In celebration of Earth Day, April 22, I put together an Herb Garden for my little backyard space in the hopes of using fresh, organic herbs for my cooking (or just rub their little leaves so it will release their lovely fragrance). Very Earth friendly. Very Simple to make. Read the rest of this entry
A few months ago I posted about my washer issue here and used RepairClinic.com to diagnose the problem and then ordered a new lid switch. All I had to do was provide my model number and chose from of a list of issues and viola!, I had a part on the way. (The advantage of RepairClinic.com is that you can return the part for a full refund if it turn out that it’s not what’s broken) Read the rest of this entry
Just taking a few days off from blogging, working and DIY-ing to enjoy a few days just living. Spring is teasing us Texans with some delightfully warm days and then a sudden cold and windy day. Such are the Ides of March. Read the rest of this entry
If you are like me, you didn’t expect to be doing this Single Mom journey at all. You thought you would have a partner in life that would be the Ying to your Yang and would always be there for the hand-off whether juggling household chores or managing the soccer schedules. Read the rest of this entry
In checking on my laundry yesterday, I saw my clothes sitting in the laziest of manners in the tub of the wash machine soaking in dirty water. I had to stop and think, “when did I put these clothes in?” and “are they just in a soak cycle?”. After playing with the dials and knobs for a while in a knowing manner to see if I could initiate a drain and spin sequence, I came to the frightening conclusion that that dang machine was broke. Or just being lazy. Or just broke.
There’s nothing scarier in the world for a single mom than having an appliance stop working. First of all, most appliances in the home are used and used again on a daily basis and their loss cannot just be brushed off like a bad date with an “Oh well!” and a flip and of the hair and the hand. Replacing them is usually a rather large expense, usually of the unexpected variety.
In the past 6 months, I have been faced with a few failing appliances and before taking that machine out back to be kicked, shot and mourned, I decided to see if I could fix it myself. Yes, that’s right. In this day of YouTube and internet, it isn’t all that improbable that an easy fix could be a few key strokes away.
I highly recommend the website, RepairClinic.com Any amazing website that helps troubleshoot issues, has video on how to take apart your machine, test parts if possible and an online chat to ask questions. Once you identify the issue and if you need a part, then you can order it directly from them. Then you can watch a video on how to install the part and if it turns out that it wasn’t the problem after all, you can return for a full refund of your money. It is totally a win-win situation with low risk. After all, you were probably going to trash that disloyal piece of metal anyway and get yourself a shiny new bells-and-whistles something-or-other. So, what have you got to lose to try it yourself and maybe gain a new sense of achievement and empowerment. You know, it’s not like you have to tell anyone …. just say the “dang thing” exploded when the kids come home from school and find the machine dismantled in the kitchen.
Several months ago my dryer was making a horrible screech, which started even more months prior as a cute little mouse-like squeak and then slowly escalated to a mind-scrambling, metal-on-metal, leave-the-house-when-drying-the-clothes noise. I was definitely not in a position to buy a new dryer and frankly, why would I want to? I’m definitely a “gadget girl”, but clothes dryers do not excite me. And having a new one is nothing I would brag about.
I did some basic internet queries and saw comments about the drive belt. I was positive that’s what it was, after all, don’t cars make that awful noise when their belts are going bad or slipping? So I went to the auto parts store and got me some belt lubricant and gave that a go. Moral: Not every chat room is going to give you good advice or a money back offer.
Not one to give up an opportunity to bust through another gender paradigm …… I found RepairClinic.com and once I located and typed in my dryer brand and model number (easy find inside the door), I was able to utilize videos that help me identify the noise and another video that help me to take the dryer apart to confirm the diagnosis. In my case, there were sliders that help the drum spin smoothly that had worn to nothing. I had four that needed to be replaced and the bracket that holds them. For about $35, I was able to repair my dryer and get it back into quiet working order within a few days (parts need to be shipped). All it took was some time, effort, a bit of knowledge and a screw driver to take the dryer apart and put it back together. The parts just snapped into place. Suddenly, I felt like I was standing on a mountain top, hands on hips, with a red cape flapping in the wind. I had done it! Que music from Rocky followed by a very funky Happy Dance. Un-hu, I am bad… I know it!
