Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Menu Plan . . . Tuesday

We've had a few great dinners over the long weekend (a spicy peanut kale chicken salad on Saturday, steak on Sunday, and burgers on Monday). Here's what's on the menu for the rest of the week!

Tuesday - Leftover steak, potentially on sandwiches
Wednesday - Burgers & tortellini
Thursday - Chicken & quinoa
Friday - risotto with whatever is leftover in the fridge
Saturday - grilled fish & a veggie side
Sunday - homemade pizza

And, we made homemade lemon drops yesterday - trying to use up all of those lemons on our tree. Yum! :-)

We'll keep it simple. What about you? Any new recipes on your menu for the week?

Monday, May 30, 2016

California babe

We've spent the majority of the weekend at a soccer tournament in the *very* hot city of Tracy. We tied one, lost one, and one won. We were one goal short of returning for the semi-finals today. I'm grateful we have the day to relax & unwind instead. :-)

In the meantime, this guy was chilling in Santa Cruz with his buds. His mom sent me this picture - one of my new, all time favorite pictures of Nick.

Apparently, he's having fun without us. ;-) Do I ever miss that child!

I've done some kitchen prep work, in between driving the 90 minutes each way to Tracy & suffering through double soccer games.

  • I baked cookies for one of the games, and for Nick's trip
  • I made cashew chicken salad for sandwiches
  • Tried my hand at homemade chicken broth for the first time, using the leftovers from a rotisserie chicken. Pretty easy!
  • Found an imitation recipe for one of my favorite restaurant's peanut kale salad, and made that
  • Shredded all of the cheese for the next few weeks (parmesan & cheddar). I shred & then freeze in smaller portions, so we can quickly grab & go during meal prep.
I still have a ton of things I'd like to get done today, of course. ;-)

  1. Yoga!
  2. Get in some sort of cardio - I think I'm hiking with a friend
  3. Drop off my clothes/pick up last week's clothes at work (to prep for biking)
  4. Figure out commute schedule for the week
  5. Coordinate carpool schedule
  6. Plan menu 
  7. Dig out refinance papers to locate our most recent lender
  8. Laundry
  9. Wash all sheets, blankets, & bedding
  10. Make blueberry muffins
  11. Make homemade taquitos for the freezer
  12. Make homemade French bread
  13. Finalize May spend/budget
  14. Clean my closet
  15. Read at least 1/2 of a book. Got to have something to look forward to. ;-)
What about you? How have you spent this long weekend (if you are in the US)?

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Things I'm thankful for today

Inspired by another blogger (The Frugal Girl, who is always so upbeat), I thought I'd come up with my own list.

Here's what I'm grateful for this week:

  1. That I've been healthy enough to self commute (biking) over the past few weeks. When I was diagnosed with Lupus, I had no idea what the future held. Health is a gift, and it's too easy to forget that when you are feeling well. I love being active, and am so lucky & grateful that I still have these opportunities. 
  2. M's love & acceptance of my family. In fact, he's taking my dad & some of his buddies to Las Vegas for a "boys trip" in a few weeks. He's extremely patient & thoughtful, and it melts me. 
  3. School is almost out. Hurrah! No more homework, class projects, etc. I can't wait!
  4. Fun summer plans, including: time with my mom at the beach, time alone with the boys at the beach, a big family beach party over the 4th of July, a girls trip, an adventure race with the family, and a few days without the kids where M & I may get to have a little adult fun. :-) 
  5. Sam's soccer coach this season. He's amazing & patient & done an amazing job with the boys. Also, Nick's team didn't win a game all season, and he's so hopefully dressed up for each of Sam's games, thinking he might get to play. (They are only a year apart & in the same division/league/club, so subs happen regularly). Sam's coach let Nick play the last two games, so get got in some great game time & made a few big plays. Plus, got in a couple of wins. Winning isn't everything, but it can also help restore your confidence after a rough season. So grateful that Sam's coach was so thoughtful & kind to Nick all season. 
  6. Speaking of, soccer more generally. It's teaching the kids all kinds of great things with sportsmanship, and effort, and patience, and winning/losing. It's also teaching this  mom how to be patient with interesting refing & intense soccer parents, etc. There's a lesson there for everyone. I'm so grateful the boys have the opportunity to play with friends, stay fit, and have a strong long & passion for something that's so good for them. I may change my mind after the tournament this weekend. ;-) 

And, that's it! How about you? What are you grateful for today? 

Monday, May 23, 2016

Weekly spending wrap up (5/16-5/22) - it's a crazy one!

Another week is over, so I'll quickly recap where & how we spent our money for the week. Short story, one of our cheapest weeks ever! :-) I'll definitely take it.

  • Monday - No spend day
  • Tuesday - No spend day
  • Wednesday - No spend day
  • Thursday - Dinner at Sweet Tomatoes after a late practice - $32.61 
  • Friday - $31.60 for an Uber to the airport for M
  • Saturday - No spend day
  • Sunday
    • $9.75 - lunch at Costco
    • $65.26 - groceries at Costco
    • $5.26 - pectin & super cheap clearanced green salsa that I picked up at Lucky. I used the pectin to make freezer marmalade jam & will use the salsa for homemade taquitos. I put the meat, cheese & beans in the food processor, and you need a "liquid" to blend. Perfect find!
    • $6.38 - four jam jars

Total spent for the week = $150.86. I'd need to go back through all of my tracking, but I'm pretty confident this was either our cheapest, or one of our cheapest weeks. Woohoo! I'll take more like that. :-) What about you? Did you track your spending for the week? How did you  do? 

