Tuesday, September 27, 2016

September 2016 Update: $71,724.97

So here's the good news - we finally got our balance below $72,000! Every thousand feels like it takes time, but I like to celebrate the victories when I can. In a month or two we will reach another big landmark: paying off over $20,000 of our debt since we started this journey two years ago.

This month, we were hoping to increase our debt payment by $200 because of my husband's recent modest raise of $5,000 (our total income now is about $55,000 before anything is taken out). But as unexpected (and expected) costs trickled in, we realized that it was better to keep our payment this month at $465 to protect our bank account from getting too low.

The extra expenses stemmed from a wide variety of things - we put our three boys in both a Wednesday night and Monday night ministry, partly to give me a break and some time to research side income opportunities, but also to give them more opportunities to socialize with other kids since they are homeschooled. Three children's fees add up quickly, in this case amounting to about $200 for the three of them. My husband also found out that his new position at his office will require him to get another type of license to practice which came in at $175. We also had to order checks, which cost us $30.

The extra expenses this month amounted to over $400, so we felt like it was better to put that extra $200 we would have put toward debt toward floating some of these expenses while paying for the rest out of our savings. I like to make progress, but putting the baseline amount of our bank account in jeopardy is also not worth the slight amount of interest I might have saved.

We had a few other things go out home-related this month, including a kitchen drain and our garage door sensors. I am planning on replacing these two items myself this coming month with new parts I researched and bought from a local hardware store and eBay. As I continue to not have Amazon Prime, I am finding that it forces me to look for good deals in other places, and usually they are just as good, but without Amazon's annual fee.

What I am grateful for this month

Our two year-old daughter was accidentally hit in the face with an aluminum baseball bat. She is okay, but we ended up taking her to the emergency room just to be sure there were no fractures/breaks. I don't know what the emergency room bill will be yet, but hopefully our HSA will be able to cover it as the bill comes in. And more importantly, I am grateful that she wasn't hurt that badly! I know that accidents happen to kids and even if they are much worse, God is still watching over them, but in this case, I was so thankful that she wasn't hit harder, and it was the brother with the weakest swing who accidentally hit her.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Work with what you actually have

A few months ago, I had the opportunity to read Charles Duhigg's latest book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business. One story of the emergency landing of Qantas Flight 32 stuck out to me as a lesson in debt and life management.

As the pilots made their ascent after takeoff from Singapore in 2010, they heard a boom and then a crash. What investigators found later was that an oil fire had caused a turbine disc in the engine to detach, break into multiple pieces and rip through the left wing. Eventually fuel began leaking from the left wing into the open sky.

As systems began to shutdown and instruction upon instructions spewed out from the computers, the pilots debated what to do in light of the multiple conflicting pieces of advice they were receiving.

Finally, the main pilot, de Crespigny, stopped and took his hands off the controls. Instead of trying to account for everything that wasn't working, he realized that they needed to look at what still was working, and how to use that to land the plane. Once it was clear that their jet was functionally more like a Cessna, de Crespigny had a better idea of how to land the plane.

I found this story to be insightful on a number of levels, primarily because it fit what we often face in debt repayment or other financial challenges.  Imagine your budget as a plane, and a successful flight to be a balanced budget with no debt, where everything necessary is provided for and you are living within your means. Then, imagine a financial emergency, mistake or challenge as that disc ripping through the wing of your budget.

It is easy and tempting to look at others budgets and wish that you had their means or situations to help you, just like I'm sure that pilot wished he were flying a normal plane, but he wasn't. And only when he faced the limitations of his own reality was he able to land his own plane.

Wherever you are today, it is okay to acknowledge limits. Whether it is to say, "This is all we can do today with the budget we have," or "this is as large as a debt payment that we can afford," getting real with yourself will help you deal with the situation you have, not someone else's.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

August 2016 Update: Total Debt of $72,212.29

Hey everyone! In the last few hours of August 2016, I am glad to report that we've dropped our debt to $72,212.29! For those of you who are visiting the first time, you are probably shocked that I'm excited about that, but it's because we have a plan and this is almost exactly where we planned to be at this time. 

