Friday, February 26, 2010

Friday Faves - Elderly Couple Impromptu Piano

An elderly couple walked into the lobby of the Mayo Clinic for a checkup and spotted a piano. They've been married for 62 years and he'll be 90 this year.

Check out this impromptu performance. We are only as old as we feel. Enjoy! They certainly do.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Peer to peer lending. What is it?

There has been a lot of buzz across the financial blogosphere lately about peer-to-peer lending. After looking into it, I found a number of financial blogs that I trust giving it their “thumbs up.” So I wanted to know more. What is it? Why would anyone be interested?

With the crises that the banking industry has experienced lately along with the shady methodologies that credit cards have been using to get more and more of your money, fewer and fewer people want to deal with them.

We’re in the number who are tired of the financial chaos and feeling ripped off by credit card companies when we have been good customers (both in giving them our money as well as being reliable in payments). What other options were there?

Peer to peer lending is one of those options.

What is peer to peer lending?
It’s just what it sounds like. Regular people offer their money up to borrow. Regular people apply for a loan. The rates are lower than many bank loans and certainly lower than credit card rates. So that is definitely a plus for the borrower. The rates are higher than CDs, savings accounts and other short-term investment options, so that is a huge plus for the lender. Everyone wins!

Lending Club is one of the prominent names in this business of putting lenders and borrowers in touch with one another. And the site is growing by leaps and bounds as more people realize the benefits to participating in this community of people who are all personally involved in getting the most for their money without abusing the other party.

Only people with good credit history are allowed, so this is definitely not a shady place for people who have no where else to go. This is for people who are honest, dependable, and trustworthy and can prove it with their track record.

Borrowers:
So do you have a credit card with an outrageous balance that you want to get rid of within three years? You can consolidate your cards here with a loan (up to $25,000) at a rate lower than you will be able to find with another card. And you won’t be a slave to a bank.

Do you want to take out a private student loan? These guys might can help you. Practically any legitimate reason for taking out a loan can be done with these guys.

Lenders:
What about the lenders? Well, they can invest as little as $25 and the lender choose the level of risk they are willing to take. You can invest all of your money into one loan, you can appropriate your funds into as many different borrowers as you can stretch your money to diversify your portfolio. You can choose higher risk borrowers for larger interest collection or more stable borrowers for safety. It’s all about how you want to invest, but with returns greater than any other short-term method of investment. In fact, they boast an average 9.6% return on your money. Try that with a bank.

So if you are interested in getting more for your money as an investor, or getting a loan that you are willing to pay off in 3 years or less for an interest rate lower than most lenders can offer you, Lending Club might be worth a few minutes of your time. The best part to me? Knowing that there are real people behind the money and not big-business bankers who are taking all-expense paid vacations on government bail-out money.

Have I used them?
No. But I seriously considered it for loan consolidations before I fully got on board with Dave Ramsey. I have realized that we will be able to pay off all of our credit card debt without a consolidation in about 12 months. So although I could go through Lending Club and get a better rate than my cards offer for that 12 months, I am just going to stay where I am and stick it to the banks by paying off the cards and closing the accounts in an insanely quick amount of time.

However, I am considering using this as a short-term investment option once we are free to make those decisions with our money (aka—after our debts are gone and we have a good savings padding). I like what they do (which is why I am referring you to them now) and would like to have a part in it once we get to use our money the way WE want to.

So go give it a look-see and let me know what you think.

The links and banners on this article and on my sidebar are paid affiliate links/banners. Regardless of the pay, I firmly believe in Lending Club and its methods (or I would not be affiliated with them). All of the above opinions above are my own and are not affected by the affiliation in any way.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

WFMW - Weighing pre-bagged produce

My Works for Me Wednesday entry this week is a trick I just recently learned. I felt like a totally moron for not realizing this myself, but now that I have learned, I think you should too!

When at the grocery store, you can often buy pre-bagged produce...such as a 10 lb bag of potatoes or a 3-lb bag of apples and you buy them by the bag (for instance, this week our Food Lion has a 3-lb bag of tangerines for $2.99).

Well, they probably do their best to weigh and get each bag as close to the predetermined weight as they can, but you just can't be spot on every time. So I weigh the bags now.

