Earth Day is just 10 days away. For those of us that were fans of The Lorax as kids, or have gotten on the green bandwagon that is barreling through the economy, the concept of environmental consciousness is easy to grasp. Even to those I know who aren’t quite sure about “global warming” (ahem…climate change), I say emphatically that God has given us this one planet, full of resources, and we are blessed with the responsibility of stewarding those resources. To paraphrase Alexis de Tocqueville entirely out of context, taking care of the environment is in our “enlightened self-interest”.COMMENTS
Tedious. That is the word I would use to describe menu planning and meal prep. Sure, it can be fun and creative, but the minutia of things to do and consider in the process are many, especially for organic foodies: what is my budget? what is my schedule? what is in my pantry? what is in season? what is on sale? what store should I go to? how much room is in my freezer? how can I save time? etc. (more…)COMMENTS
Most of my furniture has been Craig’s List finds – from my free Dania couch and armchair, $100 Ikea dining set (black wood, table expands to seat 12, four matching dining chairs), free luxury king mattress, or $40 antique vanity – I have mastered the art (and science) of trolling Craig’s List. Want to know my secrets?COMMENTS
My husband and I are expecting our first child, a son we’re naming Jack Napier Hayes, on December 4 (although I’ve decided he’ll likely come closer to Thanksgiving). Since we decided to put our house hunt on hold after several time-consuming setbacks, we are now in the process of redecorating, refurnishing, and reorganizing our 1450 sq. ft. townhome for our growing family.COMMENTS
A recent study revealed that for Americans to eat healthier would cost $380 extra per year – or just under $32 a month. This translates in bringing lunch for a week rather than eating out/skipping the Starbucks once a week/keeping the “wine with dinner” nights to twice a week instead of three or four. The reality is that it isn’t that much more money, but even still, it can be a challenge. HOWEVER, it is possible to eat well on a budget. I’ve done it for nearly eight years since moving out of my parents house after graduation, including while putting myself through college, being unemployed for too long, and married and living on one income. It is not easy. But, like most things worth having in life, it’s a challenge worth embracing!
So where to start?COMMENTS
I’ve grown up in apartments. I’m certainly comfortable renting, and there are several upsides: no debt liability, no maintenance costs, no draconian HOAs, and the flexibility to bail, if needed. Ironically, apartment living conjures a feeling of security for me.
Currently, my husband, Tyson, and I live in a nice townhouse in a very nice, up and coming neighborhood outside of Seattle. It’s a convenient commute to Microsoft, where Tyson works, close to where I’m going to school, less than ten minutes away from our church, and about 15 minutes away from where my mom lives with my 15-year-old brother, who spends a good deal of time with me. I’ve managed to make our apartment beautiful (mostly thanks to seredipitous furniture finds on Craig’s List).
In my opinion, apartments are safe.
However, it came to my attention shortly after moving here in August that our rent was as much or more than a mortgage payment for a reasonably outfitted house in the surrounding areas. Which got me thinking: maybe we should be putting our money into a mortgage, rather than rent.
Although my husband and I have gotten good (but not great) at managing our money, with our current expenses, it would take nearly four years of hyper-vigilant saving for us to amass a 20% down payment on a “starter house” that would fit our needs for the next five to ten years. Add on the fact that I am pursuing a Master’s degree, and we’re looking at starting a family soon, that four-year number could easily turn into five to ten!
But, for buyers across the country, this is a prudent time to invest in real estate – because everything, essentially, is on sale. Tanking home prices means that for those that can afford to do so, buying a home is a good investment. But four (plus) years from now, in the Seattle area, that story is projected to change. Dramatically.
So what is a savvy broad to do?
Two weeks ago, after spending the morning reviewing our finances for the year, and projected budgets going forward, the idea of a 20% down payment simply seemed insurmountable for a young married couple. While my husband has doubled his income in the last two years, I have been out of work, and am going back to school to start a new career (not to mention that pesky baby option).
All of these things made it seem like we would never get into a house; and if we really tried hard to save for it, that would mean considerably downsizing from our current mini-palace. After this somewhat depressing realization, my husband decided to take me out for lunch.
After lunch, we were walking around the area and happened upon a real estate/mortgage broker’s office. We figured, why not go in and see if these people knew something we didn’t. I expected, essentially, be laughed out of the office. But it turns out that we’re in a better position than we thought. This changed everything.
True, 20% down is not a reality for us for a while, but it turns out that there are two programs available to buyers like us: 0% down USDA loans, and 3.5% FHA loans. Three days later, we learned that we could afford a house up to $250K, and if we chose a home in “rural” area, we could get into a house with 0% down, through the USDA program. Given that we live two exits away from “rural”, this option is now at the top of our list. Now came the hard part: convincing my husband that his commute is not the Holy Grail that supersedes the real estate law of “location, location, location”.
