March Lookback


Life is complicated. Sometimes it's nice to just sit back and document where you are. And not necessarily in the form of a checklist, like I do with IWSG or my financial posts.

The following is where I am right now, without placing any judgment on myself whatsoever.

Listening to:

So many things.

1. Jack Johnson: Constellations, Better Together. He's just a calm, cool musician.

2. the whole La La Land soundtrack but especially "Another Day In the Sun", "A Lovely Night" (makes me laugh) and "City of Stars" (the duet between Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone). The jazz music makes me so happy and has me desperate to go to a jazz club.

3. Lady Gaga "Shallow" and "Always Remember Us This Way". Unfortunately, it always makes me tear up. Who knew Lady Gaga had that in her? Well, maybe most of you did. I didn't, though.

4. The Guardians of the Galaxy Soundtrack. Are there people out there who don't like this music? If so, I don't know them.

5. Abba: Waterloo. Some classics never die.

6. Fugees: Killing Me Softly

7. Throw in a bit of No Doubt and 90's pop. It keeps me feeling upbeat and is a throwback to my childhood.

Remembering:

Throwing myself mentally, physically, and emotionally into something. It's an incredibly hard place to get to, but it's something I'd very much like to find a way to do again.

Planning:

Summer vacation. Maybe a trip to LA? Trying to convince hubby we can afford it. 🤨

For real though? April A-Z. It's taken an unexpected turn. Something simpler than originally planned. Maybe I can pull this off?

Anxiously Awaiting:

nothing? In general, I'm just an anxious person.

Music is helping me to remain calm during the work week. I'm so grateful the people I work for enjoy playing the piano; it makes the days easier to get through. And before work, I'm all about headphones.

I've also taken up ice skating on the weekends. Skating is a great way to relax and let go of worries, and I never want to get off the rink once I get going… 

Interested to Know:

if LA really is miserably hot in the middle of summer. How does it compare to Miami?

Keeping A Secret:

Someone recently asked me about the book that most influenced my life, then proceeded to order it. Let me be clear: it was a childhood favorite, and I feel deeply about it. It wasn't really something I wanted to share, though. So now I'm all self-conscious about my choice in books. Of course, I'm also curious to know what this person will think about the book. 😳

Shopping:

Free People Daisy Chain Dress
Free People Sweet Little Tee
Ice Skates!

Reading:

A little boring, but I'm working my way through Barron's Painless Grammar by Rebecca Elliott. Hopefully, it will help me with my grammar issues.

So what have you been up to?

With March halfway over, are those of you that are participating in April A-Z ready for the challenge?

For those of you not participating, what have you been up to? Any books or music I should check out? How do you deal with feelings of anxiety? Have you ever reached a place where you can put your entire heart and soul into something?

Wordless Wednesday 2019 #2

Avalon Theatre in Avalon on Catalina Island in CA (April 2018)

This is the "Casino" Avalon theatre located in Avalon on Catalina Island in California. You can pay to take a tour of the theatre during the day or you can go see a movie there and view the inside for free! Justin and I took the movie route and saw Lara Croft: Tomb Raider 2. It wasn't the best movie, but we enjoyed the chance to relax and unwind during our travels.

Have you ever taken an alternative approach to tourist attractions?

Wordless Wednesday 2019 #1

San Luis Obispo, California (April 2018)

My husband has officially set me up with a DROBO, a VPN, and a remote server. I think I'm in business. Now to get it all working correctly for me to access my files remotely…

Going through images from just over a year ago has been a wild adventure. I can't wait to share more!

March 2019 IWSG


February Goals
Plan and prep for April A-Z.
Write a monthly financial review post.
– Finish with the DROBO back up. (Just need to back up Egypt/Berlin images.)
And talk to Justin about how to access files from outside the home. (Hello Raspberry Pi!)
List one more item on Poshmark.

Additional Successes
• Got rid of two trash bags of junk, took 5 boxes of old toys, books, and clothes to Goodwill, recycled 4 boxes of old papers.
• Found some old postcards that had been missing for 10 years! Also found my journals from high school. Made for some fun reading. :)
• Bought the Raspberry Pi so Justin can set up a server for my image files. My ultimate goal is that I will be able to edit them from anywhere in the world. (Not having constant access is making it difficult to prepare for April A-Z.)
• Planned out Justin's and my vacation schedule for the rest of the year. Now to pick out places and see what we can afford.
• Justin got one of the lights we brought back from Egypt working!
• We also got our Christmas lights from Paris plugged in!
• I lost 5 pounds. Unintentional but welcome.

March Goals
– Plan and prep for April A-Z.
– Write a monthly financial review post.
– Maybe raspberry pi will be up and running?
– Spend more time outside as the weather gets nicer. I'll set my goal to 2 days outside?
– Get tires on truck rotated.

