Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Budgeting for Financial Security: Part 2

This is something I'm pretty proud of and wanted to share. It's also incredibly personal, and I'm more than a little nervous sharing, but maybe it will encourage or inspire someone having their own financial struggles. This started out as a ridiculously long post, so I ended up splitting it into a series. Be sure to check out Part 1  and Part 3!

budgeting for financial security

Back to the debt snowball. Last time, I told you we had paid off our credit card debt. Our car loan then became our smallest debt, so that's what we went after next. We were able to DOUBLE our monthly payment, and soon we decided to sell it and pay the whole thing off. And that's what we did. So now we were left with just our student loans and our mortgage. 

Along the way, we hit a few bumps. Our remaining vehicle (which is paid off AND gets incredible gas mileage) needed more than a few repairs. We were able to pay cash and move on with our lives. Not that it didn't hurt handing over that much money for something not fun and not planned for, but it did feel good that we could pay for it outright and without creating more debt for ourselves. 

And now, most recently, after getting starting on preparing our taxes, we realized we'd set aside a little more than we would need. My husband (as you may or may not remember or even know) has his own business, and so he has an account set up especially for saving money to pay taxes at the end of the fiscal year. We made the decision to take that extra money and wipe-out his student loan debt this month. Now, I'm excited I get to start watching my own student loan debt start dropping dramatically since that's the next in line for us to work on.

live like no one else - budget now for financial security later
Our spending is prioritized now. We don't get to do all the fun things that we'd like to do and that some of our friends and family choose to do, but eventually we will. It is frustrating watching others take expensive vacations, buy new cars, and treat themselves to so many things I would love to indulge in but don't.

Honestly, though, the most frustrating part of this whole budgeting system has been this: thinking of all the money we wasted for so many years by not focusing on getting out of debt sooner. We're lucky that we have great renters in our house right now - they pay on time every month, take great care of the house, and the money they pay covers our mortgage. We're lucky that we have a generous family that allows us to live in this house with them while paying for nothing but groceries and our own expenses. And we're lucky that we've learned to manage our finances in a more responsible way early enough to set an example for our kids. We even plan to get Dave Ramsey's books for kids to really hit the lesson home with them.

 Do you find yourself comparing your spending habits to those around you? It's a horrible habit. And how do you teach your kids the value of money? Chores? Allowance? I'd love some tips!

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Monday, January 27, 2014

ACL Baby: Gender Reveal!

Last week, I shared some old wives tales for predicting your baby's gender.

Today, I'll share my answers:

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Pregnancy and Gender Prediction

Old wives tales. There are TONS of them out there, and not much less when it comes to predicting your baby's gender. Today I'm heading in for my first ultrasound of this pregnancy. Being that I'm also 20 weeks at this time, it will also be the gender scan. Yes, we are finding out if Baby is a boy or a girl. I thought it would be fun to play a little game here on the blog for you while in real life I'm finding out what I'm having (with 80% accuracy, right?). So, here are some "old wives tales", and I'll let you take a guess and cast your vote!

Gender Predictions according to popular "old wives tales"

I was going to post my answers for all these here, but they're all leaning in the same direction, and I decided that would be no fun. For me, at least - ha! (Does that make me "moody" or "happy"?) I will post a couple belly shots here, though. You'll have to forgive me for the exceptionally poor quality on these... and the dirty mirrors.

A Cloth Life: belly update 18 weeks
A Cloth Life: belly update 19 weeks
A Cloth Life: belly update 20 weeks

So what's your guess?


I think Baby is...
  
pollcode.com free polls 

I have my own feeling on what the answer is, and I'm excited to see if I'm right! How good were you at predicting your own baby's gender? 

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Follow my Maternity Pinterest board for everything from maternity fashion, to staying fit while pregnant, and even nursery ideas!

Other posts you might be interested in:

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Budgeting for Financial Security: Part 1

This is something I'm pretty proud of and wanted to share. It's also incredibly personal, and I'm more than a little nervous sharing, but maybe it will encourage or inspire someone having their own financial struggles. This started out as a ridiculously long post, so I ended up splitting it into a series. Be sure to check out Part 2 and Part 3!

budgeting for financial security

Last week, my husband paid off his student loan. 

