Total Money Makeover Update: June 2012

Life has been a tad chaotic since I last posted about our Total Money Makeover progress.

After our fire, we lived in a Comfort Inn for 6 weeks. We ate out every night–which is not in our normal budget–and were begrudgingly given an advance of $500 (after we’d spent about $1000) by an insurance lady who said they didn’t usually give advances for food. (Which begs the question, What must one need in order to get an advance?)

Then, we moved to a condo and were given a rather random and unhelpful assortment of our stuff to live with. Salad spinner – yes. Bed sheets – no. We also were blessed with the companionship of a family of adorable, but filthy and disgusting brown mice who were much too smart to crawl into our humane mousetrap, even when it was full of cheese and peanut butter. About a week before we moved out, our property manager finally returned our call about taking care of the mice, but we decided to live with the mice and let maintenance deal with mouse-killing after we were gone.

About a week and a half after we moved back into our newly remodeled home, I took one of my students to the hospital and spent most of my evenings for the next three weeks with her. When she was discharged, she moved in with us and became our unofficial foster daughter for a few weeks. Then, she decided to get married.

During all of this, Dexter spent about two months out of work, though God blessed him with a few fantastic freelance jobs. He now has a nice, predictable job at a bank and I get to see him dressed up, tie and all, every morning. We also took an amazing class called Perspectives which added plenty of homework to our schedule. Dexter, always creative and always entrepreneurial, started a handmade product business which I’ll tell you more about soon.

How has all of this life affected our financial situation?

For the last eight months, we haven’t budgeted well at all. We started using a credit card and paying it off every month, but then using it again because paying it off used up our cash flow. After depleting our emergency fund, our car stopped working, so we opened a new, interest-free credit card for that bill.

For me, this summer is about getting back on track financially. We’re paying off the credit cards, getting back on the cash envelope system, and trying to live simply.

I remembered getting to the 75% mark in our debt repayment process, but I didn’t remember how close we came to 70% last time I calculated our debt. I was happily surprised that after months of paying only minimums, we had still made visible progress. Over the past seven months, we paid off 2.8% of our debt and have 67.9% to go.

We haven’t received the check for what we lost from the insurance company. This is mostly our fault, because we haven’t finished our paperwork. I like to blame this on the people who cleaned our house, because we keep unpacking damaged items mixed in with undamaged items, and having to record them in our paperwork. We have a few pieces of furniture to get repair estimates for, and then we should be done. Once the check comes in, things will look a lot more cheery in the financial department. With the check, we’ll do things like:

  • Save money
  • Replace our bed (We are currently floor-camping, and have been since February 6. It’s surprisingly comfortable, but we’re thankful for the new carpet underneath the sleeping bag.)
  • Replace our couch, window treatments, and set money aside for things we discover we need in the future
  • Fix our air conditioner
  • Look into refinancing our house
  • Finish paying off Debt #3

In my imagination, we’ll take the rest of our thousands of dollars and go on a vacation and buy a new car, but it’s unlikely we’ll be able to do all the things on the list above. A girl can dream.

Top Ten Surprising Things After a Fire

Almost three weeks ago, our house caught on fire. Before the fire, I had never given any thought to how I might feel if our home caught on fire. I assumed it would never happen. But it did, and we’ve experienced a surprising range of emotions and experiences. Here are a few things that have surprised us about the experience.

  1. I am so thankful. Once we found out that everyone, including the firefighters, were safe, I didn’t even care about our home or the relatively few belongings that we lost. God protected us from so much. I’m so glad the situation is totally under His control–from the first spark to the small details of rebuilding our house.
  2. I was so thirsty. Maybe it was exposure to smoke, shock, or that I just hadn’t drank enough water the day before the fire, but I couldn’t stop downing water for the next day or two. When our insurance agent brought us a bag of food and toiletries, the first thing I went for was the bottled water.
  3. Smoke smells are everywhere. When I walked out of our neighbors’ house the night of the fire, I thought, “Wow, it smells like someone is grilling.” Then I realized that it was the smell of my house burning. Since then, we’ve smelled smoke everywhere. Sometimes it was in our hair or on our clothes, but it’s also from the projector in my classroom getting hot or walking past a restaurant.
  4. Fishing out damaged items was surprisingly unemotional. I imagine this would have been different if more of our things had been damaged. However, cataloging the damaged-beyond-repair items took a lot of time and felt more like business than a personal experience.
  5. I was exhausted, but could somehow keep going. We got about 2 hours of sleep, broken up into segments by our dog throwing up and me having to run into school, the night of the fire. Somehow, we made calls, wash and folded all of our clothes, talked to friends, and rode to Des Moines the next day. We spent the day packing and inventorying our things on Monday, and we were back at work on Tuesday. The adrenaline wore off that first day of work.
  6. Everything sparks memories of the fire. We now know exactly where the fire extinguisher aisle is at Target. I was at a conference today and had to answer a question about what had effected my life lately.
  7. We have too much stuff. I first realized this during our marathon clothes washing session the day after the fire. I really thought I might die if I folded another piece of clothing. After we sorted through our clothes at the hotel, we got a decent-sized pile ready to take to Goodwill. When your house catches on fire and you feel like you have too much stuff, you are blessed.
  8. We know a lot of awesome people. We had so many people leave comments on facebook, send emails, and even leave comments on this blog that I didn’t respond to. If that was you, thank you! Your words meant a lot to us. Our exhaustion and not knowing exactly how to deal with we felt about the fire kept us away from social media except to communicate that things were okay.
  9. Eating out eventually becomes a chore. Before the fire, I would have told you that I would LOVE to eat out every day for the next month. However, just deciding where to eat seems like more of a hassle than cooking and cleaning up after dinner. Restaurants are also not full of choices if you’re narrowing things down to what’s vegetarian or even relatively cruelty-free.
  10. We are not alone. So many people we’ve talked to know someone who has had a fire. There have been three other fires in our community since August. One was fatal, one destroyed an entire apartment building and more, and one was just down the street from us.

