Tag Archives | money

Phoebe’s Work: how we pay our preschooler for extra chores

phoebe's worksheet and calico critters

Phoebe is a hard worker.

There are some things Phoebe is expected to do for the joy of helping, or because she is a member of our family. Things like…

  • brushing teeth
  • cleaning up her room before bed
  • feeding Scooter
  • putting a toy away

Phoebe also has the opportunity to work. We used to try paying her with change, but money is a concept she is still learning to grasp, so a coin was never a big enough incentive for her. (more…)

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The “50 Bucks a Week” Challenge

hamburger vacado atkins gluten freeHow much money do you spend a week on food?  When I discuss this question with people, I inevitably get frustrated, because people always tell me a figure that seems unreasonably low. In our house, we budget; we keep track of every dollar; and we know exactly how much we truly spend on food each month. And, let me tell you, it is hard to spend only $50/week on food for two adults.

Well…it’s hard if:
– You eat meat. Daily.
– You eat organic/free range/pastured products.
– You eat fresh fruits and veggies.
– You drink raw milk and eat raw milk dairy.
– You don’t have a garden.

Plus, if you count ALL your food, even your Starbucks coffees and lunches out, it’s IMPOSSIBLE to spend only $50/week. Seriously. Unless you eat off the McDonalds value meal, which I refuse to do, because it most definitely does not meet any of the aforementioned criteria. And because it tastes gross.

For me, keeping our food spending in budget is a continual challenge. Can it be done? Can we spend only $50/week on groceries?

sungold cherry tomatoes heirloom yum

I am inspired by the blog “30 Bucks a Week” which chronicles the grocery spending of a Brooklyn couple who eat vegetarian & sustainable meals. Tina & Phil post their receipts each week and chronicle their spending habits. If they can eat cheaply and still eat well, shouldn’t I be able to, too. Meat is more expensive than “no meat,” so and extra $20/week should be more than enough wiggle room, right?

I’ve been in a frenzy tonight over this idea. I fear if I sleep on it, I may lose my fervor and back down. So. Off the cuff. In a flurry of spontenaity and emotion, I am posting my “big idea” to the blog:

I want to try.

I want to try to eat for $50/week.

I want to try to eat ORGANIC, SUSTAINABLE, RAW, LOCAL and FRESH for $50/week.

I want to try the “50 Bucks a Week” challenge!

I will:
– Post my receipts for each week. Even when I fail. (Especially when I fail).
– Start the “counter” tomorrow. (And, yes, I am grocery shopping tomorrow).
– Include ALL food spending. Including dining out? Hmm…I haven’t decided yet. Tina & Phil don’t on their “30 Bucks a Week” blog, and I bet Matt and I eat out less than they do. (They say they eat out “on the weekends”). So, lets revise that to:
– Include all NON-RESTAURANT spending.

One last thing: Matt and I love being hospitable, and part of hospitality is serving food. We actually set aside money in our budget for hospitality, and it is separate from our regular “grocery” fund. For the sake of this blog, I will include any food spending, regardless of whether or not it’s for us or for our guests.

I’m nervous. I know I’m going to fail to stick within budget a lot. But I hope my honesty and openness inspire you to examine your own eating and spending habits. And, if you have any tips on how you cut down on food costs without compromising on quality, I beg of you: please share!

Here goes nothing!!!!!

By ekwetzel

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Financing Primer

hand of money cashMoney, money, money. Isn’t that the big green thing that keeps us from buying a house, or keeps us from affording the house we want? Thanks to a myriad of financing options, you don’t need $100,000 in the bank to buy a $100,000 house.

In Washington State, a seller can disclose on his listing that he will accept certain financing types.  The reason why sellers might prefer to exclude certain financing types is because there can be extra hoops to jump through or the process can take a lot longer.  The reason buyers might prefer certain financing types is because they get a much better interest rate or APR, or there are other perks; also, if a buyer can only finance a home in one particular way, her options would limit her if the seller refused that financing term. As a buyer, if I saw a house I was interested in, and the online listing did not list the financing terms I wanted to use, I’d still contact the seller to check if he would accept my preferred financing method.

