It Never Rains But It Pours

By on February 8, 2018

So, folks, it’s been an expensive few weeks for us. We’ve had to cough up quite a bit of dough that is painful to spend, but at least we’re able to do so, right? 

It sure feels like expensive things always pile up simultaneously. Here’s the rundown on the recent COD big money drains. 

Medical Expenses

Dual dental checkup!

  • We (finally) took both Junior and Mini COD to the dentist! Thanks to a recommendation from a local friend, we found a wonderful dental office that caters to kids. Safari-themed main room, a racecar x-ray seat, neon sunglasses for them to wear during their checkup…it was a fun time. Mini’s first visit and Junior’s second ever, and the dentist liked what he saw. 
  • I (Mrs. COD) went to see a new podiatrist. Plantar fasciitis has returned with a vengeance. I’ve dealt with heel and arch pain since just before our wedding almost eight years ago, but it had been largely under control until the past few months. Now, there are days when I can barely walk due to the stabbing pain in my left heel. Thus, a visit to a doc for my foot was in order. I’m just doing extensive stretching so far, which is helping somewhat, but I may need to start getting cortisone shots for more effective pain relief. 
  • There’s also that pesky issue with my knees, which began back at the end of March. I certainly am not surprised by the knee pain, given my longtime running habit and my family’s notoriously bad history in that area. (Three out of four of my parents’ knees have been replaced, one brother had Osgood Schlatter Disease and surgery, another does ultra-distance races and has suffered various injuries.) Anyway, I had been cutting back more and more on my running mileage and frequency, but after Thanksgiving the pain became so bad I had to go cold-turkey. No running at all. It sucks. Only took two more months to get me in to a doctor, and I just had a MRI to ascertain whether surgery will be required. $$$…

Takeaway from all of the medical issues: having insurance is a good thing and SO important. We will still have quite a bit of out-of-pocket expenses, but perhaps once we meet our deductible it won’t be so bad. 

House Repairs

  • Our heat pump needed some work before Christmas, and we shelled out about a grand for that. Unfortunately, we then had a leak occur at the beginning of our eleven-day holiday trip (when temps hovered around ZERO the whole time). Our subsequent bill due in January was…not fun. 
  • We needed to completely replace the heat pump to the tune of over $7,000. Grrr. After spending a chunk to fix it already, that one really hurt. However, the past three days of our home actually warm has been so lovely! 
  • Our old house has an old roof, one that doesn’t inspire awesome levels of confidence. Honestly, we probably should have asked the seller to spring for a new roof when we bought the house, but we didn’t have the nerve. So, as I type this, a crew is up on the roof making quite a racket removing the old shingles. I’m avoiding the seat directly under glass light fixtures, ha! By the weekend, we’ll have a brand-new roof over our heads! More payments. Cha-ching! 
  • Less drastic spending: new paint and painting supplies. The little guys have miraculously begin playing together more amicably, freeing up a bit of time during the day for me. I feel less guilty about painting for an hour or two if I don’t have to park the kids in front of the TV to make any progress. I’m beginning to get the sense that room and trim painting is my part-time job! So far, we’ve freshened up two-and-three-quarters of the bedrooms, a downstairs hall, tons of wood trim, and the kitchen. I don’t believe any part of this house had been painted in at least ten years, so it’s making a huge difference. Walls look so much cleaner. Plus, some fresh colors are always nice! 

Home Sweet Home

Our Feline Family Loss

One more thing got tacked on to our crazy few weeks. We had to put down our oldest cat, Sadie, who had been with me over ten years. She had to be near twenty years old, as I took her from a friend of mine who’d had her a good 8-10 years as well. 

Sweet Sadie

With her advanced age and other signs such as more labored movements and lack of proper litter box use, we knew it was only a matter of time. Neither Mr. COD nor I expected her to last long enough to move to Kentucky with us, but we’re thankful she did. She seemed much more content here, possibly because of the larger space in the house.  

Sadie’s health took a pronounced turn for the worse these last couple of weeks. Last Friday, she was clearly just done. She peed on the upstairs floor, which she’d never done before (she’d at least attempted to use the litter downstairs, though not always successfully). And she suddenly had a terrible skin infection. We sadly made the decision to let her go, seeing how much she had deteriorated. 

The vet bill was an added expense, of course, but worth it to know her final moments were peaceful. We certainly didn’t wish her any prolonged suffering. Mr. COD took her to the vet’s office and sat with her and held her paw through the end. 