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Meal planning

I'm trying to rally myself to put a menu together for the week, so here goes. ;-) I'd also like to get a chance to make freezer orange marmalade. I'm feeling guilty again about all of the unpicked fruit on our trees! I was going to make it this morning, but don't have enough pectin. I'll pick that up today & hopefully squeeze in a batch between other activities.

On to the menu!

  • Sunday - baked risotto with whatever scraps I can find in the fridge
  • Monday - tacos
  • Tuesday - Leftover risotto
  • Wednesday - chicken & pasta
  • Thursday - chicken quesadillas
  • Friday - pasta & meatballs
  • Saturday - not sure. We have a soccer tournament about an hour away, so will be dependent on what time we're done
  • Sunday - ditto above. Soccer, soccer, soccer ;)
It's cold & dreary today, and I'm off to the last official game of the season for Sam (not counting the tournament next weekend, of course. So.much.soccer). I have a to do list the size of my arm, so let's see what I can accomplish!

What about you? What's on your menu for the week?

Saturday, May 21, 2016

A few frugal things for the week

Happy Saturday, friends! I've been doing many kids things this weekend - volunteering at the boys school yesterday afternoon, carpooling to double soccer practices, a sleepover, and making breakfast for the hungry crew this morning. Homemade waffles & fruit. ;-)

I love recapping the frugal decisions I've made over the past week, because it reminds me that lots of small steps add up, and keeps me focused on continuing the good decisions. Even when I'm sometimes off track. Not that it ever happens, of course! :-)

Here are a few of the frugal wins I've had this week:

  • Posted three sets of hoodies on a local FB swap. Have people coming by for all three. If that comes through, I will make $30. And why do I have so many hoodies, you may ask? We went through a phase where Sam was losing a hoodie a week. In frustration, I stocked up. Shortly after, his responsibility increased. Several of the hoodies still have tags, but the rest are in excellent condition. 
  • Traded childcare & didn't need the nanny on Friday, saving me ~$60
  • Prepped for a late dinner vs buying pizza after practice yesterday, saving $30
  • I will pack lunches today, vs buying out, as we will be traveling between soccer games & won't have time for a lunch at home. 
  • Used a bunch of quickly turning fridge items to make the boys smoothies for an after school snack. 
  • Made myself lunch yesterday with random scraps from the fridge
  • Will clean the house this weekend, on my continued effort to reduce our cleaning lady spend
  • Purged the boys room yesterday (not frugal on its own, but found the hoodies) & our hall closet. I found a few items that M bought at Joann's to repair Nick's favorite animal. We ended up going with another solution, so I returned the items to Joann's yesterday. I didn't have a receipt, so turned my store credit into a set of 50 colorful card stock & envelopes. We don't buy regular cards, so make our own for every occasion. This got unnecessary stuff at of our house, and in return, we have something we will definitely use. 
  • I rode my bike to & from work 2 days, and one way another day, saving gas & burning calories!
  • Made homemade popcorn & chocolate chip muffins for snacks for the small people, rather than buying premade snacks. 

And, in frugal fails:

  • Went out to dinner with everyone on Thursday, after our late goalie practice
  • Bought an expensive yogurt no one liked. I had a coupon, it was a brand people had eaten in the past, but I got a different flavor. Had to turn it into smoothies, but wouldn't have spent the $2 I'd known they'd turn up their noses at the strawberry rhubarb. ;-) 

I'm off to go pack lunches, clean the house & get the laundry done. And to water my strawberry plants - I've been picking a handful a day & they are amazing! What frugal wins do you have for the week? 

Friday, May 20, 2016

It's Friday, and thinking ahead on housing

M & I have been working through our goals for the next 12 months, as our lease expires in August of 2017. Our current plan is to save another $100K for a down payment, and start looking for a house *to buy* in approximately one year. There are so many variables to this, but we think this is a reasonable scenario.

Cost increases & tentative plans:
Saving another $100K would give us enough of a down payment to put between 20-25% down. We are looking at a price range that will increase our housing payment (as compared to our existing rent) by the least amount possible, while keeping the boys in the same school district. The increase in P&I from our existing rent payment will likely be about $1,600. This doesn't include taxes. Property taxes are pretty scary here - we expect to need another $2,000/month for property taxes.

I have a pending question out to our accountant on how much this additional property tax & mortgage interest would change our income tax liability, so that will help us understand net out of pocket impact.

Where will the money for the down payment come from?
As context, M & I have each three sources of "income" - a monthly salary (fixed, well known amount), a yearly bonus (amount unknown, although can predict based on known inputs such as our personal work performance and previous bonus value), and monthly stock vests. For the stock, we have a known amount that we are already getting, and get increased vests once a year. The stock price, of course, is the unknown variable for stock. As a result, I sell my vests every month when they happen - M hangs on to his. He thinks of it as hedging by us each using a different strategy. ;-)

For the additional $100K, the plan is

  • To use my bonus to cover taxes, my 401K and 2017 travel. 
  • M will use M's bonus to cover his 401K contribution for the year, as well as the remaining travel budget. 
  • We will not plan to use our salaries to generate the $100K. We will save our salaries in our existing emergency fund. Mostly because our salaries are covering our existing expenses pretty well right now.  
  • This leaves us with our stock vests. Both of us expect to be able to clear another $50K each (conservative estimate, but again, stock is volatile) in the next year. This will be the source of the additional down payment $100K. 

