Friday, February 25, 2011

Young & Broke

I have a (younger) acquaintance who is in the will-do-anything*-for-money stage. Join this committee? Is it paid--heck yes. Work overtime? Absolutely. And so on. Thing is, it seems like it goes a little far at times--pretend I did more work than is reasonable and expect to get paid for it? Yep.

I was commenting on this to a mutual acquaintance, musing on why you would try to pull that (I don't think it's something they would get fired for, but it seems clearly dishonest. Enough so that you'd be likely to get called out for it.) She pointed out that we were all that young once. We didn't make any money before.


I mean, I make a decent wage, but you don't often hear of a teacher-millionaire. I make sure to spend my money wisely (and never more than I have) and I was lucky enough to graduate--twice--without significant loans.

I assume at least one of these things is not the truth for this acquaintance. And I'm sorry for that. Clearly the pressure he feels for income compels him to work ten hour days 2-3 days a week. It really makes me proud of my decisions that give me the freedom to turn things down. Extra money is nice, but because I don't have that pressure of need, I can consider what I really want. Time or money? It's good to be able to choose time.

And, as kind of a post-script, after two recent bills and a talk with a friend, I realize I've completely messed up my property taxes (I honestly thought I HAD a homeowners exemption. I don't.) And paying $300 extra each month? Not fun. And an extra $1,320 to make up the difference? Ugh. But I can. And I will. (And she says when I fix my mistake I get the extra money back, which makes me feel much, much better).
*Ok, not anything-anything, but anything at work.

Sunday, February 20, 2011


I need help.

Or I guess more specifically, my living room needs help. I have a perfectly nice living room. Sure, the paint is a little dark. But the furniture is all pretty nice (even if I didn't pick most of it). It's just...kind of boring. And it feels like grandpa's study.
(Ironic, as my grandpa's study is actually filled with light colored furniture. But you know what I mean.)

It's a lovely rug, and my grandma gave it to me. The couch I don't love, but it's a nice couch, in good condition and I already have it. It seems silly to replace things I already have. I want to buy a leather chair eventually, but this room will still look...stuffy.

But a couple of weeks ago N came over for dinner and girl time. I was saying I really wished my place looked a little more...updated, but didn't want to get rid of the rug or replace the couch. And she (brilliantly) suggested two fixes:
  • new coffee table 
  • new table lamp
Genius. Yeah, the couch will still be plaidy. But hopefully with the walls painted a lighter gray, and a new table and lamp, the room will look lighter and a little more modern.

So this afternoon, I set out hunting. And I found one I like.
Pier 1
The shade is fine, if maybe a bit more blingy than I'd like. But I really like the base. It isn't gold or silver, its kind of champagne. And the finish and shape I think make it traditional enough to fit in with the rest of my stuff. Its an inch or two taller than the one I currently have and I think would be enough of a presence on the big table.
The big table on the left. With the lamp my dad handed down on it.
And the coffee table. I can't believe I never thought of that--N is totally right. It's a really traditional shape, as you can see in the first picture. I also think less wood would help. I'd love to get a glass and metal coffee table, but I'm worried it wouldn't quite "go" with the rest of my stuff.

I do like my current oval though, so in my head I will get an oval table in glass and metal. Except I can't find one. I like this one:

Pottery Barn
But its a) not oval and b) maybe too...rustic to go with everything else.

The best oval bet I could find is this one:

Amazon--but I found it other places for cheaper
I think I like it, although I did like the idea of metal. I want something simple and NOT-curvy though, and instead a lot of the stuff I'm finding has curlicues and swirls and such. Exactly what I'm trying to avoid. They're both the same price (for me) so that doesn't help.

What do you of them? Either? Neither? What about that lamp? I have really bad taste--please help!

(Oh, and what about these pillows for the couch? They're also a champagne color.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

My Week in Review

I've had a crazy, full-of-misadventures week at School.

If you don't know, I teach math. It's technically algebra, but my kids generally test at or below the 5th grade level. Not the brightest bulbs on the collective chandelier, but many of them are quite nice. Some of them, however, are chronic bad decision makers, have some "issues" etc.

