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Archive for May, 2008

Net Worth Update

May 31st, 2008 at 10:46 pm

Plugged things in and am making small progress.

Keep in mind, my goal is to increase net worth by $25k-$30k this year.

As of 5/31, I am up $4900.

I just got a statement on the kids' 529. Their investments are officially down $500 for the year.

You can argue if there money should be included, but I figure the more we put in there now the less we have to come up with later, so I count it, for now. For the long run I am sure we won't.

Retirement is up about $3300. We have contributed about $3300 this year, so basically I think it is safe to assume our investment return has been 0%, thus far this year.

We have paid $1600 off of our mortgage (just regular payments).

Oh, and cash is up $500. Our mid-term fund is doing well, but our short-term fund is in the red, for now. It fluctuates much, but makes our cash savings look pitiful for the moment.

I can pretty much break it down to:

$3300 Retirement Contributions
$1600 Mortgage Payments
$ 500 Cash Increase
$(500)Loss on 529s
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$4900
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With the market the way it is, our goal will be very hard to meet this year. (Which just means we need to make up for it in good stock years...)








Preschool Expenditures...

May 30th, 2008 at 02:10 pm

I did it!

I paid the last monster preschool bill. Woohoo.

& that temporary expense is long gone. Phew.

Anyway, it worked out rather well. Ms. Preschool called me yesterday and asked if I could bring the kids T/Th in June.

I looked at the calendar and that would be one less day to pay than M/W.

Woohoo.

So I wrote a check for $560 this month. Not so bad.

I peeked what this meant for July. With the switch back to M/W there will be an extra day to pay for July. & it is a long month. BUT one week is free (owners on vacation) and BM is only attending for half the month.

So July will be $420.

Average month is $600.

I upped my short-term savings to $1k in July, and going forward (diverted $100 of the savings).

I also considered adding $100 to our IRAs in July. I was just setting up everything in Quicken.

I decided to hold off. June is going to be another expensive month with our camping trip, Father's Day, our big date night, etc. July will be a little pricey with Birthdays (maybe). I figure I would earmark the $100-$200 saved for birthdays and camping. Seemed fair.

But August is it. I still haven't decided if I will fund IRAs or bulk up mid-term savings a bit. Or both.

Decisions, Decisions.

I am inclined to bulk up the savings instead. We've got about 12% going to retirement and majorly lack in the "big purchase" savings department. We have for years, but not sure how much longer our luck will hold out.

Then again I had been toying with the idea of doubling our IRA contributions now and doubling them in January (if possible).

We could also commit the entire $200 monthly to cash savings and then know we will have $300/month for IRAs, come 2010 when LM graduates preschool.

I think that is probably our best best since our retirement seems well enough on track. I just have a large urge to save more aggressively for retirement. But I don't want to do that at the cost of our shorter-term financial health.

It's probably the one area we have floundered with, since living on one-income. We haven't saved much cash. Last year I was able to build a decent emergency fund, but things have slowed. We don't have near enough cash outside that when you consider our appliances are aging, our cars aren't getting any younger, our house will need painting soon, the fence needs to be replaced (builders put in crap), etc., etc., etc.

Of course the major reason things have slowed is because we have had 2 in preschool, for a good 9 months or so. So I am optimistic to get back to a much faster savings clip.

July it will be nice to have a little more cash, but August will just be divine with that extra $300. Woohoo!

In a Bloggy Mood

May 28th, 2008 at 07:56 pm

Yikes. Guess I am in a bloggy mood today...



I whipped up some muffins at some point over the weekend, and had forgotten the leftovers. So grabbed them for breakfast this morning.

I probably already blogged this in the past, but I just LOVE that jiffy hasn't change the look of its packaging, like ever. For it's blueberry muffin mix.

Love the quick/simple treat. But have blogged often how I am sick of going to the store and trying to find plain pepsi in a sea of 50 different kinds of pepsi, and same for the toothpaste, etc. I go mad.

