Thursday, May 5, 2011

Hard work = Happy??

Happy Cinco de Mayo everyone!  And Especially to my hubby, because today is our 4 year anniversary!  I'm sure most of you read it on Facebook already, and will probably get sick of hearing about today from the two of us, but seriously, it's a really great time for us!

To understand how incredibly happy I am, you have to understand a little back story.

John and I dated and were engaged for almost 2 years before we were married.  And even though we had gone on trips together and had spent a lot of time together, and we took a "pre-marital" class with the most honest and true married couple out there....our first year married was difficult, to put it nicely.  Now, I know some people say "oh that's the honeymoon year!" Well, for us, that honeymoon phase lasted until we were back in Raleigh, the day we got back from our actual honeymoon. Short lived, I know.

That first year was tough.  And it was tough for both of us.  There were times I doubted if I had made the right decision, and times when he thought the same.  There were times when baggage each of us had brought to the relationship was overwhelming, and it seemed the easiest thing to do to was not work on the marriage aspect and just be content with living together for a while.  But, we got in a newlyweds class, read my favorite book we've read together to date "Men are like Waffles, Women are like Spaghetti" We talked with other newlyweds and amazingly, we all realized the same thing:

We're all going through the same thing!

If you're reading this, and thinking, 'wow, we've never been like that' then you're definitely different.  But for us, this first year contained so many things:  living together, in a tiny apartment that was way over priced, me working a new and extremely stressful job, John working his "normal" 8-5 stressful job, then getting laid off from said "normal" job, and deciding to start his own business, all thrown on top of the normal first year of figuring out what this "marriage" thing looks like.

Over time, we've learned how to talk to each other, especially in arguments, how to tell the other one they've gotta step it up, without making them feel defeated, that we're really different when we thought we were so much alike, and how to be happy in those differences.

Going into marriage, I knew things weren't going to be Cinderella and a Fairytale, but what I did know was that I wanted to be happy, and however that was to happen I wasn't sure, other than talk and work on it.  And that leaves a lot up in the air to "work on" and that just doesn't sound like much fun. 

I knew this was going to be hard coming in, but I really didn't know just how hard it was going to be.  And I don't mean it's been hard for me to deal with my husband, he's really great!  It has been hard, for me to realize that I do a lot of things wrong, and I'm pretty judgmental sometimes, hard-headed and stubborn, whiny..a lot, change my mind frequently, at times hard to understand, and had a massively exploded head in thinking how awesome I was. I had self confidence, and then I had massive ego.  Self confidence = good.  Ego = bad bad bad.

I realized that my husband reacts differently when I hurt his feelings than I would.  And while I know how to handle the way I would have reacted, I didn't know how to handle this man I molded him into, who couldn't see how great he was because I was too busy picking out the negatives and making them huge.  I didn't do it on purpose, but it seemed that when we disagreed, I was somehow able to make them a point to be noticed.  I realized that much of the things I didn't like about what he did...or didn't do, were reactions to things I had done to him.

How did we get through those things?

We had very very honest, very painful conversations...ones where we were not allowed to dispute the other person's points.  He would tell me deep things on how I had hurt him, and I had to sit there and take it, and not bite back.  And that was hard to hear.  And I sat and I listened, and I listened and I listened.  And if you've ever met my husband, you know he doesn't usually talk this much, so I knew it was bad if he had this much to say.  Later, I then told him some of the things that had hurt me, things I didn't expect to go how they were going, and how they shattered my idea of what a happy marriage looked like. And he listened, and he didn't bite back.

And at the end, we both were able to see that we needed to do a lot to change.

And today, 4 years after we were married, I can honestly say, that I have never been happier.  He is my very best friend, one who challenges me to be a better person, who accepts my faults, and loves me like crazy.   He still does things to impress me, and I love it.  We talk honestly and openly about our differences and are able to see how they make us mesh together perfectly.  I am happy because of the love and the life we have built together.

And if this is only 4 years, I can't wait to see what 10 years, what 25, 40, or maybe even 60 years looks like.

'Cause this is awesome!

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Yummo Brownies

Last night, I got this huge craving for brownies.  But, sticking with our goal this month of using what we have in the house, I found this recipe to make brownies from scratch. 