So, now I am looking into the tub of my machine wondering how long those clothes are going sit in that water before they start to decay, cuz I’m thinking I won’t be bailing out that water if I don’t have to. I started looking through their troubleshooting guide and read the following under Repair Help:
Washer Stop in mid-cycle
Yes, that’s exactly what happened, so I click on that it brings up the parts that could be responsible and, assuming that my timer must be the issue, I look under the Timer part it said:
If the washer stops mid cycle the timer might be defective. This part is often misdiagnosed, check other components before replacing this timer.
So I looked around for another option…..
Lid Switch Assembly
If the washer stops mid cycle the lid switch assembly might be defective. This is a very common problem. The lid switch assembly can fail either mechanically or electrically. Test any electrical switches with an Ohm meter for continuity. The switches should have continuity according to their design.
Ah, this must be it. By the way, I skipped the testing with the Ohm meter (although I do have one of the those as it would have required disassemble and draining of the washer) and went straight to the pinky-in-the-lid-switch-slot test and lo and behold, the washer started working. So, definitely the Lid Switch Assembly is failing and I promptly ordered it for $36 + shipping ($42). And since I can’t stand there with my pinky in the Lid Switch slot all day, I did my Lady McGuyver and came up with a temporary solution.
My part should be here next week and my laundry room will be back in a socially and aesthetically acceptable condition.
I’ll let you know how the installation goes….. in the meantime, check out that website and remember that you have options when large metal mechanical things begin failing around you. If nothing else, you will be able to talk to the repair person with all the symptoms and proper jargon and maybe they will think twice about overcharging the knowledgeable and powerful mom with the red cape!
Keep Calm and Thrive On……..
I always like to start at the beginning. I think I am kinda of OCD in that way. I know I could always just jump in right where I am, but I would rather start a story from the start. Which I can imagine makes me a great party guest who has to spend endless moments setting the stage before getting to the point. Kind of like I am doing now.
With no further ado…… the point is…. I bought a house.
My first house. My first house without anybody else’s name on the title or the paperwork. All mine. Is it weird to admit that it had always been a personal goal to be able to say that I, ME, MYSELF, bought a house?
My original plan when I put my old house on the market was to actually move into my parents house. The market was great for selling a house (inventories were low) and I felt that looking for a new house at the same time as selling a house and the logistics of timing the closings and the move where going to be nightmarish. I didn’t want to be put into a position to buy a house I didn’t truly love just because the opportunity to sell my house had presented itself.
I wasn’t actually planning to move back home, so to speak. (Another personal goal was to never ever move back in with my parents). I have 2 kids and 4 dogs and my parents have a 3 bedroom house. I was thinking since they weren’t actually using the house (they RV pretty much full time), it would be a place to settle for a while and launch a serious house search. And since it was right down the street from my current home, it would mean minimal changes for my kids. Same bus schedule, same friends in the neighborhood, etc.
But it didn’t exactly work out that way and I found a house before I knew I was even looking for one. Funny how that works.
I did have a list of must have’s for my next house.
- It HAD to be one story – no more upstairs and no more split bedroom living
- It needed to have 4 bedrooms – a guest room is imperative since my dad visits often for long periods
- I wanted a neighborhood with a community pool for the kids so I didn’t have to have one
- Front entry drive
- A smaller yard for easier maintenance
- A smaller footprint for utlities, taxes and upkeep
- Same school district/schools for the kids
A friend of mine stumbled across a house that just been put on the market, For Sale By Owner, in the neighborhood I was considering. Since house inventories where low, there weren’t many one-storied houses for sale. I rushed over and did a walk through with the owner and was smitten. I scheduled a second viewing on the spot to show my kids.
Here are the pictures from the second walk through…… which are in random order because I haven’t figured out how to move stuff around here..
