So… I am two months plus behind on this. Haven’t done it since January. Oops!
Obviously our situation has changed since we bought a house–not so much as far as our actual net worth, as where it is distributed. In other news, we have switched from Mint to Personal Capital. I just found Mint very clunky and awkward to use, and kept hearing good things about PC… we’ll see.
Cash: $3840.75 (includes our emergency reserve of about $2K)
Investments: $53,389.03 (This used to be more, but we spent my Roth IRA on a giant pile of bricks). New in this category: Mr. FP’s traditional IRA. We will owe taxes on the capital gains that were part of my IRA balance when we cashed it out, so decided to do a traditional IRA to help offset that.
- My rollover IRA: $18,222.11
- Mr. FP’s traditional IRA: $2,944.28 (He is rather depressed that this has already gone down–he just opened it with $3K a couple of weeks ago!)
- Mr. FP’s old 403(b): $32,221.88
Property: $308,000 (assuming that the value of our house is exactly what we paid for it). We do not count our cars in this category.
Total assets: $365,229.78
Credit Cards: $2873.70
Total liabilities: $296,152.13
TOTAL NET WORTH: $69077.65
Since January, that’s a change of $883. Hard to believe it has stayed so steady! On the other hand, at least it hasn’t gone down. The market has not been great and we have been seriously hemorrhaging money on things for the house. Normally we don’t run around buying used pianos and photo prints and whatnot.
When I started this blog in January 2015, I was surprised to find that our net worth was over $50K–it was at that time $51,681.47. That’s an increase over the last year and a half of $17, 396.18, or 33.7%.
Let’s call that “good, with room for improvement.” The next big question: When will we add that fifth zero?
How’s your net worth growing? How do you track it?
Our new house came with no flower beds or garden of any kind. We have four different surfaces:
- Questionable grass
- Rubber mulch
- More rocks
And did I mention the rocks? So many rocks.Trying to keep the rocks out the rubber mulch and the mulch out of the rocks and both of them out of the grass is my new part-time job.
An experienced gardener would probably not have been deterred by this obstacle, but I am anything but an experienced gardener. The only thing I have ever planted in the ground is knockout roses. And if you live in the Deep South, as I did, knockout roses are pretty much the easiest thing you can possibly plant. They look nice and live forever.
So, no time this spring to create a garden. The whole backyard needs some kind of master plan involving a garden, a garage and many fewer rocks.
But I still wanted to try growing something, so I took over some of the containers that were already set up by the side of our house. The swamp cooler is already set up to drain into them, so less watering!
I have a rosemary plant that I bought at Sprouts, two basil plants (same) and several green onions (also, actually, from Sprouts). I cut off the green tips for use in a recipe, replanted the white bulbs, and they really did come back up!
And for decoration, the coneflowers I received for Mother’s Day. These are not super-healthy looking, but they are technically alive, so I’m calling it a win.
Maybe it will all die off. Maybe not. I am enjoying seeing things grow, but I’m honestly not prepared to get emotionally invested right now. I’m a person who likes to operate by baby steps, so the goal for this year was really just to get my hands dirty and enjoy some summer color and flavors.
Do you garden? Did it come naturally to you? How did you get started?
As of mid-May, Big Brother (age 4) owned zero pairs of pants that were his current size and had no holes in them. That’s not even counting pants with patches–all his patched pants had new holes. Even the pants that I bought brand-new for him in January had holes. Fortunately, then the sun came out.
Now, I’m not a sewing expert, but I’m learning and willing to try new things. The stakes are a little lower with clothes for preschoolers because tots just aren’t that picky, so it’s a great place to practice! Grandpa FP always used to say, “It’s already broken,” meaning I couldn’t make things worse. So in that spirit, I get out the sewing machine and the special sharp scissors and I just Google some tutorials and go for it!
I have tried a variety of methods for dealing with holes in the knees, starting with patching. The problem here is that the pants kept springing holes AROUND the patches. My patches, accordingly, kept getting bigger and bigger as the winter went on. I have also discovered that self-adhesive patches must be sewn on as well. I could do this by hand, but no. I hate hand-sewing with a fiery and intense passion, and also I am terrible at it. So I do it on my machine, even though I often accidentally sew the front of the pants to the back of the pants and have to start over (not much room to work in a pair of jeans worn by a 42 pound preschooler).
Then there are pants not suitable for patching. First, a pair of sweatpants (not pictured)–it just seemed like a patch would look strange. But as it happens, now that the weather’s warm, Big Brother desperately needed shorts! I measured a pair of shorts that fit him to figure out a good inseam. There was plenty of length to work with here, so I just did a traditional finished hem (double fold). Because the fabric was a little stretchy, the hem came out a little wobbly, but, well, I didn’t make them to enter in a hemming contest! Big Brother was delighted to see his favorite “running pants” come back to life as “running shorts.”
