Sep 6, 2013

Budgeting Made Simple

Stuart Miles
Personal finance has become a serious topic of interest for me over the last few years.  I regularly read personal finance blogs, many of which have been helpful for finding new and different ways to manage our money.  We've always been very frugal and responsible, but it's become especially important as we have transitioned from living in Bulgaria to starting over here in the states.

One website that I kept seeing come up again and again on various blogs was, so I decided to give it a try earlier this year.  Maybe you already use it and I'm just late to the game, but it's been such a great tool for our budget.

Before you think this post is some sort of sponsored content, I promise it isn't- I just really like this site!

How it Works is a free and easy way to track all of your spending, savings, and income.  Once you sign up, you add all of your account information for checking and savings, credit cards, loans, etc.  Mint will securely retrieve your info online, and then you're all set.

What's so nice about it is that once you link your accounts, you're good to go.  Each time you spend, the money is appropriately categorized so that you can see where it goes.  You won't have to log into separate accounts to keep track of things.

You can also go in and manually refine the spending categories to really narrow things down.  Bought groceries and clothes at Target?  You can break down a single transaction to accurately reflect what amount was spent on what.  So not only is it a great way to see the numbers right in front of you, but you can also see exactly how much you spend weekly/monthly/yearly in each category.

Stay on Top of Bills

You can use Mint to stay on top of your bills and upcoming expenses.  Just enter the dates and amounts for monthly bills, or even a one-time expense that you have coming up, and you'll receive an email reminder a few days in advance of the due date.  It's a smart way to make sure that you never miss a payment.  

Making Goals, Tracking Progress

Earlier this year, Martin and I made a few financial goals.  By using Mint, we've been able to see where we've been successful, as well as where we need to make adjustments to stay on track.  Since all of the accounts are right there in one place, we don't have to waste time logging into each individual account and seeing where the numbers stand.

You can set up a monthly budget to help you stay within specific amounts.  At any time, just log in to check how you're doing.  For example, if your monthly grocery budget is $300 and it's the middle of the month, you can see how much you have left to spend before you head out to the store.

No more jotting things down on paper, entering amounts into spreadsheets, or holding on to receipts and trying to add up expenses.  Keeping tabs on all of our accounts in one place and seeing where the money goes is so much simpler.  Mint is really the best way I've found to be more conscious of spending and to stay accountable, as well as to stay on track with our financial goals.

Sep 4, 2013

Why You Should Experience Alaska

I think it's safe to say that Alaska is the most majestic and untamed of all of the states in the union. The natural beauty is breathtaking, the adventures are limitless, and the people are truly as interesting as they come.

Alaska is so vas,t and because of its expanse, life in each region varies somewhat. It's more than 2 1/2  times bigger than Texas. (Texans- feel free to be skeptical, but it's a cold, hard fact!)

The Inside Passage in the Southeast is a popular cruising route. Juneau, the capitol city, as well as small towns like Skagway play host to thousands of tourists during the summer months. The cruising/land tour season runs from May through September, so those are the best months to visit.

The weather in the Southeast is pretty predictable in the summer- cloudy, chilly, steady light rain, and the occasional break in the clouds for rare sunny days. When my husband and I were living and working in Skagway for 3 summers, we soaked up every minute of those days. Not hard to do when there's over 18 hours of daylight by the summer solstice!
There is so much to see and do, like hiking, zip lining, and fishing. You can take a ride on the White Pass & Yukon Route, which was built during the Gold Rush in 1898. You can hike through a temperate rain forest, or ride a tram up the side of a mountain. How about whale watching? Walking on a glacier? Dog sledding? River rafting? You can pick your adventures and plan accordingly.
If you're up for a road trip, you can drive up from the lower 48 and hit the Alcan, the Alaska-Canadian highway. This takes you through the Yukon Territory and British Columbia in Canada, so be sure to bring your passport. There are some quirky little towns to stop in, and so much breathtaking beauty to marvel at.  Chances are excellent that you will encounter wildlife like mountain goats, moose, bison, and of course, bears!  (Pro tip- avoid the temptation to approach wildlife, no matter how good of a shot you think that you can get with your camera!)
I have barely even scratched the surface of this amazing state; it's just impossible to summarize Alaska so briefly. I can't recommend it enough, whether you choose a cruise, a land tour, or brave the adventure of driving there on your own.