So many great features which includes a huge walk-in closet in the Master Bedroom, two community pools, my son’s middle school in walking distance and both kids already had friends in the neighborhood. The house was less than 5 years old and with the exception of the rear-entry garage, this was a total score and I jumped on it. I put in my offer that same night and with a few back and forth texts with the owner, we came to an agreement.
And that is how I came to own a new home.
National Severe Weather Preparedness Week is April 22 to April 28
Tornado Season has officially begun in Texas with the touchdown of more than 15 tornadoes in Dallas in the early part of this month. It was the worst day ever, having the kids at school when the sirens went off and false reports of touchdowns nearby. We survived that awful day, but soon enough, North Texas will transition into Wild Fire Season and Flash Flood Season. Are you prepared for a disaster?
Imagine worst case where you have to leave your home immediately or take cover in a closet or basement. Do you know what information you would need to have on hand after you emerge into the aftermath? Who will you call? Does your insurance over this? Does your child need a tetanus shot?
Whenever there is impending doom, I grab my “Important Information” binder, my Portable Safe and my Portable Hard-Drive …. along with the kids, the car keys, the dogs and their leashes. The first three items contain the workings of my life and if I lost every other material thing, then I have the tools to pick up the pieces for me and my kids.
STEP 1: Important Information Binder
This binder pulls together key information needed to make contact and be answer questions about your family, your insurance, your health. This binder can contain:
- A list of Emergency Contacts which include the closest members of your family and their home and cellphone numbers. It should also contain the numbers for your doctors, dentist, eye doctor, plumber, lawn service, utilities companies and alarm service. (What if you lose your cellphone?!?)
- Current Car Insurance policy
- Current Home Owners insurance policy
- Kids current shot records
- Dogs Rabies Certifications
- Life Insurance Policies
My binder is full of sheet protectors that I can just drop things into it as I think of stuff I may want to have with me.
It isn’t unusual for me to reference that binder in just doing day-to-day stuff and my mom knows where it is in case I become seriously ill or when I occasionally travel. So, I also include:
- Authorization for her to treat my kids
- Health Insurance Cards
- Current Pictures of my kids and pets (in case they go missing)
- Care and Feeding instructions for my Pet Sitter
- The Kids Routines and Schedules for when I have to travel without them.
STEP 2: Personal Safe or Safe Deposit Box
- Birth Certificates
- Vehicle and Home Titles
- SS Cards
- Your Will
- A copy of your identification card/driver license
- A copy of your Credit Cards front and back
- A Password/Combination Log of your email, online, website accounts
- A book of checks/or emergency cash
STEP 3: Portable Hard Drive/Remote Backup
Personally, I like to keep all my digital photos, and I have a zillion of them, on a 1 terabit portable hard drive which I grab when I need to take cover. If I lose every photo album in a fire, flood or storm, then I still have these valuable keepsakes.
I also keep an online remote backup of my PC Hard Drive with a service called Carbonite. For $69 a year, my home computer is constantly backed up and I can retrieve my documents from any internet-connected PC or from an App on my iPhone. This also gives me protection should my hard drive crash from a hacker, a virus or a power surge. Or sometimes, it’s been known to just crash randomly. This gives me incredible peace of mind that my data won’t disappear in a flash.
Check out this link that compares remote backup services.
This is just a small portion of what you will need in the aftermath of an emergency. There are many, many website that can provide further information on how to prepare for an emergency, such as preparing food rations, evacuation plans, and disaster kits. All these are very important to a well-rounded Disaster Preparedness Plan.
Check out these websites for more information:
If your area is prone to hurricanes and/or earthquakes, there are specific websites for preparedness for your situation:
Some of these lists can be incredibly thorough, so review them and take away what you need and can easily manage.
Peace of Mind
A plan and having information at your fingertips can give you peace of mind. Sharing this plan with your kids and extended family can give you all confidence that “in case of emergency”, you will know what to do, where to go, and how to kick start your life again.
Now, get started and here’s hoping you never have to use your plan!
- Book Review: Survival Mom (examiner.com)
- This is not a test: Disaster Preparedness in 6 Steps (cmcacorner.com)
A few weeks ago, I realized that this coming May will signify 5 years since I started this Single Mom gig. I am shocked how fast this time has passed and it started me thinking back to the beginning ….. and our first adventure as a threesome!