What follows is a brief and unprofessional overview of some of the financing options first time homebuyers might run into. If you have serious questions about how any of these financing terms would work in your local area, contact an escrow professional in your state. For information on what financing terms are available for your particular transaction, consult whoever is providing the financing, typically a bank or credit union.


In this transaction, the buyer brings all the money for the sale to the seller directly.  There is no bank or financing involved.  This type of financing term is called “cash out,” but a buyer could also write a check. Sellers will almost always accept this type of financing, but it is one of the most difficult for a first time buyer to pull off, since it requires a lot of money in the bank.


This is one of the most common financing options, and I have never heard of a seller who did not accept it.  “Conventional financing” is when the buyer gets a mortgage through their bank or credit union to pay for the house.  The bank pays the seller, and then the buyer makes monthly payments on the loan for its duration. Typically the loans are for 30-year periods.  Buyers will want a fixed rate, which means their interest rate cannot be raised arbitrarily by the financier.

Mr. Wetzel and I ended up using conventional financing to buy our house: got used a 30-year fixed rate mortgage. We preferred it because it had a better APR (similar to an interest rate), and we did not need to purchase mortgage insurance with the loan we chose.  Different mortgage plans require a different percentage of the house purchase price to be paid at the close of the sale (i.e. when you get the keys). Our mortgage worked well for us because we only had to pay 3% of the house’s price upon closing. (Wikipedia link)


FHA stands for the Federal Housing Administration.  The federal government has these loan programs available, typically to low-income buyers or first time homebuyers who meet certain income and credit requirements.  For FHA loans, you typically don’t need to put as much money down when you purchase your house; when Mr. Wetzel and I were considering financing options, we found an FHA program that allowed us to pay $500 at the transaction for the house, and all other parts of the closing costs and mortgage would have been worked into our ongoing financing. FHA loans typically require mortgage insurance.

FHA loans have certain requirements that must be met by the house inspection, or else the loan is not supported by the program.  I have two friends who bought separate homes with FHA financing in the last 2 years, and each of them were frustrated because they’d find a home they liked that had something wrong with it, and even though they could easily fix it upon moving in, they were not permitted to buy the house because the home inspection did not pass FHA standards.  In both of their cases, however, they could only afford an FHA loan.  Because of the extra requirement, sellers sometimes do not want to accept FHA financing.  If in doubt: ask! If you come to a seller with a good offer and happen to have FHA financing, they may very well accept your offer.

You can find information about FHA loans from your local bank or credit union, and those institutions can also tell you what financial requirements must be met in order for you to qualify for the loan. (Wikipedia link)

stephen proctor VA paperwork loanVA LOAN

VA loans are government backed mortgages, similar to FHA loans and with similar perks and drawbacks.  VA loans are only available to military or ex-military buyers, so Mr. Wetzel and I never looked into these options.  From what I can tell, there are enough perks to VA loans that any buyer who could qualify for them should definitely check them out. Sellers commonly accept this financing option, but because of the extra hoops that you have to jump through, sometimes they do not. (Wikipedia link)


Every once in a while the seller will offer to finance the loan for the house directly.  As a buyer, you would not make payments to a bank; you’d pay the former owner directly. This is not a common financing type, but it can show up more frequently when the house is being sold by a builder, especially if the house is part of a development. If you are concerned about protecting your rights in the purchase and sale transaction, definitely hire a real estate attorney to look over your paperwork.


Do you want to buy a house, but you just can’t afford to pay for it right now? Sometimes sellers will offer a lease on the house, with an option to purchase it later.  The terms of the agreement vary depending upon what you work out with the seller, but the leases are often for a 1-year or 2-year periods.  Typically, this type of financing will cost the buyer more after the total house purchase, but it may be a preferable way to go if your only other option is to rent for years until you can put enough aside to afford the down payment on a house. This financing option up to the owner, since it involves them long-term, and if the owner will offer it, they will typically have it advertised openly on the listing; so, if you’re going to look for a lease to purchase financing option, you’ll need to search the online listings for homes that already have it noted, and your selection will be very limited. (Wikipedia link)


There are other financing options available. They are rarely seen for a first time homebuyer; however, I’ll list them here:  Assumable, Farm Home Loan, Rehab Loan, State Bond, and USDA. There may be other financing option available depending on your area, but those are the major ones for Washington State.

