Three Things I Love

I’ve never really tried to monetize this blog. I don’t have ads. I have an amazon associate account but I am terrible at actually using it. I pay to host this blog out of my hard-earned money because I like it.

But today I have referral links for you. I want to be up front that they are referral links, but I am not sharing them simply because they are referral links. I am sharing them because they are products/services that I actually love. The referral bonus is just that, a bonus. And remember, I am going to have another mouth to feed. JK. Sort of.

First up: Gazelle.

Gazelle is where I trade in all of my old electronics. They usually pay me enough for my old iPhone to cover the subsidized cost of a new one. Why leave your old devices sitting around when you could trade them in for actual cash?

How does it work?

You tell Gazelle what electronic you want to send them. They give you an offer. If your product lives up to your description of it, they send you money via check, paypal, or Amazon gift cards. It’s worked out for me every single time (several iPhones, an iPad, and counting).’

Interested? Check it out here. Using this link will get you an extra $10 on your first item.

Next up: Stitch Fix.

I won’t be using Stitch Fix for awhile, both because my belly is expanding at a seemingly exponential rate but also because it just isn’t in my budget. But if it is in YOUR budget, it is a fantastic and fun way to get new clothes. I’ve never had a box where I didn’t like at least one thing and I have kept my whole box on at least one occasion. If they get your style wrong the first time, you can teach them for the next box. Easy peasy. And keeping a pinterest page on outfits you like is super helpful for them.

How does it work?

You pay $20 and schedule a box to be delivered to your house. There is no monthly commitment – do it as often or seldom as you like. The box arrives with 5 pieces of clothing or accessories in it. You keep what you want and send back what you don’t. If you keep the whole box, you get a pretty sizable discount. The $20 you originally paid can be used toward items in the box, so as long as you keep one thing, you’re good.

Interested? Check it out here.

Finally: Southwest Chase Credit Card.

I may be a Dave Ramsey follower now, but I haven’t closed this credit card yet (but it is paid off). I was able to get Evan a companion pass for nearly 2 years (meaning he flies for free with me) and I was able to get all three of us to DC and Michigan, Evan and I to Minneapolis and Santa Fe, and myself to St. Louis all on points in 2014. And I think I have enough to cover myself for a trip home in March so we only have to pay for one plane ticket for all three of us to go home. Out of all the credit cards I have ever had, this is the best reward value I have experienced. If you fly and can fly Southwest, this card is amazing.

How does it work?

You sign up. You get 50,000 points just for signing up. You use your credit card. You get more points. You use it at Southwest or one of their partners and you get double points.

Tip 1: They also have a business card, so if you qualify for that, you can get both and combine your signup bonuses for 100,000 points. Then, you only have to earn 10k more to get the companion pass. This is what I did.

Tip 2: Southwest will tell you 50,000 points will get you two roundtrip flights, but used wisely, it will actually get you more. I could get home and back 4 times on 50,000 points if I scheduled it right.

Interested? Check it out here.

So, there you have it. Referral links for three of my favorite products/services. Let me know if you try any of them out.

Yes, Please [Audiobook Review]

I am still debating whether or not I will actually catch up on reviews. For now, I guess I am trying to give you at least a few thoughts.


Title: Yes, Please
Author: Amy Poehler
Narrator: Amy Poehler (with special guests)
Genre: Memoir
Pages: 352
Audio: 7.5 hours
Year: 2014
Publisher: Harper Audio
Source: Personal Collection
Book Rating: 5/5
Audio Rating: 5/5

Summary:

This is Amy Poehler’s addition to the wonderful string of female comedian memoirs. Discussing her career, her family, and everything in between.

My Thoughts:

I learned a lot about Amy Poehler. While I am a devoted Parks and Rec fan, and her stint on SNL corresponded with a time in my life in which I could still stay up until 1am, I actually didn’t know anything about the Upright Citizens Brigade. She is one busy woman!

I also learned that Amy is a little cruder, but perhaps even funnier, than I thought.

