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Archive for November, 2007

Maybe $700?

November 29th, 2007 at 03:16 pm

I woke up early and so was double checking on Vegas info this mornings. Bus is still cheap as I remember but they do have a monorail. Cost twice as much BUT I know of no other way to get across the strip in 10 minutes. Sounds like QUITE an addition. The Deuce was a big step up, and the monorail sounds even better. We'll see what we think in person anyway. Interesting to see how things evolve with time. (I had no idea they put in a monorail!)

Also was checking out all the buffet reviews and such. We are huge fans of the Spice Market Buffet (Aladdin) but I think this time we'll try Mandalay Bay too. Looks similar, but better priced.

We're staying on the north end of the strip which has the really cheap buffets. So a dinner there. & then we'll dine at Fremont Street and at our favorite Indian restaurant (also very near our hotel).

I pinned down more of a $180 budget for dining and about $60 for transportation (shuttle, buses, monorail). This assumes all the info I saw online was current (not so sure). Leaves $60 for incidentals, unexpected things, and gambling. If we adjust our budget to $300. Much more realistic but I am excited to try a new buffet, and that will be for quite an amount of food. Yes, we will have to hit they gym on our return. Though I am sure we will also do PLENTY of walking.

It seems like every time we go to Vegas we spend more money. But we also enjoy more. Gotta splurge once in a while I guess. WIll be fun...

Actually we have never stayed 3 nights before, so accounts for much of the cost. Eating out is such a budget buster when it comes to vacation. It just adds up so fast and is always maddening since it is so much easier to eat way cheaper at home. I mean $180 on food? At home that's 2 weeks of food for 4 of us!! I feel like food is always the vacation budget buster. But we are certainly splurging and enjoying in this case. Just what I always find is so pricey about vacation. The food will cost about as much as our plane tickets this time around...

Vegas!

November 29th, 2007 at 12:37 am

Well, on a whim we decided to catch one show in Vegas. We did really good on our retirement and efund this year so we decided to take our December balance transfer interest and splurge. Big Grin

I really wanted to see O (Which would be more pricey) but it was pretty much sold out. We decided to try Spamalot instead. A tad cheaper (though not much). I don't know, I am ready for vacation and the idea that "I wouldn't waste my money on a show" went out the window rather last minute. But we have been to Vegas quite a few times and never splurged on a show. IT will be fun.

So our budget looks something like this:

Vegas (4 days/3 nights):

Food/Gambling $200 (Already pd/use gifts)
Shows $150 (Paid with Interest)
Airfare $250 (Paid with cc rewards)
Hotel $0 (No cash but timeshare hell is "priceless" - LOL).
--------------------
$600
--------------------

Oh the $200 includes airport shuttle and bus fare too - the incidentals.

We'll see, it's our last hoorah before tax season and all that. I just want to REALLY enjoy. Mostly plan our budget for fine dining. If we end up over $200 I Won't sweat it much. Just all we need to spend to not dip into our checking account at all. Big Grin On the other hand I figure we could splurge on 2-3 really nice meals and go cheap the rest of the time (fast food or a trip to the grocery store is just fine) and stay well within the budget. Certainly what we aim for.

Not one of our cheaper Vegas trips by a mile. But the ironic thing is gas is getting so expensive, I think our airfare may be cheaper than driving. Certainly if we took the van. Gas would have cost around $200 easy in dh's car. Not to mention wear and tear and TIME. I got the deal I wanted on airfare, but even if I hadn't it probably would have been worth $300-$400. I now realize as prices skyrocket before my eyes. Our airfare deal is looking better by the minute.

Southwest also changed their policy. You get to board in the order you check in. Already checked in for tomorrow's flight (& at the front of the line)! I am just not sure we will get the opportunity to print out our boarding passes ahead of time for the return flight, but will try.

Is it worth it to fly round trip for $125 each, to not get to sit next each other for a one hour flight? OF course it is. But I am optimistic dh and I may actually get to sit next to each other this flight. How divine. I am loving this online checking/boarding pass thing.

Our only obstacle now is staying healthy for tomorrow. & for the entire weekend really. IT would be nice, but probably too much to ask. (just usual kids and germs...).

Oh yes, and I Will have to tell you about Tahiti Village. I can't believe when people IRL seriously tell me to hold my ground or "BE careful because you get sucked in." LEt me tell you, I don't remember the last time I got sucked in by a timeshare presentation, by a car salesman, by a furniture salesman... Any salesman... I just giggle. Somehow I think we'll survive. (Just a hint. The reason we do well financially is we don't spend our money on stupid things. WE don't make rash purchasing decisions. We don't buy things we can't pay cash for. Etc. All things you have to do to buy a timeshare. We didn't need to read all the horrible timeshare stories to figure out it was a high pressure sales thing that made absolutely no sense).

I think I also mentioned people keep telling me they were "trapped" in these presentations for hours. You have got to be kidding me. Let them try to "trap" us - LOL. We do have legs. & cell phones to call a cab. & rights. The bus pass won't hurt either if we have to flee too early.

Honestly, for the most part I think we will go, be bored, and be one of the first to leave, with little incident. It's just so obvious we aren't buying it on any level they don't even bother trying. Has been our past experience.

& you would have to be crazy to think I Would actually tell them my real income. Teehee. Rule #1 - do not tell them your income. I figure the "spouse is out of work" card should keep them off our back. I remember last time we went to a Vegas timeshare presentation they were salivating when we said we were from Bay Are ($$$$$ in their eyes). I told dh, um, let's say our income is 1/2 what it was. The scary thing was how much they salivated over the $40k income or so I put down. Yeesh. This time you have to be over $50k. I am thinking $50,001 will work. $0 assets. Negative net worth? I don't know, maybe they will smell weakness if we lay on the negative net worth thing too thick though.

But yeah last time was a $15k timeshare and it made no financial sense in the least. We were staying at a hotel for $30/night. A NICE one. Why would we spend $15k on a timeshare???? Who wants to stay in a condo off the beaten path in Vegas??? This one will be even easier. They are seriously asking $50k for these things. IT's going to be 10 times easier to say, "Are you out of your mind???" I Think we can walk away from this one.

Anyway, dh likes to play psychological games with people so I think he is looking forward to it. I figure it is a small price to pay for 3 free nights stay, but we'll see how I feel afetrwards. LOL. I am sure it will be uncomfortable at best. Have to play nice... With dh by my side will be okay though. Last time we wasted a good chunk of a short trip on a timeshare presentation (For $50). This time we get 3 full days to enjoy, so eh. It won't be such a big chunk of our time at least. & more reward.

Balance Transfers & Mortgages

November 28th, 2007 at 02:03 pm

Well, I got my final balance transfer and so the grand total is $25k for the next 3 months. Then one of dh's has to be paid back. I will have $15k through summer and $10k through the end of next year. They still have not implemented 4% minimums so my payments are rather minimal (It's insane really - EASY money). I also have a 5.7% rate locked in on most of it. Big Grin Let's just say I am very happy with the whole thing and am rather bummed that I want to cut up all the cards and let my FICO rest once all is said and done. Then again, maybe dh should apply for another one. I don't know. It will be hard to give up the easy money. We could probably take turns doing them to limit affects on each of our FICOs. Yeah, think I am HOOKED!

On the flip side, about $15k of it will be in my name; with this new transfer. I am not excited to see what this does to my credit score. Particularly since Chase does not report my credit limit to the Bureaus. Gah. I have been so busy with ID theft to bother, but I will try and see if I can get that fixed. It will help my FICO to see only 33% utilization instead of 45%. I also could ask Chase for a credit increase to help. But they still have to report it, all the same. Doesn't help if they don't report it anyway...

That's the cool thing about having a partner. We both don't have to borrow very much if we combine our efforts.

I asked for a credit line increase to $11k and they approved it instantly. I told dh I wish I asked for much more to improve my utilization ratio. But he knows me too well. He's like if you asked for more you would have borrowed more. Well, is that so bad? It seems they were slow to give me credit before so I did not ask for much. I get the feeling I could have asked for much more.

In other news, regarding the ARM thread I was looking up mortgage rates and was rather surprised. We used to have a 15-year fixed, before kids, and figured we wouldn't be opposed to that again down the road, BUT we figure 15=year rates will probably never drop below our 5.75% fixed again (not soon enough to be worthwhile anyway). Anyway, I was looking and Countrywide had a 15-year fixed for 5.25%. I have to say; it is tempting. Particularly since we have paid so much down since last time. I think our payments were $1800 before and would be more like $1700 in this case.

Anyway, with one kid out of preschool in a few months, it is an interesting thought to go this route.

However, I knew that those #s were fishy. It was not clear how many points there were and I already knew Countrywide requires impounds to get the best rates (no way jose - for many many reasons).

Anyway, so I found the fine print - 2 points and impounds required. Not the greatest deal after all. (To note, our mortgage was acquired with no points, and no impounds!). These days I wish we had paid down the interest rate a bit. Then again really not much to complain about.

Anyway, BUT interest rates are dipping again and so it may make sense some point down the road to switch. We'll see. Just something we have to keep an eye on. Not sure it would make much financial sense today anyway; but always hard to pass up a great rate. In much more shape to go back to that now than we have the last few years.

Of course if rates don't drop down I think our current 30-year rate is lower than (if no the same) as our old 15-year rate. I do like the flexibility of a 30-year mortgage (e.g. if one of us were sick or lost a job it is nice not to have a stressful payment) and likewise I don't think it is the best idea to up our payment considerably. Hope I don't get too tempted. We always figured when dh returned to substantial work that we would add $500/month to the mortgage and resume our 15-year amortization. We'd still have plenty to invest and play with as well. In the grand scheme of things it is a much better plan. But if rates drop to 5.25% with no strings, well, color me tempted. Give me 2 years and I'll be ready. Big Grin (Interestingly interest rates dropped to the all-time lows right before our first child, so that is when we last refied. What are the odds they would do so again with our kids graduating from the insanely expensive years? Would be cool. But won't hold my breath. Already got pretty lucky once - hehe).

Of course when it comes to the great mortgage debate, this is why I like our 30-year so much. Much more flexibility. Sure if things are good we'll pay it off in 15 years. If we end up unemployed or disabled, I'd rather have the cash. win-win.

Went Shopping...

November 27th, 2007 at 03:59 am

I am SO bummed. They had this spectacular "Holiday House" that timed all these lights to music. Anyway, I think it has been around a few years; but word really exploded about it last year. We went to see it 3 times last year (each time was considerably more crowded). So today BM and I discussed it on the way home, that we needed to get there early this year. So when I got home I looked up to see when it started. I did warn BM that they could be gone; because of cranky neighbors. Anyway, I called it.

Looked up the website and they just updated today - no show this year. Frown I am so bummed, but I certainly don't fault the neighbors. IT wasn't the light or the noise but the traffic that made them cranky. Lord knows I wasn't going back there, close to Christmas.

Anyway, they are looking for a commercial location to setup next year. I don't imagine that would be hard to find. (Free spectacular light show that brings in too much traffic??). So I hope they work out something for the future.

