Sunday, January 31, 2016

Sunday Funday

I'm pretty tired this morning (my body clock is still not adjusted, which means I couldn't fall asleep on time last night.) I'm really struggling to wake up & be productive!

Here's what's on the schedule for today:

  1. Take the boys to soccer practice
  2. Run/walk during their practice
  3. Arm workout
  4. Yoga
  5. Make pizza dough for our dinner
  6. Bake bread
  7. Make taco meat for freezer
  8. About an hour or so of work stuff that's crept up over the weekend
  9. Work week plan with nanny & M
  10. Menu plan for the week
  11. Recap January goals
  12. Set February goals 
  13. Figure out a date with M
  14. Clean up work calendar (including setting workouts)
  15. Order remaining boys birthday presents

And, to just kick off #10, here goes!

  • Saturday - kebabs & rice (last night)
  • Sunday - homemade pizza. I'm thinking of chicken pesto pizza for the adults, and pepperoni for the kiddos.
  • Monday - eggplant & meatballs with pasta (leftover tortellini)
  • Tuesday - tacos
  • Wednesday - leftover kebabs & rice (I have a work dinner) 
  • Thursday - chicken taquitos (me) & tacos (kids) - M will be at a dinner
  • Friday - oven baked chicken risotto

What about you? What's on your menu this week? Any big goals or challenges to accomplish on the last day of the month? :-) 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

January budget wrap up

So happy that it's Saturday! I need to clean the house today, as well as get two boys to soccer games & get in some exercise. In super un-frugal news, I left M some prepared food while I traveled last week. One of which was a two-pack of flatbread from Costco that M asked for. I made a list of all possible dinner options, expecting that everything would be eaten. M didn't know that the flatbread had to be used or frozen pretty quickly. Anyway, I noticed it in the fridge when I got home yesterday & took it out to freeze & it was already moldy. So, $14.99 straight to the trash, which didn't please me in any way. ;-) Valuable lesson learned, as I could have made 4 homemade pizzas at that price!

It's the end of the first month of the year (woohoo, 2016!), so time to take stock of our first month's budget. Without further ado, here's how we did in January.

We were over our monthly budget by $850.

Yikes! That's no way to start off the year! So, what went wrong, you ask?

Areas where we were over:

  • Childcare, by $300. This is to register the boys for a camp in February (they have a week off of school). What's not reflected here is that the camp was actually $478, so I managed to keep the standard childcare costs (our nanny) quite a bit under budget ($178 less than predicted) by closely managing our schedules. The boys have a bunch of days off during the school year (another day in February, a day off in March, spring break in April, etc), so I still need to sort those costs out.
  • Entertainment, by $40. We typically spend nothing on entertainment, despite having a small monthly budget allocated for it. This month, we promised to take the kids to Star Wars, hence the overage. We should be back under by next month.
  • Groceries, by $100. The bane of my existence. I've come up with a few ways to cut this down. More to come. 
  • Alcohol, by $48. We stocked up on wine. 
  • Utilities, by $626. Wow! Not only is it our most expensive power month of the year (two houses), I also had to pay our yearly handy man fee for our vacation house. He keeps an eye on the house while we're not there. We should be back to under our budget. The utilities budget is a monthly average of our total spend, so I expect all other months in 2016 to be significantly under budget. 

We were also under budget in some areas:
  • Dining out, by $140. Woohoo! Both of the meals out were consumed when I was a) at a work dinner and b) traveling. Both times, M took the kids to a local favorite. We spent a total of $59 on dining out in January, which feels pretty great. 
  • Gas, by $127. I'll revisit our gas bill again, as it's likely too high given current fuel costs.
And, there you have it! We can definitely continue to trim things back, but I feel like we're starting to hit a frugal groove. Excited for the shortest month of the year up next. :-)

How did you do on your January spending? 

Friday, January 29, 2016

How do we spend our grocery money?

First up, I'm back from Tokyo & super jet lagged, so please excuse any nonsensical statements or errors. :-)

I'm calling it a day (ha ha) for January, and adding up all of our expenses for the month. I've been trying to understand more about where we spend our grocery dollars, so this month, I made an effort to track what we're actually buying, and group it into categories.

So, without further ado, here's a summary of how we spent our grocery money in January:

Total spent = $652.01. Disappointing on its own, as our goal is $550.

  • Dairy - 13.5% of the spending. This included organic eggs, milk, cheddar cheese, feta, & parmesan cheese. Apparently, we eat a lot of cheese. ;-)
  • Fruit - 19% of the spending. Grapes are the most expensive fruit we buy, at $10 for a Costco container. M& I disagree on this purchase, as the grape quality is very hit or miss.
  • Grains - 5%, and that's unusually high (I think?), as I stocked up on pasta on sale.
  • Meat/fish - 21% of the spending. This included beef, sausage, shrimp, fish, chicken. 
  • Vegetables - 22% of the spending.
  • Snacks - 4%, and this is because Nick is in charge of a "store" every other week at school as part of a classroom learning event, and has to supply his own snacks. I could have made my own, but both times I was traveling or otherwise occupied when he needed to bring in something. Plus, I think pretzel chips & tortilla chips that were for our family.
  • Pantry - 9.5%. We were out of a lot at the beginning of the year - olive oil, vanilla, mustard, plus two jars of tahini (hummus making) that were on clearance.
  • Prepared foods - 7%. This is unusually high (again, I think), as I stocked up on food for M to make easy dinners while I was traveling. He works much later than I do, so when I travel, meals have to be quick & easy.

It's pretty fascinating to see it all broken out, and now I know which areas I want to keep a closer eye on over the upcoming months. I'm also curious to see if the percentages change in any significant way.

How about you? Do you track your grocery spending? Here's hoping for an inexpensive February!! :-) 

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Saturday happenings

Why hello there, Saturday. It feels more like a Sunday, as I have to head to the airport tomorrow at 9:00 am. Oh boy. But, by leaving on a Sunday morning, we can maximize our time in the office & still be back by Thursday night. I have to take the red eye on Thursday (Tokyo time), but hopefully I can sleep a little on the return flight.

So, here's what's up on this somewhat rainy, somewhat sunny Saturday!