Yep...if I'm going to pay $2.99 for a bag of tangerines, I would rather pay $2.99 for a bag that weighs 3.01 lbs than one that weighs 2.86 lbs. I get more for my money that way.

So it seems silly and maybe a bit picky, but I think it is smart use of my money, so I'm doing it.

What about you?

Visit We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else!

Monday, February 22, 2010

8 Items Your Baby Really Doesn’t Need

To everyone who has joined me here today via the Festival of Frugality, the Silver Edition, hosted by Frugal for Life, please feel free to pull up a seat, kick back, and enjoy your stay. I'll offer you some ice-cold sweet tea while you visit, if you would like.

For my regular visitors, go check out the 223rd edition of the Festival and check out some other great posts there.

  1. Nursing pillow—I love our Boppy. I truly do. It’s great for feeding the kids when you don’t have a regular pillow around, for cuddling them, for tummy time when they are tiny, and for lounging for them (although not unattended). But you could seriously use a regular pillow or the arm of the sofa for the same purpose in nursing.
  2. Expensive High Chair—We never owned a high chair for Patrick. We will not be buying one for Abigail. For the time that she could not sit up for herself, we put her carrier in a chair at our dinner table so she could be with us while we eat. This continued to be the method to sit her upright for feeding until she could sit upright by herself. Now that she does sit upright by herself, she uses a booster seat that adjusts in height and has a tray for her that just attaches on to our regular dinner chair. We put a towel under it to prevent huge messes on our upholstery, but otherwise, there is no need to have a “high chair.” Yep. $20 is all we need to sit her at our table. Since it was handed down from Patrick, this $20 purchase lasted through two children. And since it is all plastic, it will clean up nicely for resell or consignment.
  3. Changing Table—You have other options here. You can use a dresser for the tabletop and the drawers to store the supplies. Or you can just use a changing pad and a bed or the floor. Seriously…why is there a piece of furniture for this purpose?
  4. Diaper Genie—Yes, we have one. Yes, we pay for those refills. It’s dumb. A trashcan (and all of those plastic shopping bags we have acquired) emptied regularly works just as well. And if you get a seriously bad diaper that requires you to don a hazmat suit, take it outside to the garbage can.
  5. Hooded Towel/Tiny Washcloths—You know what these are? Tiny versions of the real thing. I bet you already own the real thing. The extra fabric in the full size version will not inhibit its use with baby in any way. Use a real one. The hooded ones are cute and all, but if you want your child to wear a hood, make it out of that extra towel that they are wrapped in.
  6. Bottle Warmer—You know what really, really works? Running hot water. Or if you want to be greener, a pot of hot water. For even less water waste, a slow cooker turned on warm with water in it. You don’t need something named “bottle warmer” to warm a bottle.
  7. Nursing Chair/Stool—I typically cross one leg over another or sit with them crossed together. I would use a stool if it were there, but it’s not. So I don’t. And I’m okay with that.
  8. Wipe Warmer—My mom bought one of these for Patrick when he was little. We used it because it was cute and he did like a warm bum in the winter months. But we had to buy refills. And we had to keep water in it to prevent it from being a fire hazard, and it burned electricity 24/7. And that cold bum? They get over it quickly.
And just so I can go on a tirade...here are some honorable mentions:
  • Bumbo—seriously…children all over the world have learned to sit upright all by themselves for centuries. I don’t think your child will be advanced in their educational development because they sat upright 4 weeks before they would have anyway.
  • Baby lotion/Soap—a natural soap gets the cleaning done and is good for sensitive skin and many babies have naturally moist skin and don’t need to moisturizer. Although it does smell really good.
  • Expensive Bedding—They wet it. They spit up on it. They cannot use the comforter until they are much older. Some people argue that a bumper is not safe. So why are you buying this for them? Get a mattress cover and a couple of fitted sheets to meet the baby’s needs. (Yes, if you look in our nursery, you see a bedding set. We splurged. If we didn't have the money for it though, this is definitely not a necessity)
  • Infant shoes—They cannot walk. They do not need shoes. Some argue that shoes are actually BAD for them at a young age. Yes, it is cute, but so are their socks.
  • Stuffed animals—They cannot sleep with them. They cannot play with them for a while.
  • Baby detergent—Any dye/fragrance free detergent will do. All Free & Clear or Arm & Hammer are great. And you will not have to take out a second mortgage to buy them.
  • Bottle sterilizer—It’s called a dish washer. You probably already have one. Or you can boil them occasionally. Don’t buy another unnecessary gadget.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Some Personal Finance Stuff

Middle of the month and I'm excited at home this month is panning out so far. I'm hoping that I don't blow it at the end!

