Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The "B" Word

Every once in a while (okay, sometimes more often than others), I get to dreaming about the day I can leave my "real job" to stay home and raise our (future) kids.  In order to get there though, Alex and I have to come to a place where we are financially prepared to live on just one income.  We have been "practicing" since we were married, having my paycheck deposited straight into our savings account, and his into the checking.  But if we're being honest here, there are seasons with more birthdays, holidays, or special circumstances that make that paycheck stretch a little thinner than I'd like.
Certainly there are some places we could really cut back on expenses - that $200 cable bill, for one (and we only have cable in 1.5 rooms of our house!).  We feel pretty comfortable with our savings account, insurance coverage, and investments, but we still aren't quite comfortable with taking the plunge and doing away with one income entirely.  So, when The Budget Mama asked for volunteers to review her latest book Real Life on a Budget, I jumped at the chance to hone in on some of those skills we might be lacking.

Here are a few interesting/useful concepts I took away from the book:

1 - A little inconvenience can go a long way in saving money over time.
I have been making my own laundry detergent for over a year now, and I love it.  The cost savings are amazing, and I kind of like feeling a little extra-domestic over that kind of project.  It isn't as much of a hassle as it sounds, I promise.  Next up - floor cleaner, reusable paper towels, world domination?!

2 - Be aware of all the extra "clutter" in your life.
Inbox clutter is a big one for me.  I get wayyy too much crap in my inbox and should really redirect it to some other address that I don't use regularly.  Dining out is also a type of clutter for us; since we don't have friends here, eating out once a week is our special treat to get out of the house and have a little fun.  Unfortunately, it usually leaves us yearning for more outings...more bad food...and more budget sucking.

3 - Spenders versus Savers?
We're both savers but we have a weakness for telling each other "no."  In other words, it's easy for us to avoid purchases on our own rights, but when we ask the other if it's okay to buy something, it's near impossible to stay firm in our hunches about it.  Moral of that story - we need to make an actual budget and stick to it!

4 - Half Payments, have you heard of them?
I'd never heard of such things until I read them in the book.  We're paid monthly so it's not quite set up for our pay schedules, but if we did have difficulty with living paycheck to paycheck, this could be a really good way to break that habit.

5 - 50/20/30 Framework.
Yeah, I know it sounds like the 20/20 insurance concept, but here we're talking about budgeting 50% of your expenses for essentials, 20% for your future, and 30% for your lifestyle.  This is one budgeting system that I could definitely get behind and it seems totally attainable too.  (I should probably put the pen to the paper before I commit to that statement, though.  Heh.)

Bonus - Debt snowball.
Alex and I have discussions on whether we should pay off his car (at 0% financing, attainable goal) or put a large chunk down on our house (3.375% interest, with a much larger total).  He thinks it's wiser to put money toward the house, whereas I would prefer to pay off something and have fewer debtors overall.  Jessi's theory on paying off the smaller debts first definitely makes my little heart happy, but I think I have a little more convincing to do on Alex's part.  ;)

I'm so grateful for the opportunity to get my hands on this book, and I really look forward to following more of The Budget Mama's tips as we work toward our long term goals for financial freedom.  And, if you want to get your hands on your very own copy of Real Life on a Budget, it's officially available for FREE on Amazon as of today (as of July 5th, the book will only be available for purchase)!

Happy Budgeting to ya'll!

Note:  I received an e-book version of this book in exchange for providing a review of the materials.  All opinions are my own and no additional compensation was provided.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Callin' Baton Rouge

Even though we had just spent the weekend in South Louisiana visiting my family, on a whim we decided to do it again the following one too (June 1st).  LSU was named as a host site for the first round of NCAA Baseball Championships, and Alex's alma mater, UNC-Wilmington, was selected as one of the four teams to play in the Baton Rouge regional.  Alex scrambled to snag two tickets (under covering, chair-backs, AWESOME seats!) for all UNCW games, and we peeled out of town early Friday afternoon for what shaped up to be another long weekend in the south.

As luck would have it, my brother held on to his Baton Rouge apartment for a few extra days, so Alex and I borrowed a second air mattress (ours is twin-sized) and camped out on the floor of the apartment for the weekend.  Austin had tickets to all the games through his LSU student ticketing program, which meant he spent the entire weekend at the park and we had quite a bit more wiggle room in our schedule.  Throw in monsoon-like rains, and we were primed for several nights of after-midnight baseball.  It was crazy/exciting/awesome.

Friday night, we ended up killing time with beer, food, and a visit from my friend Dawn at Walk-On's  (rated #1 Sports Bar in America - check it out!) near the stadium.  Our game didn't start until 9:15 p.m., and we were in it for the long haul!

Saturday, we met my birthday twin, Kim (college friend turned internship roommate who now lives in Boise, ID), and her husband and 18 month old daughter for lunch at Mellow Mushroom.  I hadn't seen the Peters Family since our wedding 2.5 years ago, and Alex had never really gotten to know them outside of the very first time he met them (in New Orleans exactly 1 year to the day before we were married).  I also enjoyed meeting little Eliana for the first time.

