Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Master Bedroom Makeover: Architectural Detail (and Budget!)

That awkward moment you realize you never posted the 3rd part of a 3-part post...

Well, here it is. The last time I'll make you listen to me blather on about our master bedroom makeover. (Part I - How to Brighten a Room, Part II - Making a Small Room More Functional).

Part III: ARCHITECTURAL DETAIL

Wall Panels

Our 1970s home is plain and boxy--it lacks architectural detail. So, my #1 plan of attack for our master bedroom was to add wall panels. I felt this classy traditional element would take the level of style up a notch. My first instinct was to do beadboard or wainscotting, but since furniture covers most of the bottom half of our small bedroom, I needed something that would be visible on the top half, otherwise you'd never see it (and, as you know, I'm all about maximum effect for minimum effort).

Inspiration for walls: Restoration Hardware Catalog: Small Spaces: San Francisco Victorian

We bought the panel molds from an awesome local company for $0.55/ft. We also added baseboards, a chair rail, and crown molding. Figuring out how to cut crown molding at the corners can be a total beast (it seems simple enough, but I kept having flashbacks to middle school geometry). We may have recruited a friend or two to help us figure out that part. The wall panels themselves were pretty straight forward: I drew some guides on the walls (at the corners). From there, it was a lot of cuts, wood glue, nailing, caulking, and painting (thank you, Husband). But I love the end result. Here's what our moulding-less walls looked like before:

And after:

Headboard

My DIY headboard has its own post, so here I'll just say that my expectations were really low before starting this project, so I was totally pleased with how well it turned out. I don't consider myself a very crafty or  Do-It-Yourself kind of person. The truth is I made it myself because when I drew up the budget, I had very little left over for a headboard, so DIY it was. My husband and I were able to build this completely from scratch for $150. See tutorial here.

Our bed before (eek!):

During (My husband Bryan was out of town the night I did most of the nailing, so I put on some chick flicks and went to town . . . 480 nails later, I was done):
 After:

Budget--$1,084.77

This is Money Hip Mamas, so a post like this would not be complete without talking budgets. One of my favorite HGTV shows is Design on a Dime where they have $1000 to redesign a room. That was my goal, but I did go a bit over (anyone else suspect that HGTV shows go over-budget all the time and just pretend they didn't?). Anyway--a thousand dollars is a ton (in my book), but I definitely love this room that much. Plus, since we may very well outgrow this home, I feel like some of the room's elements (e.g. lighting) add actual value to our home, should we ever resell. Either way, for inquiring minds that want to know, here's the breakdown:

And that's a wrap! We finished this room right before my second son was born. That means we've been in the room seven months now and still haven't quite gotten over how happy we are with the end result. So I'm going to call this makeover a success. My next project is the boys' room (I'm planning a nautical theme), but that won't be until I put them in a room together, so who knows when that will be. They're both sleeping through the night, but I want to keep it that way. :)


In regards to my last paragraph, any advice from parents whose kids share rooms?


Tuesday, April 15, 2014

6 Tips to Start Medical School & Residency on the Right Financial Path

Living in Palo Alto and Boston I've crossed paths with many people in various stages of their medical training. And I've got to say, my hat goes off to all doctors and doctors-in-training for the dedication it takes to make it through years and years (and more years) of school, residency, fellowship, and more. I've asked a few of my friends for input and done some research, and here are six tips to help start your journey through medical school and residency off on the right foot financially. While this post is primarily geared towards those going into medicine, many of the principles could be applied to other types of undergraduate/graduate education.

Thanks to Becca for the picture and rhonnadesigns for the font.


1. Choose your school/residency carefully.

If you have options for medical school/residencies, Becca suggests really thinking through the costs and benefits of going to, for example, a top-five school in an expensive city versus a top-twenty school in a less expensive area. I think she brings up a really good point about weighing costs and benefits. Sometimes, when we see something that is good (especially something as sacrosanct to many of us as higher education), we tend to think only of the benefits, when really we need to take a step back and do a cost-benefit analysis (which should include both financial and non-financial factors). Does this mean you should never choose the expensive school? No. What it does mean is to take a moment to seriously consider how necessary that pedigree is for your career, and if that pedigree will outweigh the increased costs.

