Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I Learned from Camp

It’s Whatever Wednesday so here’s my random thought from the day…

When I walked in the ladies restroom at work this morning, the lingering smell of Aussie hairspray brought back a very distinct childhood memory.


Camp Tuk-a-Way, to be exact.

Located approximately 27 miles from anywhere notable, it welcomed us church campers one week, every summer.  We girls stayed up on the hill (which felt like it was a mile long walk) with four cabins and a shower/bathroom house.  At any given time, you could walk into the girls’ bathroom at Camp Tuk-a-Way and find any number of girls spraying their Aussie hairspray while getting ready for the day, cleaning up from the pool, restyling after FOB (flat on back) time, primping for the evening service…There was a constant London-esque fog of Aussie aerosol hairspray in that bathroom.

Camp Tuk-a-Way was where I honed my mad checkers skills. 

Also where I learned to dive like a fish.

And what Snickers bars were really made of…

For those of you who did not have the luxury of Camp Tuk-a-Way, I will try to recreate some of the very vivid scars memories and relay what I learned from those irreplaceable weeks.

1.                  Even though it was the longest walk, Cabin 4 was like the Ritz Carlton. 
I believe I stayed in every girls’ cabin there.  (Didn’t they go by like 1G, 2G, or something like that?)  1 was the shortest walk and wasn’t that bad, 2 was the camp equivalent of the slums, 3 (I’m pretty sure) was haunted and/or infested, but Cabin 4…you spent weeks praying for that cabin. 

2.                  When playing Tug of War, do not tie the rope around your waist.  You very well may die.
While I don’t remember her name, I have a very vivid memory of some very large teenage girl, tying the rope around her stomach and then almost dying when her oxygen supply was cut off.  And actually, I don’t recall playing Tug of War after that.

3.                  The best don’t always win.
Every cabin competed for the cleanest cabin, the best decorations, etc.  After about two days of complete domination, our church was shut out of all awards.  Happened every year. (I still remember putting up a traced image of Grandma Dean – who was actually only one girls’ grandmother, but still, to this day, is called Grandma Dean by everyone.  I do believe we still won that day.)

4.                  Don’t spend all your canteen money by Tuesday.
Being from the ridiculously wealthy family I was, (ha!) I was given usually $20 to make it through the week.  Shouldn’t be hard since all meals were provided.  The only place to spend money was the canteen.  You could always tell the first year campers because by Wednesday, they were out of money.  I think each year, I learned to make my $20 last just a little longer.

5.                  Tang can be substituted for orange juice.
I loved Tang as a kid.  It was the best OJ that I knew of.  Not till I became an adult did I realize there probably isn’t one speck of real fruit in that stuff.  Especially when it’s diluted four to one.  I didn’t even know they still made Tang till some of our church nursery workers bribed my 2 year old daughter with it.  (I had some.  Tang is still pretty awesome.)

I don’t know what ever happened to Camp Tuk-A-Way.  But I sincerely hope that one day, I can ship my children off for week of torture character building experiences. 

So there you go...the lessons (and smells) you learn at camp will stay with you forever. 

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Half-Price Royal Wedding

I re-read my previous Royal Wedding post and decided that it sounded very Windsor-hater-ish.

To the contrary.

I loved Diana.

I adore William.

And I really love Kate. 

Love her trench coats. 

Love her blue ISSA dress that I may one day just have to own.  (Although, I’ll be wearing it with my Christian Louboutin peep-toed heels.)  J 

Love, Love, Love Harry.  Lord knows that family needed some spunk!

But no matter where you go, you just can’t escape Royal Wedding fever.  (Even Disney Jr is getting in on it.)

So I’ve given in. 

Although I will DVR the event, Friday, I am dragging myself out of bed at 3:15 (IN THE MORNING!!!!)  and going to a Royal Wedding Party - with the Queen of my family and the Queen Mum herself, my Nanny.

And I can't wait. 

But, despite all the excitement, I feel a bit bad for anyone attempting to have a wedding any time soon.

This will be the wedding of all weddings. 

And while none of your guests will expect a wedding of that scale (not all of us have a country to pay for our shindig,) how awful to even have to compete with what will be a very recent memory for everyone.

And this post is dedicated to all the girls who are trying to green with envy at the enormity of the Royal Nuptials. 

If you, like me, don’t have $100 million readily at your disposal, here are some tips to keep your affair regal, but reasonable.