With rain on the horizon, Alex and I killed more time by walking around the Mall of Louisiana and resisting the urge to shop too hard.  We did come across these adorable Louisiana-themed tees at a little boutique.

This one is my favorite - I used to use the word "envie" in a sentence almost daily. :)
Anyway, baseball.  UNCW played very well.  They beat Tulane 10-1 at 1:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, then lost to LSU 0-2 at 2:15 a.m. the following morning.  Sunday, we were primed for third day of midnight baseball but the NCAA pulled the game an hour before it started and after 10,000 LSU fans had sat through 2 hours of the second UNCW/Tulane game (which UNCW won 8-2).  On Monday, LSU pulled out another 2-0 win against UNCW, which ended our long weekend in the "Red Stick."

No, I didn't color my hair recently...not quite sure where the "goth" look comes from.
I had to be back in Baton Rouge for work on Tuesday/Wednesday, so we decided to drive the hour and a half to my parents' for a night instead of spending 3.5 hours in the car going back to Monroe, and returning again the following day. My daddy and Nanna had just finished peeling 100 pounds of fresh shrimp, so we were able to indulge in a special treat of FRESH fried shrimp for dinner that evening.  It was a lovely treat to be back in Cajun Country, even if for a short time.

...And if you haven't totally fallen in love with Louisiana by now, I might be worried about you.  ;)


Saturday, June 6, 2015

If Crabs Weren't Involved

Remember that birthday tribute video I promised you?  Yeah, it's still in the works.  (Really, it is.  We're just really busy at the moment.)  Well, anyway, one of my friends sent a video with a quote that has me dying laughing even when I think about it three months later.  Her words went a little something like this..."Lauren, Lauren.  Would I still be friends with you even if crabs weren't involved?  ...Mmmm... YES!"

Out of context, this statement could raise some eyebrows.  What Victoria is really referring to is the tradition we have of she and her husband coming over to my parents' house to eat boiled crabs (almost) every time Alex and I are in town.  This tradition started something like 10 years ago when she and her now-hubby started dating, and long before Alex as even a twinkle in my heart.

It's not like we set out to make visiting over crab boils a tradition or anything; it's just something my family does.  Lauren's coming to town (remember, I lived out of state for 5 years after college, before returning, and even now I live almost 4 hours from home)?  Oh, well...call everybody, we're having a crab boil!! Really and truly, my daddy is a real-as-it-gets Cajun man and bringing home 12 dozen, fresh beautiful blue crabs after a day in the marsh makes his heart swell with pride.  And so, we eat boiled crabs.

Every once in a while, Daddy Stu gets the chance to show off his skills by taking along a visitor to "help" bring home the proverbial bacon (aka crabs).  Several of my out of state friends have had the opportunity to accompany Daddy Stu into the marsh, and they always come back with some pretty fabulous stories.  Since Alex is a Louisiana transplant, he always jumps at the invitation to visit the marsh, especially when crabs are involved.

On the flip side, while this girl spent many a weekend catching fish and crabs next to her daddy, it's become much less frequent as I've gotten older.  Needless to say, when I decided to join the guys on their excusion a few weeks ago, my presence was long overdue.  But before we headed out, we called up all the extended family and told them to be on "crab watch," for surely a good dinner was in store.

Little did I know, Daddy Stu had lined up a little some extra for our trip that day.  His marsh neighbor friend happened to mention that he'd commissioned a friend of a friend to bring his airboat ride to their camp (think marsh-style weekend getaway home) to give rides for all the kids.    Stu knew this was the perfect opportunity to wheel and deal his way into setting up a little something special for his baby girl.

Believe it or not, in all my 28 years as a Cajun girl, I had never actually ridden in an airboat!  Needless to say, my eyes got big and my heart started pitter-pattering whenever that airboat trailer showed up and Alex leaked the secret letting me know that rides were in store for us!  Daddy Stu was beaming with pride as his special treat fell on happy faces, and he started snapping photos for days.

The ride was pretty cool.  It wasn't as fast or thrilling as it could have been since so many little ones were on board, but I was plenty excited for this first-time opportunity.  We even got the chance to ride donuts on land!!  So fun.

How about those crabs?  Well........ a storm was moving in so we rocked and rolled to get out to the cages and back before things got hairy.  Unfortunately, the water was very rough due to high winds and we had a tough time locating all the cages.  Even worse, our haul only totaled 52 crabs instead of the 144+ we usually score.

Being the Cajun he is, Daddy Stu wasn't satisfied with a measly little 4 dozen crabs.  On the way home, he pulled into a crawfish hut with plans to buy half a sack of medium sized crawfish, but left with a whole sack of large ones instead.  Ohhh Daddy Stu... And many of the extended family didn't even show!

Moral of the story - visit Cajuns and you won't ever worry about going home hungry!