Sunday, July 22, 2012

July Birthday Extravaganza!

Since Eric and I have birthdays that are 4 days apart we always get to have a big, long drawn out birthday week. It's awesome! This we we got some amazing gifts from my parents to spruce up our back deck. It was much needed and very much appreciated! Thanks Mom and Dad!

Snazzy new back deck stuff!
For Eric we got a gorgeous new gas grill. We had a charcoal grill before which was great except that it took forever to get going making grilling a huge production. The result was that we never used it. This grill is so easy, we can just turn it on and we're good to go! We made our first meal on it the other night which turned out amazing but I'll blog about that later.

For me we got an amazing new patio set from World Market. We moved all our old, junky metal stuff off and cleaned things up a bit and it looks so much more organized and pleasant! I love the natural wood of the tables and chairs and they are much more sturdy than what we had before. Willow likes them too :-)

I also got some cute citronella candles to help keep the bugs away :-)

What birthday would be complete without birthday waffles and some lovely flowers? I seriously had one of the best birthdays ever, everyone went out of their way to make my day special and amazing :-)

One more shot of Willow enjoying the new patio furniture,  just because she's cute. 
We can't wait to entertain on our new and improved back deck! it is seriously so lovely now! If only it would get a little less buggy and hot it would be perfect :-)

Getting our Financial House in order

We have been doing quite a lot of thinking about, strategizing and rearranging how we handle our finances over the past few months. It all started with Eric's discovery of a financial blog that really clicked for him called Mr. Money Mustache. The blog is all about achieving financial independence and retiring early. By retiring I don't really mean staying at home and doing nothing, it's more about being able to do something you enjoy, work from home and work on a part time basis. This would be the ultimate goal for both Eric and I, especially now that we have a kid on the way. It's extremely important that at least one of us is at home full time because we plan to home school but having both parents at home would be ideal.

Of course if both us stay home we need to have some money to live on so that's where the Mr. Money Mustache strategy comes in. It appeals to me because instead of sticking to a budget (which makes me feel deprived) it's just about developing new habits. Here are the steps we are taking to try to save some major money and retire early.

1. Paying attention to where our money goes. This is probably a common sense thing that everyone should be doing but that I haven't really started being hard core about until lately. Eric and I sat down together, went through our account and saw exactly what we were spending our money on. This showed us where we could easily cut back. Luckily Eric and I are both naturally thrifty so we were encouraged by how much we were already saving without even trying, there were obviously areas we could improve on though.

2. Reevaluating the way we eat. This is huge for us. When we looked at where our money went food was by far our biggest spending category. Groceries were actually number one and eating out was probably number two. We've instigated a lot of changes in this area of our lives and are seeing huge results already. Eric has been eating a low carb diet on and off for a few years now. Spending all that money on meat was the number one reason that we were losing so much money to the grocery store. I have been wanted to cut back my meat intake for a while now anyway because of ethical reasons and Eric agreed to try alternative dieting methods such as portion control to maintain his health. I'm pretty happy about this change, I get to eat beans and corn again! We are still trying to limit our use of refined white flour and things like that. However cutting back on meat and using things like beans and cheese as alternate sources of protein make it so much easier to buy in bulk and save huge amounts of money. We still have meat probably two or three times a week so we haven't cut it out completely, but just cutting way back has made a gigantic difference in our spending. Eric has also stopped eating out for lunches and will take leftovers or take advantage of free snacks provided by his workplace during the week. We still go out to dinner for the occasional treat but our day to day way of eating has changed and we are both really happy with it.

3. No more big banks. We finally ditched our Wells Fargo accounts this weekend and switched everything over to ING. We had already opened a savings account with ING and when Wells Fargo started charging crazy, random fees for things we decided it was time to make a permanent switch. It took a while to get everything changed over because we had so many things automatically coming out of the Wells Fargo account but it was so worth it. Not only are we getting way better interest rates but we can do all our banking electronically which we love. If electronic banking isn't your thing you can always use a credit union which are also way better than the large banks, there is no way I'm jumping through all those hoops to avoid paying fees just to have a checking account, it's nuts!

