Friday, February 25, 2011

My little baby turns 1 on Sunday!

It's so hard to believe. A year ago, I didn't know her yet, and then suddenly she was here. It was the most amazing birthing experience ever -- I would never say the experience with my son was bad, but it just wasn't the same. I wasn't relaxed like I was with her. I caved and got that stupid epidural after 20 hours with him, which turned out to be a dumb decision, because I'm apparently not a good candidate for it (I already have low blood pressure, so mine plummeted to 88/30 -- plus my legs were dead weight and I was numb to my neck. Not good). Anyway, the natural waterbirth was what I needed with her (and is also the route I'm taking this time). Anyway, here's my pretty little girl. She's growing up so fast, and I love her sweet personality! She's so calm and easy-going, and funny too!

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

About that accident . . .

I think I finally feel better about things. It really wasn't a big deal. Nobody was hurt. My kids weren't with me. It was all just so stupid!

So here's how my Valentine's Day went from bad to worse. First of all, on my way to my midwife appointment (which I was super excited about, and apparently not paying attention to my speed), I got pulled over going 40 in a 25. The Chief of Police is the one who pulled me over (in an unmarked squad). He said I deserved a ticket, and he was pretty upset, but after he took my license and insurance and went back to his car, he came back a little more calm. He told me he was giving me a warning, even though I deserved a ticket. I thanked him and apologized, and told him I really was going to watch myself -- and that I was just on my way to the clinic and didn't realize how fast I was going (well, I did, somewhat -- but a lot of times, my "normal" speed has been 5-10 over, and any slower feels too slow). Anyway, so I got a warning. I was really watching myself after that. After all, just in October, I had a warning (same speed, same town, but a state trooper instead)! Prior to that, I haven't had a warning since 2006. No tickets.

So, later on, around 5:00, we had this stupid gift card to use up. It's for this local place that features pizza made in fire-ovens (or whatever you want to call them) -- anyway, we figured we'd never be able to take the kids there with us, and it's hard for us to get a baby-sitter, so I decided to call ahead and go pick up the pizza. On my way home, I was on a highway that is pretty busy at that time. I cane to a set of lights and stopped, and I realized that my lane was way backed up, but the left lane was relatively free. I put on my blinker and decided to get over, not realizing I hadn't left much clearance between the car in front of me and my car, so my right front bumper clipped his left rear. It was low impact (5-10 MPH), but a crash, nonetheless, so we all pulled over (his car also bumped the car in front of him -- luckily, there was no damage to her car). First, we made sure nobody was hurt, and then we looked at the damage. It was minimal. On his car, it was some paint transfer and barely a dent. He was nice enough to admit that the huge dent to the left of my impact was already there from an accident his wife had had, and that there was also damage on the right side of the bumper from someone hitting his car one night. My car (a 2007 Focus) had little damage, just a cracked plastic piece underneath the bumper. We did decide to call the police, who, when he got there, said it was a non-reportable accident because of the little damage. He did say that he had to give me a ticket (following too closely), but it was only $100.

Even the other driver was cool about it. He saw the worried look on my face, and I was on the verge of tears, but he said, "shit happens. It's okay" (I knew this wouldn't be my husband's reaction, and I could have hugged this guy for being so nice to me -- I mean, I just hit his car!).

Anyway, I called my husband and told him why I wasn't home yet, and he flipped out. The next day, he calmed down, and we realized that this is why we pay insurance. Yes, it was an accident -- yes, it was dumb of me, but I promised him I'd learn from my mistake. Thankfully, it wasn't much damage (although the estimate I got from the body shop for his car is $2186, but as I've been told from other people, they will always shoot high, hoping to cash in). The car was a '99 Malibu with 160,000 miles on it with prior damage to the bumper, so I don't know how they can expect me to pay to restore it to new. Everyone has told me to just let the insurance deal with it, and they will most likely not pay out that much, especially since the car probably isn't worth that much money. He said the body shop said that the frame was bent, but my boss (whom I consider a wise mentor) said that there's no way that a crash at that low speed could bend a frame, especially when there isn't even a dent. You can see on the image below (taken with my ghetto cell phone), that there is a big dent on the left -- that's not from me. Mine is the damage below where the bumper sticker was.

