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!

 

 

When Your Friend Becomes a Pessimist

I have an old colleagues, a friend you would say,  I’ll call Sal for the purpose of this post. Sal and I met while working together at our previous organization. How we met continues to bring a smile to my face (no matter how negative he has become). Before we met in person, we were introduced by our boss via email who asked both of us to complete the same task. A sort of “who completes it first receives the recognition”, but in a friendly fire kind of way.

One of us (I can’t remember who at this point) emailed the other and said “whoever gets it first owes the other a coffee”. Long story short – I met him in person while delivering a Hazelnut coffee. We were insta-friends. We talked about work, home life, childhood memories, and funny memes. Eventually our friendship escalated to dinner dates with each other spouses and they too hit it off in the friendship department. It was like coworker friendship heaven.

Fast forward 6 9 months.

Sal decided the organization we worked for was no longer bearable. He had managed to get on radar of Executive Leadership for unfavorable reasons – reasons that would take a long time to be professionally forgiven. Sal decided that the best course of action would be to move his 7 month pregnant wife 7 states away….

This was the beginning of the downfall.

I spent 9 months watching my friend make bad decision after bad decision – all while trying to be the supportive friend I know he and his wife needed me to be. Even my fiancé tried to be supportive to people he barely knew, but was familiar with their circumstances. I tried to offer support without offering advice. I tried to be understanding without being dismissive. I tried to do everything I could think of that a friend should do when their friend is going through a tough time. But in reality, I was dealing with a personality type I had never dealt with before – a narcissist.

The realization of my “friendship” with Sal hit me like a ton of bricks. To be clear, I am not wallowing in self-pity or speaking out of jealousy. In fact it is quite the opposite. There I was – a working (step)mother trying to manage a very demanding and stressful job, raise a pre-teen daughter, and maintain my own romantic relationship with my partner while staying in touch with my own friends and family. I didn’t exactly have a lot of extra minutes in a day, especially to cater to the delusions of a narcissist.

After trying repeatedly to have a normal conversation with Sal, just like old times, (and during a particular stressful, patience less day) I had finally reached my breaking point – I cut ties with Sal.

I wished him the best of luck to his young family and told him I hope life settles down and he finds happiness. I also told him why I was walking away – that he was no longer the person I knew before. He was no longer a friend to me.

Sal didn’t say anything in response, and to be honest, I’m glad he didn’t. His lack of response told me he knew what he was doing and wasn’t remorseful about it. What I have learned in my lifetime is that people who are in denial tend to be defensive about things. Those who have accepted actions/decisions/etc tend to remain silent. Say no more my former friend, your silence speaks volumes.

 

Happy New Year!

Apologies for me delayed posting (we had out of state family visiting), but Happy New Year from The Gypsy Professional to you and yours!

I try not to make resolutions such as “lose weight” or “work out more” but instead I try to aim for goals such as “be kinder”, “exhibit more patience”, and “be more present”.

As my (step)daughter moves into the teen years, I have decided to focus 2018 on “exhibiting more patience” because, let’s face it, I’m gonna need it 🙂

May your 2018 be all that you hope it to be!