Thursday, April 9, 2015

mo money, mo problems. Part 2 of our debt story

Last time I told you how we had a small mountain of debt accumulated. I tell you this to be encouraged that it CAN be done. I used to read stories on Dave Ramsey’s website about how all of these people paid off their small-ish mountain of debt. Those people annoyed me because their debt was NOTHING in comparison to ours. We did it in three years. Here’s how:

  1. We started a cash budget. And started tracking where our money went. You know how you get your tax returns and it tells you how much money you’ve made that year and you wonder where it all went (mine was in my closet). Yeah, start figuring out where that money goes.
  2. Canceled direct tv. It broke my heart. I’ve read where people cut the cord and it was fine and they didn’t miss it one bit. I’m not one of those people. I miss it. We both miss it.
  3. Got rid of our landline.
  4. We tried to sell the Traverse. We really did. But the moment you drive a car off the lot, it instantly depreciates. So we kept it. And dealt with it.
  5. We cut out vacations. Not that we ever went on a lot of trips beforehand, but we really don't go places unless they have been saved for.
  6. I started working at a place that did tuition reimbursement. Got good grades so I could get reimbursed.
  7. Stopped the home improvements bus. Yes, I still have the same original ugly hunter green countertops that we’ve had since we moved in almost nine years ago. On the flip side, they’re really good at hiding dirt!
  8. Limited how often we eat out. This is hard for us. We both love eating out, but truthfully, after having Lucan we had less of a desire to eat out. No one ever thought “let’s go to a nice restaurant and see if our toddler can behave” was a good plan. I remember one harrowing meal at Granite City and thinking in my mind, “this is SO NOT WORTH IT.”
  9. Meal planning, which goes hand in hand with #8. We both make bad food choices when we have no game plan and are hungry to boot. And by bad food choices, I mean, takeout from Hy-Vee Chinese.
  10. Did not get smart phones until the fall of 2014. Wow. But oh how I love my iphone now. It makes me so very happy.
  11. I stayed out of the mall. I realized that I have less discontent when I have no idea what I’m missing out on.
  12. Started unsubscribing to some of the former shopping blogs I used to live for.
  13. Also unsubscribed from store emails. No, I don’t need to know that Loft and Gap are having a 40% off sale again.
  14. I don’t buy Lucan a lot of presents. For example up until this year, he didn’t get all of those small one-off holidays presents, like Easter, Valentine’s, Halloween, etc. This was the first time I got him more than a single Christmas present. I leave it to family and they are more than generous. If you come and visit our house, you’ll see that no one is lacking in toys. I’ve tried hiding Lu’s Christmas or birthday presents and then bringing them back out at a later date, but I need a better hiding spot. I continually catch Lucan downstairs standing in front of the shelves with all the toys on it and hear him asking “you can get just one thing down for me, right?”
  15. I think I’ve only bought Lucan one thing at Gap Kids. Ever. I’m sure this will probably change with little Miss, but for now, all of our kids’ clothes come from generous gifts, sales, consignment, garage sales, hand me downs and FB swap sites. Guess what – they don’t care. Side note: we do buy most of Lu’s shoes new now that he’s so active. But he only gets like two pairs a year. He’s a boy; he doesn’t know he needs more.
  16. We did in-home daycare as a cost savings thing. Granted, it was a complete mess of a nightmare, but it did save us some money. Headaches? Yes. Insensible rage? Yes. Fear of getting fired due to the number of missed days because your provider is flaky? Yes. If you can find a good in-home, go for it. It works for several of our friends, so it could work for you too!
  17. We garden. Or try to garden. We mostly do it because we love the fresh produce and not as this huge cost savings endeavor. Last summer I tried to use up all of our tomatoes and Lucan got really tired of finding tomatoes in everything or having five tomato based meals a week.
  18. We do canning. I really can’t tell you if we’re saving money by canning. I can certainly tell you that it’s hard to can with two adults who work full-time and have a very active child. Every year I tell myself that something's gotta give when we're up till midnight multiple nights canning. Obviously that something is my sanity.
  19. I have a group of church friends who are really gracious about organizing meals for new babies. It’s really wonderful and I have felt the blessings of those ladies. But sometimes I just can’t manage a whole meal so I make a loaf of homemade bread. People like homemade bread. I have to repeat to myself that I’m not a bad person for bringing a person a loaf of homemade bread.
  20. Harnessing the power of social media. I’ve seasonally borrowed items for my kiddos that I knew we would only need for a little while. Several friends let me have mint out of their garden when I asked on Facebook.
  21. For a while I made homemade laundry detergent. I didn’t like it so I stopped. But you might like it!
  22. I cut the boys’ hair. And I hate it.
  23. We only make coffee at the house on the weekends. Otherwise we suffer through work coffee.
  24. Use the library! Our library has an awesome selection of magazines and online magazines (check out zinio). I also reserve new releases on books and movies. Now if I could just stay on top of getting things back on time.
  25. Become a DIYer. Lance gets the credit for this one – he (and our families) painted the exterior of our house, fixed our water heater, garbage disposal, sink (multiple times), rewired lamps, fixed our dishwasher, rewired the stand-alone freezer, installed our hardwood floors, changes the oil on all of our cars, ignores the check engine lights (seriously, ours have been on for years), fixes things like water heaters, spark plugs, broken tire rods and axels, fixed bed frames, grills. Lance is my DIY hero.