I have such great memories of camping when I was a kid. We camped with other families, so there were plenty of us kids running free through the woods, the streams, the campsites. Our days were filled with exploration and fishing and swimming; Our nights were filled with roasting marshmallows and singing songs around the campfire with my Daddy and my Mom strumming guitars.
Those adventures ended when my parents separated.
I wanted my kids to have these kinds of memories, too, but instead of ending with a marriage, our adventures began at the end. Are you following this?
Knowing that their dad was moving out as soon as his new place was ready, I was looking for something they could be excited about post-D Day.
I cannot remember what my inspiration was, but I knew without a “certain someone” to nix all my grand plans, the possibilities were endless. I found a place that rented popup campers and booked a weekend in May along with a recommendation to a local lakeside campground. I also had to borrow a truck to haul the camper and who in Texas doesn’t have a truck, except me.
My mom got so excited about my plans, that she booked a camper for her and my step-dad and they joined us for the weekend.
So Friday after work, we headed to the local campsite and me and kids figured out how to set up a pop-up camper. Success!!!
We built our very own, no lighter-fluid used, camp fire and roasted hot dogs for our dinner.
We slept comfortably and I even figured out how to make a bacon and egg breakfast in that tiny little kitchen.
We took long walks to the bathrooms and had a great time checking out the amenities.
We fished with leftover hotdogs and didn’t catch a thing. The kids rode bikes and I took pictures of stuff.
We celebrated my Step Dad’s birthday, and roasted marshmallows and made S’mores.
We grilled burgers and did fun things with my camera and their little camping lanterns.
We fished some more and watched the ducks and my son accidentally threw his sister’s fishing rod into the lake trying to master his casting.
And on Sunday, we brought our first “Threesome” adventure to a close and packed up and went home.
And so began our love affair with camping……
And 6 months later, Santa (Mom) surprised the kids with our very own (used) PopUp camper!
But not before my parents ran out and bought this…..
and we became a camping family once again.
Yep, the guy with the cap and cigarette is the same little boy from the picture at the beginning…..
Tomorrow, April 17th, is tax day for 2012 and for those of us who have not completed our taxes yet, here are a few tips to help you get it together.
Get it Together
Being slightly ADD, I find that having all my information in one place as I sit down to do my taxes will keep me from getting distracted. Otherwise, as I run around the house looking for information, I can certainly stumble across other things that require my immediate attention.
A list of these items also helps keep me focused. So, grab a manilla file folder and on the outside, make the following list (only the items that apply):
W-2 (Job 1)
W-2 (Job 2)
1099-G (Certain Government Payments) i.e. Unemployment
1099-Int (Bank 1)
1099-Int (Bank 2)
Form 1098 (Mortgage 1)
Form 1098-E (Student Loan Interest Paid)
Child Care Credits:
Print out of payments to Daycare/Childcare
Monetary Donation Receipts
List of Goodwill/Salvation Army drop-off/pickup with Fair Market Values)
Form 5498 (IRA Contributions)
Form 1099-R (Investment Payouts)
Receipts (if taking deductions)
Form 1099-SA (Distributions from an HS, Archer MSA, or Medicare Advantage MSA)
This is not an inclusive list. Since most people don’t have very complicated situations, this should cover most situations. If you have a business, I recommend a separate folder for those items. Heck, I recommend a Tax Consultant.
With the items listed on the outside of the folder, start collecting this information and putting it into the folder and checking them off. A series of check marks can be very satisfying.
Where to Find it
W-2’s should have been mailed to you by your employer postmarked by January 31st of the year. Many employers utilize payroll management companies that allow on-line views and prints of checks and W-2.
1099-G will be sent by the local government agency and can also be viewed on-line via the payment history.
1099-Int (Interest Earned Income) should be mailed from the banking institution and is also available though their online banking portal.
Form 1098 (Mortgage Interest Paid). If Property Taxes are escrow-ed and paid by the mortgage company, this information should also be on the Form 1098 that will be mailed by the Mortgage company. If payments can be made online, then this information should also be on their online portal.