  1. Take the kids to the library. Done, although Nick forgot the overdue book at school, & now I owe $2.75. If I check out the boys books on my account, I get fined if they are overdue. However, our library doesn't actually charge late fees on the kids accounts. Must remember this for next time. 
  2. Roughly estimate our taxes. Again, SUPER rough, as I just use our tax percentage from last year & try to back into the numbers. But, this is done! I have us budgeted to owe another $20K, just to be safe, but I think it will be significantly less. *fingers crossed*. By doing this, I can now have a better sense of our bonus money allocation for the year. 
  3. Hit the produce stand. Done. I got radishes, romaine, cucumber, & whole wheat lavosh bread (M uses it every morning for breakfast). 
  4. 45 minutes of cardio. 
  5. Yoga
  6. Take Nick to his soccer game.
  7. Pack for my trip. 90% of the way there. The rest needs to be packed tomorrow.
  8. Reply to a couple of urgent emails from our VP. Done. Always a treat on a Saturday morning. ;-) 
  9. Plan next week, send schedule to M & our nanny. 
  10. Drop off leftover sleepover items at Nick's friend's house. He somehow forgot to do this all week.
  11. Laundry
  12. Make homemade pizza. Dough is made, just the rollout/topping part remains.
  13. Make Costco list.
  14. Go to the grocery store to use a $5 off of a $25 purchase coupon. Found some huge deals, including 2lb bags of pasta for $2. It's very rare to find a pound of pasta for under $1 these days, and my boys eat *a lot* of pasta. I also had one $1 off the pasta coupon, and found closeout tahini for $6.99 to round out my order. Also had to pick up jello for a school project. All told, I saved 40% on my order, which was pretty great. We rarely go to the grocery store (just Costco & the produce stand), but the occasional stop can pay off.
And, that's it! I hope you are all having an outstanding weekend. What are you trying to accomplish today? 

Friday, January 22, 2016

40 week plan - I'm halfway there

I can't believe I'm half way through! And, to be fair, there may be some wiggle in my exact end date, based on some stock vest. But, I can officially say that I've made it 20 weeks into my plan! It's gone both very quickly & very slowly, depending on the week. ;-)

So, how am I doing on my goals?

  1. Build a "new life" budget. Figure out exactly what we need to make, which areas we can cut, etc. There are some obvious changes (taxes will decrease, childcare will go down, I will get rid of the cleaning lady, etc) to take into account. - Done, although I'm sure tweaks remain. 
  2. Figure out how much it will cost to enroll me, plus the kids on M's insurance plan. I should be able to figure this out quickly, as we work for the same company. - Done. 
  3. Figure out an exit date that allows me to capture a final quarterly stock vest (6/25). Maybe a combination of vacation days & working an extra week after the boys are done with school. - I've mostly landed on a plan, although will be dependent upon a few details as we get closer. 
  4. Build a summer budget & plans to ensure we have enough "flex". - Done
  5. Live off of our "new life" budget as much as possible, as early as possible. Obviously, we won't be able to cut down childcare until I stop working, but we may switch to a bimonthly cleaning, etc, to try & save more & prepare ourselves. - Done. We've made the switch on the cleaning side, and I've also taken a bunch of other expenses down a bit (or, a lot) so we can save more in the meantime. 
  6. Get a grasp on how much we will owe in taxes in 2015, as taxes due will make a major dent in my current savings. - No, still waiting for M to provide me with some end of the year forms that will allow me to make some estimates. 
  7. Determine how much "flex" money I need in our savings in order for the "40 week project" to be a go. Actively track over the next 10 months. - Yes, I have a goal of $140,000. 
  8. Evaluate whether I can max out my 401K in 2016 with my bonus before I quit. . . this one will be totally dependent upon the new budget numbers.  - Yes! I maxed out my 401K yesterday, with my bonus. 
  9. Look for areas of our existing budget to cut back asap, so we can start building up a nice cushion. - we did a bit of this at the end of last year, but have really accelerated our savings in 2016. Woohoo!

And, in big news, I'm at just over $131,000 in my savings account at the half way mark! I'm very excited about this. Unfortunately, I won't be able to save up the same amount in the next 20 weeks, as much of the money was front loaded in the first half with stock options, etc. I'm only $9,000 short of my goal!!!!

On the more emotional side, the closer it gets, the more real it feels, I'm not going to lie. . . it's both exciting & terrifying. Talk to me about your big life changes! Hardest decision you've ever made, etc! 

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Menu Plan Tuesday, plus what we actually ate last week

I'm already missing the three day weekend, but onward & upward! Here's our menu plan for the week ahead (and a recap of what we had the last couple of days):
  • Sunday - crazy day with soccer games, so leftovers from the fridge
  • Monday - kebabs & rice
  • Tuesday - Tacos, chips & guacamole
  • Wednesday - Spaghetti & meatballs
  • Thursday - Tomato soup & grilled cheese sandwiches + salad
  • Friday - homemade taquitos & guacamole
  • Saturday - homemade calzones
  • Sunday - I'll be traveling, so M will make either pizza or pasta & some sort of protein for the kids.
And, because I love it when other bloggers share what they *actually* ate the prior week vs the meal plan, I thought I'd do the same. 

This was our menu plan from last week:

  • Sunday - rice, Persian beef kebabs, and yogurt sauce
  • Monday - leftover tacos for the kids, risotto for the adults
  • Tuesday - I'll be home late, so I'll ask the nanny to heat up the remaining chicken pastina for the adults, and spaghetti and meatballs for the kids
  • Wednesday - I have a work dinner, so I'm guessing M will either take the kids to Sweet Tomatoes, or heat up a frozen pizza
  • Thursday - leftover kebabs & rice
  • Friday - Chicken marsala casserole
  • Saturday - homemade calzones

And, what we ate:
  • Sunday - definitely had the rice & kebabs + yogurt. Yum!
  • Monday - We also had the leftover tacos & risotto, split between kids & adults
  • Tuesday - I didn't end up having to work late, so I had the pastina, M had still more risotto, and the kids had spaghetti & meatballs.
  • Wednesday - as I guessed, M did take the kids to Sweet Tomatoes for dinner
  • Thursday - yes, we had the leftover kebabs & rice!
  • Friday - I made chicken marsala casserole
  • Saturday - Nope, I didn't make the calzones, as we got home late from the movies. Instead, I took a couple of frozen pizzas (we had a sleepover guest as well) & doctored them up.

