The Best Perspective

It’s 8:05 on Sunday morning, the girls are eating cereal and watching Disney jr. I’m snuggling Madz on the couch drinking my coffee and perusing the overnight happenings of the internet. It is then that I stumble across the best piece of marriage + money advice and I am suddenly compelled to thoroughly dissect and expand this single man’s best perspective.

Don’t worry about money. Money is a game, find ways to work together as a team to win it. It never helps when teammates fight. Figure out ways to leverage both persons strength to win.

Statistically, the #2 reason for divorce is finances. (and now you are wondering what number 1 is? communication) Anyone in a relationship has, at some point, probably looked at these types of stats if nothing else than to be aware and hopefully work diligently to avoid becoming “just another statistic.” Brent and I are constantly discussing how to work together as parents and partners and some would and have heavily debated my perspective that our love comes first. My argument for that is cut and dry, we came first. Without us there would be no family, nurture one and you are nurturing the other. Clearly, for most intentions of this blog, it goes without saying that finances aren’t exactly gumdrops for us. It’s a work in progress and truth be told, yes we fight about money. The majority of the time we are on the same page but I’m a little more likely to second guess that stop for lunch and I do the grocery shopping because I shop for price and Brent shops from my list. Now with that being said I have my downfalls I’m not good at finances all the time. I’ve been known to selfishly ask for coffee stops and Brent never tells me no, so yes, in the effort of full disclosure there have been times where I’ve taken advantage of his willingness to make me happy.  To the point though, do we fight about money? Yes and well, no.

See, when we argue it’s not over spending or contribution, or dollars and cents. It’s because I have high anxiety and we both work really hard and I stress out and show it and my loving husband really truly wants to make me happy. Does he feel the pressure, yes. Is there anything we can do about it in the moment, aside from going out back and picking from the proverbial money-tree…no. We have to be grateful each week we are able to have another direct deposit be successful and then each time work better within those limits. To reference the game of poker, some hands are crappy but the cards will come around again, play smart, be strategic and keep your game face on. When I hear about this divorce statistic though I can’t help but envision two adults, mid- thirties (much older than I lol-jk) screaming at one another, hair pulled out, one shaking a bill, papers everywhere, and then the climax ends and they walk away, and it’s done. Have you had this vision? But it’s not accurate. I’d go the distance in saying it’s probably the opposite. Silent stress, zero communications, bills piling up, and then someone breaks and the damage is done. It’s sad to me.

Perhaps another goal for me in this blog is really for us. As former athletes if B and I can work to remember team work and what that looks like in a structured sport and pull that into our family finances, and maybe even some other areas, maybe this will help us to strengthen our love, communication and financial toolbox. Nothing that this man who provided my inspiration for today was saying is rocket science. It all makes complete sense perhaps its the delivery but I hold tight to the last two sentences, it never helps when teammates fight. Figure out ways to leverage both persons strength to win. I envision myself standing on the pitcher’s mound with my catcher, one of us having a bad day-because everyone’s entitled to it. But in that moment we are there, on that mound for a reason, pull it together figure out how to win and celebrate after. Tomorrow at practice, we’ll talk to see what was going on and what I can do better next time and hopefully we can avoid a strenuous 5th inning. Never short of a metaphor I get it and plan to run with it, but after 5 years of marriage and almost 9 years together fresh perspective and friendly reminders are always welcome.

Disclaimer:
I take no credit it for the sound advice that prompted this blog. The perspective on love and shared reflection is actually from someone who failed at it and this man’s is wonderful. I’d encourage you to see his of full list of marital advice from a man’s perspective.

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Appliance Upgrade- Fast Easy and Affordable

I admire extreme saving bloggers who can constantly save 99% on their grocery bill with coupons and pay off their many debts in 6 months time. Their information shared and success are nothing less than amazing but I also feel overwhelmed by how well they can do it all and the scientific methodical approach that seems to map out their calculations and saving. It’s just more than I can wrap my head around or at the very least have time to process to attempt to do so. As I have said before, I’m not the queen of all things thrifty, but I like to think that the few things I do try, and the small steps we are taking toward learning to be, are just as big of a success for us. With that being said when I come up with a great recipe, craft, sale, etc. I feel compelled to share. And in this new adventure of being homeowners I hope to have many finds and although their will be some failures along the way,  I vow to share my experience with the black hole of the blogosphere- in hopes that maybe it will help or inspire at least one (and if nothing else I will be able to reference it at a later date).  Thankfully the first project I get to share was a success and I can’t wait!