So, that's how I went from Ms. Perfect Driving Record to Ms. Crash, and I was really ashamed and feeling all sad and worried, but mostly just upset with myself. I hope it doesn't impact my insurance rates too much, but if it does, we are just going to drop down to liability only. Right now we pay $296 for 6 months of full coverage on our car, which apparently is a decent rate.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Be debt-free in your 30s!

I will be debt-free by age 37. I am quite proud of my family's budgeting and have been told that I should offer my financial knowledge to others, so here is my attempt at it. If you are bored by this type of information, simply click away from my blog now. I won't force anyone to fall asleep at their desks. The following advice is simply that. I am not rich. I won't say what my income is, but it is lower than "middle class" and it is considered to be "poverty" when you look at the averages for a family income.

All right. So, I have been asked more than once how a family of four (soon to be five) lives on a single income and manages to be able to "do it".

The answer is simple: budgeting. For us, it makes sense to have one of us stay home with the kids because of the astronomical cost of daycare these days. Now, many of my friends are in this situation as well, but it's generally (and I'm not trying to stereotype here) the mom who stays home while the dad works out of the home. People have a hard time coming to grips with the fact that it is me who goes to work while he stays home. And people aren't always fair about it either. My husband has been called lazy, feminine, a bum, etc. -- all because he stays home and takes care of the kids. This bothers us, because he does a damn good job at what he does. The kids get three meals a day, all prepared by him, and 95% of the time, it is all made from scratch. We have nothing in our house that comes from a can (got rid of all canned goods once we learned they were lined with BPA), or a mix, or premade. You won't find frozen dinners in our freezer nor fruit snacks in our cupboard (our kids enjoy REAL fruit, and it makes me a little sad that these days, most kids don't get to enjoy what my kids do and instead have become accustomed to the taste of high-fructose corn syrup as a sad alternative to healthy fruit). It's not that we don't have any snacks, because we don't want our kids to be deprived: we just make smart choices. Ice cream made from real sugar (Ben & Jerry's, for example) is a treat 1-2 times a month, or we will get a big cookie from the local co-op to share. However, in general, we just don't have the snacks in our house 24/7. (Furthermore, when it comes to food, having a baby doesn't have to be expensive, especially when you breastfeed and cloth diaper. You'd be amazed at how much these simple steps can save you.)

I realize it may seem that I'm going off on a tangent about food here, but I guess I am just putting it out there that organic/healthy/natural food is our "indulgence" so that is where we spend most of our "extra" money.

I went to college. I did not qualify for grants because based on my father's income (my estranged father whom I don't talk to and whom would never contribute a penny towards my education or any other matter -- hello, I paid for my own private flute lessons throughout high school), it was above the level for Federal Pell grants. So, I took out school loans and I finished college, and graduated in December of 2002. I did receive 2 scholarships at the end of my senior year, and those helped me out with the first year of college (there are benefits to being a good student and teacher's pet; haha). My total loan amount was $12,725 (yes, I remember the figure because my pseud0-photographic memory comes in handy sometimes). They were subsidized Stafford loans, which means that they do not accrue interest while you are in school, which is a good thing. The OTHER good thing, and most of you probably know this, but after you graduate, you have a 6-month grace period before your first payment is due (I assume this is to allow a college graduate to get a job first). Financial tip number one: Save, save, save. My first job after college only paid $8 an hour. It was an administrative assistant position, but I was working full-time. My only bills at the time were my half of the rent, and my half of the utilties. The rest of the money I saved. My first payment was due then, July 1st of 2003. I had saved up $4,o00, so I put all of that money down as my first payment. Never pay the minimum amount due, especially if you can afford to pay more. I continued to pay extra every month and my school loan, to the sum of $12,725, was paid off in TEN MONTHS. It was such a great feeling. I think I ended up paying something like $80 in interest total, but that's not too bad, compared to how much it would've been had I paid less. This helped my credit score a TON, and I'll touch on that in a few minutes here.

