Major Financial Change #2 and #3

A few months ago, I posted about the first major financial change I made – changing my medical insurance. Since then, life has changed drastically! I left my old job where I made those changes and relocated 900 miles away to work for a new organization. I wrote another posted about “Why I Decided To Quit My Job”, but this post is where I wanted to share how that major change has impacted both myself and my family positively so far.

Cost of Living

We were living in a major city, within city limits, where a 900 sq ft apartment was running us $1400 a month plus utilities. While my fiancé and I each had salaries that matched that cost of living, we ended up not having a lot left over at the end of each month once bills were paid. We moved to a much more “rural” area (and I put that in quotes because technically the nearby town is suburban, but we live 15 miles outside of that town in a rural area). We now have a an approximate 1400 sq ft house that costs us only $800/mo, plus utilities. We have not yet received our first found of utility bills, other than our gas bill, which is less than $5 for the 2 weeks we lived here….

 

Salary

I took about a $30k pay cut to come here, but I was getting paid 22% more than the national average due to the high cost of living in the city we lived in. When you take that percentage out, I took an approximate $12k pay cut, which is not as significant. My fiancé took about an equal $30k pay cut, but still has the opportunity for overtime.

 

Groceries 

Even though I do most of my shopping at Walmart, we were still paying about $500 a month for groceries. Here, we are averaging about $300 a month for the same amount of items. We are still sticking to our guns about eating out only once a month, so considering we eat at home most nights and are feeding a pre-teen who is constantly hungry, I feel $300 a month is very reasonable.

 

Peace of Mind

At the end of the day, you could make a ton of money and still be miserable. And that’s exactly the situation we were in. Together, we made close to $200k and we were exhausted, angry, and just downright miserable. Now, we make close to $100k but are SO. MUCH HAPPIER. As Zac Brown Band states, “you can’t put a dollar sign on a peace of mind, this I’ve come to know”.

 

So..I digress….

My other major financial change that has happened (which I didn’t know was going to happen) is that now I work for a non-profit who puts a TON of money into their employee health insurance. It is only costing me $480 for medical, dental, and vision insurance FOR THE YEAR!! I know! I almost fell over when I read that number too! it’s like giving myself a few thousand dollar raise! See? that initial cut is making itself up in other ways!

Sometimes taking a risk pays off!

Marinated Beef Bites

Here is an easy (and big kid approved) recipe my (step)daughter found on Life in the Lofthouse via Pinterest. We had most of the ingredients already in a pantry, which made it perfect for a weeknight dinner. It is SO easy and so delicious, it is sure to be a favorite in your house!

Ingredients:

  1. 1/2 cup soy sauce
  2. 1/3 cup olive oil
  3. 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
  4. 1 tsp minced garlic (we used garlic powder since we had it on hand)
  5. 2 tbsps. dried basil
  6. 1 tbsp. dried parsley
  7. 1 tsp black pepper
  8. 1&1/2 lbs top sirloin or flat iron steak (I subbed beef stew cubes the second time I made it and it turned out just as good!)

 

Directions:

  1. Place all ingredients except beef in a baggie. Mix well
  2. Place beef cubes in and seal shut. Shake gently to coat beef entirely
  3. Place in fridge for several hours (I popped them in around 7am and cooked them at 6pm)
  4. Cook over medium-high heat until desired temperature (I cooked for 3 minutes)

Serve & Enjoy!

 

(photo credit: Life in the Lofthouse)

Why I Decided To Quit My Job

The past 8 months proved to be one of the most personally and professionally challenging periods of my life. I had been with the same organization for 4.5 years and was offered a promotion with the catch that I had to move 3/4 of the way across the country to take it. I talked it over with my fiancé and agreed to give it a shot. We had heard wonderful things about the city we were moving to, and we were honestly looking forward to the move.

We sold most of our stuff, packed the rest, and hit the road. 3 days later we arrived at our new life, tired but excited.