So kudos to Jiffy for keeping it simple. Some of us like it like that. Big Grin

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

I also had another topic to write on.

Being in California has been interesting since we were in the thick of the tech bubble, when we lived in San Jose, and now we live in the thick of the housing bubble, in Sacramento.

But interestingly, I had some thoughts that I don't see mentioned much in the media.

The tech bubble probably would have ended much worse, but people started dipping into their homes, much to survive. Sure, I have seen more than my fair share of excess when it comes to home equity. But the reason a lot of people started borrowing way over their head was because of the tech bubble burst. I can hardly think of a family I know that didn't face lay offs in 2002-2004. Significant, long layoffs. Even up here in Sacramento. My dad has never been laid off more than like a month in his life and he was out of work well over a year. We figured much of that had to do with age, but employment opportunities have been booming for him the last year or 2. So it seems it was more economy than anything.

So to be fair, a lot of people around here started digging into their homes, merely to stay afloat.

I was thinking about this since quite a few friends are starting to face layoffs, and lament they have barely recovered from the last round.

& so I do have to sympathize.

I was googling the subject a bit and didn't see much. California stastics showed 7% unemployment level at the peak. Today we are already wooshing past 6%.

IT's all a little deja vu.

I think this makes this forecasted recession much scarier. I am not sure how people will get through this round. The debt solution is pretty much gone.

I don't know.

I am surprised there is not a lot more observation about this though, in the media and in other blogs, etc.

OF course, "significant" and "long" are relative terms when it comes to layoffs. I Was perusing California unemployment data and it hit 10% for much of the 70s and 80s.

Ouch.

So anyway, I am back to, "Who couldn't see this coming?" Who could live in this area and not see this mess unfolding?

I guess a lot of people!

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

That kind of reminds me I haven't seen gas up past $3.99, like gas stations were hesitant to raise above $4. Well today as I drove to preschool I noted $4.10 gas and $4.15 gas at the cheapie gas stations.

WOW!

I can only imagine what the Chevron on the corner here has gone up to. I'll have to look when I leave work tonight. IT had been holding steady at $3.99, prior.

& this reminds me, when all the gas hype started, I think where I Was with the housing bubble. "Who couldn't see this coming?"

Or maybe I just feel behind the times. Gas has taken quite a chunk out of our budget in recent years. I think we felt the pinch much stronger earlier in our one-income years (it had risen more percentage-wise in the years I had my children). So I found this all rather predictable, felt we were nowhere near the worst, and was unsure why the sudden panic. Though obviously we have reached a tipping point for the masses; I reached my personal tipping point LONG ago. PRobably what it mostly comes down to.

But I do admit that today my jaw dropped when I saw Arco for $4.10. Knew it was coming, but egads.

Likewise, I feel much the same about healthcare. Everyone is freaking out, and I wonder where the hell they have been. Where was the panic when rates increased 300% in a few short years? Not that they have for everyone. But in 2003 it was in the ballpark of $200/month to have full insurance coverage and small co-pays, for us. Now we pay $800/month for the privelege of giant copays and less coverage.

I feel like I should have invested in healthcare stock the last decade, and not be so proud of our efforts to keep housing costs down. For the short term, housing is decreasing greatly, and I am not sure how long until our healthcare costs more than our mortgage. Ouch! The interest on our mortgage is $1k monthly, so it's getting pretty close. At least the principal on our mortgage is a return on capital. But it makes our healthcare look that much more astronomical to look at it that way.

Anyway, with all this running in my head I am not sure what it is. I think just being a major planner and forward thinker means I panicked long ago about all of this stuff and have had time to adjust. It's all I can figure...

Every time I pick up the paper, all I Can think is, "Old News..."

Gas prices are insane and the healthcare system is bankrupting families. Well, where have you all been? I've been here for a while.