All told, I'm super impressed that we stayed on track & only had one deviation from the plan. Especially given that it was a bit of a crazy week. 

How about you? Did you stay on track for your menu plan? How often do you typically cook "fresh" meals, vs repurposing ones you already have? I find that we only need 2-3 fresh meals, and the rest are generally leftovers. 

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Frugal things, + Sunday updates

Just finished watching the Seahawks game (*sob*). What a rough way to go out. It's been a lovely & mostly relaxing afternoon.

I got up early (5:00), as Sam's sleepover buddy is apparently a very early riser. Oh boy. ;-) Got the kids fed breakfast, stripped the beds, washed the sheets, picked almost the last of the mandarins. . . those blasted squirrels are making the most enormous mess in my yard! I don't object to sharing the bounty with the animals, but they are the biggest mess makers, & put me in a foul mood!

Anyway, on to soccer practice, lunch (tomato soup & grilled cheese - delicious) & now I'm prepping dinner, despite the early hour. Both boys have games at different times this afternoon & evening, so I'm getting the dinner sorted, so everyone can eat, even if not together.

I also managed to get in a workout while the kids were at soccer practice, so I can mark that off of my list as well!

Here are a few frugal things we accomplished this week:

  • Contacted our trash service to reduce our pickup in half, as we've managed to cut our waste significantly. Saving = unknown, as we're waiting to hear back on our new bill. But, let's say conservatively we will save $100 this year.
  • Set up our trash service for automatic payment. While not frugal on the service, this reduces any potential risk of forgetting to pay, and gives us credit card rewards for a standard bill. It also just saves time.
  • Cleaned our own house, saving $80. (I pay the service $90, but gave each child $5 for about an hour's worth of work cleaning. The quality was not the best, but I know they will get better with supervision & feedback.)
  • Avoided grabbing takeout, when the movie we went to see ran later than expected yesterday. Instead, I doctored up a couple of frozen pizzas. Savings = $30
  • Bought candy at Rite Aid & divided it up into 5 bags (we went with other kids) to share, save money, & ensure no one got too much junk. ;-) Savings = $5+
  • No nanny tomorrow, which will save a minimum of $50, as we both have the day off work.

Total savings for the week = $265. Not bad for just paying attention & making frugal choices!!

What about you? How is your Sunday going? Did you have any frugal wins for the week?

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The month is half over - how am I doing?

I got up early this morning, made the kids breakfast, plus breakfast for me & M, cleaned the entire house & got in a workout by 10. ;-) I'm feeling productive! I have a few more chores to finish, & then I'll be taking the kids to the movies to see Star Wars with some buddies. I'm very interested to see how they respond, as they've never seen a single one of the movies, but they've both heard so much about the movie at school, that they are desperate to see it. :-)


  • Stick to our budget - mostly on track, but our childcare budget is up due to paying for a camp in February ($478 for a week of camp, and we will still need our nanny that week, as camp ends at three. :-((
  • Reach out to new accountant - our old one retired :-(( - Done! 
  • Save $1,000 - yes! I saved $1,756. Not that I'm counting those dollars. ;-) 


  • Work on plans for the boys birthday parties in February - I've gotten the party invites sent out, and done a lose menu. 
  • Do a fun activity with the boys - Today is the day for the activity! We are going to see Star Wars, and Sam will have a friend sleepover after. That means both boys will have had a sleepover this month as well. 
  • Have a date night with M - I've got to get this planned. Maybe next weekend? I'm heading to Tokyo on Sunday, but could squeeze it in on Saturday.

Fitness (this needs to be a top priority in January, as well as the rest of the year):
  • Lose 3 pounds - so far, on track. I've lost 1.5 pounds. 
  • Eat 5 servings of fruits & vegetables, 28 of 31 days. I only got 3 & 4, respectively, yesterday & on New Year's Day, so this gives me one extra day of cushion.  - I'm going for a rolling average of 5 servings/day, and I'm totally on track!
  • Complete 8 stretching workouts (yoga or pilates) - Yes, I've done 4 of the 8, so halfway there. 
  • Complete 10 strength workouts - I'm behind by one. I've done 4 of the 10. 
  • Complete 850 minutes of cardio - I've been focusing on strength and stretching & you can see it in my 320 minutes of cardio this month. Still working on this!
  • Average 1450 calories/day - I'm over my average at 1528. So, significantly over, but better than in previous months. It is getting easier & I can tell my appetite has gotten a bit smaller, so there's that. ;-) 
  • Maximum of one late night/week - Well, no. Last week I had two later evenings, and I'm going to have more next week. But, I am canceling & shuffling where I can to minimize the impact. 
  • Organize travel schedule for the first half of the year - I've planned out the first quarter, which includes two international trips. Not excited. 
  • Work from home at least one Friday this month - yes! I did this last Friday & it was lovely. 

  • Read a book - Yes, I've read four, in fact. :-) 
  • Try out my new adult coloring book :-) - Yes! I've enjoyed it, but the kids have also wanted to "help", so it's been less relaxing but a nice family project.  
  • Get together with a friend - I guess I can count my Star Wars movie time, but I'm hoping for a hike with a friend, or maybe lunch. 

How are your January goals going? Are you on track, with the month half over? 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Friday updates

First, can I just say how happy I am that it's the Friday before a three day weekend? (US friends, anyway :-)). I'm thrilled! I love this bonus weekend, as it comes on the heels of the holiday, but right when you're struggling to get back into the groove at work.

We have a nice weekend lined up - two indoor soccer games, an indoor soccer practice, a trip to see Star Wars with the boys friends & their moms, and then Sam will have a sleepover with a buddy. Not to much, but enough activity to keep the wigglies at bay on a rainy weekend.

I'd also like to have time to do some baking, and get ahead of my life a bit. I may be needing to either move up my Japan trip, or add another one in a couple of weeks (of course - why did I curse myself by thinking my first trip could wait until February)?

I'm slowly working through some of my January goals, and doing well so far. It's a long slow road on the fitness front!