Almost a week later, we realized we had made a terrible mistake. Aside from our apartment being much smaller and a lot less functional than anticipated, the school district we ended up turned out to not live up to the standards we had been told it was, They enrolled my (step)daughter into the wrong grade.

Yes, you read that correctly. THE. WRONG. GRADE.

After four long hours of her father and I insisting they were making a mistake. We ended up pulling her out of public school and enrolling her in private school (in the correct grade, mind you). So that raise we got received is now going to an additional bill. But that’s OK, education is important.

In addition to paying for private school, we were then obligated to transport her both ways. Which doesn’t work well when both parents work crazy hours. She spent A LOT of time at before and after care at school (insert more expenses here). Although she did make friends, she didn’t bond with them the way she had back East, and overall wasn’t fond of the city life (we lived at the city limit).

My fiancé ended up losing his job a month after we got there because the owner sold the company. The guy basically hired him knowing he would lay him off soon – thanks, dude. Fortunately, he is a tradesman and found another job that he enjoyed and stayed at the entire duration of our time in the city.

So now let’s talk about my job… the whole reason we moved there. I came home after three days and told my fiancé, “I think I made a mistake”. While I know no organization is perfect, after 4.5 years I was fully aware of the flaws of mine and was able to work with what I had been given. When I showed up at this new location, I was met a lack of being able to function at the very basic level. Basic level. Like ordering supplies basic level. Everything I went to do had to basically be rebuilt from scratch because the processes and procedures in place were broken. It was like reinventing the wheel each time. After a few weeks, a colleagues referred to the place as a “meatgrinder”, and I couldn’t disagree. While the boss I had there was probably the best boss I have ever had in my life, all her pros could not outweigh the cons of working there.

I was going in early and coming home late. I was miserable. And as much as we try not to take it out on our families, it happens. They were miserable. I had so much guilt for dragging them along with me and no one being happy. The guilt bothered me more than any work drama did. My relationship with my fiancé began to suffer. I started having anxiety at night about going into work the next day. I barely left my office because I didn’t want to run into anyone who would slam me with yet another issue to resolve.

For the first time in my career, I started to feel like I couldn’t do it. I started to feel like a failure. I was not capable of fixing everything from the ground up at this current point in my life. this new location did not have the infrastructure to support the changes it so desperately needed. I felt like I was drowning in my own work as I dug through the weeds to fix everything. The staff I supervised were eager to help but didn’t have the skillset to. I would spend hours training them and then hours monitoring and auditing their work. I was mentally exhausted.

As the months went on the situation got worse, both at home and at work. My (step)daughter’s grades started to slip. She became infatuated with family back home, obsessing over every little thing that would happen during their day. It got to the point that we had to ask family to stop telling her things, because it is all we would hear about. It was almost like she forgot who she was and lived through everyone else. My fiancé grew distant and mean, snapping at us for little things and actually threw a few things when his temper would flare.  I started to drink wine almost every night to numb the feeling of failure. I realized we were all heading down the wrong path, and I needed to do something soon or life as we knew it was going to fall apart.

So after months of dealing with overwhelming guilt and feelings of failure, I started to look for jobs OUTSIDE of my organization. For anyone who has ever changed jobs, you know it is time consuming and tedious. I initially only got one bite and during the interview I realized it was not going to be a good fit for me. weeks drug on without word from anyone and I started to (irrationally) fear that I would be stuck in my current situation forever. I actually had anxiety when these thoughts would creep up and I would have to literally tell myself to relax and focus on my breathing.

Up until then, I had never had so much anxiety in relation to work. It was a very uncomfortable feeling that I hope to never experience again.

Back from Hiatus

Greeting & Salutations!

It has been a hot minute since I last posted, but I am back! Life got pretty crazy there for a while, and I have made some significant life changes to improve things.

Here’s a quick snapshot of what the last few months have looked like…

  1. Decided it was time to leave my job
  2. Got sick, ended up needing surgery
  3. Got offered a job at a new company
  4. Moved out of state
  5. Bought a boat!

I promise to share these stories and more over the next few weeks. Thanks for hanging in there!