What about the increase in housing & property tax?
We currently think we could absorb the increase in monthly housing ($1,600) with M's salary. It will be tight, and if our rental house in Seattle has any challenges (we lose our renter, major repairs, etc) things will be very tricky.

Once we are done saving for the down payment, we can free up some amount of our stock vests to put towards property taxes.

Where does this leave me with my job situation?
I'm currently planning on staying at least through June of 2017 to be able to get us through to the down payment savings we need for a house. However, if I can stick it out until January of 2018, we will be in an even better situation (this would include another annual bonus, plus 6 months of additional stock). Mostly because, assuming we buy in the price range we're currently thinking of, I'd need to cover all of our non-mortgage expenses while M covers the mortgage.

I would, of course, really like to hang on to our vacation house. The longer I can work at this income, the more likely it is that we can keep the house. Once things shake out with our mortgage, taxes, and income, it will be easier to understand if this is in the cards.

I do plan (and need to) continue to work, but hopefully not at a job as demanding as this one.

Planning, planning, planning! And with that, I'm off to wrap up a few projects & focus on the much more immediate planning of the weekend. What about you? What's on your agenda for the weekend? 

Monday, May 16, 2016

How we've increased our net worth over the past six years

We started tracking our net worth way back in September of 2010, so not quite six years ago, and have made quite a bit of progress over that time. For whatever reason, my graph is super keen to repeat the "Net worth over time" multiple times, just to land the message. ;-) Please ignore.

As you can see, things are moving along in the right direction. Our net worth has most definitely gone down, but it's not visible here, as I only used end of the year numbers to streamline. Between May of 2011 and October of 2011, our net worth dropped by $260K, when the housing market bottomed out. 

I wish I had all of the magic solutions on how to get the same results with your net worth, but I don't have that. I can, however, tell you what worked for us. Your mileage will obviously vary.

  1. We invested in our retirement accounts, early. I've been investing since I was 22, and maxed out every year for about 17 years. M got a slightly later start, but has also been maxing out. What does this mean? Lots of compounding interest. We've also had employer matches, which always helps. We're not quite to the one million mark, but hopefully over the next couple of years. 
  2. We bought a house at the high end of our price range, way back in 2005. I wouldn't recommend that strategy, but our salaries have gone up, making our primary residence (now rented, in Seattle) affordable over time. 
  3. We improved our property. Again, our now rental property in Seattle, but we put in quite a bit of cash to remodel before we rented it out.
  4. We refinanced into great mortgage rates. Our primary residence is at 3.25%, and our vacation house is at 2.5%.
  5. We have no debt, other than our rental house & vacation house. 
  6. We knew that we would spend our income as it grew, unless we stretched ourselves. As a result, we bought a vacation house. This is another strategy that probably wouldn't work for most, but for us, it would have been a great strategy, had we not moved. ;-) It definitely forced us to divert more of our income every month to real estate, vs spending. Now that we need that cash flow to buy in California, it's caused more of a challenge for us. Hindsight. 
  7. We kept our spending in check, even as our incomes grew. This has been hard for us, but we prioritized traveling & trying to keep our vacation house, which made it easier to cut back on more frivolous purchases. We are far from perfect, but do track our expenses every month.
  8. Speaking of, we track our expenses, This has made a huge, enormous difference in #7. I can't begin to imagine how I budgeted way back when I would create the budget at the beginning of the month, and then reached the end of the month trying to figure out where all of the money had gone.
  9. We don't consider ourselves wealthy. Because, we don't give ourselves a lot of disposable income. See #6. 
  10. Every month, every dollar has a place - college funds, mortgage savings (for a California house), travel funds, taxes, an emergency fund, groceries, etc. If we leave it to chance, it will get spent. ;-)
  11. It's not really a tip, because much of this is outside of your control, but we've grown our income every year. In some years, by significant amounts. This has come with major down sides as well (work life balance), so it's not for everyone. Even us. We've furthered our education, moved for jobs, increased travel, increased work load, taken on new challenges, and rebuilt our skill sets, as jobs have required it. 
And, those are the tips that have worked for us. Some were intentional, some were risky, and some were less thoughtful than others. What about you? What has helped you grow your net worth? Where are you at on the growth curve? Just starting out, or a bit further along? 

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Sunday Funday & mid-month check in

So happy that the only kid activity we have for today is swimming lessons. Woohoo! I'm hoping to accomplish a lot before & after. I most definitely need to squeeze in yoga, as I'm sore from all of that biking.

And, since we're now half way through May (holy smokes!), I thought I'd check in on my progress against my goals.


  • Stick to our budget - we will definitely be over on a few categories, but hoping to come in under a few as well. 
  • Save $1,500, in addition to our stock vests - have a transfer set up for next week, but not done yet. 
  • Put $500/each in the boys college funds - Done! 