1.                  Photography – I’m not a big fan of skimping in this area.  Believe it or not, your memories from that day will gradually fade.  Much of what you are able to remember will be from pictures.  But, you can get some rock bottom rates by finding un-professionals (meaning they don’t do it for a living.)  Check their work and references.  You’d be surprised how many awesome photographers there are that teach kindergarten…or sit behind a computer.  (Ahem, this may or may not be an UNpaid ad for my favorite photographer....)

2.                  Flowers – Check with local schools horticulture department!  My wedding flowers were the final exam/project for a middle school’s horticulture class.  I only had to pay for the flowers.  They were pretty amazing and ridiculously cheap!

3.                  Tuxes – You can often get a discount by using a men’s wear store related to where the bride purchases her dress, but don’t go with the first suit they show you.  They always start with their most expensive label.  Ask to see the store brand.  Many times, they’re just as nice and much, much less!  (Wish I had posted this six months ago!) And for you military folks, just go the easy route and enjoy at least one of the benefits by wearing your dress uniforms.

4.                  Food – Here in the South, the food at the wedding is what is most talked about.  (Sorry, brides.) Having enough is more important that what you have.  It’s better to serve beef tips in gravy and have plenty, than to serve filet to only three-quarters of your guests.  Remember, Southern hospitality demands no mouth go unfed, and no belly's go hungry.  And really, I don't know a soul who doesn't enjoy beef tips in gravy. 
            And can we talk about cake?  Cake is possibly more important than the food.  There should be plenty of cake.  But avoid the price for a multi-tiered cake to feed your crowd and enjoy the benefit of sheet cakes.  The price is almost half that of a 3-4 tiered cake!

5.                  The Dress – This is a biggie.  Because most brides forget that alterations cut into your budget.  Meaning that if your dress cost $1499 and your budget is $1500, chances are that with the cost of alterations, you are going to go over. 

            (And for heaven's sake, don’t buy new undergarments and all the trimmings from the bridal store.  Check around with your friends.  Chances are some one has the corset, tiered slip, veil & tiara from their wedding that they wouldn’t mind loaning you.  Those add-ons can really add up.)

 I could go on and on forever about ways to save money while you are planning a wedding, but for now, I will leave you with my top 5 and be thankful for the fact that I don't have to plan a wedding in the light of the Royal affair.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Thrifty Thursday: Shoe Cents

I’ve mentioned my secret crush on Christian Louboutin black peep toe heels.

From that reference, you’d think that I was a shoe connoisseur.


I should take a picture of my shoe rack.


I’m one of those people if they find a shoe they like, they buy it in all twelve colors.

I just don’t spend much on shoes.

I should.  I desperately need new shoes.

New work shoes.

New casual shoes.

New shoes.  Period. 

I don’t shoe shop.  I’m bad at it.

I’m super picky.

Have a terrible time in anything over a 1 inch heel.

And have I mentioned that I am cheap?

Deadly combination for shoe buying.

I informed my husband that my goal this weekend was to replace my shoes.  All of them.

But in case you missed it - I'M CHEAP.

How am I going to do it?

I don’t have a clue.  I’ve got about $200 to spend on approximately 4-6 pairs of shoes.

Any recommendations?

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

My Pet Peeves

I love Wednesdays in my blogger life.  I get to talk about whatever.  Sorry you have to be a victim to it today.

I have a couple pet peeves in this world.

1.                  Stay at home moms who complain about how busy they are.  I understand it’s tiring.  I understand it’s hard work.  But get off Facebook and be thankful you get an extra 10 hours a day with your kids the rest of us don’t. 
2.                  Hypocrites.  It’s almost amusing to watch one time “besties”, then arch-enemies, now be “besties” again and expect the rest of the world to forget about the time they drug each other’s names through the mud.  Sounds like 12 year old girls, right?  Sadly, no….
3.                  Those who don’t work and expect us to pay them to stay home.  I’m not talking about the bona fide disabled - just the lazy and entitled.
4.                  Mispronunciation of words, “Ax” instead of “ask.”  “Pacifically” instead of “specifically.”  “Li-bary” instead of “library.”  And “birfday” instead of “birthday.”  It’s like nails on a chalk board to me.  I literally want to stop people in mid-conversation and ask who taught them to read.
5.                  And realtors.  Period.

I hate realtors. 