Seth Meyers’ chapter was my favorite. Or maybe the one written by her parents. I would be happy with a tribute half as touching in my own memoir.

Audiobook Thoughts:

If you read this in print, I think you made a mistake.

The Sunday Salon [1.4.15]

Let’s talk about resolutions. I made a bunch last year. I kept some of them, I broke some of them, and I half did some of them.

I counted calories until I fit back into my skinny jeans. I drank more water, but I could always do better. I fell off the wagon with respect to diet coke. I seem to do better with allowing myself one once in awhile. I ran my first 10k, but I was awful about getting to yoga. I am not debt free but I am definitely on a much better plan toward getting there than I was a year ago (we paid off nearly half of our consumer debt between August and December). And I am really terrible at photo-a-day prompts.

This year, I have less lofty goals.

I’d just like to have a healthy pregnancy and welcome home a new baby. I’d like a natural, out-of-hospital birth and I’d like to exclusively breastfeed again (with a little more ease than last time, hopefully).

I want to keep working the debt free plan, but I recognize that the new baby (with his delivery and daycare costs) makes it more likely that 2016 is the year we hit our first goal of knocking out all of the non-student loan/non-mortgage debt. But as long as those credit cards stay locked up, I’m happy.

I want to eat healthy and exercise, but with a baby coming mid-year, I have no actual goals for these.

I want to read again and get back into the blogging world. I miss you guys.

And, finally, I want to be more present. I want to put my phone away more and step back from behind the camera once in awhile. When I’m with my family, I want to be fully with them. When I’m at work, I want to be fully at work. I’ll make time for wasting time, but I want to do it more consciously – does that make sense?

So that’s all I have for 2015. I know it will be a year of joy and love and sleepless nights. And I’m ready for it.

The Sunday Salon.com

2014 Reading & Favorites

It seems like a top ten list in a year I only read 34 books is a bit ridiculous, so let me just share a few thoughts.

Favorite: Girls in White Dresses, Attachments, and Yes, Please

Runners Up: Cress, We Were Liars, Dreams of Gods & Monsters, This Side of Salvation, Leaving Everything Most Loved, and One Plus One

Least favorite: Madam Bovary or Hemingway’s Girl

Best Audio Narration: Dreams of Gods & Monsters

Completed Series: Daugther of Smoke and Bone (finished), The Selection (finished), Maisie Dobbs (caught up)

And the complete list of books read:

  1. Parasite| Mira Grant | audio | 4 stars
  2. Fun Home | Alison Bechdel  | print | 4 stars
  3. The Dangerous Animals Club | Stephen Tobolowski |audio | 4 stars
  4. The Circle | Dave Eggers | audio | 1 star
  5. Cress | Marissa Meyer | audio | 4.5 stars
  6. Madame Bovary | Gustave Flaubert | audio | 1.5 stars
  7. Independent Study | Joelle Charbonneau | print | 3 stars
  8. Elegy for Eddie | Jaqueline Winspear | audio | 4 stars
  9. One Summer: America, 1927 | Bill Bryson | audio | 2.5 stars
  10. Attachments | Rainbow Rowell | print | 5 stars
  11. The Raven Boys | Maggie Stiefvater | ebook | 3.5 stars
  12. We Were Liars | E. Lockhart | ebook | 4.5 stars
  13. Dreams of Gods & Monsters | Laini Taylor | audio | 4.5 stars
  14. The One | Kiera Cass | audio | 4 stars
  15. Siren’s Song | Heather McCollum | ebook | 3.5 stars
  16. This Side of Salvation | Jeri Smith-Ready | print | 4.5 stars
  17. Hemingway’s Girl | Erica Robuck | ebook | 1 star
  18. The Golem and the Jinni | Helene Wecker | audio | 3.5 stars
  19. Graduation Day | Joelle Charbonneau | ebook | 3.5 stars
  20. Syndrome E | Franck Thilliez | ebook | 2 stars
  21. Looking for Alaska | John Green | print | 4 stars
  22. Panic | Lauren Oliver | ebook | 4 stars
  23. The Story Hour | Thrity Umrigar | ebook | 4 stars
  24. Leaving Everything Most Loved | Jacqueline Winspear | audio | 4.5 stars
  25. Girls in White Dresses | Jennifer Close | print | 5 stars
  26. Runaways – Vol. 1 | Brian K. Vaughan | print | 4 stars
  27. How to Tell Toledo from the Night Sky | Lydia Netzer | print | 4 stars
  28. American Gods | Neil Gaiman | audio | 3 stars
  29. One Plus One | Jojo Moyes | print | 4.5 stars
  30. All Fall Down | Jennifer Weiner | print | 4 stars
  31. A Briefer History of Time | Stephen Hawking | audio | 4 stars
  32. Runaways Vol. 4: True Believers | Brian K. Vaughan | print | 3.5 stars
  33. Anna Dressed in Blood | Kendare Blake | print | 2 stars
  34. Yes, Please | Amy Poehler | audio | 5 stars