  • Have a date night with M - Done! 
  • Decide if M & I are going on a mini vacation. If so, book. For real this time. ;-) - Still not done. Need to get this sorted!!
  • Book M's flights to the beach for the 4th of July - Done!
  • Plan/take a vacation over the long Memorial Day break - it turns out that we have to go to a soccer tournament on that weekend, so no mini break, unfortunately. We'll reschedule for another time. 

  • Lose 4 pounds (trying to be realistic, as I'll be on vacation for a few days) - I've lost 1/2 a pound so far, but my clothes are starting to fit a lot better. Woohoo!
  • Eat 5 servings of fruits & vegetables - on track to get 4 ish. Need to bump this up. 
  • Complete 5 stretching workouts (yoga or pilates) - 4 so far - on track!
  • Complete 7 strength workouts - 5 so far - on track!
  • Complete 800 minutes of cardio - 670 so far. Crushing it with all of that biking!!
  • Average 1350 calories/day - At 1461 so far. I'd like to drop this to around 1400. Comfortable being slightly higher if I'm working out a lot. 
  • Follow a training plan, find a race, and run 10 times. - Have run 3 times so far, and registered for a half marathon - yes! on track. :-) 

  • Maximum of one late night/week - on track 
  • Work from home at least three Fridays this month - 1 so far, and plan to work from home the next two Fridays, if at all possible

  • Read four books - yes!
  • Get together with a friend - not yet, but we are going to see a documentary about screen time & kids later in the month

I'm feeling pretty good about the progress so far. Not perfect, but well on track! How about you? How are you doing with your goals in May? 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Saturday plans & our menu for the week

We have our normal array of kid activities (two soccer games, art class, a sleepover friend), plus regular errands & chores. Here's my full list of plans for today:

  1. Run 3 miles
  2. Yoga? Time permitting
  3. Take Nick to art class
  4. Soccer for Sam
  5. Soccer for Nick
  6. Make hummus
  7. Go to Lucky for risotto (use $10 coupon)
  8. Make menu plan 
  9. Make Costco shopping list
  10. Produce stand
  11. Costco
  12. Figure out running training pan
  13. Library card
  14. Laundry
There you have it. It will be a glorious day if I can accomplish that, plus squeeze in some reading on my new lounge chair. ;-)

And, the menu for the week - I'm thinking of the following:

  • Saturday - steak (found two small ones in the freezer!) + grilled potatoes & salad
  • Sunday - homemade pizzas
  • Monday - latest work night, so leftovers
  • Tuesday - Pasta & meatballs
  • Wednesday - homemade taquitos
  • Thursday - Fish & pasta
  • Friday (likely just me & the boys, so something easy like soup & sandwiches)

What about you? What's on your agenda for today? Have you thought about a menu plan? Share suggestions! :-) 

Friday, May 13, 2016

TGIF, and musical news

Oh my, so grateful it's Friday. Here are five random things about our week:

  1. Both boys had music concerts this week. They both somehow had xylophone solos. ;-) 

2. I've biked to work 3.5 days (one day, half way) & it's been great. Talk about a fantastic frugal & fit combination! In the afternoon, the commute time is roughly the same! I do have to change my clothes, which takes about 5-10 minutes in the locker room. In the morning, it's about a 20 minute of additional time, as I go in during off hours & traffic is light. Either way, it's a huge victory to carve out workout time for myself. I've also finally stopped getting lost. If I bike to work 20~ times, I'm going to price out a used road bike. Using an old Costco mountain bike is a little challenging. ;-)

3. I also had my best run in sixish months yesterday. Not sure what happened, but it's like the skies opened up & it was easier than it's been in forever! Yeah!!! I'm not quite up to running three miles without stopping, but it's close.

4. I put $500 in each of the boys college accounts, so half way to our yearly goal. 

5. I had my yearly skin cancer check & all is well. This is particularly important as a) I'm very fair and b) I take a medicine for my lupus that increases my risks substantially.

And, that's it! Hope you are all having a fabulous Friday. Tell me something random about your week. 

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Forming good habits aka life hacks

Now, I'm not a pro at life, but I have formed a few good habits over the past few years that I've stuck with and that have had a huge impact on my life. The blogging community is all about sharing tips & tricks that work for us, and learning from those around you, so here goes!

Here are some of the best habits or life hacks I've developed over the past few years:

