Thursday, December 31, 2009

Half day, whole hog

Today was dreary and cold, but I can count two successes. My badge let me into the building at work, and Winslow took a bottle with fewer tears than normal. I also had success in getting my computer sign-ons working, something that has taken colleagues several days when they return from maternity leave.

But today was not so good in other ways. I get to go on a trip in three weeks. Luckily, I'll only be away for about 60 hours or so, yet I am dreading it. I know the work will be fun. Being away won't. My department is taking on even more responsibilities as our company expands, while headcount remains the same. That leaves us with more opportunities for travel. I love the learning. Yes, I do. I love working with our clients. YES YES I do. I am so worried, though, that I'll be gone more than I should be. My husband is a saint for taking this on with two kids.

On a happier note, I had a delicious dinner of baked fish with lemon and dill mayonnaise courtesy of Ryan, reluctant daddy chef extraordinaire. And for dessert, I'll be splitting a bottle of French sparkling wine with him, and maybe we'll pop a few truffles into each other's mouths.

Enjoy the last day of the Aughties.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Back to Reality

Today is my last and final day of maternity leave. It's been 12 glorious weeks being with my daughter Winslow. I've had the chance to be a little housewife. In some ways, it's been great staying at home. The house is pretty straight, dinner is cooked on time every evening, and grocery shopping during the day is wonderful. But other days, it's been a little dull. I don't have tons of spending money, so mindless shopping is off-limits. I'll be glad to get back to work for some stimulation.

Is it worth it, though? After paying for daycare and work clothes, I net just a few hundred dollars a month. For that little bit of money, I get to be away from my children for 50 hours of daylight per week and then have the privilege of putting them to bed almost immediately after getting home. Some would keep their kids up to play, but I respect my children and their need for sleep.

My job also involves travel. Up until this point, it hasn't been extensive since I was only certified in my subject area in May of 2009. However, we have several girls either on or preparing for maternity leave, so the rest of us will fill in the gap. I have a potential trip already scheduled in a few weeks. Ryan will be fine. The girls will be fine. Will I be? I love travel, and training is fun...and yet my heart sinks when I think about being away for four or five days at a time. Especially since the financial rewards are limited. If I were more comfortable financially, maybe I could comfort myself with the knowledge that I was saving for our future.

At this very moment, it is not feasible for me to work less because we have to finish paying off debt and start saving, even if it's just a little bit each month. I would even be comfortable with Ryan and I both working parttime so we could spend more time with the kids. But in this town and in this job market, it would be near impossible.

So there you have it. I'm happy to get back into the swing of things at work. It's a job that can be fun and sometimes quite a challenge, so at least there's that to look forward to. It would be nice, though, to not feel so much guilt.

Monday, December 28, 2009

We're Home

We just spent a few glorious days in New Orleans visiting my mother. The main reason for my enthusiasm for visiting is food. The secondary reason...all the help my mother provides. My mother-Yia Yia-loves my eldest so much I think she'd give up all her organs for Katie if there were a need. She was hand feeding Katie, giving her meat loaf and veggies, scrambled eggs, fruit, and cake (of course, cake!). Very endearing. And very helpful when you have a 3 month old who nurses 10 hours a day.

I discovered a wonderful thing during this trip: the outlet stores on the MS coast. I spent a good amount (cash, not credit) at Banana Republic Outlet Store. For the first time in a long while, I could buy clothes knowing they'd fit. I only tried on the dresses and it was great zipping them up with ease. Next time, I'm hoping to be a size smaller. It'd be a nice reward.

But that's not all that went down this weekend. Ryan and I had a delightful date, courtesy of my mother, at Cafe Adelaide. Owned by the Brennan family, it serves Creole tasties, and we went crazy eating all they had to offer. The Red Bean Crusted Oysters were the best thing I've eaten in years. That means a lot coming from a wanna-be professional eater like me.

I'm glad to be home, though. I'm looking forward to sleeping in my own bed. Tonight. Right. Now.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Dumping the Debt

I'm on a roll this morning, so let me share some thoughts on debt. As I said before, Ryan and I have knocked out 17k in the past year. Actually, the past nine months. If you knew our net income, you'd be pretty amazed by how much money that really is. But it's not as simple as not spending.