Bake Sale Item #1: Mini Cannoli Cups

My (step)daughter had a bake sale for her school and she needed to make 3 different goodies to sell. We scoured Pinterest for a bit until we came up with 3 ideas she thought would be good sellers. We found this recipe for Mini Cannoli Cups and thought “who doesn’t like a good cannoli?” These are the perfect size to satisfy that sweets craving!

Ingredients:

  • 3 refrigerated pie crusts
  • 2 tbsp. sugar
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • Flour for rolling out dough
  • 15 oz ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup confectioners sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 1/4 cup mini chocolate chips

Directions:

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees
  2. Prepare filling by combining sugar, vanilla, and ricotta in a bowl
  3. Place in bag and refrigerate until ready to use
  4. Lay out one pie crust at a time and sprinkle sugar and cinnamon all over (the original recipe called for measuring it out, I just winged it). Use a rolling pin to flatten the dough until very thing (took me a batch to realize the thinner the dough, the better)
  5. Use a cookie or biscuit cutter to measure out circles approx. 2 inches in diameter
  6. Lay out the circle of dough in a mini cupcake pan to form a pastry cup. Discard the extra that overflows the edges and gently prick the bottoms of the cup with a fork to prevent it from rising too high
  7. Bake for 8-10 minutes
  8. Let pastry cups cool completely before filling with dough
  9. Sprinkle with mini chocolate chips and confectioners sugar

 

Major financial change #1

Last week I wrote a post about how 2018 will become my year of financial stability. Today I received my first paycheck of 2018 and a major decision I made n 2017 is paying off – I changed my health benefit plan.

For me, this was a big decision. With having an insurance agent for a sister, I spent years living in the world of “what if”? What if I need major surgery? What if I develop some crazy disease? What if…? But the reality is that I rarely go to the doctor. I rarely get sick, and I definitely do not have some crazy disease. In fact, I realized I had spent thousands of dollars on “what ifs” over the course of several years when that money could have been going towards paying off major debts – like student loans.

Now, if you have a disease such as diabetes or a blood clotting disorder, it may make more financial sense to have better coverage. For me it did not. So I did my research on what options were available to me through my employer (several) and went with a lower premium/higher out of pocket cost plan. I figured for the maybe once a year I go to urgent care or the ER, what I would save in biweekly premium costs would be more than enough to cover the bill.

Shortly after making this decision, I learned I would be receiving a 2% cost of living adjustment come the new year. Now I have been with my organization for 5 years and this is, by far,  the highest cost of living increase I have ever received (my organization keeps a tight grip on the purse strings).

Well…. it paid off. I had $300 more in this paycheck than I had in my last one. That equates to an extra $7200 a year! That’s a lot of coin to put towards other/better things. I haven’t yet decided how I will spend my extra $600 month, but I’m that’s a struggle I am more than happy to have!

Crock Pot Shepherd’s Pie

My (step)daughter LOVES Shepherd’s Pie! And although a little too bland for my taste, I must admit that there is something about meat and potatoes that I can’t deny. I found this recipe over the weekend on Recipes That cROCK! and modified it to meet our needs. WARNING: it tastes better the next day when the juices have been absorbed, but still yummy the evening of. 

Ingredients:

  • 3 lbs ground beef
  •  1/4 onion chopped
  •  4 Russet potatoes boiled and mashed with a splash of milk and approx. 2 tbsp. butter
  • 2 .87oz brown gravy packet mixes
  • 1 tsp garlic powder
  • 1 tsp onion powder
  • 12 oz frozen carrots (I could only find raw and they took until the next day to soften, so highly recommend the frozen!)
  • 12 oz frozen peas (my (step)daughter requested less peas next time…)
  • 10.5 oz cream of mushroom soup

Directions

1.     Boil potatoes, add milk and butter then mash until desired texture. Set aside

2.     Spray crock pot with cooking spray

3.     Brown beef and onion in skillet over med-high. Drain and put in crock pot

4.     Add brown gravy packets, onion powder, garlic powder, carrots, peas, and cream of mushroom soup in the crockpot with the beef. Mix well

5.     Spoon mashed potatoes on top and spread evenly

6.     Cook on low 8 hours or high 4 hours

Like I said, we all thought it tasted better after sitting in its juices overnight, but it was heart & filling and perfect for a winter night!

