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Holiday Spending

November 22nd, 2017 at 03:56 pm

MH just bought some concert tickets (including one for my dad). I told him that we should just cover it. Make it a Christmas present. Is the same gift he got last year (but a different band).

This is about how much thought/energy I am giving to the season. We don't celebrate in any big or materialistic way. I'll be figuring out some other gifts, but nothing I have to "plan" for or will spend much energy on. We don't save any money for Christmas, accordingly.

For us, the focus continues to be more and more on charity every year. I am still not in a place where I have any time for the Holidays. So though we generally give more time than money, there's not a lot we sign up for this time of year. It's easier for us to just write checks in the month of December. But I am taking the week off after Thanksgiving and I saw that someone needed help with a giving tree, and so I volunteered to help. Will see how it goes and if I want to do the same next year. (I've volunteered for the sorting in the past, which is probably more my thing, but this year I signed up to shop).

Other than that, we usually donate my Christmas bonus ($200). To the local food bank and the animal shelters, though it varies.

In addition, we are getting a $1,000 check (from in-laws) to donate to charities of our choice. This is a new tradition. They started last year with $500. For this year, $1,000 has been thrown out. Wow! I am SO EXCITED about this! I don't know why I find that number so mind blowing. Because it is 4 figures? I don't know. It sounds/feels like so much more than we have been able to give in the past.

Real Estate Update & Movies

November 11th, 2017 at 03:48 pm

I paid the property taxes. One month early, but I don't have to think about it again for another year. & also gives plenty of time to correct if there are any problems. This is why I never pay things like the day they are due. That sounds way too stressful. Crap happens, and I still want my payment to be on time when the crap happens.

Our county stopped charging a convenience fee for paying online. AWESOME! Smart on their part. There is no way I would pay by check and send in the mail. I have been paying with e-checks. Clearly they must have less mail loss and so on, with this change. Our mail here is TERRIBLE. I forgot this was one reason I had started paying just once per year. I don't care if the fee was $5. It was worth it to get my payment where it needed to be in a timely fashion. It had been a $1.50 fee, and now I never have to pay it again.

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I mentioned recently that our specific home model seems to rarely go up for sale, but one was for sale (and remodeled so beautifully in a black/white theme, which I guess is "in" these days. Seeing that more and more).

A second one just sold for the same price (around $490k). & I just saw a "coming soon" sign on our neighbor's house. NO WAY! So pretty much those models rarely go up for sale, but now three in a row...

I think all are immaculately kept and remodeled to the hilt. The third one, you can just tell from the care they've done to their tiny front yard and all the enhancements they have added, which most don't bother with. That said, historically people have not paid premiums for those things in the areas we have lived. & real estate generally moves upwards. So if they fetch a similar price, is just what I will use for net worth. I think things will stagnate around $499k for a while and I think is somewhat reasonable (though definitely getting into bubble territory). The local economy is better (A LOT) than the entire 17 years we have lived here, but it's not like people make that much money. The single story home are at peak level and are selling for $400k - $450k. If the median wage in our city is something like $50k, clearly this is ridiculous. Maybe some part of me just hopes things settle down a bit (and this isn't really Bubble 2.0). But bubble aside, it also takes time for people to wrap their brains around buying a house for 5xx,xxx. It will take a while, but $500k to $599k won't take as long. The demand for local housing currently far outstrips supply, but people also seem to be favoring smaller homes and more reasonable budgets. My co-worker even told me that new home models were more small and efficient, versus the grandiose/wasted space/GIANT kitchens and master suites of the 2001 era when we bought our house. I like to hear that, that there is some sanity on this front. Everything was so grandiose during the bubble.

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We went to another free movie screening. It was a screening of The Room, which if you have not heard of it is the "worst movie ever made."

The reason for the screening was because of a release of a movie about the making of The Room. The new movie is called the Disaster Artist. MH got a free shirt and won a book for the new movie. (They often have merch at these things, which drives me crazy because he hoards weird crap). But he will wear a shirt and read/sell a book, so I guess it was good merch. (I donated a couple of free movie shirts recently without telling him. He insisted I take them, the kids didn't want them. I finally donated them. I don't need a closet full of free shirts. It just gets to the point of ridiculous).

Anyway...

O.M.G. If you ever hear of a showing of The Room, I recommend. I *almost* didn't go because it was two movies in one week and I have been pretty slammed at work. I wasn't expecting much because it was one of those things where I thought I saw the highlights so many times already. I am well aware of the movie, the bad script, the bad acting, and some of the ridiculous scenes.

I was wrong.

First, every second of the movie is so BAD it is hilarious. I thought I Was going to die laughing the first 5 minutes. At some point I guess you adjust (so that you don't die laughing). Okay, every detail is BAD. Every line, every actor, every screen frame, EVERYTHING. I had no idea it was non-stop funny.

In addition to that, it has a cult following like Rocky Horror. So this is a very interactive movie. It was hilarious on its own, and hilarious to laugh with a crowd, but this just brings it to a whole other level.

I started reading the book MH won (Disaster Artist) and it is fascinating. I can see everything behind the scenes was just as bad as on screen. I have absolutely no time to read a book right now, but I can see the value in reading it with the movie still fresh in my mind. Anyway, I think the Disaster Artist movie releases the week after next. I entered to win tickets. I don't know if the tickets will be available through the usual channels. If they are, MH will find a way to get tickets.

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This reminds me, one of MH's co-workers is a film student. Is the only other person MH knows who is cheap enough and interested enough to see ALL the free movies. Anyway, film student was doing some project in one of his classes and needed a script. Asked if he could use one of MH's scripts he had read. For the class, they are going through the pre-production process. (Most the other groups already had scripts, but for whatever reason no one in his group had a script for this project). The feedback has been, "Forget making this movie. Why doesn't he SELL it?" Aw, youthful idealism. Wink

But I think this is some of why MH is, "Of course you can use my script!" You never know who is going to be the right person (or meet the right person) somewhere down the road. Beyond that, they sound very cute and idealistic. Big Grin But I think the ego stroking is good in the here and now, amidst all the rejection. You need some motivation to keep trying. He's still writing scripts and trying.


Gravy Raise

November 9th, 2017 at 08:25 pm

I know I have said in the past that living in a high cost region has several advantages. Most of it was more region specific advantages, but some of it is directly related to the higher cost of living.

On the higher cost side, if the second income is pure gravy, the gravy is bigger. (Because wages are higher).

We seem to be experiencing this right now. MH received a 3% raise this year. (His raise last year already corrected for minimum wage increase January 2018). His pay was going to be something like $xx.5875. Seriously!? This was driving me crazy because I always just calculate his check (he gets paid before we get his pay stub).

Then, while he was in Florida his last paycheck hit and it was all wrong. For the first time in two years, it was not right. But it was to his favor. He always gets his pay before his pay stub so I had to wait to figure it out. On his pay stub, which I could see a few days later, they had given him an 8% raise instead. But he had already received the weird pay rate for one pay period. I figured it was a mistake.

Anyway, MH had a chance to bring it up this week and he was told by his supervisor that he thinks the manager gave him the raise. He confirmed that today. They gave him a nice raise, and no one bothered to tell him. {I told MH that from my experience pretty much no one looks at their pay stub. So, most people wouldn't even notice. I can't believe they didn't tell him}.

This is a nice surprise! The gravy is getting bigger. Oh, and it is a nice round amount that is easy to remember. I like that part too.

When I initially said the gravy is bigger in our high cost region, I was thinking that he could easily find a job making $50k or $60k per year. Is more what I was getting at, when I said this several years ago. But this works too. (Working very seasonal/part-time/minimum-wage for now, for reference. But is also definitely more than it would be in most areas of the country).

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We went to a free movie (advanced screening) on Tuesday night. MH really wanted to take me because it had really good reviews. In the end, it was a small turnout. We were running a little late and got stuck in a lot of traffic, but it worked out because there wasn't a long line. The movie was Ladybird. It was really good. This was definitely a fun one to see at a screening because the movie was set in Sacramento and was filmed here.

Usually MH feels a compulsiveness to see everything, and he sees a lot of crap. But I will say that there were some really good movies this year. It seems more than usual.

October Savings

November 5th, 2017 at 06:43 pm

Received $52 bank interest for the month of October.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.
--Redeemed $61 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $7 cash back on dining/gas card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$5 Savings from Target Red Card (grocery purchases)
--rounded up $2 for an even $100 snowflake deposit

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$1,200

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-$300 Trombone purchase

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,300 to cash
-$ 85 museum membership (renewal)
-$ 275 auto insurance

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I think this month will end up being the polar opposite of next month. I literally deposited $4,300 into savings/investments this month. We save about $4,000 in a month that MH works and that we don't have any one-off expenses. (Rare, because there's usually some non-monthly expenses). But I am also replenishing savings for pre-paying some big expenses for credit card rewards.

Next month: We've already racked up $4,000 in medical bills and home repairs (and includes some smaller expenses). Will pay property taxes for the year, so that's $9,000 outflow right there.

This is the 4th year that I am just pre-paying property taxes, by paying it all up front (the second installment is not due until April). This is just done from a simplicity standpoint. If interest rates ever rise I guess I can re-evaluate, but I think we are building enough wealth at this point in our lives that I'd prefer simplicity over a little extra bank interest. But I probably only feel that way because interest rates are only 1%.

This & That

November 3rd, 2017 at 05:53 pm

Mortgage Update: Officially into the 150s. Woohoo!

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This weekend will be SPENDY! We have an unofficial reunion with the group MH and I worked with when we met. The last time I recall seeing any of them was when MM(14) was an infant. It has been a while.

Anyway, they chose an expensive Bay Area buffet, but my kids are looking forward to all the food. At least I get my money's worth with them. Wink

We also have an expensive outing planned with my SIL and her kids. I haven't heard any details and need to e-mail her. I *think* we have plans. (I wouldn't be surprised if she didn't make reservations, but honestly the kids just want to hang together. As long as they have a little time for us is all I care about. SIL wanted to plan a big to-do).

Busy weekend! Should be fun, but tiring.

I don't know how much of it is regional, but with housing so expensive people seem to be waiting until 40 to have kids. Just to say that MH and I have by far the oldest kids in that work group (we may be the youngest people with the oldest kids). They are going to freak when they see our 14-year-old (who is such a mini-me of his father).

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On the first night that MH was out of town (last week) I saw that PF Chang's had a free sushi night. I also had a free gift card, so I took the kids out. We had never been before.

O.M.G.

There was no minimum purchase and I really just thought they would bring us each like one free piece of sushi. When we ordered, the look on our waiter's face said otherwise. I tried to clarify with him but we just weren't communicating well. BUT... My kids could eat a horse, so I just let it go. The kids and I looked at each other like, "We are getting SO MUCH sushi," after he took our order. "Are we getting SO MUCH sushi!? I think we are!" & we did. We ordered an appetizer, two entrees, 2 plates of sushi, and 3 FREE pieces of sushi! So they brought us out 5 plates of sushi. It was totally hilarious. In another situation I would have corrected our order, but I wanted to use my gift card and I knew the kids would eat it. So we just let them bring us tons of food. (We spent $15 cash for all that).