Anyway, we were watching their videos from last year and they had one song from the Trans-Siberian Orchestra which is also very spectacular. On a whim I looked up the CD and was listening to some of the audio files on their website. LM just LOVED the music so I went to Amazon to add it to the wish list. Which is fine, except it was on sale for $8.99. Really not bad at all - eligible for free shipping. I also noticed all the books on my wish list were on sale for $4.99. So I bought 3 books and that. Of course I was short like 50 cents for the $25 minimum for free shipping. (Shipping is $6 or so). I was perusing stocking stuffers, but of course the $1 stuff doesn't apply for free shipping. Bah. I finally just bought another book I had my eye on. It was $10 though. Oh well. I'd rather pay $10 for a book than $6 for shipping.

I told dh if he wanted to wrap the stuff up for his family to give to me; whatever. Good deals. I can't complain!

I also downloaded credit card expenses - updated. We leave Wednesday for Vegas and so pretty much paid all our bills and bought all our gas and groceries for the month.

Credit card bill will be about $1350. Well in the budget, christmas and all. PHEW. Following some spendy months.

There is Vegas, but I am getting birthday cash and $130 refund of deposit from the time share company.

I think we can budget around $200 for eating out (mostly all we will spend money on). We'll use the credit and cash. We also figured we'd go to the movies (matinee I am sure. Big Grin ).

Dh, very sweet, tells me today he wants to splurge on my birthday. I am like, and a trip to Vegas isn't enough??? He just said he wanted to go out to a nice dinner or something on the actual day. I just say, duh. We had already been talking all the places we were going to eat. Truth is, really, we just got to Vegas to eat!!! Big Grin

In other new I am under a pile of mandarins. LOL. That is the fun thing about Sacramento. Is it city or rural? Becoming very city, very fast. Historically very rural (as is much of California really). So my coworker has an orchard of mandarin trees and she gave me 4 buckets. She said she'll give me 4 more next week. Gave one bag to each fam and will give one to preschool. Will keep the last. Kids love them.

I am always pawning off unwanted food at work and I have to keep remembering not to lug a back back to work. That is where they came from. LOL. But they disperse pretty fast between all our family and all.

Which reminds me, we don't have a garden and haven't really thought much about it, but dh wants to get an apple tree. Our main tree died (lord knows why). The one planned to block the sun in the summer and shed its leaves in the fall to let the sun shine in the winter. Anyway, the tree never got very far. Dh wants an apple tree. He said his parents had a dwarf tree and never got too out of hand. We'll have to plant one in the spring. Kids will love it.

Things have warmed up a bit here. Weather went straight from summery to wintery. It was a little crazy. It is settling on autumny. Much chillier than it was, but not freezing... Phew...

November Interest

November 26th, 2007 at 03:01 pm

$20 challenge:

$9,261.87 - Balance 11/13

$ 145.00 - Interest

------------------
$9,406.87 - Balance 11/26
------------------

Well, received my bank interest today and know what the CDs will bring Saturday. So $145 for the month.

I just executed my last balance transfer so expect an easy $200 interest for December.

Which would put my challenge to $9600. & I have worked enough overtime to bridge the gap to $10,000. I do not know though when I will get paid. So we'll see. Nothing much else planned in that regard. If I save any gift money between here and January I might be able to make it. With birthdays and Christmas there is ample opportunity. The problem is I already have that money earmarked for other stuff. We'll just have to see... {My rule is if I deposit it in efund or retirement I can count gifts towards the challenge. Not if I need them for more short-term expenses).

Yes the challenge really encourages me to save more than spend. I expect next year to go much better. We got much farther on track, but haven't built up much of a car repair fund this year which was my downfall. I assume we'll get plenty of christmas money for that - to replenish short-term savings for the new tires and such. Otherwise it could have gone straight to retirement. So close... I don't expect next year to be an issue since we no longer have to divert so much cash to the e-fund. We are working on our car/house fund next year. Which hopefully means come NEXT Christmas we will have a windfall for retirement. I was hoping to be there this year; but little to complain about overall. We have made substantial progress.

Dh went shopping today...

November 23rd, 2007 at 03:43 pm

He went out. He is not an early riser in the least but I woke up at 6am and he was nowhere to be found. "Oh lord," I thought. He went shopping!

He got home at 7am and said it wasn't very crowded.

Usually hits up Fry's and easily waits in line there all morning, but said no good deals this year. Well, nothing he wanted or was worth waiting in line for...

He bought a new razor scooter at Target for $7 cheaper than the one we already bought. (So $20 instead of the $27 we paid. Original price around $50). Probably not worth it alone, but they also had some PS3 guitar game thing at 33% off.

He said there was no line. (It was certainly crowded but he shopped fast!)

He also went by a game store that had "Hero Scape" - some kind of board game he has been all excited about but seemed too pricey - got it for $20 instead of $40 full price.

The kids are with Grandma so we are going to go wrap up the presents now. We got LM a train set and I will probably run to the Dollar Store next week for the stocking stuffers. Oh yeah, we also have a PILE of free books from Sholastic (3 boxes actually) and dh bought a few games that were $5 after rebate (something like that). So we'll wrap some of those. So though we wanted to keep it simple because the kids get so spoiled anyway, yeah they have a lot to unwrap from us... Since the books are from teacher grandma anyway (she has a so MANY unused points that we have to use this year...) I asked her to please take credit for all the gifts. I left the "from" line blank on all those while they work it out. I would love it if she put her name on all the gifts and didn't buy anything else. It gets to be WAY too much with dh's family. So I know this is really wishful thinking. But we'll see! {After further thinking I decided those games/books would go a long way for stocking stuffers. I might by them some candies or treats but I think we're pretty set for Santa. Plenty for grandma AND Santa with the 3 boxes!}.

My work is done. Big Grin I just have a pile of checks to write in Christmas. & some things I can do online (donations and such). I am waiting until December to spread out some of the costs. The hard work is definitely done...

Here is to another "simple" christmas.

& yay to dh for saving some dollars. You couldn't pay me to shop today. LOL.

We have a quiet day with no kids which is really COOL! We might splurge on a Greek lunch out. I am looking forward to taking a NAP! I just love naps. I am sure dh would love to go to the movies, but with Vegas next week I told him we should rent a movie instead. (Plenty of free coupons from Blockbuster). He does have his theater screen you know. He seems content with that. I don't know why with the kids gone the urge is there to spend money. But lunch out will be really nice - and not too pricey. & we are going to stay in otherwise.

Oh yeah - and I need to hit the gym. I can not tell you the last time I made it to gym or aerobics. It's just been hectic. I think I can hit it Today & Sunday.

Saved $23 this month...

November 22nd, 2007 at 12:08 am

Well, um, I got the water bill today. Couldn't make heads or tail of it. For one, it is due today (but postmarked a couple of days ago). Well, okay then.

It also makes no sense how they charged us. But our metering took effect and our bill was $23 lower than our usual monthly bill. They are only charging us every other month for water I believe.

Anyway, so they showed we had $45 of water charges for the last TWO months, as opposed to the usual flat $45 they charge MONTHLY. Phew. Then they pulled some number out of the air to bill us. But looked reasonable since we already paid the flat water rate last month.

Hopefully the next bill is a little more clear.

This was before it started raining and we turned off the water outside entirely, so at this rate we might save more than I originally thought. Not bad for 2 rather dry/warm months. It has been unusually warm.

Well, Thanksgiving has evolved very strangely. I think I am going to go out to eat with my parents while dh does the crazy family thing. Long story.

I think his family is really freaked out about this turn of events, but we have a lot history of doing our own thing. I think they worry a little too much. It's kind of funny. We are totally cool with this arrangement. He has the kids. His mom is worried about how this "looks." I am just looking forward to peace and quiet. Big Grin {I also have a long history of not caring what other people thing. who cares??????}

So mostly I am looking forward to a peaceful holiday. We are no longer hosting so it will be far more relaxing than I thought.

I worked a few hours today (hadn't planned to with hosting) and will probably work a bit in the morning or Sunday. I made up enough time I can use vacation time to go to Vegas next week. Big Grin

Maybe I can even squeeze in some overtime in December, now that I am catching up for all this time off. Well, one thing at a time.

BM did tell me today he was thankful for our "house." That's what he decided at preschool. I asked him what in particular he liked about our house - or was thankful about. He said, "That we have a cat in our house." LOL.

Have a great Holiday!!!

Heat...

November 21st, 2007 at 02:32 pm

Well, it's 35 degrees out (brrrrrrrr). & when I went to bed last night it was 65 & freezing.

When I woke up it was 65 downstairs. Considered turning on the heat but figured it's just dh today - we can turn it on when the kids get home in the afternoon. (Or he can turn it on but he likely won't). However, I need to shower today. I think the heat is going on upstairs. I am sure it dropped a few degrees if it is 35 outside, and no sign of sunshine today. It might be 60 up there for all I know.

Well, didn't quite make it to December...

I do want to look into thermal-backed drapes though. Our house is REALLY energy efficient, but downstairs in the room we spend most of our time has a wall that is ALL windows and it gets a bit of a chill sitting on the couch and spending time in this room. It will say 68 on the thermostat but fell chillier. So I think it would be a good investment for this room. We have heavy drapes in our bedroom window which seems to do the job. Maybe something for the kids' rooms since their beds are under the windows. Their rooms might be a little chillier. But it doesn't seem so bad either since they have small windows. It's the big windows, even though dual-paned, that keep this room a little colder than the rest of the house.

I think the drapes could make a big difference. I may be willing to settle for a true 65 degrees inside. Just not 65 while freezing my butt off next to the windows. We'll see...

I also got a $60 check for my jewelry. It's not challenge money.

I am in the green through the end of the month. Yay.

I noticed that I did not get a water bill (they are having a terrible time with this change over to metered). I am annoyed because I think they said they would only bill me for water once every 2 months, though they have other stuff to bill me. Since I have seen no bill I worry if they are going to start sending the entire bill every other month. The same month I get billed the same amount by the county (about $60. YEs the water/sewer charges are insane if you ask me). So I decided to transfer $65 to savings for the water bill. I will call and ask if they can stagger it out to the other month. It's annoying... Or I will have to transfer money over every month to prepare. I'd rather just get a $60 (or so) bill every month. MUCH easier!!!!!! OF course with the metered water that bill will go down!!!

I also got my HOA dues for 2008. They are not going up. This is 6 years and they have never gone up (only down). IT seems pretty across the board for all our bills this year. A good year. Not a lot of increases or surprises. Even our medical situation isn't too bad this year with a decent deductible option. There is a chance our overall expenses could go down there too (yeah, not holding my breath).

But yeah, the other benefit of getting in on the ground level of a new development. We got a substantial discount on our house & they way over budgeted our dues. So they racheted them down a bit and they will hold steady for quite some time I imgine. Until inflation catches up.

Extra $7!

November 20th, 2007 at 03:46 pm

Well, got a surprise in the mail. My property taxes are due on 12/10 so I know I have to get that check ready. & yeah I am going to mail it on the 10th. With the GMAC checking account I can extend the days I earn interest by a few. (The last check I sent to the IRS - took them like 2 weeks to cash. Cool for me).

Anyway, so I got the bill ages ago and I have a reminder in Quicken, on and on. But I get this bill in the mail. I open it up and it looks just like the last property tax bill. Checking the date. "Strange," I think. Until I finally find the insert that explains it's an adjustment. Wondering why on earth it would be adjusted...