I detest realtors. 

(That being said, I found one I love…who happens to have my house listed.  If you’re reading, I love you, Donna!)

Over the past couple of years, we’ve bought & sold a couple pieces of property and dealt with a handful of realtors.  And most of them left a bad taste in my mouth.

Reason One:  Most of them want too much money.  These days, they want you to pay them thousands of dollars for simply posting your home on a website.  Techy can do that for about 1/128th the price.   It’s fast, easy money when the real estate market is booming.  So is prostitution.  Doesn’t mean we should all do it. 

Reason Two:  They have too much time on their hands.  One realtor wrecked a marriage of a very dear friend of mine.  Purely personal.  J  I know, it’s not fair to judge the whole barrel by one apple.

Reason Three:  Who else writes off their hair cuts, manicures, and business suits as a business expense?

Reason Four: They act like they’re doing you a favor by selling your house.  Last time I checked, if you list my house, I’m your employer.  I get that the market is down, but you need to get your attitude in check.  Be realistic, but I don’t want to employ you if you have that same bad attitude when you show my house.

And lastly…

Reason Five: Contracts.  Break a contract with them.  Your happy rear-end will be in court.  (Again, ever see People’s Court?)  However, they can break contracts without ramification.  (Reference pet peeve #2 – hypocrites.)  Case in point, my parents got a contract on their home.  Less than 5 hours before they were to sign the papers, the buyer backs out.  And get this, the buyer wass a REALTOR!    How’s that for sick & twisted?  Didn’t do much to improve my opinion of them.

So on my list of least favorite people, realtors rank below the royal family, but have hope!  They’re still above the UVA football team, Chris Matthews, Nancy Pelosi, doctors at Planned Parenthood, the inventor of shiftwork…

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Royal Mania

In case you just climbed out of a cave in rural Africa, today is April 19.

Which is precisely 10 days away.

From what you say?  (How have you managed to avoid the news since October?)

We are exactly 10 days away from the Royal Wedding. 

A.K.A. the Wedding of the Century. 

Um.  Seriously????

Don't get me wrong....

I like Prince William. 

I like Kate Middleton. 

I’m happy their getting married. 

I will probably even set my alarm for 4 am and watch the ceremony.

But enough is enough.

In case the news channels forgot, about 235 years ago, we rebelled against the monarchy. 

And for good reason.

Did you know that it costs Britain $290 million a year to support the Royal Family? 

That’s $290,000,000

(Don’t zeros have more effect than the word “million”?)

The Queen’s salary is around $40 million. 

That’s $40,000,000.  (Technically, it’s not a salary.  It’s a “grant” but let’s not get hung up on that.)

I’m sorry.  Back that up.  Say that one more time.

The UK pays someone $40 million a year to wear diamond tiaras, bless babies, flip pancakes, and wave???? 

(PS.  She has three full-time drivers.  Three.  Let that sink in.  You can only use one driver at a time.  Two, maybe; but three?)

So, like every responsible accountant SHOULD, I googled the price of the wedding. 

Estimates are from $50 million to $100 million.  Much of that spent on security. 

$40,000 in street cleaning alone.  They had to vacuum the steps of Westminster Abbey!

I am tired of the nightly countdown.

I’m tired of seeing that same blue dress.

No, I don’t want to buy a simulated sapphire and cz knock-off, QVC.

I’m tired of my coupon inserts trying to pitch me a figurine of a person from another country!!

I’m so over the royal wedding.

That being said, I don’t want to get rid of the Royal Family. 

I mean, really. 

The world wouldn't  be the same without people who don’t know how to squeeze their own toothpaste. 

Mostly, I’m just glad I’m not paying for them!

Monday, April 18, 2011

More Money Monday

Well, today is the day.

Taxes are due today!

I know, it’s April 18th not the 15th.

But thanks to some random DC holiday known as Emancipation Day, the due date was pushed off. 

(Something that was cleverly disguised by a lot of preparers.)

I’m no expert, but I know a thing or two about a taxes.

It’s my “schtick.”

There’s not much you can do to change your tax bill for 2010, but here are my top 5 tips for slashing next year’s bill.

  1. Open a “Flex” spending account for your child care costs.
If you have daycare costs, you can set aside up to $5000 a year in a flex spending account.  It reduces your taxable income dollar for dollar.  These days, $5000 is a drop in the bucket when it comes to daycare costs.  If you do the math, it’s waaaay better than getting the child care credit.  Check with your employer to see if they offer one and the requirements for it.