4. Rewards credit cards. I am a huge fan of rewards credit cards. As long as it is money you are going to be spending anyway you might as well be getting something back for it right? When I first started using credit cards I wasn't sure I could keep track of everything so I would just use it for gas. That way it was easy to manage and I knew I could pay it off each month. Now that I'm more confident with credit card use I put everything on a rewards card and pay the whole balance off every month. Obviously it's important not to carry a balance on credit cards but as long as you can pay it off each month you might as well take advantage of those rewards. We love our Chase Freedom card because you get 1% back on all your purchases plus you get 5% back on certain categories that change every three months. This quarter it is gas and restaurants so we are wracking up rewards like crazy!

5. Paying down the mortgage. We are planning to pay down our mortgage as soon as possible to avoid paying interest on our loan. Once we get that paid off we will be 100% debt free and our cost of living will be minimal. We live in unincorporated Cobb County so our taxes are very low and once we don't have that monthly mortgage payment we will be saving some serious cash each month. We already had a 15 year mortgage which much shorter than what most people have but we have also probably paid about $20,000 extra on the mortgage in the past year. If we continue at this rate we will have it paid off in no time and can put that money to better use.

6. Buying used. This one is really for me since I do most of the shopping in our family. It's a little hard for me because sometimes I want nice, new things. However I am learning to love consignment and thrift stores and it's been pretty amazing some of the great finds you can score if you take the time to look. It's worked out especially well for baby shopping. Consignment stores are full of brand new and practically brand new (seriously, some of them still have the tags on them) designer baby clothes for super cheap! Sure it takes more time to dig through everything and find the really good deals, but if you think of it as a game it's kind of fun.

7. Learning to love what we have. This one is hard for me too. It's so much a part of our culture to want the next, great thing. we are trying to appreciate the great things we have and take pleasure in the beauty of our home without craving more stuff.

So this is where we are starting. So far it has been fairly painless and the results we are seeing are big! It's certainly satisfying watch our money grow but we don't want to be crazy strict about it either. It's all about balance (as with everything in life). It will be interesting to see how having baby Echo join our family will affect our finances and whether or not we can keep it up. Wish us luck!

Monday, July 16, 2012

Recipes- Odds and Ends

I've made up a few recipes lately and I wanted to record them someplace before I forget them. What better place than here on my blog? I can always find them when I need them. So this post is really just for me, here are two things I've made and enjoyed lately.

I'm trying to learn how to make more of my own things, homemade tortillas, homemade salsa, homemade bread and homemade mayonaise. This salsa recipe was modified from one that I found online, I just added in a little bit of all the ingredients I had on hand. It turned out totally delicious and I will definitely make it again!

Homemade Restaurant Style Salsa

Juice of one lime
1 28oz can diced tomatoes
3 cloves garlic, peeled
1 small onion, peeled and chunked
1 handful cilantro
1/4 cup napolitos (optional)
1 fresh cayenne pepper
1/2 tsp adobo seasoning
1 tsp cumin

This one is easy, I just combined all the ingredients in a large bowl and blended it with my emersion blender until it was smooth. I stored mine in tupperware in the fridge for a about a week, it tasted yummy and fresh!

This next recipe came from a desire to use some leftover stuff that was taking up space in the pantry and fridge. I also wanted something easy I could make ahead and take to work for lunch the next day. I think it turned out quite tasty and I got use up the rest of my homemade mayo too :-)

Tuna Pasta Salad

2 cups cooked pasta (your choice what kind)
2 tablespoons mayonaise
2 tablespoons greek yogurt
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 cup peas, fresh or frozen (thawed)
1/2 large onion, diced
1 hard boiled egg, chopped
1 can tuna
salt and pepper to taste

Another super easy recipe, I drained the canned tuna and then combined all the ingredients in a large bowl. I then mixed them together and sampled some right away (to make sure I got the salt and pepper ratios right). This is also great leftover and perfect for a light lunch.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Let There Be Light!