Next up, black cargo pants. With these, the hole was awkwardly high, close to the pocket–not much extra length. So I tried a new trick and used hem tape. I’d never done it before, but I remember Grandma FP using it, rather indulgently, when I was a teenager and insisted that my favorite dress had grown too short and needed to be let down.
I cut off the pants right at the rip and zig-zag stitched the cut edge, then sewed the hem tape as close as possible to that edge. (Actually it was self-adhesive hem tape, so I pressed it down first). Then I just barely folded over the hem tape, and sewed it down. The idea with using hem tape this way is that it lets you fold over just a tiny bit of the fabric, instead of losing the full half-inch minimum required by a proper hem.
I was thinking that the color of the tape was not important, since it will be on the inside, but of course it is sometimes visible–these are shorts. Fortunately, the neutral beige looks fine, almost like it’s an intentional embellishment. Good thing I didn’t use pink lace or something!
Lastly, we have the unsalvageable. One pair of khaki cargo pants ripped right up to the pocket, leaving no room for repair. Then a pair of jeans which ripped underneath the large patches (not pictured). I was thinking of making shorts of the jeans, but Grandma FP pronounced them unworthy (too threadbare in the butt). I am saving both of these to cut up for future patches. (See my upcoming post on Adult Pants Problems for how I have already used these!)
I feel like I spent all winter trying to keep Big Brother in pants, so I am very glad that part of the year is over. No word yet on whether he will be allowed to have patches on his uniform pants at his new school next year–I hope so, or it could be an expensive winter!
How are your mending skills coming along?
It was bound to happen sooner or later. I have been doing just the minimum to get by with Leapforce at Home–frankly, mostly to try to keep getting referral bonuses–but then my smart phone died and “minimum” became “nothing all month.”
I received a notice this week that I am no longer an active agent and would need to re-take the qualification exam. (No word on whether if I did so, I would retain my preferred agent status and pay rate.)
I was actively trying to keep myself alive with Leapforce, but now that they’ve let me go, I have no plans to try to get back in. With my new job, I have barely been keeping up with my other, better side gig (fact-checking trivia questions) and don’t need the money as much.
It’s a bit of a relief, really. Besides having to steal the time from other projects, I haven’t been performing very well on the new rating tasks using one’s smart phone, so that was an added source of stress. No one likes to get unsatisfactory performance ratings from anonymous algorithms. Now, since I have already failed, I don’t have to worry about it any more! What I feared has already come to pass, so I’m free.
I was active with Leapforce at Home for over four and a half years, and I continue to recommend it for at-home parents and others who want to make a little extra money with not too much commitment.
It gave me something to do during naptime and (back when I was doing more hours and thus performing better) let me feel like I was still pretty good at something besides deodorizing cloth diapers and loading babies into back carriers without assistance. It kept my brain active and introduced me to some funny YouTube series and a few interesting factoids. (Did you know there’s a part of the human spine that looks like a Scottie dog?)
I might have more free time in the fall if we succeed in getting Little Brother into our local public preschool. But if I do, I’d like to use that time for more creative, productive endeavours, like sewing or getting back into writing fiction.
Have you ever felt immediate relief upon “failing”? What have you trimmed from your life recently?
Before we go any further, a clarification: This is not a post about HOW to replace your bike chain. I’ve only done it once and there are many sets of directions out there on the interwebs. This is a post about why I did it–even though in the short run, it was actually more expensive. It’s also meant to be encouraging, as I am inexperienced, lacking in upper body strength, notoriously uncoordinated, and responsible for supervising two preschool boys simultaneously with any repair attempts, so if I can, you can!
A few months back, I had my bike at the local bike shop for a gear problem I couldn’t resolve myself. The bike mechanic mentioned that my chain was near the end of its life. I had two options:
- Pay them to replace it. This costs $15, and they give you 15% off the chain.
- Replace it myself. This would require a $15 tool, and I would have to pay full price for the chain. The total was thus slightly higher.
Well, I bought the chain and the chain tool (the mechanic called it a “chain breaker,” which sounds awesomer, so I’m going to call it that, too). A chain breaker is a unitasker. It does only one thing–push connecting pins in and out of bike chains. But without it, you simply can’t do the job. Fortunately, it is small and not too expensive.
Obviously, I will save money next time I need a new chain, because I already have the tool. But to save $15 every year or so, was it really worth learning a new skill and, well, getting my hands filthy? Obviously, I think so. For one thing, there are four people in my family. If I replace four chains a year, that’s $60 a year, not $15. I already worked out, back when I learned to wax my own eyebrows, that saving $15 four times per year, with compound interest, works out to $904 over ten years.
