Out with the old, In with the new!

Happy New Year! Here’s to lucky number 13!

We rang in the new year in a pretty low key manner. Just the 4 of us at home, playing games, eating and being silly.

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We did our official toast to the new year at 9 pm so that Isabella could participate. We mixed orange juice and Squirt and drank out of wine glasses (champagne flutes are still in storage…) to make it fancy. Then we took some more silly pictures and called it a night!

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Now, let’s talk resolutions…

I started out 2012 with a long list of resolutions (30 of them! Eek!). I acknowledged at the time that it was ambitious and tried to break it down in to manageable chunks. I actually stuck with it for a good 6 months too and can say I crossed off about 50% of the items (I say “about” because some of the goals were in multiple parts or I did a resolution for the first half of the year but not the last, etc.).

I could site many excuses for not doing more (laziness, being pregnant, changing priorities, etc.) but the fact of the matter is that I’m human and can only do so much. I’m not perfect (are you shocked?) and so I think getting through half of my list is pretty darn good.

That being said, this year I’m going to come at it a bit differently. I have 2 goals (you know, other than the Big One of having a baby) and they pretty much go hand in hand:

1. Get our finances in order and pay down our debts

2. Establish and maintain organization in the household

The first one is a carry over from last year. I learned a valuable lesson in the last couple of months – no matter how much money you make, it’s all about how you manage it. To that end, you have to have a budget and a plan, neither of which we really had. I really struggled in December with our money situation and how I let us get here (I’m the CFO of the house). But “shoulds” will not solve anything and all we can do is fix it going forward.

So I took some time over the last couple weeks to come up with a budget, formulate a plan for how we’ll pay down the debt and save money and put it in to action. It’s a work in progress and I’m sure we’ll have to adjust as we go but it feels good to at least do something. Admittedly, we are not nearly as bad off as many others in America and I am truly grateful for what we do have. But it could be better and I’m determined to make it so.

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In my mind, #2 will help us with #1. The more organized we are around the house, the more money we’ll save. Case in point: the other week I bought new toothpaste for Isabella because she ran out, only to discover a couple days later when rifling through the closet that we already had some for her. Also, the more diligent we are about cleaning, maintenance and upkeep of the house, the fewer ’emergencies’ we’ll have down the line with things breaking or wearing out due to improper upkeep.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like we’re slobs or don’t take care of things, it’s just that with the daily hustle and bustle, things tend to get dropped by the wayside, forgotten or overlooked and the next thing you know, you’re taking your car to the mechanic for a $200 job that could have been avoided had you remembered to change the oil 3 months ago (not that I’m speaking from personal experience or anything…).

So I’ve put together a Household Management Binder that will hopefully keep us on the straight and narrow. In it there are sheets for:

1. Weekly meal planning (this will save us money on groceries and help avoid eating out plus take away the daily stress of “what’s for dinner?”)

2. Weekly Cleaning Checklist – I’m using #2 (breaks up cleaning tasks out by day of the week so that we have a few small things to do each day rather than a huge list on the weekend)

3. Monthly Cleaning Zones (lists out items that need to be done on a monthly basis so they aren’t overlooked)

4. Budget (visible reminder of our budget that will help us see how we’re doing and stay on track)

5. 52 Weeks of Organization (a weekly guide to organizing so that by year end, the whole house will be organized and de-cluttered)

6. Play date Calendar (monthly look at all the play groups, story times and open gym times around town for CJ and Isabella to use)

7. Emergency Contact Information (list of emergency numbers for easy reference for us or baby-sitters)

8. Household projects (list of all the big projects / to do’s that need to be done around the house so that CJ and I can sync up and track them together)

We’ve been using it since Sunday and so far, so good. Crossing items off the weekly cleaning list feels good because it means we’ve accomplished something and that we’re doing good things for our house! And the meal planner has made the week so much easier when it comes to lunches and dinners.

We also got one item checked off the household projects list – putting the storage cabinet together and organizing it!

