Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Easter in Vegas

Last week, Eric found out that he was going to need to travel to Las Vegas for work. He was going to fly out Sunday evening and return Monday evening.  But the non-stop flights from Vegas to Fresno on Monday weren't lining up the way he would need, so his boss suggested that he drive...and take his family along!  We had such a fun weekend.  We left Saturday morning, got to Vegas around 3:00, and the girls immediately wanted to go swimming.  The weather was warmer than it has been in Fresno - probably in the upper 70's.  We took a quick dip in the pool then headed out to Circus Circus for dinner.  We ate at the buffet, where I gorged myself, then headed up to the kids gaming area.  They have a little setup in the middle of the room for circus-type performances.  We could see the ropes and nets for a trapeze and thought that would be really cool to see.  Well, they do different performances every half hour, and the performance we got to see was a couple of roller-skaters doing tricks on the smallest roller-rink stage I've ever seen.  No trapeze for us, but that's ok - the rollerskaters were pretty incredible. 

Sunday, Anna woke us up with, "The Easter Bunny came!!"  The kids had left a note at home for the  Easter Bunny asking him to find us in Las Vegas.  They were thrilled to have a little Easter egg hunt in the hotel room.  After breakfast, we went to church in Henderson.  We met up with a friend of Eric's from college so it was nice to see some familiar faces.  Sunday afternoon we just hung out in the hotel room for a couple hours, then headed out to the monorail to take us to the MGM Grand for dinner at the Rainforest Cafe.  We stayed at the Marriott right by the convention center so the monorail station was literally right across the street.  The girls were begging to ride the "train" so it worked out nicely.  They loved it.  They loved everything...their little eyes and minds just took it all in.  So here are some shots from the Rainforest Cafe.  I took all the pictures with my phone, so not the best quality.  Silly me forgot the real camera.

Haylie with her souvenir cup and toy

Ian didn't get his own souvenir but Haylie let him play with hers.  Oh, and funny thing, every 20 minutes in the Rainforest Cafe, there is a thunderstorm complete with lightning and the animals go a little cuckoo...Ian was not a fan.  We had to get him out of his high chair and hold him each time it happened. So cute.

Anna with her souvenirs

Eric was pretty excited too!  ;-)

So on Monday Eric had to actually work (you know, the reason why we were in Las Vegas...) so the kids and I headed up to the Las Vegas temple.  It was beautiful, of course.  We walked around the grounds for a bit, until we all realized we needed to go potty.  Thankfully, there was a church building right next door and people were there, so we got to go in and use the facilities! 

Cute kiddos in front of the temple

This is the view of the temple from the church building.  Gorgeous.

This house was across the street from the temple.  I love Victorian homes, and thought this house was just beautiful.  Can't really see the turret behind the tree on the left, but it was adorable!!

We still had a little time to kill, and I couldn't find any parks around so we headed to the next best thing...McDonald's Play Place.  :-)  We played at McDonald's until Eric was ready to be picked up.  Grabbed some lunch and headed home. 

We stopped at a rest stop somewhere in the middle of the desert.  Haylie was pretty intrigued by the idea that we were in THE DESERT.  The girls have been watching a cartoon on Netflix called Oscar's Oasis.  It's a little gecko that is in the desert always searching for food and water. (reminds me of Scrat from the Ice Age movies - very cute)  Anyway, now we were in the desert like Oscar!  So I snapped some shots of the kids roaming the desert hills...


Haylie and Ian

I can't help but feel like this trip was another one of those blessings I talked about in this post.  I feel like we made this commitment to be debt free, and once again Heavenly Father blessed us with something that we didn't think we'd be able to have for a while (a nice vacation as a family).  Eric's generous boss paid all the expenses with the exception of gas, and our own entertainment/souvenirs. He does get reimbursed for mileage, which will more than cover the cost of the gasoline.  It's pretty amazing.  I feel so lucky and blessed, and grateful to be right here, right now. 

And now, back to the grind...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Debt Free by 2013

