Our Cross Country Move: One Year Later

Almost one year ago, our family made the move from Chicago to Tucson, Arizona.  Honestly, I wasn’t that excited to be moving so far away from my family in the Midwest, but we thought the move would only be for two or three years.  The move was a smart choice for my husband’s career (something we still believe), so I tried to make the best out of it.

Now, a year later, I’ve found that a cross country move can evoke a wide range of positives and negatives.

The Positives

Cross Country MoveKeeping in touch with relatives is easy, thanks to technology.  My mom has made the trip out to Tucson three times in the year we’ve been here, so we’ve been lucky to see her so frequently.  Because of the cost of taking our family of five such a distance, we only expect to be able to travel to see her once a year.  She’ll likely cut her trips down to once or twice a year to see us from now on.  However, thanks to Skype, keeping in touch is easier than ever.  Whenever the kids miss grandma, we just Skype with her.

Having a back yard is priceless.  In the Chicago suburbs where we lived, we just had a tiny patch of yard.  Since we were renting, we couldn’t do anything with it.  Now, we have a full back yard for the kids to play in and we have three garden beds (though we’re still learning how to grow anything in this crazy desert).

A cheaper cost of living rocks.  No surprise, Chicago was expensive.  We could never own a house because property taxes alone were $12,000+ a year, and starter homes in less than ideal conditions were easily $350,000 as a starting price.  In Tucson, we’re able to own our own home, and the property taxes are a fifth or less of what they were in Chicago.

The Negatives

All health insurance policies are not the same.  My husband’s health insurance policy in Chicago was generous, but we always found it very annoying that medical bills were not paid until 9 to 12 months AFTER the appointment.  (Illinois’ tight budget was the reason.)  When we moved here, I was impressed that our bills were paid within a few weeks.  However, we pay more to insure our family here, and fewer expenses are covered.  We did not estimate just how deeply medical bills would impact our bottom line, and right now we’re recovering financially from the nearly $5,000 we had to pay out of pocket for the first four months of medical expenses in 2015.  (These expense would have likely been much less with our Illinois insurance.)

Moving is SO expensive.  We originally hoped to only be out here for two to three years, but moving cross country is so expensive.  Now I find myself hoping we stay here five years so we don’t have to spend so much money to relocate so quickly after relocating here.  We need time to recoup our expenses.

Moving cross country has been an experience, but despite the expenses, we’re still glad we did it.

Have you made a large move?  What did you learn a year or so into relocating?  Would you do it again if you had the choice?

Frugal Multi-Cultural 4th of July Party Suggestions

The 4th of July is just around the corner, and with it, the official launch of summer.  A favorite American pastime, a barbeque 4th of July party offers you the chance to enjoy the weather and the company of friends while enjoying tasty foods.  If you don’t have much money to devote to entertaining, consider moving beyond the traditional favorites of hamburgers and hot dogs and trying some of these unique, cultural party food ideas.

Main Meals

Frugal 4th of JulyFajitas on the grill.  Buy some lower cost steak, chicken breasts and shrimp.  Season them, grill them, and then mix them together so each fajita contains a mix of the three meats.  Grill some onions and peppers on the grill, slice them, and make a fajita bar complete with tortillas, shredded lettuce, guacamole, onions, peppers and meats.  Of course, you can choose to use only one or two meats depending on what is on sale at the grocery store the week of your party.

Taco bar.  Prepare a few different taco fillings with homemade seasoning including ground beef, chicken, and a vegetarian option such as black beans.  If you have a bit more money to spend, buy some lower cost steak and also offer steak tacos.  For variety, offer flour and corn tortillas.  Then let your guests choose their main fillings, type of tortilla and their toppings.  (Perhaps choose from shredded lettuce, cheese, refried beans, tomatoes, onions, guacamole, etc.)  If you want to be even more creative, consider making your own pico de gallo.