I'm not really a baker.  I'm more of a dinner cook, or I use those no-bake recipes for desserts.  That's just how I roll.

Plus I don't measure anything.  I'm usually thinking "a pinch of this, a splash of that" when I cook. 

But these brownies were so awesome!  Usually our boxed brownies are kinda over cooked on the edges and under cooked in the middle, no matter which pan I bake them in.  These brownies were done to perfection!  Moist on the inside, perfect top, and no sticking to the pan!  Not too sweet, and delicious with light and cocoa-y goodness.

So here's what I did, other than follow the recipe above.

Some Baking 101 tips for anyone who's not a baker (ahem - me):
-Baking requires that you measure, so be sure to use dry measuring cups & spoons for dry, wet measure for wet.
-Mix all the "like" ingredients together first - i.e. - mix all the dry in a bowl together, and mix all the wet in a separate bowl together.  After each are mixed well and blended separately, combine the wet into the dry and mix just until combined. 
-brownies are better, lighter, and fluffier if you don't over mix them.  Once all the ingredients are mixed, put them in the pan.

I think this has become my favorite way to make brownies!  The box kind are pretty easy, but this is incredibly easy as well, and comes out tasting so much better! I never would have thought baking brownies was as easy as this...too many recipes call for melted chocolate (which I burn), and we didn't have any real butter (only tub margarine) in the house.  Seriously, I'm not a baker.  I burn bread very frequently, and have tried over and over to make bread with yeast and only once have I had relatively good results.

Who knows, maybe this has opened up my cooking world into the realm of baking as well!  Not sure this should be happening right before summer time  Swimsuit Season.....

Friday, April 1, 2011

New Goal

Most of you know we've been on Dave's plan for a while, but recently we've had a set back.  John's truck, which was paid off, broke down.  And really, by "broke down", I mean Broke.  We knew it was nearing the end of it's life with the faint burning of oil and a little bit of a leak, throw in the strange noises, and the hope that it passes inspection every year, all equated to a recipe for disaster.  But because it was paid off, and not worth too much, and we wanted to wait to get a better one until we had a few more things paid off.

Well, thanks to his transmission going out, and in an incapacitating way, we bought him a newer lower mileage truck.  But, thanks to selling his old one for parts, and a little extra money we had, we paid a large chunk down in cash to get a lower loan amount.  That is something we would have NEVER been able to do before.  And even though we went into debt more, it was a necessary thing given that this is how he makes money.  No truck = no income.  Plain and simple.

So with that, our debt snowball, has turned itself over into a new payment, and is no longer there to add to the minimums. This is pretty depressing for me.  It's like we worked our butts off to get stuff paid off, only to end up with payments once again.

But, I have felt convicted lately in our budget.  I look on Dave's forums, and there are people who post their full budget out there online for the whole world to see.  I'm a little conflicted about doing that step; it does allow others to be challenged by your budget, it challenges you to allow yourself to be open to scrutiny, and allows you to make changes that can affect your future.  But that info is very personal, and given that some people don't live in a large city, where a house our size would be under half of what it costs here, where expenses are extremely low compared to ours, sometimes it's not an accurate comparison.

And, I digress.  My the rabbit trail, and onto the main point.

I noticed on some of these budgets, people's food budget was less than half of ours!  HALF!  And I use coupons and save a ton of money, and I think we rarely eat out.  So I started thinking. 

What if, for one month, I cut our food budget down to only buying the weekly must haves (like bread and milk, things that go bad quickly, etc), and eat from our pantry and freezer?  We have more than enough food thanks to coupons, and sales, and the fact that my parents live on a farm and bring us fresh beef and deer.  Our pantry has tons of food in there, so much to where we have no space for more. 

So my goal this month, is to severely cut our food budget, and focus on being better at planning our meals out ahead of time.

My hope is that 1- we can save a lot of money in a short amount of time, 2- We can free up some space in our freezer and pantry 3- we're being more conscious about what we buy 4-We are challenged to look at our budget with a fresh pair of eyes.  

I'll let ya know how it goes.  I'm expecting great results!