IWSG Question –– Whose perspective do you like to write from best, the hero (protagonist) or the villain (antagonist)? And why?

I typically write from the perspective of the hero. I really should try writing from the villain's perspective. It would be more fun. :) I guess I've just never thought of doing it before.

Your Turn

Did you have a successful February? Get a lot accomplished? I feel like I spent most of the month worried about something that I'm not sure is important, so I wasn't able to focus on other things as well as I should have. Maybe March will be better for me. And maybe it will be better for you too. <3.

Click here to learn more and
link up with IWSG!

Monthly Financial Update: February 2019


In December, when reviewing my finances for 2019, I mentioned my desire to look at them on a monthly basis in 2019. Justin and I spent a little too much in 2018 and let our finances get the best of us. Maybe by looking at our finances monthly (and let you guys/gals keep me in check), we will do better this year. That's the goal anyway.

Here's month #2.

Spending:


green - this year; yellow - last year


Where We Spent Our Money:

Top 10 Locations
1. Publix (groceries)

2. Electricity
3. Kroger (groceries)
4. Trader Vic's (restaurant)
5. Starbucks – how we avoid traffic in the morning
6. Quiktrip (gas)
7. Cell Phone
8. Kroger gas
9. Life Insurance
10. Baraonda (restaurant)

Top 10 Categories
1. Food and Dining
2. Bills and Utilities
3. Auto & Transport – parking in Atlanta, car wash, gas
4. Financial – life insurance
5. Personal care – hair
6. Shopping – clothes, home improvement
7. Fees & Charges – interest
8. Gifts & Donations – Valentine's Day gifts for kids


compared to Feb 2018

Net Income:



Debt

Credit Card Debt

Student Loan Debt

Numbers
* Loan Payoff Date 11/1/22
* Emergency Funds: $10675
* Credit Scores: 731 (Justin), 796 (me)


Overview of the Biggest Impacts This Month
1. All of the kids I babysit for got sick, so I made a little bit more money this month.
2. Changing our withholdings should reduce our monthly income. :(
3. Eating dinner every Friday with friends and watching a tv show with them. We don't have to fight traffic, we don't have to go out to eat to avoid traffic, and we get to be social.
4. We went to see a comedian in Atlanta! It was a lot of fun, but it added extra parking and dinner costs to our month. Worth it though.
5. We had to stock up on things we were running low on or that had expired like razors and Claritin. That added up fast.

What went wrong this month?
1. Went to pay income taxes and realized we owe a lot. We decided to hold off until April to submit. In the meantime, we are adjusting our withholdings.
2. We weren't able to pay as much toward credit cards as we had hoped despite reducing our spending dramatically. Guess we will try again next month.
3. I kept forgetting to purchase Starbucks gift cards from the drugstore to get 5x the points. It's a little thing, but it could make a difference in our finances another month.
4. Buying unnecessary Valentine's Day gifts. The kids were sick and I wasn't able to give them the gifts. So essentially it was a waste of money.
5. I had to make decisions about which children of the two families I work for to babysit when they were sick. This meant I made more money with one family and less with the other. Plus, I was trying to avoid getting sick myself.

What went right this month?
1. More money!
2. Returned $170 Uggs. They were cute but ultimately not what I wanted in a shoe. So the search for the perfect snow boot continues. Maybe one day I will find them. In the meantime, yay $170!
3. Only $45 spent on clothing for Justin and me! And I didn't feel like I had nothing to wear either.
4. Justin bought a "server" for me for less than $100. Initially, we were expecting to spend much more! (Computer engineer husband ftw?)
5. Even when we weren't eating dinner at home, Justin made enough leftovers for him to take for lunch during the week saving us about $10 a day that he was spending on eating out (which wasn't every day but it was often enough that this made a difference).

Financial plans/goals for next month?
1. Spend less on food? This one will be hard because I felt like we did much better this month.
2. I've been paying for a 20-year-old email address month by month this year, trying to decide whether to get rid of it. It's cheaper if I pay yearly. So I probably should either decide or go ahead and eat the yearly cost.
3. I bought the peanut butter crackers I eat occasionally for lunch in bulk, so the cost of my lunch will dramatically decrease for the next few months. (Yay Costco!)
4. No holidays or birthdays (that I'm aware of, that I need to shop for) for March, so gift purchase should decrease.
5. Stay home on weekends more. It saves money and gas.

I guess the key to conquering our financial goals is to take them one step at a time, one month at a time. I think we did much better this month than we did last month, but it's getting harder for me to think of things I need to change. I really need to sit down with our finances and analyze how much we are spending unnecessarily and where we can break up our expenses so they are spread out over the month. Maybe this will be that month.