It’s no surprise that the kitchen, in any home, is a huge selling point. It can make or break any deal and even the best home with a less than subpar kitchen can ruin any realtors day. For us the kitchen was actually the bonus. I loved the detail and location of our home but it did need some work, in everywhere BUT the kitchen. The kitchen wasn’t fantastic but it was in good shape and I could see the small projects that could help over time but overall great shape. The only thing that had stood out has a “dang I wish we could just change….” were the appliances. They were a black and white combo…circa 1995. They work and it would’ve been acinine for us to even consider buying new ones simply because I didn’t like how they looked; and then yesterday the clouds opened and the sun shined. I was in Lowe’s (a very overwhelming store btw) and they have a little thing called Appliance Epoxy. It’s a spray paint and for less than $10 this is what happened:

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             Before

 

After

After

I’m not sure which I loved more the cost or the fact that it took less than 15 minutes. When time is money this is awesome! Here’s the product I used Rustoleum Appliance Epoxy in Black. This is absolutely well worth it.

Enjoy!

 

 

Make No Assumptions

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Three times a week I give information sessions to prospective students and families. It’s a general info session reviewing the university, admissions, etc. Of course in this is the topic of cost and Financial Aid and one of the biggest and boldest statements I try to convey to guests is to not make assumptions. Too often students don’t apply for scholarships assuming they simply won’t get it because others will; parents (the ones pushing students to fill out scholarship applications mind you) do the same thing and simply assume they will not qualify for federal funding. My response? It’s a free application, fill it out, see what happens, and you might be surprised. This year I decided to take my own advice.

We knew that owning a home was something on our bucket list but truth be told it has always seemed incredibly farfetched. Even though we have always known we could afford a mortgage, the assumption being that no bank would ever give us one. We had settled into the idea of being renters for life, even though we secretly wished it didn’t have to be this way. Being a female (yes, total stereotype-but who are we kidding? really.) I have always looked at what’s out there. Truth be told, isn’t that what you are supposed to do once you are done with your wedding? And thank you pinterest for the added push to design a dream house lol. Anyhow, as we embarked on this project of frugality we knew we had to do some serious analytics on our bills and our rent was inevitably just going to get higher, and it would have. So back in May we inquired with a local realty agency that does both sale and rental properties. I talked with an agent and very pessimistically said “listen I know we can’t buy but what can we do to get ourselves in a place to be able to buy in the next 5 years?” That was the magic question I wanted answered. She referred me to a mortgage lender she worked closely with and said you never know unless you try, don’t assume anything. HA! So, I played along. Through the entire process, never actually thinking the day would come. How’d it work?

Well, I called the lender and explained, yet again, all of my doubts and she said well let’s just see what we are working with. At no cost we can do a consultation and then go from there. So, they ran our credits and came back with a pre-approval. Skeptical, I said asked about the next steps and both the lender and the agent said “go pick out a house”…first of all this was too easy, what do you mean by that? Okay, enough! Where’s the hidden camera? Again, we played along. After looking at about 12-15 properties, damned and determined not to love anything, because I am well-aware that a pre-approval does not equate to an approval. Until we pulled up to a little foreclosure in Knightdale. I got this warm fuzzy odd feeling that scared the crap out of me. I walked into the house and I was chanting “don’t love it, don’t love it” in my head until B turned around and said “she loves it.” CRAP! It did need some work. Apparently people who are being foreclosed tend to treat their property like complete shit, unfortunately. But regardless I could see all of the potential and loved the very idea. It’s not a big house but a charming little home with a yard that is just big enough for the girls without feeling overwhelming. It doesn’t have all the items on our wish-list-but somehow it was better. The emotional attachment had been made. Then the hardwork really set in. After months of negotiations, emails, numbers and let’s face it ALOT of prayer today we closed on our first home.