Maybe I should start making predictions of the economy. Hmmm... Though I have nothing to predict for now. Healthcare is the thorn in my side, for now. But I'll give you a heads up if I find a new thorn. Wink

Actually, I just thought of it. Income taxes on the elderly. You'll be hearing a LOT more about that in 5 years. I'll be yawning at the headlines, as usual.

(I do need to do a post on that - I really do. I guess I have a fair amount of insider info - preparing taxes and all).

Oh I can assure you the next thorn in all of our sides will be taxes, taxes, taxes. Maybe I should start blogging about that. Seriously.

But back to gas, yeah. I used to drive home every day for lunch. Every single day. I stopped in 2006 because gas prices had just gotten so out of control. So 2006 was a bad gas year for our family (well years like 2002-2006 slowly creeped up to that point). It's just something I Could probably never justify again. I miss that luxury. I just held out until my youngest weaned from breastfeeding. Probably would have cut back on the gas sooner, otherwise.

For now we budget $300/month for gas which gives us quite a bit of wiggle room. We can stretch it farther by driving the van less and the compact more. So that gives us lots of wiggle room. When our gas bills regularly exceeds $300/month is probably our next tipping point. At this rate it is not terribly far away, but I have already made the major sacrifices for gas prices, a couple of years ago... SO for that, it is old news to me. Our next step would maybe be selling the van (far more gas guzzler than I ever imagined) and/or carpooling more. Driving to see family less, etc. Just not there yet. Phew. Though I find those all to be rather small sacrifices except for the big one - less affordable to see our family. That is what I dread, and is already affecting our driving decisions...

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

Well, in other news, dh and I are planning an elaborate date. Oooohh la la.

I got an e-mail about a comedy show coming to a small theater in the city. I have a friend who was in some productions, but haven't talked to her in a while, so wondered if she was involved. Anyway, I mentioned to dh that it looked interesting, and he said he had wanted to go see it - his friend was the Director.

Well, lah de dah.

The tickets will be $25 for the 2 of us, so really quite a splurge for us.

Plus the daycare.

I am a little uneasy since it is only on Fri/Sat night, on the later side. Kids stay up late, so no biggie, but we have been taking advantage of the drop-in care at slow times. So it will be a test to drop them off on a busy night. BM is fine, but LM much more timid. He needs more one-on-one care. But he does good with his brother. We'll see. Not sure it's any preferable to see out a babysitter we don't really know. They love the place at least.

I guess this will turn into a true test of our "freedom." The ability to drop the kids off and go out on a Fri/Sat night sounds absolutely divine. A luxury long ago forgotten...

I think with BM we have reached "freedom." I still worry about LM a bit too much...

Of course, I thought while we were downtown, what we really needed to do was to dine at our favorite upscale Indian restuarant. We rarely go because of the prices, but the food can not be beat.

The night will easily be $100, probably more. With show, daycare and food. But I think it will be a nice splurge.

Well we haven't picked a date for our date yet. Sometime in June. I do look foreard to that.
















$75K

May 28th, 2008 at 01:20 pm

I was just updating Quicken and noticed our retirement balance is a solid $75k. For now anyway.

This is actually my gross salary for the year. So one years' saved!

Of course, the interesting thing about measuring your goals in terms of salary, is that I for one, had already met this goal last year (maybe the year before). Likewise, in past years I way exceeded this goal (because my income was much smaller...)

So though $75k is a new milestone for me, I can't say the one year salary saved is a new or exciting milestone... It is turning into an impossible moving target that makes me feel a little at a standstill.

If dh returned to work tomorrow it would be a long road to save up one year of salary.

Which probably illustrates much why I so love the idea of measuring progress against "annual expenses."

I guess this idea particularly makes sense for us.

In school we both made $10k annually. Out of school we made $60k combined, and that quickly climbed to $100k.

But then we slowed down for kids and lived a couple of years on $45k (the years I took maternity leave anyway). But my full salary was a mere $50k when I had my first child. In the meantime, my income has ballooned to $75k rather quickly. Though a good chunk of the last decade we really made less than $60k. So it is hard to measure progress in terms of an ever growing income.