Pulled pork.  Be your own pit master and search the web for the myriad of homemade bbq sauce recipes.  Create your own bbq sauce and delight your guests with delicious, homemade pulled pork.

Side Dishes

Having spent the majority of your money on the main meal, consider these low cost side dishes.  Choose the ones that best match what you are serving as the main meal.

Deviled eggs.  Even in today’s economy, eggs average 10 to 15 cents a piece, making for a very low cost side dish.

Japanese potato salad.  Potatoes can also be very cheap.  If you want a new, creamy twist on potato salad, consider making Japanese potato salad.  Your guests will most likely enjoy this newer version of an old classic.

Corn on the cob.  At some road side stands and farmers’ markets, you can find corn on the cob for 10 to 15 cents an ear.  Consider going beyond the traditional and instead making some Mexican corn on the cob popular at food stands.  Either add olive oil and red pepper, or add a blend of butter, mayonnaise and cheese.  Again, search a site like food.com to find a variety of recipes.

If you have a small entertainment budget, consider some of these meal ideas.  Most of them will require less meat per person than the traditional hamburger, and your guests will love the variety.

photo credit: Signe Karin

Are You Ready for a BIG Emergency?

Are you ready for a big emergency?  Do you have the required 6 to 12 months’ emergency fund?

I can hear your groan now.  Who has enough extra money to put aside 6 to 12 months in the bank?  If you have expenses of $3,000 a month, an ample emergency fund of 6 to 12 months would be $18,000 to $36,000.  Definitely not small change.

An emergency fund is hard to build, and that may be part of the reason why many people never even try.

Big Emergency

Original image credit: https://flic.kr/p/7KLtYi

But there will be an emergency that will occur sometime in your life.  You will need that money.

Financial Death by a Thousand Nicks

We relocated to Arizona 10 months ago.   Doing so drained our meager emergency fund.  For a few months, we were doing pretty good and getting back on our feet until we started facing endless financial nicks—braces for our son, $2,000 in medical and dental expenses, $1,500 in car repairs, etc.  The last five months have been financially very difficult.

If we would have had a 6 to 12 month emergency fund, our job now would be to rebuild the emergency fund, not do constant damage control.  I think it will be a few more months until we are financially in the clear, assuming no other major expenses come up.  Meanwhile, we feel extremely vulnerable financially.

The Big Emergency Worst Case Scenario

However, our current financial difficulties are nothing compared to what others face.  My daughters’ therapist is living a financial nightmare.  Her husband had a stroke and now has locked in syndrome, which means he has his full mental faculties, but he can’t move his body.  He is no older than 40.  No one would expect this to happen.

The therapist’s life now is driving to see her husband and advocate for him as well as juggling the finances of losing one income as well as the rapidly mounting medical expenses.  She does work but has had to take frequent days off.  Even with a Go Fund Me page that brought her nearly $50,000 in donations, I have no idea how she is handling the expenses.

Of course, this is a worst case scenario, but still, an emergency fund to liquidate in this situation would be nice.

Take Baby Steps to Reach Your Goal

Right now, my husband and I are struggling to stay out of debt.  So far we’ve succeeded, but we’re right on the edge.  Still, our plan is to put a small amount away in our emergency fund, say $50 a month.  Something is always better than nothing.

In the next few months, we’ll amp that amount up to a couple of hundred a month and keep increasing as we are able.  We won’t have a sizeable emergency fund anytime soon, but we will have some money put aside.

Too often, it’s easy to look at your finances when everything is going right and say to yourself, “We’re doing alright.  I can afford to splurge.”

But that’s short-sighted thinking.  Look at your finances and ask yourself how would you be financially if you had several smaller emergencies of a few hundred or thousand dollars or if the worst case scenario happened?

My advice is to wait to splurge until you have that emergency fund.  Trust me, one day you’ll be glad.

Do you have a 6 to 12 month emergency fund, or do you find it too difficult to achieve?