By ekwetzel

* The picture of the soldiers is courtesy of Stephen Proctor

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20 dollar bills by Stacy Wagoner

The First Steps

Do you think you might be interested in buying your first house?  Perhaps you’re not ready to make a purchase now, but sometime in the near future you’d like a house?  As a twenty-something-year-olds, Mr. Wetzel and I always assumed we’d get a house “someday,” perhaps in 5 or 10 years.  Then our friend, Randy, bought a house and shared with us how much his mortgage was. Mr. Wetzel and I looked at each other, baffled, and we knew what each other were thinking: “That’s less than what we pay for rent!”

After Randy gave us the bug, we sat down to talk about it practically, and it was a little overwhelming. I mean, isn’t homeownership something “adults” did? Is it possible that we could actually consider buying a house? Would this be a wise decision for us?  We decided to run searches on some real estate sites and keep a pulse on the market to see what kinds of houses popped up.  If nice homes were selling for cheap enough, it would make it an easy decision for us.


Our goal was to pay less than or about the same amount that we currently did for rent.  To figure out a ballpark of what price of home we would be looking for, we used an online mortgage calculator, like this one from BECU.  Here are a couple tips on how to use the calculator:
(1) If you are getting a 30-year mortgage, your Number of Payments will be 360.  30-year mortgages are common for conventional loans, as well as VA loans (available for military) and FHA loans (many first time homebuyers use FHA loans).
(2) APR will change drastically depending on where you live and when you actually get your mortgage.  To get a general idea of your APR, google “APR rates” and your city, and you’ll see some common APRs that are currently being advertised.  When Mr. Wetzel and I crunching numbers, we decided to overestimate and calculate our finances based on a 7% APR.  In reality, we received an APR of 4.875%. This means that our mortgage payments are about $170 less each month than we planned, which is great because we’ve needed that cushion to be able to buy things for house maintenance. I advise to overestimate the APR in the early planning stages.  You can always decide to expand your budget later, but if you get your heart set on a certain type of house, it’s very discouraging to backpedal and look and cheaper houses. Also, even if APR rates are low right now – and they are at record lows – you never know what your actual APR rate will be, or what rates will look like a 6 months or a year  from now when you finally find the house that you want to buy.  Be conservative now. Be excited about extra financial flexibility later.
(3) You type in the amount you want to pay on your mortgage in the “Monthly Payment” box then click the “Monthly Payment” button, and a figure will be calculated for the “Loan Amount.” Or, you can Type in the “Loan Amount” you’re looking out to figure out your monthly payments.

There are a lot of complexities to figuring out how much you actually pay each month to own a home, many of which are variables that you won’t even know until you are going through the process of buying the home you want.  There is possible mortgage insurance; there are real estate taxes; there are city expenses for sewage, run water and garbage.  When you’re in the planning stage, just ignore these factors, and keep your estimated APR high.  You aren’t signing any papers here. You’re just planning and looking…window shopping, with intent to purchase.


Your credit score is key in determining what loans you qualify for and how good your interest rate and APR will be. When Mr. Wetzel and I started seriously looking at houses, we ran a credit check. It’s a good thing, too, because there was an error on our records: we paid a bill 3 years earlier, and then moved to a new apartment; the billing company had a paperwork error but couldn’t find us, so the bill was sent to collections. Since we found the mistake early in our homebuying process, we were able to correct our credit history and improve our credit score significantly before actually applying for loans.

To check your credit score, go to AnnualCreditReport.com.  From here you can connect directly to the three credit bureaus, Experian, Eqifax and TransUnion, to check on your credit history.  Checking your credit history is free, but the different credit bureaus may charge different amounts to actually see your numeric credit score.  The credit history is what you really need; don’t feel obligated to pay to see your score.

