Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Think of the Savings: Our Refinance (Part 1)

Happy Leap Day! And it's time to start wrapping up our refinancing story! Turns out I have a lot to say about refinancing, so our experience is going to be a multi-part series.

And before I leap jump into everything, I have to thank John's sister and her husband for talking about refinancing their mortgage shortly before Christmas. If it hadn't come up in conversation, we probably would have put off refinancing for a while. They purchased their house after us (we've had our house for less than a year) so it really made us think hard about why we were delaying refinancing.

I think we were intimidated by the process. But looking back, it was extremely fast and easy! John and I quickly cruched the numbers over Christmas and decided to talk to the bank once we were back in town. Our original mortgage was sold to Chase, so we asked them about refinancing on December 30, 2011. We closed on our refinance on February 10, 2012. That's less than 1.5 months!

So back to the story. You know how they say everything happens for a reason? I believe it. When we called Chase to schedule a meeting with a loan officer, they asked us to bring a few documents (W-2's, tax returns, bank statements, etc.), but I couldn't find one set of W-2's. I knew we had to provide those items for our original mortgage, so I called Wintrust Mortgage, the bank where we secured our original loan.

I explained to Ryan Mecum (our amazing loan officer) that we were talking to Chase about refinancing and needed copies of W-2's from our file. He had someone from his team pull the documents and said to call back after our meeting with Chase. He told us that Wintrust offers loans at 0.125% less than Chase with the same fees (~$1,850). Had I found the W-2's, we may have waited longer to call Wintrust.

Chase quoted us 4.125% for a 30 year mortgage. And true to Ryan's word, we locked in at 4% with Wintrust. Either way, Lesson #1 of mortgages and refinancing: Get multiple rate and fee quotes. [Side note: We could have locked in at 3.875% had we escrowed our property taxes, but we waived escrow. I'll speak more about our decision in a future post.]

Going with Wintrust had other advantages. Since we had worked with Ryan a year ago, we already had a relationship and knew how their process worked. We knew it was going to be smooth and professional. Wintrust also had all of our financial information from the original loan, so all we had to do was send over updated bank statements and pay stubs for the end of 2011 and early 2012.

By the way, I'm not compensated to say this, but Wintrust Morgage finances mortgage loans in all 50 states. So if you're looking for excellent service, I would give Ryan a call. Ryan might be in Chicago, but he also gets cool points for owning a restaurant in Nashville :)

Next up, cruching the numbers! We were blown away by how much we would save by refinancing!
Pin It

Monday, February 27, 2012

A Sneaky Chocolate Dessert

Hi, friends! We're back to Monday. Did you have a good weekend? Ours was pretty social, which is a nice change from the past few weekends. I brought a sneaky dessert to a friend's on Friday night, which I'll tell you about in two paragraphs.

There was also a donut sale at our church for the Appalachia Service Project. A group of teens and adult leaders (John being one) is going to rural Kentucky for a week this summer to help rebuild houses and build community. They raised about $1,500 this weekend (woo hoo)! Through April 8, 2012 10% of all sales from my Etsy shop will be donated to the Appalachia Service Project.

So back to my sneakiness. On Friday, we went to a friend's party. I volunteered to bring a dessert, but didn't think about the timing of everything. There was no time during the week to prep, so I was left with 45 minutes between getting home from work and leaving our house for the party. Therefore, I wanted to make something fast, no-bake, healthy, and reasonably priced. 

Good thing I remembered this recipe from last year. After a quick stop at the grocery store on my way home from work, I was ready to go. I threw all the ingredients in the food processor, sliced some apples, and we were out the door.

I served the bowl of chocolate dip with the apples and didn't tell anybody what was in there, besides Nutella. One guy literally pulled up a chair to the dip and went to town with apple slices, crackers, maybe even a spoon.

So what was the secret healthy ingredient?

Garbanzo beans! I made a dessert hummus and people ate it up! The Cupcake Project "frosted" gluten-free cupcakes with her chocolate hummus. We were having pizza for dinner that night, so I wanted something lighter, like apples. This hummus would also be perfect to bring as an afternoon work snack!