So, remember my post about how I'd been feeling really anxious about something...and I thought it had to do with my house?  I think that was only part of it.  I think the other part of it was that it was time for us to start thinking more about getting out of debt.  It started when I got a credit card offer in the mail from Chase.  I usually just throw them away, cuz let's face it, the last thing we need is another credit card!  But I think I was inspired to open this one up.  It offered 0% financing on balance transfers through May 2013.  Let me back up a few years.  In 2006, we had just bought our house, and we did something stupid.  We let the dumb salesman in the door.  He sold us a water softener.  Stupid, stupid, stupid.  It's been 6 years now and I still want to punch myself for letting that man in the door.  You know how "they" say that it is hardest to forgive yourself?  It's true.  Anyway, we put the balance on a credit card.  Not long after that, the economy started to take a nosedive.  Times got tough.  We started using the credit card for things like groceries and other "necessities".  At the time, we really thought we didn't have a choice.  Long story short, here we are six years later and with more debt than we'd like to have looming above our heads.  We made the commitment about 2 years ago to stop using the card.  And I'm proud to say we've stuck to our guns!  However, interest charges have made it very difficult to pay the balance down.
 I was not going to post exact amounts here, but you know what..I think I will.  I think I need to get it off my chest, put it out there as part of the healing/forgiving myself process.  It's embarrassing and I'm ashamed, but I want to use this as a way to track our progress and maybe have some cheerleaders along the way...please be gentle with me.  :-)  On February 28, 2012, I transfered $13,160.00 to the Chase 0% interest card.  It was my goal to have the balance paid off by May 2013.  15 months.  That was going to be really pushing it on our current budget.  I talked to Eric and we agreed that we would really place our focus on the debt.  Other "wants" would just have to wait.  Tax returns would go straight to the balance.  Eric's end of year bonus would go straight to the balance.  Anything extra we might get...straight to the balance.  It is amazing what that kind of resolve can do to change your perspective on things.  Identifying wants vs. needs.  Planning the grocery list based more on survival than what looks the most delicious.  *I love to try new recipes and make delicious food...but we agreed that we'd put that on hold and keep it simple.  My first trip to the grocery store after we made this decision, I spent $20 less than my average.  The 2nd trip to the grocery store...I spent $60 less than my average!!!  I canceled our Costco membership a couple years ago - I guess partially blaming Costco for some of the debt (obviously not Costco's fault, but you know...)  I've realized that now that our family has grown quite a bit since then, that bulk shopping will actually benefit us now...so I'm going to get a Sam's Club membership to help us save even more on groceries.  $40 for a membership will be so worth it in the amount I will save buying pull-ups and snacks there rather than Winco.
  Okay, so another little side note.  It's gonna get a little spiritual up in here.  Not one week after we made our decision to put everything we have towards the debt, Eric's boss called him into his office.  He said, "Eric, I want to give you a raise."  I think, if I'm doing my math right, it turned out to be about an 11% raise.  Our first thought was, "Think what that will do to help us make our payments!!"  And then it struck me that this was a blessing straight from Heaven.  It is my belief, and I know it now more than ever, that Heavenly Father knows each one of us individually.  He knows our struggles, He knows our strengths, and most importantly, He knows our hearts.  I believe that He knows how badly we want this to happen, and He paved the way for us through this raise.  I am so grateful for my faith, and for my amazing blessings!  (Oh and hooray for my husband working super hard and earning the raise!!!)
 So with the raise, I have sorta' changed our goal...I want the debt gone by January 1, 2013.  9 months from yesterday.  Here's the kicker...I really think we can do it!!!
  Moving on, here are some things we've done or are doing to save money:

  • After we got the credit card, we received an offer in the mail from Chase, that if we opened a Chase checking account, they would give us $150.  Sold.  $150 more to put towards the balance!
  • We will be taking the difference in pay from the raise and having it directly deposited into the Chase checking account.  That way we won't see it - we will continue to live off the budget we've had, and imagine that money does not exist.  All of it will go towards the balance.
  • I read on our power company's website that you could earn a 20% credit on your bill if you save "x" amount of energy through the winter.  I lowered our thermostat and just got an e-mail letting me know I earned the credit!  Seems small, but every little bit helps!
  • I will not be cutting my hair again until we are out of debt!  I'm in desperate need of a haircut, but I'm sacrificing!!! So if I look like a ragamuffin for the next 9 months, you know why! ;-)
  • Plan simple menus ahead of time, shop only for the items needed and refrain from grabbing extras.  It is amazing what this has done for me!
  • Every time I think about buying something that is not a necessity, I write down the cost of the item, and I refrain from purchasing!  It is interesting to see how the dollar here and dollar there add up to something pretty significant.
  • I've sorta' made a game of it...see where I can save next...my whole attitude about money has shifted...it is invigorating!!!
  • We canceled our home phone - we're paying enough for our cell phones...no use having two different phones! 
  • We haven't paid for TV in years.  We had Dish for a while, several years ago, but have not had it for quite some time.  We pay $7 something for Netflix and nothing else.  Sooo worth the savings!
  • We pay our tithing to the church.  10% of everything we earn goes to the church.  I know we are majorly blessed for this.
  • I'm keeping a 2013 Debt Free Bucket List...I'm writing down all the things I want to do or buy when we are debt free.  It gives me something to work towards, something to hope for.  It will be so worth it to wait for these things.  And some of the items are so simple, it seems silly, but it will be so much sweeter after our hard work.
  • I buy my shampoo at the Dollar Tree.  Yup. There, I said it.  VO5 happens to be one of my favorites.  Is it the best shampoo? No.  Does it clean my hair?  Yup. 
  • I'm selling cinnamon rolls for next Conference...locals let me know if you're interested!
I know there is more, but I'm having trouble thinking of it now.  So here are some numbers showing our progress so far:
February 28, 2012: Balance $13,160.00
April 2, 2012: Balance $10,026.00

We just got our tax refund so that took out a very large chunk!  This is very very exciting for me!!!