It’s also a good idea to take steps to improve your credit, but that’s a tangent for another post.


Mr. Wetzel and I were excited.  We figured out what we wanted to pay for a home, and we knew our credit was in-line. We were ready to talk to a lender and take a look at what actual mortgages might be right for us. You might be tempted to start your homebuying process by walking into your bank or credit union, sitting down with someone and asking them to see how much house you are approved to buy. DON’T DO THIS!

Here are list of reasons why you should figure out what you want to pay for a home before finding out how much the lender will allow you to borrow:

(1) This is not about finding your identity in the sticker price of your house.  The loan amount you are approved for is not a reflection of who you are.  At the end of the day, a house is just a thing that you purchase. You can have a home without owning real estate.
(2) If the lender thinks you can afford a half a million dollar home, it never means you should buy a half a million dollar home.  Our society got into its current financial crisis because banks were wrong about how much people should bite off and people were not aware enough of their financial chewing capabilities.
(3) Your goal is not to spend all your money on a house.  Figure out what’s right for your family’s finances, and go from there. A lender makes money off lending, so of course they want to lend you more, rather than less.  For Mr. Wetzel and me, the “right” amount was to try to pay about the same that we were paying for rent. We knew even if one of us lost a job or needed to take time off work, we could still get by on one income and pay our mortgage. Don’t try to fit your life around a house; figure out what kind of house will fit into your life.

Once you talk to the mortgage professional at your bank or credit union, they’ll be able to work with you to figure out what type of loan is right for you, and they can also confirm whether or not the lender would finance a loan for you at this point in your life. The lender can also give you a better idea of how much you need to have in savings in order to pay the down payment and closing costs for a house in the price range that you want.

The lender can also pre-approve you for a loan. You may or may not want to do this, depending on how serious you currently are about buying a house.  One advantage to getting pre-approved is the lender will run a credit check, and they should be able to share this with you.  This credit report will show your numeric credit score as well as your credit history. I liked being able to verify what our credit scores were, since I did not want to pay the three credit unions for that information previously.

Nowadays, many lenders have information online about the loans that they have available.  Mr. Wetzel and I found BECU’s Home Loans website very useful once we were actually ready to apply for a loan.  If you’re curious, google “home loans” and your lender’s name, and see if they have a similar website available.

If you live in Washington State, I recommend BECU all the way.  We do our checking and savings with them, and we used them for our home loan. They were fast, friendly, very helpful and had excellent loans available.  If you don’t live in Washington, ask friends and family for a lender that they recommend.

By ekwetzel

Do you have a budget? If not, you may find the following posts helpful:

Money photo and House photo, courtesy of Stacy Wagoner Photography.

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Budgeting 103: Be Faithful

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

Some additional guidelines to help you stick with your budget…

Find Balance. Once or Twice a month, balance your accounts with bank records.  Go through your bank record and credit card statement and mark off the entries in your Budget Binder.  I like to make a note of the date each time I do this task and use a different color highlighter to make the section stand out.  Doing this check will help you make sure you don’t forget payments for auto-withdrawals or lost receipts.

Pay Off the Cards. If you have a revolving balance on a credit card, don’t use your card to pay for things until you have paid off your revolving balance.  This will force you to use the money in your checking account and remove the temptation of accessing the entire available balance on your card.  This habit is key to getting and staying out of debt.  Don’t spend what you don’t have.  You only will end up paying for it more in the long run.

If you find yourself tempted to spend on credit, step back and ask yourself why you want to purchase the thing in question.  Will you be fine without it?  If you need to, call a friend or partner before making the purchase so that they will hold you accountable.

Cut the Cards. As you pay off your cards, simplify your financial life and get rid of extra credit cards.  Mr. Wetzel and I only have 2 credit cards (one in each of our names, so that we’re both gaining a positive credit history), 1 store credit card and a debit card.

Cash counts! Never treat cash like its money already spent.  Cash always counts.  If you buy something with cash, make sure to save the receipt or note the purchase in your Budget Binder as soon as possible.  Save your change, as well.  If you put all your spare change in a jar, you’d be surprised how handy it can be on a rainy day.

