Thanks for reading, Eagle!
About the 529, our state (NC) offers a tax deduction on the first $2,000 contributed each year, so until last year, we've been putting in around $2,000 per year. The funds are all Vanguard with low expenses, but the returns haven't been great. I think that's just a reflection of the markets lately. Even without impressive returns, it's pretty amazing how quickly steady contributions become a sizeable chunk of money. I dropped the monthly amount to $25 until we have our emergency fund and then I'll go back to ~$2k per year. Our daughter is 6 and I'm really glad that I took the time to set up the 529 early on.
My financial epiphany was last summer, about exactly a year ago. We had an accident and had to replace a very large amount of carpet. (probably could have filed a homeowner's claim, but that's another story...) We had dipped into our emergency fund several times last spring, and when I went into the flooring store to write the check, I realized that we'd only have $1,800 left in the e-fund and it made me feel sick. My family set a great financial example for me and I couldn't believe we were essentially living paycheck to paycheck. So I decided it had to end and we had to get back to living below our means. It took some time and effort, but things are so much better now.
Getting my husband on board has been an ongoing process. He comes from a family of huge spenders. We've watched most of the Financial Peace dvd's and that has helped show him that his family is not smart about money. Also, some of their bad decisions are starting to come back to haunt them and I think he realizes that he doesn't want to end up the same way. So it's a work in progress, but he's come a long way since last summer.
I'm too lazy to look at our budget numbers in mint at the moment
, but the big categories are:
--mortgage + escrow - $2,000 (normally $1800, but bank made mistake on escrow and we'll pay higher for 6 more months)
--groceries and eating out - $600
--afterschool care during school year - $300
--utilities, TV, internet, cell phone - $350
--gas - $300
A $20k emergency fund should cover about 6 months of basic expenses, although depending on the emergency, we would make pretty drastic changes to cut our budget to the bone.
Whew, that was long!