  1. Max out my retirement. I've actually been doing this since I got my first full time job (or a few years thereafter. Can't remember. It was *a long* time ago. ;-)) Because of that early start, it doesn't even feel like my money. It gets deducted, and is gone. Poof. Not saving isn't an option. now, I realize this isn't an option for everyone, but the earlier you can get this started, the better off you'll be due to compound interest, of course. I've actually upped my game on this over the last two years, and used a January bonus to max out my 401K in the first month of the year. Again, super challenging & I'm lucky enough to have this bonus, but it's great to get it out of the way earlier on in the year.
  2. Stop using electronics (at least) an hour before bed. This is probably the most life changing of any of my good habits. It started about a year ago, when I realized that every night I was struggling to fall asleep & never sleeping well - I'd have anxiety dreams during the short time I was able to sleep. I now stop a minimum of an hour before bed. This has multiple good results. I get in more reading, it stops me from working so late, and I get amazing sleep. I also get to bed much quicker than I used to. Seriously, try this. If you are using a laptop or a tablet or phone before bed (or, maybe TV, although that was never an issue for me), try it & see if it gives you better sleeping habits.
  3. Get a minimum of 8.5 hours of sleep a night. I can't achieve this when I travel, but stick to a consistent sleeping schedule every other day. I go to bed around 9:00 pm most nights, and wake up around six. I do this even on the weekend. Staying consistent helps me fall asleep easier. Sleeping is particularly critical for me, as it helps me keep my lupus symptoms in check. 
  4. Track my fruit & vegetable intake. This is a virtuous cycle. If I track, I work harder to get more fruit & vegetables into my diet. When I eat more F&V, not only am I generally eating healthier, I'm also less hungry (all of those foods typically fill you up, at a lower calorie cost), which enables me to reduce my calories, helping me lose weight.  
  5. Prep meals on weekends. When our kids were first born, we spent *a lot* of money on dining out. We weren't good budgeters back then either, but I'd estimate a minimum of 5x what we are spending now. Mostly on takeout, quick restaurant meals, etc. We had a big turning point when we started to prep protein on the weekend. Protein is the critical path for us, as it takes the longest to prepare. You may find that full meals is easiest. Because I have lots of varied taste buds & levels of health in our house, we prep the protein on weekends, plus make larger dinners than be served as leftovers during the week. A few "protein prep" meals would include: browning ground beef for tacos, grilling beef or chicken kebabs, grilled chicken breasts, hamburgers, etc. We freeze all of the protein, and then defrost it quickly & are able to make an easy weekday dinner. Options would include: tacos (chicken or beef) & quesadillas, pasta with chicken, rice & beef, etc. This has saved us so much time & energy (not to mention money) over our previous methods! 
  6. Push yourself. It's hard to quantify this, but I do try to look for opportunities to push myself out of my comfort zone. I've embraced this a bit more as I've gotten older. Recent examples include: moving to another state, leaving my long time employer (17 years), international travel (although not by choice, but have embraced it as much as I can for work), running, biking to work (a total fear of mine). I don't love all of it, but pushing myself means I'm looking for opportunities to improve my life and getting over my fears, and it can be pretty powerful. 

I'm sure you have your own amazing good habits - please share! I'm always looking for inspiration on how other people manage their time, lives, money, fitness, etc. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

I survived bike commuting & weekly budget wrap up

Totally non-related topics, although at least I can say that bike commuting serves the dual benefit of getting me physical exercise as well as saving on gas, auto wear & tear. ;-)

I survived my morning commute. It wasn't without challenges as a rookie commuter (went the wrong way, bike is stuck in a gear & I can't shift, went to the wrong side of a lane for turning, etc), but I think this will actually be a really great option for me once I'm more familiar with the route & the prep of getting all of my stuff together.

So with that, here's how we spent our money last week. The week included Mother's Day & a date night, so it wasn't a cheap week. Also, can you tell that I ran all of my errands on Saturday? ;-)

  • Monday - 5/2
    • $781 - childcare (our nanny)
  • Tuesday - 5/3
    • $70 - APEC global entry application fee (am hoping to get reimbursed by work for this)
    • $67.20 - M's flight for our summer beach trip. (This is after the $308 credit on Alaska that I had)
  • Wednesday - 5/4
    • $20 - Starbucks, gifts for teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day
    • $150 - to extend a camp that I registered for to full day, now that I know I will be working this summer
  • Thursday - 5/5 - No spend day
  • Friday - 5/6
    • $10 - Starbucks offer ($10 matching from visa, so got a $20 credit on my Starbucks app for $10)
    • $75.25 - half marathon registration for Labor Day run. 
    • $1000 - boys college accounts
  • Saturday - 5/7
    • $50 - Gap gift card at the grocery store, to take advantage of a $10 gift card. Will use for jeans, which people are ever growing out of. (The boys, although sometimes me as well ;-))
    • $17.11 - Target, SOS cleaning pads & a new soap dispenser, for our refillable soap.
    • $14.99 - a replacement lunch bag, as someone took Nick's a few months ago. We've hobbled by with other options, but need a true lunch bag. The boys take their lunches every day. 
    • $50 - Rite Aid, also for a Gap gift card for a $10 reward
    • $12.99 - Fish at Lucky
    • $7.71 - kale, cucumber & lavash bread at the produce stand
    • $10.74 - six bags of edamame at Trader Joes. One of my favorite accompaniments when we are throwing together a quick dinner. 
    • $46.21 - I've avoided Rite Aid stock ups for a while, but we were out of a few things, & I wanted to combine a few good coupons. Ended up with six facial cloths (I use for traveling, and the gym) - this will last me hopefully through the rest of the year. I don't use these at home & wash with a regular towel at home. Also, stocked up on shaving cream. Took advantage of a few points offers.
    • $160.50 - regular Costco grocery shopping. We were out of coffee, beef, three types of cheese, etc. It was an expensive trip.
    • $60 - sitter, date night. Well worth the opportunity to hang out with M. Finally!
    • $153.34 - dinner out, including wine. We'd love to make dinner at home & have wine, but without kids. So far, that hasn't happened much. But, would be a much cheaper option! :-)
    • $4.95 - a scoop of homemade ice cream after dinner. 
    • $32.40 - two large pizzas. Total impulse to feed the kids & sitter. Not thrilled, but it should be enough for two more dinners for us. 
  • Sunday - 5/8
    • $14 - Mother's Day cupcakes from M

Total spend = $2808.39. Lots of opportunities to improve this week, as that was much spendier than normal for us! What about you? How did you do on your weekly spending? 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

Happy Mother's Day & a menu plan

Happy Mother's Day to all of you moms out there. I was very spoiled this morning, with flowers & cupcakes (my big indulgence on my birthday & Mother's Day), a new patio chair (for reading my book in the sunshine) & a sweater. Plus fabulous homemade cards. I love these boys, even though they drive me crazy. ;-) Isn't that the way it's supposed to be?