Two months ago, we sold (and thereby paid off) our car - replacing it with an older vehicle with no monthly payments. Months before that, we paid off our only credit card bill which had slowly been amassing since my husband was originally laid off more than two years ago. Like a LOT of people out there, we've been following the advice of Dave Ramsey and working on our "debt snowball." We've tried this before, and failed, but this time we're actually succeeding. So what's the difference? I don't know. I guess we were tired of living in our ignorance - and tired of the weight of our debt. We're very fortunate in that our only debt was this:
  • mortgage (covered by our renters)
  • my student loans 
  • Husband's student loans 
  • car loan 
  • 1 credit card 
All in all, not including the mortgage, it added up to less than $35,000 when we first started this time. I know there are people out there with tens of thousands of dollars more in debt, but I really do believe in this plan, benefit in no way by endorsing it, and believe this can help anyone who truly sticks with it. 

So what is a debt snowball? Essentially, you pay minimum payments on all your bills, except your smallest debt. Throw everything you can at it to get it paid off ASAP. Once that's taken care of, you add whatever was going toward that small debt to whatever you're paying monthly toward the next smallest debt, and so on. Super simple, right? So why did we fail before?

We weren't looking at the big picture. This time, we actually read Dave's book "The Total Money Makeover." He's a pretty no-nonsense guy. We created a budget, and quit hoarding our savings. That last part seems a little counter-intuitive, right? We were holding on to THOUSANDS of dollars in our savings, while also holding on to THOUSANDS of dollars of credit card debt. We had more than enough to pay off our credit card, but we didn't because we wanted the cash for "just in case." It was our emergency fund, and we were paying way too much money in interest on the credit card debt to justify it. So that was our first step - we paid off the credit card. It was such a relief, I hate that we didn't do it sooner! 

Our credit card was part of a vicious cycle. We'd put a few hundred toward it, then something would come up and we'd put a few hundred back on it. We were never getting ahead - and yet we had the means to. So now we were left with just a car loan, student loans and our mortgage. 

We were fortunate to still have a little money left in our emergency fund. Dave recommends starting with (or working towards) $1000 in the beginning. Remember, it's more important to pay off debt than to hoard your money and rack up more debt in the process. 

Before working toward paying off more debt, we really needed to work out a budget. We used the free printables available on Dave's website. Once you start accounting for where all your money is going, it really is an eye opener. We felt like we were scraping by on next to nothing, but the reality was that a lot of our money was being spent pretty frivolously. Every dollar became assigned a specific task - bills, groceries, gas, etc. It's actually pretty freeing to know exactly how much you have to spend on things. We found there was actually money in the budget to *gasp* buy clothes for the kids and even new makeup for me. These had been things I would feel guilty about getting before because I was never sure if we would need the money for something more important. Suddenly, with a budget, we were attacking our debt AND buying fun new things (within reason, of course). 

Do you use a budget? Please share some tips on how you stay on track, or get back on track. With a baby on the way, I know there will be times I'll be tempted to "cheat" and buy cute new things we don't really need!

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Monday, January 20, 2014

#MegsMiles: Running in Honor

If you're active on social media, you may have seen the hashtag #megsmiles. The movement was started in honor of Meg Menzies. She was a runner, wife, and mother of three who was hit and killed by an allegedly drunk driver last week. She was out running with her husband while their kids were at school. She wasn't even running in the dark or alone. I can't begin to imagine what her family is going through. And when things like this happen, you realize just how small the world is. Remember Emma? She did the amazing guest post here on staying fit while pregnant. It turns out Meg was Emma's cousin. She talks about her loss in this post on her new blog: Taken Too Soon. As incredible as Emma is, I can only imagine Meg was just as wonderful. The outpouring of love for her and this cause in her honor has been tremendous.

Meg's Miles has spread like wildfire across the internet. 

support #megsmiles: Meg Menzies, runner & mother of 3 hit & killed by drunk driver

This past Saturday, people all over the world ran in honor of Meg - to spread awareness of the tragedy of her death, to promote safe practices while running, and to promote awareness for those driving along side runners.

While it may be too late to log your miles for this particular event, there are still ways to support Meg's family. Proceeds from the sale of this shirt directly benefit Meg's husband and their family.
support #megsmiles: Meg Menzies, runner & mother of 3 hit & killed by drunk driver

In honor of Meg, and all the other runners who have been killed or injured on the road, please share this story. And please share tips you have for staying safe on runs. We can't avoid everything in life, but there are things we can do to be safer. 