So, highlights from my week:

  • Two kids who cut my class by walking out of the building after 2nd period were shocked they got caught. They figured it would be untraceable, because no one was looking at the cameras right then.
  • Two girls got suspended (during FIRST PERIOD) because one of them brought tequila to school in a water bottle and they got trashed in the bathroom. My co-teacher says, "I thought it was vodka?" and the assistant principal replies, "We're Mexican. We don't drink vodka."
  • When I said I couldn't go to the basketball game because I was going to visit a friend who recently had a baby, a student suggested I "get pregnant so you can tell us how it feels." (When I told my friend, she said, "Bad. Tell her it feels bad. And uncomfortable." Pretty sure its the kind of thing you do for the baby, not to see how it feels.
  • Our resident drug dealer (who impressively managed to get expelled from two other schools by November of his freshman year) carved his tag into a desk. He got arrested and 10 days suspension. Possibly this will convince his mom that the problem is not everyone else. But unlikely.
  • The vending machine guys were here filling up the machine in the teachers lounge when I went to make copies. I asked if they had purple skittles (my favorite) but they didn't. He asked me if there was anything else I wanted, and I was like, "Oh, no, that's ok" and started to leave. But they called me back over and said, "No, here, take something. How about this? The new caramel Milky Way? Have you tried it?" and handed it to me. And then they said "Take another one. What else do you like? A Snickers? Reeses?" And as I'm looking at their bin, still a little confused, they found Starburst. "It's like Skittles! You like those?" So they gave me three. And a bag of chips. 9 (I think) snacks later, I walked out. I think they think I'm cute.

Kids. What's the funniest thing that happened in your week?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Dinner again?!?

So, when we last left off, I was actually managing to get dinner together, but it still confused me. Narrowing down what we were trying to do (come up with plan, make it healthy and on sale if possible) made it a lot easier.

On Sundays during lunch, we would look at the sales fliers, clip some coupons and then talk about what we wanted to eat. I pass the flier over to Mark, he looks at it, says "Oh, ____ is on sale, what about _____?" (For some reason, only I get ridiculously stressed out/confused over meals).

Once we plan the weeks dinners (throwing in a few ideas for lunch and breakfast for extra credit on occasion), I make a grocery list. One of the things we had to tweak was when to plan for...I prefer to grocery shop during the week (on my way home from work--or at least I did when I was at the Old School). So I have to promise to shop on Monday, when I already work late because the Recycling Club meeting is that day. Ugh. So we are trying Wednesday to Wednesday with moderate success.

I think the big thing that has really helped us is making a shared calendar in Google for meals (I know. This whole thing is ridiculous, and it feels even more absurd writing it out. It's nice of Mark to humor me, no?). We spent maybe 20 minutes going through and putting meals on Mondays, Thursdays and Saturdays (over planning doesn't go well--we don't know what will come up, and then we shop for--and waste---food for meals we don't end up eating). We filled in the whole month either with favorites we already know or a quick perusal of magazine recipes I'd clipped (I love cooking magazines). Now we can just check in and say, "Still good with x, y and z?" and change one if we want.

It's also finally gotten us to try some of the things we thought sounded good, but never do because we always revert to something we already know, like the Scallop Risotto we made for Valentines Day.

Hopefully this will keep for working for us me. Mark was volunteering at church on Sunday, and I was supposed to figure out dinner. He told me to make whatever. And I worked myself up and could not figure out what to make. I spent twenty minutes walking from my computer in the living room into the kitchen to look in the fridge, then pull my recipe file, then look stuff up on the computer. I almost called Mark. And then I reminded myself it was just dinner.

How do you get dinner on the table? Do you find it to be way harder than you thought it would be?

Monday, February 14, 2011


Happy Valentines Day!

I'm babysitting a frog right now. It's all good though. He's just sitting in his seat (he did fail a test last period though).

Not this actual frog. Bigger.
 Anyhow, the kids have gone all out for Valentines Day. I heard on the radio that no one gets more valentines than teachers, but I'm sure that refers to elementary teachers, since I've only gotten one thing. However. The boy who got the frog above got his girlfriend a white teddy bear. It's almost as big as she is (she's tiny, but still). Tons of kids have bouquets etc. And I passed no less than seven people selling Valentines stuff once I got off the highway. On 51st, there are at least 3 pretty major set-ups by the K-Mart, with people setting up 2-5 folding tables with all kinds of different stuff.

I was marvelling at all the Stuff with another teacher, and we wondered what they do with it all. I got a super big teddy bear once, and it was really tough to figure out where the heck to put it. Not to mention the amount of money they must have spent on all that stuff.

I know that probably makes me kind of...Grinchy (?...not cupid-y? something) but I don't see the point. I had brunch with the girls yesterday, who asked me what I was getting Mark.