In our old house, we had this cabinet in Samson’s Room and used it for storing gift wrapping supplies, games, scrapbooking stuff, and miscellaneous small décor items (like candles). We had to take it apart when we moved and it never got reassembled – until this weekend!

The basement went from this:

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To this!

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Pretty awesome, huh? I was able to unpack and toss about 7 big boxes, freeing up so much more space.

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Here’s what the inside looks like:

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On the left is the gift wrapping station (ribbons and accessories on top, bags and tissue on the hangers, and wrapping paper and boxes on the bottom). On the right we have games, memory boxes, extra baskets/art supplies and candles (in the top drawer). Bottom drawer is empty which means there’s room for more!

Feels so good to have that done and I smile every time I go in the basement and see that area!

Cheers to a good year!

Expenses

I haven’t blogged in a while about the progress of our budget and financial goals. That’s because there really isn’t any progress. We were doing so good for a while. Then it came time to get the house in order and it seemed like we were spending money left and right. We had to buy cleaning products, paint, supplies, trim, rent a storage unit, and on and on. I was still trying to keep spending in check but after a while just gave up.

Then we started planning for our big summer vacation. We’re taking an 8 day road trip up to Michigan and coming home through Wisconsin. 8 days on the road with a toddler means being prepared and having lots of supplies. We probably could have flown to MI for cheaper but 1) we didn’t want to deal with the hassle of checking/carrying a car seat and stroller and pack n’play and all her other gear, and 2) we actually enjoy long road trips. They’re fun and adventurous. However, all the supplies we needed for that – toys/books to keep Isabella busy in the car, snacks, luggage for her, clothes, oil change, and so on – cost money.

Between the house and the trip, our credit card is getting a work out.

I’ve tried to be somewhat frugal. I went to the library and borrowed some audio books instead of buying them. Any toys I bought were generally from the dollar bin at Target, on sale, or given to us by my parents. The snacks we bought at Sam’s Club in bulk. I think we’ve been smart about it, but spending is still spending.

Every time I pull out the credit card I think of Suze Orman or Mary Hunt or any number of frugal bloggers that I read and feel a tad guilty. But whaddya gonna do?

All hope is not lost though. We’ve had some extra money flow in here and there and I’ve applied it toward the credit card. So while we’re charging a lot, we’re also paying off some too. Are they evening out? Probably not. But at least we’re making a dent.

I’ll be happy when life settles down a bit and we can get back to better spending habits.

We leave for our trip next week and I’m excited about it. I haven’t traveled in a while and am getting the itch! We will have fun and most importantly, get to show Isabella that there’s more to the world than Omaha and Council Bluffs. I am so looking forward to seeing her take in everything, meet new people, learn new things and have fun. That’s really what it’s all about. Yes, I want to pay down some debt and I know we have to reduce spending to do that. But we also have to enjoy life. And if that means buying my daughter a souvenir on our trip or splurging for ice cream every night, we will do it!

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On a side note, here was my conversation with Isabella tonight as we were getting ready for her bath:

  • Me [reaching in to the hall closet and discovering we only had one clean towel]: Looks like we need to do some laundry!
  • Isabella: At the laundry mat!
  • Me: Where did you learn about the Laundromat?
  • I: Elmo told me.
  • Me: Did Elmo go to the Laundromat?
  • I: No, Tully did.
  • Me: Oh. What did Tully do there?
  • I: Washed his shirts!
  • Me: How did he do that?
  • I: In the machine!
  • Me: Oh I see. What else did he do?
  • I: Go to the playground! Can we go to the playground mommy?

She’s already a pro at manipulating the conversation to go her way. Silly girl!

Have a good weekend!

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Resolutions Update 1

Obligatory Resolutions Post

I’ve noticed a theme this year when it comes to resolutions. Seems like everyone I’ve talked to (or read) has said the same thing – they don’t normally do resolutions but this year is different. Why is this year so different for everyone? While I can’t speak for humanity as a whole, I can tell you my position. For me, I’m making resolutions because I feel stronger this year than I ever have about setting and hitting certain goals. In previous years I had some vague notions of what I wanted in my life, but nothing specific. This year, I’m getting down to brass tacks and making things happen!