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Friday, January 17, 2014

A Quick Announcement

So, this is nothing like the announcement I made the other day. I just wanted to let you know (in case you didn't notice the new button in the sidebar) that I have a giveaway coming up!

For those of you who cloth diaper, or are interested in trying it out - this is going to be an AWESOME giveaway hop. It's being hosted by Jenny of Cloth Diaper Revival, and a LOT of bloggers are already signed up. The giveaway runs from February 3rd through the 17th, with daily opportunities for additional entries.

Be sure to come back on the 3rd to see what I have to offer! I'm still narrowing it down... if you have a special request or recommendation, be sure to leave it in the comments below! 

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Thursday, January 16, 2014

Baby's Breakfast Sandwich: a pregnancy craving

For the most part, my cravings have been confined to ALL THE FRUIT. I may be baking things in the kitchen every other day, but the only things I really want to eat consistently has been fruit - oranges, apples, grapes. I'm honestly not a huge breakfast foods person unless I'm at a restaurant, and then I have a whole list of foods I want. I'm not sure why I've had such a big focus on breakfast lately. Through the beginning of this pregnancy, all I wanted was fruit and yogurt for breakfast. Last week... I came across this breakfast sandwich and that's all I could think of. I tried recreating it the best I could with what I already had. Let me say, it's an amazing sandwich, but a little (LOT) heavy. Every day since then, I've been working to create some kind of breakfast sandwich, and this is pretty much what I've landed on.

Of course, I can't have just a heavy breakfast sandwich - I had to add some fruit in somehow. All. Day. Long. This day in particular I added a sliced orange. mmm... I might go have another orange right now...

Monday, January 13, 2014

Big Changes

New Year, New Goals, Clean Slate, Big Changes 2014

There have been a lot of changes in our family this past year.
  • One of my aunts moved in with us, and that was a HUGE transition. I'll be honest, I still haven't made the adjustment completely. 
  • My grandma, who moved in with my family when I was a toddler, passed away. 
  • Three of my uncles also passed away - one of which is the father of my 17 and 19 year old cousins who are like my younger brother and sister. 

It was a hard year for our family. Not really the best. There were good times, but the hard times still over-shadow most of the year. So 2014 is a great time for a fresh start, and a clean slate.

It's time for something big.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

The Advantage of Simplicity: AIO cloth diapers

It's been quite a while since I posted about cloth diapers, ie. the whole reason I first started this blog. I shared with you earlier that I plan to start writing about them again, though. At least occasionally.

The Advantage of Simplicity: AIO cloth diapers
When I first started using cloth diapers, I decided to go with a less expensive option - a mix of pocket diapers and covers with inserts. I honestly didn't mind stuffing the pockets every time I did laundry. Well, for the first year or so, I didn't mind.


Little more than a year after I first started using cloth, I bought enough All In One Diapers to completely replace my whole stash. My husband's response was "Why didn't we use these in the first place?"

Monday, January 6, 2014

Apple Pancake Recipe: sort of from scratch

Over the Thanksgiving weekend, one of my amazing sister-in-laws cooked a pancake breakfast for everyone that I'm about 99.9% sure was entirely from scratch. She's an amazing cook, and I wish she'd start blogging again, but that's another story for another time.

While I'm not going to share my SIL's pancake recipe, I am going to share with you how I like to spice up my own not-entirely-from-scratch pancakes.

It's really simple. Just use your favorite pancake mix, but before adding any water I shred a full apple into my mixing bowl. Toss to coat, then add a little water (or whatever other ingredients your particular mix requires).

Don't forget to add a generous sprinkling of cinnamon. Then cook in heavy pan to a golden brown.

Sometimes I use banana instead of apple. Top it off with a little peanut butter and YUM.

I'm not a huge breakfast person. Honestly, I'm just not a morning person in general. Lately, I've really been into all kinds of breakfast foods, though. What are some of your favorite breakfasts? 

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Friday, January 3, 2014

My Big Sewing Project for Christmas

I know, Christmas is so long since past, but I just wanted to share a little something I was pretty proud of.

But first off, for those of you following along, I was just as surprised as you may be that I did not get a pair of gloves for Christmas. It was the one and only thing I actually said I wanted - and not just on this blog! I can't really complain, though. What I did get was amazing. A serger. I have had this serger on my Amazon wish list for well over a year. Now that I actually own it, I have no idea what I'm going to make with it.

I'm so excited!