For Becca and her husband, Tyler, it did. "If you have certain career goals that can only be attained by attending a top-tier med school, then there's your answer. But an expensive school in an expensive city is something you're going to carry around financially for many, many years. We have come to terms with our debt and aren't weighed down or depressed by it anymore, but there are definitely still moments of 'Wow. We're going to be paying this off forever.' But for us, the opportunities we've been able to have because of Ty's school choice (Stanford) have been worth it." Tyler recommends having a conversation with the financial aid person at each school where you've been accepted to get a better picture of the financial situation you'd be in at each school.

Futher Reading: "How Important are Medical School Rankings?" Veritas Prep. usnews.com. March 12, 2012. It suggests that medical school rankings are less important for an aspiring medical student than, say, someone applying to business school. It also notes some exceptions (such as M.D./Ph.D) and outlines some of the factors by which to judge your school choices.

2. Track your debt balances consistently.

I think it's important to be aware of what your debt situation really is. Ignoring it will not make it go away. Instead of having it be a scary unknown, confront and monitor the numbers, and use them as inspiration to live frugally.

This especially applies to couples who get married after his/her spouse has started medical school. Ashley said, "I wish we would have sat down together and both understood exactly what loans we had, how much the interest rates were, when the interest started accruing, etc. We had been married at least six months or so before I really knew how big the loans were and how much interest had already accrued. It was eye opening to see the numbers!" I'd recommend checking in at least once a month, as Lisa discusses in our first Budget Boot Camp. Ashley further expanded on the importance of tracking debt balances and interest rates when asked about the biggest financial mistake they had made. She said, "It relates a lot to . . . just not being fully aware-- we did a few silly things. For example, while interest on huge loans was accruing at ~7 percent, we put a chunk of money in a CD earning 1.5 percent interest. We obviously should have used that to pay off the higher interest loans."

3. Set your budget consciously.

Now that you know the numbers, it's time to take ownership of your financial future by budgeting consciously. Easier said than done. Budgeting with an insufficient or non-existent household income is extraordinarily difficult-- but it's also essential (and doable!) during these years. It will help control your spending, put you and your spouse on the same page financially, and create habits that will help you pay off your debt as quickly as possible after you get your first "real" job. Follow our free Budget Boot Camp online if you want to get some help with your budgeting skills and check out this post.

Control your spending. Whether it be an MBA, medical training, or some other graduate program, many have trouble finding motivation to control your spending. What's the point in making yourself totally miserable when you will most likely have a high income upon exit? What difference does it make to try and live frugally when you already have a ton of debt? And how do you even figure out what your upper limit is for spending when you don't have an income (or a sufficient one) to match it against? There are valid aspects to all these questions, but here are my thoughts.

What's the point in living a miserable low-spending life when you will have a high income upon exit? First, I'm not suggesting that you live off of ramen noodles and live in a storage unit. The point is not to be miserable-- the point is to limit your spending to a reasonable level that is workable for you. You should probably feel some financial squeeze, but it doesn't have to be a death grip. Second, I think there's a lot to be said for the peace that comes from knowing you are doing your best to be financially responsible. Third, have you heard the adage, "If you live like a doctor when you're a student, you'll live like a student when you're a doctor?" Creating a frugal lifestyle now will enable you to achieve much greater financial success in the long run.

What difference does it make to try and live frugally when you already have a ton of debt? For starters, this speaks to the same point as the above question-- it creates a lifestyle that will help set you on the path to pay off that "ton of debt" as quickly as possible. Second, as Ashley said, "Once I saw what we owed, I got on a much tighter budget because I figured that every bit of the cost we could pay up front (or use to pay down the loans) would make a difference." When you pair budgeting with an awareness of the actual numbers, any amount you save will make more of a difference to you. A vague awareness rounded to the nearest $10,000 or $50,000 will not motivate you to save an extra $50 here or there. Checking in on the real numbers to the $1 every month will.

