Andrea & Jason's Blog

10/20/2014

Warning

I had previously promised to explain about creating LLCs in this blog post, but something else has come up. Multiple people have asked if Jason has applied for unemployment insurance (UI) and I haven’t given them much of an answer. That’s because he didn’t want to apply for a couple of reasons and I wanted to give him time to figure it out.

His first concern was feeling pressured to apply for four positions every week. He works in a very narrow field and there aren’t any positions available in Madison at this time. In order to meet the UI quota, he would have to apply for jobs that he didn’t really want.  Second, he was concerned that the non-profit he worked for would be charged and they couldn’t afford the expense.

Steve, our coach, was helpful with encouraging Jason to look into this issue to see if his assumption was fact. And he discovered that it wasn’t a fact. Companies pay into UI while the employee works for them. Not after that person leaves and later receives UI.

So after being laid off and unemployed for a month, Jason finally applied for UI. And within minutes he was denied. Yep, denied.

Here’s why: for-profit or non-profit businesses are not required to pay into UI if they employ four or fewer employees. Jason was the only employee at the non-profit, so they never paid into UI. It doesn’t matter that his past jobs paid into UI and he never collected UI. It’s based on the fact that his last job needs to meet the UI criteria.

Thus our experience can be a warning to others. Are you working at a place that pays into UI? If not, consider how much you need to start saving should you be laid off in the future. Because UI is not a cushion that everyone gets to rely on.

10/14/2014

I have two great pieces of news to share!

First, Jason signed his first client for his new business: Archetype, Historic Property Consultants. He has always talked about starting his own consulting business, but he was never able to make the time for it when working more than full-time at a non-profit. With the job loss he finally had the time to create an LLC (Limited Liability Corporation) and start soliciting for clients. I’m quite proud of him!

Second, I too started an LLC and have signed a contract with a company. This is a new subject area for me, so it will require some excess time upfront to become proficient on the subject. The bonus is that this type of work is within my area of specialty (mental health and criminal justice), so it will be a nice addition to my resume. Plus I will be paid the highest rate of hourly pay that I have ever experienced in my entire life. Talk about a mood booster! The one down side is that I will have to travel to other counties and use our car more often, but I will be sufficiently compensated.

Things have become more stressful in our household because the bike shop no longer needs Jason’s help because the weather has become cooler. So these contracts came at a desperately needed time. The only difficult part is the fact that the money isn’t actually coming in yet. I still need to be assigned a client and Jason won’t bill for his hours until next month. But I’m trying to focus on the positive, which is the fact that we are on our way up and that is all that matters right now.

Next week, I’ll share some information about starting an LLC in Wisconsin.

10/06/2014

Needed Down Time

Since the start of Project Money, we haven’t been able to take a vacation. Our trip to England was cancelled and our plans to go camping fell through. Visiting family in Minnesota was getting away, but it didn’t really feel like a “vacation.” I’m happy to say that we finally got some desperately needed down time away from home.

Last weekend we drove up to the Spooner area to spend a long weekend at a lakeside cabin with Jason’s family. Jason’s parents have been renting this cabin for the family annually since 2001. Being there is like an escape from the reality of being an adult. We play board and card games or compete in Ping-Pong tournaments. We paddle off in a canoe or kayak, read and knit by the shoreline, or take a walk through the woods.

One thing that makes it extra relaxing is the fact that each night a family unit will make dinner for the rest of the family. Now that my niece and nephew are grown, they also pitched in by making a family breakfast (pumpkin pancakes) and lunch (grilled goat cheese sandwiches with slivered almonds, apricot jam & arugula). This wonderful weekend away only cost us the money to pay for gas and to purchase the ingredients for making a family-sized batch of corn chowder.

It was such a lovely time at the cabin this year with the leaves changing colors. I’m so grateful to have a large family that I truly enjoy spending time with. 

09/29/2014

Belt Tightening

It’s getting close to crunch time in this household. Our first month without a regular half-paycheck from Jason starts October 1st: the day before my birthday.  We’ve been keeping our fingers crossed that he would find a new position, but unfortunately that hasn’t happened yet.

This past weekend I finally faced my biggest fear: determining exactly how much our fixed bills total in a month. This includes the mortgage, both student loans, a car loan, water bill, home equity loan, gas & electric bill, cell phones, Internet, and dental loan. These are all the bills that we HAVE to pay to keep ourselves afloat. If we compare this total to my full-time income, all that remains after paying these bills is around $100.

That’s $100 for food, toilet paper, dog food, gas for the car… basically anything else that we need to buy to survive. Fortunately this isn’t overwhelmingly scary because Jason does have some weekend part-time work at a bike shop, but that won’t last much longer now that summer is over. Plus, if we are truly desperate, we could use some of the savings that we have created since starting Project Money in June. I don’t want to spend that savings, but I also refuse to increase our debt.