Perhaps the most surprising thing of all is that not only do we feel thankful for everyone’s safety, thankfulness has been the pervasive feeling throughout the past few weeks. I’m thankful for the firefighters who came and saved our home, the Red Cross who took care of us and our neighbors, and the good friends who watched our dogs and offered us a room in our house for the night and indefinitely. I’m thankful for parents who came ready to do whatever needed to be done–from hugs, to taking us out to eat, and to helping us empty our house if need be. I’m thankful for my husband–for being able to hug him and hold his hand when we couldn’t go home. I’m thankful for a lot more people who have listened to us, and offered to help.

Visit OhAmanda for more Top Ten Tuesday.

Impromptu Party con Fuego

Remember this event for One Nation Education? The one created by my friend/coworker for my student’s community in Haiti? There was a silent auction at the event, and Dexter and I bid on an outdoor fireplace with a grill attachment. We watched our bid with anticipation all evening long (although we didn’t plan to keep bidding), and to our surprise, we won! Dexter’s boss and his wife have had us over for fires in their backyard several times, which is always fun, and I’d wanted to get a fire pit for Dexter for a long time. Once we brought it home, the fire pit sat on our back patio for almost a month without use, until the Friday of Independence Day weekend.

Fourth of July weekend is always busy for Dexter since the cafe he works for is close to a weekend-long-festival in our city. miraculously, Dexter, Luke (our summer housemate and the assistant manager at the cafe), and Keriann (my sister, the cafe’s gelaterista) all had Friday night off. My summer job had ended that morning, and my freedom compared with the busy schedules of the three baristas garnered a lot of sympathy for them. 

I didn’t want to spend a lot of time at the grocery store, so I had Dexter swing by the coop for some potatoes and veggie dogs, and I made a quick run to Fareway for some lemonade, ice cream, and onions. We had everything else we needed.

 

I took lots of kale leaves from the extras table at my CSA pickup that week so I could try out kale chips. They were surprisingly easy to make. While the oven preheated to 350*F, I rinsed, dried, and tore the leaves of 10 stems of kale. I arranged them on baking sheets and baked them for 12 minutes. They came out light, crispy, and slightly brown. I drizzled them with olive oil and salted them. Table salt worked much better than the kosher salt I tried to use at first.

Keriann really enjoyed the kale chips, but not enough to actually want her picture taken with them.

I also made up foil pouches filled with Yukon gold potatoes, onion, and green beans.

We quickly grilled some hot dogs, and waited for the potato pouches to cook. They took about 50 minutes to cook, and could have cooked longer if you wanted softer potatoes.

 

Dexter was pretty excited about the potato packets. I got a lot of wife points for these.

We also enjoyed our new backyard landscaping. Our backdoor planting area was a bunch of weeds and a few hostas at the beginning of summer. I didn’t really want to have the project of making it look better.

Lucky for us, our friend and neighbor Todd loves landscaping, and he agreed to do the work if we provided the money. We still owe him the money.

We also grilled corn on the cob. I think Dexter was missing his bro-ham (that’s what they say instead of brother…I don’t know why), so he was giving a traditional Wes/Dexter thumbs up pose.

Luke tried to coordinate so Dexter wouldn’t miss Wes so much. It sort of worked.

We also grilled peaches in foil pouches. We ate them inside with ice cream. It took a few hours for all our food to cook, but it was a great, relaxing way to share a filling meal on a beautiful evening.