Chip bought Dave Ramsey's Total Money Makeover (and workbook) for me for Valentine's Day. You may think that is totally un-romantic or even a slap in the face, but my man knows what I like...and right now this gift is right up my alley. As I've been discussing on this blog recently we are determined to get out of debt. And with some information that I've acquired recently, it can happen much sooner than I could have hoped if this current job opportunity that Chip is pursing works out. I'm so very excited! I will update more on this when we are certain that he is officially employed. =)

Just today I was looking into our net worth and GUESS WHAT?! We have increased our net worth by $8931.37 since October 14, 2009...and that is all within the window of Chip's unemployment. I'm excited to see what we can do once we have another paycheck coming in!

We completed our taxes last night, and we'll be able to make a huge dent in our debt with our refund. I know some people will likely fuss at me for getting such a large refund, but we didn't know how to adjust for this year with the stimulus addition as well as the addition of another baby and her childcare. So we benefited greatly and now we can adjust better for 2010.

I will give more specific updates as they arise, but I wanted to share that we had some good stuff going on in the meantime. I am thinking of posting our actual debt amounts although I have hesitated to do that up until this point. I think it would make it easier to discuss once it is all out in the open and encourage me to get rid of it, as I have to look at it when I get here each day. We'll see.

What about you...any headway made on your finances lately?

Monday, February 15, 2010

8 Items to Carry in Your Vehicle

  1. Jack—Preferably for your particular car. Cars have different points on them where the manufacturer recommends you lift it for changing a tire. Make sure your jack is suitable for this task.
  2. Flashlight—In your glove compartment is best. You never know when you might need to read a map in the dark, look under the hood, or just search for your keys after they have fallen under your seat.
  3. Atlas/GPS—This is a must in our house. We are “fancy” enough to own a GPS, but a relatively updated atlas is always in the car with me. That way, on long trips, I don’t have to remember to pack it! This has helped us find new routes to avoid major traffic delays, find scenic routes, find ourselves when we were lost, and honestly provided entertainment for me while Chip drove (read through some of the names of towns in the index…some are hilarious). The time we had a rental car with a GPS on it, we found a totally different scenic route that I never would have mapped out myself!
  4. Jumper Cables—Maybe they are for other stranded motorists because you are a good Samaritan and are willing to help others. Maybe they are for your car in case you leave your lights on in the parking lot at the mall. Regardless, these are great to have on hand. For an alternative, you can carry chargeable battery packs made to plug into your outlet for a jump start, but these don’t stay charged indefinitely, so you might still find yourself stranded with this one.
  5. First Aid Kit—You never know when you might need it. For yourself or someone else. Just a good item to have while using a major piece of machinery at high speeds.
  6. Spare Fuses—Step 1—locate your fuse panel (often on the dashboard side on the passenger side). Step 2—buy fuses for your major components. Or just get a multi-pack. They aren’t expensive and very easy to replace yourself.
  7. Tire Gauge—Great for knowing if you need to add air (or bleed some out if they are overfilled for some reason. Know your tire manufaturer’s optimum pressure for proper use of this tool
  8. Fire Extinguisher—Many an auto fire could be quickly doused and major catastrophes avoided if more people had one in their cars. Of course, most people don’t, so if a fire ever starts, there is no way to stop it before a fire department arrives. By that point, you may have lost the entire car. More importantly, you could save someone’s life.

Also noteworthy—your owner’s manual. In the glovebox. At all times. So many questions could be quickly answered just by referencing this tool that your car’s manufacturer provided for you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

WFMW - Easier on the Tastebuds

The little girl is truly growing up.

She's totally into baby food these days. She loves it. She is like her mom and has a big relationship with her food. There is hardly anything she won't eat.