This is where my ninja-researching powers came into play. I quickly figured out the areas that were available to us, under the USDA program. The better news, was that these areas are only about five to ten miles out from where we currently live. A new world of potential home ownership has now been opened up to us.
My husband refuses to commute more than 30 minutes from home – in traffic. If he worked near downtown Seattle, buying a house would be impossible with that criteria. But, he works at Microsoft, which is 15 miles east of Seattle. Go about ten miles east of Microsoft, and you’re in “rural” territory!
Alas, we are now on the market to buy a house! How crazy is that? After mini-road-tripping through the possible cities/neighborhoods that fit our needs, we found an area we have just about fallen in love with: Duvall, Washington.
An old railroad town, Duvall is west of the wine rooms of Woodinville, the family farms of Carnation, and the prison of Monroe. (We briefly considered Monroe because of the low home prices, but the prison in the middle of town was kind of a deal breaker.) The downtown stretch of Duvall is marked with historic buildings that house an eclectic array of restaurants, shops, entertainment, and community attractions. (Our favorite, so far, was a fantastically kitsch BBQ joint, Armadillo BBQ.)
Given that we plan on having children in the very near future, we did a little research on the local school system, too. Given that I was a gifted/Honors student, and my husband a technology whiz, we were both impressed by the curriculum and programs available in the Riverview School District. (I was especially impressed that their social studies program included an emphasis on economics – I was a Political Science major, I care about those sorts of things!)
The biggest obstacle at this point is our pesky lease! But, hopefully, that will work in our favor, as our lease expires in August, and more people tend to move in the summer, which means that (hopefully) there will be more homes on the market towards the time we’re ready to start putting down an offer.
Still, it’s a little crazy for me to think that a girl that grew up in apartments her whole life is looking to buy a house…with her husband…and is planning on having kids…within the year.
So many changes, and so little time!COMMENTS
Last week I figured out enough meal ideas for the rest of the month using (mostly) items from my pantry/freezer. This week’s grocery bill was only $50 – not too bad! I purchased several meat items on sale over the last few weeks, so I have been able to come up with many healthy, tasty, and money-saving ideas for June. Remember: shop the sales, use your pantry, and plan ahead!
Monday: Grilled chicken, corn on the cob, and green beans.
Tuesday: Sole, couscous, and zucchini.
Wednesday: Ground beef enchiladas with tomato-spinach salad.
Thursday: Community Group @ The Billings
Friday: Roasted ham with potato salad and Cole slaw.
Saturday: Shrimp Alfredo.
Sunday: Dinner salad with chickpeas.COMMENTS
This week, I took advantage of several sale items at Whole Foods – stocked up my pantry, and added a few new things to the menu this week, including ham, pineapple, hot dogs, and corn on the cob. We’re right on track with our Food budget this month (after months of spending way too much), so things are looking good at the bank, and tasting good at the dinner table!
- Monday: Ginger-Garlic Steaks with Roasted Vegetables
- Tuesday: Baked Potatoes with “The Works”
- Wednesday: Hot Dogs, Corn on the Cob, and Beet Salad
- Thursday: Dinner @ The Billings
- Friday: Late-O De Mayo Party
- Saturday: Ham & Pineapple Skewers with Rice
- Sunday: Falafel & Couscous
With a conference starting Friday and ending Sunday, plus a Mary Kay Party/Ladies Night with friends from church, and of course our weekly community group, this week is pretty busy for my husband and I! The good news: this week’s menu is super simple – I have only two must buy items on my grocery list this week (deli meat and dishwasher soap, for those of you keeping track!)
- Monday: Shepard’s Pie (making use of leftover mashed potatoes from last night’s Mother’s Day feast.)
- Tuesday: Sole with Almond & Wine Sauce with Couscous and Asparagus (bought at Whole Foods for $3/pound – cheap, low in mercury, and sustainably farmed, sole has it all!)
- Wednesday: Leftovers for Mr. Hayes, out with the ladies for Mrs. Hayes!
- Thursday: Dinner/Bible Study with the Billings
- Friday: Take out – Taco Del Mar (we’re super booked on Friday – no time to even reheat something at home!)
- Saturday: Ginger- Garlic Steaks with Asparagus (re-hashing my impromptu Mother’s Day recipe, but marinating the steaks over night – recipe will be posted as soon as I figure out what I did!)
- Sunday: Chicken Stir-Fry (an easy go-to, plus a total money saver since we always have the ingredients in our pantry!)