But then I finally saw they had an error on one of our bonds. We pay about $1k/year of bonds on top of our taxes. They call it "mella roos." Don't ask me why. They mistakenly charged us an extra $130 on our original bill for some kind of landscaping bond. ???? How in the heck would you know that is wrong? That is why I wonder. I will keep a sharper eye next year, see what's new and if it is valid (they keep adding school bonds and such as well - which I remember were voted in at least).

Anyway, so the $130 decrease is pretty cool but then they also extended our deadline by 21 days. Now it's due 12/31.

I figured it probably wasn't worth the interest saved, but calculated it and we will earn another $7 interest waiting to pay it on the 31st.

Well, I'm sold. Big Grin

I guess they allow everyone more time because sometimes the bill gets adjusted upward. As for ours, I thought it seemed a little high. It had gone up 5%. (with the bonds. The valuation portion can only go up 2% max per year). So now it is only a 2% increase - no new bonds this year. Phew. That is the NICE thing about California. They got a handle on property taxes years ago.

I am also a complete dork and lost our home insurance bill. ??? All I could figure was it landed in the recycle pile. Yeesh. I have to call and ask for a new one. I can pay all my insurance bills online, but this one had an option to pay less with a new deductible plan AND it said I had to pay with a check. (Don't ask me why). I looked online where I figure I could get a copy of the bill. Well it says the amount, but no address, no new amount for the deductible (it says I should have that with my paper copy. Well duh). & it re-iterates that I have to pay it with my paper bill voucher, with a paper check. Yeesh!!!!! Why is this the ONE bill I lose? LOL

I will have to call today and get a copy. It's due at the end of the year. I have about $4k due between that, property taxes, and IRS and such. Yes, got it all in the bank; ready to go.

We have not turned on the heat here. I thought it was a possibility we would turn it on Thanksgiving for guests. BUT with all the body heat and cooking there will probably be little need, all the same. Anyway, what is it, the 20th? Can we make it to December with no heat??? I don't know... It probably helps we will be out of town the 29th. Dh's parents will be staying here to watch the kids but they have it in their head that we pay hundreds of dollars every month to heat and cool our "giant" home. (teehee). I guess she has said to my mom that our bills must be insane and my mom likes to toy with her so didn't say anything. I call my mom often to brag about my $7 gas bill and my $20 electric bills in the off seasons. Anyway, so she knows we aren't paying squat. But last time dh's fam was here they devised an elaborate plan to not use the air conditioning. (With windows and such). Because they assume we are energy hogs and never thought to open a window though it cools down considerably at night. (duh. ?????). Anyway, so we just play along. I just think it's funny. I should leave an energy bill sitting out in the dead of winter or something. Maybe they'd get the hint. Maybe while we are in Vegas. LOL

Anyway, so I wouldn't be surprised if they don't touch the heat in an effort to save us money. So yes, even with guests, it may be possible.

Or they may just turn it on and ruin our streak. Oh well. I guess the true question is if we can make it to the 29th. Hmmmm, 9 more days. I don't know. It's 45 out right now (probably the low for the night?). It's decent inside. 67 downstairs. Upstairs tends to get chillier, I don't know. But I know I can survive without heat today. Without a doubt. The sun is out so the house will heat up during the day. Yay!

9 more days... We'll see...

It is unusually warm. It really is. It's been nice!!!!

Balance Transfers/ID Theft

November 18th, 2007 at 03:58 pm

Well, I got it in writing that all those cards were fraudulent, except one. Still waiting on Macy's. I will call them, but I figure the second I call them is the second it shows up in the mail. So I am biding my time before I make the effort.

So pretty much all cleared. My credit report seems cleared up enough so I figure I would ask for a credit increase on my balance transfer card. I have around $5k borrowed and dh has $10k. But his will have to be paid off in a few months, and we get 5.7% until end of 2008. Definitely taking advantage. So I would like to borrow $10k when we pay off his. Or heck, might as well get it now... Before interest rates decrease more. I guess I could earn 4.5% in the interim, and then once dh's is paid I would figure I would be earning 5.7%.

Anyway I haven't borrowed on one card and I should also take advantage before they retract it, but they only have me $5k limit - "until I was a customer for 6 months." Blech. I was filing paperwork yesterday and saw they sent me that note 6 months ago.

So I popped online and applied for a credit increase. They asked me a gazillion questions - hard credit pull - small price to pay to make another $50/month without lifting another finger after applying.

So the card company called about 1/2 hour later. They are obnoxious and call all the time about buying their payment protection plans and all that and usually dh tells them to buzz off. BUT ever since my ID theft I have to take the calls, in case it is important. IT never is.

I grumbled as dh handed me the phone. Getting ready to say if they called me on more flipping time I am closing my card or something.

But alas, they were calling because they pulled my credit report and saw the fraud alert. Just checking to see if it was indeed me. I thanked them profusely. Yes, Citi paid attention. Glad to know.

Also when I applied online they said 7-10 days, but the guy was like, um yeah, you'll be approved within the hour... So yay credit report.

I should log online and check. Might as well do that balance transfer. Make sure the terms haven't changed.

I also shared all this to say I was really happy with the balance transfer process.

I was worried about universal default with the ID theft and was going to talk to WAMU about it, but then WAMU sent notice they are no longer doing universal default. Phew. It's been the only real hiccup. I worried how my bad credit report in the interim could affect well standing accounts. But I Was able to clean it up quickly enough.

But overall I have been really happy. I haven't even set up to pay everything automatically. I just pay the minimum balance the day I get the bill. I keep so on top of my bills it seems to work.

If I could do over again I would have made better notes when I took the BTs and when they were due. I know dh's is 9 months and I can see in Quicken when I got the check, but I didn't write all this down. Duh. As time passes, I am thinking, when is this one due? I went back and documented best I could in Quicken. As the time gets closer I need to pay more attention. I figure I will pay it a month or 2 early to avoid issue. I have no idea how the credit card company measures 9 months, and I am sure it is in their favor. Wink So um yeah. I will be paying off dh's in February or so, and mine in June (Expires in July?). & I believe this new one is for a year but I will have to go refresh my memory. If it is for a year and I do it now, I can take full advantage of my 5.7% CD.

If I paid all these back it would leave me with about $11k in a CD and $1k in cash. My emergency fund anyway - we have some other cash... So I would like to string these out until my CD expires.

Once my CD expires and we pay all these back. That's it. Closing all the cards. Checking our credit. Laying low for a while... If when all was said and done and our credit scores weren't affected, I would do it again. But I am not going to have 10 open cards. I always close my unused cards. I just find it easier that way. My credit score is better for it I find.

I expect a bit of a blip on the score with all this borrowed money. PArticularly when I borrow $15k in my name through next summer. I don't mind taking the hit temporarily. But I would take the time to clean it up before I considered doing another balance transfer. I care less about it in the short term. But I care enough about it in the long run to not just do BT after BT after BT.

I think if dh and I both just borrowed $10k it was a good plan. Vs. one of us borrowing a large sum. So far neither of our scores have taken a hit. Maybe a hit, but they are still well over 750 so who cares. But I can't say borrowing another $10k will help my score any. But the cash has been really helpful in building back up our efund, and we'll take advantage for one more year.

I would be happy enough with the balance transfer process without the CD. But I always knew there was a risk interest rates would go down. BUT I just happened to have this 5.7% CD offer from my credit union right after I did my first balance transfer. Talk about luck. I can renew it at 5.7% for another 8 months comes March or so. Until my last BT expires. Just "perfect."

So yeah, my strategy until then is just save more cash. Then I will have to come up with a new plan for the efund. I am certainly not going to tie most of it up in a 8-month CD again. Was strictly for the balance transfers. Will have to evaluate some CD laddering options and such going forward. Who knows how things will be in a year.





Heat & Mice

November 18th, 2007 at 03:35 pm

Well, I think it is unusually warm for November. (Okay I KNOW it is - LOL).

But we have also not been very quick to turn on the heat. When it hovered between 63-67 overnight we didn't touch the heat to warm up for showers or anything. I do not think there is a day it hasn't risen to at least 69, which is what we usually set it at anyway. But we tend to turn it on the morning so we don't freeze in the shower. But it just hasn't been that cold.

Anyway, I am amazed. We usually are a little whimpy and turn on the heat more.

Then again it is REALLY warm. I took a shower last night and all my warm clothes were in the wash. I just threw on like a summer thing. I was warm. It was weird. So I just slept in it.

I woke up and it is 68 downstairs, which means it will warm up into the 70s throughout the day and I will be walking around in short sleeves and no socks. It's kind of warm.

Just bizarre weather...

I checked our gas bill and it was $45 last year for November. At this rate our bill will be no more than $15. We spend $35/month balanced billing. I think we will easily get it down to $30 at this rate. We turned down the water heater in the summer to lower the bill a few dollars every month. I also was checking past trends. We run the heat max December & January and tend to spend $45 in February and November. The rest of the year we don't need heat. So overall we don't spend a lot on gas.

Electricity costs about double. I have no idea how to get that down any further though. We just don't use much.

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

Well, I haven't heard the mice (assumed) that were keeping me awake the whole time the fam was in Florida. Dh had bought traps but I wasn't touching them with a 10-foot pole. I may be a willing accomplice, but I can't do the deed. We even discussed trapping them and setting them free somewhere. Yeah, decided against it.

But anyway, the neighbors cat, which did catch a mouse in our yard, and why I figure they are mice, has been hanging around on our roof, and I haven't heard a thing in a week or 2. Dh also found an area where it looked like they were getting in by the garage (we originally heard them in a wall downstairs) and so he lodged something in the "hole" to see if it would get disturbed. It's just loosely in there but hasn't been disturbed. No noises. Figured maybe the cat was paying off. Scared them off at least?

Then I woke up to scampering overhead the other night. "Oh GREAT," I thought. They are in the attic. (Though admittedly it could have been the cat walking on the roof now that I think about it. But I don't think it was).

I forgot to tell dh until I came home yesterday, so he set traps in the attic. We'll see...

We went up there yesterday. At least it looked clean. No piles of mouse droppings or anything. (I was imagining the worst). I didn't walk in, but between the opening to the attic and our bedroom is the heater and all sorts of ducts and stuff. Dh said he couldn't get over there and couldn't see much. But we didn't see or smell anything, so phew.

More on the HSA Conundrum

November 17th, 2007 at 07:16 pm

I doubt few people will fall into this exact situation. But a good exercise to help you think through some of these things. I think if you are healthy and single an HSA actually is a pretty good deal, especially if you are good at saving.

For a family with high medical expenses in a state that doesn't conform to federal rules. Blech. It gets a little better for us every year. But still not quite there. I don't think. I am trying to run through the #s though.

For starters, our medical expenses will be $10k this year. 7.5% of our income is about $5k. So everything we pay over that $5k (7.5% threshhold) is deductible on Schedule A. We also have a big mortgage and lots of state taxes. Obviously we itemize. So we get to itemize another $5k with our current plan. At a 20% tax rate between fed and state we save $1k on taxes. Our medical expenses are insane (mostly just insurance) but at least we get some tax break.

For 2008 you can put $5800 in an HSA, tax-free. For us that would only be a $870 saving. Because in California they do not recognize HSAs. We would lose the state tax benefit. & though we would put in more we would get a smaller tax break than we usually do.