Another project that Eric tackled while I was away was installing not one, not two but three new light fixtures around the house! There have been quite a few light fixtures that I've been planning to replace for a while but as usual I never got around to it. I did quite a lot of online research to find the fixtures I wanted for the right price and ended up getting all three from Ikea. We are seriously so lucky to have an Ikea in the area. It's pretty much the best source for cheap, well designed household goods. When comparing prices on light fixtures nothing else even came close in terms of value and aesthetics.

The first replacement (and biggest improvement if I do say so myself) is in the kitchen, here is what the fixture used to look like,

And here is the new fixture! Oooh!! Track Lighting!!!

This has really worked out soooo much better for our kitchen. We had a real problem before with getting enough light to all our work areas and this has really solved it. We now position each individual light so that is goes right where we need it to be.

For example, this prep area used to be super dark. Not anymore!
The next light fixture Eric replaced was the one in the hallway, before it was just a bare bulb hanging out there,

The updated fixture isn't crazy exciting or glamorous but it certainly looks more finished and it's a huge improvement over what was there before. Also, it only cost about $5!

The new fixture, a little hard to see here but trust me it looks good. 

You can see it a little better here. 
Last but not least He replaced the light in Baby Echo's room. It was a ceiling fan with all the blades broken off of it, not very functional or pretty. We picked out something a little more whimsical for this room since it will be for the kiddo :-)

The light turned off so you can see the pretty paper shade

And the light turned on so you can see the nice diffuse light it provides. It makes the room much more cheery :-)
So those are all the big improvements that were made while I was away on vacation. Eric can be so handy when he gets in the zone. It's really exciting to make some progress on the house again. Maybe after this baby gets here I will have some time and energy to actually help out on a few house projects. That's probably just wishful thinking though since I'm pretty sure that after you have kids you will never get a good night's sleep again. Oh well, we have all the time in the world to finish our house projects :-)

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Kitchen Remodel Update

Ever since we found out I was pregnant renovations on the house have pretty much come to a screeching halt. What with shopping for baby stuff and spending all our spare time thinking about, researching and talking about our new addition we haven't had much time to clean the house much less take on any major projects. Combine that with the fact that we are trying to change our lifestyle a bit to save some serious money (I'll blog about that later) and pretty much none of our house goals have been a priority.  

Last week however, something magical happened. I was away for about 6 days visiting my brother in DC with my parents. Eric didn't get to go because he couldn't take the time off from work poor guy :-( When I go away on trips without him Eric tends to get really bored and the result is that he got some major stuff accomplished around the house! The improvement I was most excited about was replacing the kitchen counter to the left of the sink.

This is a picture from before, right after we put in the new sink and replaced the counter to the right of the sink, notice the grand canyon to the left of the sink. It was an abyss in which we kept loosing dishtowels and utensils but we kept putting off replacing it because it was a big job and we were scared ;-)

Here are some pictures of what it looked like when I got home.

Tadaa! the countertop is tiled and edged with wood, sooo pretty!

Eric did a beautiful job on the wood edging, it looks so professional!

The tile is ceramic so it's easy to clean but has that slate look that we love so much. It's great to have this right by the stove so we can set hot pans and things on it. 

No more gap between the sink and the counter! By the way we are totally in love with this sink/faucet combo, we would recommend it to anyone.
 We still have to figure out what to do with the backsplash which is making everything look a little unfinished right now. Still, having that section of counter finished off is a huge improvement! We have one more tiny section of counter to the left of the stove that we need to replace and then we will be done with counters, yay! Still lots I want to do in the kitchen but it's nice to make some progress. I'm super grateful to Eric for getting so much done while I was away :-)