Wednesday, October 27, 2010

the awful B word

 Gosh, I was on such a roll posting and then all of a sudden life got in the way. Since my last post we've spent our weekends on two separate wine tours. Virginia has an amazing wine country and I intend to check out each and every vineyard. Out of the six vineyards we visited in the past two weekends, five of them were new to me. We've had an the normal warm October, it's been in the 60's and 70's everyday so far, it might have even hit 80 today.

Since September I've been so excited thinking about a blog post about the amazing budget I created and how we were going to stick to it and beat not only our credit card debt, but also pay down our condo enough to sell it and save enough to put a downpayment on a house. As all budgets go, we had some emergencies come up, but I felt better prepared this time.

In the past my mindset was always "Pay bills first and then put every single extra dollar toward paying off debt." While this is a very sound way to tackle finances, it didn't work for us. Something would always come up or I would forget about a major expense for the month. My new mindset in creating this last budget was more along the lines of slow and steady wins the race. I tried to think of everything that throws us off course. It was usually car repairs, vet or our own health bills, or impulse purchases. These unexpected expenses would end up on a credit card since all of our extra cash had already been spent, towards paying credit cards off. The cycle was never ending and VERY frustrating. When I built this budget I put a percentage towards car repairs, medical, and clothes. I put a more modest amount towards credit cards and even upped our monthly savings.

I chose October to start our budgeting because Hubs got three paychecks this month. While I get paid bi monthly, he gets paid every other week, so about twice a year, three paychecks in one month. We had a couple planned expenses that we knew were coming that we would put that extra paycheck towards: car taxes and a couple various expenses we had put on the credit cards in September that we wanted to pay off.

So I put together a spreadsheet of expenses and percentages of our total budget. I did this in early September and would check it out and tweak it almost daily. I was honestly giddy on October 1st, ready to track every penny and see how much we would end up saving!!!!

Unfortunately I didn't plan for one of the dogs to get a strange bump on her stomach that would require a biopsy and rack up over $300 in vet bills. (She's ok, it was just an infection that ended disappearing in about two weeks, I was fine just letting it run it's course until it started bleeding, then I broke down and got it checked out). I also didn't plan for my car to start sounding like we were newlywed's again and dragging tin cans behind it. I checked for diet coke cans to be stuck under it before I took it in. $1,100 I finally got that 90k mile tune up as parts of that were the culprit of the noises.

BUT guess what? Neither of these went on the credit cards. Somehow we had enough cash to cover these unexpected expenses. I had budgeted 2% to go toward medical, so that helped us start the dent on the vet bill. The amount for car maintenance I budgeted fell FAR short of the car repairs, but it helped and that extra check covered the rest. 

So here is what I started with:
Housing would be 30% - This included our mortgage, storage unit, home insurance, and a small sum for home decor items.
Food is the next 20% - This is divided by groceries, dinners out, and happy hours
Transportation came in at 15% - We fit in gas, a car payment, car insurance, our parking costs, tolls, and maintenance.
Utilities are 10% of the budget - Cell phones, electricity, cable, gas, and water. I also included our condo fees in this category.
Medical came in at 2%
Clothing is 3%
Debt - 10% - Includes credit cards and putting a little extra towards the mortgage to get the condo selling price down
Entertainment - 5%
Savings - 5%

I figured we may not need the 2% in medical or the specified car maintenance every month. The alloted money would be put in an ingDirect sub account specified for it's own purpose. That way when a larger bill showed up, we would have the cash to cover it. I guess that will start next month since we were wiped clean in October.

Going into November we'll start fresh. We have one birthday to shop for and we'll have to start thinking about Christmas gifts for our families. We'll have one quick weekend trip, but we can drive and will keep costs down. I'm looking forward to reporting how well we did in November. I do feel so much more at ease knowing that the unexpected doesn't need to set us back on our debt goals and that we can take care of that without dipping into downpayment money or credit cards.

Have you had any success with budgeting?

Monday, October 11, 2010

Sunday Funday

I had included Pick Fruit from an Orchard on my list of 101 in 1001. This weekend was BEAUTIFUL and somehow I convinced my dear husband that we needed to go apple picking. It turned out to be one of those perfect days that you hope you can repeat again and again. I think we have a new fall tradition!

I did a quick search online and found Marker Miller Orchards in Winchester, VA. It would be a bit of a drive, but on such a gorgeous day, it was nice to take a leisurely tour of RT 50. (On the way we also discovered some vineyards we have never been to, we'll be back to visit those next weekend!)

Once we got to the orchard we paid for our two bags, one big and one little. They handed us a map of what we could pick and we were off.

We picked Red Delicious, Golden Delicious, Fuji, Nittany, Granny Smith, and a couple other varieties. I had never heard of a Nittany apple, but I was sure it would be delish to share a namesake with my beloved Nittany Lion.

The fruit was plentiful and we has such a great time traipsing up and down the rows looking for the perfect pick. Once we returned to the Market we pleasantly discovered they were having a festival that day, complete with a blue grass band! We bought some BBQ and sat down to enjoy the music. After lunch we did some shopping in their market for some cider, a pie, and some jars of goodies.

Once we got home we started thinking of what we could make with all of these apples!

First up was apple sauce. This was a quick one to try:
Peel 4 apples, chop them up, throw them in a pot with 3/4 cup water, 1/4 sugar, and 2 tsp of cinnamon. Let cook on medium heat for about 20 mins. Once they cooled I ran them through the food processor to get them good and mushy.
The result was a little runny and a little sweet for me, the next batch may have less sugar and I might try substituting 1/2 cup cider for the water.