Resampled_2013-08-20_13-36-41_207Key logistics: Turns out we are in a unique point in life where we don’t have a lot of money but we have worked hard on our credit and we happen to make just enough between the two of us to qualify and the mediocrity, well it worked to our advantage. For the type of loan and financing best for us, we had to jump on the opportunity because if in a single-year’s time either Brent or I are fortunate enough to make even slightly more than we do today we would not have qualified. We did have to compromise location and head outside the city of Raleigh but we have spent a lot of time in the area and I’m thinking it wasn’t much of a compromise. In terms of upfront costs, we were able to negotiate the selling bank taking care of about 97.5% of all closing costs, making all repairs, and we locked in a fixed interest rate with our monthly payments including taxes, insurance and HOAs. With all of that being said we are now looking at a reduction of monthly living costs by more than 1/3 of what we pay in rent AND the selling bank taking their sweet time to close worked to our advantage because now we have no living costs for the month of September allowing all of that money we would have paid in rent to be split with 1/2 heading straight to the bank and the other 1/2 covering the costs of paint and supplies to prep the house,  in a diy fashion, to be move in ready. <—-This my friends, will be our next challenge! Stay tuned.

All in all, I think it’s safe to say ALOT can happen in a single year’s time and while I’ve probably had one of the worse days of my life in 2013 now we can also say was one of the best. Will there be challenges? Of course. Are we up for them? Well, it’s too late if not, lol. Regardless it is a chapter that I am so excited -over the moon really- to be starting. It’s going to be a whirlwind few weeks but all the best ones are!

Thanks for following along ox.

Life in numbers

There is so much that life has to do with numbers and for a long time I didn’t understand this. Truth be told I did everything in my power to claim the title of “girls aren’t good at math” in HS-and live by it. I had a large block up against any type of mathematical challenge; especially ones that included letters and shapes. But my Dad did everything he could to help us understand his own type of math, that being money. It’s funny how the two go hand in hand but the relationship, and its importance, isn’t fully recognized, or appreciated, until much later in life.

Hindsight being what it is, I remember the moment I began saving. I was a waitress at a diner in Newport, VT and I used to pull $5 out of my tips every shift and put them in my glove compartment in a ziplock bag (okay at 17-this wasn’t one my smartest decisions) but it didn’t take long at all to begin seeing that add up; and really feel that great appreciation for earning it. Let me explain the delay. See I had my first job when I was 12 years old as a receptionist for a salon in small town Texas. I worked in multiple places all through high school, but  I never saved. I always worked “just to have money” so that I didn’t have to ask my parents for things. There’s a famous story in my family of when I was little and asked my dad for a special white waterbed bed (it was the 90s-don’t judge lol) anyway, he told me when I could pay for it, I could get it and brushed me off. So, I saved my allowance for a year and bought the bed; well actually I did come up a few dollars short but my Dad coughed it up since I had the rest. lol From then on I got the fact that if I had money I could get what I want but the savings piece of this lesson the most important piece, came much later as I described. Perhaps this is the same moment when I stopped opposing math and appreciated the numbers game; slowly taking on its challenge.

Today I feel like all I do is run numbers. Whether its portion size for calorie counts, medicine doses, bills, dates, deadlines, miles, people, appointments, balances, ages, years, birthdays, kids, snacks, boxes, drinks, dollars, it doesn’t matter- life is numbers everywhere you turn!

So here are my utmost important life pieces in numbers… 01.22.1985.5.28.28.2.5.8.2.4.2.8.730.1.430.9.3.10.9.7.
26.11.7.12.9.3.2.24.1500.7.6.10.2.13.29.5.3.2.10.2.2200.
365.1.1.2000.9.2.1000.5.24

Now that was a lot of run through in my head lol, but I couldn’t help but notice that none of these include shapes, letters or elaborate and complicated equations….thankfully.

My next list is 30 x 30. I’d like to develop a “life before 30 bucket list” …suggestions are welcome. Post pending…

ox

Heartbreak Relapse

As much as I hope and want this blog, in one year’s time, to reflect high savings and great progress this project is also about healing; and unfortunately we have had yet another loss.

In an unforeseen turn of events, I have loss not one Dad this year but two. My biological father passed yesterday. It was a blunt-force-blow to my being and I am heartbroken, again. Confused yet? See, I was blessed with two strong men to call Dad. One, my Daddy, who stepped in and raised me when someone else (who loved me equally) knew enough that he couldn’t at that point in his life; and the other who gave me great Sicilian heritage, an emotional heart, decent skin and a some blue eyes I didn’t fully appreciate until my daughter had the same ones. He was the father who loved me enough to let me have two. He was never mean or intrusive and always appreciative of any way that he could be in my life. He was a man who actually befriended my Dad and showed gratitude for him stepping in as he stepped out and dealt with his own demons. Yes, through the years our relationship strayed and I’m completely guilty of pulling away from time to time and most recently after losing my Dad. I didn’t know how to move forward with many of my relationships this year, and this was one of them. But I had talked to him and he knew about my struggle and per usual, always respectful and supportive. He never asked why, instead he asked what’s next. The kind of relationship that I knew (or thought) would always be there and we could -and would- always “just pick up.” Funny how death can be the bold black line that isn’t just drawn in the sand. It’s cemented.