OF course, our insurance premiums go down. But they go down about $3k/year if we take a $3k deductible. Basically if any one of the 4 of us goes to the emergency room this year, or breaks an arm, we're going to pay $3k out of pocket. I think the odds are very high. Which means we'll probably spend $10k on medical this year, as we usually do. Just happened this is the best deal offered to us this year (actually better than we were offered last year). Because our insurance plan is saying they are giving us more benefits and lowering our out-of-pocket max. So we'll take the lowered premiums, regardless. & save the difference for the deductible we likely will pay some point during the year.

We could put %$5800 in an HSA (which we could do if we put our saved premiums, vision, dental expenses, etc. Certainly don't have dental insurance and that is part of our $10k bill for the year). But we would get a smaller tax break than otherwise, and a more complicated tax return. (Which I prepare but it's a PITA, for sure!!!!! A factor that needs to be considered).

We could put the $5800 in throughout the year and earn the whopping 2%-3% returns most HSA offers (I certainly would not invest the money we would likely need in riskier mutual funds). & most the
HSas charge fees. $25/year at the minimum (which wipes out much of that 2% interest).

So in our case, since it looks like it is also a pain to pull money out of many of the HSAs (certainly not all - but the more convenience the more expensive the account is - keep in mind). If I am going to put in $5800 and use $5800 this year it makes little sense.

I would be far better off investing the money in our savings account, earning 4.5% and paying no fees. I am going to take it out as quickly as I put in, most likely. & still get to deduct $5k on my tax return and save $1k in fed & state taxes...

So this is my thinking here. There are a lot of factors at play here.

Now, if 12/31/08 comes around and we have not paid one dime of our deductible... (LEt me tell you, I am not holding my breath here). Then I would consider shifting the $3k deductible for '08 into an HSA. I am just not sure if it would do any good. We would not be able to deduct anything for itemizing then. So would I be better off keeping it in my bank account and deducting the $2k we did spend on dentists and such? (Itemize that deduction). At least I know I could grow the $3k easier, with less expenses. There is not a huge benefit there. The taxes saved on the $2k actual expense would be $400. Taxes saved on $3k would be $450. Plus it would greatly complicate things and we would pay STATE taxes on the interest it earned and pay fees to the HSA, etc., etc. We'd save $0 but increase complications GREATLY!!!!! I'd rather pull the money out of my savings account when I need it. No Hassle.

What if we go 2 years with no doctor visits and I could put $5800 into the HSA on 12/31/09?

In that case it might be a better deal. The more we save up the better deal it becomes.

It comes down to the fact that I expect the odds of that to be like 10%. Not in our favor. That deductible will get spent.

What if dh goes to work and suddenly our medical expenses are not more than 7.5%? Than the HSA would win hands down. We'd suddenly be in an atrocious tax bracket (as opposed to 15% state for now. If dh worked we'd be in AMT - you know the rich tax. Apparently the difference between 15% tax rate and "rich" is $20k income. In our case anyway...) So yeah, if he didn't have any decent benefits, then we can put away $5800/year easy, invest it, never touch it, take the stinking tax break. Pay our medical expenses out of pocket (wouldn't pay them out of the HSA because the whole point would be to take advantage of the tax-deferred. They are really not set up to let you easily spend it all every year. The point is to save for future).

Or if I get a huge raise and we start losing our ability to itemize. It might start to make more sense.

So yeah, that's what the situation is for us. There would definitely be some future down the road as I expect our income to rise.

For now all I see is a LOT of effort and PITA for a few pennies maybe saved. But we will definitely have to evaluate at the end of the year. The cool thing about HSAs is you have until 4/15, next year, to decide. I will probably do our tax return and play with it and if we come out ahead with the HSA I can fund it 4/15/09.

HSAs are getting better though. The first year I looked at these I think we would have saved $5k/year on premiums BUT they would only let you put $3k into the HSA AND our hospital had like a $10k out-of-pocket. It was lose-lose-lose. Couldn't even take tax advantage of the savings, and likely would get slammed with a $10k bill if any one of us broke an arm or went to emergency.

This year they say we'll save $3k on our premiums, can put $5800 into an HSA, and our max out of pocket is $3k. $5800 is about our out of pocket for all medical expenses besides the insurance so it seems pretty fair. It's getting better... But then you can see when you look closely there isn't a lot there on the HSA side. I am relieved our insurance is offering a better plan though this year. A much more affordable one. It benefits savers who have $3k in the bank and say sure. I know plenty of people who would think it's a great deal but don't have a dime in the bank and wouldn't save a dime. They'd sink fast. For us, it just may work.

& when dh returns to work we need more tax advantaged accounts. I'll take my IRA any day. But it works for people trying to limit income tax, who have a lot of disposable income. I think we will probably fund some of an HSA going forward, as my income grows or if we go to a 2-income household. We'll see...

I hope with time more banks offer HSAs and they get more competitive. I think that is my biggest peeve right now. Very few financial institutions seem to be offering them. They are expensive and the returns look lousy. But they also have far more choices today than they did 2 years ago. So basically for now I figure I have until 4/15/09 to fund it and I am going to hold out for some better deals.



Nevermind...

November 16th, 2007 at 02:04 am

Um, I change my tune. I am starting to see LITTLE in benefits of a HSA for us.

The nice thing is we can still take the reduced premiums. We will be better off to put the money (premiums saved) in our bank account and earn better returns.

The only exception will be if we do not use our deductible for the year. Then we could use the HSA for tax advantage. If not, there will be no tax advantage and we'll get crappy returns (if we spend it we can itemize the deduction). Heck, I might prefer to put it in an IRA if we do not need it. One big factor being the California nightmare where it is not tax-deductible for state. (& earnings are taxed for state).

I'll share more my thinking later. But this is where we land. I am starting to remember more why I never liked these things. They just make no sense in a situation like ours. We'll see... I have to think on it more. But it's where I am leaning. I was discussing it with dh and it occurred to me we would be better off without the HSA anyway. Sad but true.

But I am still relieved to have a more affordable insurance option. Phew.

HSAs Have Really Come a Long Way...

November 15th, 2007 at 09:09 pm

Well, today is the day I dread every year. Got our new insurance premiums for 2008.

Um yeah, surprise surprise, up 12%. You know part of me was really wishing for a dull year. Could we have ONE freaking year of like a 5% increase? 2%? Is that too much to ask? Instead it was same old, same old...

Holy Hell.

Our old plan went up to $1k/month (the one we dropped last year. YIKES!!!!!

Ours went from $673 to $744 and is set to go up some ungodly amount when we turn 35 in 4 years. This will top our mortgage in no time. & I always thought housing was all we had to worry about out here. (Of course interestingly I have been perusing the ORegon plans and they aren't any cheaper. So much for moving to cut costs...).

Yeah, we can swing it. We've had much worse years. But forward thinking, it scares the crap out of me.

So I started looking at all the HSA/HDHP plans and such.

They actually have good options for once. I am wary if I am missing something. I researched those in 2006 and it was like our annual max would be $10k, but we could only put $3k in the HSA even though we would save FAR more in premiums. It just left us way over exposed and unable to save the difference and get any real tax advantage. The odds were very high we would pay more with the HDHP/HSA than with the insane premiums. So we stuck with the insane premiums.

Last year was about the same, though they made it a lot easier to contribute more to a HSA. But the plan really sucked.

They totally changed it this year. If we switch to a $1500 HSHP that qualifies for HSA, then all of our expenses will be down. Slam dunk.

Premiums go down just over $3k/year.

Our out of pocket goes down too. We didn't have deductibles before, but our out of pocket was something like $10k for the fam. All routine stuff covered with small copays, but emergency and hospital stays were astronomical (thank you emergency fund).

They seem to be saying on the other hand, that if we take the deductible, which is $3k for the fam, we will never pay a dime for anything else. We also get prescription coverage back. The most we would ever have to pay is the $3k deductible which they just skimmed off the premium.

Well, okay, then I am sold.

The HSA is just PERFECT. We can put in $5800 in 2008. $3k saved premiums. Around $1k for dental. & $600 I had budgeted for copays anyway. So, um, yeah, we'll just max it out. Pay all our dental and vision & drugs out of there too.

We really won't save much in the way of taxes. We already pay so much in insurance premiums that we get a tax deduction of around $4k - $5k anyway. So it won't make a huge difference. But a little one, for sure. Any wage increase lowers the tax deductiblity of our regular medical expenses anyway. So with higher wages there is probably a slight tax benefit. (Before we took it as an itemized deduction - portion over 7.5% income - which yes was around $5k last year).

Which pretty much means it is all a wash for us except that we will get to put away $3k every year that *if* we don't use, can grow tax deferred. I mean if we have ONE year where we don't use our deductible, we should come out ahead. Right?

So I have been pretty down on HSAs. I thought they REALLY sucked. But if you have a little money in the bank, and you get a deal like this... It's good. Sure as hell beats forking $750/month to the insurance company. Eeks. With 4 of us I wouldn't be surprised if we hit that deductible every year (broken arm? Car accident? Sick kid? Lord knows...). But, yeah. This is the first time the odds have been for the HSA. {This particular insurance company is obviously phasing out it's co-pay plans. They offer less and they cost more every year}.

Oh yeah, these premiums do not go up at 35 either. For now anyway. Which gives us some breathing room.

I have to figure out how/where I want to invest. Decision, Decisions. Starting with cash though eventually I Would like to put some in a balanced fund at Vanguard (if we build up any). I am not sure what the rules are, if we can have 2 accounts or what. More to look up. & I am trying to decide if I should divert a little of the efund to prefund it a bit Jan. 1. I don't know. LEt the money grow tax free and replenish the efund quickly. ??? IT's an idea. In case we end up using our deductible Jan. 1 or something. ANything can happen.

Well, much more to research.

ETA: Well, um the investment selections REALLY suck. I am thinking of just starting with State Farm since I already have some accounts with them. Looks like the best option thus far. $25 annual fee & 2%-3% interest. Yikes! Will do for now I guess. Not so enthused any longer. But if we start to build up some balances over the years I'd switch to one that offers mutual funds. I don't see much better in the way of interest rates except crappier banks and higher fees. lose-lose. Hopefully more banks will start to jump on the HSA bandwagon.

Seems some of them have you submit reimbursement forms for every expense (that is horrid since we would have them OFTEN). But State Farm at least gives you checks. Many give you debit cards but I wouldn't use. Not my thing. I'd probably put it on my card for the rebate and see if I could pay the card then directly from the HSA. Or if I have to write a check and use a stamp. Pricey all around... Yeah, not so happy now. I just don't want it to be a huge PITA to pay my medical bills. So no matter how you slice it, this really complicates things... Much research to do...

2nd Edit: Oh yeah and I forgot the stupid HSAa are NOT tax deductible in Cali. It really leaves us with little tax benefit here. I mean my 2% earnings will be tax free (Federal), but the fees will take a chunk. I am getting more annoyed by the minute. *sigh* I guess that means my earnings will be taxable in Cali as well. Not that Cali has huge taxes, but the bookkeeping for the difference is atrocious..







+ $75

November 14th, 2007 at 01:22 am

$20 challenge:

$9,186.87 - Balance 11/5

$ 75.00 - Focus Group

------------------
$9,261.87 - Balance 11/13
------------------

Um, dh went to a weird focus group today. LOL. It was about ice cream. But bizarre. (& no ice cream there either. Bummer).