How are you all doing? Now that we are on month two, do you have any suggestions for me? Which area of your budget has been the hardest for you to conquer and how did you do it?

February 2019 IWSG


December Goals
Finish any last minute planning I have for Paris/Egypt/Berlin.
  - You can always do more planning.
Finish Christmas shopping and wrapping.
– Pack and prep for travel. (Including cleaning before we leave and blog prep.)
  - Missed the January IWSG post. :(
  - Also missed my New Years resolution post. (It was half written but not scheduled until we got back.)
  + wrote reviews for finances, books read, and year.
  - Didn't finish making store returns before leaving.
Review my year.

Additional Successes
• BEING SOCIAL.
  + Work party for Justin. (And somehow managed to pull together an outfit last minute!)
  + Getting together with friends before traveling. (But hey! There was pizza, gelato, and wine. Being social is pretty good when you include those things!)
  + Spending all day with my sister-in-law on Christmas eve despite needing to clean, plan, and pack.
  + Hosting the family Christmas eve dinner. While packing and planning.
  + Then being existent right before our flight for a family Christmas breakfast.
  + A loud wedding in Egypt with people I don't know very well.
  + Then three days of tours, two with people I was suppose to "know" and get along with, one with a group of people I will never see again.
  + A tour of Berlin with friends after a week of traveling … when I was tired, stressed, and feeling like I was not able to keep up with the group mentally or physically.
• But then there were those moments when I was able to add incite to a political or philosophical conversation. (Does photoshop really alter the reality of a photograph? Is the use of the word "girl" when speaking of a woman condescending across different cultures? Or, alternatively, does "mådschen" auf Deutsch have the same meaning as the word "girl" in English? … Does racism exist outside of the United States? Is it an issue we need to conquer globally rather than just locally?)
• Getting French Christmas lights to put on our Christmas tree for Christmas 2019! (It's been a goal for a couple of years.)
• Trying Mexican food in Germany… 😳
• Getting a flight to Sharm-el-Sheikh after weeks and weeks of trying and failing. AND getting to pay in Egyptian pounds so we saved $$.
• Paying off the car. YAY!
• Finding a hat that is cute and will keep my head warm. (Harder than it sounds in a typically warm climate.)
• Hiding my chest/neck in Egypt while not being too hot. And coming across as Egyptian in some circumstances! (I'm pretty conservative for American standards, but I never really worry about whether my neck or the insinuation of cleavage is covered, like when wearing a V-neck top.)
• Getting most of my image files transferred to my new DROBO.
• Learning how to haggle in Egyptian markets. We were still taken advantage of, but it gives you a totally new perspective on the "worth" of an item and how not to get emotionally involved.
• Translating a LONG Christmas card with help from google translate and writing a response auf Deutsch.

February Goals
– Plan and prep for April A-Z.
– Write a financial monthly review post.
– Finish with the DROBO back up. And talk to Justin about how to access files from outside the home.
– List one more item on Poshmark.

IWSG Question –– Besides writing, what other creative outlets do you have?

PHOTOGRAPHY! I love challenging myself to get better. I feel like a good image can enhance the words I share on my blog.

I've experimented with drawing, sculpting, singing (2 years), and playing an instrument (the cello, 3 years). 

I keep going back to the written word because there are so many nuances to it. I can say the same word and add an exclamation point to give it a different meaning. Or I can italicize it. Bold it. Use different words around that one word. If I sing a cuss word, maybe it will sound less harsh? And then there is the complication of translating the word so that it is easier for speakers of other languages to understand. If I say "Achoo!" in text, you might think I have sneezed, but perhaps I am just describing something that sounds like a sneeze? Or maybe, to someone who speaks another first language, the sound is similar to something they are familiar with that I may not be as familiar with?

And the challenge with photographer is getting the image right. How do you capture the scene exactly as you remember it? How do you get the colors just so? And what about all of those power lines? Light coming from underneath might look scary while outdoor lighting is very different from indoor lighting. And then trying to tell a story without words? How do you compel a viewer to look at your image for longer than a few seconds?

While having many creative outlets gives me new and interesting challenges, I do wonder if it prevents me from perfecting myself in any one area? Perhaps if I focused all of my time and energy on writing, specifically, I could be a better writer? Or maybe photography is where my focus needs to be? … And how do creatives feel about life influencing your creative outlets? Maybe if you weren't exposed to a foreign language, you wouldn't be as thoughtful about the words you were using in your stories?

Anyway, creativity is complicated.

Your Turn

What creative outlets do you have? Do you think giving yourself the flexibility to focus creative energy in many areas helps you? Or does it keep you from perfecting your ability in one specific area? Are non-creative aspects of life helpful in expanding your creativity?