In the end, we brought home a lot of MM's rice dinner because it was enough to feed an army. I brought home my dinner. It was a small serving, but it was way too much for me and everyone was full by then. The rest was devoured.

I already put the free sushi day on my calendar for next year. The food was surprisingly good.

It was enjoyable because no one seemed to know about it and the place was not packed at all.

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In other news, I saw that our school district is desperate for teachers (though they already pay VERY well). As a result, they are offering to pay for credential, plus monthly stipend while earning credential, plus a $5k or $10k bonus (depending if you hit certain marks).

Seriously!

This is something we have discussed endlessly over the years, for MH. The last he seriously considered was 17 years ago when the city we were living is was issuing emergency teaching credentials.

In contrast, this is a WAY better deal! Wow! A full teaching credential, plus all that cash to boot?

It's complicated. Though in most regards I think this would be his dream job, he has very low tolerance for bureaucracy, and I think that's what we have decided over the years. All his family are teachers and his mom has like always forbid him to ever become a teacher (because she knew he wanted to at some point). So it's a whole thing. Either of those things by itself, maybe he could work through it, but together is a lot.

With a deal like this, I don't think there's anything to lose. I doubt he will go down this route, but I share in the offchance he does. & also to say that there are always opportunities if you keep your eyes and ear open.

For now, he's been out of town and we hadn't really discussed. I Was kind of surprised he didn't say, "NO thanks." It's maybe piqued his interest.

Edited to add: I since saw that another school district is paying subs $500/day (during possible teacher strike). & several teaching job posting on a job board I joined on Facebook. I've not seen any "teacher" postings whatsoever in the past, but I guess there is a lot going on. I had a chance to talk to MH about it. I think his gut feeling is it's not really for him, but he told me it was hard for him to pass up opportunities. I think we both tend to be that way anyway, but maybe extra so for someone who struggled so hard in the job market for so long.

Florida Trip

November 1st, 2017 at 04:55 pm

MH is back from Florida. He was gone for 5 days, to celebrate his Grandfather's birthday. He really wishes we had gone with him, but I am really happy I didn't have to deal with all that travel. Phew!

The entire cost of the trip? $25!

I initially thought we were going to cover airfare, but his parents had miles and wanted to cover it.

I figured he'd treat for something while there. On Sunday I checked the credit cards and it was clear he hadn't spent anything and probably wouldn't. I figured he was the baby of the family and no one would let him pay for anything. That is what he confirmed. (Said everyone was fighting over the dining out bills and he wasn't interested in joining the fray). So I thought he might spend $100 or $200, but in the end it was $25 for two airport meals. That is all.

That said... His relatives were there from Australia and we are seriously considering going to Australia next summer. Will see. (I think they are near Brisbane/Gold Coast). I told him everyone is going to think I am totally full of crap. I do NOT want to travel. Really and truly. It's just complicated because we have family all over the world, and our parents love to travel. Even if it is generally not how we want to spend our own time and money, we are probably a little too "go with the flow."

& so that is how a $25 trip to Orlando might cost me several thousand dollars. Wink

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Halloween was a real bore at our house. MH was majorly jet lagged and I had to work. I've got two seminars this week and weekend plans, and just really no other time I could get some of this work done.

Anyway, my kids the last few years have had absolutely no interest in Halloween, but then often get swayed at the last minute. I've just kept some old costumes (Whatever still fits, like masks) and they like to dig through and mix and match to come up with weird costumes. In the end, the kids were invited to a fun friend's house where they dressed up as zombies and scared the neighborhood kids. That was really perfect because I had forgot it was Halloween when I made plans to bring work home. But by then the kids were already gone and the house was quiet. They had a blast, MH got a long nap, and I got some work done. Phew!

Credit Card Rewards Update

October 31st, 2017 at 01:09 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, MH)
$525 Gift Cards (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)
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$2,224 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.

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MH got a $250 reward offer from AmEx. I tracked down the $500 offer link and applied for that one instead.

This is a LOT for us. I am not a big churner and have probably never opened 4 cards in one year for just one of us. Yeesh. I will probably lay off and not do any rewards for him next year.

{This level of credit card churning has absolutely no effect on our credit scores. Hell would freeze over before we ever carried a balance on a credit card}.

As to credit score, which is a question that I get a lot, we have 100% on-time payments and 10 years of good credit on our reports (even if the accounts have been closed). That's clearly about 90% of OUR credit score. No one knows exactly how it all works. About the only think I have ever noticed that impacts our score is utilization ratio. Like when I made a big purchase on our Target card and totally forgot it only had a $500 limit. (So we ended up with a very high utilization on one card). I mean, it probably never would have occurred to me in the first place. It dinged our score for a bit, but maybe just for a month or two. Nothing we couldn't overcome and I am talking maybe it went from 840 to 820. I'd consider this "no effect" since anything above 750 is an excellent credit score. This is something that didn't amount to a hill of beans in the long run. But as someone who needs a good credit score for her job, I will be cautious about utilization ratios in the future. As to most the rest, the only thing I really care about is paying my bills on time.

Since we have mostly never borrowed for anything and this credit card reward extravaganza is a more recent phenomenon, we have way below average # of cards/credit lines on our credit reports. (I think that's CRAZY!! Lord knows we have opened tons of credit cards in the last 8 years or so. How are we below average?!). So it will be interesting to see how this plays out in the future. But that's something that doesn't affect our score because we are at or below average. (P.S. I guess our willingness to close our credit cards is also a lot of this. Stuff older than 10 years completely drops off, so maybe we've already reached a bit of a peak.
If I apply for 4 new cards next year but 4 old cards completely drop off my credit report, it's hard to increase this number much at this point).

Closing credit cards and having only a year or two of open credit doesn't amount to a hill of beans, for us. My theory was since good credit stays on your report for 10 years that clearly that counts for something. I've since seen this theory confirmed, in the years since I figured this out on my own. This is why I have never given a flip about keeping old cards open. That is WAY too complicated for me, to keep track of open cards. (I felt this way when I opened one credit card every few years or so. So it never occurred to me to keep open all of these cards. No Way!). We close all accounts we are not using.

Anyway, so those are some notes on that front. With this $500 reward, we are on track for our second best year ever. About $3,500 in rewards. Year #1 was 2011, which was more than $4,000. (That was the year that Chase had a $1,000 cash bonus. Crazy!)

This & That

October 15th, 2017 at 10:30 pm

**The tax season from hell is officially over. (10/15 is the last of the income tax deadlines.) I am EXHAUSTED. I think I may have enough down time to take a week off in December (the week I couldn't take off last year, so I have an extra week this year). Will see. Still in the middle of another monster project, though the end is in sight.

(I am usually not so busy in September/October, and probably would generally consider May through November to be pretty relaxed at work, but it's just been one of those years!)

**On the home front, hell froze over and MH finally discarded his professional wardrobe. It was mostly bought used and hasn't been worn in 15 years. We had last left it that he could keep it but I was NOT moving with that stuff that he was obviously never going to wear. This was our compromise.

In the end, he asked me to take him shopping for more casual clothes (he wanted help) and he was open to purging his closet after we went shopping. I thought he mean some of his more casual clothing, but he went through it *all* and admitted most of it was not in great condition after sitting in a closet for 15 years.

In the process, I took some time to purge my side of the closet too. My problem was not with his quantity of clothing, but with the fact he was NEVER going to wear it. So when he purged like 90% of his barely existent wardrobe, I felt like I should make an effort on my side of the closet. I was surprised how much stuff I had to purge and the shirts I forgotten I had, etc. Ugh. I can use improvement on my 1-in/1-out rule.

**I also *finally* got through our photos. The problem is my (4-year-old) phone has a burst mode for taking photos. I LOVE this feature, but the downside is I end up with massive amounts of photos.

It was my goal to download and backup photos before our London trip. There were two big vacations in particular that I never backed up. (They were automatically backed up in google, but we have a more extensive backup system in place, and I had never added those photos to MH's more secure backup). I was trying to use London as a motivational deadline, but I had too much to do and was having technological difficulties. Anyway, on one day a couple of weekends ago I made some strides on this. I seemed to stumble upon a more efficient way to get everything downloaded. So I spent all day and just got it done. Finally! Backed up London, and probably all the big vacations we took in the past 4 years. I think the hard part was deleting the endless duplicates.

**Other than being busy on the chore side of things, it's been a very spendy month.

We finally replaced our hot water heater. It was making some strange noises, and was definitely time. We were planning to be more proactive in 2015 but the labor costs to install were more than we expected. I got a lower quote this time around, and am happy to cross this off my list.

For a while now, I've also had it in my craw to pick up some glasses in person. The last pair of glasses I purchased were $10 on Zenni. They are absolutely *awesome*. Is my second pair I've ordered online? But I never got proper measurements for my pupils and I thought I saved enough on glasses the last several years that I could probably splurge on a new pair and try on in person. Sounded like a nice luxury.

Was it worth it? Not sure. I wasn't enthralled with the selection and ended up getting glasses more very functional but nothing as cute as I have been getting on Zenni. I could let it go as there is nothing wrong with practical glasses. The only complaint about the $10 pair was that they were a little heavy. Which I guess I will make note of for the future (Zenni certainly sells very light glasses. I had just never bought such heavy glasses before, so hadn't thought to check the weight).

Whereas Zenni charged me a whole whopping $5 for their anti-glare coating, my HMO charged me $90. So that's going to be the deciding factor. I have had problems with night driving. If the $90 clears that up for me, then it's a no-brainer and definitely worth it. But if I don't notice any difference on the glare, then I am probably just going to stick to Zenni in the future. (I am guessing I won't notice any difference).

Today I ordered some prescription sunglasses online, $30.

My timing is probably pretty terrible on this front. I have been thinking about doing this for a while, but what motivated me to make an eye appointment last week is that MH (who has been talking about this quite a while) decided to go ahead and make an eye appointment for himself. Never wore glasses, but can feel his eye sight worsening. He wanted me to go with him to help him pick out glasses, and I told him was fine since I need to have a check up myself.

In the end he feels his near-sight is worsening but they told him he needs everyday/distance eyewear. Strange as it sounds, it seems to be helping.

They actually upsold him to a $350 pair of glasses, but they were a pair like I had before which I really liked and were very high quality. (I wore for maybe 6+ years). So I told him to just go for it.

I went for titanium (wanting to go much lighter) and paid $250 for mine.

So yeah, though I planned for a while to do a splurge for myself, wasn't planning to make it a double splurge. Makes it a little harder to digest.

So that sums up some big spending.

**In other news, the kids have been really clicking with their cousins and I have been making an effort to get them together. My impression is that SIL is far too busy for us, so I was really surprised when I requested a more last minute get together and she obliged. (I figured I'd try, but wasn't expecting much). So I have to give her credit. She wanted to go do something ridiculously expensive, next time, and told me they had no free weekends for the rest of the year. So that is the flip side of it. They do over-book and tend to flake on our standing annual traditions. But I mentioned we'd be in town one weekend and she is making that work too. Which is nice because though I am doing *all* the driving (I guess it comes with the territory of being the ones who moved), I appreciate not having to take any extra trips. We had a 3-day weekend last weekend, and then if we can kill two birds with one stone next time... That works.