Wish Lists & Shopping Lists. The best way to thwart impulse spending is to set goals for the things you want to purchase and then save up for them.  If you have an attractive goal ahead of you, you are less likely to blow your money on something you don’t really care about.  Currently, I have an ice cream maker on my wish list.

Shopping lists are handy on a day-to-day basis because they keep you from small impulse buys at the store.  If you see something at the store that isn’t on your list, consider writing it down for the next shopping trip.

Accountability. Tell someone what your budget goals are and ask them to check on your progress.  If you are budgeting with a partner, your companion doesn’t count!  As a couple, you need another couple or another individual to hold you accountable.  Telling others what your goals are also helps clear the air of needless spending; if you and your friends are both trying to get out of debt, you can think of cheaper ways to spend time together and it will help all of you out in the long run, whereas lack of communication too often serves only Mr. Visa, Madam AmEx and Master Card.

By ekwetzel

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Budgeting 102: Set Your Course

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

What spending categories do you have?  How much do you need to budget in each area? Think of these categories separately instead of lumping them together with all of your earnings and spendings.

The Budget Binder & Individual Account Pages. Once you know how much you are bringing in and how much you are spending, you can sit down and face your spending habits.  Find a way to balance your budget by continually re-examining your needs and your wants.  Decide on a goal to spend for each category: groceries, car payment, rent, etc.  Finally, create a Budget Binder to help you keep track of your spending on a day-to –day basis.

The Budget Binder works in the same way that a checkbook does, except the Budget Binder has a page for each spending category.  We call these “individual account pages.”  Before learning this trick, Mr. Wetzel and I would have spending goals for different areas of our life; however, it was impossible to keep track of our actual spending and to hold ourselves accountable to our goals until we used the individual account pages.

Sample Individual Account Pages: download from Google Documents. These are some sample pages that we have found useful.  Adapt the pages to your own needs, adding or subtracting categories as needed: View on Google Documents

How It Works. When you get paid, disperse the funds available for each of your accounts onto each of the individual account pages.  When you spend money, subtract the funds from each of those pages.  Let’s use Amy as an example:

Amy earns $100. First she notes +100 on her “Earnings and Disbursements” page.  She disperses $50 to grocery, $25 to household and $25 to fun, noting +50, +25 and +25 on each page.  She then goes back to the “Earnings and Disbursements” page and notes -100 for a final balance of zero.

As Amy spends money, she subtracts the amount she spends from each of the individual account pages.  She tries to keep aware of how much money is left in each area of her budget.  It is easy for her to quickly check the funds for her budget because each category has an individual balance, instead of being lumped together into a total sum in her checkbook or online account balance.  If she doesn’t spend all the money in a given fund, she sets it aside and lets it accrue. You never know when you’re going to need a little extra dough, after all.

For example, Amy knew that a blockbuster hit was coming out on February 10th and that she’d want to go see it on opening night with her friends. So, she made sure to keep enough in her “Fun” fund so that she could go out to the theatre and catch a bite to eat from concessions.  In order to have enough money available, she skipped a few lattes during the week, but she reminded herself, “I don’t need a latte.  I don’t need to go to the movies, either…but I’d get much more pleasure out of going to the movies than drinking a few lattes.”

Remember: this is a Tool, not Torture! The whole point of budgeting is to be a good steward of your finances.  Create your first budget plan, and if you find that your spending habits continually break the budget, re-examine the budget.  Sometimes you’ll need to crack down on your spending habits, but sometimes you’ll need to change your budget to suit your needs.  Everyone has different desires, habits and goals, so everyone has a different budget as well.  The important thing is to find a budget that works for you, and then stick to it.

By ekwetzel

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Budgeting 101: Know Thyself

Some people can get by without a budget.  I am not one of those people.  This is part of a three-blog arc on how Mr. Wetzel and I have been able to successfully budget for the last year: Know Thyself, Set Your Course and Be Faithful.

You must be aware of where you start from.  Assess your current spending habits, as well as the attitudes you have about spending.