Click here to learn more and
link up with IWSG!

Monthly Financial Update: January 2019


In December, when reviewing my finances for 2019, I mentioned my desire to look at them on a monthly basis in 2019. Justin and I spent a little too much in 2018 and let our finances get the best of us. Maybe by looking at our finances monthly (and letting you guys/gals keep me in check), we will do better this year. That's the goal anyway.

So, here we go …

Spending:

green - this year; yellow - last year

Where We Spent Our Money:

Top 10 Locations
1. Marriott - 6 nights + food/drinks + souvenirs/stamps
2. Progressive - 6 months car insurance
3. Hyatt - 2 nights + entertainment + food/drink
4. Sheraton - 2 nights + food/drink
5. DHL - 2 shipments to the US
6. Chase Card Membership - Sapphire Reserve
7. Nile Airlines - flight from Sharm-El-Sheikh to Cairo
8. Kroger - groceries
9. Egypt Group Tour - with wedding party
10. Electricity

Top 10 Categories
1. Travel - hotels, taxis, flight, checked luggage
2. Food and dining
3. Auto & transport - car wash, public transportation, gas, floor mats, batteries for the fob, car insurance
4. Shopping - books, clothes, gifts, souveniers
5. Bills & Utilities - engineering dues, electricity, cell phone, email
6. Entertainment - museums, tours
7. DHL shipping
8. Fees & Charges - interest, transfer fees
9. Uncategorized - haven't figured it out yet!
10. Personal Care - dry cleaning, hair cuts
11. Financial - life insurance

(compared to last year)

Here's where I think we can improve:
• Obviously we won't be traveling in February (that I know of), so spending will decrease there.
• As a result of not traveling, food/dining, shopping, shipping (business services), and gifts should also decrease.
• Auto care might go up, because we need to get Justin's tires looked at and change the oil.
• I've gotten everything dry cleaned that needed to be after our trip, so the next time that will come up will be at the end of winter (April, May, June).

February is usually our least expensive month. We will see if that holds true this year. We are pretty motivated to get back on track with paying down debts at this time of year. The only unexpected expense I foresee is taxes.

Net Income:


It's a bit of a shocker to me that we haven't spent more than we made this month yet.

Debt



Our interest and transfer fees, as well as overall credit card debt, is up. We just paid for six months of car insurance, so I'm hoping this is just a fluke and that I will see a decrease next month. But that's why I'm tracking my debt here. Ideally, if it is not a fluke, I will see that it isn't and be able to work to correct it.


Luckily, student loan debt and our car loan are both down. And actually the car loan is paid off!! WOOT! Just before the car hit 100,000 miles. The student loan payoff date (according to Mint) is 11/1/22, one month earlier than it was last month. (It's my opinion that Mint is wrong based on what I've seen on the student loan websites, but I'm willing to give Mint the benefit of the doubt on this one. Please be correct Mint!!!)

Numbers:
* Loan Payoff Date 11/1/22
* Emergency Funds: $8936
* Credit Scores: 764 (Justin), 781 (me)
* Car loan paid off! YAY!!!
* Investments at -60.28% (Only slightly worse at .04% than a month ago.)

Overview of the Biggest Impacts This Month
1. Travel to Europe and Egypt
2. Car insurance
3. Bonuses!
4. Paying off car.
5. Transfer fees.

What went wrong this month?
1. Buying winter clothing because it was on sale.
2. Buying souvenirs and gifts. And then having to pay extra to ship them home … or for checking them at the airport.
3. Not sharing meals while overseas. Food costs were high this month!
4. Trying to use an expiring gift card on Amazon that ended up not going through, so they used our credit card instead. :(
5. Transfer fees. If we didn't have debt, this wouldn't be a problem.

What went right this month?
1. Paying off the car!!
2. Spending extra time looking at our finances and working out some goals for 2019.
3. Spending time with friends we otherwise might not have seen this year. Even if it cost us more.
4. Buying winter clothes on sale, because ideally I won't need to buy them at full price next time I travel somewhere in the winter.
5. Buying hard-to-get goods in other countries, because who knows when I will be back?

Financial plans/goals for next month?
1. Spend less on food.
2. Decide which clothes I want to return and do so.
3. Look at the Chase Sapphire Preferred and see if it is a card we can cancel.
4. Purchase Starbucks giftcards from Wal Greens using Chase Freedom to get 5% back and save on our morning Starbucks tea/coffee (and beat traffic into the city).
5. Try to spend less in February than we did in January and less than we did last February '18.

Anyway, that's where we stand. Will you be tracking your finances monthly? Will you help me stay on track this year? I'd love it if you would!