[Surprise. Raised eyebrows.] "...oh. What is he getting you?"
"Nothing. I assume at least."

These girlfriends are both single, so I'm sure they find it really disappointing, but I have someone who COULD give me stuff on Valentines day...which doesn't mean he actually NEEDS to. Especially if he's getting me something just for the sake of getting it for me. Silliness.

What's your take on Valentines gifts?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Tax time again

So I filed my taxes back in January (although they won't be processed til sometime after tomorrow, because of changes in tax law, apparently). But I also got a pretty big good, since that means I'm paying too much and not making interest on it.

Obviously, the magic formula is to withhold exactly the right amount. I wouldn't want to owe a whole bunch at the end of the year either, even if I could easily cover the difference. So I did a little research, which basically said to consult the IRS withholding calculator (well duh) and then complete a submit a new tax form. I'm actually able to change my tax form online, so I logged into that system as well.

You're supposed to have your most recent pay stub, as well as last years taxes, so I grabbed my paystub and pulled up a pdf of the taxes. I got through the first two pages quickly (because the first one is easy and the second one is about kids I don't have), and then...I stopped knowing the answers.

Enter your total 2011 contribution to a tax-deferred retirement plan, FSA or HSA. I know what those are. I know I have an FSA, and I'm fairly sure I have a tax-deferred retirement plan as well (is that a TSA? I know I have that...) But if I do have that tax plan, I don't what the contributions are, and neither number is on my last tax return. The last item on retirement link identified my Tax-Sheltered Annuity, and I'm hoping thats my 403(b) deferred savings I see on my paycheck, at $50 per check ($1200/year?), and my FSA is $15.39 each pay period, which I'll assume means $360 per year. Both of these things make me nervous, because some deductions are taken monthly, but neither amount is huge (especially the confusing FSA much did I put?), so I don't think I'd be off by too much. I'm also not sure if I deduct all of those amounts out of my summer paychecks. (Teaching paychecks work funny, so thats not unlikely). Anyhow, I ballparked that one at $1500 and moved on.

At this point, I'm going: note to self, next time don't say you have two jobs when one of them barely counts and you already know it isn't the problem. (I have $1000 of income. Please.) (Also then it gets mad because I stopped entering the numbers for that job and I had to go back and fix it.)

Enter an estimate of your 2011 adjustments to income, including alimony paid, deductible IRA contributions, and education loan interest: was my next stumbling block. Mostly because I'm not sure what that means either. I don't have the examples, but do they mean are you getting a raise? Because I am. One in March and another in August.

I left it blank. Because obviously I have no clue what I'm doing. Then I moved on to the next page, all about itemized deductions. (At this point I actually walked away from the computer to procrastinate for awhile, because I was confused). When I returned, I determined that those words looked familiar and pretty much copied all the amounts off of my last tax return. Hopefully they're still the same. I already know I want to increase my charitable giving, so I did change that.

My results came back (I was nervous for that last question, since I was pretty much out of answers and worried there would be a whole 'nother page of things I don't know). In case you care, I should have 4 exemptions, and I only had 1. This should give me a refund of $675, which is fine with me, particularly since I probably answered some questions wrong.

I just finished it up by updating my W4 online (poorly formatted...I'm pretty sure I did it right, but all the legal stuff always makes me nervous, and I worry I'm going to accidentally say I don't owe taxes or something. When really I just couldn't figure out which button to push.)

Looking at last years taxes, I overpaid by about $200/month, so that hopefully means I'll be seeing an extra $100 each paycheck. Nice!

Any questions? (Who am I kidding...I would not be very helpful. But at least now I know where to go to make an attempt at fixing it!)

Friday, February 4, 2011

Dinner's Getting There

Last summer, we started trying to work out everything we wanted dinner to be:
  • healthy
  • easy
  • delicious
  • not too expensive
  • something we both like
It turned out to be harder than anticipated. Part of the problem was that it's generally a bad idea to try and do five things at once. Particularly when you're generally a big dinner-fail. And we were also trying to plan lunch and breakfast.

My sister plans her meals by the week, and tried to help me as well. On our 17 hour drive from Tahoe to Colorado over the summer, she helped make a list of different meal options we could try. This was pretty good, but I like to use coupons too, and so I wanted to find stuff that was on sale, and also I wanted to plan in advance, and when should we be going to the grocery store and how many meals do we shop for and and and and. (I know. I gave myself a headache too. And probably Mark.)

