Archive | October 2014

October 2014 Net Worth Check: Still Rising

I don’t pay much attention to the stock market. I just assume it will go up over time, and if I have money to invest, I invest it. Apparently it hasn’t been a great few months, stocks-wise, but our net worth did not drop. The reason it did not is that we are not wealthy. The growth in our net worth comes entirely from our savings out of our current income. Because our net worth is still relatively low compared to our income, our savings more than offset losses from the market. Anyway, here’s where we stand:

Cash: $6875.42

Investments: $59,225.48 (Up 7.5%, all of it new money that I put in my Roth)

  • Mr. FP’s 403(b): $30,450.13 (up by $18)
  • Mrs. FP’s rollover IRA: $17,123.83 (down by $48)
  • Mrs. FP’s Roth IRA: $11,680.77 (up because of new investment)

Property: $2000 (1999 Honda Accord)

Credit Cards: -$2592.02

Net Worth: $65,535.88

That’s an increase of $2310.01, or 3.7%. Frankly, I think we should have done better. We’ve been spending money hand over fist on getting settled in Colorado–pint-sized snow boots, a down jacket for Mr. FP, bike supplies, etc. Most of these are (a) one-time purchases that should last many years–the coat, for instance, replaced a Starter jacket circa 1996–and (b) carefully considered purchases meant to support a frugal, outdoorsy sort of lifestyle. Still, I’d like to see us speed up savings by cutting the grocery budget, making fewer donut runs, etc. We tend to keep the holidays pretty low-key, so I’m optimistic that we might see better gains next time.

With the year winding down, where do you stand? Did the stock market cause you sleepless nights, or did you take it in stride?


The Catch-22 of Credit Scores

First, a confession: I have mediocre credit. I used to have actual bad credit, but it has risen to mediocre and remains there, hovering between 600 and 700.

I have been late on a bill only once in my life, but boy, it was a doozy. To make a long story short, in 2010 Mr. FP and I stopped paying the mortgage on a house we no longer lived in, and a few months later, we short-sold it, meaning that the bank agreed to settle our mortgage for less than we owe. We were underwater on the house; we owed more money on it than it was worth. (Perhaps next week I will tell you whole sordid story as a useful cautionary tale about the perils of impetuous homebuying.)

Anyway, as you can imagine, not paying your mortgage really dings the ol’ credit score, and so does settling an account (e.g., our mortgage) for less than you owe. I had a small student loan on which I kept paying, which helped me make up a little bit of ground, but the process is slow.

Despite our traumatic experience, we still want to consider owning a house someday, maybe in the next year or two if we really like Denver. To do that, I personally need to contribute two things: income from a real job (update on this front coming soon) and better credit. So I started researching ways to get my credit up. I seemed to have two main problems, aside from the house debacle: “too few accounts currently paid as agreed” and too little available credit. Any time I use my one card, I come too close to the limit, and apparently that’s bad. You should look like you are using only a tiny bit of the credit available to you–perhaps to demonstrate your restraint?

So I took two steps: I asked my credit union to raise the limit on my card, which they did, and I opened an Amazon Visa in my own name. I’m sure that will see a lot of use as we love us some Amazon, and instead of getting 1% cash back like with our trusty old Chase Freedom card, we will now get 2% back from Amazon. Plus I got a $60 gift card just for signing up, which is, as my father would say,  better than a nail in the foot. I’ll be able to use my account at Credit Karma to see whether it helps it go up. (Your Credit Karmas score is not exact, but it’s the best you can get for free, and should show changes over time.)

Credit Karma screen shot showing score of 674 and flat graph showing no change.

I just opened the account, so no change yet.

It all seems a little skeezy. Fake-borrowing money just to prove that I can be trusted to borrow money? And here’s where it gets really unfair: Mr. FP has better credit than me. And the reason is that he took out a loan we couldn’t afford. That’s right. Right before the skipped payments started to hit the credit reports, we realized we needed a second vehicle for a variety of reasons. So while I was at work, Mr. FP went out and financed a three-year-old Honda CRV. I wasn’t on the loan because I was at work, and anyway I disapproved. I thought he should get an older, smaller car.  Time proved me right and it is greatly to Mr. FP’s credit that he eventually admitted his error and sold the car. But that irresponsible decision boosted his credit to a remarkable and illogical extent. (Some of the difference in our scores is probably due to our joint credit cards being in his name, I think just because he was the one filling out the applications.)