The original recipe called for honey, but we were all out. Instead, I substituted maple syrup. If I make the recipe again (a strong possibility), I'd like to try it with honey.

And thankfully Stef made the side note that "if you use Nutella or another product with lots of added sugar, your end result will be sweeter than [the original recipe] and, depending on your personal taste preferences, you may need to cut back on the honey." My hummus seemed pretty sweet without adding any honey or syrup, so I only added a little maple syrup to make the dip a little creamier.

Do you ever sneak healthy ingredients into your recipes?

Sneaky Chocolate Hummus
Adapted from the Cupcake Project

1 can (14 oz) garbanzo beans (chickpeas), rinsed and drained
1/2 cup Nutella
2 tablespoons brown sugar
Honey or maple syrup, to taste (I used about 1 Tablespoon)

Put the garbanzo beans, Nutella, and brown sugar in a food processor.

Pulse until it's as smooth as you can get it. Scrape down the bowl occassionaly.

Add honey or maple syrup, to taste. This will sweeten the hummus and help make it creamier. Pulse the food processor a few more times.

Store hummus in a covered container in the refrigerator until ready to enjoy with fruit, graham crackers, pitas, cupcakes, or a spoon :)
Pin It

Thursday, February 23, 2012

A Random Friday Post

Lela Rose carnival sheath dress, Kate Spade earrings,
SeaAndStoneStudio clutch, Christian Louboutin neon pumps

I know this Friday's Fancies outfit is more dreamer than realistic, but this Lela Rose dress is too pretty to not share! Who's with me to try to figure out how to DIY something like this???

And that clutch is from one of my new favorite Etsy shops, SeaAndStoneStudio. Jen hand dyes all the textiles using the Japanese shibori technique to create beautiful scarves, clutches, and pillows. I love all of the calming blues, greens, and aquas.

How else are things going with you?

This week has been a little nuts (haven't they all?) and I'm feeling a little moody and PMS-y....ugh. Thankfully, I have some evenings with friends to look forward to!

Jess LC FLEA flamingo bracelet

In other news, my girl Jess just launched her newest line, FLEA! I've already snatched up on of the pink bracelets and can't wait for it to come in the mail. More importantly, she's written some amazing posts about imperfections and being more authentic on our blogs. They're definitely must reads! 

Hope you have a fantastic weekend!

Pin It

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

To Refi or not to Refi?

That is the question...

Mortgage rates are at historic lows and there's no sign that they're going up any time soon. Therefore, refinancing your current mortgage to the lower rates or changing the loan term (number of years you have to pay back the loan) can be a great way for you to save money!

When you refinance your mortgage, you (really the bank) pay off the original mortgage and replace it with a new one. The term of the loan and interest rate may change, but the property securing the mortgage (your house) is still the same. Which means refinancing should be easier than getting approved for the original loan.

Back to getting the "new" loan. If you currently have a 30 year loan, are 5 years into making payment, and want to refinance to a new 30 year loan, your loan term is back to 30 years. Which is important to note because the first 10 years of a loan are primarily interest payments. When you refinance at a lower rate, a greater proportion of the monthly payments are principal, but a good chunk still goes to interest.

You'll also want to compare the monthly payments of a 15, 20, and 30 year loan. You'll pay less interest with the 15 year, but the required monthly payment will be higher. I recommend the 30 year because you have the flexibility of making additional principal payments or only make the lower required monthly payment if you have other large expenses that month, like a medical emergency or buying a car.

From Etsy seller typogy

With that in mind, here are a few considerations if you're currently deciding whether to refinance or not:

Refinancing involves a lot of number crunching.
Fortunately, there are all sorts of calculators to help you out! Bankrate has a goldmine of online calculators. If you're looking to refinance, it's extremely important to know whether you'll recoup the closing costs or not. For example, if it costs $3,000 in closing costs and the lower interest rate will save you $150 per month, you'll need to stay in your house for 20 months to benefit from the savings. This calculator helps you determine the breakeven point and if you should refinance.