A Few Book Stats:

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Aww,  2011-Michelle is so cute and naive. I gave up my stats last year. This is all you get now because TIME.

  • Books Read: 34 (down from 62 in 2013 and 80 in 2012)
  • Audio: 14
  • Print: 12
  • Ebooks: 8
  • Female authors: 24
  • Male authors: 10

How was your 2014 reading year?

 

Hi There.

Happy New Year, readers. I said I would be back in the new year and here I am.

So where have I been?

Well, as most of you probably know from Twitter and Instagram, I have been off growing a baby. I’m 14 weeks pregnant and expecting another baby boy in late June. That was the main reason for the break from blogging. It’s hard to prioritize blogging when just making it through a day without puking is considered a success.

Here was our official internet announcement:

I didn’t want to leave the blog out of the rounds but I wanted to respect the break I had taken. (Now I am on a Facebook break so you guys will know more than my IRL friends soon).

What have I been reading?

Nothing. Literally nothing. Since October, I have listened to one audiobook and read zero print books. Early pregnancy and reading really don’t mix well for me. Reading makes me nauseated, just like every other activity that is not sleeping. I fought through it with Evan. This time, I just gave up.

So what have I been doing?

Not much. Working and parenting, of course. They don’t go away when you get pregnant. Other than that, I’ve been watching a whole bunch of Gilmore Girls. I swear it has nausea-fighting properties.

What are my plans for my books. my life.?

That is an excellent question. I’ll let you know when I figure it out. If I ever figure it out.I still may do a 2014 wrap up of some sorts, even though I don’t feel like there is a lot to wrap up. For now, consider me back to sporadically telling you what I think about things.

For now, I’ll leave you with photos from our Toddler New Year’s Eve Bash. 

I am pretty sure no one can beat me in cute on this one.

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Goodbye…for Now

Today I am making official something that has been unofficial: I am taking a little break from this blog. And, largely, from reading.

I am not posting with any regularity, nor am I reading with any regularity. I am finding that parenting a toddler is a lot more time consuming than parenting a baby was and it just keeps getting busier. I also just feel busier in general. I am away from home 2-3 nights a week. I only have so much free time in my life (8pm-10pm, basically, on nights I am actually home) and I would rather spend this time with Ben, even if it is just watching Netflix together, rather than isolating myself with a book or my computer.

I hope to be back in the new year. I am hoping that if I let myself off the hook for a few weeks then I will be reenergized. Maybe it will happen sooner and I’ll be back for some year-end posts (not much to wrap up this year though). Maybe it won’t happen and I’ll extend the break.

I really appreciate all of you who read this blog. Especially those of you who stuck with me this year as I ran out of steam. I will continue to be around on twitter and instagram and maybe I’ll post some bookish thoughts on the blog’s facebook page.

To all of you: Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Holidays. Enjoy this season with your friends and family.