2018: My Year of Financial Stability

To put it bluntly, 2017 was a year of financial ruin for me. I lost my first home to a short sale as the result of a messy divorce and spent several thousand dollars moving cross-country for a new opportunity. The blow of both of those life changes left a bruise that still lingers….. but 2018 WILL BE my year of financial stability. 

I made 3 major commitments during my first full weekend of 2018, and I cannot do them alone. 2 of the 3 will also take the same commitment and support of my fiancé and (step)daughter.

1.     We are now only eating out once a month. This is HUGE for us as we used to eat out once a week at $100+ a pop (from boozing during dinner). That’s over $400/mo on what?! Nothing that is leaving a long-lasting impression on me other than wider hips. My fiancé and agreed to only eat out once a week and limit our alcohol consumption during those meals (one drink v. two)

2.     The second one ties in to the first one but requires slightly more elaboration. I have spent the last few years sharpening my leftover remake skills, because honestly, who wants to eat the same thing 4 nights in a row? I have vowed to not only make more meals at home, but develop more variety in my meal options, freeze half of large meals I make for future meals when I am too tied to cook, and buying less pre-made ingredients and ready-made meals and make more from scratch. 

3.     Get control of my finances!! My fiancé struggling from a low credit score due to a lack of credit v. bad credit. One of the things he did was to create a Credit Karma account and monitor his score weekly. He would get emails every time his score went up or down. His score jumped nearly 100 points in less than a year based on suggestions CK made. So here I am like SIGN ME UP! I created my account and spent about an hour perusing all the features an account offers. One of my favorite features is an outline of all your accounts reported to your credit score in order of highest to lowest and organized by category (credit cards, car loans, students loans, etc). I’m going to attempt my own version of Dave Ramsey’s Snowball Method – starting with the smallest and working our way up. 

So my January money goal is this – pay off a credit card bill from Christmas for $487. 

 

My goal is sharing my personal financial goals is to 1. motivate myself (I put it in writing for all the world to see, now I must act on it!), and 2. to serve as inspiration to others. Financial security is no easy feat – it takes times, dedication, and encouragement from others to reach your goals. So happy goal chasing!

Gifts for Children with Autism

We all know those kids that are easy to buy for – the ones with obvious hobbies or interests. One trip to Toys R Us or the bookstore and you are golden! But what about children who are difficult to shop for? Especially those that may have developmental or educational delays. As an aunt to a newly turned 9 year old niece with autism, I’m here to provide you with a list of gifts that are well-suited for children on the autism spectrum.

It’s important to remember that the autism spectrum is broad, and that each individual with autism is different. Some are non-verbal, some have accompanying intellectual disabilities,and some are high-functioning. Autism Speaks is a great resource for autism families and those who wish to support loved ones with autism. 

So when buying gifts for the autistic child in your life, think about what best suits their personality. For those who enjoy sensory gifts, check out these great options:

1.     Fidget Sets  There are a variety of options to choose from, but all of them will keep those who need to touch things occupied 

2. Kinetic Sand   Many color options and brands available. Note: this is also easy to make at home – check out this homemade recipe (courtesy of Baby First Blog)

3. Water Beads   These are similar to Orbeez (but cheaper) 

 

Here are some ideas for those children who are visually stimulated:

4. Music Lightshow DJ

 5. Starry Night Nightlight 

 

 6.  Zoetrope  There are several different models available, from classic to modern

 

 

Many people (not just children) with autism struggle with social skills. Here are some games that will assist them in developing their skills while having fun at the same time

7. Social Skills Board Games – Set of 6

 

8. Conversation Starter Game

 

9. Hidden Rules Board Games – Set of 4    Can also be purchased separately 

 

 

I hope this guide helps you find the perfect gift for the autistic child in your life!