I'm planning for the week ahead, particularly because I'm going to try out something new this week - biking to work. I'm going to attempt it one way tomorrow, leaving my car there this afternoon. That way, I can test it out with minimal commitment. If I like it, I'm hoping to make it a regular part of both my workout & commuting time. Fingers crossed.

Sunday - Persian feast. M is cooking. It's Mother's Day, after all. ;-) Followed by cupcakes!
Monday - Leftover pizza
Tuesday - Leftover Persian feast
Wednesday - Still probably enough leftovers for one more meal (pizza or Persian, each will choose)
Thursday - crazy, crazy schedule with a late meeting for me, and double soccer practices. We will have a planned meal out at a very casual place.
Friday - Homemade taquitos, guacamole & chips
Saturday - Homemade calzones

And, in big news, M's dad is no longer able to travel for any distance. He is very old, and M is not able to go back to Iran to visit (complicated story, but not possible). Given that his father is too old to visit, and they haven't seen the boys in five years, I think it's time for us to visit in a location that's close by & allowed by both sets of passports (again, more complicated than you'd think). That brings us to Dubai. I'm not thrilled with the idea of schlepping the boys on those flights & making it happen, but it just feels really important that M's father (and mother) get to spend additional time with the boys. Also, I've never met M's sister, niece, nephew, aunts, uncles, etc due to the travel challenges. So, it's important from that side as well. It will be extremely expensive, as you can imagine, so we will start trying to find a way to fund that trip.

I'm off to go squeeze in yoga before a soccer game! :-) Happy Sunday to all. What are you up to today?

Saturday, May 7, 2016

A few frugal things & pre-Mother's Day activities

I'm leaving in a few minutes to do a 5K trail race. I ran my first half marathon on Mother's Day & like to keep to the tradition of gifting myself with an opportunity to challenge & push myself on Mother's Day. Because I haven't been running, I almost skipped it this year, but opted instead for a 5K trail race. It looks pretty hilly, and it's supposed to rain this morning. We'll see how it goes! :-)

Here are a few frugal things I've done lately, tucked in around all of the crazy of our lives.

  1. Appealed a parking ticket & won! (The ticket was issued while my husband was paying at the station, and documentation proved that we had paid for the spot before the ticket was issued). It took time to write everything, and extra effort but I saved $67! 
  2. Cashed in miles for $200 of Amazon gift cards. We'll save these for Christmas.
  3. Didn't need my nanny on Friday, made it work with child care tradeoffs. Saved ~$50.
  4. Wrote about my terrible United experience on my return flight - got a credit for $200.
  5. Cleaned my own house this week - saved $100.
  6. Almost caved in & went out on Thursday, but looked ahead to next Thursday & realized we'd be going out that day. Scrambled up a quick dinner & saved. Also, found a $5 off coupon for the upcoming Thursday dinner.
  7. Utilized a $10 extra Starbucks reward (spend $10 with Visa pay, get a second $10 Starbucks credit) to double my money. You can then convert these Starbucks credits into gift cards for others.
  8. Made my mom a lovely card for Mother's Day, and will treat her to lunch when we are next together. She prefers this over actual gifts, as do I. I will also call her, of course!
  9. Used all of my Alaska credits (from monitoring the prices each week & requesting adjustments when the prices drop) to buy my husband's flight for our family trip. Saved $308!
  10. Ordered a $12 part for my 15+ year old food processor, rather than replacing. It now works like a charm!

And, with that, I'm off. Take care of yourselves this weekend, all of you lovely moms out there, this weekend! You deserve it!

Friday, May 6, 2016

Yearly budget spending - how are we tracking?

First of all, I increased my federal tax withholdings by another $500/month, and am trying to remind M to do the same. That will reduce our liability by $12K next year. We did increase our withholdings last year, but need to continue to do this, as it's not enough to offset the gains on our stock options, which are taxed at a flat 25% (i.e. not enough is withheld).

Alright, on to the yearly budget! The year is more than 1/3 over (34%, but who is counting ;-)), and we track random (non-standard monthly expenses) costs in the yearly budget. I'm going to remove taxes for the purpose of this check in, as it obviously throws off the entire budget & makes it hard to manage with the giant numbers included. So, here goes!