He held the key to so much of my past. A past I only knew a glimpse of. One I wanted to know so much more about. Therein is where the regret lies. It is what it is, but the loss in and of itself is difficult. It’s a different kind of pain. It’s a different kind of loss. Nonetheless I find myself filled with sadness. When my Dad died in January there was recognition of life and appreciation for all that he filled me with in life. I was greedy because I wanted more time, you always do, but truthfully I knew I was blessed with so much and to know this great man so well. With this loss I have the opposite, a void, filled with question. It’s as if I have stumbled upon a dark cave within myself and I want to find a bolder to cover it with but I can’t and so it remains-familiar, yet empty, and dark. The hurt, round two, is so much worse because the first thing I wanted to do was call my Daddy and he would tell me how to handle this situation but of course I couldn’t. People say talk to him…sorry, it’s not the same it feels like a relapse of heartbreak.

Yes, it sounds complicated, but to me it’s not. They were both too young, they were both so much a part of me and they are both gone and I am at a loss. I have wonderful memories of my Dad, but not enough, and as I said there was so much more to discover. I can’t help but think of my baby pictures where he looked so much in love with this little person and I am so grateful to have been that person. May you be at peace, Scott Francis Sgarlata. I love you and am forever indebted for your selfless choices. Thank you.

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Amazing Alfredo on a leftover budget (literally!)

Okay, it’s been a roller coaster weekend but I cannot tell you how excited I am to make this post. It’s a 2 for 1 in that I am giving you a couple of frugal tips and an awesome scratch recipe I am stoked to have created.

Food, much like gas, is one of those expenses that is simply unavoidable. Just this week I heard on my preferred radio station about how groceries are one of the most expensive bills American families have but at the same time one of the biggest ways to save. I was grateful that we already do many of the suggested tips they shared. Things such as meal planning, grocery lists, shopping from the flyer and matching coupons to these same items-are all great ways to save. For me though, my biggest saver is a shop-to-cook combo as opposed to the more traditional cook-to-shop method. What does this mean exactly? Well, rather than figuring out what we want to make and then building a list made up of needs, wants and ingredients. I make my shopping-list based on what it is on sale both in the flyer and on manager special. I do my shopping, then when I come home after all is put away I sit down with the monthly (yes, we do a month-long menu for dinners) I have Brent tell me what is in the freezer as I build the menu. We bounce ideas off one another and each pick what we would prefer to cook i.e. I typically do the fish and the pastas and he is the meat-man for the two nights he’s home to cook. Somewhere in all of this the menu is made. The two things that make this a bit more simplistic is that there is always a pasta night and always at least one night of leftovers if not two, each week.

Today was “Spaghetti Sunday” which really just means any kind of pasta for us. The girls go back and forth between plain noodles and sauce so tonight I  wanted to try something different on my wee ones. I looked in my fridge and got inspired. I saw  the tiny bit of bagged spinach, a few fresh mushrooms (just on the brink of being brown), leftover pork tenderloin, vegetable medley, a container of marscapone (I got this on a discontinued sale and the Sicilian in me couldn’t pass it up-but admittedly I haven’t know what to do with it), milk and cheese. Yes, I went there…”leftover” alfredo linguine. I started with 2 tbsp of butter and added garlic powder, salt, pepper, basil and onion powder to taste. Threw in the mushrooms to saute and then poured in equal parts 2% milk and ff 1/2 and 1/2 (about 1/2 cup of each). I put in one handful of shredded mozzarella (one of our household staples) and 1 heaping spoon of marscapone. I tossed in all of the leftover vegetable medley, chopped up the remaining tenderloin and cooked it all on low for about 10 mins; which was the same amount of time it took for the noodles to cook. Then I tossed it altogether, sprinkled with some crushed red pepper and couldn’t believe my palate. OMGoodness!