Friday, February 4, 2011

Great Deal at CVS

Any of you who are on the coupon wagon, know how exciting it is to walk out paying nothing, or close to nothing, and who doesn't love free stuff?  So here's what I did today:

(4) Dove Deodorants @ $3.49 each
(1) Dove HairSpray @ $3.00 each
(1) CVS Q-tips @3.49

Coupons used:
(2) $2/1 Dove Deodorant
(1) $1.50/2 Dove Deodorants
(1) $1.00 off Dove Hair product
$4 off $20 purchase
$10 ECB from previous purchase

Total Due before tax:   $0.00 !!  FREE

And I got $5.00 ECB back for a future purchase.  So, I made $5.00 today from CVS. 

On another encouraging note, the girl at checkout was new, today was her first day, and she said "Wow.  I am so motivated by you!  You're like those coupon women on TV!"

I felt so good from her sweet words of encouragement, but I forced myself to not think of the hoarder-couponers and only think of how much money I saved.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

6 Easy Money Saving Tips

In the last post, I mentioned a little bit about our goal of paying debts off.  Along with that, comes with a few easy to-do money savers I thought I'd share with you, my few lucky readers. :) 

1 - Pay your bills on time.  This may seem like a "Duh" thing to do, and one many of us do quite frequently, but giving the credit card company one more reason to take $10 from your pocket is not a good way to save money.  It helps your credit score, and gives you better leeway with the company in the future.  Don't believe me?  Check out #2.

2 - Ask for grievances on fees. Maybe you lost the bill, maybe the due date was a few days shorter than it usually is, but for whatever reason, you paid your bill a little late.  If you've been a good customer with the company in the past (see #1), they're more likely to work with you to get that fee either removed, or at least keep it from rearing its ugly head again in the future.  After all, they want you to continue to use their company, and the best way of doing that is to honor the relationship they have with their truly great customers. 

Many companies have a policy in effect for these type situations.  The requirements?  Usually it's a history of on-time bill pays, paying at least the minimums if not the full total, and of course, being nice can't hurt.  You merely need to call the company of choice, explain that you received your statement and noticed the late payment, and would like to see what you can do to get it removed.  Make sure you have your pay history handy in case they need verification, and remember, the customer service rep is at the mercy of the company's policy, so be nice to them - don't shoot the messenger. 

The first time my husband witnessed this, he laughed about how easy this was.  Then he thought back to all those times he opened the bill to see the late fee and would be bitter about paying them their $10.00. 

One key note - Do not make it a habit to pay your bills late and then ask for forgiveness.  Most companies have a policy they can only remove the fee once within a certain time frame, usually 6 months to a year, but it can be even longer.  It is a courtesy they extend to their customers who they see do not make a habit out of this, so don't expect them to break rules, no matter how angry you get.

3 - Ask about promotions and offers for your area.  Companies frequently offer special rates to new customers, select areas, or certain plans of service.  If any of those are available for your area, ask about how you can take advantage of those offers.  Remember from item #2, they want to keep your business, not lose it.  If they see you're looking for better rates, they're likely to offer you a discount to keep you there with them.

4 - Ask about lowering your interest rate.  Believe it or not, there are policies that exist within credit card companies where you can work out a deal to lower your interest rate.  Sometimes it's as easy as asking a question, and sometimes it requires a little deal making on your part.  Are you willing to increase your minimum monthly payment by $15.00 if it means you're going from a 25% interest rate to a 8%?  You better believe I'm making that deal.  If you're on the "Dave Plan" you're probably working on your debt snowball as well, so think about when exactly you need to call those companies.  Majority of time, they'll want to get the deal in effect the same day, so if you're not going to be able to make a higher payment for 2 months, hold off and pay off that lower total on the other debts before starting your negotiating. 

 5 - Don't let your credit cards go over the maximum limit.  If you've not paid close attention to #1, or #2, and #4 hasn't seemed to help your interest rate, you may find yourself closer to this than you might think.  Those late fees, coupled with the high interest, and the minimum requirement payments could have have you owing much more than you ever spent with them in the first place.  Some of these over the limit fees can be close to your minimum monthly payment, making it nearly impossible to pay them off.  This may seem like a kick back to #4, but call the company and see what you can do to get a deal that both parties are happy with. 