For last weekend, MH had some movie plans and some volunteer commitments, so I just took the kids on my own. It was a nice little day trip.

**UGH! I accidentally cut and paste over my last post. It was about the wild fires in our state. They suck and it's horrible. We are far away and unaffected. I think that sums it up. I mentioned the wind was crazy yesterday and not helping, but it seems to have died down, so maybe they can get these fires under control.

September Savings

September 30th, 2017 at 02:44 pm

Received $53 bank interest for the month of September.

Snowflakes to Investments:
--Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.
--Redeemed $30 cash back on Citi card.
--Redeemed $7 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$5 Savings from Target Red Card
--$115 dividends reinvested

Snowballs (not invested):
--$200 cash from credit card reward
--$1,025 gift cards received (cc rewards)

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$250

Savings (From my paycheck):
+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Mid-Term Savings (cash saved for non-annual expenses/emergency):
-1,000 Europe trip
-3,000 to fund mortgage goal ($$ came from OT)

MH paycheck:
-$340 to Europe trip

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):
+$1,300 to cash
-$ 325 van repair/maintenance
-$ 240 school lunches (partial year)
-$ 183 Medical expenses
-$ 150 Vet

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MH is back at work after summer off. I just set his 401k back to 50%. Could use more in accessible investments, but I think our taxes are going to be pretty ugly this year. I couldn't change it before first (very small) paycheck, which is fine since I wanted to use towards trip expenses anyway. But will just go aggressive at 50% for the rest of the year.

We did buy a musical instrument that I wanted to fund with MH's check, but nothing else is on the horizon. (We charged this in September, so will pay for it in October). I think we are kind of on pull back mode (on spending) after extravagant trip to Europe.

September was a work month for us. MH is getting back into the swing, and I was SLAMMED at work. So it was more reminiscent of tax season when we don't really have time to spend money. Making lots of money, but no time to spend. I guess this was compounded by the credit card reward windfalls. It was a big income month.

I mentioned in a prior post that I felt confident enough with our cash/expected expenses to fund mortgage goal. This is OT money I deposited in April and that I transferred to our mortgage this month. (If nothing else, wanted to see how Europe trip shook out before tying up all that cash).

Low Spend September

September 24th, 2017 at 04:15 pm

I am still trying to get over the hump at work. UGH.

Last weekend we were out of town for some family stuff. So it's been a little extra busy. Other than that, MH is back at work and we are just getting back into the swing of things.

I sat down and looked at all the bills today. September has been very low spend. I guess what I mean is I entered all the October bills (including September charges). I try to eyeball it all mid-month and make sure our cash flow for the following month is in the green. I also set up all the cash bills to pay on the first. I have enough float to cover so just set those up today.

I think it's some combo of not feeling much need to splurge after such a BIG vacay. Also, being thrown back into work. MH started back at work when we got back. This is reminiscent of our *busy* months (Jan - April) when we make extra money but are also too busy to do much else. It's not THAT busy, but feels busy after summer break.

That said, we did have some splurges. We spent $60 the Friday before last at the art school's talent show (fundraiser). AMAZING! A lot of these kids are professional level already. So I've never seen a talent show like it. I'd say at least 1/3 of the songs were original composition. It was just awesome on every level.

The other thing is that today is our 17th wedding anniversary. We have been together for 22 years. We aren't big on splurging or making a big deal about most things, but I guess our anniversary is one exception. We know we are blessed to have something VERY special. GMIL gave us $40 cash, and we are going to have lunch at one of my favorite restaurants today. & then just walk around downtown afterwards, which is kind of our standing Sunday date. (It's been a while because it's been too hot or too busy, but when we have quiet weekends we just sneak away and enjoy some quiet time). We are still in a bit of a "honeymoon" stage since it's not been very long we can just leave without getting a babysitter. Plus the more we do it, the less I worry about the kids. It's AWESOME!

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Edited to add: I forgot to mention that we did have one big splurge this month. We bought a used trombone for DL. I am very pleased with that purchase. The music store that we like and trust only had a $600 model. We just started there figuring this might be more than we wanted to pay. We were planning to shop around a bit. When it was clear we weren't going to rent or buy, they dropped the price by 50%! That was the price range we were looking for ($300) so we just took it because we very much trusted the quality. Saved us a lot of time and shopping around. I mean, I expected to pay that much on Craigslist and to have no idea what we were getting. So I am very pleased with this purchase.

The idea would be to sell it for the same price when we are done. (I don't foresee him sticking with trombone very long. He more wants to learn all the instruments, and has the support system to do so at this school. But if I am wrong, we would want to upgrade. I guess either way, is a bit of a temporary/starter instrument).

Moral of the story: Sticker price means nothing.

Financial Updates

September 19th, 2017 at 08:23 pm

It's too early in the year to call it (for 12/31), but we have surpassed our 2017 net worth goal. Woohoo!

As of today, Net worth is up $60,000:
--Investments up $43,000
--Home Value up $10,000
--Mortgage Down $7,000

Will see how the rest of the year shakes out.

MORTGAGE:

I went ahead and transferred my overtime monies ($3,000) to the mortgage. So I put the big "X" on my sidebar goal. I've had the cash since April, but I wanted to see how some of our home improvements shook out and how trip shook out, etc. In the end, trip was not of any significant consequence. We haven't gotten to home improvements yet, but the "biggie" will have to wait until December. That is a large cash infusion month for us, so I just let it go. (Will probably have a lot more cash before we get to it). I still don't have MH's MRI bills (all of them) but I received one and I don't have to pay it until November. So I decided I could live without this $3,000 cash through the end of the year. (I am being way super uber cautious, but that is just how I roll).

HOME VALUE:

The market has been so WEIRD. Our home value has been pretty stagnant for the past four years.

Anyway, our specific home model is more rare and rarely goes up on the market. There is one pending sale behind us that has been remodeled to the hilt. It's GORGEOUS! If we were going to live here for decades I might be tempted. I mean it's my style and I love the colors, etc. (As is, we only plan to stay another 6-10 years? Don't plan to stay in this neighborhood at all, so I guess that part makes it easy to resist).

So it will be interesting to see what that ends up selling for. They were asking about $500k. For reference, we paid $290k. $650k was the peak. Things are starting to barrel towards $500k, but that is starting to feel like bubble territory again. Higher prices are probably a direct result of a mass exodus from CRAZY expensive Bay Area (now twice expensive as when we bailed). I've been surprised how slow that is to hit, given mostly stagnant home values for so long, but as California real estate tends to go: When it hits, it hits!

Anyway, I increased our home value by $10k (up to a $450k sales price), for net worth purposes. It seems likely that I will bump this up more as the year progresses. (Will see what this particular home sells for when the sale finalizes, and then what follows after that. No one seemed particularly scared off by the high asking price; it sold in a flash).

EDITED TO ADD: FINAL SALES PRICE $10K BELOW ASKING. This is about +$35k to my current valuation of our house (450k), but I will hold off and see how this affects future sales.

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In the interest of privacy, this isn't the house. But our neighbor remodeled very high end with a black/white/grey theme. O.M.G. My favorite color is black. I guess I like black and white when it comes to home decor.

It's kind of crazy seeing my house (which is pretty much my dream house already) in this style. It looks AMAZING. But I just don't care enough to invest in this. Plus, my husband HATES dark colors and would never go for any of this. So I am sure that is also a big factor. I am saving some of the MLS pictures for future inspiration. This is the general idea:





Honestly, I couldn't even find a kitchen that compared, on the internet. They did a really nice job. Makes me wonder how much they spent (or if someone in that house is an architect or designer).

Gift Card Tally

September 19th, 2017 at 01:53 am

I mentioned in my last post that I don't have a system in place to manage all these gift cards. But I think keeping track of my blog is just the easiest.

I know it's going to take a while to get through all these. (Including gift cards that we don't expect to use for 10+ months).

GIFTS:
------

$100 Benihana ($50x2) **DECEMBER**
$ 50 x2 Barnes & Noble **DECEMBER/JANUARY**


MOVIES:
--------
$50 Regal gift cards ($25 x 2)


RESTAURANTS:
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$50 Ruth Chris Steakhouse
$50 California Pizza Kitchen **Ecard**
$50 seasons 52


RETAIL:
-------

$100 Best Buy
$50 Staples **School supplies next summer?**
$50 Home Depot
$50 Kohls

Note: Edited over time to remove used gift cards

Another Credit Cards Reward Update

September 18th, 2017 at 07:34 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$525 Gift Cards (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)
-----------
$1,724 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.

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I guess this is the flip side of managing several credit card rewards at once. It's raining rewards!

I received $500 gift cards and $200 cash in the last week or so.

Yesterday my American Express reward points showed up online. My initial feeling was getting the $250 reward last year was not very useful as it was only dining out cards. But we ended up enjoying more than I thought we would. It took us like 6 months to get through $250, but we enjoyed.

That said, if I found $250 in dining cards difficult to figure out how to use wisely, then $500 is definitely harder. I figured we'd gift most the excess but I realized yesterday the Cheesecake Factory cost way too many points, so scratched that as a gift card idea for my dad. At the end MH looked at the options and said he could use Home Depot for small things around the house (goes there to get light bulbs if nothing else) and Staples for school supplies next year.

So, we chose:

$100 Benihana (Birthday gift for my dad, we will take him and my mom out).

$100 California Pizza Kitchen (can treat the kids once or twice)

$50 Barnes & Noble (gift for FIL)
$50 Ruth Chris Steakhouse (lunch date for us)

Starting to grasp at straws:
$50 Staples
$50 Home Depot
$50 P.F. Chang's (??? never been here)
$50 seasons 52 (restaurant)

The thing that sucks is managing all these gift cards, but we will figure it out. (I usually do just SIMPLE rewards that don't require much energy.
We aren't stockpilers in general. Just is more work. I guess also we don't have any systems in place to manage this level of gift cards).

I wish we could have found a nice gift for MH's parents. But we struck out (none of the free gift cards or anything they would really love) and MH is not being helpful. In the end, I decided to just send them $100 as a thank you for watching our kids for 10 days. Want them to treat themselves to something nice.

In other gifty-ness, MH received a $5 Starbucks gift card at work. I gave it to to a co-worker who is always very appreciative. (We don't drink coffee and so we always re-gift Starbucks gift cards).

On the credit card reward front, I was briefly dreaming of a trip to Hawaii. I have gotten more comfortable with the (super easy) travel rewards and was thinking we could do a mostly free trip to Kauai. Maybe next year? I have a weakness for Hawaii. For all the air travel that I don't care for, Hawaii is the one exception. Plus, if it's FREE, why not? I don't want to spend a lot on travel these next years as we save up for college, but this would be far below our minimal travel/vacation budget.

