Floor 42: Costco!

Mr. DebtFreeJD and I love Costco with the zeal of the newly-converted.  The samples!  The churros after the checkout lanes!  The huge amounts of food! Every time we go to Costco, I am stunned once more by how much food there is, and how cheap it is.

Our Costco strategy is simple: we walk methodically through each of the food aisles (skipping the TV, clothes, and other assorted junk from China aisles), and try to buy only what we will actually eat.  Obviously, buying food in bulk is pointless unless you actually consume it.  For us, that includes:

  • Maple syrup.  We eat pancakes every Sunday, and probably make up the cost of our membership on savings through buying Kirkland-brand grade A maple syrup alone.
  •  Peanut butter.  DogDebtFreeJD = a little spoiled.*  We eat the peanut butter too, of course, but a lot of it goes into DogDebtFreeJD.
  • Coffee.  We are not coffee snobs.  In fact, we can’t tell the difference between the “good” stuff and the “not-so-good” stuff.  My absolute favorite brew of coffee is Dunkin’ Doughnuts Hazelnut with cream, drunk while answering emails first thing in the morning or driving to work.**  Failing that, Costco coffee is just fine.
  • Avocados.  E.g., proto-guacamole.
  • Beer.  Enough said.  Cheese.  Same.  Chocolate.  Same.  Just kidding.  We don’t buy Costco-sized sweets.  I want to return to my pre-pregnancy weight, and buying all new pants for Mr. DebtFreeJD would not be cost-effective.
  • Fresh blueberries, raspberries, grapes, etc. etc.  Even though I’m no longer pregnant, the fruit cravings have not decreased.
  • Frozen fruit for smoothies.
  • Frozen shrimp/salmon.  For when we are feeling like cooking an adult dinner.
  • Frozen veggie buggers.  For when we are not feeling like cooking an adult dinner.

Recently, I have been contemplating whether to buy an Executive Membership.  Annual cost is $110, as opposed to the $55 cost of a regular membership.  The Executive Membership comes with 2% cash back, meaning we’d have to spend $2,750 annually, or $230 monthly to be worth it.

In the past, we haven’t spent that much.  However, now we will.  Because DIAPERS.


DogDebtFreeJD and BabyDebtFreeJD meet each other!

* Any spoiling is due to the fact that she is the most wonderful dog on the planet.  (No offense to you other dog owners out there).

**When I was still driving to work.  No more!

Floor 41: Inexpensive Pregnancy Foot Care

I’m nine months pregnant.  Among other delightful things, my feet are usually swollen to about twice their normal size by the end of the day.  They also hurt, since I’m thirty pounds heavier than usual.

There’s really nothing that makes them stop swelling except getting a good night’s rest.  I prop them up on a box under my desk at work, and try to elevate them when I’m home, but on days when work is figuratively hopping . . . and I’m literally hopping . . . ballon feet are inevitable.

A cheap, but highly effective, means of making them feel better is epsom salts.  I was drawing a bath and adding the epsom salts, but it’s too hot to enjoy soaking in a warm tub any more.   A foot bath is more comfortable in mid-June, and the feet feel pretty good.

You can even dump the water in your garden afterwards. to fertilize your plants.

I don’t know why I find it extra satisfying to have a cheap way to soak my feet that ends up watering the plants.  But I do.  And I take what satisfaction I can get at 37 weeks pregnant!


May Debt Payoff Progress

Well, consider the clock restarted.  Mr. DebtFreeJD and I were once again able to make a big payment towards loans after moving into the new house.

Here’s the tally for May (and April, March, and February, but very little happened in those months due to the house purchase):

Starting Debt: $125,933.50

Current Debt: $19,393.40

Debt Paid Off: $106,540.10

Progress, progress!

Floor 40: Move Into a House

Mr. DebtFreeJD and I have moved!  The process was long and involved, but we installed ourselves in our new home over the weekend.

Because I am enormously pregnant, the moving process was perhaps not as frugal as it could have been.  For starters, we bought a house that required almost no work.  Tackling major house renovations with a new baby (or right before a new baby) was out.  On a much smaller scale, we had to hire movers – I most certainly was not lifting furniture.  However, thanks to help from our wonderful families, the packing got done without paid assistance.

On the other hand, the move itself should (hopefully) be financially beneficial.  We bought a relatively small house, well within our budget.  Principal, mortgage, and interest payments are less than we were paying each month in rent.  The mortgage deduction should be a nice tax break.  And I’m looking forward to gardening, bicycling, composting, and other money-saving activities that are a little easier to accomplish in a suburban – rather than urban – environment.