Keep track of all spending and earnings for 1 month. The easiest way to do this is to save all your receipts and all your pay stubs.  If you buy something that doesn’t have a receipt, or if you tip beyond what’s noted in the receipt, just write it down on a slip of paper, date it, and put it with the rest of your receipts.

Mr. Wetzel and I put all our receipts on a big glass plate by the front door until they are checked into our budget book (see Budgeting 102).  We have also been known to keep them in shoe boxes, tucked in our wallets or purses, or jammed into the pockets of a three ring binder.  Once we are through recording the receipts, we toss the ones for gas receipts and grocery trips, and save the important ones in a box.  We also hold onto all our monthly statements from credit cards or other accounts, as well as our pay stubs.

Don’t be materialistic. You are more than your possessions.  You do not need to be defined by what you have or what you buy.

One reason I like to watch the TV show Survivor is that it’s interesting to see Westerners come to realize the difference between needs and wants.  We need food, for example; but, we do not need a take-out pizza.  A baked potato (or plantain) will do.  Sometimes we use the things we buy or the act of shopping as a distraction to keep us from confronting things about ourselves or our lives.

Mr. Wetzel and I pray over our finances and try to grow in spirit, instead of growing in debt.  We have learned a lot about ourselves as we have given up things that we think we need.  By trusting God more and believing more in ourselves and our relationship, we spend less money yet find ourselves even richer than before.

By ekwetzel

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Thinking Inside the Box

December is the coldest month of the year in Tacoma, and we wanted to heat our apartment as efficiently as possible.

Since we are renting, there are many things Mr. Wetzel and I cannot change about our apartment that would shave money off our heating bill, such as installing double pane windows or replacing our inefficient baseboard heaters.  We put some simple ideas into practice this fall; and, when we received our heating bill for the month of December, we saw that the ideas paid off.

Chart of Electricty Usage, Dec 2008 through Dec 2009

The chart above is from our power bill. As you can see, we used 590 fewer kilowatt hours, cutting our bill down 67%.

We’ve gone through the usual rigmarole every year: turning lights off in unattended rooms, installing energy efficient bulbs, turning the heat off at night or when we’re away, and wearing sweaters and slippers.  In addition, we were thinking “inside the box,” being creative about the space that we are in and channeling its strengths to work for us.

The layout of our apartment is very open concept, with the kitchen, eating area, living room and entry all part of one big room.  In the summer, this area is airy and cool.  In the winter, it is a very hard room to heat because it is so large.

When Washington gets rainy and dark outside, Mr. Wetzel and I spend a lot of time indoors, watching TV, playing videogames, surfing the net or reading.  Last December, our television was set up in the open living area, but this year we moved the TV into the smallest room of the apartment, one that we used as an office.  This TV room is at the end of a hall, along with our bedroom.  We purchased a two-panel curtain set ($30 from World Market) and extension rod (a few bucks from Home Depot), and positioned the curtains in the hallway, just outside the entry to the two rooms.  This helped to insulate the heat in the rooms, while allowing our cat to roam freely throughout the apartment.

On warmer days, we wear sweaters and let the heat of the electronics warm the rooms.  Yes: we play videogames and watch TV to stay warm.  It makes me chuckle!  On cooler days, we turn the heat on for a while; once the rooms are warm, we shut it off.  The curtains help to seal in the warm air, and since the space is small, the warmth doesn’t have many places to escape to.  On the coldest days, we leave the heat on, and the rooms stay noticeably warmer than the rest of the apartment.

Without the television in the main living area, we now have the sofa and chairs in our main room set up to face each other.  When we have guests over, the TV no longer gets haphazardly turned on.  Instead, we sit around chatting and getting to know our friends and neighbors more intimately.  That too brings more warmth into our lives…590 kilowatts of “friendship” warmth a month, to be exact.

Mr. Wetzel and I support green power through the City of Tacoma.  Here is more information about Tacoma Public Utilities Evergreen Options .  For homeowners and renters, you can support green energy at the Frog, Salmon, Otter or Orca levels (more info here).

By ekwetzel

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