How do you even figure out what your upper limit is for spending when you don't have an income (or a sufficient one) to match it against? In this situation, income minus savings goals = expenses is not going to work. You'll have to work backwards, starting with expenses and use discipline to prioritize and cut them.  When Ashley made her budget with her husband, she said, "It helped us to sit down together and make a list of everything our money would be going to, starting with the least expendable and make cuts in every place we could."  Your budget should be both frugal and livable. If you make it impossible to live by, your budget will be worthless. If you make it too generous, then it's really not doing its job of helping you manage your money during the lean times. Beyond the quantitative benefits of the budget, emotionally, it really becomes a liberating tool, because it gives you freedom from guilt when you purchase needs and wants within your budget. You should include some fun money to lubricate your budget, but it doesn't need to be a lot. For example, when my husband and I first got married, we only got $15 each a month, and that worked for us.

Get on the same page as your spouse financially. When finances are tight, smaller expenses are bigger issues, and the potential to have financial disagreements is high. I think it's really critical (and will make your lives much easier) if you and your spouse take some time to get on the same page financially both at the outset of your journey as well as once a week throughout to stay on the same page. This doesn't mean that you and your spouse have to end up with identical financial views. What it means is you each need to communicate your views clearly, and find a position in the middle that you both can respect and feel good about.

4. Research government and other programs to help with loans and repayment.

Research and consider if there are any government or non-government programs to help with loan repayment that are a good fit for you.
5. Don't drastically change your lifestyle immediately after landing a job.

You'll be in a much better situation in the long run if you continue to live frugally after you get your first "real" job instead of immediately matching your expenses to your income. David said, "Live as if you are still in training the first year of your "real" job." I'd add to that to escalate your lifestyle slowly even after the first year. It makes living on a budget much more palatable if you're scaling your lifestyle up slowly, rather than having to scale back later.

And all of that effort to be wise during medical school and residency will have helped create a lifestyle that will set you up well to pay down the debt quickly. Becca said, "Even if it's purely psychological, to be frugal throughout medical school and residency has given me the confidence that we're doing everything we can to be wise and to pay down our debt as quickly as possible."

6. Know that you can do this!

It's a long journey, but worthwhile and hugely important to everyone in our society. Becca says, "There might be six figures staring you in the face, and that's a little daunting, but going into medicine is a wonderful and admirable decision. It's not easy, and it's a huge time commitment for the whole family, but it is rewarding. The more you complain about the journey, the less fun it'll be. It's also not classy to whine to anyone who will listen about how hard it is. I'm surprised by how many people do this. You made the decision, own it! :) Have fun!"

A special thanks to Ashley, Becca, Tyler, David, and Gina for all their input!

Please share any advice you can add to how to get through graduate school or medical training financially!



Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Turn Your Toddler into an ABC Genius--The Easy Way

Can we all agree that being a parent is HARD? And for things like potty training, discipline, and healthy eating, there are no shortcuts. Diligence and consistency are key. But not everything has to be hard. And when I find out there are parenting shortcuts, you can bet I'm going to share them here. So here's my shortcut, lazy-parent, EASY way for your toddler to learn letters and their sounds. Minimum effort for maximum results. (Hint: No flashcards required, although I actually tried those--Ha! What a joke.)

Here's what you need:

Leapfrog Letter Factory

http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B001TKUXUC/ref=as_li_ss_il?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B001TKUXUC&linkCode=as2&tag=listhelazblo-20
If there is any one magic solution to teaching your kids their letters, Leapfrog Letter Factory is it. (Don't believe me? Believe the 1,000+ parents on Amazon who've gave it 5 stars). Before I even became a parent, I remember overhearing people talk about the magic of this movie, so I had to buy it myself (and I *rarely* buy books or movies without trying the library first). And it worked! There isn't much to it, it's just a 30 minute cartoon movie that has a cute storyline to teach each letter and its (most common) sound. My good friend mentioned her 3-year-old hadn't mastered her letters and sounds yet and asked to borrow Letter Factory. Seriously, three days later her daughter knew all her letters. It's that good. I'm such a fan, I already bought Word Factory, too (it teaches the fundamentals of reading).