Halloween, Arrgh [Wordless Wednesday]

I’m a little late, but here are a few Halloween photos for you. I don’t have any official E-posed-in-his-pirate-costume photos but I snapped a few photos while he was out trick or treating with a friend. He had a blast and loved the concept. He especially loved answering our door when the older kids came once we were home. The only problem now is that he doesn’t understand why Halloween is over.

The Sunday Salon: October in Review [11.2.14]

In October, I read:

  • All Fall Down by Jennifer Weiner
  • A Briefer History of Time by Stephen Hawking
  • Runaways Vol. 4: True Believers
  • Anna Dressed in Blood by Kendare Blake

At the moment, I am reading Rooms by Lauren Oliver and listening to Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger.

This month I reviewed Girls in White Dresses; shared how and why I am getting out of debt; where books have made me want to visit; and shared photos from the pumpkin patch.

How was your October?

The Sunday Salon.com

HOW I Am Getting Out of Debt

You now know WHY I am getting out of debt, but the tricky part is figuring out HOW to get out of debt. Thankfully, other people have figured out some good plans to follow and you can adapt those to your life. When we had our epiphany about how bad our debt situation really was, I went online and did some research. This led to me checking out Dave Ramsey’s Total Money Makeover and reading it cover to cover in about 48 hours. I don’t think Dave Ramsey the person is for everyone – he inserts religion into everything and he and I certainly do not have the same political beliefs – but his plan is a good one.

The Baby Steps

The Total Money Makeover outlines seven baby steps to financial wealth (with my paraphrasing):

  1. Save $1000 for a mini emergency fund.
  2. Get out of debt using the Debt Snowball.
  3. Save 3-6 months of your expenses for a true emergency fund.
  4. Invest 15% of your income for retirement.
  5. Invest in college for your children.
  6. Pay off your mortgage.
  7. Invest and build wealth.

We are currently on Step 2, obviously. And will be for awhile. We have so much student loan debt that I may have to tweak this a bit so that we aren’t waiting 5 years before we get to steps 3-5.

What We’ve Done

  • We started budgeting.

We started this in August and used August as a “practice month” before we really started the plan. We sat down and figured out our budget for August. We listed our income and we listed our expenses. And we found that our expenses were more than our income. We were living beyond our means and had no idea we were even doing it.

  • We eliminated expenses.

I thought this one would hurt, but it actually felt great. We gave up our YMCA membership. We gave up our house-cleaner (okay, this one hurt). We cut cable tv. We gave up our Audible subscription. We stopped eating out. We stopped buying things we didn’t need. We haven’t turned our air-conditioning on in two weeks.

  • We “found” more money.

Ben volunteered to give up his planning period and teach an extra class. We switched to a higher deductible health insurance plan. We stopped contributing so much to our retirement. We stopped contributing so much to Evan’s college fund. These will come later. Four years from now, I’m maxing out my retirement contributions and I’m funding Evan’s college as quickly as possible. Right now, we are spread too thin to do it all and we needed to free up this money.

  • We started using cash.

We use cash for our everyday expenses.Actual paper money cash. We take it out every pay day. When it’s gone it’s gone. Some weeks, like this one, our pantry is looking pretty sad by the end of those two weeks. But we are not starving. And we are learning how to live within the budget.

  • We refined our budgeting.

Ben and I get paid bi-weekly on the same day. We learned that a monthly budget was difficult for us and that a bi-weekly budget worked better. It takes a little more effort since different things get paid in different weeks, but it works for us. Each pay period’s budget is unique. We work off of a template, but we add in the random things we need to for each pay period (for example, this next period it is a haircut for Ben and Evan’s school pictures).

  • We saved $1000!

It took us 6 weeks, but we have our emergency fund. And while were saving this, we had to spend $300 on car repairs AND WE DIDN’T HAVE TO PUT IT ON A CREDIT CARD. Our credit cards WERE our emergency fund. Now we have a real one. $1000 isn’t going to cover you if you lose your job or have a serious medical problem, but it will get you out of a lot of life’s unexpected twists and turns, like car repairs. Since we saved it, we haven’t had to touch it. Since we plan our two-week budgets with so much detail, not much surprises us.