More this weekend, but TGIF!! How are you planning to spend the weekend? 

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Menu planning, and a relaxing Sunday

I've had a productive day so far - I took the boys to soccer practice, and ran on the track while they played. Then a trip to Costco to pick up beef for dinner, and a stop at the produce stand and Trader Joes for the rest of our weekly groceries.

I've also worked on a project that's due tomorrow, picked the rest of our mandarins to share at work, and made lunch for everyone. Next up: laundry, potentially reading my book, coloring, and helping Nick with a school project.

I have a team offsite this week, so our schedule is a bit off. Here's what we'll be having for dinner during the week:

  • Sunday - rice, Persian beef kebabs, and yogurt sauce
  • Monday - leftover tacos for the kids, risotto for the adults
  • Tuesday - I'll be home late, so I'll ask the nanny to heat up the remaining chicken pastina for the adults, and spaghetti and meatballs for the kids
  • Wednesday - I have a work dinner, so I'm guessing M will either take the kids to Sweet Tomatoes, or heat up a frozen pizza
  • Thursday - leftover kebabs & rice
  • Friday - Chicken marsala casserole
  • Saturday - homemade calzones
That should do it! What about you? How is your day going? What are you serving this week?

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Happy Saturday

I hope you are all ready for a fun & relaxing weekend. M & I were hoping to have a date night, but after not being able to get ahold of our teenage babysitter, I remembered that she's out of the country. Bummer. A date night would have been fabulous.

Here's what we have going on today, and what I'd like to accomplish:

  1. Nick has an indoor soccer game this morning
  2. I need to tackle the laundry
  3. Pick all of the mandarins & leave them for a neighbor (she makes jam for a non-profit)
  4. Yoga!
  5. Get in some sort of cardio - either a run or a workout DVD
  6. Make a shopping list
  7. Make a menu
  8. Costco
  9. Make muffins
  10. Clean toiletries cabinet out. It's too cluttered & I can't find what I need, or determine where we have too much/too little.
And, here are a few frugal things I did over the past week or so:

  • Rather than buying a lunch when I was out for a bunch of medical appointments yesterday, I brought along a pear, almonds, and a mini protein bar. It wasn't a perfect lunch, and if I'd thought ahead, I could have made a sandwich. But, it worked.
  • Used up the last of a bag of potatoes from Thanksgiving (originally purchased for $.99) & made up a batch of potato soup. It was amazing!
  • Tried to make bread in my bread machine. For some reason, a terrible black smoke started to pour out of it as soon as it moved to the bake function. I cleaned the bread machine, & salvaged the bread by baking it in the oven. Let's hope it still works next time.
  • I'm trying to eat more vegetables, so rather than buying hummus to go with my broccoli & carrots, I made my own. If you've never made your own, give it a try. It's so much better than what you buy at the store. I prefer this recipe.
  • Along the same lines, I bought some loose spinach for a salad, and almost picked up a balsamic dressing at Trader Joe's. Instead, I made some of this. Delicious!
  • Menu planned & made every meal at home this week. 
  • Returned an undershirt that I bought for M (it ripped) & got a replacement. It was not that much fun to try & find parking, but I combined it with another errand. It was a $15 shirt & he wore it once, so I was determined not to just throw it out.
  • I also put $10,000 of my savings account in a CD, as it's sitting there at a pathetically low (i.e. non-existent) interest rate. Although a CD isn't exactly going to bring home the big bucks, it's an improvement for sure.

I think that's it! How about you? What's on your to do list today? Did you do anything frugal this week? Share your "wins" with us! :-) 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Our first week's worth of spending

Week one of 2016 is here, and we're actively trying to manage our expenses, at Chez Hawaii Plan. :-) Taking a note from a few other bloggers, I've decided to track our weekly expenses agains the budget amount. Only wrinkle is that this doesn't include our yearly budget. We break our budget into two groups - monthly expenses (groceries, dining out, utilities, etc) & yearly expenses (travel, kids college, boys activities, etc).

I know how much we should be spending monthly/weekly on our Monthly Expenses, but there's less rhyme or reason to our Yearly Expenses spending patterns.

Either way, I'll try to do a more thorough job tracking & monitoring the Monthly Expenses. All told, we have about $700 a week to spend on the following categories:

  • Childcare (easily the biggest outlay)
  • Cleaning service
  • Dining out
  • Toiletries
  • Entertainment
  • Gas
  • Groceries
  • Utilities
  • Liquor
Even though the yearly expenses don't get spent evenly, the approximate weekly budget for those are $535/week.

And, here's what we spent the first week of January!

  • Clothing - although I did buy a pair of jeans, I returned a few other things, and have a credit in my "clothing" budget of $8.57
  • Travel - a flight to M to join us for the boys birthday trip. We weren't sure when we booked the other flights if he would be able to change his work schedule to accommodate, and he was able to.  Total spent = $239.20
  • Childcare - $478. And, not even on this week's childcare, but booking a camp for the week the boys are out of school in February. :-(
  • Entertainment - $3.50 - we opted not to go to Star Wars after we booked tickets on Fandango (the kids had another activity come up), but still had to pay the service charge. Love that Fandango allows you to cancel!
  • Groceries - $212. Stock up on protein & a few random other items.
  • Utilities - $218.06, which included quarterly water charges & a month of power for our vacation house, as well as a monthly water charge for our SF house.

All told, we spent $1142.19. So, significantly over our weekly spending budget. That said, I have to have a camp for the kids while I work, so that's over a third of the spending. And, travel comes out of the yearly budget. 

It will be interesting to see how this trends over time, and whether the weekly tracking is useful.

What about you? How did you do with your first week of January? Did you stay on track? 

