Friday, October 31, 2008

November Budget & October Net Worth

Here is our budget for November:

$1065 Mortgage
$50 House Phone
$55 Cell Phone
$28 Natural Gas
$108 Electric
$40 Water
$250 Food
$200 Car Gas
$140 Dental
$200 Fun Money
$220 Mrs. Student Loans
$70 Mr. Student Loans
$40 Daughter's Health Insurance
$95 Life Insurance

Base Expenses: $2,561


$3580 Salary Take Home
$1000 Rental Income

Total: $4580

The difference between our expenses and our income will be going into savings to pay off debt. I suspect some of our creditors are getting hungry with the economy not doing so well, since the number of calls this past week has picked up.

Our phone bill went up due to the price of our Internet plan went up and someone had used 411 at the house twice. We have changed our Internet plan as well to the next higher plan to help with me working from home more and watching Netflix (which comes out of my fun money).

Net Worth:

This is the first time in over a year it has gone down. I decided to write off the bad debt owed by someone I had done programming work for. I know I am in the right for the balance, but the fight to get the money is not worth the stress and morally I should not have been working for them while at my full-time job. In addition, I did an accurate check of our mortgage and student loan balances.

We're planning in the coming month to build up the cash position of our net worth, so that we can get back on track paying off debts.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Roommate Given Notice

One of our roommates was given notice yesterday that she has until the end of November to pay $600 of her back-rent (2 months) or move out. On Nov. 1st she will be $900 behind in rent. She and my wife had a 2 hour discussion about it, mainly the roommate responding that she felt it was unreasonable, that she is trying everything she can do, and trying to get out of my wife that we want her to leave.

Here are my views on those 3 points:

Unreasonable/Reasonable: If we were like other landlords, we would have already petitioned the court for eviction and she would be moved out. Based upon my research, if you are 1 day late in Illinois, you can receive a 5 day notice. If you don't pay that, then the landlord can take you to court to evict you. If she did not pay her cell phone bill for 3 months, it probably would be turned off as well. We are being reasonable.

Trying Everything: I disagree with this one. She told my wife she thought she had to pay us at least $100 at a time, which in the 2 years she has lived at our house has never been a rule or followed. Trying everything includes giving $20 towards rent instead of ordering pizza.

"We want her to leave": This is a lie that she is trying to believe so that it's not her lack of payment as the reason we are having to do this, but that it's our fault. Being behind in rent is not our fault, it is caused through choices she had made. And from those choices, there are consequences. We would love to have her stay, but when the mortgage and utilities need to be paid every month, we need her to cover her portion.

50 lbs of Apple Juice & Sauce

My wife just got back yesterday afternoon from visiting my great-aunt north of us. With our daughter drinking quite a bit, we did not think we would have enough apple juice in our pantry and my great-aunt always loves to have us visit, so my wife and daughter went up there Tuesday morning with jars and a juicer. Our daughter was well-behaved and sat at the counter all day (except for nap time) watching my wife working away in the kitchen and running outside to pick apples.

I did not count all of the jars, but my rough estimate is 24 pints of apple sauce, 18 quarts of apple juice, and 6 quarts of apple sauce. We'll be giving away gifts of apple sauce this Christmas. In addition, my wife brought a box of fresh apples for recipes in the coming weeks, as well as some squashes.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Roommate Financial Success Story

I want to cover one of our roommates. Sometimes it does not feel like we're really helping our roommates improve their lives (financially, spiritually, mentally, etc). Yesterday though through talking with one of our roommates it appears we're having an effect at improving her financial know-how and career.

She had been working at a job that she liked but did not like her co-workers. The two ways to handle it are to just deal with it or look for another job. She asked us for some tips and we suggested the phone book to start calling businesses that she would enjoy working for and seeing if they have openings. She did and found a pet grooming place not too far from our house, paying her more than she was making at her last place and doing what she loves.

She also recently opened up a checking account. She was previously taking her paychecks to a currency exchange, having to pay a fee every time. The reason she did not have a checking account was because she had messed up one years back by not keeping an eye on the balance and was afraid of doing the same. For now she's only going to use it for cashing her check and to learn how to balance a checkbook.

She's still making mistakes along the way, but is learning from them. She quit her previous job in anger over her paycheck missing hours, which my wife and I explained will make it very hard to get that resolved. We also explained that whenever you are working hourly, you need to keep your own record of what your working, just in case of problems like this.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Welcome Chicago Tribune Readers!

Thank you for visiting my blog from our story. I hope you will find some interesting items in this blog. We're currently planning on getting rid of the credit card and misc debts by February. If you want to help us a bit, click on the paypal link below to donate a $1.