I wish credit reporting companies had a better idea of your bill-paying abilities. I pay rent, daycare, all sorts of things that don’t show up. Am I the only one who finds it a little unfair that being actually responsible with credit does not necessarily lead to a good score?

We Got Smart Phones: $269 down and $40/month (or less)

There are many great blog posts about how to save money on your smart phone bill by switching from a name-brand provider like Verizon to an upstart like Ting or Republic Wireless. One of my favorites is this excellent series from the folks at Planting Our Pennies.

But… what if you never had a smart phone to begin with? Can you still justify getting one? We decided we could. We have no more debt and money is starting to accumulate in the bank. Plus, since we cancelled our basic Verizon plans back in February and switched to Airvoice, we’ve already saved about $320 (even after paying the cancellation fee). A little research revealed that we could both have smart phones for waaaaay less than that dumb-phone Verizon plan.

We considered two main options, Republic Wireless and Ting.* We decided on Ting because, even if our current text and voice usage doubles and we add moderate data use, we will still save money over Republic (Republic offers great prices on unlimited plans, ideal for heavy users). Our Airvoice plans cost $10 each for 250 minutes, 500 texts, or some combination thereof. Mr. FP came close to his limit once or twice; I had over $40 left in my plan (it rolls over from month to month). So we are light users–and I don’t WANT to be a heavy user. If I get bored at the playground, I’d rather read a book than be tempted to update my Facebook status.

Looking for used phones was a no-brainer for us, especially since we had heard such good things about Glyde, a marketplace for buying and selling used cell phones and a particular godsend for anyone who wants to change carriers. Somewhat arbitrarily, we decided to shop for more or less mid-market options, phones that were pretty good a year or two ago, but not top of the market. We decided on Android phones as we are heavy Google users and they seemed a better deal than iPhones. (An iPhone 4 or 4s would have been in our $100-150 price range, for instance, but unlike other phones in that range, it does not have LTE coverage.) Mr. FP, our cell phone guru, chose last year’s Moto X ($157 shipped). I was going to get the same thing, but as soon as he ordered his, Glyde was sold out! Back to the drawing board. What I wound up doing was looking on Glyde for every Sprint smart phone, then ordering the cheapest available option that was in excellent condition and was LTE-capable. That turned out to be the HTC EVO LTE for $112 shipped, so I ordered it.

Our experience with Glyde was quite smooth, if not expeditious. Both our phones were in the excellent condition we ordered. There was some sort of delay with shipping mine, but I still received it in about two weeks. Porting our numbers to Ting also went smoothly, at least on Ting’s end. I had to call Airvoice to get them to release my number.

Ting charges you based on your level of consumption, and you can move freely between levels. If one month you don’t use any data, you don’t pay for data. We are estimating that we’ll wind up paying $30-$40 a month for the two of us; about twice what we’ve been paying with Airforce, but still less than half of what we were paying for basic phones with Verizon. The less we use, the less we’ll pay, and if our usage starts to creep up, we can use our Google Voice numbers over WiFi to keep it down. You can use this nifty calculator to see how much Ting can save you.

I realize that we didn’t need smart phones, but we were really starting to notice times when they would make our lives easier: Wanting to comparison shop while standing in a store, for instance, or wanting to look up a phone number while riding in the car. Now we can do those things. Frugality doesn’t have to mean denying yourself some of the fun gadgets you see other people playing with. It DOES mean not blindly shelling out for that three-figure plan and not going for the iPhone 6 or Galaxy V as soon as they come out.

Do you have a smart phone? How are you keeping the cost down?

*This is a referral link. If you use it to sign up, we get a credit to our account and you also get a $25 credit in yours! The MMM forums have a great referral thread, but if you are not a member, please considering clicking here to join Ting.

I Got a Flat Tire, and My Life Is Awesome

I had planned to blog about how driving my car has become kind of interesting novelty (Oooh! I have the car today!) now that I bike most places I go regularly.