For Child Care Credit, a printout of the money received by the Day Care Provider will be needed with the full name, address and tax Id noted. In my experience, the Day Care will only provide this information upon request. This is a very important tax credit for anyone that is paying daycare.
Donation receipts should include gifts of money made to churches and other charitable organizations. Remember that if you receive anything of value in return for your donation, then only the portion that is given above the value of the goods or service is tax deductible. Ask the organization for the fair market value of goods or service you received and deduct it from the amount you donated. Always get a receipt to support your donation.
Other donations include goods provided to organizations, such as Goodwill or the Salvation Army. Be sure to keep good records and utilize a Thrift Store value of the items you donate. And if the total of all your goods contributed values at more than $500, you have to file IRS Form 8283 with your tax return.
Here is a link to the Salvation Army Donation Value Guide to help you find a value for each item that you donate.
These can be both Income and Deductions. If you are putting money into pre-tax and even some post-tax investments, you can receive certain deductions. Discuss these with your Tax Consultant. If you are taking payouts or cashing-out your investments, then these are considered income and can be taxable or even carry penalties if you pay/cash out before you are qualified to do so. Check with your Financial Adviser or your Tax Consultant. If you have complicated investments, I recommend both a Financial Adviser and a Tax Consultant. A Financial Adviser should not be giving you tax advice.
I thought this was a great article on Investment Deductions. I was surprised by a few items on this list. Specifically, writing a check for the maintenance fees for my retirement account, rather than having it deducted from the account, allows me to deduct those fees. I may have to try that.
HSA (Heath Savings Account) are offered by some employers in conjunction with a high-deductible insurance plan. This account allows you to save pre-tax dollars to spend on your medical bills and deductibles (much like a Flexible Spending Account but you don’t forfeit your unspent money at the end of the year). It also allows you to save long term (year after year) and use the money in future years when you have a medical need. Disbursements are reported to the IRS with the Form 1099-SA and are not taxable as long as the disbursements are for medical services and goods.
Check out this page for all the benefits, qualifications and contribution limits of an HSA account.
Now that you have it all together, plugging your information into a Tax software or visiting a Tax Prep Service or dropping off with your Tax Consultant will be much easier and allow the forms preparation to go much faster.
Get Ready for Next Year
Do you really want to go through this craziness again? I didn’t think so. Right this minute, pull out another manilla (or whichever color you prefer) file folder and mark it 2012 Income Tax and put it with your other files. The next time you receive a tax document in the mail, make a drop at Goodwill, print off a receipt for a donation or a business expenditure, drop that document right into the file folder. Viola!
Are You Getting a Refund?
I really don’t want to know if you are getting a refund. Rather, ask yourself if you would rather have that money in your paycheck each month or let the government have it (interest-free) for almost a year. Some people enjoy the surprise of a refund come Spring but wouldn’t you rather have that money working for you rather than just waiting for you.
What if you took that extra money each month and put it into an interest-bearing account? You would have more money next Spring than what the government would offer you. If you want to take charge of that money, then you may want to revisit your W-4 and modify your exemptions.
This link from the IRS will help you determine the correct number of exemptions for a new W-4. After changing your exceptions and submitting it to your payroll department, remember to check your paychecks to be sure you are “on-track” to paying the same amount of taxes you paid last year (assuming all income and deductions are the same). You can change your W-4 as many times are you want, so feel free to make adjustments as needed to ensure that you are paying your fair share and no more. Otherwise, you may find yourself facing a tax bill, rather than a refund next year.
Hope this information helps you get on the ball and get your taxes done and off your plate. After all, there are more exciting things you need to be doing.
Happy Tax Day!
I always believed that Wealth Building was something “rich” people did. As I have schooled myself in the area of personal finance, I have learned that Wealth Building is not just for the wealthy. It’s for everyone, even a Single Mom, like me. Who knew, right?!?!