Areas where we're under (as measured by % of year elapsed compared to % of spend): 

  • Auto - We've only spent 6% of our budget, so we still have $1400 to spend here.
  • Boys college - I've only put $50 in the boys account, so I'm at 2%. This is because I made a ton of changes (switched providers, got a full refund, etc) & had a much larger amount than expected to put in due to gains & refunds. I will put some additional money in their accounts, so expect to catch up later in the year. 
  • Charity - we're under and tracking at 9%, but we donate almost everything in Q4. 
  • Christmas - at 2% (taxes/fees on frequent flier flights for the holidays). I do expect to come in under budget for this category, as we were able to use our miles to pay for the airfare.
  • Clothing - we're at 27% of spend, and I expect to keep this in line and come in 
  • Gifts - we're at 16%, but I have Father's Day & M's birthday coming up. I expect to spend at or around the budget by the end of the year. I'm under because I was able to use Amazon gift cards for some of the boys birthday gifts. 
  • Health - we've spent 9%, but I plan to do a few runs between now & the end of the year, which will increase this. 
Areas where we're over (trending below expected spend for this time of the year):

  • Boys (all) - we've spent 74%, most of this was for school donations, and field trips. This was a much more expensive category than I'd expected. 
  • Boys Activities - We're over. We've spent 102% of our budget & will still have fall soccer coming up. I need to do a better job of measuring & tracking this category, but I'm happy with their existing activities (just soccer, plus the occasional swimming lessons). 
  • House - we've spent 37% so just a little over. No major concerns here. 
  • Personal - we've spent 46%, mostly due to my lavish 40th birthday massage. No regrets, but have cut back other personal expenses to try to bring this in line by the end of the year.
  • Travel - we've spent 83%, so way up. But, we've booked & paid for almost everything. I do plan to spend more than our original budget. Mostly because I'm going to pay for part of a trip that M is planning with my Dad & his buddies. Aka - the Las Vegas "trip of a lifetime". More details forthcoming on this. ;-) 

Net/net, removing the taxes, we have spent 47% of our yearly budget, with 1/3 of the year elapsed. So, we need to slow our spending. ;-) I'm still hoping to come in right around our budget, but slightly over. I'd be happy if we were around $5,000 over, so I'll have an update on plans around this soon. What about you? Do you have a yearly budget as well as a monthly budget? How are you doing with your spending & saving?? More on saving soon as well!

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Longer term financial planning

We're at that time of year where I get all anxious about our financial planning beyond just the month to month, or even looking ahead to the end of the year. I like to have financial plans that reconcile our biggest priorities & put them on a timeline. Of course, it's super hard to predict & build plans when the future is ever changing.

Here's how I've been roughly thinking about our financial priorities. Note that this assumes we'll continue to have zero non-mortgage debt, will maintain our existing retirement contributions (and will continue to grow to the IRS max each year, etc).

  • 2016-2017
    • Top priority - saving for a house in California. We're still sketching out what this will take, how much of a down payment we will need/want, etc. 
    • Put *some* money in the boys college accounts. Maybe in the neighborhood of $2K, each year. 
    • Travel. Continue with our existing travel budget & priorities.
  • 2017 (April-September?)
    • Top priority - buy a house. Our lease is over at the end of next August.
    • Travel. Continue with our existing travel budget & priorities.

    • 2017 (October-December)
      • Rebuild savings, any repairs or furnishings for house, etc.
    • 2018-2027
      • Top priority - save $1,000/month for the boys college. This will put us roughly on schedule to have 85-90% funded for both. They will be responsible to work & save for the rest. 
      • We will pay down all of our mortgages, on schedule. No plans to make the payoffs a #1 priority. For now.
      • Travel. Continue with our existing travel budget & priorities.
    • 2028+ (I will be 52, M will be 61)
      • Pay off all mortgages
      • Increase travel budget
      • Retire - this will likely still mean working for enjoyment & flexible money, but not with the same requirements as we have now. It may also mean that we relocate to somewhere a lot more affordable. 
    Obviously, my work plans will greatly impact our ability to do much of the above. I remain in a holding pattern. I know I will work at least until the summer of 2017. And, I get a large bonus in January of 2018 (assuming my employer continues this). I'm considering either January of 2018 or June of 2018 as my potential end dates. From there, I would look for more flexible work options, and will know exactly how much I'd need to earn to pay for our house, travel, college savings, etc.

    What about you? Do you get anxious without a plan, even if it's rough? Do you enjoy running the numbers & seeing how things play out with your future? What are the big milestones you're currently tracking? We're in the "under 10 years" phase, where we have 9 more years until Nick is out of school, and then our world changes quite a bit. We will be paying for college (hopefully will have it funded by then), but won't have kids in the house & will have quite a bit of freedom to move around, explore new places, split our time between Washington, California, Hawaii? Tell me about your plans!

    Wednesday, May 4, 2016

    Setting goals for May

    I'm excited about this month - I have *no* work travel! We may do a mini getaway with the kids to San Louis Obispo, which is in driving distance. It would be nice to make that happen and explore the local area a bit. With sports & activities & work trips, it's something we rarely do.

    And, here's what I have in mind for May!


    • Stick to our budget
    • Save $1,500, in addition to our stock vests
    • Put $500/each in the boys college funds

    • Have a date night with M
    • Decide if M & I are going on a mini vacation. If so, book. For real this time. ;-)
    • Book M's flights to the beach for the 4th of July
    • Plan/take a vacation over the long Memorial Day break 

    • Lose 4 pounds (trying to be realistic, as I'll be on vacation for a few days)
    • Eat 5 servings of fruits & vegetables 
    • Complete 5 stretching workouts (yoga or pilates)
    • Complete 7 strength workouts
    • Complete 800 minutes of cardio
    • Average 1350 calories/day
    • Follow a training plan, find a race, and run 10 times.