Of course, no complaints on the ever-growing income. Wink

But our expenses, on the other hand, have remained rather steady. Probably a bit of a jump when we bought our first home (okay, a significant jump since we lived on pennies before that). & probably a bit of a jump when we had kids. But overall our expenses have remained rather steady and predictable. So we find that a much better measure of our forward progress.

We generally live on $50k-$60k annually (after taxes) so we are trying to grow our net worth half of that, annually. ($25k-$30k/year). If our income grows astronomically (possible, could double if dh returned to work) and our expenses remain the same (possible) than we really need to work on goals that support our lifestyle, not our income. So this is where a lot of our thinking on expenses comes in. Income means little to us. (Which is the ideal!)

But $75k is a milestone, indeed. Of course, I was wondering, recently, when our cash and retirement would hit $100k. I think we will probably hit it in 2009. Not so sure on 2008. But we'll see. (We have a fair amount of cash, in addition to our retirement investments).

We've also paid a good $90k off our house. So our more liquid assets seem to be neck and neck with how much we have invested in our house.

I expect that to change greatly in the future. Our goal in the nearer future is to put away $10k/year to retirement, in addition to 10% contributed at my job. So ideally our retirement will be growing $18k/year or so, plus investment returns, while we are only paying the minimum on our mortgage, about $4k principal every year.

I think our 20s was our decade of home ownership. & we have accomplished a chunk there. I would like our 30s to be the decade of retirement funding. Big Grin Which is also why I don't sweat the mortgage prepayment. We worked very hard while young to keep our mortgage costs down (putting a chunk down and paying it off aggressively). That work will save us tens of thousands, if not more, in the long run. So it feels like it is off to the next battle - Retirement!

Likewise, I look forward to do the day our cash/investments far exceed our mortgage.

Well, we're getting there.

Anyway, I don't think we will put $10k to our IRAs anytime REAL soon. My goal is about $1500 this year, and $5k next year. But I think we may make it in 2011, when LM is entirely out of preschool. Working up to it. So though our goal is $10k/year, to IRAs, we got a ways to go.

Of course, in our 20s, retirement was only a mere afterthought, after the token 10% contributions we have always done. So I look forward to what we can do with retirement as the forethought. I expect to zoom ahead rather quickly... In fact, my roundabout goal has been $150k in retirement by age 35... (So doubled in 4 years?). Kind of aggressive, but doable.




Game Collector/Electronics Galore

May 28th, 2008 at 12:12 pm

My dh is going to buy some kind of Nintendo(?) game system for $40 today. Used, with a pile of games.

He told me last night and I think I was only half listening. Then I said, "Huh?????" That woke me up.

I said, "Dude. How many game systems do you have? Seriously."

So he starts listing them all off and we counted 10. & today we will be proud owners of 11.

But I am okay with this. In the grand scheme of things it is a cheap hobby. I just hadn't really realized what a collector he had become.

He also wants to buy a Wii, when they come down in price, of course. Wink He'll probably get one for Christmas in a year or 2.

So yes, my spouse, the game system collector.

The funny thing was he tried to tell me he really only used 2-3 regularly. He just doesn't want to sell the old ones. Perhaps trying to defend himself. I said, "That is not true." Which I actually prefer if he has all this "junk," that he uses it. Except for 2 extremely old game systems he keeps for sentimental reasons, I think all of them get pretty good use. I will give him that.

Likewise, he doesn't buy new games, which is the expensive part of gaming.

So at face value I know many people would think, "OMG - 10 game systems???" and think $$$$$$. But really, it's kind of the opposite. I am amazed at how well some of these were made. Dh bought a great number used, but some of these systems were made in the 1980s. So it is a slow accumulation over time.