This month we traveled to California to attend my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday. Initially we were only planning on sending my husband due to expenses, but his brother offered to pay for some or all of our tickets. I didn't want to have him pay for all six of us, so he ended up paying for the kids to go. It was fun for the kids to get to go to the beach and I got to see my brother and his family while we were there, but the prices of food there startled me at first (and we even used to live there!) I realized how much I loved Aldi, and even if we had to drive a bit, we went to one of the new Aldi's in Southern California to get the groceries we needed.

We didn't have any major expenses this month, but our baseline bank account balance (what's left after we pay all the bills) dropped a little more this month. Even with my husband's modest raise, the daily expenses of life add up. We had the piano tuned ($100), had to pay for airport parking (another $100), and signed our kids up for Trail Life USA (almost $80). Add to that a need for more vitamins ($50), and a homeschool order (another $60) and you can see why our savings dropped a bit. I am determined to do what we can to make our planned debt payment every month, but in order to do this we have to dip into savings.

The good news is that my husband applied for a different position at his office, not sure if he would get it (it was a stretch job) but we just found out that he was selected. His salary will remain the same for the time being, but has the possibility of going up at the turn of the year. Because we have had some expenses and are already planning on putting most of the extra money from his current raise toward debt, if and when a new raise kicks in, we will use it to build up our savings for awhile.

I know many Dave Ramsey followers adhere to the $1000 emergency fund rule, but lately I have felt nervous about that. Even in a government job, you never know what will happen, especially if the political climate changes. While debt repayment is important to us, so is having a healthy emergency fund. 

It also seems that it is leak week at our house. A few days ago our refrigerator started to leak, and as I took everything out of the freezer to de-thaw the ice sheet that had blocked the drain hole, I had to get something from under our kitchen sink, and of course, I noticed that a piece of cardboard down there felt damp and realized one of our drains was on its last legs. I don't think we'll need to call a plumber for this one though - my philosophy is that if it is not dangerous or an emergency, we can afford to put a bucket under it, watch the Youtube videos, and try to fix it ourselves, and if it still doesn't work, we can at least have the parts when we call the plumber! :)

Next month I will be posting our new budget as we raise our debt repayment amount.

Friday, July 29, 2016

July 2016 Debt Update: $72,647.11

This month we dropped our overall debt balance by $451.89. It's what we expected, and on other fronts, we were grateful that no major unexpected expenses arose that might have derailed even this modest amount. That said, some months we have had other "expected" expenses which have dipped into our baseline savings, and even after an extra paycheck in July (we are on a 26-paycheck-per-year schedule) to replenish it a little, it is still not where I would like it to be. I've said in the past that we really need to account for every expenditure, but I can see that we are not, so that is what I would like to do this coming month.


We came in under budget this month which helped us to increase our stock up fund a little. This past week it dropped a little when I purchased 50 jars of Smuckers jam on sale for $.99 a jar. The sale only comes once a year, but it's totally worth it when it comes to the savings. I have tried making jam this summer, but what I learned was that making larger jars lead to larger consumption, and the savings really weren't that different when I calculated them. This past month I also stocked up on natural peanut butter for $.99 a jar as well.

I blogged recently about how we ditched Amazon Prime, but I have to admit that I was curious about the deals that were available on Amazon Prime Day, and when I saw that they had the Instant Pot DUO60 (an electric 6 quart pressure cooker) marked down to $70 vs. the normal price of $120, I decided to use the free one-month trial on my account to purchase it with credit card points we had saved up. We pay off our credit card every month, but like to use it to accumulate points on purchases we would already make. Already I have enjoyed using it to speed up the process of meal preparation, and it's amazing for frugal food items like boiled eggs, beans, and rice. 


Our daughter turned two this past month, and we celebrated with a quiet dinner and homemade strawberry cake. I had saved up $25 for her birthday and got her one toy, while saving the other birthday money she received to purchase her fall wardrobe. We got lots of hand-me-downs for our boys, but there have been none for our daughter, so I try to get good deals on new clothing or find thrift store clothes. The thrift stores have not been that great for a complete wardrobe, however, and given that their prices are often $1-$2 per piece for very worn clothing items, I'd rather purchase new items for $3 a piece and then resell them later. 