So. We talked over what to do (Mark was ridiculously patient with this part. I was frankly pretty ridiculous.) We decided to have only two goals for right now:
Plan the meals in advance so we know what we're having before 6 pm.
Buy stuff that's on sale.

To do that, we said we'd look at the sale flyers to get ideas, and try to plan meals around those things. And if we couldn't? Then, whatever, we'd just pick a recipe and buy the stuff full price. More important to get the eating on track than save money. And it worked! It totally helped us focus our thinking.

I said, hey tomatoes are on sale, Mark said, how about Caprese salad? And then, how about pizza? And that was pretty much it. Except I still spend way too much money (relatively speaking) and am buying food with no use in my mind, which of course means a good bit of it goes to waste. But at least this time the actual planning went pretty simply. And I don't think I bought quite as much too much food as last time. Part of our problem is that our plans end up changing throughout the week (not surprising considering our social circles) so we don't know what exactly to plan for. I expect that to be an easy, if eventual, fix though.

The problem with this week is a) I spent a fair amount (although some was on stock up food that I'm certain will be used, like cheese, butter and cream cheese). And I also have a good bit of perishable food still hanging out in my fridge. Darn.

But we're definitely getting the hang of it!

Snow Days!

Yesterday and today were my second and third snow days EVER (I've lived in Chicago my whole life...pretty sure I got gypped). It's pretty awesome, really. [Which explains why I wrote a post and then scheduled it for five minutes after the last one. Not working makes me forget the date. Ooops.]

When we woke up, the dining room windows were frosty.
And the street was covered in snow.
It started up snowing again for a few hours in the morning. I had some crazy views from my window--it was so quiet, anything I heard anything, I jumped up. And for good reason. Once it was a snowmobiler headed down the middle of the street. And then...I heard a loud noise. Plows? Digging us out?

Kinda. They cleared my street with a FRONT LOADER. It was pretty awesome. HE was pretty awesome. We headed outside after he had passed to check out my car. I was lucky enough to get an end spot (they're way easier to get out of; you don't have to worry about hitting anyone when you gun it to peel out of your spot). But that only does so much against that much snow. I forgot to get a picture before we started, but you can get the idea with the pictures above, and this one, showing my street after it Plowed? Better-ish?

My car is behind us, but its all the same. I was on the left side of the street on the next block. We grabbed a shovel and got to it. I actually was picking up large snow-boulders and putting them off to the side (Side note: I HATE it when people push the snow into the street--we all need to drive there! Stop being lazy and move it to the edge!) And then. Then! Guess who came back?! The best construction operator ever! He front loaded all my snow away! See!

Mark's pretending he moved alllll that snow by himself.
All that behind Mark. He just scooped it up and shoved it out of the way. So I can totally get my car out now, which is great. I'm still scared to do it though...I'm worried about where to park it when I get home. I'm getting a ride with a co-worker (who has a garage) tomorrow. I'm planning on taking the bus down to her place, a mile away. She keeps texting to tell me to just drive (rather have Mark drive) and my spot won't be gone that early. Still makes me nervous though. And snow and parallel parking are both things Mark is unfamiliar with. Making him mix the two at 6:30am seems a little unfair. We'll see what the buses look like.

After we wrapped up Mission: Car Liberation, we headed out for a walk. We marveled at the huge mountains of snow that was getting piled up on every corner.
Notice the stop sign. That's A LOT of snow.
 The front loader hadn't gotten to the next block over yet.
The snow was so crazy deep. It amazes me. I made Mark take pictures of me waist deep in snow, but I won't bore you with those. But! I did take the opportunity to make a snow angel. In the middle of the street. Fun!
I've got on boots, snowpants, hats, the whole 9 yards. It's like I'm 12.

And then we went back inside. I was actually quite productive. I took down the old Spacemaker cd/radio in my kitchen, went through and reorganized all my files and got some nice leisure reading in. Today we made bread, and I cleaned out the front hall closet and some other random places. I feel so productive! Its like I got a bonus weekend in the middle of the week. Now I go back to work for one more day, and then there's ANOTHER weekend. Magical!

Did you get a snow day?

Oh, and all these pictures are by Mark. All the pictures are always by Mark. I don't have a camera and I'd be really bad at using it if I did. He's going to make me take some of my own one of these days, but it won't be pretty.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Credit Reporting had an alert that I hadn't updated my credit score recently. They said it would help them find the best offers for me.