  1. Give By Check!
We all know my love/hate relationship with tithing.  But it does pay off at tax time. The key is to give by check!!!  Having documentation is so important!  Banks don’t always return checks but most let you print (or save) a copy on line for 60-90 days.  Do it faithfully for all your donations and expenses.  At the end of the year, double check your giving statement from organizations against your records.   You’ll probably be surprised how much you gave.

  1. SAVE!!!
Yes!  Save – as in for retirement, for college…  Those with lower incomes get deductions for saving!  (Note: Saving for your new bass boat does not count!)

  1. Seek professional help.
No – not your therapist.  (Although I wish some people would strongly consider it.)  If you’re confused or not sure what to do, seek some help.  It’s sooo much better to pay a little to ensure a correct return, than to pay a lot later.   (And that “a lot” will have penalties and interest!)

1.   Open a Health Savings Account
This is my number 1 recommendation for almost everyone.  Open a medical savings account.  The rules on it have recently changed, but you can still set aside up to $5000 a year for co-pays, prescriptions, glasses/contacts, dentists, etc…  The list goes on and on.  Most of us with families, and those with other health issues such as diabetes, can spend thousands on medications and doctor visits.  Whether you can itemize, have kids, etc. This one tip can benefit everyone.   

Friday, April 15, 2011

Foodie Fridays

I love Top Chef! 

Top Chef All-Stars, Masters, Dessert…all things Top Chef.  It’s made me a “foodie.” 

I want to go to Craft Steakhouse. 

A culinary trip through Italy is on my bucket list.

I would eat almost anything made by Richard Blais. 

The man makes bone marrow sound incredibly delicious. 

If he made Rocky Mountain oysters, I would probably eat them.

(Don’t know what a Rocky Mountain oyster is?  Google it.)

And I am DYING to make a trip to his restaurant, Flip Burger.

Alas, the nearest Flip Burger is 6 hours from my house.

In fact, I’m at least an hour from any up-town, high price restaurant. 

This is actually a good thing. 

A VERY good thing.

Not just for my waistline, but also for my wallet. 

If this were not the case, I would probably blow my budget, as well as all my weight loss goals. 

However, one of my New Year’s resolutions was to eat more often varied foods.

And now that I’m thinking about it, my resolutions are all counter-productive.  

I mean really, how does one eat more varied foods while trying to lose weight AND stick to a budget?

I'm still not sure, but I can tell you this....

If Mesa Grill has a buy one, get one free coupon, on low calorie dish of “something” sous vied with a remoulade of “that”…I’m all in!

In the meantime, I will be featuring low cost/semi-healthful meal solutions on Fridays to get me through my Foodie Phobia.  Hope you enjoy!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Give Like No One Else

Ever had a moment when you wish you could do more? 

Err, I should say, give more.

The little national missionary comes to your church and only needs $1500/mo to survive…

A broke college student really wants to have a weekend home…

Despite the fact that we are we’re debt free, even our budget has limits. 

And I love giving. 

(Tithing is different for me, obviously.  I know there is a benefit to help paying the lights in the church, but it’s something else to see a 10 year old girl get excited when she finds out her summer camp has been paid for.)

We have a family in our church that gives so ridiculously unselfishly that I stand in awe.  A local store was having a buy one, get one free suit sale.  The husband called up our new youth pastor (who happens to be my brother) and said, “You need a suit?  I don’t really need two.”  He could’ve easily used the second one and never thought twice, but instead thought of a young, broke pastor that really needs suits.

Two separate tornadoes touched down in our area last Friday.  Thankfully, no one was killed, but hundreds of families lost their homes.  In our area, tornadoes are unheard of.  So much so, that the local meteorologist even said we haven’t seen a tornado like this in about 275 years. 

But, guess what?

You don’t have to make lots of money to give like no one else. 

Shocked, right?

It's true, though.

You don’t have to be debt free to give. 

I raided our stockpile and filled a box with deodorants, diapers, toothpastes, soaps, etc.  Most of this stuff I got for free or for pennies thanks to coupons. 

Now, I’m sure the people in our area would love your donations, but for some of you, shipping deodorant from California would be kinda silly.

So think about your local homeless shelters.  They love getting those types of donations. 