Financial tip number two: have a credit card, but never carry a balance. When I was a freshman in college, I got my first credit card offer in the mail. I opened up the envelope. Since there were no cardholder's fees, I decided to have the credit card and use it ONLY when I knew I had the money to cover and then pay it off in full EVERY SINGLE MONTH so that I never paid a minimum payment amount or had interest added. I kept this card and while I started with a line of credit of $1,000, by the time I had held the card for a few years, they upped the line of credit to $28,500. I think they were hoping I'd lose my mind and charge a couple of cars on there. The credit card companies hate people like me. I never made a late payment and I only held the card to help my credit score, and to order things online. Eventually I opened a different card, simply because the one I have now I get Amazon points for (3 - 4 times a year, I can cash them in for a $50 check -- not too shabby).

Financial tip number three: always pay your bills in time or early, and always for the full amount. When you go to get a mortgage someday, if you go to get a mortgage, the bank will run your credit report. They look at these things, so that electric bill you slacked on 4 years ago could potentially come back and haunt you. I see so many people, especially young people, who can afford to go out drinking every night, or out to eat five days a week, yet they claim they don't have the money for their bills. PRIORITIES, people, priorities.

Financial tip number four [and this is a no-brainer]: if you don't have the money to cover it, don't charge it! Think about the consequences. If you decide to buy that expensive pair of jeans, they are only going to end up costing you 3-4 times more after all the interest is added in if you continue to pay the minimum payment on your credit card. Remember, credit cards are technically unconstitutional. They are a business and there's a reason they've been around for so long: they know how to make money. Some people are better off just paying for things in cash -- I do know people like this who don't trust themselves with a credit card, so they simply don't have one (my sister is one of these people). Out of sight, out of mind.

Financial tip number five: don't take out a loan for a vehicle. I think this is one of the least financially sound things you can do. Instead, save up some money and buy something affordable. You don't need a $30,000 SUV to cart yourself to and from work. How many times do you see so many SUVs on the road, each with one person in them? What a waste. Not to mention, when you have a loan on a vehicle, you will be required to have full coverage insurance, whereas if you drive a car with less value, you can carry liability only, saving yourself bundles. And then there's the gas costs to boot. What we do in our house is we just have one vehicle now. I use it to commute to work. It's a 2007 Ford Focus that we bought used in 2008 that we paid cash for. By paying cash, we were able to negotiate with the dealer and get them to come down. Believe it or not, there are people who think we can't possibly get by with one vehicle. The solution is simple: if he needs the car during the day, he can drop me off at work and go about his business, and then pick me up when I am done. It's how it was done in the 70s and 80s and it was only until the 90s when people thought it was a "requirement" to have two or more vehicles to "survive". There's also walking and biking, which are modes of transportation to the park or wherever my family might want to go during the day.

Financial tip number six: when buying a house, save, save, save, for that down payment. If you put 20% down on a house, like we did, you do not have to take out mortgage insurance, which is something they lenders impose on people who have 20% or less (I know people who put 0% down!). This will end up taking away from the amount you put towards your principal. I was able, at 25 years old, to get approved for my mortgage all on my own (the hubby and I weren't married yet) simply based on my outstanding credit, my previous payment history, and my lack of debt. The more you have as a down payment, the lower your mortgage will be, the more you can afford every month to pay towards the principal. Furthermore, in regards to saving: look at your paychecks and decide what that money is for. Right now, one of my paychecks is designated "for the mortgage", and the other is simply "extra". I don't go on a shopping spree every payday simply because I have the money to do so.