It was only a brief thought because the childcare would be tricky. I wouldn't mind taking the kids, except our only option would be the peak of summer. Which wouldn't be enjoyable at all. So I think we have to put it on the back burner. I tentatively brought it up to MH but talked myself out of it in the end. He was open to it but just surprised I would want to go at all. I told him we have been normalizing all this big travel, and he reminded me how happy I seemed to not want to go ANYWHERE next year. I think I need a year off just to have a quiet year at home. It's moot because it would be a lot to ask right now and not sure my kids would go for it. If we wait until Fall 2019 at least our older child should be driving. Will give everyone some time and space before we plan another adults-only trip. So yeah, thinking one quiet year off and then maybe considering a big trip to Hawaii. I am thinking I could probably cover airfare and car rental with credit card rewards. We can get a free hotel through in-laws. You see why it would be such an inexpensive trip.

Credit Card Rewards Update

September 1st, 2017 at 10:34 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 Gift Cards (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$525 Gift Cards (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)
-----------
$1,724 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.

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Today we spent some time redeeming $525 Citi gift card rewards.

Unfortunately, didn't see anything particularly useful as a Thank You gift for MH's parents. Might have to spend some cash on that. Will have to brainstorm a bit this weekend, and double check the AmEx rewards that we have coming due soon.

But MH is going to 90th birthday in Florida next month and thought a Cracker Barrel gift card would be nice for his Grandfather.

There's also some crazy deal out there where you can see unlimited movies for $10/month. ??? Doesn't sound particularly sustainable but MH is probably going to sign up for that, for as long as it lasts I guess. Yeah, he can pretty much see everything for free already, but that is a big time commitment. Anyway, so he mentioned getting a Regal gift card so that I could accompany him to some of those movies. Or the kids can. I think that's a good idea. That said, the Regal movie theater (close to our house) is not his first movie theater choice, so he didn't want any more than a $25 gift card. (For the most part, he wants to see 100 times more movies than anyone else in the household, so $25 would last us a while).

We did get a $50 Barnes & Noble gift card for his dad, like we always do. We can make that part of the Thank You, or hold back for Christmas/Birthday.

I'd otherwise like to fund the next "big" ($300 - $500) electronic purchase with this reward and I know a few ideas had been thrown around. But MH just doesn't have anything identified at the moment. So we decided to just get a $100 Best Buy gift card so that he could buy movies or whatever.

This left us $300 that we redeemed for Target gift cards. We will use for groceries and should leave a $300 budget surplus through the next three or so months. Then if something bigger comes up we should have some extra cash for it.

I updated the tally above because the actual reward ended up being $525.

I also had something like $15 to add to the travel rewards (from trip spending). I was able to apply that $15 to trip spending already.

August Savings

September 1st, 2017 at 12:12 pm

Received $55 bank interest for the month of August.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.

Redeemed $45 cash back on Citi card.

Other snowflakes:
--$15 (sold old sleeping bag on Craigslist; kids outgrew) ~ I set this money aside to pay for gymnastics (it's cash only)

--Redeemed $11 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card. Since this was mostly trip expenses I just applied this snowflake to our trip.

Savings (From my paycheck):

+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
- 600 auto insurance
- 400 kids' birthdays ($200 x 2)
- 305 dentist (cleanings x2 + chipped tooth)
- 120 van repairs

In addition, we pulled the following from mid-term savings:

- 215 Plumbing repairs
- 200 new pots and pans (couldn't cover after all this murphy)
- 150 fix car stereo**

{Note: MH has no wages during summer months}.

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**I'd generally pull this from short-term savings (car repairs) but we've maxed out our repair fund already this year. Which is unusual, but we do have an older vehicle that didn't need *any* work last year. It makes sense from a multi-year view, but is exceeding our annual allotment. This is why we have other savings.

I'd probably cover something like pots and pans from short-term savings, but it's also fairly maxed out at this point. I still have some space remaining for insurance, dentist and property taxes, but the misc. and the car repair portions have been spent. I need to leave enough cash for the more fixed expenses I know of.

As far as Murphy goes around here, this was somewhat muted, but just a lot of little annoying things.

As an aside, I am always bemused when someone talks about keeping their old cars and doing without modern conveniences like blue tooth. Like it's either/or. Seriously?? You can keep OLD cars and update them with modern technology. Wink In another situation I might have replaced the car stereo, but the stereo is not very old and the vehicle is 12 years old. We figured it made the most sense just to replace the face plate on the stereo, which solved all of our problems. If I thought I'd keep this vehicle another 10 years, it might have been worth investing in a new stereo system.

I don't know where we stand on the Murphy front. I've already had more problems with the van upon our return from our trip. *sigh* We've not been home long, but hopefully things settle down a bit.

Technically trip expenses will sort out in October, but I think I will start transferring money and paying off expenses today. Travel rewards card is not due until October, but I have the cash and I just want to get everything paid off and accounted for.

See last post for Europe trip details. (I just realized this post covered that one up).

Europe Trip

August 31st, 2017 at 06:50 pm

I had a rough estimate in my head that we would spend about 100 GBP per day, or about $1,500 total incidental spending (with some rounding up and pre-trip purchases). Though I wasn't going into this trip with a super frugal mindset. Kind of a once-in-a-lifetime trip, so if it cost more then it cost more.

I mentioned in my last post that we were never very hungry. We also pre-paid some tours which included food, so between all that we kept food down to $50 per day. (That's $25/each for three meals a day. Though we certainly splurged on some nice meals out, for the most part the food was much less expensive than I imagined. We also pretty much never buy drinks out, but it was reasonable enough and part of the culture that we did buy drinks with most our bigger meals. Lord knows we could have spent a LOT less if we really wanted to).

My accounting is still somewhat rough at this point, but we paid for the airfare and hotel long ago with our regular vacation budget. All of the tours were paid for with credit card rewards and snowflakes. The rest came out to about $1,200: transportation (Tube), Bus, Theater tickets, admissions, tips, and last minute tour change. Not bad considering that we were at about $1,100 before the last minute change.

I was planning to take $1,000 from savings and then throw MH's first paycheck back ($500) towards the trip. In the end I might lean more on his paycheck and would only have to pull $700 from savings? Will see how it pans out. My checkbook is a total mess right now because I am doing like three BIG credit card rewards at once. So I may just have to pull $1,000 anyway to make it all balance. In the meantime I come up with roughly $1,200 cash + credit spending during trip and this seems to be close to my spreadsheet. ($1,200 spending would be for *everything* except the flight and hotel).

Here's the cost breakdown:


$1,929 per person! Our flight was non-stop and the room rates were so good that we didn't even look at anything with less than 5-star reviews. Our hotel was REALLY nice. Nothing we'd ever splurged for before (paying cash). We did pre-pay because the exchange rate was SO LOW when we booked (it was a refundable rate though). In the end this saved us about $50. Exchange rate was 1.25 when we paid (a historical low) and 1.29 during most the trip.

My parents live right by the airport. We garaged our car at the in-laws house (since they were at our house). In-laws handled kids/pet/house so we didn't have any of those type expenses to worry about. I do usually pull from grocery/gas budget when we travel but we had to drive 250 miles or so to/from airport and left a fridge full of food for everyone and so I can't say we saved any money on those fronts. Lord knows what the electric bill will be like. In-laws are super frugal but they aren't used to our heat.

This is what we accomplished on our trip:

Tower of London @ opening. Our hotel was near here the Tower and MH had the last minute idea to just go there at opening. It was not crowded at all so that was our MO for the trip. So this is a lot of how we were able to get some off-peak time in. In contrast, the in-laws had skipped the crown jewels (when they were in London) because the line was too long. There was no line when went.

Some random shop front:


Hop On Hop Off Bus



We were pretty lazy this first day and only got off the bus for Hyde Park. LOVED it and had a lovely lunch there.


Westminster Abbey @opening ~ beat the crowds and had the cutest tour guide.

National (Art) Gallery **FREE

British Museum (we did this over 2 days) **FREE
We did a free foot tour from some unaffiliated group, which was okay and we did pay a tip for that.

Our hotel had a restaurant and had free drinks/free concert one night. It was the night before Paris so we didn't stay long, but it was neat that we could enjoy some of the concert. We frantically did laundry during the concert (had a washer in our room).

One day in Paris: river cruise, lunch @ Eiffel Tower, and 2 hours at the Louvre.



On Day 7 I decided to sleep in and have a nice brunch @ St. James park. MH wanted to fit in all the free museums he could find. I can see this now as I piece together our itinerary. After getting a very late start and enjoying a leisurely lunch... We went to a free art museum (it had some Roman ruins in the basement), Churchill War Rooms (er, not free), Museum of London, etc. At the Museum of London I parked myself in the cafe with food and wifi, while MH looked around.

We did a free walking "ghost" tour that night. I was surprised MH wanted to do that and it was pretty dumb. But we saw some really neat parts of the city so I did tip the guy. Definitely was worth it from that angle. (I would totally like a ghost tour, but just don't think it was the best tour. MH usually just makes fun of me that I would like a ghost tour, so no idea why he thought it was a good idea. Big Grin ).

I loved St. Bartholomew:


Dover Castle & Canterbury Cathedral (free tour; paid for with rewards). I really loved Dover Castle and we were able to hear the pipe organs in the Cathedral. WOW!

On our last "free" day we went back to British Museum. We went to the Globe to pick up show tickets but unexpectedly their museum was closed. Frown We walked by the Tate and MH didn't want to go in because it cost money. He peeked inside and I guess it was free after all. It worked out kind of perfect because we had time to kill and were pretty tired on this day. (I think we did a million steps at Dover, so yeah. I am remembering why we were so beat this day and not wanting to walk even to the Tube). The Tate had really great views of the city on the top floor. They did ask for donations and I let go of some of my change since I thought the museum and the view was worth something, and we were trying to spend down our cash so we wouldn't have to exchange any. We saw some Picasso, Warhol, Pollock, Salvador Dali, etc. A very unexpected treat!

We saw Much Ado About Nothing that night and it was awesome. Really a neat experience in the old Shakespeare theater. You could pay just 2 GBP (I believe?) to stand in the middle of the theater, but we knew better than that and spent over $100 for some really good seats. (I just knew we wouldn't be up to standing for a few hours!) So that was money well spent.

I mentioned in my last post that we had booked a Stonehenge/Avebury tour, but they canceled it rather last minute. MIL (who is very pushy) was very pushy that we must see Windsor! So when frantically trying to find our way to Stonehenge, I noticed an available (albeit pricey) tour that started at Windsor first thing in morning. I was sure Windsor was lovely but all the reviews were pretty meh re: summer crowds. But we decided if we could do Windor first maybe it wouldn't be so bad. (It wasn't bad, but it didn't do much for me. Maybe expectations too high after MIL went on and on and on about us not going. By then we had seem a million old castles, right?).

Windsor Castle


Stonehenge we knew we'd love it or hate it. It was a really hot/sunny day when we went. I LOVED it. It is just a bunch of rocks, but it was neat to see up close.



We ended that day eating in an old pub. Someone took MH's dinner (mis-ordered or something) and so he waited forever for his food while I waited forever for the bathroom. But they had some of the Harry Potter movie locations in this little town and it was definitely worth a stop. So yeah, we squeezed a lot in that we weren't planning to.



Oh, and we just used wifi so didn't have any phone charges at all. Were able to call and text the kids over wifi. (Mostly hotel wifi, but most of the museums, buses and the Eurostar had free wifi so we had a fair amount of phone access).