Except peas. Oh, she does not like peas. Just like her brother was at that age. Honestly...I don't really like them either, so I can't blame either of them. But it is surprising how many jarred baby foods (like the dinner and combination ones) have peas in them. I want her to like them. But she just doesn't. And it seems that she can certainly pick out the ones that have peas in them and turn her nose up quickly.

I've found a trick that helps her eat these more readily.

Refrigeration.

After a few tries with a particular food that she consistently rejects, I will cap it off and put it in the fridge in order to give it another go the next day. I've heard that sometimes it takes multiple tries before you like a food. So I will try again.

Amazingly, she eats even her least favorites when they are chilly.

So I now can take out one that she typically doesn't like, refrigerate it, serve it cold, and she eats much more of it than when it is room temperature.

I have no idea why. Maybe the chill feels good on her teething gums. Maybe the chill takes away some of the impact of the flavor. Whatever it is, it seems to work at our house.

Go check out We Are THAT Family to see what works for everyone else! (By the way...she's got an amazing tip today, so you really should go check it out!)

Monday, February 8, 2010

8 Ways to Appreciate Your Husband

Since Valentine's is right around the corner, I thought this would be a good time to remind you to let your husband know how much you appreciate him as a husband, father, and man.
  1. Cook a special meal—The way to a man’s heart sometimes really is through his stomach. This is a representation of him being the head of his home and you fulfilling some of the most basic of domestic duties. It doesn’t have to be gourmet…it just have to be something he likes. It shows you are serving him, you were thinking about him, and you love him. He gets it. He really does.
  2. Thank him for working—Men have an innate need to provide for the family. Sometimes they feel unappreciated. And truly, when the everyday tasks become truly everyday, it can be easy to forget that he does it for you and for his family. It can be easy to forget to thank him. But he needs to hear it.
  3. Allow him hobby time—Men need “me time” just like you do. Allow him time to fish, hunt, work in the garage, or whatever he likes to do. No, this should not predominate his time and he should not spend more “me” time than family time, but he needs a break just like you do. Give that to him as long as the hobby is healthy.
  4. Give him time to unwind from work—Don’t talk his head off as soon as he walks in the door. Don’t throw the kids at him because you have had them all day and frankly, you are tired of them. Give him some allotted time to just unwind. Maybe it’s 10 minutes. Maybe it’s enough time for a shower. Whatever the two of you can agree on. But give him time to decompress. He will them be able to return the favor to you.
  5. Make sure the house is clean—A man’s house is his castle. And even when he understands that you are busy too, he doesn’t want a dirty castle. It’s similar to item #1—it shows some domestic duty on your part and makes him feel appreciated.
  6. Leave notes with lunch/briefcase—Remind him that you love him. He likes to be reminded through the little things.
  7. Thank him for the little things/honey-dos—You have a big long list for him to accomplish on his day off. Do you thank him for it? You should. He wants to do his part around the house, but that desire wanes when he feels unappreciated.
  8. Surprise him—The way to a man’s heart isn’t always through his stomach. Enough said.

Photo credit: Bob.Fornal

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Our Financial Status - Update #4

Forgive it's length, but it's our monthly financial update. If you don't care, don't read, but we need advice and support, so I am outing our finances each month. It is never a short story that accompanies.

Okay, so based on this last post, you know that January was NOT a good month for us in so many ways. It was one of those months where I once had no idea where the money went. But now thanks to our tracking of finances via Mint, I knew exactly where the money went. I'm not necessary proud of it, but I've identified it and now can work with it.

So...let's get down to the nitty gritty our our household finances for the month of January:

INCOME: We were right on this one. While it's great to not be BELOW what we expected, it's always nice if some unexpected item shows up here. Oh well. =)