As for what I'm so proud of that I wanted to share - I made my very first quilt!
toddler quilt: two toned squares w yellow flannel backing

I was so excited when I finished this project, I didn't even take any pictures - I just folded it up, wrapped it, and placed it under the tree for N. It didn't turn out exactly like I'd imagined, but it turned out way better than I saw it turning out at different phases during the project. I definitely experienced my share of discouragement putting this together!

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

New Year Goals and Cranberry Coffee Cake for Breakfast (recipe)

Last New Year, I set myself a very simple, broad goal for the year. I'm feeling pretty confident I achieved it. This year, I'm going a little more in depth. The goals I set in September are still very much alive, but here are a few more.

In addition to (or in response to) all the fitness goals I have for myself, I signed up for #RunThisYear.

Basically, you sign up and work your hardest to run 2,014 miles this year. I set my goal a little lower for personal reasons, but if I meet my goal early - the plan is to double up and reach 2014 by the end of the year. So far this year, I've logged a whole mile. And it took me almost 20 minutes. I was with my favorite trainer (G). Running with a 5 year old is an awesome workout for a couch potato. Intervals. Serious intervals. We're talking anywhere from an 8 minute mile to a SLOW walk. And random jumping jacks thrown in occasionally, just because.

It was a great workout considering I haven't run since the end of October. I'm hoping this will be my jump-start back into things, and #RunThisYear is going to be absolutely an awesome way to help keep me motivated.


A lot of people have been talking about finding a word to motivate you for the year. A word. That's tough. I finally decided that mine will be UP. I almost went with "forward," but I felt like that wasn't quite right. I don't want to just be moving away from things, or moving on from things. I want to be uplifted and uplifting. I want my productivity to go up. I want my attitude to be up (ie. positive). I want my savings account to grow. (Ha!) There's a reason people say they're "moving up in the world." Up. Higher. I'm not looking to be rich, but I am wanting to be more successful - on my own terms - in parenting, in marriage, in home & family, in crafting, in sewing, in everything including blogging. My success will not be defined by fame or riches, but by the feelings of accomplishment.

A lot of my goals right now are pretty personal, so I'll share (like last year) some of my blogging related goals. I realized, after way too long, that the things I enjoy blogging about, where I enjoy putting the focus of this blog, is on Family, Fitness, and Food. Narrowing things down instead of feeling like I should blog about everything in the world has really brought me a lot of freedom in my blogging. And now I want to put that focus into action. That's not a very tangible goal, but here is something that will help me define what that will look like for ACL:

I will attend my first blogging conference. I haven't actually registered for one yet. Heck, I haven't even narrowed down if I want to go to Blogging Elevated, Type-A Parent, or BlogHer. I'll be honest, I'm sort of leaning toward BE. Since I actually won the scholarship last year (but was unable to attend), I've kept in touch with the community, and they have been an AWESOME resource. Plus, "elevated" and "up" right?

And just to really hit things home, I'm going to share this recipe for Cranberry Coffee Cake that I made for our New Year's breakfast today. It's too good to keep to myself.

Cranberry Coffee Cake for Breakfast
adapted from Alexandra Cooks

Ingredients:

1 cup butter (softened)
zest from one orange
1-1/2 cups + 4 Tbs sugar
2 large eggs
vanilla
1 cup vanilla greek yogurt
3-1/2 cups flour
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp kosher salt
6 oz dried cranberries
2 Tbs raw sugar

Directions: 

Preheat oven to 350ºF

Cream butter, orange zest, and sugar.

Add eggs with a generous splash of vanilla, and mix well.

Add yogurt, and mix until well combined.

Stir flour, baking powder, and salt together in separate bowl. Slowly add to main bowl, mixing to combine.

Stir in dried cranberries.

Pour mixture into greased 9x13in pan, then sprinkle raw (or whatever kind you have) sugar over top. (The batter will be more like dough than cake batter.) Bake for 45 minutes. Let cool, then enjoy!

If you want, you can leave out the orange zest. I feel like it helps keep the cake a lighter breakfast-y taste without getting too sweet. It leaves me with less guilt feeding it to my kids for a meal. 


Have you made any New Year's goals for yourself? I'd love to hear about them! If you blogged about it, please share your links in the comments, too. And please let me know if you signed up for #RunThisYear with me! I'd love to have a little added support while I'm at it. Maybe tomorrow I can get out and run a full two miles. ;-P

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