Now, of course, we have weeks of unpacking and organizing to do.  I simply do not understand how we managed to acquire SO MUCH STUFF – even though Mr. DebtFreeJD and I are not big shoppers.  It’s a good reminder: most things that I buy, even though they seem totally reasonable at the time, end up not getting used.  I’m not ready to start throwing things out, but I’m also certainly not in a hurry to bring anything else in after moving it all.  One-for-one replacements only for a while (except, of course, for baby things).

Lastly, no report on the move would be complete without an accounting of DogDebtFreeJD.  Her first activity was to dig a giant hole and bury her rawhide in the back yard.  Her second was extensive surveillance on the neighborhood from the front door.  In sum, she is pleased.


Law School Tuition (Part II)

There’s an interesting article in the New York Times today, “Burdened With Debt, Law School Graduates Struggle in the Job Market.”

The article is pretty standard for a law school debt article: law students who graduated in 2010 had — and are still having — a lot of trouble finding jobs that will allow them to pay off their loans.  The average debt burden, according to the article, is $77,364 for 2010 graduates of public law schools and $112,007 for their counterparts who graduated from private ones.

One paragraph really caught my eye:

Many have received financial hardship deferments or, like Mr. Shirkey, who accumulated $328,000 in student debt, including some undergraduate loans, received credits for public interest work.

That is a lot of debt.  A lot.  The gentleman interviewed graduated from Ohio State’s law school.  I am all for personal responsibility, but at the same time, I don’t understand how that happened – what the heck was the law school (and his undergrad?) charging that he started out his life more than $300,000 in the red?!?

Law School Tuition

This morning I read a 2012 article called “The Crisis of the American Law School” by Paul Campos, a famous critic of the way law schools are currently run.

Just a quick snippet from the article to think about.  Here’s how tuition has increased at Harvard Law School since 1971 (in inflation-adjusted dollars):

1971: $12,386

1981: $15,862

1991: $27,207

2001: $35,817

2012: $50,880

Put another way, I graduated in 2011, owing about $150,000.  If I had graduated only ten years earlier, I would have owed $107,451 in tuition – $50,000 less!!!  Not only would I be done paying off my loans, I’d have another $50,000 in the bank.  Certainly something to think about.

Floor 39: Roast a Chicken

After a long cooking hiatus, during which I was essentially useless in the kitchen (see here) I returned tonight to making Sunday dinner.  A good Sunday dinner is a good start to the work week.  In the summer, I usually make pizza, but it’s not really pizza-making season.

A great option is roasting a chicken.  I learned during graduate school that this is actually an very frugal option.  Take tonight’s dinner menu:

  • One small whole chicken
  • Two russet potatoes
  • One head red-leaf lettuce

Total cost: $9.

Roast the chicken and the potatoes in olive oil and herbs, and don’t roast the lettuce.  Instead, make it into a salad with salt, olive oil, and vinegar.  A rule of thumb I learned from my dad is that small chickens are much tastier than big ones (and of course, they’re also less expensive!)

It was delicious.  We all love this, including Dog DebtFreeJD, who was so excited about being fed chicken fat that she couldn’t remember the difference between “sit” and “down,” and tried to do both at once.  Mr. DebtFreeJD particularly enjoyed his post-dinner private feast of leftover potatoes and a glass of wine (after doing the clean-up) and I have to say the post-Sunday night dinner snooze on the couch while someone else did the clean-up was excellent too.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that for $9, you get both dinner and entertainment for two.  Not too shabby.

But wait, ladies and gentlemen, there’s more!

Not only in this delicious and easy, but roast chicken night is always followed around here by chicken hash night.  To achieve this, you take the leftover meat off the the chicken, and fry it up with some potatoes, carrots, onions, and garlic cut up very small, and pour Worcestershire sauce over the whole thing.  Yum.  I’m not actually sure if chicken hash night is what first made Mr. DebtFreeJD decide he wanted to get married to me, but I remember it playing an important role pretty early on in our relationship.

If you are feeling particularly virtuous, you can also make chicken soup out of the leftover bones — which we are planning for Tuesday night.  In sum, three dinners, one chicken, and it’s pretty easy on the wallet.

If anyone else has suggestions for dinners that stretch (without having to eat the same thing three nights in a row) would love to hear them!