Please post your questions about getting out of debt and I will answer them to the best of my ability.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Heating with Wood Update

I've learned quite a bit the past couple of weeks with us using the wood stove. Here's a few of them:

- Always on the lookout for more. It's like an addiction where your always looking for your next fix. I've added to my Google Reader a watch from Craigslist for firewood in my area. In addition, as I drive home I watch out for wood I can put in my trunk. What I pick today though won't be good to be used until a year from now.

- It's going to take a lot of wood to keep us warm. Today we did not use any wood until the evening, but we're using on average 10-15 pieces/day and we're not into the coldest times yet. I don't know how long what we have will last, even though we got a lot.

- There are so many little tricks with starting and keeping a fire going.

- The blowers they sell are not worth it, a ceiling or box fan does just fine. We did not buy one, but the only positive items I've heard about them are from the people selling them. If it was an insert, then it would be useful.

Any other tips you have?

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

What I've Learned From PF Blogging

I'm being interviewed tomorrow for the Chicago Tribune, so I figured I would write up what I've learned from PF blogging and reading other's PF blogs.

Increase my income

In the past 8 months alone my salary has increased by 43%. This took planning on my part (focusing on an area of expertise that pays well) and being willing to ask for more (told my current employer the amount I wanted to make when I started and negotiated a 6 month review for more money). I don't think I would have gotten where I am career wise without PF blogs causing me to think about these things.

Besides my salary, we increased our income by taking in roommates. A little over a year ago we had 4 rooms rented out, bringing in $1,400/month. That's like working a full-time job making $8/hr. We're down to 3 roommates at $1,000/month, but even that is $5.80/hr full-time.

Decrease my spending

We still need to do some work on this, but have streamlined our budget quite a bit. For a while our entertainment budget was down to $30/month. If we lived in a smaller place that we couldn't rent out rooms, I would have had us move closer to my job(s) to cut down our gas costs and housing costs.

We've been learning how to garden in order to reduce our grocery bills. We also started canning big-time in order to do the same. This year it was a bit expensive due to needing to get equipment, but next year our costs should be minimal.

The wood stove, insulation, and storm doors were also done to reduce our heating bills. We will see this winter if we were successful and if we need to make more changes to cut our costs.

Learn from my mistakes

I've made quite a few mistakes over the years (hence the reason we're working our way out of debt). Those lessons though have helped me make less damaging mistakes. For example:
  • I looked at where our debts came from and what can prevent them from occurring again. That taught me to pursue health insurance options, use cash when we notice our spending getting excessive, and not buy on credit.
  • When I shop for something that is going to be in our house for a while, I study it to see how durable it is. When picking out tools for our wood stove, I picked the ones that were single pieces of metal since those with joints can break easily. We started our research on the wood stove 6 months back.
  • I review how close we were to the previous month's budget and make a new budget based on that.
What have you learned from my PF blog or other PF blogs?

Cheap Menu for 1

With roommates that are just learning how to shop for themselves, my wife created a sample 1 week menu for them. The concept behind it is low cost, easy cooking in large sizes so that they will have leftovers to take to work, as well as having a basic breakfast of cereal with milk or OJ. Most of the prices are from our local Aldi's, but chicken is cheaper at the local fruit market by us.

The following items wouldn't be bought every week, but could be stretched:
  • Milk (depends how much you drink each day)
  • Cereal (stretch to 10 days)
  • Rice (stretch to 3-4 weeks)
  • Laundry Soap (depends how many clothes you get dirty)
Optional additions:
  • Fresh/canned fruit
  • Margarine
  • Spices
  • Ramen Soup instead of Canned Soup

Spaghetti & Veggies:

- Cook spaghetti following box directions
- Warm up can of veggies on stove or in microwave
- Add sauce to spaghetti
- Use slice of bread to clean your plate

Food Groups: Starch, Vegetable

Mac & Cheese, Chicken & Veggies:

- Cook mac & cheese following box directions
- Warm up can of veggies on stove or in microwave
- Cook chicken in a pan or in the oven, using salt/pepper or Italian dressing if available.

Food Groups: Dairy, Starch, Vegetable, Protein

Stir Fry:

- Cook rice following directions on package
- With a little margarine or oil, fry your frozen/canned vegetables with some soy sauce
- If you have chicken, cook with your vegetables

Food Groups: Starch, Vegetable, Protein (optional)

Soup & Veggie:

- Cook soup following directions, but add some of your frozen vegetables to it to stretch the soup out.