But today I had the car for a job interview, and on the way home from it, I ran over some sort of twisted metal and got a flat tire. While this was inconvenient and I wish I still had the $165 (for tow and tire), the whole experience actually exposed a number of things about my life that are great.

  1. I have a car! It let me down a bit today, but 999 times out of a thousand, I get in it and it whisks me over the kinds of distances I could only dream travelling by foot or bicycle. It’s faster than horses and doesn’t poop all over the place.
  2. I have money. Three years ago, I ran up a nine hundred dollar emergency room bill (insurance deductible). I did not have it. The bill came in three separate parts as medical bills do, so I had to make three separate phone calls asking for payment plans, including for the smallest bill–which was $137. That was a real low point for me. Today, I could put the charges on my Visa and be confident I can pay it off at the end of the month. Even if it had been a thousand dollars, I have an emergency fund now.
  3. Modern technology rocks. I don’t have a smartphone yet (I actually ordered one! Stay tuned for details!) but I have a dumb phone which allows me to sit in my car and call for help. Then the power of the Internet allowed someone 1700 miles away to find me a tow company.
  4. People love me. Lacking a smart phone, my best option was to call people and ask them to look up the number of a tow truck company. The first four people I called weren’t available, but I hit pay dirt on the fifth call, my brother-in-law. And if he didn’t answer, I would have moved on to friends. Plenty of people willing to help me out of a jam.
  5. I love to read. If you love to read enough, every delay becomes a mini-vacation. Of the hour and a half the whole thing took, I got to read for probably an hour! It was great! Thank goodness I had brought my Nook.

Other things that worked in my favor: The kids were not with me and the weather was lovely. What are you grateful for this week?

Beans: I’ve Been Doing Them Wrong

This post contains affiliate links and independent opinions.

We eat a lot of beans at the FP household, partly because beans are cheap and partly because neither of us likes to shop for, handle, or cook raw meat. I like to cook a pound or two at a time in my slow cooker and store the beans in two-cup portions in a freezer bag. (A can of beans is about a cup and three quarters; most recipes measure the beans they call for in cans, and we usually like to use more than the recipe calls for.) My general practice was to rinse and soak the beans, then put them in the slow cooker, cover with cold water, add a bay leaf if I thought of it, and turn it on. (I’ve never gone wrong with 8 hours on low.)*

The results were, I thought, totally acceptable, and both slightly cheaper and slightly tastier than canned beans. Then I read Tamar Adler’s An Everlasting Meal: Cooking with Economy and Grace. Now, I often found this book a bit much for me; her target audience seems to be people who cook way better than I do. But I thought I would try the things within my reach, starting with salting my pasta water. That resulted in tastier pasta, so next up was trying her advice on cooking beans.

She recommends putting in all sorts of odds and ends: scraps of carrot, onion, and celery, plus a garlic clove, parsley stems, thyme, and fennel. I think fennel is foul and did not have parsley stems or thyme, but I obediently put in the rest, plus, as she recommends, some kosher salt and “an immoderate, Tuscan amount of olive oil.”

I cooked overnight and noticed the difference as soon as I woke up. Instead of smelling like, well, beans, my kitchen smelled like soup. It smelled good. The cooking water—not mere bean water but broth—tasted good. I fished out the veggie bits with a slotted spoon. (I might use cheesecloth in the future, as the celery leaves broke up into a million little pieces and were hard to remove.)


Pinto beans ready to cook with lots of celery and olive oil and other odds and ends.


And this is what it looked like in the morning. Mmmmm.

For some reason, I always thought it would be too hard or too much trouble to try to save the broth from cooking beans. It really isn’t. Put the colander inside a big bowl and proceed. The beans themselves, which were plumper and tastier than any other navy beans I’ve encountered, were destined for chicken chili made with chicken broth, so I saved some of the leftover bean broth and used it to make bread soup, as Alder recommends. (Actually I didn’t follow her recipe; I just threw some stuff together and it was quite tasty.) I also tried substituting bean broth for chicken broth to save a buck, and that worked, too, at least in a highly flavored chili. That batch was made with pinto beans, and while the broth still tasted fine, I think I preferred the clearer white bean broth.

Separating beans from delicious broth.

Separating beans from delicious broth.