    • Maximum of one late night/week
    • Work from home at least three Fridays this month

    • Read four books
    • Get together with a friend

    I've made a few modifications to my existing goals, and I'm excited about what I have queued up for the month. What about you? What are you hoping to accomplish in May? 

    Tuesday, May 3, 2016

    April goals recap - how did I do?

    Here are the goals for April, and how I did against each one.


    • Stick to our budget - I was close. We came within $350. Given the size of our budget, that's not a crazy margin. I'll do a more detailed post shortly. 
    • Save $1,500 - Yes, although we also paid our taxes. But, I saved my stock award (~$6,500), so that was a big win. We are saving this for an eventual house purchase. 
    • Meet with another local realtor. - Yes, and we actually found some potential options that we like. We are considering buying a house in about a year. 

    • Have a date night with M - Yes! Although, Nick got a migraine & we had to leave a bit early. We have another scheduled for this weekend. :-) 
    • Decide if M & I are going on a mini vacation. If so, book. - We are still discussing this. 

    • Lose 4 pounds (trying to be realistic, as I'll be on vacation for a few days) - Nope. I lost .5 a pound. I'm happy that I made progress, but need to not let work trips derail me! I was down 3 pounds before my trip. 
    • Eat 5 servings of fruits & vegetables - I finished off the month with 3.36 average/day. I'd like to get this higher in May. 
    • Complete 7 stretching workouts (yoga or pilates) - nope. Sadly, I had zero & I can definitely tell! I've already gotten one stretching workout in this month. 
    • Complete 6 strength workouts - I had 4 strength workouts. 
    • Complete 800 minutes of cardio - Woohoo! 820 minutes of cardio!!!! 
    • Average 1450 calories/day - Pretty close - I ended with 1473. To be realistic, I think I'm going to need to drop this to 1350 to make any significant progress. 
    • Run 7 times. - I ran 4 times. 

    • Maximum of one late night/week - Yes, except for my trips. 
    • Work from home at least three Fridays this month - zero times 
    • Have work conversation on what it will take for me to potentially stay. (Need to clear this up in my own mind first). - I had an initial conversation that revolved around: working from home on Fridays more consistently, and taking personal time off as needed. More thinking to do here. 

    • Read four books - Yes, I probably read 10. Traveling helps. ;-) 
    • Color in my adult coloring book - Nope. 
    • Get together with a friend - Yes, I had a fabulous long weekend with my sister & BFF. It was amazing!

    All told, I'm pretty pleased with the month. I definitely have more work to do (particularly on balance & fitness), but I'm feeling good about wrapping up April. What about you? How did you with your April goals? 

    April budget review - how did we do?

    Every month I try to recap our budget, and learn from areas we were over. As I can. Some categories are continual challenges. ;-)

    I break our spending into two categories - yearly expenses (travel, house, car repairs) & monthly expenses. All told, we were over by a total of $355. Not too shabby, given our budget size. 

    Areas where we were over:

    • Dining out, by $204. This was due to: me traveling (M tends to take the boys out for at least one dinner), about $40 on dining out for my girls trip, and a date night. 
    • Groceries, by $198. Every. month. Yes, I realize this means that I need to raise our grocery budget. I'm just sort of in denial. ;-) 
    • Alcohol, over by $188. More fancy wine
    • Utilities, by $31. I think this is because our quarterly water bill was due. 

    And, areas where we were under:

    • Cleaning, by $180. Used some saved cash to pay for this instead.
    • Gas, by $70. Just less driving & spending in this area. 

    Almost every other category was pretty much right on the money. We were under in childcare by $3, entertainment by $9, Insurance by $5.

    I still need to do a recap of where our spending stands on the yearly budget categories, as the year is 1/3 over - time to check in! What about you? How did you do with your April spending? Overall, our net worth dropped in April for the first time in a long time - down about $13K thanks to our taxes. (We actually paid much more than that, but also made money in April, so they offset each other somewhat). Let's hope for a big upswing in May!!

    Monday, May 2, 2016

    A few budget things & the year is 1/3 over

    I'm getting back into the groove at the office & with life & trying to finalize all of our summer plans, and potentially find time for a weekend getaway with M.

    We had our anniversary in October, and two date nights since then, but it's just not enough. Because I go to bed really early (the lupus), we have zero adult time without kids awake in the house. It's hard. I try to stay up early a couple of nights a week, but add in work travels & jet lag, and we need more time alone together. Let's see what we can come up with! :-)

    And, in frugal news:

    1. I've been monitoring the flights on Alaska Airlines (personal travel) & using their new price matching option, I've received $308 over the past couple of months by checking each week on the lowest price day (Tuesday). I'd almost given up on my most expensive trip, but was rewarded with $100 of credit today. Woohoo!
    2. I provided feedback to United about my flight home & received a $200 travel voucher. I'll use this to offset my next business trip, and then be reimbursed. 
    3. We finished out April, *almost* under budget. ;-) But, more on that in a separate post. 
    4. The boys college funds are ticking along nicely. By getting them involved & monitoring the performance, both boys have been more motivated to save money for their college. They like the visuals of checking online (with supervision) to see how their accounts are performing. 
    5. I'm back to menu planning & shopping list making, etc. I prepped a few freezer meals this weekend, and also made muffins. It feels like I'm slowly "getting back".

    And with that, I'll leave you with a picture that represents my weekend. ;-) Love my boys & their amazing soccer skills.