But $75 richer for 1.5 hours of "work." Not bad. We aren't so disciplined this year as we are restoring our reserves, but if the focus groups continue to flow in, um, I think I might just earmarking them all for IRAs. I could see saving up a $1k easy throughout next year at the rate we have been going. Not bad.

They won't be so easy to drop everything at a moment's notice to watch the kids come spring either. So we'll see. But the rest of the year certainly a really good income stream. Beats minimum wage work he has looked at. I'll take this any day.

Oh I brought up the Thanksgiving thing to dh and he flipped out. My mom was not too keen either. Whatever. They love their Thanksgiving at home I guess. (No worries, I don't really do much - it's their thing). So much for that idea, but dinner at our house will be cheaper.

I did hear that 2 relatives are coming (through my mom - but dh's relatives). Yeah, thanks for telling us. As usual. I told dh to call and figure that out today. Is a week notice too much to ask for this stuff? Yeesh. Are we cooking for 6 adults? OR 8 or 10? It makes a big difference, don't you think? (I am still annoyed with dh's parents for switching their mind at the last minute to stay overnight before Florida. Fine with me if anyone was going to bother to tell me... So this sounds like more of the same).

As far as the challenge, I am fairly pleased. I never really mentioned much of it to dh and so I mentioned it over the weekend. I Said we saved close to $10k doing things "different." He didn't believe me in the least. LOL. It's funny. I'll break it out and show him when the year is over. IT is amazing how it all adds up.

I also am not stressing on the $10k thing. I would LOVE to make $10k. But um, if I think about it I know we have saved almost $1k easy (if not more) in saved gas and groceries this last year. We have changed our driving habits a bit and both our gas and grocery bills are down in times of rising costs. IT is a lot harder to quantify these results. But if my challenge only gets to $9.5k, I'll know we have done our part in more unquantifiable ways to bridge the gap of that last $500. I was trying to calculate gas savings with me just driving dh's car more but all I Could come up was like $5/month or something when I tried the math. I am obviously missing something big. Our gas bill has been on average $50-$100/month less than "usual." So I give up on trying to quantify it. Just have to take my word for it. (In general his car gets twice as good gas mileage and I have been drivibng it 2-3 days a week, if not more. Particularly on days I have to drive multiple places - preschool and aerobics and stuff). But dh used to HATE it when I drove his car and he has been better at allowing me to drive it - sometimes every day. The grocery savings is all him. I don't "do" groceries. Wink He has also mastered the art of $50 groceries which saves us 10 - 15 cents per gallon by store. Big Grin I Swear I don't know how he does it. The bill is usually $50.01 or something. LOL. & I tend to use them mostly in the van which holds twice as much gas. Yup, all that stuff adds up.

Heat

November 12th, 2007 at 02:09 pm

We haven't had to turn on the heat here. I can't believe it. Well into November.

On the other hand, we don't have a small baby this year and BM is content to run around the house in his shorts. (Takes after his father). We have racheted up the air and heat a bit more than usual in recent years having small kids around. Worrying if they are comfortable. I see a trend this year that we might lean towards keeping the house cooler. Suddenly the idea of keeping the house 60 doesn't seem so insane (we usually aim for 68). I think it is harder to justify 60 though when it just isn't that much colder outside though. If it were 30 outside, sure 60 would be divine. It's all I could figure why we are way too whimpy.

The weather has just been divine though. Coming from the land of "70 year round", Sacramento weather has been really hard for me to swallow. You can't step outside while the sun is out in the summer (though at least evenings are fair - phew). & spring may be okay but the allergy factor is horrendous. I stay locked up indoors. So October/November have been divine. It's been mostly in the 70s and we have been going for lots of walks. This is the weather I miss back home. If we moved to Oregon or something I just don't think I could handle it. I am weather spoiled. It could be a tie between the idea of moving so far from family and the weather, why we haven't made the move. I think the weather may factor even more.

Was hearing on the radio a while back - or maybe it was an article - weather is one of the smallest factors when you move. I cringed. When you come from the land of "70 year round" the weather will make or break you. It is clear to me I have to live in a southern coastal state orelse I may just melt. Hehe. Preferably west coast since I don't do humidity either. Ick.

Well, soon enough it will be cold and the heat will be running. Blech. It gets slightly colder here. Though I would say summer is 10 times worse than winter. But last year we did have some freezes. Lord I hope this is a sign of a milder winter. I don't do ice at all. Wink For the most part I would say winter mirrors back home, but maybe 10 degrees cooler. I think I can handle it. But it is just one more season I can't walk outside. So that's a bummer.



Christmas Downward

November 11th, 2007 at 08:22 pm

Talked to the in-laws today and they do not want any of what we were getting them for Christmas. They INSIST. So I think I can adjust my budget downward to $500 (original $600). & I really wouldn't be surprised if it ends up being lower. But gives me plenty of wiggle room.

The main part of the gift was going to be a donation in their name anyway, which they do not want at all. I'll probably make the donation anyway. I might donate whatever we come under the original $600 number. We'll just have to wait and see.

So Christmas plans are under way.

I wanted to do all the purchases this month so I will have dh pick up the kids' presents and I will have to grab the stocking stuffers.

Leaves December for donations and checks, and such. Buying a zoo membership for the in-laws too. (They said they'll take that - LOL - can take the grandkids anytime and get discounts and other area zoos).

We'll also still get them a calendar of the kids - they love that. Will at least be a surprise.

MIL wans to be helpful by picking up a G.C. for me for great-grandma. It's not particularly helpful since I rather put it on the card and pay it in January. I don't even have the cash to write a check this month. She'll just have to wait. Cash really screws up my credit card budget mentality. Yeesh. On the flip side, our little talk went a long way to shoring up Christmas details. IT will be a simple year. I like it simple!!

Eye Opening...

November 11th, 2007 at 05:06 pm

I've come to the conclusion that one year of reorganization can make up for a few years of bad money management. If not "bad", at least less than stellar...

It's interesting.

Just thinking about it as I ponder our 2008 budget, and forward.

I recently came to the conclusion to relax a bit on retirement. I have been trying not to rely so much on my boss's contribution and that is certainly a worthy goal. But I realized, while pondering the budget, that 10% of my income (even a little more) goes to preschool. Which is rather temporary. & the reason I want to hit retirement so hard is less because we need it today, but more for future planning. So thinking about it in these terms I realized both the easies thing and the most sensible thing to do is to consider the preschool money as retirement money. It means we can contribute 5% easy to retirement come this September when we go from 2 to 1 kid in preschool. & then in 2 years we have the 10% contribution easy (total). In the meantime I get 10% from my boss too. Is there any reason to rush it otherwise? At expense of other goals? Not really.

Kind of like a lightbulb went off in my head.

Anyway, thinking in these terms and looking at our savings plan for 2008 I realized for the most part we on track to save 1/3 of my income. Even if 10% goes to preschool in the interim. Well, not for long!!!

I also realized that on another level if we save 1/3 of my income, we are still living on the same income we made before kids. How bizarre is that? I feel like we have really been living up to our income. & we certainly have much more/more cushier lifestyle than we did 5 years ago! Plus we have 2 more mouths to feed.

But um, nothing has really changed. We haven't lived up to anything. We have done a lot of cost cutting measures in order make it on one income. Wow! It is just bizarre to come to this conclusion. I feel like in the interim we have been living up to our income and I have been fighting it every step of the way. Well, maybe all the fighting has been working better than I realized!

I have been running the #s through my head because it doesn't really make sense. But I think when we had 2 incomes we felt we had a lot more room to waste money. PLUS we have done so much planning that we have far more assets to fall back on, which means we rely on the income a little less. We have newer cars (so less worries about replacement costs in the interim). The cash in the bank earns decent interest which means some of our savings comes from that. Etc., etc.

It's, interesting.

On the flip side, we used to pay a lot more of our income to taxes. So though I may be saving 1/3 of my gross pay in a sense, I also take home a much larger percentage of gross than I used to. & that probably counts for inflation and the extra mouths to feed and all that. To be fair - we aren't doing THAT great. LOL. The tax factor is huge...

Well, I am sure I am missing something. But it's kind of my "aha" moment. Maybe we aren't doing so bad.

Our savings looks something like this:

3% retirement
10% Preschool (to retirement eventually)
13% Short Term Savings (escrow)
7% Mid Term Savings (house/cars)
--------------------------
33% Gross Income Saved
--------------------------

I also understand a large chunk is for short-term savings (to be used within the year). But, um, I wasn't saving that before when we dropped down to 1-income. Nor when I received about a 50% raise over time. So it's all money I wasn't making or saving before. Now I am making it and saving it. Big Grin

I still want to plump up retirement as much as I can, but am considering working more on cash reserves in 2008. With more cash reserves, we could more easily devote 100% windfalls to retirement. win-win-win. There is a bit of a psychological factor in it all. Of course the more we put to retirement now the bigger difference it makes. So it is a balance trying to figure out the best plan. But we're getting there.

On the flip side, the more cash reserves the laxer we feel on the budget. So part of me wants to put every last time I can to retirement. Forget cash. I guess the psychological factor can go both ways. & of course the more we put to retirement today, the easier it should be in the long run.

All stuff I have to think through. In the meantime it feels nice to think we are doing much better than we thought. BUT don't worry, I don't feel any more relaxed. The whole IRA max is really motivating to me. Because the more we put in there, the more is tax deferred. Which in the meantime encourages to try to save even more than the plan.

The other interesting factor is though my income has gone up so much, it shows little sign of slowing down. So saved raises will go a long way to get our percentages up in the interim.

I think my overall goal is that in about 3 years, when the kids are in school, I want to say to dh, "I don't care if you work." If he wants to buy new TVs and electronics and all that a faster rate, or if he wants to work on a career. He will have that freedom. (& I will largely say you want that stuff - you come up with the money). I want to be able to say that even if I no longer get 10% of my income from my boss in retirement that he does not have to work. He only has to work if he wants to go back to school or if he wants an elevated lifestyle. It's just one level in the path to financial freedom I guess. & I feel we are getting there quicker than I thought we would.

As stands it probably means I would hope not to need a second income in the least by age 32 (which ironically means by age 25 because that is the last time he worked anyway. But today we still think of it in terms as temporary. It has to crossover to a permanent thinking yet).

My goal is still not having to work full-time by age 40. Of course, if he decides to work and finds some success, I may be able to speed this up significantly.

It is interesting. Full blown retirement appeals little to me. I like working. But not "having" to work is certainly a different mindset - a worthwhile one.



Rent Vs. Buy

November 11th, 2007 at 04:55 pm

In case you ever thought I was full of crap when I said it was clearly cheaper to buy our first home and why we were eager to buy so soon. On a monthly basis it was FAR cheaper than renting. (Keep in mind dh and I kept our rents down to $400/month combined through college and 1 year out as a means to save up a substantial down payment. He lived with parents and I lived with roommates in a more "rent controlled" situation. Th average studio apartment was $1100/month at the time. I rented a huge room in a big house in a nice neighborhood but roommate had been there for a long time and so my rent was very low for the 6 years I did rent).

Home #1:

"Your home purchase breaks even after 0.2 years.