New recipes for 2016 & some of our favorites

This blog post is mostly for me, but since I'm always looking for new recipes on other sites, I thought I would share both our current favorites, as well as some new recipes we've all agreed to try in 2016. We have a family goal to increase our repertoire of recipes, and broaden the taste of both kids. Our youngest eats basically all fruit & vegetables, but doesn't like things mixed together, with very few exceptions. It's gotten to the point that it's hard for him to go to restaurants, or to have dinner with friends. Not to mention the giant pain of preparing dinner for me each night, so we're all motivated to improve. :-)

Current favorite recipes (note that my youngest doesn't eat all of these. The ones that he will eat are noted in bold):

  • Homemade pizza
  • Tacos (Nick is willing to experiment with a hard shell in 2016 ;-))
  • Tortellini & grilled chicken (no sauce for Nick, pesto for everyone else)
  • Beef kebabs & Persian rice
  • Spaghetti with meatballs (no sauce for Nick, red sauce for everyone else)
  • Homemade chicken taquitos with gaucamole
  • Lubia polo (a Persian rice, beef & green bean dish). Based on M's recipe, but similar to this
  • Oven baked chicken risotto 
  • Chicken pastina bake
  • Rice pilaf (we add chicken or sausage, & substitute almonds for hazelnuts)

And, here are some of the recipes we're going to add to our menu in 2016, & see if we can come up with any other winners!

Anyone else struggling with a picky eater? Any quick prep recipes you'd recommend? 

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Breaking down some of our budget categories a little further

I've been working on refining some of our budget categories. Although I find it easiest to have a smaller set of categories for year over year comparisons, and general monthly tracking, there are categories where I want to know more. . .how are we spending, how could we consider cutting back further, etc.

So, in 2016, I'll be tracking a few categories in more detail then just at the highest level. (We track all of our spending anyway, so this should just take a few additional minutes when reconciling our receipts).

  • Groceries. I'm particularly interested in understand how we're spending the money, so I can determine if there are areas we might cut back. 
  • Clothing. We need to cut our clothing budget in 2016, and I'm also interested in moving towards a more minimalistic/capsule wardrobe. As a result, I'm giving myself a $500 clothing budget for the year. There are a few things I'd like to buy - namely, more comfortable flats, so I can stand at my desk more than sit. I also know that my wedges (which I adore from a looks perspective) hurt my back by the end of the day, & throw my posture off. The challenge is on!
  • Travel. I have a master category, but I also buy/pay for things not in the year of travel (i.e. I buy airfare early), which makes it hard to know/understand how much we're actually spending in any given year. I'm a total pre-planner, so I've probably pre-paid for much of our 2016 travel already. Going forward, I'll record our expenses in our correct monthly category, but will also work to understand which year the travel will actually occur in. I'm also keen to understand more about which travel category is costing us the most. This will heavily influence our plans for 2017, as we plan for a further reduction based on my employment. 
I find that budgeting is a blend between ease & enough details to make decisions, so I like to tweak things & give myself better insight for the months ahead.

What about you? Do you track any categories more closely than others? Any major changes in 2016?

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

2016 budget plans

We've got some big life changes ahead in 2016, so now's the time to evaluate our budget, trim & determine our priorities.

I have two different budgets for 2016. One budget will take us through the end of the school year, as we'll still need things like after school care, and I'm keeping our cleaning at biweekly. But, there are other changes we're making in the interim:

Categories that will stay the same through the end of the school year:

  • Rent 
  • Monthly childcare
  • Toiletries
  • Dining out
  • Utilities
  • Alcohol (we like our wine :-))
  • Seattle house mortgage (although we remain very much on the fence on what to do with this investment). We may sell mid-way through the year
  • Boys misc fund. This is for school stuff, plus a few other random expenses that don't fit nicely anywhere else.

Categories that we will reduce, in order to save more before I leave my job:
  • Cleaning (move to biweekly)- saving $180/month
  • Entertainment - saving $25/month (we had a very small entertainment budget of $50/month, so this will cut it in half)
  • Gas - lowering by $40/month, as we spent less than planned in 2015
  • Insurance - our 2015 budget was set before I called & negotiated a substantial discount, so cutting by $60/month to reflect actual charges
  • Travel, by $13,000/year. Travel has been a huge splurge for us, and our 2015 budget was particularly big (although we didn't spent it all) given our 10th anniversary. With the lifestyle changes, we need to cut back & find cheaper ways to get to & from our destinations.
  • Boys activities, by $2,000/year. I'm going to have to find other ways to pay for the rest of their soccer, as it's very expensive. And, cut out all other activities/sports. 
  • Reducing our house category by $500/year. We desperately need new dining room chairs (we were planning to have them reupholstered, as the stuffing is coming out of three of four), but we opted to swap out our chairs in our formal dining room that we never use. When we move some day, we'll update our furniture. 
  • Personal, by $200/year. This is haircuts for everyone, the rare massage for me (I get a huge discount from work), etc. 
  • Auto, by $2500/year. We got lucky & haven't needed much in the way of car repairs. But, this will only hold up if the cars don't need work, and we have two vehicles over 10 years old.
  • Boys college savings, by $500/year. I'm not in love with this change, but we actually got $250 in gifts for the boys college for Christmas, and if we have money leftover in the budget at the end of the year, I'll add the rest. 
  • Clothing, by $500/year (this is for everyone). Given that we have two growing boys who require sports uniforms, shoes, etc, the majority of this cut will be from me. I'm going to put myself on a fairly strict budget. More on that soon!
  • Christmas, by $200/year.
  • Gifts, by $500/year. The majority will be for gifts that we give each other. We've cut back all other gift giving already in 2015.

Categories that we will increase, before I leave my job:
  • Groceries - by $50/month. This is closer to what we *actually* spent, and the boys are eating more
  • Our vacation home mortgage - by $10/month, for tax increases.
  • Charitable donations. Plan to increase again by another $250/year for ad hoc giving, as we are encouraging the boys to help & participate. 
Categories that will increase after I leave my job:

  • Health, by $300. This will be to offset the cost of a gym
Categories that will decrease after I leave my job:

  • Childcare, by $1275/month. I've left in $100/month for random date nights.
  • Cleaning, by another $90/month. I'm hoping to be able to afford a once/month cleaning service.

So, how much will be saving? I expect to cut our spending by $22,840 in 2015. By far the most painful will be travel! I'm going to have a few separate posts about: travel, groceries, & clothing & my plans with that.

What about you? What are your 2016 budget plans? Any big changes coming up that require adjustments?

Monday, January 4, 2016

How did I do on my December goals?

At this point, I can barely remember what they were. ;-) Ah, how quickly I forget!