We REALLY lucked out with the weather. It was mostly cloudy and never really rained. Very mild. We had a little bit of sun during the second half of the trip.

Home Sweet Home

August 31st, 2017 at 12:17 pm

So glad to be home! We survived our trip to Europe.

I think overall things went as smooth as could be. Phew!

We did have a huge flight delay on our way home. I am starting to think that is our jinx. This seems to happen more often than not to us, that our flights home are canceled or delayed. Anyway, accordingly (since we are so used to canceled flights), and not knowing how up we'd be for the 100-mile drive home, we didn't expect to get home until today anyway. So maybe that part wasn't very "smooth" but we were pretty mellow about it.

The only other trip hiccup was that our tour for Stonehenge/Avebury was canceled. We got this news late one night when we got back to the hotel. Ack! We were relieved that we were easily able to book a last minute Stonehenge tour. Phew! But I am bummed that we had to skip Avebury. Neither of us had any desire whatsoever to drive abroad or to pay for a more private tour, so we just let it go. (Our tour was apparently the only bus tour to Avebury, and they had some "technical difficulties").

That whole thing is going to be a bit of a mess because we paid for it with a reward credit card (with rewards). I didn't do much today but I did spend a few minutes making sure that getting a refund for that tour doesn't mess up our rewards. It looks like it should be okay but I just don't know how they will hash it all out. We will get a cash refund, but they are going to have to realize we never actually paid any cash for that trip which means they will probably refund us in rewards. & then I can just apply to other travel expenses we booked on that card. We are lucky that it will probably work out. For most credit rewards I just book the bare minimum for the reward but in this case we had booked some tours up (spent more than minimum for reward) and we have some new travel spending to offset these rewards. They count the tube expense and the new bus tour as "travel expenses" that we can pay with rewards. So it should all work out, but I just don't know exactly how. First things first, still waiting for our refund. (I actually applied all our rewards for tours because they were non-refundable. So yeah, I never expected any scenario where we would get a refund. I tried to be smart about it, but it is what it is).

I think we kept the entire trip to $2,000 per person, which is incredible! I will do an accounting and share some pictures later. Maybe tomorrow. (In the end I started typing this around 9am yesterday but crashed for the rest of the day. We did get back home about 1am on Wednesday morning. Just woke up and it is early Thursday now).

I am always in awe of other big city public transportation, but London takes the cake. We pretty much just did the Tube but I don't remember ever waiting more than like 1 minute for a train. We were really lucky and seemed to miss all the crowds. & everyone warned me that we would walk so much, but we really didn't. The transport is *everywhere*. For comparison we did DC last year mostly on their subway and that was a LOT of walking. The stations just aren't as close together. The Tube cost about half as much as DC subway did.

I just think it's all relative. The other thing is I really didn't find London to be that expensive, but I am from San Francisco. So, just more relativity. I thought the transport was insane cheap, and the food was much more reasonable than I had expected. & then all the museums are mostly free, so what else is there? Even the hotel was much cheaper than I would have expected for London. Our flights were cheap too, but that is what motivated the entire trip in the first place.

All this to say that we had a very pleasant/frugal-ish holiday.

(We would mostly never travel during summer and I thought we were probably insane, but we somehow seemed to miss a lot of the crowds. For example, when we went to Parliament there was a huge mass going towards Westminster Abbey and so on. Even MH was super annoyed I wanted to walk along the canal first, but NO ONE WAS THERE and we had the entire place to ourselves. Unreal! So we seemed to luck into some off-peak somehow throughout the trip).

On the flip side, there are a lot of reasons I don't particularly care for traveling. But one of the biggest is that I just don't deal with it well physically. On this trip I think I did pretty well with the sleeping, but I absolutely never adjusted to the time change otherwise. I thought we planned bad when we made big dinner reservations on our second full day there. We both just picked at our food and it was just really bad planning. But now 10 days later I can't say I would have done any better on our last day. I LOVE to eat and so I was really bummed that I mostly felt like crap the whole time and couldn't even enjoy any food. I picked at food the *entire* time and I know this is some of why we ended up spending very little on food. We also had a kitchen/apartment which helped to keep our costs down. I suppose this part was harder than usual for me since we expected this to be a bit more of a culinary trip.

I am hoping the adjustment is easier on the US side, since I never really adjusted to the time zone anyway.

I think I could have packed lighter if I put more effort into it, but overall we are super light packers. I noticed this a lot particularly on our Paris trip. We went on a tour because we wanted to see *everything* that we could in one day. That was one day our weirdness really shone through because someone had lost her luggage (on her flight) and everyone was going on and on about that. Yeah, it sounds horrible, but I don't understand why you'd need to check baggage in the first place. I don't know what other people pack. We really keep it to the essentials. (Everyone else had clearly checked bags as they went on and on how they kept some stuff on their carry on and made sure not to check this or that).

I *really* appreciated this when we got home. I swear it took me like 5 minutes to unpack. We did all the laundry when we woke up. I don't know if I've ever packed so light before for such a big trip and so I really noticed what a non-event it was to unpack. (Mostly dumping my suitcase into a laundry basket). I admittedly still have to sort through toiletries but that is about it.

It was on the same trip, Paris, that most the tour group skipped the Louvre in favor of shopping. Seriously!? I do not get people! The Louvre was just amazing. We only had a couple of hours there, which is just sad. (We maybe saw 0.001% of the museum?) But was definitely better than not seeing it at all. Big Grin So glad we went.

I just can not fathom going to the Louvre to shop. I am sure many can not fathom going to Paris and not shopping. I am well aware that we are the weird ones.

I will post later more about the trip, pictures, and cost breakdown.

Oh, and we toyed with the idea of seeing An American in Paris. We decided not to go. One day when I saw a bunch of advertisements I told MH I wanted to see that one back at home some time. Wouldn't you know it? Went through the mail yesterday a.m. (also very light because we do most things electronically) and it's one of the musicals they will do in our city next spring! The tickets go on sale January and so I told MH that's my birthday/Christmas.

I don't go back to work until Tuesday, thank goodness! Glad I can squeeze in some quiet down time at home. It is long overdue. I was dreading even getting kids to/from school but that just seems silly now. I can take them (since MH is not a morning person) and he can deal with the afternoon insanity like he always does. I guess that's maybe 1/2 hour commitment for a couple of days. I will survive. Wink We may go grocery shopping today, but we had left a ton of food for the kids and in-laws and still have some left. MH starts back work on Tuesday (the end of his summer break). I forget how easy this is when we are both home.

Computer Update

August 13th, 2017 at 10:53 pm

Post from January:

MH ended up buying me a very small computer. He kept seeing sales in the $100 range. This is an incredible deal if you already have all the accessories. But I haven't had a desktop since I've been displaced by kids. So... $500 later. The motivation was not "minimalism" but I am LOVING it from that standpoint. The computer is about the size of the original roku? (Or how I recall the original roku to have been). It just hangs off the back of the monitor. & I told MH several times that I did not need speakers. He did not believe me, so he ended up getting me a monitor with built-in speakers. So it looks like I just have a monitor/keyboard/mouse. We got it set up in our bedroom, for now. Glad it is so compact, because I might want to move downstairs in the summer.

To be clear, we just put the computer in our bedroom. I just used MM's old desk.

In the end, I have surprisingly not needed to move downstairs. I recall that we *never* used the upstairs A/C until we had kids. Now I remember why. All the cool air (and heat in the winter) seems to float up our bedroom. So it's been okay.

I realized that I never showed any pictures of my tiny computer:

This is the computer, just hanging off the back of the monitor:



Back to School Spending

August 13th, 2017 at 03:45 pm

I think we have made it through the Back to School spending.

Drama Llama (7th Grade)
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$20 new clothing and lunch box
$20 art supplies (donation requested)
$15 lab fees (donation requested)
$15 music books
$120 lunch (Funded the max, for about 1/2 of the year)

Well, I am clearly getting off easy with this one. His PE clothes still fit from last year and should last through next year also.

He also has free use of a school instrument, for band, but we will probably re-evaluate at some point. For now, will give it some time to see if he sticks with it.


Monkey Monkey (9th Grade)
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$40 running shoes
$40 ASB sticker (covers PE clothes)
$90 graphing calculator
$120 lunch (Funded the max, for about 1/2 of the year)

I suppose there will probably be track uniforms. He isn't sure if he will stick with fall track, so will see.

I thought to check the shoes in stock at Kohls because I have been buying men's double wide shoes for myself (online). Anyway, we got him a really good pair of shoes. These are the kind of shoes I'd buy him anyway because he is very athletic. (He has WIDE feet like his mother, but these seem better stocked for men). We've never really found a good place to buy him shoes before. Kohls? Who knew!

We otherwise spent $35 on school supplies (to cover both kids). That's about $14 of MH's super frugal shopping (he got a lot) and $20 of that was a last minute run to Walgreens (after my last post). MM needed a combination lock, which I couldn't find anywhere else (in my sphere of fast/convenient). But Walgreens had much better folders and we also bought several of those.

MM hasn't bought much school lunch in recent years because he never liked the quality of the food at his location for the past couple of years. He did end up buying at the high school on Friday and said it was good and large portions. If the portion sizes are appropriate for him (a BIG eater) then the school lunch is a steal and will encourage him to buy a lot this year. In fact, I was funding their lunches thinking maybe 2-3 days per week buying, when I came up on the maximum I could fund. So anyway, I just did the max that I could. Will see how long that it lasts. You have to pay a fee every time you fund, so I had gotten in the habit of just doing twice per year. I think I have always prepaid ahead, regardless. Makes life more simple.

Being Thankful for Our Abundance

August 12th, 2017 at 02:44 pm

I came across this beautiful article today:

GIVE ME GRATITUDE OR GIVE ME DEBT

http://momastery.com/blog/2014/08/11/give-liberty-give-debt/

"Recently I posted a picture of myself in my kitchen, and I immediately started receiving generous messages from people wanting to help me “update” it. Along with their messages came pictures of how my kitchen could look, if I’d just put some effort and money into it."

"You guys. I have a REFRIGERATOR.

This thing MAGICALLY MAKES FOOD COLD. I’m pretty sure in the olden days, frontierswomen had to drink warm Diet Coke. Sweet Jesus. Thank you, precious kitchen.

Inside my refrigerator is FOOD. Healthy food that so many parents would give anything to be able to feed their children. Not me. When this food runs out, I’ll just jump in my car to get more. It’s ludicrous, really. It’s like my family hits the lottery every freaking morning."

"Sometimes it seems that our entire economy is based on distracting women from their blessings. Producers of STUFF NEED to find 10,000 ways to make women feel less than about our clothes, kitchens, selves so that we will keep buying more. So maybe freeing ourselves just a little from the Tyranny of Trend is a women’s issue – because we certainly aren’t going to get much world changing done if we spend all of our time and money on wardrobe and kitchen changing."


I will say that gratitude is an important ingredient to living debt-free. I am often bemused by the "sacrifice" people project on to our choices. We are so incredibly blessed, so the bemoaning of our very minor sacrifices always sounds so melodramatic to me. We will survive. Wink We've always been very blessed. We haven't always had the latest and greatest, but we've always had everything we needed and then some.