Sure, whatever.

Former credit rating: Excellent. Current credit rating: Still excellent.

But it's a good idea to check on your credit report every once in a while to make sure everything looks the way you think it should. So I went over the (or rather, google sent me there. I know there are fakes that pretend to be the government site but aren't, I think thats the real one). There are three bureaus and you get one free report per year from each. Theoretically, this means you should alternate and pull one per year from each of them on a rotating basis every four months. Ha. I'd like to pretend I'm that dedicated, but I'm just not.

Just in case though, I only pulled one (TransUnion. It was first on the list). And I saved it with the date, so I would know when I got it.

It wasn't too exciting, although there were a few interesting things. I have several accounts I don't quite recognize. Some were open/active for a short time only, but others are long term. I assume some of them are ones my mom put me on as an authorized signer (they've showed up in the past). My mom also had good credit, but it freaks me out a little. I don't actually have anything to do with those accounts. I made very few of the charges and wasn't responsible for paying them, and it's unnerving to think that (had she made mistakes) it would have affected my credit too.

I'm mad at Citibank all over again looking at my report. It should be my longest account, but it's been switched over multiple times. The first two were security breaches, but the last made me really angry (and I've started using my Discover card primarily, with the Citibank Mastercard only when someone doesn't take Discover). I had a pretty good card, the Platinum Plus Select or something. Then this summer, this all happened, and in this order:
1. I got a letter cheerily telling me my type of card was being closed out, but I would be enrolled in a new type, that would have "many benefits". Not, mind you, better benefits, or more benefits. Just "many". And of course, worse. Basically, my rewards was (presumably) too costly, so they stopped having it at all. Annoying. This would happen "later."
2. I logged into Mint to check my account balances and notice I have dozens (!?!) of balance transfers. Each transaction made on my citibank card now shows up three times: on my account that I have a card for, then a balance transfer, then on the new card.
3. I don't HAVE a new card, so I log in to citicard to determine that I now have two accounts. Thanks for letting me know.
4. I call citibank to ask what the heck is going on.
5. They tell me its no big deal, the new card will be here any day now, and the balance transfers are no big deal. (They are...its really confusing to keep track of every transaction three times.)
6. Almost two months later the new card comes.
7. I continue to have issues where some stuff switched over automatically and others didn't (so my AT&T cell phone somehow knows my cc number changed and charges correctly; my home phone, also AT&T, missed the memo and wanted me to fill out forms).

Plus, now it looks like I don't have any accounts open over 4 years, which is obnoxious.

The other interesting thing was the account review inquiries. These aren't available for anyone else to see, but tell me who has asked to view my credit. There were four of these, and two were a surprise. Bank of America pulled my credit in the fall (but that was probably to send me a credit card offer or something). And my Bank of America mortgage pulled my credit in January. Interesting. Just making sure I'm still doing ok? Checking in? I didn't know they did that. Everything's fine, and it doesn't matter, but...who knew.

Have you pulled your credit report recently? (And if you haven't, go do it literally took three minutes!)

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Snow Day!

Looks like six more weeks of winter, huh? I bet the groundhog can't even get out from underground, much less find his shadow in all this blinding white.

Yesterday it took me over two hours to get home from work. I usually take Lake Shore Drive, since traffic isn't as bad as on the Kennedy, but yesterday I decided that it said both were terrible and the Kennedy sounded safer (no lake front winds). Turns out I'm smart. People were stranded on the drive (including people who got on right around when I got home, near that exit), for over nine hours. Cars, buses full of people, everything. Crazy. The Chicago Tribune says some people abandoned their cars.

The snow on the cars is really light because it all blew off in the high winds, but the drifts around them are crazy. I have a co-worker a mile away (with a garage) and I think it'll be easier to get to her place than try to set my car free.

The district took forever to decide to call a snow day for today, but at 3:30 yesterday they finally did. Hooray! This is my second snow day in my life (the first was actually a "dangerous cold" day, but whatever). The high school I attended has cancelled classes only five times (the fifth is today!) in over 140 years.

Five minutes ago, I heard a noise outside. Thinking it might be a plow, I ran over to the window. Instead, a SNOWMOBILE came down my city street. That's how you know things are crazy!

I'm taking my free day to clean up my filing system, take out the spacemaker radio in the kitchen (too much space) and do nothing. Hooray! Happy snow day!