For example: Don’t use hotel toiletries?  Make sets in Ziploc baggies and save them for donation.

How about the staff at your local Christian schools?  Most of them make little, or at times, nothing.  Couldn’t they use a gift basket full of snacks & toiletries? 

Giving is fun.  It’s addicting.  Today is Thrifty Thursday.  Find a way to give a little extra this week.  (No one has to know it was cheap!)  J

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Beginner Budgeting

I’m an accountant. 

By nature. 

By trade. 

I see things in credit and debit. 

Assets.  Liabilities.

Income.  Expenses.

(Take a guess at who’s the nerd and who’s the free spirit in our marriage.) 

I have some wonderful professors to thank for that.  (Mr. Wasser, namely.  Imagine, a tall skinny guy who used to say he’d eat a cup of peanut butter with chocolate syrup drizzled over it EVERY night and celebrated anniversaries at the Whataburger.  Classy.  But I enjoyed him.)

Not everyone is a bean counter, I know. 

But I have been shocked at how many people I talk with who don’t have a budget. 

Don't ask me how it comes up in conversation, but it almost always does and I inevitably end up gawking at them until they start to squirm.
(Much the same way people stare me down when I ask for mayonnaise on my hot dog.) 

And in reality, it only counts as a real budget if it’s written down – not in your head.

Don't tell me you have a budget that you can't show to me.  Cause no one sticks to a budget that can't tell on them. 

In my experience, the majority of people simply pay bills as they come in and at any given time, have no idea how much money they have, what bills are due, and if they have the money to pay them.  There’s no planning, and certainly no thought put into it.

Now I realize not everyone has what my husband refers to as “the sickness” and actually enjoys number crunching.  Although some people swear they hate it, I don’t believe them.  It’s beyond my human comprehension.  Kinda like eternity.  But whatever.

My budget looks similarly like a corporate income statement (just with much fewer zeros & commas.)

You have to know what comes in and what goes out.  And it needs to be by month.  Regardless of how often you get paid.  Expenses are monthly and they trump income.  (Expenses are the rock and income is the scissors in this game.  Don’t ask about paper – I can’t think of a correlation yet.)

My good buddy Dave, has budget forms on his website with recommended percentages.  I like those forms for a beginner who has no clue. 

I use an Excel spreadsheet with twelve tabs at the bottom - one tab for each month.  (And while we were paying off debt, I would do an extra tab for the balances of all our debts with the monthly payments so I could watch the balance go down with each payment.)

But I am a Nerd, so....

I split up our expenses by those due by the 15th of the month and those due by the 30th of the month.  Our first two checks pay the first set of bills and our second checks pay the last set.  I copy and paste that to each month.  Then, I go back through and add/subtract the variables – birthdays, special events, holidays, etc. that add or subtract from the budget. 

In all fairness, I know this method may not work for everyone.  My sister Leah, just moved her family from a weekly budget to a monthly budget and she pays all her bills at the beginning of the month. 

Again, it's about finding a method that works for you and your family.

And sticking to it.

If you don't have a budget currently, I would highly recommend you check into some of the resources listed above. 

After all, you never know how much you could have until you get rid of what you are wasting....

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

The Straw that Broke the Camel's Back

I heard an interesting statistic the other day...

75% of credit card debt is accumulated little by little.

I think most of us tend to think that credit card debt is accumulated in big chunks, but then again, how many of us never actually have that "medical emergency" that we keep the plastic laying around for.

Usually it's that Target run three days before payday...
Or the fact that Sesame Street Live is coming to town and we really don't have the money to go.
(But so-n-so is going and secretly, we still feel like we have to keep up with the so-n-so's.)
If credit cards are only for an emergency, then why do we carry them in our wallet?

How many times do we go to the mall and end up needing an appendage sown back on? :)
I realize that I'm preaching to the choir.

I've got a handful of credit cards that I haven't bothered to call and close.

(Another "Don't Tell Dave.")

Why? I'm lazy.
I know my bad habits.
-A Starbucks run here,
-New shoes there,
-Baby formula - again
Then boom - in no time I'm staring at $700 on the credit card in a panic.

I hate that feeling.

So here's my accountability. By the end of the week, I will mail those letters to close those accounts.

I hate credit card debt and I never, ever want to owe a penny again.

In the meantime, I've got to think of a creative plastic-ectomy to record and post on here...