This is based on your home's equity minus a 6.00% sales commission paid to brokers or real estate agents when you sell your home. It also assumes your home will appreciate at 3.00% per year and you have an income tax rate of 25.00%. If you cannot remain in your home for at least 0.2 years you should consider continuing to rent.

We calculated your breakeven point by examining how long it would take to create enough equity in your home to exceed the value of investing your cash on hand. We also accounted for differences in your monthly rent and house payments. If your rent payment is less than your net house payment, we add that monthly savings to your investment. If your house payment is less than your rent payment we subtract that amount from your investment. You may notice that on the schedule at the bottom of this report the investment value can be reported as negative. This happens if your house payment is significantly lower than your rent payment. It illustrates that if you continue to rent the extra cost of renting would, in effect, use up your cash on hand.
Loan Information

Your total monthly payment was calculated as $1,867.39. Your down payment was calculated as $50,000 and you had a home price of $260,000. This is for a 30 year mortgage at 6.000% in the amount of $210,000. Total closing costs for this loan are estimated at $2,000.00.

Your current monthly rent is $2,800. The expected inflation rate of 3.10% annually was used to estimate future rent and property taxes. The rate of return use for investments was 10.00% per year a..."

Also note that that condo is worth today, a mere 8 years later, what the calculator projects it will be worth in about 2027 years. When you factor housing returns, it paid off even faster. You can argue housing is volatile, but the Bay Area has a long track record of large house appreciation. I don't expect it to be worth only $500k in 20 years, no matter what the market does. Unless the Bay Area becomes a waste land or something...

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

Our second house works out to be about the same though rents are considerably cheaper.

"Your home purchase breaks even after 1.2 years.

This is based on your home's equity minus a 6.00% sales commission paid to brokers or real estate agents when you sell your home. It also assumes your home will appreciate at 3.00% per year and you have an income tax rate of 15.00%. If you cannot remain in your home for at least 1.2 years you should consider continuing to rent.

We calculated your breakeven point by examining how long it would take to create enough equity in your home to exceed the value of investing your cash on hand. We also accounted for differences in your monthly rent and house payments. If your rent payment is less than your net house payment, we add that monthly savings to your investment. If your house payment is less than your rent payment we subtract that amount from your investment. You may notice that on the schedule at the bottom of this report the investment value can be reported as negative. This happens if your house payment is significantly lower than your rent payment. It illustrates that if you continue to rent the extra cost of renting would, in effect, use up your cash on hand.
Loan Information

Your total monthly payment was calculated as $1,647.61. Your down payment was calculated as $68,000 and you had a home price of $290,000. This is for a 30 year mortgage at 5.750% in the amount of $222,000. Total closing costs for this loan are estimated at $2,000.00.

Your current monthly rent is $2,500. The expected inflation rate of 3.10% annually was used to estimate future rent and property taxes. The rate of return use for investments was 10.00% per year after taxes."

It will also be worth what it is today in 25 years according to the calculator. I am not sure how much Sacramento as a whole will support higher housing prices. Curious myself. But um, future appreciation played no factor in our decision to buy. Our house already decreased in value $150k this last year and is still an easy $200k more than we paid in 2001.

If we rented the 2nd time we could have put $100k in the bank (at age 25). We still were better off buying. Even if we assumed the house only grew 3%/year.

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

I never said I wouldn't consider renting in retirement. When inflation is out of the equation. It would probably be the only way to enjoy all the money we earned on our house. Of course we intend to at least downsize in retirement. We really liked owning a condo and it was an interesting way to enjoy home appreciation while keeping costs down. (Or course we paid more for utilities, homeowners insurance and for homeowners fees in our condo. Property taxes were the same. & our current house is twice as big. So things aren't very apples to apples when you move hours away. We moved to limit all of these costs, which were ironically much higher in a small condo in an expensive city. I will take my big house any day. But a big house didn't stretch us - it was a way to simplify for us. Just an illustration how wildly these numbers will vary due to different factors. & why I get tired of hearing how bad big houses are. Our "big house" just might be our key to financial freedom at a very young age. Wink ).

Just an Update

November 11th, 2007 at 04:23 pm

Well I haven't really been feeling well all week. I think I am in a bad cycle. I was sick and then that passed. But I was feeling on top of things at work. Things have been going well. But November is a really slow month in the sense I am barely going into the office. So being sick really screwed me up. So I have been feeling really stressed, and then sick too as a result. Vicious cycle. Of course I have been eating rather well. But I was feeling so crummy I resorted to brownies and soda (I am a stress eater for sure). Which didn't help the cycle. I feel like crap.

Dh actually had a boys' night out last night. In another city. So I was alone feeling crappy. It wasn't so bad but I couldn't make it to the gym as I had planned (limited weekend babysitting). & so it goes.

I feel much better today. It has been raining. I told the kids we could go for a walk today and look for worms and snails. I think I need fresh air, and a little exercise, more than anything. Will try to eat a little better today too. HArd without dh but he should be home soon.

Sometimes I wonder how I could even function without dh. But I did have fun with the kids. They were really good.

BM did a focus group yesterday and LM and I went shopping. I never go shopping, and have been really lazy but needed a few things.

I also needed some hose. I have been putting them in the dryer and have ruined about every pair. I don't remember them all expiring at once like this, so I think it's the dryer. I usually don't dry my work clothes but with our new dryer I have a dryer bag for the small items, so I have been just tossing the bag of hose in the dryer with other things. So one measure I can do to save money is stop drying those things. Yeesh. Live and learn.

I also had to replace BM's mattress pad which dh melted in the dryer. LOL. It was only $20 at Target. Not bad. I thought we had paid a lot more for the waterproof variety.

Oh you'd be proud of me. I was so good at Target. Got some birthday gifts for a friend who is usually quite generous. So spent around $30. & I got BM a really cool shirt while we were there. But they had the CUTEST monkey pajamas everywhere. I can't say I'd resist so well if I saw adult ones (I didn't look). LOL. But for the boys or even for Christmas for my nieces. Oh, I resisted. I have $20 off at Kohls and maybe they will have monkeys too. Will have to go check it out today. I forgot about Kohls in my shopping.

They also had those "little miss" t-shirts, which I think are so cute, at Target for $9.99 (I have only seen them like $25-$30 prior). But they were just of a REALLY cheap quality. I just couldn't bring myself to buy it.

& I know I'll survive. Wink

I also don't know why I haven't been hitting the thrift stores of late. I don't know. For one, pants are such a chore for me to find in a right size, is a huge reason why. They don't always have rooms to try on clothes and I can waste a lot of money pretty quick buying pants in my size that don't fit in the least. BUT shirts are another story. & more sweaters and shirts do a lot more to mix up a wardrobe than adding more pants. Well dh picked up a few things and it inspired me. I just hate shopping so much. Why I avoid it... But um, I think next time I have the urge to go clothes shopping I have to make a pact with myself to hit the thrift store first. I should be able to find a few cute sweaters. & I am sure it beats the crap they sell at Target. (Oh I am quite sure. LOL). I used to buy more clothes there, but they just fall apart. It's great for the kids. Great and cheap. But for the adults, I am not so pleased.



You have GOT to be kidding me...

November 8th, 2007 at 03:48 pm

I was just perusing the paper while I was waiting for my turn in the shower, and I just about choked on what I read.

I can't find the article online, which is a bummer. So I can't share. (I'll keep an eye out). But it was an article about a Manners class for 2-5 year olds.

Where they learn not to bring toys to the table, to say please and thank you, to not talk with their mouth full.

The class is $75 for 6 sessions or about $17/hour.

Yes, people are willing to PAY this to teach their kids to be polite.

Are they out of their minds?????

I guess this particularly struck me as we have gotten A lOT of compliments/comments lately about how polite our kids are. I always scratch my head at that. Um, well, they learn by example. Since we aren't mannerless dolts I would expect them to not to be either.

I Can't say we put a lot of conscious effort into making them polite. so it boggles my mind a bit. I also had 2 different friends over for dinner in recent months who were amazed by the kids table manners, and as their kid ran about the room wildly, said they never made him sit at the table. I actually didn't give much thought to their non-table ways but also didn't exactly see what was so novel about a family meal experience. LOL. Both people thought we were so disciplined with our kids or something, making them sit at the table until we were all done. To us it's just normal civility.

So this article was just the icing on the cake. Paying to learn these matters. Wow!!!

Heck, maybe WE should start teaching some classes. People really pay for this? Hmmmm, a side income stream? Wink

I think mostly it's a sad state of society. & yeah I have seen relatively polite people put no effort into raising polite kids. So the more I think about it the more it bothers me. I am not sure if 6 weeks of classes will do much to make kids polite.

By the skin of my teeth...

November 8th, 2007 at 02:53 pm

I think this month will get by without having to dip into savings, just by the skin of our teeth. (Really not bad considering the $250 or so vacation expenses that I figured would have to dip into savings for).

Right now I am projecting a -$182 balance as of 11/30, in my checking. (If worse came to worse I'd just transfer that from savings and put it back when I got paid on the first).

BUT I will probably receive a $60 check for jewelry sold this month (score). I paid $33 or so for it but that is on the card. I also have a $10 rebate to deposit.

Leaves me about $112 short. Dh got a $15 focus group this weekend. Woohoo.

Puts my negative balance under $100 at least.

I wouldn't be surprised if my mom gives me $50 for Thanksgiving dinner. She usually does. For the rest, will have to hope for another big focus group this month. It's really all we are short.

I also have a lot of stuff to sell and would be nice to clean out some stuff before Thanksgiving. I have been really lazy. But between this and being SO CLOSE on the $20 challenge to reaching my $10k goal, maybe I should get on it. I could probably come up with $100 if I really tried. It's also a much slower month (phew) than the last few, and so maybe I could pen some articles.

Well, lots of options.

In October I transferred over $100 for a couple of days and then put it right back. Hopefully will get past that come January. Seems to be becoming a trend. Then again this is a high spend time for us. It gets so crazy busy at work Jan - April that we don't seem to spend much money (plus no birthdays or holidays. Certainly no vacations. LOL. It just gets real quiet here).

I have been going over our budget in my head, thinking ahead to 2008. It's probably a little premature since I have no idea where our health insurance premiums will land.

I think preschool is more of a monster than I imagined. Particularly since we really want to put them both in full days during tax season, which will bump up an average month to $650 or so. Yikes!!! On the flip side I will be able to squeeze out more overtime with them going full days. Dh usually picks up LM at lunch and is quite a drive for him so it is hard for him to help me in morning and evening. We we want to do full days. He can pick them up so I can work late, etc. The cost is more, but we will save so much in gas and it will interfere so much less with work, will have to look at the big picture. I guess it will cost about $100 extra a month.

I wanted to set aside $100/month for car purchase/house maintenance and $50/month for the kids. But am thinking of holding that off one year. I will have a good $3500 for the car/house fund regardless with overtime and interest. So I am thinking that is miles ahead where we are today and we can add that extra $100/month in 2009. I have been pondering that as part of the $100/month was I wanted to take care of some smaller stuff around the house now as we built it up. But it can wait. Certainly it can wait.

Kids certainly can wait. They each get $1k a year regardless and are invested in the market. I think preschool is a more important investment for them today and that will be over soon enough. We can catch up even, much more easily, when they are done. I can't believe just one more year for BM.