So that's it for this month. Next month we will be heading to California to attend my husband's grandmother's 100th birthday before starting school. 

How did you do this month?

Monday, July 11, 2016

Is the frugal life boring? On making meaningful experiences with your kids when you can't afford Disneyland.

Have you ever worried that you or your family might be missing out on memorable life experiences when you're focused on paying off debt? This topic has come up recently for me, and it got me to thinking about my own family and whether or not we are jilting our kids of a meaningful childhood when we have to say no to certain activities because they are not in our budget.

Even though it is a simple question, it does not have a simple answer. Everyone's life situation is different, and everyone's values are different. For some parents, it may be really important that their kids get into competitive sports because they saw the value of athletics in their own lives. For others, it may be that they had fond memories of growing up going out to eat at a certain restaurant as a family and want that for their own kids too.

On our way to a Kansas City Royals game, courtesy of my cousin's generosity and some free tickets.

As an Air Force brat, I grew up in a fairly simple home that changed every few years. While we would drive down to Florida to see my grandparents and swim at their pool for a few weeks, generally speaking we almost never flew anywhere for vacation. Birthday parties were small, quiet family affairs with a yellow Betty Crocker Stir n' Frost cake baked in a cardboard box with chocolate frosting and sprinkles. All three of me and my siblings have birthdays in the same week, so sometimes we would just have one big celebration and cake and open our presents.

My kids have been blessed to have relatives who sometimes pay for us to fly out to California. We have paid for the tickets when we could afford it, but as the kids get older and are involved in more activities, we are realizing that we can't afford to fly out every summer if we want to be able to afford other things like swimming lessons, Awanas, and general items like clothing. Sometimes when our kids are invited to birthday parties at venues, they wonder why we can't do that too.

Getting ready for the annual Cow Appreciation Day's free meals at Chick-Fil-A
The truth is, we do have extra money in our budget, but we're trying to put as much of that towards debt right now so that we have a chance of being debt-free when the expenses really start stacking up in middle school and high school. We set aside a modest amount for birthdays and Christmas, but my husband and I have not bought each other presents for any holiday or birthday since the first year of our marriage (and we're celebrating ten years this August).

I don't feel like we are depriving our kids, though, because ''meaningful experiences" have a different meaning for me. Laura Ingalls Wilder, for example, did not go to Disneyworld, and yet look at the volumes of books she wrote about her life on the frontier. To me, a meaningful childhood is filled with creative activities, learning skills that will serve you well in life, learning how to serve others, and most importantly, spending time with people.

My son's Darth Vader embroidery
I am glad that we have had the chance to take our kids to the California coast, but even if we didn't, I wouldn't feel like they were lacking in any way. The gift of a simple childhood and being content with small pleasures is a very big gift indeed.

Who's to say what they will remember? I went to Disneyworld many times as a child because my grandparents lived near there, but one of the best memories I have of my childhood was from fifth grade making homemade valentines with my mom for school. My mom helped us design templates of Care Bear bodies that had the different bellies, and to this day, that is one of the highlights when I think about growing up. I think it was because it was a cool craft, but also because my mom was there with us as we made them.

I hope that my children understand one day that we were trying to do our best on a limited budget. I hope that they remember things we did together, even if they didn't cost that much money.

Monday, June 27, 2016

June 2016 Update: Total Debt of $73,099.17

Hey everyone! I am sorry for the Internet absence - for a week or so we had no access to our home computers as our only power cord for two laptops had finally died. Since we didn't have Amazon Prime, I found a new source - eBay, and while it took slightly longer, I was happy to get a brand new generic power cord for $13, compared to an Apple brand one for $80.

There is not much new to report here, which can sometimes be a good thing! We made a $465 payment toward our loans as always, and had a few expenses related to home needs (new hose, homeschool books, annual bar registration fees, etc.) that ate a little into our savings.

This past month we scaled back a lot on homeschooling. I often do lessons during the summer because the heat makes it not that fun to be outside, but I was feeling burnout myself, and with the kids in swimming lessons and one of our sons in baseball, it just felt like it was time to take a break for a little while.