  1. Complete 1000 minutes of cardio - Yes! I finished with 1005 minutes. Talk about squeaking it in.
  2. Complete 10 strength workouts - I only got in 7 strength workouts
  3. Complete 4 stretching workouts - and sadly, 1 stretching workout. My back is definitely complaining.
  4. Lose 2 pounds - I only wish this were the case. *ahem*
  1. Stick to our December budget - Yes
  2. Finish our 2016 budget planning - Yes!
  3. Continue working on my "40 week project!" - Done
  4. Re-evaluate our budget by working backward from "must haves" & see what our minimum income would be. (Advice from some of you a few posts back). - Yes
  5. Get a notary signature & mail off our 529 paperwork, to remove the money from our Washington plan. - Yes!
  6. Start a new Utah 529.- We don't have the money yet from the Washington account yet, so this is on hold.
  1. Draft version of 2016 family calendar & vacations- yes, a draft was created, although I'm still working on the details
  2. Finish all holiday shopping! - Done
  3. Plan a December menu, including when we're at our vacation house - Done
  1. Continue to accept no more than one late night's worth of meetings/week - Done
  2. Eat lunch away from my desk 2x/week or more - I think I only averaged 1x/week in December
  3. Book my workouts on my calendar, & *stick with them*!! - nope
  4. Figure out backup nanny option, while my nanny is out of town. - Yes
  1. Get together for a minimum of one social event with a friend - I went for a hike with a friend
  2. Volunteer at the boys school. - Yes, twice!
  3. One date night with M - yep
  4. Plan at least one fun holiday outing with the kids. Likely a drive to a neighboring town to see the lights, wearing pajamas. We always stop for hot chocolate as well. - Christmas lights & hot chocolate, plus of course our holiday trip & beach trip
All in all, the month was pretty successful! I'm surprised (and impressed) with my results. A combination of more free time at the end of the month & well planned goals. ;-)

On to 2016! How about you? How did you do with your December goals?

2015 - a year in review

I'm very pleased with everything I accomplished over the holiday. It was a great blend of family time, doing nothing (perfect at the coast), and getting things done. I'm so very, very grateful that work wasn't an issue & very little drama occurred. I'm shocked, but won't look a gift horse in the mouth. ;-)

I love all of the recap posts, and it's fun for me to remember as well what happened in 2015!

January - January was a pretty quiet month. I attempted to start running again, and the boys started playing basketball. Although they really enjoyed it, they opted not to play this season, and stick with soccer instead. They are diehard soccer lovers. ;-) I also spent time trying to better manage my stress at work. It was short-lived, but re-reading the post reminded me that I need to give it more of an effort in 2016 as well!

February - I took my first business trip of the year, to Tokyo. We also went to visit my family & celebrate the boys birthdays. While we were there, my grandmother passed away. It was very bittersweet, getting to spend time with her, support my mom, but was very difficult when the time came. She is very missed!

March - Back to Asia again, with a trip to Seoul. Nothing much else happened in March, or if it did, I was too tired to record it. ;-)

April - I only posted once in April! I can't believe it. My team went through a major re-organization that made my responsibilities significantly bigger, so work sucked up all of my time. I did get away with M for a super fun (but short) adult weekend to Las Vegas, and my sister & best friend came to visit as well.

May - My sister & I spent Mother's Day at the Oregon coast with our mom, having a celebration of life for my grandmother. And, we contemplated what it would take to buy a house in our neighborhood. Hint: a lot/too much. 

June - In June, I again only posted one time! Craziness. I was back in Tokyo, and also went to Portland to visit family for an epic biking adventure with the kids.

July - July was a big personal travel month, as I went to the Oregon coast with the family to celebrate the 4th of July, and had a fantastic trip. I also went to Las Vegas for a girls trip, and won a jackpot!! The boys also went to Disneyland with my parents & their two cousins, and more crazy fun was had.

August - The boys completed their first triathlon, and went back to school in mid-August. It also became clear that what I was doing in all regards to my life, wasn't working. I hit the wall. I also flew back to Portland to compete in the Portland to Coast relay with my family, which was fantastic.

September - We were desperately searching for a nanny, and then had to fire her. The start of school was rough this year, with childcare issues. M went to Dubai to visit his family for the first time, in a . . . .long time! I went to London for work, and then the biggest decision of the year was made! I embarked on my 40 week plan, to leave my job in 2016!!

October - M & I went to Maui for our 10th anniversary, and it was a truly perfect trip. In a less than perfect trip, I went to Beijing for work, and getting all of my visa issues sorted out with a week's notice was insane & stressful.

November - In November, we found out that we needed to switch the boys college accounts, which was an unpleasant surprise. I also made the last work trip of the year to Sao Paulo, and we had a fantastic Thanksgiving at home with the kiddos.

December - I worked *a lot* the first three weeks, and then found out that I got promoted & learned about my raise in January! We flew to Portland to visit my parents/sister/family for the holidays & had an amazing trip, plus enjoyed some time at our vacation house on the Oregon coast. It was perfect, & mellow.

That's it! No wonder I'm exhausted - that's a lot of traveling in a year. :-) 15 trips in 2015. I really, really need to evaluate doing less (both personally & on the work side) in 2016. For budget reasons, and also for my sanity. All told, I miss my family & friends, so spend the majority of our time together when possible. Moving away from our family has also made it harder for M & I to get time away, which we need to think about in 2016.

Did you do a year in review? If so, link up! Any big wins or exciting life changes for you & your family? 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

January Goals!

The month is off to a great start (that's what happens when I have a bunch of free time & the kids don't have the regular soccer season). :-)

I used up the last of a sad looking bag of potatoes that we bought for Thanksgiving (yesterday I made pommes frites to go with our steak) today to make a potato soup. I went with this recipe, but made some modifications. I had no celery, so used carrots instead, skipped the sour cream (calories) & green onions (didn't have any). I also pureed the soup at the end, and chopped the potatoes into small pieces & cooked with the carrots/onions. My only change would be that I thought it had a bit too much thyme in it. Although, I was doing like four things at once, and it's totally possible that i put in the wrong amount of time. Sam had it with his lunch, as did I, and it was delicious. Not exactly low calorie, but yummy just  the same.