It is absolutely a must see, especially for nature lovers.  Although I can't claim Skagway Alaska as my home today, I definitely plan on returning in the future. There is just something so incredibly captivating about the place that you just can't put into words. If you have an adventurous spirit and can appreciate the beauty of untamed nature, this is one state that you truly have to experience for yourself!

*Also-If you want to check out more about life in the last frontier, I recommend visiting my friend Whitney's blog, Suitcase Sweethearts.  She's living out a life of adventure in Alaska's interior with her husband, and she blogs all about it!

Sep 2, 2013

Bilingual Baby to Bilingual Kid


It's been over a year since I first wrote about having a bilingual baby.  Well, that baby is now a self-proclaimed "big kid", and her language skills have continued to grow and flourish in both Bulgarian and English.  Although some bilingual children may have a speech delay, that was not the case with our girl.  I think it just comes down to her personality, though.  She is rarely at a loss for words! 

We've been back and forth between the US and Bulgaria several times over the 2 + years of her life, and her preference for a language would emerge accordingly, depending on where we were.  When we were in Bulgaria, she impressed me with her rapid acquisition of new words and phrases.  Even though I have a few years on her in the learning Bulgarian department, she has quickly left me in the dust.

Now that we're back in the states, Martin has to make sure that the Bulgarian words keep flowing.  While we never formally decided on one parent/one language, he's the only one in her daily life that can speak to her exclusively in his mother tongue.  Regular Skype sessions with family back in Bulgaria are also a big help.

I often wonder if my girl is going to have an easier time picking up more languages in the future.  Recent research suggests yes.  Personally, I think it must be an incredible advantage to know more than one, and knowing several has to be even better.  It certainly opens up more personal and professional opportunities in the future.

Dipping Our Toes Into a 3rd Language

My daughter has a little exposure to Spanish, thanks to Dora and Diego.  That might seem laughable, but hey- those shows must do something for someone, right?  She now knows a few words in Spanish, so I'm going with yes.  It's at least a nice little introduction to it.  So when the Language Bear contacted me about their line of dual language children's books, I took them up on the offer to review one in Spanish/English.

The Language Bear books follow the adventures of Bosley the Bear and are designed to teach through repetition and reinforcement of words and phrases.  They offer French, German, Spanish, Russian, Italian, and Japanese.

Francie and I look through the book together and the cute illustrations draw us right in.  Fun and friendly Bosley Bear is a character that can hold a little one's attention.  I liked that the book also helped me to remember simple words that I had learned in Spanish class years ago.  If you're looking for books to introduce a new language to your child, I recommend checking out the Language Bear.

Going Forward With Language Learning

Something that we'll be exploring more in the future is getting together with other Bulgarian/American families in our area.  In our current city, there's an active group that regularly meets to offer formal lessons for children.  Francie is still too young for that now, but in a few years it will be an excellent opportunity.  Finding a community in your area- no matter how small- could be very helpful for reinforcing another language, as well as maintaining a strong connection to the culture.  Building relationships with similar families would just be an all around good thing.

We brought a lot of Bulgarian children's books with us to the US, and I hope to continue building our library over the years.  Making sure that our daughter has strong Bulgarian language skills while we are living in the states is extremely important to us.  A third language is something that we'll probably explore more in depth when Francie starts school.  For now, we're going to focus on the Cyrillic and English alphabets, as well as increasing her vocabulary in both languages.  She's only 2, but it's never too early to get started on learning.  We're committed to making sure that she can speak fluently in both, no matter where we are living.

*I received a review copy of Bosley Goes to the Beach.  This post isn't sponsored, I just included my thoughts/opinions on the book since it was a good fit!


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