Mobile App: Endless Alphabet and/or Endless Reader

Cutest Apps Ever. I'm all for limiting your kids' screen and technology time, so make it count with this cute educational app that teaches everything from letters and sounds to vocabulary. I downloaded Endless Alphabet back when it was in free Beta form. Last I checked, it was up to $6.99 and I can totally see why--it's that great. But you're in luck! It's brother-app Endless Reader is currently FREE, so hurry and get it now! I have no doubt it'll be $6.99 or more in no time. By the way, if you don't know how to lock your phone so your kids have to stay in a certain app, make sure you read my best iPhone/iPad tip ever.

Fridge Letters

I think fridge letters are great because we can work on letters, sounds, and words while making breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Anything I can do while cooking is a huge timer-saver for me. I taught my son how to spell his name while making grilled cheese. I searched long and hard for these at Target (fail!) and ended up buying them online here. Note: If you buy them elsewhere, make sure whatever you buy includes lowercase letters. My mom has been a first grade teacher for years and she said lowercase letters are key since the vast majority of letters in books are lowercase.


Bath letters

Okay, now I just look alphabet-obsessed. I promise these are not his only bath toys (his favorite bath toys are empty plastic screw-top bottles--go figure). But he thinks it's so fun when he's able to sound out words as they stick to the sides of the bath. He triumphantly yells, "I read a word!" (That's what they say on The Word Factory). We're just starting on reading skills, so I want to keep it casual. And what's more casual than bath time? By the way, if you have a small bathroom (like we do), I highly recommend getting a bath toy caddy like this and hanging it on your shower wall. We've had ours for years.

And that's it! Lazy parenting at its finest

Comments, please! Any tips or tricks you've used for teaching you kids letters and/or reading?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Budget Boot Camp - To Do #3: Track Your Spending


Welcome back! If you've stuck with us so far, you've (1) faced your fears and figured out your net worth and (2) set specific and achievable financial goals to motivate you through the budgeting process. But before we actually set up our budget, we're going to track our spending for a month so you have a better idea of what categories and amounts to use in your first budget (which we will be setting up next month-- promise!).

To Do: Track your spending for one month


Step 1. Pick and set up a tracking method.

There are a lot of different methods you can use to track your expenses. Look through the list and see what fits you the best.

Mint.com or yodlee.com. I've listed these two first because they have the broadest appeal-- pretty easy to use and can be huge time savers. As we mentioned in month 1, these websites securely aggregate data from your financial accounts into one source. So you can look at your balances and your transactions all in one place. If you already set up accounts with one of these to track your net worth, you're all set to start tracking your expenses with them.

personalcapital.com. It's pretty similar at first glance to mint and yodlee, but I've separated this financial system out since it has a slightly different niche-- those who have "outgrown" the investment tracking ability of mint and yodlee. It has received pretty good reviews-- check out this one and this one. It is great for tracking net worth (it syncs with our retirement accounts better than either Mint or Yodlee), but unfortunately lags behind in tracking spending (you can't create new categories or split transactions between categories-- a big fail in my opinion), and does not include a budgeting tool.

Paper. If you feel more comfortable keeping track of expenses on paper than online, then simply writing down each transaction (date, payment method, amount, to whom, for what, category) will work as well. Just be aware that this method is infinitely more time intensive and absolutely requires that you keep receipts (at least until you write it down) and update frequently (daily would be best). Do not attempt to keep track on paper unless you know you're going to stick with it (and, in my opinion, truly do not feel comfortable keeping track online).

Excel. I'm not talking about doing your budget in Excel, but about using it as a tracking device for your spending. Unless you are importing data from your credit card statements into Excel and using pivot tables or something to aggregate your data into categories (which kind of feels like reinventing the wheel to me), I would generally not recommend logging your daily expenses here. Why? It's basically the same thing as doing it on paper, but it suggests a level of comfort with technology that would make me say, just use mint or yodlee and save yourself a lot of headache.

Quicken. I personally don't use Quicken, but Lisa does. She likes it, but has said that there have been multiple times when she's had to use her accounting knowledge to figure out how to do things. So unless you have a pretty strong financial/accounting background, we'd probably stick with Mint or Yodlee as our primary recommendations.

Step 2. Check in on your spending once a week.