  • We started our Debt Snowball.

Now, this one did hurt. We listed all of our debts out and put them into three categories. Category A is our credit cards, car payment, and two student loans that I really want to get rid of. Category B is Ben’s student loans. Category C are my student loans. Dave Ramsey says you list them all out and put them in order from smallest to biggest. We did it this way because of some quirks in our own personal financial situation and because it makes it more manageable. Dave Ramsey also says not to worry about interest rate, but if two cards had pretty similar balances and one had a higher interest rate, we swapped them to get rid of the higher interest rate first.  We also made sure most of our credit card debt was on no-interest credit cards.

We pay minimum payments to everything except the smallest debt that we are currently focusing on. All of the extra money in our budget is applied to that debt. The great thing about the snowball is that you with each debt you eliminate, your snowball becomes bigger because you eliminated a minimum payment.

So far we have paid off two credit cards, almost $1200, in a month. We hope to eliminate one more this year and then two more early in 2015. Then the last few will take awhile because those are the bigger balances. But the reason you pay off the smaller ones first is because it gives you some quick victories. And let me tell you, these victories are both amazing and necessary. We give ourselves a little celebration with each goal we meet (usually pizza or an inexpensive meal out). And we cross it off our spreadsheet, which is also therapeutic. The debt becomes much more manageable when it is broken up this way.

What We Haven’t Done

  • We didn’t cut up our credit cards.

It’s supposed to be therapeutic. And it is supposed to prevent you from ever using them again. But we just put them in a cabinet instead. I don’t think credit cards are evil. Evan and I have flown all over the country for free this year because of a couple of credit cards. We don’t use them now – we cash flow everything – but I think we have enough self-control to keep using them once we are out of debt. But, we need to pay them off every month!

  • We didn’t give up everything.

We still pay for subscriptions to Netflix, Google Music, and Amazon Prime. We still went to Michigan in October. We are still going to Disney next week. We still get the occasional pizza. This is a long road for us and we will give up if we deprive ourselves of everything. But we cash flow everything we do now, which is the big change.

  • We haven’t compromised our health.

We still eat well. We buy organic dairy, even though butter is $8. We still get our organic coop box every two weeks. We aren’t eating more processed food even though processed food is cheaper. I could go on for hours about how awful it is that it costs more to eat healthy, but that’s a discussion for another day. This was something I wasn’t willing to compromise.

Our Timeline

We should eliminate all of the debt in Category A by mid-2016. This is a long time and hopefully it will speed up (it seems like things do speed up once you get going). We should be done with Ben’s student loans by February 2018. And we should be done with my student loans by October 2018. Of course, this assumes we don’t have any added expenses (like another kid in daycare) which is a big assumption.

So we are looking at a 4-year plan right now. Which is a very long road, but that’s only because of the massive student loan debt we have. I think most people can be debt-free a lot faster than us. And any extra money that comes our way –  bonuses, tax returns, raises, etc. – goes straight into the snowball.

How Are We Feeling?

This takes a lot of focus and a lot of dedication. We have to have the self-discipline to say no to things. We have to go against our spontaneous-buyer tendencies. We have to have discussions about money ALL THE TIME.

But, being in control feels GREAT. We feel empowered. We feel like our goals are achievable. We love telling our money where to go instead of wondering where it went. As of the time of this writing, we have paid off $4,246.99 in just a few months.

We always assumed we would be debt free someday, but someday kept getting further and further off. Thinking about our future now, we can see a day when we have the money to do what we want. Four years is not an eternity. It’s high school, it’s college, it’s a presidential term – these fly by. I wish we could speed up the process, but I understand that we dug ourselves into this mess and we have to pull ourselves up slowly.