It’s a relief to know our old girl is no longer in pain, though we’ll miss her. Of our three cats, she was the most tolerant of the boys and their (sometimes overenthusiastic) affection. This was likely because she was too old and tired to run away, but still, she was sweet to them. 

Thoughts On Expensive Times In Life

Anytime a bunch of high-cost items sort of crop up all at once, it’s hard to part with the additional money. We are financing the roof and heat expenses, which is so irritating, as we really dislike being in debt. However, being on one income this year means a tighter budget, without much wiggle room. 

The positive side of all of this expensive stuff: it only adds to my motivation to ramp up my side hustles. My freelance income hasn’t grown as quickly as I’d like, but it is on the upswing. I’m finding more writing opportunities gradually and working on how to find proofreading clients as well. Knowing that every additional dollar I can bring in will help pay off the roof and heater helps light a fire in me. Freelance work is hugely about hustle, and that’s what I’m learning to do better. 

How do you handle big, sometimes unexpected expenses? 


Skipping the Montage

By on January 27, 2018

This fall, I started watching This Is Us. I know, it’s already halfway through its second season, so I’m totally behind, but that’s fine by me. (And yes, I’m aware of the hugely sad episode of last week.) Last fall, when it debuted, Mini COD was so sporadic in his bedtime routine, plus we had no way of recording episodes, so we just gave up on trying to watch it live. I knew it was up my alley when people said it was “the next Parenthood” (which I loved).  (more…)

Hike to Anglin Falls

By on January 15, 2018

Thanks to the unseasonably warm weather, the COD crew got to explore a new (to us) hiking trail last week! This one may be our favorite in our new Kentucky region, due to its length and difficulty level being just about ideal for Junior and Mini COD. Check out a few pics from our adventure here!

Junior COD ready to tackle the trail in shorts. In January.

Explorers!

Feelin’ small…

Partially frozen streams

The COD boys…a handsome bunch!

Anglin Falls–can’t wait to see it in every season! The sheet of ice on the left side fell a few minutes after we had turned back. We heard the crack, turned around, and saw that section was missing. Bummer that we didn’t get to see it a bit closer!

Mini COD attempting to ascend a rather large boulder, while Junior COD explains why he can climb wherever he wants. 

A lake nearby; since the munchkins fell asleep in the car afterward, we drove around a bit.

What a great afternoon to enjoy sixty-degree weather with exercise and fresh air! I realize that much of the country has had similarly warm temps lately, but part of the reason we moved here was to enjoy more of the outdoors. So far that has been awesome. (Two days later, it was snowing and back in the teens. Oh well!)

Anglin Falls is just about a half-hour drive from us. Although parts of the drive are a bit remote and the final turn to the parking “lot” looks an awful lot like somebody’s driveway (creepy!), it’s a great spot. The trail is about one mile from the start to the base of the falls, which is a perfect distance for our little family. The boys did the entire hike themselves, even on the rocky and muddy terrain. We only needed to lift them over a few slick spots. They loved it! 

The other super-awesome part of our excursion: seeing a gigantic tree fall. This would have been really crappy had we been in the path of the tree, but fortunately, it did not reach our trail. We had been hearing cracking noises for several minutes and assumed it must have been more ice in the stream breaking. But then we heard this amazing crashing sound and turned back in time to view the tree descending to the ground. It was SO COOL! 

How have you all been enjoying (or surviving) your January so far? 


Mrs. COD’s Freelance Update

By on December 20, 2017

During my time as a SAHM, I’m pursuing a few side hustles and working to learn new skills. It’s partly an exercise in those specific skills, partly an exercise in maintaining my sanity. My freelance writing work is what I most enjoy and desire to continue for the long haul, so I want to update you all on how that journey is going. 

At times I feel as though I’m getting nowhere. Discouragement derails me constantly. Even though I’m fortunate that our family’s livelihood doesn’t depend on my earning ability in freelancing, it sure would be nice to earn something. 

I’m happy to report that I finally feel like the ball is ROLLING!  (more…)


Resetting Healthy Habits

By on December 4, 2017

Thanksgiving was over a week ago, but I thought I’d share a bit about the non-financial goal that I set after the holiday weekend. I bet I’m not the only one to overindulge on Thanksgiving or other holidays (please tell me I’m right)! So for the past week, I’ve been changing my eating habits. Less snacking, less sugar, fewer empty calories, more vegetables! 

Amazing view at the arboretum!