So that means it is time for us to seriously tighten the belt on our budget. Unlike Louise & Dave, we have continued to occasionally eat out or go to a coffee shop. We never completely cut those things out because we still wanted small pleasures in our lives. But now it is time to face up to the reality and pare things down to the absolute necessities. It’ll be hard, but not impossible.

09/22/2014

Word to the Wise

Earlier this month (Contract Awareness), I spoke about the savings that we would be getting with new contracts for our cell phone and home Internet plans. Unfortunately it wasn’t so simple. We eventually got the discounts, but it took a lot more effort than expected.

The first problem was with the Verizon cell phone bill. When I looked at the bill, I discovered that we owed MORE than the previous month’s bill! They had added charges for reactivating each of our three phones AND the discount for our new plan had not activated properly. It took an in-person visit to their store and multiple phone calls to their customer service line to get our bill back to where it should have been.

The second problem was with our AT&T U-verse Internet bill. I opened the bill today to discover that it was MORE than last month. Seriously? I was so frustrated. I compared the bill to my notes from the phone call to change our contract. Then I called their customer service line. You guessed it; I waited a LONG time to talk to someone. When I spoke to the agent, she explained that the discount doesn’t get activated for a month or two. Then she said that we were paying for the previous month’s service, so it wouldn’t include the new discount. It seemed like a reasonable explanation, so I hung up. But something was bugging me, so I took a closer look and compared my new bill to my old bill. They were charging me for my new plan, not my old plan! And if that was true, then there is no reason that the discount shouldn’t have been activated immediately. A second phone call, which took another 40 minutes, finally resulted in a corrected bill.

As a result of these encounters, I am terribly distrustful of major companies. If I hadn’t been tracking my bills, comparing them to last month’s bills, and keeping detailed notes regarding the price for my new contracts, I may never have noticed these errors! And if I wasn’t the assertive and persistent person that I am, I may not have called to question our bills and insist on corrections.

A word to the wise: The best advocate for yourself is YOU!

09/15/2014

Good Friends & Neighbors

Finding time to have fun as our financial stress increases has become difficult. So it was a huge relief when Casey invited us over to her house to play Cards Against Humanity. When we first talked about getting together after work, the initial idea was to order pizza. But Ana, another friend, offered to bring pulled pork sandwiches. I remembered that I had all of the basic ingredients to make coleslaw, so that was our contribution to the gathering. We had such a great time. It’s a terribly naughty game and the accompanying laughs were desperately needed.

Not only do we have great friends, but we also have great neighbors. One night, as we were eating dinner on the deck, Ronda crossed the street to give us two huge warm chocolate chip cookies. Then this weekend she stopped by with some apple cider cake. All so good! I still remember how welcoming Ronda and Andrew were when we moved into our house almost nine years ago. The first day they came over to introduce themselves and gave us a large mason jar of their incredible homemade salsa.

And if that isn’t good enough, we have another neighbor who works at a bakery and occasionally takes home leftovers. Tonight, as we were eating dinner on the deck, Izzie stopped by to offer us a box of pastries: coffee cake, chocolate croissants, and some blueberry cake!

How’d we ever get so lucky with having such great friends and neighbors? 

09/08/2014

Saturday Night

We got a phone call the other night inviting us out for drinks at a bar with a group of our friends. My immediate thought was that this had been a week where both of us had spent our $20 allowances before the week had even ended. She heard my hesitation and quickly offered to buy each of us a drink. It sounded like fun, but I didn’t want to take a handout. I vaguely mentioned that I would talk to Jason about it and see what he thought.

When I spoke with Jason about their plans, he agreed that we shouldn’t spend any additional money this week. His simple, but brilliant, idea was to invite them all over to our backyard for a fire after they were done at the bar.

I love our backyard, but we rarely spend much time back there. We built the stone patio with our own hands and I’m always proud of it when we use it. We have a wheeled fire pit that was a happy find during a Madison Hippie Christmas when we first bought our house. The firewood is always free because we drag home large downed branches found during walks with our dog through the neighborhood. My favorite seat is an old metal glider bench that friends (thanks Fritz & Lynn!) gave us and Jason restored.

When Jason called our friends back to invite them over to our place after the bar, they all decided to come over to our place rather than going out. The goal wasn’t to go to a bar; it was to get together with friends. Some people brought snacks. Others brought wine. We shared what we already had and it was a good time. A little loud and raucous (sorry neighbors), but it was fun and free. With the first day of fall arriving on September 22nd, I see more backyard fires with friends in our near future.

09/02/2014

Contract Awareness

Keeping track of all of our expenses was the first big step towards taking control of our money. The next step was to examine where the money goes and whether we could get it for cheaper. Two of the larger monthly expenses in our household are the cell phones and TV/Internet service.