When you are ready for negotiations, have all your payment history handy.  Remember they want to get paid their money due, and you want to stop paying them.  If they think they're never going to get all their money due, they'll likely work with you to reach a common ground.  The basics of credit cards?  They want your money, and as much of it as they can get.  Their point of charging you over the limit and late fees is to persuade you to pay them more as soon as possible.  If that tactic doesn't work and they see over months fees and no increase in your rate of return, they start getting ugly.  They'll probably start calling you 3, 4, 5 times a day to harass you into giving them money.  It might mean taking money from other budgeted areas, like food or mortgage, but do they care?

6 - When you can, pay off the total on credit card statements. Credit Card companies thrive off interest.  They know that people are willing to hang thousands of dollars of debt over their heads every month, owing the company sometimes close to 30% interest can be daunting to anyone, and seem like a never ending mountain to climb.  When you can, pay those cards off, and do a victory dance.  You'll owe them less money over the long haul, and no longer be enslaved to their high interest evil. 

The other benefit of paying off your total?  It increases your maximum limit.  Now, I'm not recommending you go back in debt with them, but that higher limit means a higher revolving credit on your credit report, which will increase your credit score and save you money on big purchases, like a house.  A higher credit score, and you're more likely to get a better interest rate on a mortgage.  Ever look at an amortization schedule on a mortgage?  That low interest rate can save you hundreds of thousands of dollars over the typical 30 year fixed rate mortgage.

So no point in hiring a debt relief counselor, when you can do all the work yourself, with just a few calls and knowing your payment history.  Put these in effect with your carefully crafted budget, and you'll see a significant difference in no time. 

What do you think?  Do you have tips not mentioned here?  I'd love to hear them, and I'm sure others would love to save money thanks to you as well.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Do unto your kid?

This might a bit of venting, so this is your fair warning, However - I do think it is something everyone should think about.

Since John and I have been together (5 1/2 yrs counting dating) we have openly discussed everything - money, politics, beliefs, love, hate, sex, etc.  As a result of these very open, very honest, and judgement free conversations, we have learned to trust each other to handle more mature situations, and have grown to rely on each other for things that we otherwise would not have been able to do.

One of those things is our finances.  In the beginning, one of us never spent anything, and the other lived on credit cards. At various times, one has been the "bread winner" while the other was paid less.  Now, over the course of time, we have made what we feel are monumental leaps in this area.

I'll spare you all the number details, but we often are asked if we're on the Dave Ramsey Plan.  And our answer is always odd:  We were on the Dave Ramsey plan before it was Dave Ramsey - it was called the "Scott Shackleton Pay off Sh*t Plan."  Which is essentially the same plan as Dave, with a few modifications.

If you're unfamiliar with this plan, I highly encourage you to check it out.  However, my point here today is not to glorify us and our spending frugal ways, or Scott (although we love you dearly), or Dave Ramsey (sorry Dave).

Instead, I'd like you to consider something I came across while perusing the Dave Ramsey site today. It comes via this forum in which the mother of a 16 year old High School Student recounts her son's work habits, income, and her choice to keep half of his paycheck.

I could debate with you that while I think this mother has great intentions, she is doing her son harm.  And some could say that since he's earning all this money, he should get to spend it.  And then some would say he needs to pay the family since he's living under their roof.   All of which, I could understand (although I may not agree with them all).

But here's what I thought:

All these people are on here, because they've had problems in the past with being in debt - yet all I read, post after post, was "Well, when I was a kid ....."

What the Hell people? 

Obviously whatever happened when you were a kid didn't teach you good money management skills!  So why are you suggesting, and even placing guilt on this woman into doing the same thing to her child? 

Why do we do this?  Why do we think the best way was the way we were raised, and often shoot down any and all other options as below us?  Can we not look at our own past and learn from it, are we really that ignorant?

Didn't Einstein say insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results?  

Then why do we force our actions on our children.   Do you really want them to pay the same price you did for those same mistakes?

Isn't it time we started teaching our children the things we wished we had learned, and stop pushing our mistakes off onto them.