I also made pizza dough for homemade calzones for dinner tonight (can't wait to try them), and chocolate chip cookies for the kids lunches (& I didn't eat any - what a victory! :-))

I also went for a run & lifted weights today (yeah!), but so far no yoga. I may squeeze in a pilates workout after Sam's buddy heads home from a play date.

I've also been organizing! I've done the following organization/cleaning around the house:

  • One side of the pantry (the other side was done before the holidays & is still in good shape)
  • The tupperware drawer
  • My bathroom. Tossed a bunch of stuff, and saved some makeup for my sister. Cleaned & organized.
  • My closet. Found 80+ items to donate, and got rid of a bunch of junk that somehow just lurks. I also organized & now everything is much easier to see/find. Let's hope I can make it stick! ;-)
  • My drawers. Again, decluttered, regrouped things, organized, & generally just made my stuff easier to find.
I feel like I'm kicking off the month with a good start, which is the right mindset, given that I know it's going to be really hard to go back tomorrow. 

And, without further ado, here are my goals for the month of January. For a recap, my 2016 goals are here


  • Stick to our budget
  • Reach out to new accountant - our old one retired :-((
  • Save $1,000


  • Work on plans for the boys birthday parties in February
  • Do a fun activity with the boys
  • Have a date night with M

Fitness (this needs to be a top priority in January, as well as the rest of the year):
  • Lose 3 pounds
  • Eat 5 servings of fruits & vegetables, 28 of 31 days. I only got 3 & 4, respectively, yesterday & on New Year's Day, so this gives me one extra day of cushion. 
  • Complete 8 stretching workouts (yoga or pilates)
  • Complete 10 strength workouts
  • Complete 850 minutes of cardio
  • Average 1450 calories/day

  • Maximum of one late night/week
  • Organize travel schedule for the first half of the year
  • Work from home at least one Friday this month

  • Read a book
  • Try out my new adult coloring book :-)
  • Get together with a friend

What about you? Have you set any January goals? Are you excited for the new month & any new challenges?

2015 Spending Wrap Up

Well, hello there, 2016! You just snuck right up on me. 2015 was gone in a flash. We spent plenty of money, though. Here are the highlights (and, lowlights!) In case you want to compare to our 2014 spending, you can find that here. I combined a bunch of categories in 2015 to make tracking easier, so in some cases, there's not a perfect 1:1 match between categories.

First up, here's a picture of how we spent our money, by category:

Highlights - If you subtract out the taxes, we actually spent less in 2015 than we did in 2014. In fact, we cut down our expenses by $14,500, which is pretty great, especially given that our rent went up, as did the cost of childcare.
  • The biggest difference was that we spent $13,780 less on our Seattle house mortgage, because we had renters for the entire year & we started charging them slightly more. 
  • We spent significantly less on our Car category in 2015 - $3400 less, as we didn't need anything major done to any of our vehicles.
  • We spent $3,200 less on Travel, in part because my trip to Las Vegas for my girls trip was paid for by a slot jackpot! ;-) 
  • We spent $1200 less on Dining Out! Woohoo! An active goal for 2015.
  • We spent just under $1000 less on Utilities in 2015.
  • Due to dropping gas prices, we spent $900 less on Gas this year. 
  • We spent $600 less on the Boys category. I've decided to add a notes column to my budget tracker, because it would take some research to suss out where we actually cut back this year. Generally, this category is for school expenses, sports equipment, etc.
  • We spent $500 less on Insurance, as I was able to negotiate a lower price for our auto insurance.
  • We spent $450 less on Entertainment this year.
  • I cut back on stocking up on Toiletries, and spent $400 less than 2014. 
  • We spent $300 less on Christmas - part of our ongoing efforts to keep the costs low & donate the remainder to a food bank.
  • We spent $300 less on our Gifts category, generally cutting back unnecessary expenses, picking up kid birthday gifts when we find them at a reasonable price, etc. I've also started having the boys fund anything over $15 for a kids birthday gift out of their own spending money, which has cut things back quite a bit, & helped them with their money management. 
  • We spent $300 less on Liquor in 2015. ;-) 

Lowlights: - We spent 3% more in 2015 than we did in 2014. Why? Taxes. We were actually under our budget on both yearly & monthly categories (when summed, not each individual category was under, but they balanced out). Other than, taxes.
  • Speaking of Taxes (this is, repayment of owed 2014 taxes, not how much we paid this year in taxes before we got our paychecks), 16% of our 2015 spending was for additionally owed 2014 taxes. So, that put quite a dent in the old budget. ;-) 
  • Our Rent went up by $200/month, bringing us to a yearly spend of $61,000. Wow. WOW. Absolutely insane amount of money. 
  • 2014 Childcare - up from $12,730 to $17,421. A result of summer, spring break, winter break, camps, the high cost of having a nanny, etc. When I switched jobs & moved to my current employer, I went from having 6 weeks off to 2.5 weeks off. I sometimes take comp time, but that's 3.5 weeks where I need to pay for camps, when I previously wasn't. Camps are . . .  not cheap here. 
  • We spent $3,200 more on our Vacation House Mortgage
  • Even though we cut back on one activity (basketball), we added art class after school, as our nanny couldn't get there in time on Mondays. Increase in Kids Activities by just under $300.
  • We intentionally saved $1,300 more for the Boys College this year. 
  • We increased our ad hoc (not fixed as part of our paychecks) Charitable Giving by $1,500, intentionally.
  • We spent $1,200 more on Clothing. The boys soccer uniforms were over $500. What a scam!
  • We spent $200 more on Health (eye exam for me, plus a race I didn't run because I was traveling.)
  • We spent $1,500 more on the House category, as we had to do some repairs to our Seattle house.
  • We spent $1,400 more on Cleaning, as we started having our house cleaned every week, rather than biweekly. 
  • We spent $200 more on Groceries, so pretty close to our spending last year. 

Additionally, our net work is up just shy of $330K. It would have been substantially higher, but M likes his 401K in riskier stocks than I prefer. He says my conservative investments counter balance his. This year, mine were definitely the strong performers & his 401k took a bit of a dive.

More coming soon on my 2016 budget & how we plan to continue to look for ways to cut back & save! What about you? How did you do with your 2015 spending, saving, & net worth? 