First of all, we sold Ryan's car. He had a note and expensive insurance due to some driving mishaps, and honestly, we couldn't afford paying for that car. Luckily we came within about $100 of the loan amount when we sold it. Our wonderful in-laws loaned us a car for awhile, but it recently died. My parents have allowed us to drive my old Civic. After the new year, though, when I return to work, we'll be a one car family. Since Ryan and I work at the same place, we'll be OK for now. When we buy a new car, it will only be *new* to us. It will be affordable and practical.

The second thing we did was create a detailed budget. For example, we have $300 a month to spend on groceries and toiletries. Considering I know smaller families who spend $200 a WEEK at the store, we're going pretty bare in comparison. But if you don't buy processed foods, you save a ton. Don't buy meat and you'll save even more. It's a myth that you need meat. Do you need much of anything? Honestly, our lifestyle change has caused a little heartache over eating out or shopping. Yet we don't feel deprived. Personal recommendation: Have fun money set aside in the budget. Ryan and I get $40 each per month.

Our third task was to never use credit. Ever. If we can't pay cash, we can't afford it. We've missed this goal a few times, but I'm not upset about it. It felt really good to have Christmas be a cash holiday.

Another big task was to pay bills immediately. If the cash goes directly to debt, you don't spend it on silly little incidentals. It also saves on interest.

In addition to these substantial tasks, we've done a few other things:
1) Meal planning 2) Bi-weekly budget meetings 3) Selling stuff we don't use 4) Itemizing our charitable donations for tax purposes 5) Analyzing our tax withholding to maximize paychecks 6) Not using paper products 7) Using the library often 8) Rarely buying alcohol, especially at restaurants 9) Having no shame over hand-me-downs 10) Making our lifestyle changes clear to our families and friends

#10 makes some people uncomfortable. Too many people live beyond their means. I've known people who dip into savings to buy junk that doesn't last. Or to eat at Red Lobster. Not worth it guys.

One thing people wonder is whether we're miserable all the time because we're saving. Well, first of all, we're not saving yet! When we finish paying our CC debt, then we can start. Saving right now would be silly when we have debt left. But we're not miserable. Sometimes we're angry, very very angry, in fact, at ourselves for creating this worthless debt in the first place. Now, though, we're looking forward to building wealth and living happily and debt free. It'll happen soon enough.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

It's been too long

I've had a busy year. That's an understatement. My entire life has been flipped upside down. And that's a good thing.

In September, I got married to Ryan. We had a great party that was pretty small and very homey. It wasn't my dream wedding, mainly because I didn't feel comfortable having a huge, expensive bash while 34 weeks pregnant. Yes, I was a whale at my wedding. But I enjoyed every moment!

So that's the second big change in my life. October 8, 2009, I gave birth to a daughter, Winslow Camilla. It is hard to believe that I now have two children and a husband, especially after such a hard year in 2008.

What else? Personally, I've paid off $8,000 in credit card debt that I mainly built up while I was single and unemployed. And that's in addition to another $9k of my husband's debt. How have we done it? Wearing the same clothes over and over, even through pregnancy. Eating vegetarian. Making a very detailed budget and paying cash for just about everything. It hasn't been easy, but it's totally worth it. I'll come back to debt later. We're not through yet tackling all of it.

I'm also a home owner by proxy. It's actually my husband's house, but I guess it's mine now. We've painted every wall, purchased a tiny bit of new furniture, put in a new driveway, new windows, and refinished floors in a couple of rooms. It's looking better every week. We are cramped, though. This can't last forever. It's a 3 bedroom house better suited for college students than a family of 4.

Finally, I have become more interested in fitness and nutrition. My husband has lost 100 lb in the past 18 months or so. I met him when he was down about 40 lb and despite the fact I was pregnant and overindulging myself, I ended up his diet coach! Funny, I know. About 3 weeks post-partum, I got on the bandwagon working out and eating less. It's great having a partner in crime. Maybe I'll post pictures of before and after once i'm finished. The before pics are scary to me. And I have so much further to go. 7 weeks later, I have met my initial goal, which was to fit into my size 14 pants again without the muffin top of the century. It's only the muffin top of the year now.

It feels good to get back to writing a bit. I've missed it the past few months, but it's taken me this long to catch my breath after a whirlwind semester (yes, I still use that term even though I'm not in school).