Food Groups: Starch, Vegetable

Monday, October 13, 2008

October Budget

We drafted our budget a bit late this month due to the wood stove project consuming our time (and money). Here's where we are sitting:


$1130 Mortgage
$125 Car Gas
$125 Food
$240 Utilities
$220 Mrs. Student Loans
$70 Mr. Student Loans
$95 Life Insurance
$40 Daughter's Health Insurance
$250 Dentist Visits
$60 Fun Money (remaining of mine, my wife used hers up and I used part of mine)
Total: $2355

$1650 Day Job
$750 Rental Income
Total: $2400

Our dentist amount is an estimate, we have not been taking care of ourselves properly and have needed some deep cleanings and cavities taken care of. The rest of the expenses are pretty self-explanatory.

Regarding the rental income, that number is very up in the air. Currently every roommate is behind on their rent almost 2 months each. One started a new job today getting paid better than before (and more hours), so she will be able to get caught up by the end of the month. One quit her job last week and does not have anything currently in sight (we're concerned that we may have to ask her to leave). The last one didn't budget his money well over the summer prior to moving in with us and is struggling, but is working hard to catch up.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Garden Results

The judges are still out tallying everything and we have a few last-minute stragglers, but here are the highlights:


- 35 lbs of green beans
- 50 peppers worth (some whole, some cut)
- 1 & 1/2 gallon worth of breaded eggplant (which is disappearing fast)
- 6 gallons of whole tomatoes (for stews)
- 1 gallon blueberries

- 32 qt Spaghetti Sauce (number fluctuates based upon use and production)
- 29 qt Tomato Soup
- 12 qt Apple Sauce + 10/2 qt for Christmas gifts
- 1 1/2 qt Grape Leaves
- 4/2 qt Mulberry Jam (gave a fair amount away during the summer, have some in fridge)
- 9 qt Pickles (also disappearing fast)
- 1 qt Blueberry Syrup
- 22 1/2 qt Tomato Juice (remains after making Spaghetti Sauce, use in place of vegetable broth)
- 3 qt Apple Juice
- 11 qt Misc Soups (Celery, Vegetable Broth, etc)
- 27 qt Apple Pie Filling (We were up to 30, but been using them)
- 5 + 4/2 qt Salsa

Items Learned:

- Less tomato plants and more other plants (eg: Eggplant & Cucumbers).

- Put apple sauce into pint containers instead of quart. We don't go through it fast enough and we had 1/2 a jar go bad already in the fridge.

- Next year we'll be getting a de-seeder for the mulberries so we can harvest more and make more jam.

- During the time your jarring and 2 weeks afterwards, check your jars every other day to make sure none lost their seal. I just checked and I think we lost a jar or two of the misc soups put down last week.

- Don't be afraid to pick the grape leaves in the spring. We were not successful growing grapes, so I'm just going to focus on growing leaves instead and see about picking grapes from a neighbor that let their grapes go to waste.

Now that we have plenty of jars and shelves to hold them downstairs, next year's costs are going to go down.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Wood Stove Installed, Total Project $2,200

Our garden is almost done with, so I'll be coming back very soon. In the meantime, here's an update.

This past year we had 5 trees in our back yard. They prevented us from growing any food in our back yard and were a safety hazard to our house. We had them removed earlier in the year and split the wood and it's been sitting in our back yard. With all of the wood, we needed a wood stove or fireplace insert.

The original quotes we got were in the $4-5K range with them doing everything. Our budget couldn't afford that, so we found ways to do it cheaper. We had a chimney sweep clean our chimney (cost $110) and let us know if the project was feasible (wood stove yes, insert no). We bought a liner and wood stove from Menards (total cost $1,200). We also purchased slate, firecode drywall, mortar, and grout for the floor (total cost $200) and my wife installed the flooring. I tried to get on the roof to install the liner myself, but my fear of heights prevented me from doing so. We called the chimney sweep and he installed the liner & patched the chimney for $550.

Items learned:

- If the chimney sweep had bought the liner from his suppliers, we could have cut a bit off in the price. It can't hurt to ask, even if you think it will be more.

- Having the chimney sweep install the liner was well worth the cost (possible injury would have been more than the cost to have him install it, plus there were difficulties that only he would have known how to resolve).

- When getting quotes for services, make sure you get a set cost. When we were calling around for a chimney sweep, several of the quotes said the price could change based upon how difficult it was to clean. We went with the one that provided a fixed cost, so we could know exactly how much we were going to spend.

- Will keep track of how much wood we use exactly this year so that we can purchase/locate enough for next year's winter.

- Will be looking for a supplier of wood that will keep our costs below those of natural gas.

- I'm estimating it will take us 3-4 years to recoup our costs, but there is a value in enjoying a nice fire when it's cold outside.

Expected Criticism: I know with debts outstanding, we should be focused on that instead of having a wood stove installed. This winter it should reduce our heating costs by $500-1000 and additional reductions later. We will be keeping an eye on our expenses the next few months and start hitting the debts hard again. Sometimes life is a little more than just getting out of debt...