Saturday, January 2, 2016

How did we do today?

Today was a great day for getting things done around the house! I cleaned my closet, all of my drawers, & the kids closets as well & rounded up 113 items to donate, as well as a bunch of trash & recycling. Woohoo! I finally made time for yoga, and it felt amazing. I made calzone dough for tomorrow's dinner, and organized part of my pantry.

I also went through my clothes to make a (short) list of things I'd like to shop for in 2016. Given that I'll have a pretty small budget, I'm hoping that building a list will ensure that I add only high quality, necessary items to my wardrobe. Here's what I have on the list so far:

  • Inexpensive dark wash jeans. I'm not at the size I hope to be, but most of my basic jeans are too tight for work. And, that's not a good look for anyone. :-)
  • Comfortable black flats for everyday/work shoes. I may get Tieks, but am not in love with the super high price point, and that I've never dealt with the company before. They don't distribute through anyone else. I'm also considering a few different Easy Spirit options. They may not be the cutest, but as long as they are comfortable, I'm in!
  • A light weight jacket. I have a fleece, & ski coats, but nothing really in between. 

I also returned a few things today that I bought near the end of the year, and a gift that M bought me that wasn't something I truly needed. As a result, I have $180 of credit in my clothing account! :-) And, in a truly big win, I found very cute basic jeans at Costco for $19.99. Perfect for what I'm looking for. 

We picked up groceries at Costco, and here's what we ended up getting for a total of $200.24. It was a protein heavy shopping trip, with much less produce, as we picked some up on Wednesday after our flight:

Prepared food:
  • Four pack vegetarian frozen pizza (great for a quick pinch meal) - $9.49
  • Two pack of tomato basil soup (I know I can make this for significantly less, but my son tried this specific soup on vacation & loved it, so want to get him hooked before I try to make my own :-)) - $6.89
  • Tortilla chips (for taco nights, with guac!) - $4.69
  • Chicken - $23.88
  • Mahi Mahi - $19.99
  • Meatballs - $16.99 (same as above. These are one of the few proteins that my pickiest eater will touch. I need to wean him onto homemade, but baby steps).
  • Steak (fancy dinner tonight to celebrate our vacation) - $22.87
  • Brick of Romano cheese - $15.46
  • Brick of cheddar cheese - $8.49
  • 15 pack of Costco brand individualGreek yogurt - $10.49
  • Broccoli - $4.49
  • Cucumbers - $3.99
  • Pears - $5.79
  • Mushrooms - $4.49
  • Pineapple - $2.99

  • Salsa - $7.79
  • Pickles - $3.99
  • Vanilla - $9.99
  • Mediterranean oil - $10.49
  • Two pack Dijon mustard - $6.99

And that's it! Can't believe that tomorrow is the last day of vacation. I have a huge list of things I want to get done (of course). :-) How are you spending this Saturday?

2015 Fitness - a year in review

It's been a nice & relaxing last few days of vacation! Can't believe it's coming to an end. :-( We started off yesterday with a family 5K, which was rough given how out of shape I am. I need to really, really make time for yoga today as well!

And with that, here's my 2015 fitness review.

I set some lofty fitness goals in 2015, and didn't do very well. Or, perhaps I should say that even though I achieved some of my goals, I still didn't achieve my main goal of losing weight. Which tells me that my current goals aren't working as intended. :-)

Up until 2015, I was really able to maintain my weight through a combination of exercise (my main focus) & a reasonably close eye on what I ate. Things shifted quite a bit in 2015. I traveled more, which impacted my ability to exercise & control my diet as much as I'd like. I'm also older, and worked more than I ever have. I made up for that working by stress eating, and didn't have the energy to work out as much as I needed/would have liked. I also stopped running, & got frustrated with my inconsistency.

So, with that as context, here are the numbers.

Average Daily Calories In:
2013 - 1637
2014 - 1538
2015 - 1569

And, by month:. Yes, December was a real rough ride.
2015 Yearly AverageAverageTotal

2015 Cardio - 10,020
2015 Strength - 131
2015 Stretching - 17

2014 Cardio - 10,006
2014 Strength - 77
2014 Stretching - 32

2013 - 138
2014 - 142
2015 - 153

All of the data aside, what am I going to do about gaining weight & struggling to lose? I'm glad you asked! :-) I have a few plans:

My official 2016 goal is to lose 20 pounds, bringing my weight to 133. Here's how I plan to achieve that.

  • Get back to running! Run a 5K, 10K, 15K, & a half marathon, as a 40th birthday gift to myself. 
  • Drive my average daily calories down to 1400. Track my food/exercise every day.
  • Eat five servings of fruit & vegetables (combined) per day. I've definitely been eating too many carbs & sweets, and not enough fruit & veggies.
  • Complete 10,000 minutes of cardio
  • Complete 100 strength workouts.
  • Complete 75 stretching workouts. 

My 40th birthday is coming up, and I want to look and feel my best & reverse the aging that's happening. It's really critical that I start making my health more of a priority. 

How about you? Do you have any fitness goals for 2016? How did you do with your 2015 goals? 

Friday, January 1, 2016

Menu plan for the week

My youngest child is *extremely* picky, so we've all decided to make a concerted effort to expand his taste in 2016. I realize this is going to lead to some tears & hungry nights, but we're not currently doing him any favors by making separate meals, or having pasta in the fridge that we heat up for him. I'll be posting some of our favorite recipes, as well as the new items that everyone in my family has agreed to try. ;-)

In the meantime, here's our menu plan for the week+ ahead:

  • Friday - 1/1 - Skewered shrimp + homemade macaroni & cheese (freezer)
  • Saturday - 1/2 - Steak, stuffing, mashed potatoes (using up the very last of a bag I bought for Thanksgiving)
  • Sunday - 1/3 - Spaghetti & bolognese sauce
  • Monday - 1/4 - Grilled chicken (freezer), & leftover stuffing & mashed potatoes
  • Tuesday - 1/5 - Leftover spaghetti & bolognese sauce
  • Wednesday - 1/6 - Chicken & vegetables with quinoa (new recipe)
  • Thursday - 1/7 - Tacos & guacamole
  • Friday - 1/8 - Oven baked chicken risotto

What are you serving this week?