One thing I’ve learned is that it’s just as important to plan out how you are going to meet a goal as it is to define it.

So, here are my resolutions for this year (BTW, it makes it way more fun if I put catchy names to them so, bear with me and my cheesiness):

Project T&T (Tone and Tighten)

What: Lose the 3 pounds I put on over the holidays and then tone up all over. I REALLY want to get rid of this muffin top and I’d love to have more definition in my arms, legs, and abs. I’m already seeing more tone from doing the one hundred push ups program. Hoping to see even more progress as I continue. But the goal here is to maintain my weight loss so that all the work I did last year doesn’t go to waste.

How: By doing what I already know works – watching calories (I’ve found that 1400 calories a day works for my body when trying to lose weight) and steady workouts. You may have noticed that a couple of weeks ago I added a section to the right sidebar called “Today’s Workout”. In here, I will record what exercises I’ve done each day. This holds me accountable and call also give you ideas if you’re in a workout rut.

Operation Dream Home

What: Sell our current house and buy our forever home (then I can cross that off the bucket list!). To do that, we have to make sure our house is in tip-top shape so that we can sell it quickly and at our asking price (or close).

How: First off, I’m planning to go through each room and de-clutter. We’ve accumulated too much “stuff” and it needs to go. Once the extra junk is gone, I want to re-organize the remaining items. This will help keep me sane and it will present the house in a neat and tidy way. We also have various things around the house that need fixing or updating: scratched baseboards, repainting the walls, getting new sinks, etc. We have some good friends who are realtors so I want to invite them over and do a walk through of our house as it exists today. They can then tell us what we need to invest time and money into and what we can leave as is.

Here’s one project I’ve already finished – the “catch all” kitchen counter. We have an area to the left of the stove that is where we keep files, stamps, papers to shred, my purse, etc. It is always so messy and I am constantly losing stuff.

Here’s the before:

Notice the files in the back are all crammed in together, there is stuff scattered on the counter, and my purse and lunch bag are eating up a lot of space. So, I put hanging file holders on the wall and labeled them “To Shred” and “To File”. This got rid of one filing system on the counter and freed up some space there.

Here’s the after:

Doesn’t that look so much better? It was a simple fix that went a long way.

Mission Debt Diet

What: To pay off all credit card debt and pay down loans, while also creating a nest egg. To be honest, we really don’t have that bad of credit card debt when compared to the national average. But it’s still more than I’m comfortable with so this year it will be paid off. I also want to pay down as much of our mortgage and car payments as possible so that we’re in a better spot come Spring/Summer when we buy a new house.  

How: Budget, budget, budget! I created a spreadsheet that lays out our fixed expenses (bills) versus variable expenses (shopping, groceries, eating out, etc) and our income. Our bank has a neat feature that shows us our spending report for 2010 (how much we spent in various categories throughout the year). So, I took that and figured out what our monthly spending was in each area.  Then we came up with our new budget goals. Here’s an example:

I then created an expenses worksheet that will help us track our spending. I broke out sections for each area and included our dollar allotment at the top. As we spend, we’ll write it on the worksheet and can then see how close we’re getting to our budgeted goal. We’ll have to use it for a while and make adjustments as we go but I think it will help.

Ihave posted it in the kitchen so we remember to record our expenses:

(inside our pantry door)

(Sidenote – see the wall sconce in the background? That’s the one Isabella’s woobie got lost in way back when. Yeah.)

This one will really challenge us to get creative. We’ll have to shop smart, plan meals, and say “no”. It will definitely be an adjustment but it’s necessary and after a while, we’ll get used to it and it won’t feel so restrictive.

There you have it!  Those are my 3 resolutions for 2011. I think they are all doable and I’m really gung-ho about them right now. By posting them here, I’m hoping this will help me stay accountable. The competitive side of me will not want to admit public defeat!!

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