I was able to save a lot of money on homeschooling curriculum by visiting the annual used curriculum sale in early June in Kansas City. This is a highlight of the year for me because the deals are so good. Take a look at what I bought below:

All of these books came to under $100. One of them was a curriculum that sells for $120 alone online. Shopping at used curriculum sales and library book sales or thrift shops has enabled us to stock our home library with high-quality books. 

The other exciting thing that happened this month was that my husband found out he would be getting a raise beginning at the end of July. We didn't know if this would happen or not as his employer (the government) is having a bit of a budget crisis right now, and are thankful for the modest increase. We will use August's extra amount for some pressing wardrobe needs for him and maybe something else, and then begin adding to our loan payments in September. I will post an updated version of our budget in September once it changes.

Saturday, June 4, 2016

Meet my new favorite frugal recipe: Lebanese Lentils and Rice

Awhile ago I glanced at a big 25 pound bag of lentils we had downstairs as I was bringing down laundry. In the spirit of stocking up, I had purchased this bag of lentils and yet here it stood, more than a year or two later, still about 3/4 full.

I like beans and rice. It's not something we eat every day, but we can actually go through a 10-lb bag of pinto beans in 4-6 months. But for some reason, when I think of lentils, all I can usually think of is soup, and as the weather warmed, and I didn't really want to eat 25 lbs worth of lentil soup, I began to search the Internet for other recipes.

One recipe began to pop up in many different versions. It was mujadara, a Lebanese dish that consisted solely of lentils, onions, rice, oil, and a few spices, depending on the version of the recipe. For some reason it seemed to be a good thing to try one day in the middle of school and dealing with my kids since we were low on bread for lunch. I wasn't sure it would turn out great, or if it would be bland and mushy, but what I was pleasantly surprised by was the result of these four or five simple ingredients - a fluffy, savory mixture that had a deep complexity of flavors and texture. I followed the suggestions to add a yogurt sauce as a condiment which provided a tart counterpoint to the salty-sweet caramelized onions and spiced earthiness of the lentils.

In other words, it was delicious, and it wasn't just me who devoured them. One of my sons went back for seconds that day, and as I continued to experiment with spices in a second and third version, all of my sons would sneak bites as they passed through the kitchen while my toddler made motions for her own dish.

I love the flavors of the dish, but even more so, I love the way four simple, humble ingredients like lentils, onions, rice, and oil can be transformed into a dish that stands on its own. That said, it is also a good side paired with some grilled chicken kabobs and a mango lassi :).

Lebanese Lentils and Rice (inspired by this recipe by Aarti Sequeria)

recipe notes: this recipe uses only two onions, but because they are caramelized and break down to a much smaller amount, if you have a third or even a fourth onion, use it - you won't be sorry, and you'll have less guilt when you eat half the bowl of caramelized onions before you add them to the dish!

Also, I like to use a skillet that is large enough to both sautee the onions as well as hold the entire dish in and that has a good lid to seal it as it cooks the rice and lentils later.


1 cup of brown lentils, washed and picked through for stones
1 cup of white, long grain rice
2 medium onions, sliced into 1/4 inch half-moons
1/3 cup of vegetable or olive oil
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp allspice
1/4 tsp turmeric (optional, mainly for additional golden color)
1 1/2 tsp salt
3 cups of water


Cover the lentils with two inches of cold water in a saucepan and bring to a boil, cooking until almost done for about 25 minutes, then drain.

While the lentils cook, saute the onions over medium-low heat for about 20 minutes until they become golden-dark brown (but not burnt) and sticky. Remove the onions from the pan and set them in a bowl. Add the rice to the pan over low heat and saute for 2-3 minutes along with the spices, being careful not to burn the spices. Add most of the onions back in, reserving a few tablespoons for garnish, and then the lentils, stirring well to combine. Add 3 cups of water and salt, again mixing everything well. Give it a taste to see if the salt is right - it should be slightly on the too salty side before cooking as the lentils and rice will absorb some of the salty flavor. Bring the pan to a boil, and the lower the heat to low, cover with a tight fitting lid, and cook for about 30 minutes or until the rice is finished. Stir to fluff up and serve.
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