A couple of years ago, Jason convinced me to enter the 21st century and purchase an iPhone. This was a huge step for me, as I had never even texted. With three of us on a cell phone plan that had Internet access, our monthly bill came in at just under $200. Ridiculously expensive: $2400 a year!

Lucky for us, our contract ended a couple of months into the Project Money challenge. So I visited all of the major cell phone players and determined that our best option was to continue using our current iPhones and sign up for a no-contract plan with our current provider. We still pay for the usual cell phone services, but we aren’t paying the hidden fee to regularly upgrade our phones. This change decreased our bill by $40 a month. And now with Ellie in England for a semester abroad, we have suspended her cell phone, which will save us even more money.

By the way, here’s a little known fact: If you work for the State, tell your cell phone company and they will likely have some type of discount that they can apply to your account. You’ll have to provide some type of proof of employment, but it is worth the effort.

Another recent area for decreasing our bills is the TV & Internet since our contract ended this month. Say goodbye to the TV! Not a problem since we typically watch Netflix and I’ve got a friend who has generously offered to invite me over for Walking Dead marathons. Thanks Laura! By dropping the basic TV channels and signing up for a new Internet promotion, we decreased our monthly AT&T Uverse bill by $30.

As a result of paying attention to our monthly bills and tracking the contract dates for our household amenities, we were able to take immediate advantage of contract end dates and negotiate something cheaper. And cheaper is just the way I like it…

08/25/2014

Missing Out

Normally it doesn’t bother me to miss out on certain activities to save money. For instance, despite not spending any money (not even one penny!), I really enjoyed this last weekend that I spent at home. What did I do?

First, I finally took care of something that has been haunting me for over a year: my graduate school paperwork. Until this weekend, I had stored it in the bookcase in our spare bedroom. Some of it was in 3-ring binders, folders, or just free-floating between books. I took a day and a half to comb through it, organize, label binders, and recycle paperwork that is no longer helpful. That may sound like a boring activity for a weekend, but it was really freeing for me - not to mention literally free. I’m positive that I’m not the only one who has a household activity that has been nagging at them, but it continues to be ignored because there is always something more fun on the horizon.

Second, I used up a large pile of veggies that were about to go bad in our fridge. I made a huge pitcher of gazpacho, a pile of baba ganoush, and zucchini chocolate chip bread. Normally I’m not a fan of making multiple recipes at once, but with no other plans and the high humidity outside, being in the kitchen wasn’t as much of a chore with good music keeping me company while Jason worked at the bike shop.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that I am frustrated by our lack of funds to do other “more fun” things this summer. Ellie is leaving this week for her study abroad, so I’m reminded of our cancelled trip to England. Plus we had to give up the fall bike/camping trip we had planned with friends as a consolation prize. Considering that Jason’s main source of employment is ending in a week, we came to the decision that we need to continue keeping the purse strings tight. Being frugal isn’t always fun - sometimes I do feel like I’m missing out. So I remind myself that by making these thrifty decisions now, it will help us with our bigger goal of not increasing our debt or dipping into our newfound savings after Jason’s last paycheck gets deposited.

08/18/2014

Urban Foraging

Jason and I live in Madison. The prospect for locating wild edibles in the city may seem non-existent, but you may be surprised at what could be found if you know what to look for.

This subject first came to my attention one Saturday morning when Jason and I were riding our bikes to the Farmer’s Market. Foraging on the side of the path was our most frugal friend, Fritz. He was picking mulberries from a tree. I had always noticed these dark, almost black berries, but had never realized that they were edible. We tried a few and learned that they were quite tasty. As I stood there, I flashed on the fact that I have often noticed these trees on my bike rides because when their berries started to ripen and fall, they left dark stains on the sidewalks or streets. From that point on, when I rode my bike, I watched for the telltale stains and found my own trees in Madison. They were great in muffins and the extras were stored in the freezer. How to store: wash berries, pat dry, freeze in a single layer on a cookie sheet in freezer, then store in a container in the freezer.

The mulberries got me thinking about other opportunities for free fruit in Madison. We have some red raspberry bushes alongside our garage, so I knew that raspberries were starting to go into season. I remembered a couple of different places that I had found raspberries when walking our dog, so I started to regularly check those spots. Plus Fritz and his wife Lynn let us pick some of their raspberries while they were out of town. I mentioned this increased foraging to a neighborhood friend and she told me about a place within our neighborhood where I could find black raspberries.  We collected so many berries over a couple of months that I didn’t need to buy berries for my morning fruit smoothies!

As we move towards the fall, I’ve started noticing apples on my bike ride to work. I see apple crisps in the near future…

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