So I am thinking of trying to squeeze $200/month out of the budget to retirement next year. Unless I get a raise and can squeeze more. I think considering health care and such, $200 will be reasonable. It's probably around 3% of my income. In the grand scheme of things not completely grand. But I expect even at that rate that we will hit six figures in our retirement in the next couple of years. So I am not too worried to have one lax year. I guess the point is it is only one lax year. & considering where we have been, it will probably be a bit more than we have been doing anyway.

I am thinking when BM gets out of preschool I will have another $200/month easy. Just assuming I will need the other $125 of his monthly preschool tuition for school supplies and uniforms and such. We may be able to save much more of that, but want to be realistic all the same. When we are no longer paying for preschool he may want to go back into karate, etc.

Which means by the end of the year we'll be on track to max out dh's traditional IRA easy. With a raise next year we'll be well on our way to funding 1/2 my IRA as well, and that will be complete when LM gets out of preschool. Plus we'll have a little money to spare for his schooling expenses and extra-curriculars.

I guess that's pretty much our 2-3 year plan. I just eye that $650/month to preschool and know that will go a long way, if we can swing it, to savings down the road. I am just not 1000% we can stay on top of that for now. But we'll sure try. I have the money in savings that MIL gave me for school, to fall back on. & a good $3k-$5k to IRAs would not be a bad addition next year.

The other thing I have been thinking about this year is that we had a good year and I earmarked a lot of extra money for "fun" stuff. Next year will be harder to balance that out. On one hand, it will be BM's last year (or 9 months anyway) of freedom before the rigors & schedules of public school. So there is a lot we want to do with that freedom. Then again, with this whole preschool thing it is going to be one tight year. I can already tell it is going to be a hard year to find the right balance. How do we enjoy without going too overboard? At what point do we say, this is just one year. Hopefully the last tight year of our one-income years. Should we not enjoy it though our budget will be $325/month looser by October? Should I be fretting about retirement though it should hit six figures regardless? How many people my age have six figures in their retirement? Without a capable spouse working? Sometimes I wonder why I worry about it. We may be saving $20k/year with little effort when LM hits school and dh returns to work. ??? I certainly am not relying on that 1000% but sometimes I do wonder why I stress so much. I do stress way too much.









$20 Free at Kohls

November 8th, 2007 at 02:28 pm

Well I did my Christmas budget and came out about to a budget of about $600. What we ended up spending last year. Last year we spread it out over 3 months, and this year I am a little slow to the game. However, expect a lot of Christmas cash.

Figure we'll buy gifts this month (love to have them wrapped up by Thanksgiving - generally my goal. I don't do stress and all that and always strive to make Christmas relaxing as possible. Plus work is crazy, all the more reason to be ahead of the game so I can focus on work - if you must know the truth!).

I know, it's funny, I worked here 6 years and yet dh continually forgets that it is hard for me to get time off around Christmas. At my old job I always took a good week or two (had flex time and sure worked a LOT of hours the rest of the year). So it's been kind of bummer to only get one day off. Often working the weekends and such. BUT the last few years Christmas or our Christmas holiday fell on the weekend. So dh tells me we are doing our usual Christmas Eve thing and I am like, um, well I'll be at work. I feel like we go through this every year. As for me, I decided to take the week of Thanksgiving off every year. Doesn't cut so much into my vacation as a full week off, and is also nice with all the preparation as we host every year. We just have the most room. (& I LOVE a holiday where we don't have to drive 2 hours each way!!!) With Japan & Vegas that is out the window this year.

Oh anyway, as far as the budget, like $200 is for our families who were so extremely generous to us this year, and $50 to my boss's gift. He'll give me $200 or so, and I'll give $50. Seems fair. I really appreciate him. So yeah, that is about 1/2 the budget. There really is not a lot to it in the grand scheme of things. Presents in November and then December we will work on all the donations. I can put them on the card and pay them in January after we get all the Christmas cash - so though we are one month behind, I think it will work out just fine.

We also went through the kids' wish list and decided that they don't need much. We want to get a $40 train table for LM and could not decide on much for BM. But they get so spoiled we kind of just want to get them both one nice toy (& only that. We have piles of free books and games and such from Scholastic as well). I saw a $30 scooter and figured BM would LOVE it so will probably go for that. We were thinking of getting LM a leapster. BM has one and LM loves the thing (just getting old enough to use). But the new ones use a different battery charger so we were looking at $100 for the whole package. (Gee I wonder if the old games are compatible - I assume yes since dh did not mention but who knows). It would be very excessive, BUT LM generally gets little but hand-me-downs. I thought it would be a really nice gesture. We thought better of it though, and I think that is good. Dh mentioned BM is really outgrowing it and with the whole charger situation it just doesn't make sense. So we saved quite a few dollars there.

That leaves the next biggest item on my list to spoil my nieces. & I do have twice as many this year. Big Grin So my mom called me last night to say she had a $10 Kohls coupon (just a $10 minimum purchase - I LOVE those) and she was going to send it to me. Woohoo. I figure I might get one in the mail too. Keeping a sharp eye out. I can swing some cute outfits for the nieces with $20. So will cross my fingers on that.

In other news, it is *that* time of year. Time to see what our health insurance premiums bring. Blech... We're at $675 for a lesser plan and I can not imagine paying more. On the flip side, we are in a position now with all the permanent birth control measures to maybe keep the kids on this plan and dh and I would consider taking boss's crappy plan. Not happy about it and not even sure if we would save much money. But will have to evaluate again. I think it's something like $350 to cover the kids now and $250 to cover dh on boss's plan (I'd be covered). Plus dh's portion would be pre-tax, which is huge. So it is something to consider. That would be around a $100 savings perhaps, today. Just not sure it is worth it for much lesser coverage. Probably not... Higher deductibles and all that. (But I think the catch is no quite high enough to qualify for a HSA. Plus we really wouldn't save enough to heavily contribute - and so on).

Well, probably will know in a week or 2... I just DREAD this time of year. But some part of me thinks at least it can't be as bad as last year (40% increase for turning 30 last year!!!!!!). Of course, at $673/month, the usual 10-20% increase is too frightening to think about.

Bummer on the electric Bill...

November 7th, 2007 at 05:32 pm

Well, um, I did Fern's energy test thing last week I guess? & it said 94% of US households use more energy than us. I found that quite impressive considering there are 4 of us, we wash diapers and cook every day and someone is always home, etc.

On the flip side I wasn't terribly surprised because our house has a lot of energy efficient features (roof, insulation, windows, etc., etc.) and we have all CFLs throughout the home and all new energy saving appliances. We can easily go 1/3 the year if not 1/2 without turning on the heat and air either (Because of all the energy saving features AND milder weather here).

Anyway, I just go our bill and expected it to be dirt cheap since we were all gone one week this month. We barely used any electricity all of last week with the fam gone. BUT instead the bill would have been $60 after tax ($45 for the energy usage). Yikes! It was bigger than I expected - I expected more like $25 tax and all - if that.

The bill said we used 6 times as much electricity as we did the same time last year. & looking at the little graph of our electricity over the last year - gosh it looks awfully higher than usual this year.

I remembered that they were having problems with our meter and fixed it in March, right around a/c time, and our bills seemed a little higher than usual. So whatever. Maybe we were a but under billed.

BUT I mean our bills last Oct., Nov., Dec. were less than $20 each. LOL. (At least $15 of that is taxes & fees!!!!!!).

So, um we are on budget billing of $54/month now and I now realize this is not terribly realistic. This bill should have been the lowest of the low and it was $60!!

I have the feeling this figure will be raised with time. Won't get to used to it.

At this rate I would project our budget billing to be about $75/month.

To be fair we pay an extra $6/month for green energy, voluntarily. So will put our combined gas & electric around $100/month. Considering the size of our house, all that we do with people home all the time, etc., I still think this is rather impressive. But I think our 94% # is a bit inflated. Wink I'll probably wait for a whole year of corrected billing and try that again. See where we really stand.

Oh yeah the other funny thing is I saw last night something about unplugging all your computers and game systems would save you $20/month in electricity. I had to laugh. My dad is an engineer and told me this was a big pile of BS a while back (we were asking about cell phone chargers - unplugging them). Anyway, I was like, if my bill went down $20/month it would be $0. are they kidding? Well, even with a $45 bill, I still don't buy it. But it makes a tad more sense today. Wink

YEah we did unplug our cell phone chargers and all we got is a big bill. Yeesh.

But yeah, looking at our bills last fall I totally see why the electric company came out and thought something was wrong. I used to just look at the bill total, and they have always been rather low. But yeah, they were obviously under the realm of reasonable once you consider all we were really paying was the service charge, greenergy charge and taxes. I think we were lucky they didn't go back and charge us for under-billed electricity in the past. I have no idea what is up with that.

But now we have a challenge to reduce our electricity. We suddenly have much more room for improvement.



Saved Parking Money

November 7th, 2007 at 03:28 pm

$20 challenge:

$9,171.87 - Balance 11/4

$ 15.00 - Saved parking expense

------------------
$9,186.87 - Balance 11/5
------------------

Um, well, I had a class downtown and it ocurred to me maybe the night before that it would be nice if dh could drive me and I could avoid parking and all that. But he is NOT a morning person and thought better of it. LOL. When I was on maternity leave and such we did this a lot because we were way too poor for a day of parking downtown.

Anyway, in the morning the kids got up well before dawn (still on Florida time - time change does NOT help) and so I mentioned it to dh offhand. I was surprised, but he was game. Anything to save a dollar!

So I decided to add it to the challenge. Something we have done before, but not very consistently. Saved at least $15 on parking. Gas was minimal since we live so close to downtown. (Now that I think about it I would have to drive anyway - duh).

Well the social security class was VERY interesting. I learned much. Will have to share snippets over time (just so much).

Beyond that I got some stomach bug - or food poisoning yesterday. It has just been horrid. I am not sure if I am up to work today. I am feeling better by the minute so I might try to go in the afternoon. I felt pretty weak this morning. We'll see. I had something very similar last month, but since it is just me this time I wonder if I had food poisoning. Frown This also feels like most of my pregnancies, and so every last bit of baby fever I had about my newest niece just went out the window. I was just telling dh I can't believe I agreed to it a 2nd time. LM is swell and everything but lord knows why I agreed to be sick for 9 months again. I must have had hope it wouldn't be so bad the 2nd time. Now I know better. Oh yeah so since this is the time I found out I was pregnant both times (around 4th of November) I think that is why I was really thinking back to my pregnancies. Deja vu. (& no I am not pregnant - 100% - phew!!!!!)

Credit Card Rewards

November 5th, 2007 at 03:52 am

$20 challenge:

$8,921.87 - Balance 10/25

$ 250.00 - Credit card rewards

------------------
$9,171.87 - Balance 11/4
------------------

Just redeemed my $250 cash rewards from Chase. Big Grin

Will cover our Vegas airfare nicely. Otherwise I'd have to say I'd probably save it. Crazy month and all...

Makes it $500 official for the year and a good $1200 with interest and gift cards and such. A good year for the cards. This has been a huge part of the challenge as I just accepted 1% back and was happy for that, in the past. A good $100/month is way more profitable. Took little effort...