Back to School

August 9th, 2017 at 07:12 pm

My kids go back to school today. It's just random that they both start back on the same day.

MM(14) starts high school. He has a full load of AP and Honors classes, and is joining the track team.

This will be the first year that either of my kids attend a regular public school (they've only attended public charter schools), but this school looks to be a great fit for MM.

MM is still doing gymnastics. I am relieved he can keep that with his schedule. He probably would have chosen gymnastics over track, if he had to choose between the two. (Will see how he feels after track practice in the peak of the heat today. He will have about 3 hours to refuel before gymnastics. I do also expect it to cost $$$$$$$$$ to feed him with track practice every day).

DL(12) gets to start diving into art school a bit more. He will have 2 or 3 art periods this year. We still need to sort his schedule out and make some decisions. The year-round elective he got was vocal training. I expect that he will also be learning an instrument this year. & on top of that he gets a semester of visual arts and a semester of drama. The instruments is more extra class/extra time or will be utilizing their very low cost and convenient private after school lessons. That's the part we have to figure out. It may all be too much and he may do nothing, but that might free up his schedule to do the school musical. Regardless, he has MANY opportunities, and a lot more this year than he had last year.

Back to School Spending has been pretty light. The kids are both out of uniforms now but neither seems to need any clothes. I think MM will eventually but I don't think it's the worst to get used to non-uniform school first (before buying more clothes). I don't remember buying DL any clothes since he graduated out of uniforms over a year ago. I maybe spent $20 buying him a few shirts and some shorts, since he was outgrowing some. But mostly seems rich in hand-me-downs still.

This is the first year we have to buy school supplies for MM, but last year was the first year for DL and so we had some things on hand already. Our spending was very small on this front. MH also shopped around sales, like composition books for a quarter each.

I think the regular public high school is going to be more careful about asking for money (since it's not really allowed in our state). But, will see. I know DL's public charter school will "require" $20 here and there for more specialized art supplies and science lab fees. I don't mind that at all. I don't want to shop for specialized art supplies. But once that stuff starts to roll in I will tally it up. I will tally all of the above, but it's just not going to amount to much. (Well, as to school supplies and clothes. I will have some other bigger expenditures. Might even add a band instrument to the list).

July Savings

August 3rd, 2017 at 01:38 am

Received $50 bank interest for the month of July.

Snowflakes to Bills:

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our grocery card.

Redeemed $53 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $3 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card.

Other snowflakes:
--$10 (sold old skateboard on Craigslist; MM got a new/bigger one for his birthday) ~ I set this money aside to pay for gymnastics (it's cash only)

Savings (From my paycheck):

**skipped $200 to investments**
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
- 500 Dentist/Medical/New Glasses(DL)

{Note: MH has no wages during summer months}.

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**Interest should bump up to $55 per month. I found a savings account that pays 3%. (This month was only a partial month, so a little less).

**I am always a month behind on savings withdrawals because anything I charged in June will be settle up in July. July was a birthday/Murphy month and also had a $600 insurance bill come due, so that will reflect in next monthly update.

Because it was so expensive this month (which reflects more in August), I decided to skip funding investments this month. It's not something I do lightly. But I seem to be doing this (skipping investments) about once per year. I don't mind cutting ourselves some slack since we generally err on the over-saving.

I redirected our snowflakes to cover bills. (I do usually invest snowflakes).

I've already paid all of the August bills (which were mostly July expenses).

I guess not much else to report. August and September will be spendy months. August will be paying off all this birthday/Murphy spending (which I've already done). September will be paying for August Europe trip.

Ting Update

July 29th, 2017 at 12:47 pm

Life Update:

--Murphy has moved into our home. Something about summer months and trips to the UK. Yeesh! (See my blog July/August 2013. That whole year was some Murphy year from hell but those months were particularly absurd).

I'll have to post more about that later.

--We are knee deep in back-to-school. Since we keep things simple, not too much to do. But MM starts high school and has a lot of orientation type stuff next week.

I don't foresee spending much. The most of it is going to be funding their lunch accounts, which I haven't had to do in a while.

This is the first year we will have a child in regular public school. Our state is pretty strict about not requiring money to be spent to attend public schools. The public charters have been more lax on this and both my kids' schools have at times "required" that donations be made for this or that supplies. I feel like the public high school won't do this, but will see. (So far they have just asked for supplies directly, and not in a "this is required" kind of tone. This is what I expected).

--I am just in chore mode with trying to get caught up at work and getting the house ready for our trip. I guess a lot of the house stuff isn't entirely necessary, but was trying to use it as a motivational deadline since I am behind on all things domestic. I am so behind because the last year has been totally insane, including being off my feet for several months.

My default is to dread a big trip like this, so I am fine with the distraction and busy-ness. (If I thought about the trip too much I'd just stress. Really not much to do but pack, which I will probably do the day we leave).

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Ting (Cell) Update:

Here's my Ting referral code (for $25-off), if this post entices you at all:

https://z181d126bt4.ting.com

So yeah, I saw a discussion about cell phone costs in another forum. Ting is clearly cheaper than any other provider. (Though of course, it depends on your phone usage). I am just saying I saw 100+ other people recommending more expensive cell service than what we pay for Ting.

Someone in that discussion did mention that they had got a Ting credit from Ting customer service for "being awesome". Too funny!

In the end, the kids have been on our Ting for a while and it's been of basically no financial consequence. They've only been on one at a time, so MM is the only one with cell coverage right now. I expect to add back DL any minute now. It's $6/month per line to add each of them. So we are paying $12/month when they both have cell service.

With Ting you pay for what you use. The kids just don't use anything, so we aren't paying anything else to add them to our cell bill. We were absolutely genius in the way we set up our kids with cell phones. We gave them cell phones years ago and set them up with google hangouts. With hangouts, you can call and text anyone over wifi. So this put them in the HABIT of seeking out wifi. They had to if they wanted to use their phones. *This* is why they don't use any data.

I just checked last month's bill and MM used -0- minutes -0- texts and about 12MB of data. (You need to use 500-1000 MB to bump up to a more expensive tier, for reference. An extra 12MB isn't going to cost us anything. Ting even has a grace amount if you go over by just a wee little bit. They don't charge you for that).

This of course does not mean that my 13yo has no friends and never texts anyone. He just did all his texting over wifi.

In contrast, we told him to go crazy when he was in DC/NYC trip with his class. Just, you know, he has cell service and won't get wifi everywhere. To not worry about using what he needs. According to Ting he used no minutes or texts, but used 182MB of data that month. Since we generally pay $20 to use 1000-2000MB of data (for 5 devices), his 182MB did not increase our phone bill that month. (I am not sure how he texted us during that time, since I had tons of texts from him while he was out and about. ???) Not sure what that is about. But Ting barely charges anything for texts so not that it would matter. It's $5 to send 1,000 texts. We all use google hangouts/wifi mostly, so we've never been anywhere close to 1,000+ texts.

EDITED TO ADD: DOH. He was using data to send texts, I just realized, so maybe that part backfired a bit. (The google hangouts calls/texts will go over data if you are not on wifi).

---------------------------------------------------

The above ties in to my recent posts and an article I saw from MMM:

A Lifetime of Riches – Is it as Simple as a Few Habits?

https://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/03/19/a-lifetime-of-ric...

"As it turns out, habits are little chunks of auto-pilot behavior that get burned right into your neurology – permanently. Once you develop a habit, you can never truly erase the program, even if you manage to deactivate it.

It gets even crazier than that: when your brain starts running one of its many habit scripts, a good part of your conscious judgement is shut off for the duration. The habit takes over, controls you until you get to the end of the script, and then dumps you out at the end. And this is not just a rare occurence – depending on who you ask, habits are in at least partially in control for between 50 and 90% of our waking hours."


I guess I have been thinking about this a lot lately. As people ask me how we raise kids that don't seem to have any spending habits. It's what we've modeled for them.

I am SO thankful to my parents, who did the same for us. They taught us not to buy things we can't afford; only pay with cash. That buying cars on credit is WEIRD to us. Someone told me a while back that it must have felt so awesome to pay cash for my last car (this was in the forums). The reality is: *Shrugs* That wonder-ment about it presumes that you are in the car debt habit. We've never been in the car debt habit so it all feels very normal and boring to pay cash. It's all we've ever known. Entrenched habits aren't very exciting. Wink (I didn't even know this was "weird" at all until we were well into our 20s).

It's the big and the small things. I've been kind of fascinated by talks about food delivery in recent months. I've absolutely never paid for food delivery? It's not a habit we ever established. Honestly, it just sounds WEIRD to me. I am so entrenched in my habit of not getting food delivery. So it goes the opposite way for me.

What I am really noticing lately is the Starbucks habit. When I was in middle school no one drank coffee. ??? I am sure those were still the "coffee stunts your growth" days. It was when I was in high school and college that the coffee shops really started to take off. My friends tried their hardest to get me on the coffee habit, but I can't stand coffee and had been raised in a house with no coffee.

I've been noticing this since MM's DC trip. They made a big to-do about making stops at Starbucks. (Which honestly just annoys me, because took chunks of time from seeing the sights and so on. My kid had absolutely no interest in taking a Starbucks break). So I was kind of incredulous. The middle schoolers drink coffee? I mentioned to my MIL at some point and she told me of course they drink coffee! That my super frugal SIL stops there with her kids on the way to school. Seriously!? My niece is 12.

We are so removed from that habit, I just had no idea. If you think about it, it's not surprising. There's only so much "Do as I say and not as I do" that's going to fly. If you stop at Starbucks every day (or week, or however often) at some point your kids are going to become part of that equation. Apparently by the time they are 12.

If you want to give your kids a financial leg up, think about the example you are setting. I think the other thing is too if you are making six figures and you are annoyed about these discussions about the latte factor, that's totally cool. But remember that your kids are going to have to start basically from scratch at some point. I am grateful that I didn't have to battle habits like this in my teens and 20s. At 40, if I want to go start buying lattes every day, it's not like it's going to make much financial difference at this point in my life. But it would have made ALL the difference when just starting out.

Harvesting Tax Gains

July 20th, 2017 at 07:50 pm

Today I harvested some tax gains. Is a strategy to keep "taxable" investments tax-free.

In the process, I just converted to admiral shares and way lower expense ratios. In theory, I'd generally just immediately buy back what I sold; selling solely to lock in 0% tax rate on those gains. But in the end I decided to move funds over in the process and to be a little more efficient.

For myself, technically any long-term capital gains are tax-free for Federal. But... That's not entirely true because bumping up our AGI (even just a couple of thousand dollars) wreaks all sorts of havoc on the rest of our taxes. It decreases what we can put in tax-deductible IRAs and reduces our medical expense deduction, etc. But, whatever. It's not like it's going to get better than a 0% tax rate. (I mostly expect our income and taxes to be much higher in the future).

Since we've mostly been able to shelter our investments in retirement funds, this is the first time that I've had a tax-free gain to harvest. At about $3,000 for long-term gains and I figured I could live with that. (I probably wouldn't want to add much more to our tax return. We are already on track to maybe have 10% more wage income than last year).

