makes me chuckle, who would think jury duty pay would help towards closing costs?  The point is, if you get extra money and don't need it for monthly expenses then squirrel it away in one account that can build more interest.  We made $55.16 in dividends with Vanguards simple money market account in this year.  It's better than what our bank accounts can offer and it built faster the more we had in there.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Big Texas Vacation 2018

We've done it again, driven 3 days to reach Texas.  Every time I tell someone about this adventure they look at me like I have 3 heads.  Why?  And every year we say the same thing, the cost to buy 6 tickets, rent vehicle once there, yada yada yada  is cost prohibitive so we choose to drive and see stuff on the way.

Somewhere I have a big list of all the things we packed last year, but I couldn't find it and figured we'd work it out along the way.  Subsequently we forgot our blow up mattress which serves as our 3rd bed in hotels when we can only find two beds.  It's exceedingly hard to find 2 beds and a pull-out, as I learned the hard way but we managed to for both nights.

On the return, I'll take our in-law's spare home with us.

The kids all borrowed my travel pillow extensively so may need to bring their travel pillows next trip.

I write these posts in the hopes that I'll re-read them before the next trip and plan accordingly.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Rock City 2018

Every year we try to visit at least one memorable park or historical location during our trip to Texas.  This year we went to a childhood favorite of mine, Rock City.  I enjoyed watching the kids reaction as we raced accross the swinging bridge (it was much smaller than I remember it being), squeeze through the skinny cave passes and count the gnomes.  The food at the on-site restaurant was also very good! 















Thursday, May 17, 2018

Tips for selling on Ebay

You've heard the saying, "One man's trash is another man's treasure".  It's so true with Ebay.  To date, these are some of the things I've sold on Ebay:

1.  Sonic Toothbrush - original value $119, sat in my bathroom for 8 years unused.  Sold for $15.

2.  Apple iPod Touch 4th generation - sat in a box unused for 2 years because the camera and sound didn't work.  I was very clear in my description of what worked and because it's very old, I even listed out all the apps that would work.  I sold it for $10.00 in one day.

3.  MobiGo 2 Games - two games, sold together for $3.75.  I tried going higher, selling separate but when I dropped to this price and put a Buy Now price it sold in a day.

4. MogiGo 2 game consoles - once I found our kids preferred playing with iPhones based on all the free game apps, I decided to sell these on ebay.  They each sold for $35 and 25 last year.

5.  iPhone 4's - we've sold 2-3 of these after the kids moved onto iPhone 5's.

6.  iPod 5's - we sold these 2-3 months after buying them on Ebay because they didn't work with Pokemon Go, apparently iPods don't have the built in GPS needed for that name so we basically resold them for what we had bought them for.

7.  Crock Pot - this was my first item ever to sell on Ebay, but I didn't pack it correctly and had to return the buyers money when one of the handles broke in transit.  I was very sad about that but it was a lesson learned.

8.  Plexus Slim - I got tired of the drink and mad that I had paid so much for it and decided to resell the remaining packets in groups of 10.  Sold in less than a week.

9.  Rodan and Fields - I got tired of using the expensive creams and decided to sell my remaining unopened items and got most of my money back on them.

10.  Unit that calculates gas to mileage usage - I was never able to use it because it didn't work with our vehicles and the model was no longer being produced so I was thrilled to re-sell this for about what I had paid for it!  It just shows that it doesn't hurt to put something out there to see if someone else is willing to pay for it.

Tips:
* Prep your items on Friday because people seem to really like shopping on Saturday
* Forget the auction unless you have an item people WILL fight over, people want there stuff NOW so choose the BUY NOW option and sometimes, even select the box that lets them name a price, you don't have to accept it, but it allows your or the buyer to have choices.  Maybe my item isn't moving and finally one person wants to buy it for a few dollars less, who cares, it's money in my pocket so I say yes.
* Be ready to ship your items they day they are bought, have them packed but don't close the package because you need to add a packing slip
* Weigh your item before selecting shipping, anything under 1 pound will cost a certain level but if more then you really want to get the weight accurate because the cost of shipping goes up and Ebay does an estimate for you so you don't want to get this wrong.  I use a kitchen scale.
* Electronics are the easiest to sell on ebay, I tell my friends, don't leave old iPhones in a drawer to collect dust, just because you can't use it doesn't mean someone else out there will not want it.  Get the phone officially unlocked through the phone service you've had on it and sell it!  It's so easy to do a search on what other models are selling and then price yours accordingly.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