So I don’t think any of my tips are earth shattering. The main things we’ve done: start a budget, stick to it. Learn how to do some small things yourself. If credit cards are hard for you, tuck them away. If shopping is a weakness, know your triggers and eliminate them (store sale emails, shopping blogs, malls). If you were an alcoholic, you wouldn’t hang out in a bar, right? 

Aside from the budget, I don’t think any one thing is going to make you a millionaire. But a combination of all these little things will add up and result in money saved. We both started bringing in higher paychecks and that was probably the tipping point in being able to pay off large chunks of debt. As Becky Bloomwood would say “I’m more of a make more money than a spend less type of person” (Confessions of a Shopaholic anyone?)

You can do this. Believe me when I say, been there, spent that, saved and lived to tell the tale.    

And completely unrelated, a video of me making Lucan cry by threatening to ship him off in a box. I thought he would think it was funny. I was wrong. 

Friday, March 27, 2015

The quest ends: Chocolate Chip Cookie Recipe

Right. If you know me or follow me on facebook, you know I can't make a chocolate chip cookie to save my life. It's kind of humiliating and more than a little humbling. BUT I DID IT. After literally hundreds of tasty (but abysmal failures) chocolate chip cookie flops, I finally found a winner. These are the things I'm attributing to my success.

1. New baking soda. My boss replaces her baking soda every 2-3 months. I found a box of baking soda in my fridge with a "best if used by date" of 2002 (which I have no idea where it came from because I was in college at that point and I don't think I would have willingly moved a box of baking soda 5+ times). Lance asked me if baking soda evaporated into the air .... like water? (My husband is smart, but common sense sometimes flees his brain). Please know that I store my cooking baking soda in an airtight container and don't use the same one that we use to freshen our fridge or do laundry.
2. These powerhouse baking sheets. Combined with silpat mats.
3. Name brand butter aka: Land o' Lakes. My boss doesn't necessarily believe this makes a difference but I had read on King Arthur Flour's blog that generic butter can have a higher water count. I don't know if that's true or not.
4. I barely softened our butter. It was probably out on the counter for 5 minutes and I threw it in the microwave for 8 seconds.
5. I used my KitchenAid stand mixer. My mom always mixes hers by hand but I don't have those kind of arm muscles :)
6. I used two kinds of sugar - white and brown.
7. No more nestle tollhouse recipe - I used the one listed below which calls for baking soda and baking powder.
8. I didn't refrigerate the dough after mixing. Yes, I am a rebel. But I didn't notice that the ones that were baked on the cold baking sheet did look nicer. Sometimes there isn't time like that.
9. This is a 100% butter recipe. I had been advised by several people to do a butter/margarine/crisco combo but this worked!
10. I erred on the side of too much flour. I think previously I had been stingy with my flour and very exacting about my "scoop and level" method but I tried to be more generous this time around.