Once a week (it's helpful if you do it the same day each week to create a routine), review your transactions and categorize them. You want to make sure that the transactions are correct (i.e., no one stole your credit card, and the cashiers rang them up appropriately) and in the right category. Most of the electronic systems we recommended will attempt to do this for you, but they can't get it right 100 percent of the time. You may need to change categories, create a new category, or split a transaction. If you don't do this at least once a week you run the risk of forgetting what certain transactions were for. If you're doing your system on paper, you'll need to do this more frequently (probably daily instead of weekly). Keep tracking until next month when we'll check in with you to use that information to create your first budget!

Need some guidance on categorizing your transactions?
Need some guidance on splitting your transactions? (Say you go to Target and buy groceries and clothes.)
Any Questions?
Add questions at the bottom of the post, and we'll get back to you ASAP!

Extra Credit Assignment: Read up on renter's insurance (if you're renting) and think about getting some!

And to put the "Mamas" in Money Hip Mamas, my favorite Mom products of the month are
What helped my two-year old sleep in an extra hour or two every morning (he was getting up really early before): Memory foam mattress topper for crib
What's helped me pick up toddler toys while 9-months pregnant: Cheap grabber that looks ridiculous, but is actually pretty effective
The book I've been reading to prep me for the newborn sleep battles (again): Health Sleep Habits, Happy Child









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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

How to store sheets neatly

I know there are a bunch of tips and tricks out there for how to fold fitted sheets, but let's be honest-- unless you're some kind of domestic wizard, it's not going to happen. The best sheet-folding tip I got acknowledges this fact and implemented a genius workaround. I wish I could remember where I read this, but I don't. But that's okay, I'm pretty sure multiple people have come up with this method independently, after all, we're talking about folding sheets here. It's not rocket science.

 

 I know, I know. "Stop taking crappy pictures for blog" is totally on my list of things to do (or not to do as the case may be). But right now I am super pregnant and tired. But really, who isn't tired at any given phase of their life. Mostly I'm just lazy. Which is probably why I'm willing to do this sheet storage method-- it doesn't take any more effort than folding and stacking sheets separately, but they stay a lot more organized this way. Here's the method:

 
 
1. Fold the flat sheet. No surprise there. Also, please ignore the wrinklage. Clearly, I was not diligent about folding directly from the dryer.
2. Fold the fitted sheet. It doesn't matter if it doesn't look pretty because no one will see this. Stack it on top of the matching flat sheet. We're grouping bedding by sets here so you don't have to go through three different piles of sheets and pillowcases to get one matching set. 
3. Fold one pillowcase in half and put it on the stack. (If it's a twin set and you only have one pillowcase, skip this step.)
4. Stick the whole pile in the remaining pillow case.
5. Stack the bundled sets on top of each other in the closet.

And a word about step 2. I know I said it doesn't matter how you fold it, and that it is impossible to fold them neatly. But here's a trick to fold them "halfway decently" if you care about that sort of thing.


 There you have it.

Share-- Anyone have any folding words of wisdom for any clothes or linens? Share your tips and tricks with us.






Tuesday, March 18, 2014

My Influenster VoxBox - Email If You Want One, Too

A few months ago, my sister invited me to become an "Influenster." It's a website that gives companies a chance to get the word out on their new products by giving them to consumers for free (anyone who wants to review products--definitely not just bloggers). You fill out information about yourself and see if you qualify to get a VoxBox (everyone I know eventually received one--although mine took a couple months to come). You can't choose what you're sent, they choose for you. It's all free, so if you're into reviewing projects, e-mail me and I can send you an Influenster invite. If not, ignore this, and continue about your day. Either way, here's my e-mail:
I received the #JollyVoxBox. Here is my honest review of the five products I received:
#JollyVoxBox

 

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

"I Will Teach You to Be Rich" Book Recommendation

I've read a lot of personal finance books (they're usually on my birthday and Christmas list every year). But I recognize most of them don't have the wide appeal of Harry Potter or the Hunger Games. Except maybe this one, which I think is a good read for both those who are really interested in personal finance and those who aren't (but have somehow ended up with a copy in their hands. (And, just so you know, the author has no idea who we are and never asked us to write this.) I have lent this book out and recommended it several times to personal friends, so it's time I shared it with all of you.



It's I Will Teach You To Be Rich by Ramit Sethi.

Here's what I like about it:
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