Tonight is apple butter, I'll let you know how that one turns out after we try it.

We'll also be snacking on apple and brie quesadillas tonight.

Do you have any suggestions of what else we should try with our apples? I'll try out a pie, but I'd also love a muffin or bread recipe as well. Let me know if you have any good ideas for me to try!!!!

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Book Club: Commencement, Part One

When this book was selected for our next read at I thought it would be a puff piece. From the description I thought it would be just a quick and easy read without to much depth. After finishing Part One I was convinced that there was a lot more to these girls and so much in their lives I could identify with.

Here are this week's questions:

1. Which girl do you identify the most with?
I think I identify with Celia the most. She ended up at Smith almost by default. I kinda chose Penn State for what it wasn't more than what it was. It wasn't too close to home, it wasn't where half my graduating class was going, and it wasn't anywhere anyone in my family had already been. I was excited to be going to college, but sad to leave my high school years behind. I had a great group of friends that was scattering across the East Coast. I was shy, but eager to meet the girls would I would be living with for the next four years.

2. If you're a college student or graduate, what similarities or differences do you see between this story to your own college experience?
I feel like my freshman year college experience was very similar to this. I bonded with the girls on my floor and made friends that would last my whole college career. We ate together, we studied together, we worked out together, and we partied together. Penn State is a HUGE school, so immediately bonding with these girls helped create our small niche and made it a little bit smaller and a little bit more like home.

3. Which girl do you think has changed the most since her time in college? In what ways has she changed?
I think that Sally has changed the most. She was so bent and determined to be a doctor and is now a lab assistant at Harvard with her priority now being her fiance'. I think a lot of people have hopes and dreams of what their life will be and where they believe they will end up. I think a lot of that is naive to think you can plan your entire life at 18. So often with a little world experience, your values change and your priorities shift.

When I was in high school and starting college I thought I would be working in politics, working on Capital Hill or for a lobbyist. Once I graduated and entered the real world I realized that a staffer job on Capital Hill probably wouldn't pay my bills, Law School wasn't happening and there needed to be a change in plans.  I jumped right into Corporate America to bide my time. Now I'm married with two dogs and my family is my priority.  I now dream about what to make for dinner and keeping a neat and tidy house instead of a career that would take over my entire life.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

I Made It! Headboard Edition

So for my proudest project thus far I tackled making a headboard for our queen sized bed. Our bed is just a mattress set sitting on a metal bed frame. It is so plain and I thought it could be dressed up so easily. As I had posted here, I wanted to tackle some DIY projects when we have a bigger house. I wanted to make a headboard for a king sized bed once we move, so I thought, why not do a trial run for our current bed? I got the inspiration from a reader's post on Young House Love. Armed with the instructions on my iPhone, we went off to buy the needed supplies and tackle the project.

We chose a fabric that would be neutral, a white muslin type with flowers stitched on in black, brown, and gray. We got the 2" foam, batting, button covers, and upholstry needle and thread from JoAnn fabric. I purchased their monthly magazine for $3 for the coupons that were on the back cover. It saved me well over $30, so well worth the purchase.

We went to Home Depot to purchase the plywood, washers, and hanger. Home Depot made the cut for us, so one less thing for us to worry about. We had it cut 30" x 64" so it would hang a little longer than the width of the bed.

We started out by measuring to have two rows of three buttons each and drilled the holes in the plywood.

We then used spray adhesive to adhere the foam padding to the plywood.

Used a staple gun to wrap the batting over the foam and plywood. And then repeated with the selected fabric. (Note, we hemmed the fabric so that if it pulled at all over the years, it wouldn't fray and pull off of the headboard. We put staples on both sides and right along the hemmed sides.)

Next came the tufting part. We had bought a button set that allowed us to cover each button with the fabric we had selected. So armed with a set of three upholstry needles we thought it would be simple to shoot the needle through, thread the button and shoot it right back. It was impossible to find the hole in the plywood on the way back through the layers of fabric, batting, and foam. We ended up taking two needles, one threaded and another facing the opposite way, and shooting both through together. We left the unthreaded needle sticking through the layers. This way we pulled the first needle through, threaded the button, then switched the thread from the original needle to the one waiting to go back through. We tied both ends of the thread to a washer and pulled it tight so it would get the tufted look and then stapled the washer in place.

Once done, we were left with this:

We screwed one side of the French Cleat into the plywood and then took the headboard inside to hang on the wall. The french cleat has a level in the piece that hangs on the wall, so it's pretty simple to get that part right. (FYI, a French Cleat is considered a picture hanger when you are looking for it at the home improvement store)

The finished product:

I absolutely love it against our chocolate brown wall. It took about 3 hours, but was pretty simple to do. I couldn't be happier with the finished result. Hubs' first reaction was that it made our bedroom look so grown up. I can't stop looking at it.

Price Breakdown:
Plywood: $19.97
French Cleat: $14.97
Washers: $0.98
Fabric: $12.99 (after 50% off coupon)
Buttons: $6.06 (After 40% off coupon)
Batting: $5.99 (on sale)
Spray Adhesive: $3.99 (after 50% off coupon)
Needles: $2.99 (after 40% off coupon)
Thread: $1.49 (after 40% off coupon)
Foam: $35.19 (on sale)
Magazine with coupons: $2.99

Total: $107.61

Not too shabby! Gotta love the coupons. Got a whole lotta bang for your buck on this project. All in all, I'm excited to try this again. I think I would do a cut out pattern with a nail head border on the next.

What projects have you been working on?