Below is the recipe I used from "Love Taza"

Chocolate Chip Cookies Recipe
1 cup butter
1 cup sugar
1 cup brown sugar
2 eggs
1 tsp. vanilla
1 tsp. soda
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
3 1/4 cups flour (give or take a little flour)
1 bag of chocolate chips
Cream butter. add in sugars, mix.
Add eggs and vanilla.
Mix the dry ingredients separately in a large bowl. Gradually add into butter/sugar mixture. Add chocolate chips.
Bake at 350 degrees for 8-10 minutes. Makes about 2 dozen.
I told Lucan gleefully that I had made him chocolate chip cookies. He ate 2 for breakfast (because I'm a rockstar mom) and then proceeded to ask me if I had also made cinnamon rolls. Ungrateful brat.)

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

mo money, mo problems (Part 1 of our Debt Story)

We paid off the last of our student loans on Friday, March 13, a day that will forever go down in infamy (ha, not really. We’re not Pearl Harbor here). 

Let’s backtrack a few paces and discuss our debt.

  • We bought a new (new to us) Traverse two months after Lucan was born. While I’m super thankful that we have the Traverse and one vehicle that is bigger, it was still an expense.
  • I attended two private schools for my undergrad and graduate studies and did a study abroad semester in the most expensive city in the world (London, coming in at #1 according to a recent Daily Telegraph story).
  • We bought a house on our first anniversary. I was working in non-profit and am actually shocked by how little I was making at that time. At the same time, I had no idea how little that amount actually was and thought I was rich! Foolish 23 year-old. 
  • Approximately nine months into our marriage Lance underwent a fairly substantial jaw surgery at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. Cue: out of network hospital bill. While we were able to pay off his bill without too many tears, it was certainly pricey and an unplanned expense.
  • We were using our credit cards to pay for everything. We always paid off our bill at the end of each month, but I can recognize that we typically spent more than we should have by using our credit cards to make our purchases. (Side: we still use our credit cards and we have a Target debit card that we get 5% off with. But I will say, from a cash budget perspective it certainly complicates things. Lance is constantly having to ask me if I’ve moved money and I never can remember. He's typically annoyed with me)
  • Between the two of us, we’ve had three bouts of unemployment and have lived to tell the tale. And to pay off debt during that time! 

I hope that paints a pretty good picture of our finances. It’s not a pretty one, but I’m guessing it’s one that many of you can identify with. Student loans, credit cards, new cars and a baby! We are the "typical” Americans!

Stay tuned for more about our debt saga. It's a doozie. 
And just for giggles, a photo of the first time I met Lance. We were 15!

Friday, March 20, 2015

Why I’m Not a Hipster

Him. Layers upon layers. Hipster glasses. Fedora. Smirky.
Me. Clothes from the mall and mass produced.

Obviously this post has lots of real depth to it. I jotted most of these reasons down while I was taking a “milk” break.

1. I’m Asian. Hipsters are primarily white. One giant strike for Kara. Can’t change this one. 
2. I like mainstream EVERYTHING. Starbucks, Target, Taylor Swift, Emily Giffin, The Bachelor.” If it’s Top 40, I probably like it. I’m super cool like that. 
3. I don’t own any black frame glasses. I do own glasses and need them, I just happen to enjoy the fuzzy world I live in without them. 
4. I have straight hair and no chunky bangs. Hipsters have beachy wave hair and Zooey Deschanel bangs. 
5. No tattoos. I can’t think of anything I want on my body that much.
6. I can’t really pull off hats. Especially wool slouchy hats.
7. If diaper bags can be considered messenger bags, I might have one point for Kara as a hipster.
8. I don’t really have the patience for thrift stores. There’s nothing organized there! It smells funny! Everyone knows I’m an imposter! 
9. I don’t watch indie films. I think the last “indie-ish” film I watched was “Blue Jasmine” or “Midnight in Paris.” Not really indie and Lance hated both of them. Last movie I saw and really liked “Chef.” Of course it was about food …
10. I know nothing about emerging music. Not unless it’s on the radio and endorsed by Ryan Seacrest. 
11. I think artisan food is expensive.
12. Layering clothes makes me really hot. I can’t take the heat of multiple layers. Perhaps I should invest in an open plaid shirt from Tommy Hilfiger. 
13. We own three cars. One is an SUV. Public transportation in the burbs of Des Moines just isn’t happening. Bicycling in our stage of live would be super impractical. I tried to take Lucan garage saleing (not even a real word) one time in the bike trailer and he kept throwing things out the side and I had to keep stopping to pick our stuff off the sidewalk. Again, I was a sweaty mess by the end.
14. My kids have kinda hipster-ish names. And if by hipster, I mean no one has ever heard of our kids names and wants to know how in the world we came up with them/why we would embarrass/curse our children like that. 
15. And the real reason I can't be a hipster - I had to google "how to be a hipster"