OVER BUDGET AREAS:
Gasoline: $18 over budget. It happens.
Car Repair/Service: $333 over budget. I discussed this in the update post last week, but basically we had to get some brake repair done. Luckily we pulled the cash out of savings and didn't have to pay with plastic (HOORAY). And we have since placed that money back into savings. It's great to be a lender to yourself...no interest paid that way! =) So this was unforeseen and way over the budget that I usually allow for oil changes and such.
Utilities: $175 over budget. Here is where I don't like online tracking. Here's a long story to honestly excuse this one: We were going to be on budget this month, even after having to pay a late fee from last month (grumble, grumble...my fault though). However, because I paid February's power bill early, it hit during January. The bill was $181.00, so really we were right ON budget for January. And now February will look SUPER slim. That's okay. I know that we nailed it and now so do you.
Coffee Shops: $4 over budget. I really should put some money in our budget toward this one. Not for coffee. See, we have a coffee shop at our church and we have a tradition about letting Patrick have some milk and a muffin the size of his head from the coffee shop after church services on Sunday mornings. Two muffins and two drinks = $4.25. Not bad for some memories and a tradition that he LOVES. Plus...it serves as his entire lunch and sometimes mine, so that's definitely not bad as an "eating out" cost.
Fast Food: $5 over budget. Okay...definitely over, but LOOK HOW CLOSE WE'RE GETTING ON THIS ONE! I'm proud of us since this seems to be a weak spot for us.
Groceries: $71 over budget. This seemed to be one of those months when I couldn't make a menu to match the lack of sales in our area. Maybe I just wasn't creative enough. Regardless, we bombed this one. A silver lining in this category...I will not have to buy any baby food for over a month thanks to a great sale at Publix. If I do buy any this month, it will be to stock up because of another great sale.
Restaurants: $76 over budget. I discussed this one in my semi-update last week. This one makes me nauseous. If it hadn't been for that one $72 dinner, we would have been so close. But we weren't. Sigh...moving on....
Home Supplies: $3 over budget. I think this was batteries or something similar. Regardless... it will even out this month.
Baby Supplies: $5 over budget. I have a stockpile of size 3 diapers, but it doesn't seem that Abigail will ever grow into them. Until she does, I keep having to buy size 2s as needed. Hopefully we can get caught up in this category if/when the child ever fills out! Our little chunky monkey is no longer chunky, but slim and tall/long (like her brother was).
Hair care: $11 over budget. Although no one got a hair cut this month, Mr. Big Tipper (aka - Chip) carried us from last month into this one and we're still over budget. And Patrick needs another one, so I should really just cut my losses and reset the rolling budget on this one.
Make-up/Toiletries: Okay...so I was honestly $1 over, but that's hardly "over" right? Still, I would look deceitful if I tried to call it "on" budget, so I'll put it here.
Clothing: $125 over budget. Explained in the semi-update post. No excuse, but it's the truth.


ON BUDGET AREAS:
Auto Insurance: We're actually $4 below budget this last month, so I'm guessing our premiums must have gone down. I'm leaving the budget in place for now, as Chip got a ticket last week (grumble, grumble) and we need to wait and see if it will affect our insurance costs.
Mobile Phone: On budget.
Television: On budget.
Newspaper: On budget. This will get cancelled as soon as Chip finds a job and no longer needs the classifieds. I can just pick up the Sunday version at the church bookstore on Sundays for the coupons and we can read it online as needed (although in my head there is something relaxing and very classic about reading the daily newspaper).
Term Life Insurance: Of course this one is predictable.
Mortgage: On budget. Good news about this at the bottom of the post.
Childcare: On budget. aka...no sitters this month


BELOW BUDGET AREAS:
Doctor: We're WAY below budget here. As in, we have a credit in this category because of my medical reimbursement from my employer (they pay for the 2nd half of the deductible and since Abigail was born last year, we met our deductible and got a $750 check from my employer). So we honestly have a credit in this area. Like a $600 credit. We'll use it to pay current and upcoming medical bills. I just didn't want to let go of it while times are tight.
Pharmacy: $27 under budget. As in...I didn't pay anything to the pharmacy this month. I've stopped taking my birth control pills (lengthy post for another time) and I didn't have my pre-natal vitamins that I'm taking while nursing filled until the beginning of this month.
Pest Control: This is not a monthly service in the winter like I budgeted for, so we didn't have to pay this month.
Credit Card Payments: $188 under budget. I know...not where I want to be under budget. But it was a tough month. Seriously...I put groceries on the credit card TWICE because the cash wasn't there (yes...those are included above). It sucks. So since I couldn't pay for food, I obviously didn't have money to send extra to the credit card companies. What did I send? I sent the minimum to two cards, slightly over (like $18...rounded up) the minimum to the main card we're trying to pay off and paid off the amount that we had paid to the (once again) balance-free card that my Christmas presents from Chip had gone onto. So. yeah.