There comes a time to stop living like there is no tomorrow and start making financial decisions that will support your longer term goals. These could be to save for a down payment on a home, provide some money for the kids college, save for retirement, a newer car and/or simply to provide a comfortable cushion should life throw a few lemons your way.
None of these items are out of reach as long as you establish your priorities.
Wealth Building begins with a positive Net Worth. What is Net Worth? It is the mathmatical outcome of the value of your Assets minus the cost of your Liabilities.
Assets .v. Liabilities
Anything that is owned that has value, such as a home, auto, cash, art, and investments is an Asset. Assets always have a positive impact to your Net Worth.
A Liability is anything in which money is owed and has negative impact to your Net Worth. The more debt you carry, the more it offsets the positive influence of your Assets.
A spreadsheet adding all assets and making adjustments for liability will provide a clear picture of your Net Worth. In the example below, Assets are listed on the left side based with their present value.
On the right is where all liabilities are listed and valued. Home loans, car loans, student loans and credit card debt are all liabilities. This would also include any outstanding money owed to the IRS or legal fees or liens against your property.
A house is an asset, except for the part of it that is financed. Since this is a debt that will need to be paid (a liability) the asset is offset by the liability. If the house is worth $200,000, but $150,000 is owed, the asset is only worth $50,000 (200,000 – 150,000 = $50,000). Since the money owed is less than the value of the house, the house remains an asset but for only the amount of the equity (value – debt = equity) of the home, $50,000.
On the spreadsheet above, the house value is listed in the Assets column and the Mortgage is listed in the Liability column. The Liability will offset the Value.
If the value of the house (the amount at which it could be sold) is less than the amount owed, then the house becomes a liability. “Upside down” is a favorite term for this scenario.
When the two sides of the spreadsheet are added together Assets – Liabilities = Net Worth, the Liabilities will always devalue Assets dollar for dollar. In this example, the Net Worth is listed at the top right-hand side at $165,500. This person has a positive Net Worth and that is the beginning of building wealth.
Now imagine if that person only had a house debt. Without liquidating any of their assets, that person worked really hard (took a second job, maybe) to pay off their debt and today only had a house payment each month, then their Net Worth would have increased to $210,000 (reducing the liabilities column to only the $150,000 owed.)
A positive number in the Net Worth box is the start of Wealth Building. Why? Well, all things being equal and should someone call in all your debts, you would not be completely broke (assuming you sell all your assets). I recommend that this exercise be done every quarter and if this number is climbing, then you are increasing your assets or decreasing your liabilities and, therefore, are Building Wealth. If this number is declining, then chances are you have increased your debt load.
So, it is to be said that the first steps to a positive Net Worth is to create a budget, remove the liabilities, i.e. debt, and start saving. Your goal each month should be to pay off debt and/or add money to your savings or your investments. Both will have a dollar for dollar positive effect on your Net Worth.
There is no “Get Rich Quick” scheme for building wealth. It takes planning, budgeting, saving and investing. By the way, putting $5 a week toward the lottery is not an investment, nor is it a plan.
At this point in your financial development, investments should be limited to 401(k), IRA, or Mutual Funds. I do not recommend investments in jewelry or art or even property until your Net Worth is in excess of $1M or you are comfortable paying cash for these items.
I will cover more of how to make your wealth work hard to make more wealth in my next blog in this series….. Money and The Single Mom – Investing.
On a Personal Note
I have been working on my financial plan since 2009. At the time, I calculated my Net Worth and have tracked it quarterly for these past 3 years. During that time, I paid off all my debt (except the house) and I am careful not to incur any additional debt by planning purchases and living within my means. I have begun to give to my 401(k) and building my Emergency Fund. As a result, I have consistently increased my Net Worth by at least 5-10% each year. I am building wealth, as a Single Mom, and you can too.
Free Net Worth Spreadsheet – Excel
3 Simple Steps to Building Wealth, Investopedia.com
5 Ways to Build Wealth Automatically, Forbes.com
I recommend the following books for more insight into budgeting and other money matters:
The Total Money Makeover – Dave Ramsey
Debt-Proof Living – Mary Hunt
Next Wednesday – Investing