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

28 Things in February

I like and I dislike that February has 28 days. I like it in the fact that I can consistently remember that February has the fewest days out of all the months but I dislike the fact that when this February ends, it means that my maternity leave is over and that I’ve officially reentered the working world. Blar.

1. Lenten study

2.      Dental insurance. We would be most definitely broke without it.

3.      Pizza and conversation at friends’ house. Dinner doesn’t have to be a big production to be fun and worthwhile.

4.      Girls lunch with small group gals. Yum!

5.      Breakfast date with KlAnders.

6.      A husband who has a stronger stomach than I do. Let’s just say it involves poop and leave it at that.

7.      My super handy husband who fixed our water softener with a $2 part. Let’s not go into the fact that he could have fixed it three years ago …

8.      Lucan declared he liked mushrooms. AWESOME!

9.      Successful hip replacement surgery for my mom.

10.   Conversations on Mothering Bible study at church and getting to know more moms.

11.   Healthy 2 month well child checkup for Gracelyn.

12.   Mom playdates.

13.   5 babies born this month. FIVE!!

14.   Getting all of our Christmas cards finally organized and put away – dating back to 2010!

15.   Church scones.

16.   Molly coming over and spending time with us on her lunch breaks or on her Friday afternoons.

17.   The Bachelor and ridiculous conversations I have with my friends about the show.

18.   Crap-ton of snow. I loved it. Lucan loved it. Lance, not so much.

19.   Library storytime.

20.   Two trips to Goodwill to unload stuff we don’t need.

21.   ALDIS shopping trips. They have really upped their game lately.

22.   Gracelyn smiles and coos. She’s so smilie in the morning. Everyone always asks me if she’s this good and my answer is “yes” as long as she’s pooped recently and not confined to her carseat.

23.   Justin’s Vanilla Almond butter. This stuff is like CRACK.

24.   Downtown Abbey. So sad I have to wait until January 2016 for the next season.

25.   Lu is fully potty trained at night too. We talked about it and he decided that he wanted to be able to wear underwear to bed. Bam. Done.

26.   I’m really thankful for my 13 weeks of maternity leave. The end is really bittersweet.

27.   Mere Christianity

28.   My iphone. We got our first iphones in September and I love being able to capture life’s moments with the kiddos.
So happy!

Saturday smiles.

Lu and his stupid penguin, Pete. Do you know how often Pete gets lost resulting in a 15 minute search and find for the tiniest stuffed animal we own.

Cabin fever.

Lu's Valentine's Day box for school.

Adorable onesie baby gift from Studio B yoga.

Doctor Lu.

Recorder serenading :)

My two favorite girls.

Beloved green blankie.

Hanging out in her crib. Not sleeping.

A little taste of summer with this super easy fruit salad - a dollop of honey and a splash of vanilla!

Christmas card organization for the pinterest win!

Two tiny minions.

We let him run around on all the booths at Red Robin. It was snowing and the place was empty. The excuses we make as parents, right?

Last day of maternity leave.

Quick note: see how many sprinkles are on the cookie he's decorating with his left hand? Woah.

Cat nap at Bible study.

Earning his keep. Thanks Erika for this idea. Start them young!


Lu wanted to take selfies.

Library storytime.

I love polka dots.

The snowman melted later that day. Sad :(

All of our kids will be roughly 9 months apart. Isaac is a sweet boy.