How to be an awesome millennial employee

I've been managing employees for over 15 years and in recent years, I've picked up a few great millennial employees.  Here is a list of what I absolutely love to see:

1.  Enthusiasm - I have one person who's first job out of college is working for me and her prior work experience is an internship with our company.  She is awesome because no matter what I ask her to do, her response is always positive.  I've asked her to go through inventory to find one item and her response is always "sure!".  I love it.  As a manager, I know that sometimes I'm asking someone to do something that's not fun or easy but it's just so nice to work with positive people who don't complain. 

2.   Quick to react - another response I love to hear is "I'm on it!", it makes me laugh every time.  It might not be the way an older worker would respond but it's such an enthusiastic way to respond to a request.  It's always followed by quick action to do whatever I've asked this person to do.

3.  Excitement - I got this response from an intern recently, "yess!! I wanted to do this! cool".  I quite nearly fell off my chair.  As someone who has been in the industry for 15+ years, things lose their coolness factor, and it's just so refreshing to have someone with that energy level who's not intimidated by unknowns and new factors.  I love it.

4.  Questions - if you don't understand what I'm asking you to do, ask questions.  Don't do it wrong just because you're afraid to ask questions. 

5.  Retain what you are taught - I had a girl at one point in my career who couldn't seem to retain important details.  It gets exhausting to have to retrain, reteach and help someone who doesn't want to stop and figure things out for themselves.  This may sound like I'm contradicting myself with point 4 so I guess I should clarify that I like new questions, not repeats of the same questions. 

Friday, May 04, 2018

Why I closed my Acorns account

When we started our financial journey to save for remodeling, I looked into a bunch of apps that were popular on many different financial blogs.  Sometimes I think things are promoted because the blogger gets a kick-back so it's hard to know what is worth while.  I kept seeing rave reviews for Acorns and tried it for one year.  Here are the reasons I finally decided to close my account.

In one year I saved $271.32.  I chose the Aggressive portfolio and Acorns charged $1.00 per month to manage my account.  After one year, my cash out value was $270.39.

Recently I got an email saying they were changing the account fee to $2.00 per month until accounts reach one million.  Considering my first year progress, I think I’d lose more money so I’ve decided to close the account and consolidate my savings in another investment account with Vanguard that will earn potentially more when combined with other funds.  To date I haven’t lost money with Vanguard.

Acorns might be a nice way to spur beginning investors, but you’d probably do better with automatic monthly deposits to a savings account that’s guaranteed a tiny amount of interest.  I’d rather have money saved then lost so the Acorns app just doesn’t work out for me.  I don’t know how many years I’d have to save to come out on top with this app.

Tips for buying anything on Ebay

Follow these tips and you will save yourself grief and frustration:

1.  Always - check out the buyers profile and look for these things:
  • Reviews - if he/she has solid reviews then they care about their business
  • # of items being sold, if he/she has 2 items for sell, then they might not be serious sellers, although I break my own rule all the time when I run out of stuff to sell or don't have time to restock so you can always refer back to rule one 
  • Length of time on Ebay, if it's a new account, the risk is high that the seller doesn't have a clue on how to sell on Ebay
2.  Ebay's Refund Policy - Even if the buyer says they won't take returns, Ebay will force them to if they lie about a product description or just get it wrong.  I recently needed to return a cell phone that was incorrectly marked as unlocked and the seller did not answer my emails in the time that Ebay allows for seller and buyer to settle things so once it got to the review board, they settled in my favor and returned all funds, including shipping.

Based on this, I feel pretty safe to buy on Ebay.  

Saturday, April 07, 2018

Violette and her new baby

Violette recently celebrated her 6th birthday.  I guess she wanted to extend the celebrations a little longer because a few days after the cake and new toys wore off, she picked up this brick at a church party and called it her new baby.  The brick got wrapped lovingly in her coat and brought to the van with the greatest care.