Like I said...it was a rough month. In the end, we were $171 over budget total, but $181 of that was a bill that was intentionally paid early. I don't like that we were still on budget while not sending enough to pay off debts, but I guess you have to make trade offs to stay afloat some times.

Other Items that Aren't Captured Clearly Here:
  • Out debt balance went up this month. As I noted above, we had to put groceries on the credit card (which pains me to do). I put a charge on there that will pay a broker to sell our timeshare. If/when that sells, we will be out from under the burden of another debt that is included in our "mortgage" category, but until that happens, we're just trying to get rid of it. We can't sell it ourselves, so we're hoping that fee was a good investment. That's a post for a different day though.
  • Our savings account only grew by $50 this month. Like I said...it was a tough month. We had to draw some money out of savings to pay for the van's brakes. I was able to replace that money though and add $50 to the balance. I know it needs to be more. I'm trying to get it to Mr. Dave Ramsay's minimum of $1000.

February Outlook: I'm excited about February. Some changes will happen to our budget that I'm excited to tell you about.

First of all, our home refinance went through and we now owe $240 a month less on our mortgage just due to an interest rate change. No variable rates. We will save over $100,000 if we happen to take the full 30 years to pay for it (seriously...not the plan, so imagine what we'll ACTUALLY save once we can put more than the minimum toward our home). In addition, our monthly HOA fee dropped $52/month for 2010. So our budget for our mortgage will drop by about $300 as compared to December of last year...which we can apply toward debts! WOO HOO!

Secondly, February itself will have no monthly mortgage payment due to the timing of the loan. This frees up some money to make up from the suffocation I was feeling after January. I'd like to say that we could apply it towards something specific, but without it, we truly would have come out in the red for January, so I count it as God taking care of us for the month.

Next, we are starting to tithe again. I discussed in the last post that we (embarrassingly enough) had stopped about 8 months ago, but were getting rolling again now. It will affect our finances, sure. But I'm trusting God to take care of it. Maybe we won't be able to pay as much on our debts after all (despite the drop in mortgage costs), but I'm not going to worry about it because we're doing what we need to be doing. God will honor that and take care of the rest...I firmly believe that.

Then, we will have some added medical costs that may not show up this month, but will be happening within a week. We're out of the baby-making business and we're taking care of that so we can breathe easier. =) It will also allow us to decrease our pharmacy budget. Enough said.

Also, we should be getting an income tax refund this month. We haven't done our taxes yet because we are waiting on one more document (don't you LOVE when they wait until the very last minute to send it out?!), but still expect a refund. How much? I have no idea because so much has changed for us this year...another child, changed with-holdings, Chip was laid off....we'll just have to see where all the pieces fall. But we'll file electronically and have it direct deposited, as usual, so we should see it this month.

Lastly, Chip may have a job on the horizon. I don't want to put all my eggs into one basket and expect that it IS happening, but it is truly promising. Of course costs like gasoline will go up again if he gets it, but since we are accustomed to living on my income now (for the most part), I'm hoping that we can use his exclusively to pay off debt (in addition to what we're already paying).

Okay, so these are always the lengthiest posts (I'm not known for being at a loss for words), but it is an all-encompassing look into our finances for the month.

Any advice?

Monday, February 1, 2010

8 Phone Numbers a Baby Sitter Needs to Have

  1. Mom’s Cell—In case dad’s phone isn’t on.
  2. Dad’s Cell—In case mom’s phone isn’t on.
  3. Grandma’s phone—In case mom and dad are somewhere they cannot turn on their cell phones.
  4. Neighbor’s phone—For local needs that don’t require a family member’s help.
  5. Doctor’s phone—Phone number for the child’s doctor.
  6. Poison control—So important. Make sure they also know what to do with the information they are given by poison control (for instance, what “inducing” means in case they are told to induce or not to induce vomiting).
  7. Pharmacy—In case they need to ask if it is okay to give Tylenol to an infant and how much. Make sure they know enough about any conditions your child may have before you allow them this freedom.
  8. Your own house—So they can call if they are going to be late arriving.

Photo credit: Garrettc

 

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