For the kids, I have been selling off funds frequently to the same end, though I got a bit of a break the past two years. But for today, MM was at a good selling point. $1,000 investment income is tax-free for them. $1,500 is just some very minimal state tax. I might have timed it well enough that they are more in the $1k range and won't owe any state taxes.

Note to self:
$1500 investment income is the sweet spot for kids


If you have no idea what I am talking about, here is a link that explains:

https://www.bogleheads.org/wiki/Tax_gain_harvesting

I guess this came to front of mind because my dad *finally* sold some mutual funds that he had wanted to sell a few years back. He's waited for tax reasons, and I guess given my tax perspective I have no idea what he has been waiting for. !! I mean, Obamacare was the reason the last two years, but now in 2017 I would have sold January 1. Not sure how long 0% investment tax rate will be around and am glad he finally took advantage.

As for the kids' "college" money, it's conservatively invested (balanced fund) and I have an equal amount in cash (our cash savings/emergency fund). So I feel that I Can shoulder any short-term market fluctuations. It seems way too premature to do anything with that. Kids start college in 4 & 6 years. Keeping in mind that we used our own "college money" for a home down payment instead of college. (College is still super cheap here and housing is only more insane now than it was then). This really could be money that remains untouched for 10+ years. So for now, we have no plans to cash out any college money or to shift to a more conservative allocation. We may set aside more new money in cash, as college becomes more imminent.

Eating In

July 18th, 2017 at 08:18 pm

Frugalwoods had a GREAT article yesterday. I am sharing in case anyone missed it:

How To Stop Eating Out According To Frugalwoods Readers

http://www.frugalwoods.com/2017/07/17/how-to-stop-eating-out...

"I must highlight that the #1 reason cited for eating out is a failure to plan ahead.

There’s nothing wrong with enjoying a planned, agreed-upon-in-advance, special dinner out. It’s delightful to plan for it all month, anticipate what you’ll order, and then truly enjoy yourself. But scrambling to order sub-par Thai at 8pm on a Tuesday because you forgot to go grocery shopping? That’s what needs to stop."

"Caroline says it’s about planning ahead and having a low barrier to entry, “Make sure you have enough ready-to-cook-in-a-short-time food at hand, whether at work or home."

"Anna reports it’s actually a time-saver to cook at home, “What has helped me with takeout is realizing how quickly I can make a meal, particularly a quick veggie pasta or white rice with steamed veggies in the rice cooker. Less than 30 minutes start to table, and we never get delivery or back and forth to a restaurant quicker than that.”

"Sarah says, “We have a rule that you can have anything you want, so long as it comes from the grocery store for those times when planning fails or life just gets in the way. Even it it turns out to be something fancy or expensive, it’s always cheaper than takeout/restaurant for 4."

"Carissa wrote, “We NEVER make single portion meals. Everything is big enough to last us both for at least 3-4 meals. We have no problem eating leftovers, and it’s great to just reheat delicious home-cooked food for lunch or dinner."


Anyway, there were a LOT of good suggestions. There was also a large focus on freezing and cooking ahead. That's just not our thing. I copied and pasted more of the things that are our approach. But I think it's important to read through the whole article if you need any inspiration on this front. Everyone's different, and was reflected in the wide variety of ideas.

I'd say our approach is mostly to plan ahead and buy for a few meals every week. From there, we just go with the flow. Allows us just to cook according to our mood during the week. The idea of choosing a set meal for every day of the week would drive me insane. I feel about the same way about cooking and freezing ahead. Then it gets to be too much work or we lose the flexibility that we prefer. Just to share our overall strategy. & after 15 years of 99% home cooking our meals, whatever we cook is far better than any restaurant food. That was another point that someone brought up. But that takes time to get to.

Oh, and one thing that I was surprised that no one mentioned? Recruiting other help in the household. I guess there is no world where I cook for three other perfectly capable human beings 100% of the time. Whether I work or not. NO WAY! I mentioned this in another blog comment I think: MH is thinking ahead to going back to work full-time and also to his parents watching our kids for a couple of weeks while we are in Europe. We have had the kids cover dinners before, but never got to a set schedule that stuck. So we are determined to get the kids in the habit of cooking this summer (one meal per week, each). By the time school starts, we just don't want to have to put any mental energy into it. Want to make it a habit that sticks.

A couple of weeks ago DL(12) wanted to make beenies/weenies. Last week he made saag paneer (Indian spinach/cheese dish) in the crockpot. I guess the kids often lean towards my simple recipes which will probably be good for college years, but they are also used to higher end meals from stay-home father "chef". & so that is how that happens. Big Grin

& it's been kind of genius because MH lets them choose what they are going to cook every week. DL(12) told me last week that the work was worth the reward. He LOVES being able to choose dinner.

I did ask him what he is going to make this week, and he said sushi. I told him no. WE are not there yet. !! (In the future, maybe).

I share because DL is kind of all over the place. MM's "signature dish" is taco rice salad. He wanted to make crockpot chili last week and chili hot dogs this week.

Credit Card Rewards Update

July 18th, 2017 at 01:47 pm

2017 TALLY:

$500 (AmEx Gold, Moi)
$525 (Citi Thank You, MH)
$499 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
$200 Cash (WF Wise, MH)
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$1,724 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.

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In the end, we are on track for one of our best years: on track for $3,000. I think what put us over the edge is using travel rewards. We usually stick to cash and gift cards. Travel rewards don't do much for us because we mostly avoid flying and can get a free hotel room regardless, so not something I expect to do a lot of in the long run.

I just activated the Citi card. That one is a bit of an experiment. It seems MH should be able to get $500, but we've done that one so much it makes me wary. (Technically you are supposed to wait 24 months in between).

Will see!

Anyway, I logged in online and that credit card is going to close tomorrow (monthly cycle). I was going to pre-pay a couple of months of health insurance, so figured I'd wait a day or two so I don't have to actually pay those for an extra month.

In the meantime, MH got a direct mail offer for American Express Gold. Spend $1,000, get $250. I find those really hard to come by. But I thought I recalled those were a "once in a lifetime" reward. MH got a kindle in 2010? Was from an AmEx Gold reward.

Anyway, since MH *just* applied for three cards, I figured I'd look up the rewards and see if I really want to bother. In the end I found this:

https://www.uscreditcardguide.com/amex-premier-rewards-gold-...

$500 reward if you spend $2,000. I tried a few different browsers and I got the $500 offer to pop up! I really don't recall ever having this card and I did check my blog. I figured they would deny me since I never get these offers. But in the end I was accepted! Woohoo!

I've got three months to do the spend. I usually just charge up these cards when I get them. Very little brain power. But in this case, I am going to pre-pay 2 months of health insurance already. Do I want to pre-pay 4 months, right now? I suppose it probably doesn't really matter. It just complicates life in the interim. Maybe it is easier to just wait 30-45 days before I do that one.

I have to remember to close this card within a year. It has an insane annual fee for the second year. I will make some notes in Quicken and in my calendar so that I do not forget.

Oh, the rewards are still very so-so on this card, but last time we enjoyed them more than I thought we would. So I will stock up on dining out gift cards and some gift cards to give as gifts.

On the Citi, MH was starting to eye the Best Buy gift cards and was thinking of funding some larger purchases. So might be $500 "ridiculous electronics splurging" (which we tend to do with these rewards) and $500 "restaurants and gifts."

I don't know that I see the point of doing any more rewards this year, except my 24-month clock has reset on Citi and I should really take advantage if I can find a $500 reward for that one. MH's was a direct mail offer. It would figure if that one would work right now. I really only do these things "one at a time" generally. Maybe it is just something I will keep an eye out for once the dust settles on these two rewards.

Edited to add: Look what I saw just posted TODAY?

https://www.citi.com/credit-cards/credit-card-details/citi.a...

It's $4,000 spend for $500 reward. We usually spend $3k for these rewards so definitely will pass.

On Being Content

July 14th, 2017 at 01:38 pm

When we asked what our kids wanted for their birthday they both said, "nothing." For Christmas they were both absolutely delighted with their one simple gift. We bought DL(11) a blanket and he made a point last month to tell me how much he loved it and it is the BEST gift. Six months later!

I've been pondering this a bit. This is nothing I expected from my kids. (Much like my last post, where I didn't necessarily expect them to be "super frugal" through their childhood). The best I can guess is that all their needs are WELL met (can't help but think of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs). & beyond that, they just absorb what they see. We are VERY content. We like our toys and we have our stuff but we aren't constantly shopping/spending.

& let me make it real clear. My kids have computers and cell phones and a virtual reality system. (Which I know many people think would cause kids to go the opposite way). There is no deprivation going on in this house. But they aren't over-saturated. They can appreciate something as simple as a blanket.

In fact, I received a big box with the new pots and pans I bought. My kids (12 and 14!) are having a BLAST with the box. It's cracking me up. I encouraged MH to just leave it be for the cat to play with. The kids seem to have the same wonder and excitement about it as the cat does. It's along the same lines. We haven't over-saturated them so much that they can't appreciate the small things.

Anyway, I saw the most amazing article from Frugalwoods today, that ties into this.

How Making Luxuries Rare Increases Our Happiness

http://www.frugalwoods.com/2017/07/14/how-making-luxuries-ra...

Some highlights:

"Repeated exposure to stimulants deadens our ability to derive pleasure from them. These stimulants range from shopping for stuff we don’t need to sugar to dining out. Anything designed to deliver jolts of dopamine and excitement are best if used sparingly."

"After embarking on our extreme frugality journey, I was suddenly awakened to a slew of behaviors that I performed ritualistically without much consideration for whether: a) they were good for me; b) I needed them; c) I actually derived any true, lasting pleasure from them. I was a consumer automaton, ritualistically buying new clothes every season, automatically getting a latte if I happened to walk past a coffee shop, dumping a ludicrous amount of ersatz sugar into my coffee mug."

"Spending money works in precisely the same way and impacts the same pleasure centers in our brains. We humans have the remarkable ability to acclimate ourselves to almost any level of comfort or deprivation. We can all craft a reality in which we’re deprived or in which we’re surrounded by abundance (with caveats for privilege and the understanding that not everyone enjoys the basic necessities of shelter, food, and safety required for this exercise). Abundance denial is exactly what it sounds like: a failure–or inability–to appreciate our blessings."

"When we sign-up for our culture’s materialistic consumer carousel, we’re signing up for a lifetime of spending money. There is always more to buy, more to crave, and more to convince ourselves we “need.” There is no path to lasting happiness through excessive consumption because you’ll never reach a point of enough. You’ll never look around your home and experience the gratitude of wanting what you already have; rather, you’ll look around your home and constantly identify more things you can buy. Marketing is designed to continually create these false needs for us and to continually convince us that we are lacking and deprived and uncool if we don’t consume at the level that’s advertised to us."

"“But buying things makes me happy!” you might be thinking. And you’re right, it does make you happy, but only for a brief period of time. That’s the key–the adrenaline and pleasure of making a purchase fades quite quickly and leaves you casting about for something else to buy. There’s a deeper, more permanent happiness to be had when you stop this cycle and instead start to focus your energies on people, activities, and experiences that are meaningful to you.