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Thanksgiving Festivities

By on November 24, 2017

Hey, everybody! We hope you had a fabulous Thanksgiving with family and friends! The COD crew is in Illinois for the holiday weekend, hanging out with lots of family. Junior and Mini COD are having a blast wearing out their cousins, while Mr. And Mrs. COD are enjoying conversations with relatives we haven’t seen in WAY too long. We even got into some nitty-gritty topics like the forbidden politics…and survived with positive relationships intact! 

No long post for today, just some photos of our fun times together!

Jr and Mini COD riding at Grandma’s

Allerton Park, walking through the gardens

This gem of a park is mere minutes from Mrs. COD’s childhood home.

Grandma COD and niece and nephew

Fu Dog Garden with Japanese-inspired sculptures

Mini COD with grandparents


Exploring the arboretum

Ahh… gorgeous nature!


By the way, we’re not big on Black Friday shopping in general, but with Mrs. COD’s new fair-trade business venture, we’re thinking more about shopping with a purpose. Trades of Hope is all about creating opportunities for women rather than charity. Sustainable employment empowers women in poverty to earn their own income and become self-reliant. I’m pretty proud to be a part of this organization and their purpose of strengthening women to support their families. For an example of what they’re accomplishing, check out the Trades of Hope blog and read Rosa’s story!  

If you happen to be looking for some cool fair trade gifts that serve a greater purpose than funding a big corporation, feel free to check out our current catalog, featuring a bunch of Black Friday items at 50% off. *Yes, we make a bit of money off the links, so you’ll also be helping to fund our holiday travel! 

One of the artisans we work with in Thailand

This company works with artisans in Thailand, Haiti, Peru, Bangladesh, and 12 other countries. Check out the jewelry, handbags, and other accessories here if you like. There will be new sales daily through this Monday. 

Happy day-after-Thanksgiving to you all! 


Harnessing the Power of Comparison: Guest Post at Slowly Sipping Coffee!

By on November 14, 2017

Good morning! This week, we’re honored to be guest posting at Slowly Sipping Coffee! This is one of our must-read FIRE blogs and one of the very first we found when we started our journey towards financial independence. 

Today’s post is all about harnessing the positive aspects of comparison. We all hear so much about how comparison robs you of your joy and keeps you from appreciating your life. But today I wanted to explore some of the great things comparison can do for us when changing defaults. 

Click below to read more, and be sure to follow SSC so you don’t miss a post!

 

Guest Post: “Harnessing the Power of Comparison” from Changing Our Default


Frugality Report: October

By on November 3, 2017

Here’s our monthly Frugality Report! Yeah, I haven’t done one of these since last winter… oops! Let’s get back into the swing of things and talk about ways the COD crew saved money and spent money in October. 

Frugality Flops


Car
. Well, we bought a new-to-us car this month. I’ll get into why we deemed it more of a frugal win later, but for now, it’s still more expensive than not buying one! 

Credit Card. We paid for the car with plastic. Ugh. It was stupid and lazy, to pay via credit card when the bank was just across town. We could have gotten the cash on the spot, but chose to go the other route. Oh well, at least it’s paid in full, so there’s no car payment and no interest!

Fees. Our old credit card, which neither of us use anymore, comes with a lovely fee that was due this month. I forgot all about that card (it’s a travel rewards card), and when I saw the monthly statement, it was a “D’oh!” moment for sure. Wish we’d closed that account, since we never even use it. 

FRUGAL HIGHFIVES

Food. We made some terrific meals at home this month! We only went out for one fast-food dinner and a few donuts here and there. I’m personally super happy that ’tis the season for casseroles and toasty warm soups, so I’ve been pulling out my old stand-bys. I’m also getting pretty good at my fave artisan bread recipe! So easy and can’t even compare with store-bought bread! 

Furniture. After our move to Kentucky, we debated about purchasing a new bedroom furniture set. You know, just to feel a bit more grown-up and settled. Sometimes when your home is furnished with all hand-me-downs, it can feel a little weird. We didn’t necessarily have what we would’ve picked, but what our relatives and friends were getting rid of. So we eyed and admired some matching sets online and in stores for a brief time.

However, we ended up eschewing a new bedroom set because my parents are working on downsizing. Their house contains a good deal of furniture which they had kindly offered us. Hence, we finally accepted the furniture offer since my old bedroom has a perfectly good set of items. 