Financial tip number seven: if it's feasible, refinance. Our original mortgage, taken out in November of 2005, was a 30-year WHEDA loan at an interest rate of 5.875%. When the rates started to drop, we talked to our banker and asked him when/if it would be smart to re-finance. He said that he uses a formula, and if you can break even by a certain amount of time (taking into account the amount it costs to refinance vs. the amount you will save in interest, etc.), he would definitely recommend it. He took my information (what we had paid thus far) and crunched some numbers and decided that yes, it would be smart for us to re-finance. This was five years after the original loan (September of 2005) and we went to a FIFTEEN year mortgage at 4.25%. Even though we were going to a 15 instead of a 30, our mortgage payment went down a few bucks every month, which was really a nice surprise. Our monthly payment is $775.00 and I also pay $225.00 extra towards the principal every month because every little bit helps. We had the banker do some math again for us, and he figured that if we continue to pay extra like this, our loan will be paid off in 6.5 - 7 years.

That is how I will be debt-free by age 37, at which point I will continue to put money away for my children's future. I refuse to become a victim of the system, working until I'm 70 years old, dying with debt still in place. The future may not always be bright, but I can make the best in my little world by making financially sound, smart choices.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Yesterday's appointment.

I got to see my lovely midwife for the first time since my post-partum checkup last time. She walked into the room and smiled and gave me a HUGE hug. I adore her. She is so caring. I'm not just another patient to her and she remembered all about my family. After catching up, we took a listen and heard that beautiful heartbeat. She didn't measure how many BPM it was, but it sounded perfect. She and I talked about my desire to do another waterbirth, so that's the plan. She said I'm as healthy as can be and we don't foresee any problems this pregnancy, as my last two were textbook (knock on wood, because I don't want to jinx myself here). She gave me another big hug before I left, and I scheduled my big ultrasound (it'll be on March 28th). We will not be finding out the gender this time, if things go as planned.

I also announced the pregnancy to the Facebook world yesterday and that was when most everyone (except for a few close friends and my mom) found out. DH wanted to wait until I'm about 8 months along, but I told him that I'll definitely be showing by then, so my philosophy is to get it over with now and get it all done at once and hopefully people will just forget about it soon and leave us alone.

Yesterday evening turned out to be NOT such a good turn of events. I got in an accident. My first accident. I don't want to talk about it now because I'm too upset, but I'll get into it later, hopefully . . . right now I'm in not such a good place, despite all the happiness earlier in the day. I have NOBODY to talk to about all this.

Monday, February 14, 2011

My Valentines . . .

Pics! It's been awhile. I have a hard time getting inspired with the camera during the winter, but yesterday was a nice day! We took the kids for a walk at the park!

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Thursday, February 10, 2011

Winter blahs . . .

Remember when I used to exercise? Yep, I do. It's been a long time. After I had Elise, I did take both kids for walks because I got a steal of a deal on Craigslist on a double stroller (she happened to live by me so I checked it out. She had been asking $40 but before I left, she said she'd take $20, and I decided that was a good deal. It's an older Graco DuoGlider -- you know, those old navy blue strollers that were popular about a decade ago). Anyway. The problem with this stroller is the fact that it doesn't have five-point harness, just a little area that clips (similar to what you'd find in a bouncy seat), leaving the upper body unharnessed. Not a problem, except if Andrew falls asleep, he topples forward, and now that Elise is bigger, she can also reach in front of her and pull Andrew's hair. Andrew is also getting heavier (he's up to 34.5 pounds) and taller, so he likes to put his feet over the wheels while I'm walking and the stroller is so front heavy that it doesn't turn that great. So basically, this is our stroller for the mall.

Before I went off on my little tangent, I mentioned exercising. See, back in the year 2000, I got on this power-walking kick. It made me feel good, it gave me energy, I listened to my tunes, and I had a lot of fun doing it. This was (obviously) before kids when I could just throw my work-out stuff on and go. I would go 4-5 days a week for 4 miles at a time and it took me about 45 minutes. I walk fast.