Are you creditworthy?
Now, you might have the best intentions in refinancing, but are you actually able to do it? Just like the initial loan approval process, the bank will be checking your credit report to determine whether you are still creditworthy. Therefore, it's a good idea to check your credit report a few months before refinancing and cleaning up any discrepancies. Also, avoid doing anything drastic while preparing for the refinance like taking out a new loan for a car. Banks generally require that your debt to income ratio fall below 36%.

The bank will also want to see that you have steady employment and can afford the monthly payments. Some mortgage brokers say they want to see 2 years of continuous employment history, which can be a little tough with these economic times.

How's your home value?
Since a mortgage is an investment to the bank (they're be getting your interest payments), they want to see that they're making a worthwhile investment. So has the value of your house increased, remained steady, or decreased? The official way to find out is getting an appraisal for the house.

Before you go through the whole refinance and pay for the appraisal, it's a good idea to get a general understanding of housing prices in your area. Check Zillow or talk with your real estate agent to compare current market values. If your house's value is steady, then go for it! However, if your property value declined significantly, you might not be able to refinance. Or you'll have to pay down a portion of the principal balance of the original mortgage before getting the "new" loan.

While we're on the topic of appraisals, it's important that the appraisal reflects significant improvements made to your house. So start accumulating your paperwork and be sure the appraiser knows about the new addition, bathroom, or kitchen.

Can you afford it?
Do you have the available cash to pay for the closing costs? Average closing costs for a $200,000 refinance are $3,741, but amounts vary greatly by region. Closing costs are also based on the interest rate. If you "buy down" the interest rate, you'll have higher closing costs and vice versa. You can roll closing costs into the mortgage, but then you'll have to pay interest on those costs over the life of the mortgage.

As mentioned above, if your property value decreased you'll need the funds to pay a portion of the mortgage principal. Finally, depending on the timing of your property tax bill, you may have to pay taxes before closing.

From Etsy seller katiez84

Phew! I hope this helps you determine whether you should refinance or not! Up next is how our actual refinance shaked out. I'll be running the numbers and sharing other things we learned.

Do you have any other questions you'd like me to answer about refinancing? Anybody currently refinancing?

PS - My mortgage primer can be found over at I am Just Lu.
Pin It

Monday, February 20, 2012

Looking for a New View

Sometimes one change can dramatically transform an overall look. Like painting a room or cutting bangs. Maybe it's getting a new pair of glasses, like John did a few months ago.

From borrring...

To exciting!

Since I don't wear prescription glasses or contacts, I never knew how expensive they could get to be. I was going through our 2011 expenses for our taxes* and saw that his new glasses cost $165 out of pocket. Or something close to that since our insurance paid for some. Glasses are obviously necessary, but that seemed a little high. I (and probably you too) already knew about Warby Parker, but they're not the only player in the "reasonably priced glasses" game.

Have you heard of They offer high quality frames and lenses at a 110% lowest price guarantee and a majority of their glasses are less than $100, which includes the prescription lenses.

After looking around the website, I decided to "try on" a few pairs of eyeglasses using their virtual mirror. It's a fun tool to play with and my favorite was the iSee 501 in tortoise shell for $78. GlassesUSA also offers their glasses without the prescription lenses, so even I can look cool in a new set of specs :)

Not completely satisfied with you glasses even after using the virtual mirror?  You can return them to GlassesUSA for a refund or a new pair of glasses.

If you're looking to order glasses, I would do it soon! GlassesUSA has a Presidents' Day sale that ends February 20!  Get 50% off any pair of prescription eyeglasses from their entire collection (basic single-vision lenses included), on orders over $50 with the code: PRESIDENT

If that's too last minute, here are a few other promotions:
Take 20% off your entire order of $80 or more & get free US shipping with the code: FS20
Take 10% off any order of prescription glasses. Code: Blog10

One more reason to buy new glasses? So you can dramatically remove them a la Jim Gaffigan:
Jim Gaffigan - People With Glasses
Jim GaffiganCoemdiansStand-Up

Do you wear glasses?