Then there’s the one-more-thing factor. I’ve realized that I probably actually save more money than I thought by doing my own eyebrows because inevitably, I got my hair cut at the same time. So sometimes I was getting my hair cut because my eyebrows were a mess, and sometimes vice versa.
I imagine it would be much the same thing with a bike chain. Go in to get the chain replaced, wind up with a couple new gadgets (rear view mirror? clearance bike shorts?) and some additional services you only kind of need.
It’s a pretty easy job. There were a few points of challenge:
- Turning the chain breaker to push out a rivet is surprisingly difficult. Those little pins are in tight.
- Re-winding the chain was tricky. I took a photo (see above) of the chain path, but the harder part was getting the chain under the little metal guards. Then it was hard to hold the ends together and shove in the closing pin at the same time.
- The special closing pin had a guide portion that, once the chain was joined, had to be broken off with plyers. This took several tries.
- The trickiest part of all: The kids kept running away with the chain breaker.
How are your bicycle mechanic skills coming along? Am I the only one making slooooow progress?
So I mentioned a few weeks ago that one does not count lightbulbs when one is looking at houses. You know what else you don’t notice? Whether or not the mini blinds have strings in them.
Yes, all the mini blinds that came with the house are missing at least some of the strings used to open the blinds. I don’t mean that they are broken. Someone clearly took the blinds down and carefully extracted the strings. Why, you ask? Excellent question. The sellers had small children, so I suppose it’s possible they removed the strings in a burst of excessive caution. Except, then why did they leave some of the strings behind?
Regardless, the situation was this. The main living area had four sets of blinds. Only two of them went up and down. And those two had broken slats.
Now, I was seriously tempted to throw them all away and go buy real wood blinds (I have ethical and environmental concerns about vinyl). But… real wood blinds are expensive. And while I think it would be “better” to buy real wood, the best case is generally to fix what you have.
See below for details, but here’s a quick summary of tips:
- You can restring horizontal blinds. It’s easy.
- If you hang new blinds, when you shorten them, save the extra slats from the bottom to use in future repair jobs.
Step 1: Restring the dining room blinds
These weren’t too bad. This set of blinds originally had two strings, only one of which was missing. These blinds had been shortened correctly and none of the slats were broken.
So I took it down and restrung, using this excellent tutorial and some twine we had lying around. The cotton twine was not really the ideal string for the job, but it worked with a little finessing. Because it tended to separate at the ends, I used a large plastic yarn needle to help thread it through the slats.
The new string needed a tassel and a cord stop, which is a little clear plastic doodad. This doodad is EXTREMELY important (not but pictured). It prevents small children from being able to strangle themselves with the cord, which is a real thing that real children have done (not just a theoretical danger). Fortunately, I had some on hand. You can order them for free from the Window Covering Safety Council.
Tip: If you try this at home, make sure to run the new cord to the INSIDE of the ladder strings holding up the slats. It will help the slats stay in place better.
Step 2: Single living room blinds, broken slats
The set of blinds facing the street, miraculously, had both its strings intact. It was, however, missing three slats. It had also never been shortened, so when fully extended, it hung perhaps a foot below the end of the window. In a rare case when two wrongs DID make a right, I was able to take the excess slats off the bottom and use them to replace the missing ones.
This part I found easier to fix with the blinds still hanging–no need to take them down since I was not restringing. The process involved taking the little buttons off the bottom and cutting the knot off the bottom of the strings. Then, I pulled the string out above the broken slats, slid new slats in from the sides, and worked the string back down.
Step 3: Double living room blinds, broken slats and missing strings
On the side of the living room was a double set of blinds 41” wide. The ones on the left had only one string, while those on the right had two strings out of four (enough to function). Both sets had been shortened and they both had several broken slats (see picture above with Kitty Paragon). Boo.
Nothing to do here but buy new blinds, since I had no extra slats to work with. However, I had the brainstorm of buying only one set. Our 2” faux wood blinds come standard from Home Depot. We measured the space between the strings to determine that they had been cut down from a 42” set. We hung the new ones, shortened them and saved the extra slats for future repairs, and then cannibalized the now-defunct set for the spare slats we needed to fix the other old ones.
I could have run two new strings through this other old set, of course. But since two do the job, I decided to leave them alone. I’m not a fan of doing extra work just for the hell of it.
So instead of buying four new sets of blinds, I bought only one. Is it better environmentally to buy one set of vinyl blinds or four sets of wood? Well, I’m not sure, but I suspect that once you factor in all the energy and waste from the manufacturing process, plus the shipping, I did the right thing.
It was certainly the right thing for my pocketbook. The new blinds were about $40. The wood blinds would have run at least $280 for the most basic, more if I wanted upgrades like cloth tapes over the strings.