When it was just Andrew, it was easier for me to go and I would maybe go 3 miles 2-3 days a week. I would always get out in the spring, summer, and fall.

Which brings me to my next problem, and it's a big one: winters in Wisconsin. It's bitter here. This winter has been even colder than some of them, with many days of subzero temperatures and highs in the single digits, if that. I am not about to bundle up two kids and take them out for a walk on the forever snow-covered roads so that their little faces can freeze and my legs can be turned to icicles.

I am COUNTING DOWN THE DAYS to spring so that I can happily take my children out in the sun and warmth and enjoy exercising again. We are going to be purchasing
this double bike trailer, which doubles as a stroller. Right now we have the single stroller by the same maker, and it gets great reviews and is more sturdy than the ones made by Schwinn or other competitors. Why a double, won't I need a triple, you ask? Well, in order to sit in the bike trailer/stroller, which has upright seats, the baby/toddler should be 12 months of age or older. With Elise turning 1, this will be perfect. And by summer of 2012, Andrew will be turning 5 and hopefully able at that point to ride a bike with training wheels, so I can then put Elise and her sibling in the double. The other reason for the bike trailer part of it is that my hubby is an avid biker and has enjoyed many long bike rides with Andrew in the past. He would take him down to the co-op or the big area park whenever he could, and they both enjoyed it. Now, he will have something to do when he's home with both children. We only have the one car as it is, and since I take that to work, this will leave them with both a mode of transportation and an opportunity for fresh air and ever-changing scenery.

I can't wait to get the new bike trailer! It's one fun thing we are getting with our tax return. In case you're perpelexed, we are also planning on insulating the walls of our house and fencing in our backyard. The rest of the tax money will be a reserve fund -- some of it will be used to cover the mortgage while I am on my [unpaid] maternity leave next fall, and the rest can go towards the principal of the mortgage (our goal is still to be debt-free in 7 years, as our only debt now and the only debt we've had is our mortgage).

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

I'm sorry. Updates!

I've been a bad Blogger lately. I've just been so tired when I get home from work that I do everything I can to keep my eyes open until my kids are both in bed. I even let my [clean] laundry pile up quite a bit. Anyone who knows me knows I like to get it taken care of right away!

Anyway, I just thought I'd run through what's new, for my readers who still read this boring rag of a blog!

  • Elise took her first steps on January 21st, a week shy of 11 months. She now walks more than she crawls and enjoys walking across the room.
  • She waved "bye-bye" to me when I went back to work yesterday after lunch! We really didn't teach her to wave, so I think she may have picked up on it from Andrew. It was really cute.
  • Elise will turn 1 on February 27th. It's so hard to believe!
  • Andrew has had a recent growth spurt. Pants that fit him just before Christmas are now an inch or two too short. He's also up to 34.5 pounds! His appetite is still great. He regularly requests asparagus and I would dare to say it's his favorite food. I think he just consumes more calories because he's always jumping, running; fidgeting.
  • I am at 11 weeks and 1 day pregnant and feeling good yet. I'm very blessed that things are going so well! On Monday, Valentine's Day, I will see my midwife for the first time this pregnancy, and we will also listen to the heartbeat. I am so excited, both to hear the HB and to see Glenda again! She gave me a huge hug after my last post-partum appointment and I had tears in my eyes as I told her I'd probably never see her again. How happy she will be to see me!
  • Winter sucks in Wisconsin, but at least the Packers won the Super Bowl. It may possibly have lifted the moods of most Wisconsinites, especially those experiencing the Winter Blues.

That's about it! Hope I didn't bore you all to death.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A belly pic.

10 weeks, 1 day on 2/1/11:
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Here's a comparison pic of some sorts, 5 months post-partum (after Elise):
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