When in-laws COD visited earlier in October, they brought the first of two dressers for us. I can at last put away my clothes properly, rather than in a cheapo storage cubby on the closet floor. (Big ol’ spiders gravitate towards those piles of exposed clothing, so that wasn’t an ideal situation!)

So now, we’ll keep bringing those pieces from Mrs. COD’s old room as we visit. They all match, and they belonged to my grandma, who took meticulous care of her things. Eventually, I’d love to paint and refinish the entire set, but for now, we’re happy to have saved at least a few hundred dollars by not buying new! My clothes are much happier, too. 

Car. The new vehicle was a good deal (under $7K) for us, and our previous van had been pretty close to its last legs. We’re enjoying a little bit nicer drive and the mileage is comparable to what we got in the van. We also traded in the old vehicle and used a recent gift to help cover the difference, so we still have no car payment! Getting rid of monthly payments for stuff such as vehicles and student loans has been HUGE in changing our financial trajectory. There is no way I would be able to take a three-year sabbatical from teaching to raise the kids if we were still tied to so many monthly payment obligations. 

Halloween fun for the munchkins! I will put this in the win column. I bought new costumes from Wal-Mart because I am NOT crafty. Not one bit. I know there are plenty of DIY Halloween costume ideas on Pinterest, but I just decided to know and accept myself and not even bother. 

Each costume was $15 and the boys wore them almost non-stop for the week prior to Halloween. (They are still sporting them at this very moment, in fact.) Masks were included along with the suits. I doubt I could have made costumes for less than $30 anyway, and thrift stores are so hit-or-miss, I doubted I’d find anything the boys would like in the right sizes. Going store-bought saved me a ton of headaches and lost sleep! Hats off to my friends who make their kids’ costumes year after year (looking at you, April with the Trolls outfits), but that’s just not me! Sometimes DIY isn’t worth the hassle! 

Superheroes!

*Bonus: now that we live rurally, we didn’t get any trick-or-treaters ringing our doorbell. That means no need to buy bags of candy to pass out! I figured that comes close to balancing out the cost of costumes!

How about you all? What are some of your frugal wins this past month? 


Buying a Car On Credit

By on October 19, 2017

Here, of course, is a big ol’ no-no in smart spending: buying a car on credit. Using a credit card to pay for a vehicle: travesty! Well, the CODs did just that last weekend, and lived to tell the tale. Here’s the lowdown on our car-buying shenanigans!

Bidding adieu to our minivan!

Our Old Minivan

Our minivan was with us for two years and two months. It was a purchase necessitated by the awkwardness of loading two children into teeny Pontiac Vibes. In the interest of saving our kids from impending concussions from smacking their heads into the door frames while attempting to maneuver them into carseats, we went bigger. 

I had seen the minivan ad on a friend’s Facebook page, $3500 for a ten-year-old Town and Country. That was a low enough price that we could pay in cash, no prob. It test drove great and we went for it, selling our older Vibe a few weeks later.

That van was a dream, honestly. Old and worn meant we didn’t stress over the constant damage from toddler snacks and packing it full for long road trips. Racks on top were perfect for kayaks. The DVD player inside worked (albeit without a remote) and saved us from many a tantrum en route to Grandma’s and Aunt Teresa’s houses. 

However, our lovely van was nearing a pivotal time in its life: needing more money to keep it running safely than we wanted to spend. New tires were in the plans this fall. One side mirror had been crudely taped on since a wayward kayak knocked it off over the summer. The rusted edges, which had been DIY’d by Mr. COD, were beginning to worsen and even crumble away. 

Plus, it had something weird going on where it stalled within a minute or two of every gas fill-up. You could avoid danger by turning the engine on and off briefly at the gas station, but of course, we didn’t always remember. A few weeks ago, I got a bit freaked by the stalling. Thankfully, we were only in a parking lot, not a busy road, but it scared me, providing another impetus to switch vehicles.

Therefore, the time was right to say goodbye to our van. To make the decision even easier, a family member had recently given us a monetary gift that would cover a big portion of a newer car cost. While we at first intended to save it towards a new roof this year, we chose an upgrade in car instead. 

Our New-to-us Car

Mr. COD did most of the research, browsing used vehicles online for a few weeks. We ranged between around $5-$10K in price, figuring we could pay that up front and it would still be a very reasonable purchase. We hemmed and hawed over how vital it was to have three rows of seating, or whether a minivan was best. Since two kids seems to be where we’re stopping, three rows isn’t a big priority. We really just needed a decent amount of space for everyone, and a crossover seemed a good choice.