I can't help but giggle when I come across the extreme anti-card blogs and radio shows and such. (Dave Ramsey comes to mind). Hate your cards all you want but I'll take the CASH!!! (I also snort at the idea of the credit card companies getting a flipping dime from me. As if! I've made it 14 years and feel quite confident I can figure it out. Wink )

Extra Money

November 2nd, 2007 at 07:26 pm

I am not sure about November/December as a whole but October was tight. I don't expect it to be much better.

But luckily today we had good money news.

Dh got a call about a focus group for $75. I guess who knows if he qualifies, but they don't really seem to care anyway. So desparate for people we both did the same one (not sure they really wanted 2 people from the same household... yeesh).

Dh is all disgusted with them since he is a marketer himself. Oh he thought the last focus group was just horrid. He talks about getting hired over there and fixing them. Not only are they so desparate for participants that they bend all the rules, but their questions were pretty awful. Lots of leading questions, and all sorts of stuff. So since we both did the same one I got to hear dh rant and rave about all that was technically wrong with it. Probably more than I care to hear - LOL.

So yeah, I figure odds are they will have one for him soon enough. They call him all the time. Me, not so much.

I also sold $54 in jewelry so made an easy $27 this morning.

All good for the budget. Big Grin

I was horrible on the overtime with the fam gone since I worked all weekend and then took a good chunk of the week off. LOL. Defeat the purpose. But I had fun. November is a weird month. A little slow and lots and lots of days off. I have so many days off I think I will probably have to work some OT to keep ahead of the curve. I need to catch up on much and December will be terribly busy. But all through November I only come to the office 2-4 days each week. IT's just a weird month. Thanksgiving, Vegas, and lots of continuing education courses out of the office. Those are always easy days too. I am enjoying. If I did something as simple as 4 hours OT each week though then I could make another $400 or so. Something to consider. I don't think it would put me out much as I will barely be at work anyway.

I also think Thanksgiving will be rather simple this year. So phew. My mom and I were just saying last night it would be silly to cook a turkey for 6. Think we'll just go with ham or something. KEep it simple. MIL is all into turkey and fancy and on and on, but it's our house and if we others coming over this year (all the extended family is busy) then who cares. I am going for SIMPLE. Big Grin IF dh wants fancy then it is all his (I think he did most of it last year. But I don't mind helping more if it is simple!!!)

HEck, my family would be happy with pizza or something.

Florida

November 2nd, 2007 at 01:11 am

Well, I am pleased with this Florida trip thus far. Talked to dh and they return tomorrow. Anyway, he said he hadn't spent a dime all week.

As generous as his parents were, it was a pretty cheap trip all around.

Airfare - paid for 5 with miles.

Hotel - paid for condo with timeshare points (I will never understand them and their time share(s). They love it and we get to use it all the time for free. Hey, if they are happy. The cruise we went on was also free through all that. I get the feeling if you look at what they spend on that crap it isn't such a great deal. Why would I get that feeling???).

Disney World - Dh and his dad used our tickets for 2000. We could not remember if we used one or 2 days then (was a 4-day park hopper which we bought because it cost little more than a 2-day park hopper - and never expires. Good move. We had so much money back then as compared to now too - LOL). They checked at the end of the day and s'posedly still 2 days left? Well I swear we went 2 days in 2000. Just bizarre. We will have to go again. Maybe sooner next time. Anyways, LM was free and MIL must have paid for herself and BM.

They went to Gator Land and MIL paid.

I think that was about it. They were going to go to Sea World but didn't make it.

His parents paid for all the meals. He said he would try to buy dinner tonight. Might be in the $200 range with all his family there, but hey, a week for him and the 2 kids in Florida for around $200. What the heck. Not bad!!!

The most ironic thing though was I was telling dh that I wanted to take vacation with the kids next year. I complain about work interfering with my time with them enough and then I took 2 weeks vacation without them and they went off a week without me. & all mostly due to family last minute plans. We have been saying we don't want to say yes to all this next year. We need a break. BUT it is hard to say no. We aren't big vacation people and it looks like we will have spent around $1200 when all is said and done between cruise, Japan, Vegas & Florida this year. Yes a steal for all we have done. But considering we didn't plan and had little time to save it has not been good for us financially. Since our annual vacation budget is pretty much $0. We are usually happy with day trips to the surrounding cities since there is so much to do around here.

So anyway, one thing we had been talking about doing is doing a family camp thing near Yosemite. I don't remember why we were talking about it, but it is relatively cheap and the kind of cheaper/local/down to earth thing we envision ourselves doing more than jetting to HAwaii/Florida/Japan all the time. Obviously not in our budget on one income. So it was so funny his mom mentioned on the way to the airport that she wanted us all to go to San Jose family camp. (I think it is just about the same thing we had been looking at - she said it was near Yosemite or something). I think that's a cool idea. The kids will love it with Grandma/Grandpa and I will get a simpler vacation with them. Plus the kids are freaking spoiled. They need a dose of reality if you ask me.

We also did not expect LM to get much from Disney but he absolutely LOVED it and BM got so much more this time than last year. So we are talking about going there next May with the kids. DisneyLand that is. Kind of a last hoorah before BM starts school and gets busy with schedules and all that. If nothing else I'll get a decent overtime bonus. Maybe even a raise too. I think we can save up some pennies. In our younger days our trips to So Cal were always very rushed and cheap. We don't want to rush it this time. But we might be able to swing a free place to stay with the timeshare thing. We'll drive. The park is expensive but we can eat out of the park and all that stuff we did last time to save money. We might make a few days of it. I don't think it will be an extraordinarily expensive vacation. Just expensive for our tastes I guess. But heck. LM will be free if we go right before he turns 3. He'll enjoy. & May is after tax season and before the crowds of summer.

But yes, I am all excited about that now. Dh was so cute, he called me like 10 times from Disney and kept telling me it wasn't the same without me. Ahhhhhhhh..... I had been to Disney with BM and didn't expect LM to even want to ride anything. So I didn't think I'd really miss much. But LM was one brave little dude I guess. So I think that is why I am all geared up about going again so soon. I missed out. Frown IT's like a do over or something.

I am not sure about next year (except diverting some of my excess overtime to vacation). But after next year I think we'll have to start a vacation budget. I have really resisted it. We're not vacation people but as long as our families keep tempting us we need something more in place. I think my parents did a better job of having an "all expense paid trip" - then my last trip with MIL anyway. But all the same, the inevitable part of all these trips is you feel like a tightwad not to be able to contribute a dime. No matter how you slice it they cost money. & if we save up for better them we save tons by taking advantage of so many paid for trips! Big Grin

I would also love to save up some money to take BM with me to Japan next time. I had too much fun there. I am getting a taste for travel I guess...

Back to Reality

November 2nd, 2007 at 12:42 am

Well I had a really nice couple of days but tomorrow is back to reality for me!

I went to work for a couple of hours yesterday and drove to the Bay. I think the powers that be had it out for me since I said "I won't be driving on any bridges." Dh called me (or maybe I called him?) somewhere along the way and I got so distracted, next thing I know I feel like I went too far. Just didn't look right. I told him I think I missed my turnoff to the other freeway and I better go. Of course no sooner then I Decide to turn around I am already crossing a nasty bridge. LOL. All I could think was I am too young to die! LOL. But I guess it wasn't my time.

Well luckily it wasn't. I then had to turn around and go back across and pay $4. Yeesh. An expensive mistake...

I eventually found my way and spent the day with my SIL and nieces. They were both adorable. The 2-week-old took a nice nap on me and the 3yo was a nice distraction since I miss the fam so much!!!!!

Had a nice evening with my parents and enjoyed a peaceful night. (I just don't sleep so well home alone).

I got in the car around 6:15am - running a little late and didn't even think that it is fog season. Usually the drive into Sacto in the morning is just beautiful with the sunrise. I didn't expect much with the stupid daylight savings (love it on the spring end but not on the fall end). So probably why I dragged my feet this morning. Barely saw a glimpse of the sunrise though as I ended up in AWFUL fog. I was lucky I rolled into my mutual fund seminar right at 8:30 (start). Phew. Was really slowed by all the fog. & it was a little scary.

Oh but the good thing about the fog was my window started working again!!!!! All I could figure was it was the moisture in the air? Lord knows. But it works for now and that is good enough for me.

The class was interesting. It was more basic, but I LOVE mutual funds so I enjoyed regardless. & I am sure I learned a few new things. Overwhelming all the same.

Had to pay $11 parking and spent $7 or so on lunch. I had planned for it - a lazy day I guess. But I went to Round Table to get the lunch special. There were a million people there (crowded!!!) waiting for pizza buffet and the like and the lady tried to sell it to me. All I know was the pizza, salad bar and soda combo was $6.69 or something. But she wanted to sell me the buffet for over $8. Um, and why would I do that? The lunch is PLENTY as is. & the line for pizza didn't look too fun. I did not even finish it all. So, nice try. LOL. (My pizza came to me right as I finished my salad so was totally the way to go too).

IT just annoys me my other Sac class is downtown and I wouldn't be surprised if that was $20 parking. Blech. There have been so many facilities without expensive parking. To be fair though, often they have us way out in the boonies at this beautiful hotel, but the gas is probably more than the $11 I spent today. Something to keep in perspective I guess. The class is for my professional license and was paid by the boss so win-win. The instructor today also mentioned he rarely gets young folk in these classes. What a shame!

I also had wanted to have a low-spend week and avoid getting gas, but I didn't realize how low I was on gas. I had to fill up on San Jose. Got a 1/2 tank and should do though.

Oh yeah - tomorrow is back to reality. Work. & the fam returns. But that is cool - I am excited about that!!!!!!! I also don't intend to work this weekend. & I have a class Monday on social security.

I was also annoyed with dh when I got home because I got a $100 cable bill. (& November is tight as is). He told me it was going down $20 and it went up $20?????????? I pulled out the notice that I never looked at and I saw the new price he saw for the cable/internet bundle (like $60) BUT it is not what we have. Doh.

The weird thing though is that they charged us for this new "basic service" which is really expanded basic. But they didn't remove the basic. When I look at the form they sent us it looks like the regular basic is just an option only available to people in certain neighborhoods (like ours). My impression is that you can opt into that instead of the expanded basic package (it cost 1/3 as much but nowhere does it really say what it is - just that it is only available to certain homes). I think they probably screwed up. Like we have the option but why would we want it? That's what it sounds like. Since the new expanded one should cover it? So dh will have to square that away next week. I think it looks like we can easily switch down to the $60 package. Or drop the basic thing and keep our bill the same. Oh yes, dh will love this!!!! But he'll work it out. No way I am paying $100. If it comes to that we'll switch. Their e-mail service has been HORRID but generally their customer service is good as well as the price (beats something like comcast by a mile). So we'll see what happens. I was so peeved when I saw the bill though. I thought dh was all wet and wondered what the heck he had seen. I feel like now they screwed up though I am more confused than anything, for the most part. YEs, the bundle service is a great deal IF we had it. IT depends if dh could give up the friggin "basic" basic, whatever that is anyway. ??? I am like, so we are the only ones priveleged to pay extra for that? & why didn't they just charge us the bundle and then add "basic" basic to it? That would be cheaper than our old bill. Oh no, that would be too easy... YEs, it seems there are many options to clear this up. Threatening to leave might help too. They were great for a while. Just not so great lately...