For inspiration, I listen to the Dave Ramsey Show podcast almost every day. Which sounds ridiculous but I really like hearing how other people are going through the same thing and I especially love the “debt free screams,” where people who have gotten out of debt come on and I get to hear the joy and the freedom in their voices. I don’t love everything about Dave Ramsey, but I think he is doing an amazing thing for people by offering advice and giving everyone a plan.

My Advice

I’m not sure I am actually qualified to give advice, having been at this for only a few months. But, I’ll give it anyway.

  • Check out The Total Money Makeover from the library. Seriously. It’s a game-changer.
  • Talk to your spouse and make sure you are in this together. This won’t work if you are married and you try to take this on yourself.
  • Really evaluate your spending and see where you can make cuts.
  • Stop using your credit cards.
  • Use cash so you can really feel your money leaving you.

I am happy to talk to anyone who is interested in getting debt free and needs some guidance. I would love to inspire a few of you to follow me on this path. Won’t it be fun if we all do it together?

Why I am Getting Out of Debt

I have debt.

I’ve noticed that people don’t like to talk about this. They don’t want to think about their own debt. They don’t want this to be a topic of discussion. But, if you follow me on twitter, you’ve noticed that I have started talking about how I am getting out of debt. Because I think it is important and I think people often don’t realize how much their debt is holding them back. This is a big focus of my life right now and I blog about things going on in my life. I also like the support system. Some of you send me a simple “yay!” when I say I paid off a credit card. Some of you tell me you’ve started the same plan. Some of you tell me you think it’s great that I am talking about this. So I am going to keep talking about.

Today I wanted to share WHY we are getting out of debt and why we have made drastic changes in order to do so.

So, what debt do we have?

We have a mortgage. We live in a reasonably-sized house in a reasonable real estate market and we waited until 2012 to buy so we bought at the bottom of the real estate market. So we’re not doing too bad there.

We have one car loan that should have been paid off by now, but we refinanced the car when we needed a new roof a month after moving into our house because that’s what people with no cash do.

We have some credit card debt. We had it all paid off in 2011, so, naturally, I blame Evan, who is definitely the cause of a good portion of our credit card debt. But, honestly, plane tickets have always been our credit card weakness and that’s been an issue since we moved to Florida.

And then we have student loans. A lot of student loans. Six figures worth of student loans. My husband and I both have graduate degrees and we both got them in the most expensive way possible – at very expensive schools and using student loans. This is probably the only piece of the puzzle that makes us different than the rest of America.

That sounds pretty normal, right?

That’s not much of a confession. Most of us have debt, right? And people often talk about good debt versus bad debt. Student loans and mortgages are “good” while credit cards and car loans are “bad.” Under this philosophy, 90% of our debt is considered “good.” But, when your student loan debt is almost equal to your mortgage debt (and your monthly student loan payments are actually higher than your mortgage payment), I can tell you there is nothing that feels GOOD about that. When you throw in an average amount of credit card debt and a car payment, it quickly becomes a very unpleasant place to be.

So what happened?

We were treading water for a long time, sometimes getting a few strokes ahead, but eventually we felt ourselves starting to be pulled under. We never got in trouble. We’ve never missed a payment. We never even made a late payment. We are blessed with steady incomes in jobs we like. We have excellent credit scores. Everyone wants to loan us money. We were completely normal.

But the debt was starting to drive us insane. It was this constant THING hanging over us. We tried to ignore it, but we couldn’t.

And then we did some math and realized that we literally couldn’t afford to have another baby.  If we were to have a second child, which has always been the plan, we couldn’t afford to send that kid to daycare – we just didn’t have enough free money each month in our budget. Now, we understand where babies come from and that they don’t just show up demanding daycare without some warning, but it really made me stop and think about what we were doing with all of our money. We live paycheck to paycheck and we shouldn’t HAVE to.

So we made some drastic lifestyle changes…

This post has gotten a bit long, so I will save the HOW we are getting out of debt post for another day. Meanwhile, I’d love to hear from some of you in the comments.