It’s also true that you’ll have more time. I often hear the complaint that frugality takes too much time, but I find it’s quite the opposite: frugality takes far less time and frees up your physical and mental energy for fulfilling pursuits. Imagine for a moment if you didn’t have to run a million errands this week: no dry cleaners, no haircuts, no manicures, no dog groomer, no shopping (other than for groceries)… that’s what my weeks are like. I’ve created time and space for myself by ceasing to participate in the consumer carousel.

When we instead acknowledge that we do, in fact, have enough, we surrender to a default position of gratitude. We look around our house–that very same house–and think “I am so grateful to have a couch for my kids to snuggle on. I am so thankful we have a roof that doesn’t leak.” We no longer notice the stains on the couch and the scuffs on our furniture or our non-trendy-looking appliances. Instead, we see all of these things as benefits in our lives and evidence of how fortunate we are to have running water and electricity and the ability to safely cook inside our home–all things that many people in the world so desperately need."

"Our culture writ large doesn’t encourage temperance or restraint. Frugality is viewed as miserly and boring. But in reality, it’s the golden ticket that delivers us off the hedonic treadmill and out of the “you never have enough” mentality and away from the buy-your-way-to-happiness prompts that we’re all old enough to know are empty, false promises.

Frugality is not about depriving yourself, it’s about reconstructing your worldview so that you need less, want less, and spend less in order to achieve a higher level of happiness. Spending is a vicious cycle of always feeling that happiness is out of your reach whereas frugality engenders a virtuous cycle of knowing that what you have is indeed enough."

Kids' Money, Birthday Doings

July 13th, 2017 at 12:52 pm

Post from 2014:

"The kids get $2/per week/each "allowance", to learn money management. They have had the same allowances since they were 5. We have discussed raising it but they just don't spend their money! So, will leave be for now.

I don't even think it's so much that they don't spend money. It's more that they are extremely frugal. For example, going in on most purchases together and primarily buying used goods, or just being generally creative with their purchases. They just don't seem to have much motivation to spend."


This is still true. It's becoming obvious that we will never raise their allowances. They way we do it in our families is we will turn off allowances once they can more easily earn money. I'd say 14yo is there, but by the same token we expect the kids to work so much that I am not big on pushing it too soon. Not expecting *anything* of him this summer. But in a summer or two he will mostly be on his own.

I had an epiphany the other day. I was wondering if it was harsh to just turn off allowance when he turns 15. I had to laugh at myself when thinking about it a little further. His allowance is a whole whopping $100 per year. Clearly he will survive. Wink Beyond that point, we will turn off the "automatic allowance." I suppose we can make it more discretionary beyond that.

If you told me (5 or 10 years ago) that we'd never raise their allowances, and how much money they'd have save up, I never would have believed it. It's crazy!

This reminds me of a conversation we had with our parents while we were at camp. My dad said something like they had not expected me to get a job so young. That I had been the one to want to get a job. I just got a job the minute I turned 15. ??? You know, I think he is right!? That really shocked me on some level. I didn't remember it that way until I stopped to think about it. By 17 (when I graduated high school) my parents told me they had not saved any college money for me and I was pretty much on my own. I had always given them credit for being honest and preparing me (versus friends who were told when college started or after college started that they could no longer help with college; pulling the rug out from under someone is NOT the same situation I had). I guess they prepared me in their own way. They really did, but it wasn't in such a direct, "get a job and start saving" way that I recalled. I guess I had no inkling at 15/16/17 that I should be saving up for college.

That really blows my mind!

Anyway, back to the kids' money. I'd say for the most part they don't receive much money. BUT, now that MIL is accepting of MM's lack of "wanting stuff," she's been throwing a lot of money at him lately (cash versus material gifts). For example, I don't even see any deposits of any note during the prior year. But in the last 12 months MIL gave him $40 for his New York trip, $70 for his graduation (no one else gave him anything for 8th grade graduation, we all think that is dumb). & then MIL gave him $20 for his birthday. I know she had given him some Christmas cash too ($60) but I guess maybe he spent that money. (He only got $20 for his birthday because he though of a material gift that he wanted; she otherwise would have given him much more).

Anyway, I brought this up in the first place to say that MM(14) has surpassed the $1,000 mark on his savings. Woohoo!

--------------------------------------------------

Even though the kids had elaborate birthdays (for us) MH had gotten it in his craw that he wanted to take them out for a birthday sushi lunch. Some all-you-can-eat place. So they went out yesterday and spent $50 on lunch.

{He had been planning this before all the birthday spending came up. It's a rare treat}.

I feel very *shrugs* about it because MH also got a $20 Amazon refund that he doesn't think is quite right. He said it was some automatic price match but the algorithm didn't take into account that he hadn't paid the full price in the first place?? I don't know, but there was that and we had some other large refund, so the sushi splurge happened on a good money day.

Birthday spending is done. We still have DL's party this weekend, but will just buy some food/dessert with grocery budget. We already had two cakes (one per kid) so I am thinking birthday ice cream.

Accomplished some Purging

July 11th, 2017 at 04:28 pm

In the end I tossed two pans (the ones we used the most, but should have been tossed a long time ago). & I freecycled 8 pans. One of them was actually pretty nice but just too high maintenance for me. The rest were crap though some of the stainless steel maybe could have been cleaned up. Again, just too high maintenance for us.

So that's minus 10 pots and pans? I purchased 7 new ones. So I guess that's a bit of a downsize. Besides replacing frying pans, the rest was more just doubling up on what we use the most. I did not go super high-end because convenience is the bigger factor for us right now. I Want something we can use and abuse and put in the dishwasher every day. (We cook and dishwash pots and pans probably every single day). I was not willing to literally pay 5 times as much for handwash-only pots and pans, in contrast. Doubling up on the frequently used pots will save us a lot of energy; we spend way too much energy co-ordinating cooking and dishes.

I didn't even realize until I typed this out that we ended up with less pots and pans in the end. My husband is a minimalist of sorts (he just has his things, he is also a hoarder so depends on what we are talking about). So he didn't seem to understand why I wanted to double up. But it could also be that only so much fits in the washer. The new pans are so easy to clean, I don't mind volunteering to handwash any excess pans. I suppose he'd rather just use what fits in the dishwasher, but that approach drives me a little crazy.

These are all high enough quality that they should last 10+ years of heavy use. If I had really thought about it, I would have just replaced those pans a long time ago. A whole whopping $20 for a really nice mid-range pan. Lesson learned.

Put this in the "Working smarter" category.

I also had it on my radar to get rid of some old humidifier that we never use (maybe used once?). I saw it in the kids' bathroom cabinet a while ago. I freecycled that yesterday. I had some other odds and ends that I tossed and freecycled.

My next task is a pile of returns. I'd like to get the cash back before our credit cards close for the month. I did okay on swimsuits (nothing perfect, but stuff that will work). & I am not returning any of the pots or pans. Shoes were a bust so I will just give up for now. Mostly I need to just print return stuff and box it up. MH will run it all to the postal place later. There's a business down the street that accepts UPS returns (Zappos free returns). They may mail out my other return for me (I will have to pay postage) or MH can do that at the grocery store where we have some post office services. I have NO IDEA. I just give MH the boxes and he is the post office fairy. Big Grin

I am waiting for one Kohls order that I expect to partially return. I will do that return in person.

Oh, and I did list a couple of items for sale on local neighborhood website. Not getting bites there for anything (not even the free stuff). So I will move my for-sale items to Craigslist this weekend. Might make some cash??

I have some other clean-up and de-clutter goals for the summer but not expecting to make much progress this week. Too many birthday festivities this weekend. I will be happy to get all returns returned and to attempt some sales for cash. I am usually more of a fall cleaner but I got sidelined about one year ago with a broken foot and then work was *crazy* after that. So I feel some extra motivation now I guess. (Will see if the heat changes my mind. There is a reason that I do "fall cleaning").

Edited to add: I did get kitchen island cabinets all cleaned out and wiped down and hand-washed all new pots/pans before putting them away. That is all I accomplished in the kitchen but it's a start. I could probably do an upgrade/purge with bakeware. It should be less significant (I need maybe a higher quality muffin tin and a couple of higher quality baking sheets). It can wait until the fall (baking season).

Weekend Plans

July 8th, 2017 at 02:50 pm

We always have a tendency to zig while everyone else zags. It just seems to always be this way. I don't know why!

Anyway, having a very Murphy type month so far. & splurging on kids' birthdays. Last year we spent like nothing on the kids, but this year seems to be the polar opposite. (I don't mind splurging once in a while. Or saving some years so we can do bigger things other years).

LOTS of money being spent.

I planned a chore weekend, somewhat planned around replacing some pots and pans. But I forgot I had a lot of other commitments already. So it will be a bit busy,

This morning I am driving MM to the animal shelter. I have some shopping to do (while waiting for him), which is what I did last time (two weeks ago). Over the long run, I DO NOT plan to shop every other weekend. But for now, during the hot summer months, it works. On my list is a birthday cake mix for younger son and a sympathy card for my sister (lost a fur child last week). {I don't generally do cards, more for environmental reasons than any other, but will make exceptions for illness and death}. Just some stuff like that.

I need to run the kids to their credit union to withdraw their interest. They earn 7% on first $500 but nothing after that. So we take the money out once per year (unfortunately we have to do this in person). & the in-laws gave them some loose change that they can deposit at this CU (no charge). I am guessing something like $5 each.

I bought some new pots and pans because our old ones were ridiculously sad. Should have replaced a while ago, but just had enough last weekend. Probably a function of having some time to actually deal with that.

So my plan is to clean out the entire kitchen. At least, doing a major pots and pan purge. & cleaning out that section of the kitchen. But probably should just go through the whole kitchen.

I have some other things to freecycle and sell, so will at least get a pile going for that.

(We haven't bought pots or pans since we have been primarily home cooking, so this is a really nice upgrade and I have any idea what we actually need/want/use. I think this will make life a LOT easier and will be a very nice upgrade. I am excited to purge the old crap!)

Tomorrow is DL's birthday. I haven't given it much thought. We did buy him a drum set, but it won't arrive for a few more days. In-laws are coming to take the kids out to celebrate both their birthdays. He wants to do a sleepover the following weekend. Which is confusing because that's his brother's birthday. But we had to do brother's party early to accommodate friends' summer vacation plans. Anyway, I guess in-laws mostly have tomorrow covered. I asked DL if there was any food treat he wanted, thinking something $1 or $2 at Target while I am there today. He tells me he wants Drumsticks (ice cream) plus a bag of ruffles and two containers of dip. All for himself. Okay, dude, I just spent $300 on a drum set, so this is all sounding like a lot at this point. But I don't have a gift for him to open so I guess that's what he gets.

I will have to run to the (grocery) store later. Which I have to do anyway. I was going to make ceejay's sauerkraut recipe with dinner tonight. Need to pick up some cabbage. That was the other thing. MH is also having the kids cook two nights a week, trying to get into a more long-term habit with that. DL chose one of my recipes, so I am helping DL to make that tonight. Beanies and weenies. Real fancy stuff, but the sauerkraut would be a nice side dish for that.

Man, as I type all this out I am exhausted. Wonder what the odds are I get anything done in the kitchen today. Big Grin


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