Floor 38: Make Plans for the Future

Fingers crossed, we should be able to finish paying off my law school loans in the not-too-distant future.

What comes next?

I have some specific plans.  I’d like to start funding a retirement account.  We want to put something in a college fund for forthcoming Baby DebtFreeJD as soon as possible (the miracle of compound interest!)  And, of course, if all goes well, we’ll have a mortgage to tackle.

Mainly, however, my goal is more process-oriented than results-oriented.  It is:

I want to think about money as little as possible.  

Some of you may think that’s a good way to put oneself on the road to financial ruin.  Hear me out.  People who spend thoughtlessly, who are ignoring the fact that they are deep in debt, and who fail to put anything away for retirement eventually end up thinking about money all the time, because they run out of it at some point.  That is (at least to my mind) much more time-consuming (and stressful) than putting in some legwork so that you don’t have to think much about money in the long-term.

My vision of a perfect financial future is one in which Mr. DebtFreeJD and I have pretty much automated our spending and saving, so that money effortlessly gets taken out of paychecks and diverted towards retirement, savings, investing, and credit card bills.  It’s one in which we’ve more-or-less figured out what we think is worthing spending on and what is not.  It’s one in which we have enough socked away that we aren’t too worried about temporary job loss or other unexpected life events that come with big bills.

In short, it’s one in which we can focus our time and energy on the things that matter to us most, like family (including, of course, family members with fur), our various hobbies, and our work.  Some people really enjoy carefully tracking every dollar they spend and watching their net worth grow.  I don’t, to be honest.  I want money to be a useful tool — and not something on which I have to spend lots of time and attention for the rest of my life.

So, that’s the goal.  More thought needs to go into how to achieve it, but if we can end up there, I’d be pretty pleased.

Floor 37: Pick Out a House

We are now under contract to buy a house, scheduled to close in about a month.  We’re excited, DogDebtFreeJD is excited, and forthcoming Baby DebtFreeJD has not been consulted (but we believe he’ll like it too).

What were our criteria for a home purchase?

  1. The current owners were willing to close in time that we could move before Baby DebtFreeJD’s scheduled arrival.  Hopefully no explanation needed on this.
  2. The purchase price of the house was reasonable.  Reasonable being a subjective term.  Our mortgage agent seemed a little surprised that our price range for a house was approximately half of what we could have qualified for.  Our feeling was that the house we’re under contract to buy seems pretty fancy to us at this price point — we’d probably be afraid to mess up the paint in a more expensive place.  Plus, having worked so hard to shovel ourselves out from a mountain of law school debt, we’re not going to immediately pile on an enormous mortgage payment.
  3. There’s a good public school nearby.  Many of the folks I work with send their kids to private school.  Don’t get me wrong – I think a good education is worth spending money on.  But Mr. DebtFreeJD and I have feelings about public education.  Finding a home where we could have a kid walk to a good public school was a top priority.
  4. We can commute by bike or public transit to our jobs. I’ve written before about how much I loathe car commutes.  We have a car, and that’s plenty of hassle.  We definitely don’t want two of them.  This place is right near a bike trail that goes straight to my job (not that I’m going to be biking anywhere in the near future – I can barely get myself from my office chair to the printer).  It’s an easy bike commute for Mr. DebtFreeJD as well.  And as backup, there’s a bus.
  5. There’s a fence around the yard for DogDebtFreeJD.  She will love this.  We already refer to it as the “Forthcoming Fluffle Utopia.”  Of course, she would love it even more if there were no fence, and she were left to be a wild fluff (as she imagines she was meant to be) but trust us – she’s better off this way.
  6. The yard faces south.  There is something ironic and sad about the fact that I’ll finally have a spot to put in a garden, but I’m going to be too immobile to use it this year.  Mr. DebtFreeJD has volunteered to dig as directed, but I think we’ll probably have other things occupying our time.  Like our upcoming progeny.  DogDebtFree will, I’m sure, try to engage in some private landscaping when she thinks no one is watching.
  7. No major work was required.  I loathe the kitchen tiles in this place.  I also have serious issues with the layout of the kitchen, want to immediately rip out the carpeting upstairs, and foresee a vendetta against the shrubs in the front yard.  This was all immaterial, however, compared to the following: roof, furnace, water boiler, windows and insulation.  Those are all in good shape.  The tiles can wait until we have the time and energy to tackle them.  Maybe in 18 years or so.

Fingers crossed, the closing will go smoothly!