* - Don't forget that for 2011 taxes, you may deduct only the amount by which your total medical care expenses for the year exceed 7.5% of your adjusted gross income. That includes reading or prescription eyeglasses or contact lenses! See IRS Topic 502 for more details.

Important stuff: I was compensated by GlassesUSA to write this post. All opinions are my own.

Pin It

Thursday, February 16, 2012

A Wishful Weekend Getaway

If I had it my way, I would be spending the holiday weekend here:

or here:

While enjoying one of these:

Or perhaps this:

While wearing these:

1) J. Crew tunic, bikini 2) top and 3) bottom, 4) Havaianas, 5) Toms sunglasses, 6) sunscreen

And of course with him :)

I hope you have a lovely Friday and long weekend!

Pin It

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

How I Avoid a 3pm Snack Attack

And I'm not talking about the, "Ooh, I'm hungry! I think I'll eat the healthy snack I brought to work." Fruit or nuts or yogurt or low fat popcorn would be too logical.

I'm talking about the, "Lay off my I'm starving!" or the "My stomach is eating itself!" and "Where's the nearest vending machine???" snack attack. Only Pop Tarts, peanut M&M's, or Junior Mints will do. 

You see, when I changed jobs, I also lost the convenience of having a Dunkin Donuts, Starbucks, Potbelly's (mmm...their cookies), Caribou Coffee, Argo Tea, two cupcake bakeries, and Walgreens a stone's throw away.

Now, my snack time options include: bring something from home, raid the vending machine, go to the cafe in the building before it closes, drive somewhere, or ask a co-worker for a snack.

Hmmm...not too many options now. To make matters worse, the vending machine only takes $1 bills or change.

In reality, I've made this work to my advantage.

To avoid the 3pm stress/snack binge, I try not to carry $1 bills in my wallet. It's like my stomach knows when the $1 bills are around and burning a hole in my wallet.

Not having the $1 bills makes me evaluate whether I'm actually hungry, thirsty, stressed, or bored. Instead of running for the Pop Tarts, I might take a walk away from my desk, make some tea, or eat the healthy snack I brought. Sure, I could borrow a $1, but then I'd have to break a larger bill and be left with more $1's.

Overall, it's a much better situation for my waistline, brain, and wallet.

What do you do when the 3pm "My stomach is eating itself!" feeling hits?
Pin It

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Happy Valentine's Day!

Cupcake card from Etsy seller 4four
Hubs > Cupcakes. And I reallllly like cupcakes :)

Pin It

Monday, February 13, 2012

Chocolate makes everything better

Hi there! How was your weekend? Other than a slight hiccup, the refi closing went smoothly. Plus, I started our taxes. I know, I live an exciting life :) Before I jump into mortgage madness, I want to share my Super Bowl desserts because it's better late than never.

I ended up baking desserts for both the Patriots and Giants. My Boston Cream pie cookies wound up being vanilla cake cookies with and without the ganache. I didn't particularly like the coconut cream filling from the original recipe, so I ditched it. Plus, making them into sandwich cookies seemed a little like overkill because the cookies were already a rich and dense. Even though, I made the cookies half as big as the recipe. But what do I know? Someone at the party ended up making these into sandwiches with a cheesecake ball!

Aforementioned cheesecake ball :)

These cheesecake balls were also a little tricky. You'll see that they didn't make it in cakepop form. I don't think the balls were firm chilled enough when I tried to dip them in chocolate. Plus, I used melted chocolate chips and a little cream instead of Bakerella's recommended chocolate candy melts. Therefore, it was a little too liquid-y.

Everything tasted great. They were just a little messy. Not that messy is a bad thing when it involves chocolate :) To dress up the cheesecake balls, I topped them with chopped white chocolate with blueberries.