What have you saved from the trash bin or avoided buying recently?
When we decided to go temporarily back to being a two-car family, we found ourselves with only two harness car seats and a need for four. Since Big Brother has turned four, we decided to put one harness seat in each car for Little Brother and buy a booster seat for Big Brother. Not finding anything on Craigslist or after making a few calls, I bought one new for $30.
I only bought one. While harness seats are bulky and a major pain to install properly, booster seats are light and portable and pop in and out easily. I bought one partly to save money, but equally importantly for the environmental impact. I didn’t want to cause a whole new thing to be manufactured, not to mention creating all the packaging trash.
But lugging it in and out of the cars was a bit of a pain, especially because often I drop off the boys at daycare and Mr. FP picks them up. You should have seen me when Little Brother had his cast on–giant casted toddler on one hip, booster seat on the other, walking into daycare!
So I was thrilled to find one at a large yard sale for $5.* No packaging! Hardly any cost! Saving something from the dumpster! Money for a good cause! (Presbyterian youth group, as I recall–service trips, maybe? I’m an atheist myself but I was certainly happier giving the money to them than Walmart.)
The only problem was that the elastic straps holding the bottom pad in place were a mess! They were all stretched out, knotted together strangely, and in no way doing their job. The pad slid around each time Big Brother got in, in an annoying way.
So I bought some replacement elastic at Jo-Ann’s for $1.99. My strategy was to cut off the old elastic, but leave perhaps a quarter-inch stub, and then hand-sew the new elastic directly to the old elastic.
Because I’m slow, this took me about an hour. But it was an hour that I spent with my sewing basket on my porch watching the kids play. I could make $20-$25, the amount that I saved, working on my computer, but I would not have gotten to:
- Be outside.
- Be with the kids.
- Remind the kids to look but not touch.
- Practice my sewing.
- Practice my general problem-solving skills.
- Save waste from the landfill.
And perhaps most excitingly:
- Take a Broken Thing and make it once again a Useful Thing.
What have you fixed lately? Did it give you that warm fuzzy feeling?
*Not even my $5. I didn’t have my wallet and I asked Grandma FP if I could “borrow” $5. She later gave me such a generous housewarming present–thanks, Mom!–that it seemed rather churlish to insist on repaying the $5.
Disclaimer: As you probably know, used car seats should be accepted with caution. I feel confident that most human beings would not donate a car seat that had been in a crash–remember, they did not personally get the money. And the seat is not expired, etc.
Disclaimer: This blog post is about me. No judgment about the size, shape, appearance, or health of any other person is intended.
Friends, I have never been what you would call svelte. I haven’t had flat abs since puberty and empire waist dresses only looked good on me in the adorable second trimester of pregnancy. My “skinny” jeans have a high waist and control top, suggesting that the garment is somewhat misnamed. I’m not ashamed of this. I’m a mom and I like ice cream.
But I do exercise (to the extent that I enjoy it) and make some effort not to just shovel whatever I want into my mouth, so, it was a bit of a shock last week when I was filling out an online health questionnaire (as part of an effort to get a $240 bonus from my employer) and realized that the last few pounds that have snuck up on me have pushed from the high end of normal to, technically, “overweight” on the BMI scale.
Yes, this is a seriously flawed measure, but it’s the one that the software was using. (The latest evidence seems to suggest that the scale may need shifting upwards–people who are slightly overweight on the scale seem to be less likely to die at any given time than people at the low end of normal.) To be clear, I don’t think that there is anything particularly unhealthy about my current weight.
So why am I talking about it at all, and in particular why am I discussing it in my frugal living blog? Well, I am clearly eating up more dollars, in the form of food, than I need, and fluctuating weight can also make maintaining a wardrobe a pricey proposition. (Fortunately, I have not, thus far, actually outgrown anything.) And the technicality of the word “overweight” really got my attention. It feels like some weird mid-thirties, post-motherhood rite of passage that I never saw coming.
Most importantly, though, steady weight creep threatens things I value. Like being able to take the kids to school by bike. Walking across downtown. Hiking in the mountains. The general sense that I am strong and capable.
The cause of the weight creep is, on reflection, totally obvious. I was biking six miles several days a week for preschool dropoff, but now that we have moved across town, I’ve been driving. And I can remember too many times when I got up from the dinner table feeling fuller than full. So… portion control and upping my activity level. I have already gone to an extra Body Pump class and walked by a bag of donuts in the break room at work.
Not because I’m ashamed of myself, or think I look bad, or because I want to look better than other people. For the sole reason that I think my chances of continuing to enjoy an active, frugal life are better if I stop gaining inches and maybe shake off a few.
Do you see a connection between your size/weight and frugality?