As far as the games, for the longest time he subscribed to game rentals similar to netflix. Which is perfect for most games, that are his style anyway. In the last year or 2 he has been selling his old ones for credit at the used store and buying newer games on credit. So the cash flow has been about 0 on the game front. We also get free game rental coupons with our blockbuster online movie rental subscription. He is generally content with one game at a time, and has quite the collection from when we were young and had more cash flow. So it is not an expensive hobby in that regard.

Likewise, our PS2 has always functioned as our CD player and he primarily bought the PS3 for the Blu-Ray player. So they double in function in that regard.

But what do we have?

*Gameboy & Gameboy Advance - I am not sure he uses the old Gameboy at all. The Advance has largely been replaced by the DS2, but I know dh and BM play some games on here occasionally.

*DS2 - This is a FUN toy. We ALL play with it. Maybe LM not so much. (It's a portable system like the Gameboy). Doubled as a TV on our road trip (some kid shows downloaded onto it).

*PS2 - We have a lot of games on this that the kids love - from our childless/bigger cash flow days. We have the snow boarding games which I LOVE, and BM has taken to. We have a really cute muppet game. Dh plays all his big games on this.

*GameCube - There was some reason for this purchase that I don't remember... It gets used for certain games.

*PS3 - used as a movie player more than anything. But dh and BM play games on here.

*PSP - dh got this used rather recently (in trade) and it has all sorts of fancy uses beyond gaming. Don't even ask me what they are. I don't remember but I think dh watched TV wireless - could be HDTV quality. Not sure. He had it modified for some wireless capabilities. He gets all excited about that stuff, I don't even remember what it does. LOL.

*Nintendo - he already has 2 systems. One that is I believe defunct, and one that he has set up upstairs on some old TV. He has a few kids games that they love, up there.

*Atari - defunct. Though I think he would love to set it up. It's just sitting in a pile for now. Not sure how usable it is.

& that's 10...

But yeah, I can say most of this stuff gets regular use. So I will give him that.

Hard to believe, but we don't play video games every day. We REALLY limit with the kids (like 20 minutes at a time - they are so young). Dh used to spend days playing video games, so he has REALLY cut back. He may play a lot while I am at work, but it's not anything I notice him spending an inordinate amount of time on.

I know, hard to imagine with all those games...

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However, thinking about it, it reminded me of our computer situation.

I probably am rather biased since I am from Silicon Valley and our dads collect computers and computer parts.

But I remember being on an online community like a decade ago and I remember when anyone talked about money problems people would come back and say, "well if you are so poor - how do you have a COMPUTER." I remember always laughing at that. Were they serious? I could find a computer pretty quick for free if I Was willing to go used or hand-me-down.

I always thought maybe the internet subscription was more worrisome, to someone who was really broke. Wink Anyway the idea that only rich people had computers, was foreign to me. Though I am no spring chicken I have always had a computer. I got my first one when I was 3 or 4 (a hand-me-down, of course).

But anyway. Likewise, I have heard the topic come up often how horrible and excessive and expensive it is for kids to have computers.

I sheepishly think, both my kids have computers. LOL.

But we just buy quality and keep everything forever. We have 5 computers, 4 in use. I don't even remember the last time we bought a computer, except for the laptop we bought much more for luxury, in 2005. It's not a very big part of our budget. Every 5 years or so we upgrade one computer and the rest get shifted down. The top dog is dh's editing computer which he uses to do his work. He needs a lot of power for that thing and he has been talking about an upgrade, which won't exactly be cheap. But it's been a good 5 years.

But when he upgrades, everyone in the house will get a new computer. I'll get his. BM will get mine. LM will get BM's, etc.

I couldn't tell you how old our monitors and printers and peripherals were because we have pretty much never replaced them. Not in adulthood anyway.

So yeah, when you buy quality and do the hand-it-down method, we all can have a computer at very little cost.

We probably have a significant advantage in that our dads are computer junkies. PArticularly dh's dad who likes to collect stuff and has just about anything you need sitting in his garage. Dh's monitor did go kaput a while back (it had been on its last leg for YEARS but we finally gave in) and I am pretty sure he got one free from his dad - he just had it sitting in his garage. We have learned to always ask before buy. Which means I don't think we have bought anything computer, outside free store of father-in-law, in a long while.