Last Thursday, we took the boys along to test-drive a Saturn Vue. It was okay, but felt sort of cheaply made and felt a lot more cramped inside than we wanted to be. Plus, despite low mileage for its age, it had a ton of wear and tear and didn’t appear well cared-for. Its lack of roof racks and crossbars (for kayaks) sealed the deal that it was not for us. 

As we dropped the Vue back at the dealership, I noticed a Nissan Murano with $9K scrawled on the windshield. It was in the same price range and size we’d been searching for, so we took that one for a spin and it was great! The boys helped by testing the power windows and noticing the awesome sunroof (thanks, guys). Mr. COD looked up its ratings that night to be sure it was a safe option.

We didn’t need much time to think it over; by morning we were ready to go buy the new car. To sweeten the deal, Mr. COD found the Nissan listed online for $2K less than it had been at the dealer! I cleaned out the minivan and we met him at work to go to the dealership. 

Credit Card Purchase

Here’s where the credit card comes in. I know, we’d received money to put towards a vehicle, and we certainly could have gone right to the bank for the cash or a check. This is when we got impatient; we had two kids with us and just wanted to be done quickly with the transaction. I hadn’t known if one could even use credit cards to buy vehicles, but apparently, it’s possible. 

Paying by credit card entails an extra fee, and in our case, it was 3%. So for our $7K car, it cost us an extra $210 to put it on plastic. We reasoned that we’d get a third of it back in 1% card rewards, and again, we were impatient. We didn’t know how long it would take our bank to prepare a cashier’s check and dreaded the thought of driving back across town at midday. I know, I know, it’s dumb and I wish we’d just gone back to the bank. Oh well; we still got an upgraded car for a pretty good price!

ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS DO THIS WITH CREDIT CARD TRANSACTIONS:

*Don’t worry, folks, we got into that card account immediately the next day and PAID the balance IN FULL! I almost forgot to mention this most important part of using the card; oops! We NEVER would have considered paying via credit card if we hadn’t been able to pay the balance right away. 

Had we realized that another customer had come in, like, two minutes before us and would spend hours haggling over financing, we’d have definitely not used the card. For some reason, the dealership only could handle one person paying at a time? Who knows. It was a bit ridiculous. We waited for two hours to get the paperwork done (even though we’d come in ready to buy instantly). Maybe that was our punishment for paying by credit card…

Driving lessons!

Jr COD on the road!

Silver lining to all the waiting: the dealership provided these fun toys that entertained the boys during our wait. They had a blast and even forgot about lunch, ha! The other customers waiting probably didn’t love the noise, though.

Keeping them away from this brand-new car was fun…

Well, we’re enjoying our new car so far! We know it’s not an unreasonable expense for us, especially considering the added money we’d have had to spend to keep the van going. It’s easy to see how people get pulled into higher car payments than planned, though. Fortunately, we weren’t swayed by Shiny Object Syndrome and ignored the brand-new sparkling vehicles. We’d hoped to stay under $10K and were even more thrilled to get one for under $7K. 

Our new wheels…quite a bit cuter than the old van, if you ask me:)

Perspective changes if you let it. Driving a pretty beat-up old van for a couple of years adjusted my level of vehicle comfort. I didn’t love the looks of my van, it wasn’t a color I’d have chosen, but it filled our needs for awhile. And in turn, our new car won’t be perfect, but it feels pretty dang luxurious to me! It is still really spacious, and a little more my style, but that’s a bonus. I wouldn’t advise the credit card payment option, but it wasn’t the end of the world. Let’s hope our Nissan lasts us a long time (and that we find a way to hook up media devices for the kiddos on long trips). 

Have you ever made a car purchase you regretted? Or helped someone avoid a colossal car mistake? 


Eliminate Choice, Change The Habit

By on October 11, 2017

Oftentimes we find ourselves able to make real and lasting change if we eliminate choice. Stop considering it optional to work out every morning, for example. Take away the choice of getting takeout food if aiming to eat healthier and more frugally. Don’t go shopping for anything but necessities. Eliminating choice is a powerful tool in our arsenal for positive change.

I’m one of those people who can’t do things in moderation (except for alcohol; half a glass of wine is plenty). I can’t eat just one cookie or watch only one episode of Fixer Upper. Nope, gimme eight cookies and marathon sessions on Netflix. Hence, for me, it’s best to take choice out or the picture when it comes to habits I desire to change. Otherwise, I take a mile when I intended to stop at an inch.  (more…)