Sacrificial cheesecake for the cheesecake balls

If chocolate cheesecake balls are a little too much to handle, how about my aunt's cheesecake recipe? If you want to make a cheesecake just for the cheesecake balls, skip making the graham cracker crust and sour cream topping. I made 2/3 of the recipe, which yielded 24 cheesecake balls.

Aunt Me's Cheesecake

Graham Cracker Crust

1/2 stick butter
1 2/3 cup graham cracker crumbs
1/2 cup sugar

Melt butter in 9x13 baking dish in 325* oven. Add graham cracker crumb and sugar. Mix and pat onto sides and bottom of the pan.


3 8 oz. containers/packages of cream cheese.
1 cup sugar
5 large eggs
1 T vanilla

Cream the cream cheese and sugar. Add eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Pour onto crust. Bake at 325* for approximately 25 minutes or until it doesn't wiggle.


1 pint sour cream
5 T sugar

Mix sour cream and sugar and pour over cheesecake. Bake at 375* for 5 minutes.

Pin It

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Valentine's Day Gifts

Row 1: OrangeTwist, BagatellesAndCo, JessicaIllustration, rebeccaplotnick
Row 2: iHEARTtart, sparrowsnestscript, cynthiavardhan, happydeliveries
Row 3: ohgeezdesign, thebigharumph, thewheatfield, meganleedesigns
Row 4: themacaronqueen, FiscallyChic, UrbanCheesecraft, No144
Thank goodness it's Friday! It's been another bananas week and I can't wait to enjoy a little relaxation and Zumba over the weekend. Especially since we're in the homestretch of refinancing our mortgage!

To send us into the weekend, here are a few Valentine's Day favorites from Etsy. I showed John the craft brew card and he joked that he should get it for me. And I certainly wouldn't mind some fresh peonies or macarons :)

What do you have planned for the weekend?

Pin It

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Refi Update!

Remember how I said we're refinancing our mortgage? And that I would share the juicy details?

The time has arrived! We just scheduled our closing!!!!! 4% refi, baby!

In addition to writing about the refi in the coming weeks, I'm also thinking about writing a quick series covering blogging and taxes, since we all know it's tax season. Do you have any questions in particular?

PS - I'm happy to report that I hit chambray outfit #3. I layered it underneath a dress and wore it to work. Since I hit outfit #3 in less than a week, this purchase is fiscally chic approved!
Pin It

Monday, February 6, 2012

Chambray: Where have you been hiding?

I did it. I hopped on the chambray bandwagon. Who knew that less than $30 could lead to outfit bliss?!

I picked up my new chambray lover on Saturday and wore it twice on Sunday. To Mass with black pants and to a Super Bowl party with pink cords.

And I'm already trying to figure out a way to dress it up enough to wear to work. I think pairing it with a tweed or black pencil skirt would be appropriate. Or maybe I'll smuggle it in underneath a sweater or blazer.

Don't worry, I won't be wearing my new shirt with jeans anytime soon. It's too close to denim on denim for my taste.

If you want to join in the fun, get your own chambray shirt from Old Navy for $27. It's lightweight and will be perfect for spring and summer! Not that I'm counting the days until then :)

Pin It

Friday, February 3, 2012

Is it Officially Spring Yet?

Old Navy chambray shirt, J.Crew chinos, lepetitruban earrings (Etsy),
VellePurse canvas and leather pouch (Etsy), TOMS ballet flats

Punxsutawney Phil may have seen his shadow, meaning there's 6 more weeks of winter, but it doesn't feel like it in Chicago. The temperature is going to be in the 40's this weekend, so I might try for a run outside! But not Saturday morning; that's reserved for Zumba. I went to the class last Saturday morning and loved it! It was basically a sweaty hour of shaking my booty, the perfect way to start the weekend :)

Do you have any big plans? Of course I'll be baking for the Super Bowl. And maybe doing a little shopping. I noticed that a few of my black shirts are looking pretty faded, so it's time to get some replacements. And maybe even the chambray shirt that I can't seem to get out of my mind.

Have a lovely Friday!

Pin It
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...