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It’s kind of a Giada meets RR in under 20 mins lol. Seriously, I don’t usually make things that are worth bragging about. I’m more of a mediocrity in the department of household productivity. I mean I CAN bake, cook, iron, clean, and child-rear but on a good day we are usually skating by on the side of ..it’s alright or it’s not bad or my personal favorite “yeah, that works” lol; but truth be told I come from some phenomenal culinary chops so my standard is pretty high and I don’t usually have anything to taut too much on, I mean I’m not a bad cook at all but this was pretty damn good. And now that I have said all that, if you try it…I sure hope you like it too!

Happy Cooking & Saving ox

Staying Young (while getting old)

This is such a fun post for me and upfront it is all meant with love (including the title)! Last week was my one of my nearest and dearest ladies’ big 3-0. Alicia actually shares her birthday with our Charli-bear so not only was the typical advance planning to be had but there was some extra thought and love for everyone this year. Not to mention 29 wasn’t exactly peaches for her so we wanted to welcome her new decade with fun and love and make her feel as special as she certainly is!

Of course all of this being said, with so much to be done, and remaining on a tight budget (especially after three out of state trips in the past two months) needless to say, getting creative was an understatement. Her hubby and I had contemplated a few different things. Sure, you want to go above and beyond but we had to keep the goal in mind, Alicia isn’t about pomp and circumstance or big trips here or there, of course they sound nice, but truly she just wants to have a great time with friends- really that’s what celebrations are about right? And for me the goal was to make her feel as wonderful as she really is and to give her a day to not have to worry about IT ALL. So, after some scheming with her other VIP ladies we came up with a game plan. What does a working mom of two girls with a brand new baby boy who runs a household, a breast pump, and a very busy life really need? A day with her ladies!  But, what fun would it be to do a traditional spa day? (okay, so this does sound nice but come-on …who can afford that???) I began to think back to some of my favorite events and one stand out was a bachelorette scavenger hunt for one of my other favorite ladies (or my little sister if you will) and I began to get excited…could we make it happen for her? hmmm…Where would we go? What would we do? Can we afford it? Do we have enough people? YES! to all of it. And everyone  was on board and really excited. So, we sent her on a birthday scavenger hunt. Everyone got to play along and contribute to the fun and she picked up all of her ladies throughout the morning getting new clues along the way. The hunt went all day long and we were even able to incorporate those individuals who had to work (i.e. Brent gave her the second clue and one of her mid-day clues landed her at lunch where our friend Jess was waitressing). And the final clue of the evening was handed to her by her hubby who showed up with 30 roses and a group dinner date to her favorite restaurant.

Here’s how it all went down.

Clue 1. was given to her with specific instruction in the am to get her things together and get to the next stop which was my hubby at work.

Clue 2. she got from Brent which brought her to me (it helped to associate the clues with the people) so she picked me up at Starbucks, which of course I had her birthday coffee ready for her-$3.5.

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Clue 3. took her to our friend Katie at the wine store, because while we are al wine-o’s Katie is the one with a full wine rack out of all of us. And once she found her she was also greeted with a non-alcoholic bottle of wine (remember the breast pump reference above.)

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Clue 4. was Katie’s clue which took her to the park where she picked up her Sister-in Law who got creative in the hiding spots lol

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Yes, that is Andy and Opie at Pullen Park 🙂

Clue 5. was a fun one. Yogalicious (aka. sexy yoga). The birthday girl was free and the drop in pass was only $15. Totally worth it and we were able to get a workout in!

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Sorry, hun I couldn’t resist! ox

Clue 6. brought her to a shopping center for her to get a special date night outfit. This was her hubby’s contribution!

Clue 7. was lunch with Jess who contributed the next clue and the gift certificate for our next stop.

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Clue 8. Mani-pedis! Well, she got a mani and due to time I got a pedi-not my idea of fun (seriously) but that’s another topic.

Clue 9. was a pit stop at Sugarland, this AMAZING gelato place in Raleigh, for only about $3 such a great afternoon treat.

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Thanks, Lindsey for the Gelato!

Clue 10. was a very special visit to see her new little man; of course every new mama cannot go a day without some special baby time.

Clue 11. swept her off to get ready with the ladies; but “for what” she had yet to be told 😉

And as promised Clue 12. was presented by her hubby, Adam who showered her with love and roses. It was a phenomenal day!

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All of this and we were able to save so.much.money. that we would have spent on dinner, presents, party, etc. not to mention, I’d like to think this was way better! I highly recommend getting creative when it comes to celebrations. Things don’t always have to be over the top and $$$ to be special. I will never forget it and I hope she doesn’t either.

Happy Birthday, hun! ox

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