I’m so impressed that I might actually buy the book after I have to return it to the library and take my time working through the chapters. It’s not really a cookbook per se and has only a few recipes; it’s more a book about cooking happily and with confidence.

What new things are you trying in the kitchen lately? Where did you get the idea?

*Red kidney beans may possess a toxin that cannot be adequately eliminated through slow cooking. We don’t care for them, so it’s not a problem for us.

October Goals

My review posts for September and August should make it abundantly clear that I am muuuch better at making goals than meeting them. And yet, hope springs eternal and all that, so here I go again, trying to make some goals!

Income: Earn $300 more than I spend on childcare. That’s much more than I actually made less month, but less than my goal for last month.

Spending: Limit grocery spending to $500. No, really, I mean it this time. Now that I’ve gotten into such a rhythm with goal setting, I’m planning to add a weekly Mint session. Waiting until halfway through the month obviously didn’t work out. Because I often shop by bike or on foot, we make frequent small trips and it’s hard to keep mental track of how much I’ve spent. That’s why there’s Mint! Also, consider ways to reduce our electric bill.

Investment: Reallocate my Roth IRA–now that it has more money in it! That’s right, last month we were able to put $3800 in my Roth and another thousand in our Ally savings account, thanks to an unusually high paycheck for Mr. FP and the remnants of all those financial presents from family members.

Lifestyle: Sleep more by going to bed earlier. I often feel like I’m just dragging myself through the motions at my morning exercise classes and am routinely put to shame in Body Pump by women old enough to be my mother. Goal is to have my head on the pillow by 10:15 at least three nights a week.

Other: Keep working on getting life insurance. Read 4 books. Make a total of 8 blog posts, counting both yesterday’s and today’s. Learn something about bicycle maintenance. Keep habit of making weekly to-do lists.


September Review

Last month, I laid out some goals for September. I wish I could say that I had gotten better than mixed results… but I did not. Here’s what it looks like:


Goal: $400 more than childcare ($1030)

Actual: $158 more than childcare ($788)

Analysis: My better-paying trivia job was very slow this month and I had trouble motivating myself to do Leapforce; other tasks always seem more important. And unexpected time-suckers came up, including a job interview that required extensive preparation. I really need to rethink whether paying for part-time childcare is worthwhile.


Goal: Limit groceries to $500

Actual: $577

Analysis: I’m actually not too discouraged here. Where I went wrong was in not paying closer attention earlier in the month.  By the time the month was half over, I had less than a hundred dollars left, and while I made a valiant effort (including experimenting with making my own yogurt), staying all the way under was just too difficult. I’m not very experienced in sticking to a grocery budget because for two years until this summer, we were living at a boarding school and ate most of our dinners in the dining hall for free, and at other times, Mr. FP has been our main shopper. So I won’t be too hard on myself.


Goal: Reduce our consumption of disposable training pants and get Little Brother to sleep in two pairs of cloth trainers plus a plastic cover.

Actual: This went better than expected. I had actually just bought a large package (for extended trips out of the house, etc.) when Little Brother decided that they were completely unacceptable as undergarments. It is actually a frequent struggle to get him to put on that second pair and the cover, as he wants to wear “just undiepants,” but since he is waking up soaking wet 2-3 mornings a week, I’m holding firm. (Interestingly, Big Brother became reasonably reliable at night just a month or so ago, at exactly the time his larger-size plastic cover finally disintegrated.)


Get life insurance: Fail. Mr. FP hasn’t gotten around to doing his exam and I never got my application.

Read three books: Pass!

Make weekly to-do lists: Marginal pass. I’ve gotten into a good rhythm for making the lists; that’s the good news. Every Monday after lunch, I review the previous week’s list and see what else needs to be done. I have been less successful at actually finishing a list, but I figure that’s good: if it were easy to finish, it would be a bad list. Probably better to have two or three things that I don’t get to than to finish my list on Saturday.

BONUS: While I haven’t been goal-setting in this area, I am seeing a slight decrease in the numbers on the scale as well as some muffin top shrinkage. Wouldn’t it be nice if I went all the way through the month of October with NO strangers asking me if I was expecting a third child? (I am not, as it happens, currently in the family way.)

Stay tuned tomorrow for some October goals. Did you make any goals for September? How did you do at meeting them?