We haven't upgraded at all to the fancy monitors or anything. But a working monitor, if you don't mind clunky, is easy enough to find for free. Particularly in a computer heavy area like this.

I think when BM starts school we will consider moving one of our older computers into his room and buying him a mouse and keyboard more his size. Give him my old monitor and maybe I can get a new one. Big Grin A more modern monitor is certainly on my wish list. Just completely unjustifiable for now. & I guess the other plus is we have held out so long they are probably cheaper than I even imagine at this point. Though we will go for long lasting quality over "cheap." You see why...

But with both game systems and computers, we generally let everyone buy the premium, going new. We wait for prices to come down, ourselves. Even if it takes many years. Patience pays.

The kids have computers earmarked for them, but not really in use, for now.

So anyway, I just had to share because I would find it ironic that people would look at our computers or game systems and assume we were broke. In the end we will probably spend $100 this year on game systems (& games). I would be surprised if dh's top of the line computer cost more than $100/year. If he spends more than $500 every 5 years for a faster computer. He builds his own and reuses the parts he can. Though I think he has his eye on something more in the $1k range. We'll see. Technically, he uses his computer to make money, so would probably pay for itself quickly, if he committed to some paid projects to pay for it.

Of course I can't tell you how much stuff we have in our house that we have had since we were kids. The stereo system in our family room is the one I bought as a teen.

When you buy things to keep for decades, it doesn't mean a large annual expense for electronic pleasures. Quite the contrary.

Now, if we had to have the latest and greatest of everything? Well, yeah, I have no idea how people afford all that! That is certainly not our style. We may buy more of that if we resume back to a 2-income lifestyle. But if not, "old and trustworthy" is fine with us. Sometimes it's the only way to have your cake and eat it too.

Of course, thinking back to the games... We're only 30 and dh has quite a collection. I will probably have to work on him in the future in maybe getting rid of some of the old stuff. Maybe for each new system an old one goes. I just don't want to be 50 and have 100 game systems. Wink

Likewise, one of these days we may have to dispose of a computer. Imagine that!

15 Bean Soup

May 26th, 2008 at 02:38 pm



http://www.hurstbeans.com/products.asp

Dh allows the kids to buy treats at the grocery store, sometimes, IF the item is on sale. (Yes, their financial education has already started as they are very involved in the grocery shopping).

Anyway, one day they spotted a package of 15-bean soup (dried product) and thought it looked really good. Dh decided it didn't look like a bad idea.

So we had the Cajun 15 Bean Soup for dinner a while back. We decided it was delish, cheap and healthy. All that for the pretty packaging and varied beans that caught the kids' eye.

So we had it again last night. I think it turned out even better this time. VERY spicy, but we like that. We cooked with sausage.

This is definitely a family fave.

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As far as grocery shopping we primarily shop at Safeway and Bel Air. I think Bel Air shopping confuses much of the frugal crowd, but they switched to more of a "low-price leader" a few years back and we find the prices on most of what we buy to be very similar, though the store is VERY nice and the customer service can not be beat. I think most people assume we pay a premium for all the perks, but we really don't. We certainly could buy many overpriced items in that store, but as far as the basics we find them to be the best prices.

For the rest, there is safeway.

Plus Bel Air gives us 25 cents of per gallon gas, which is a hard perk to beat (Safeway gives us 3 cents to 10 cents).

Anyway, some of the items we buy in bulk at Safeway are cat food and organic apple juice (we're not strict on organic but it's a great deal - this particular juice).

In the last month or so they discontinued both in the larger (discounted) sizes.

Bummer.

My mom offered to take us over to Costco to stock up on this kind of stuff. We don't buy enough in bulk to justify any warehouse membership for now, but we may have to take her up on it in the interim (use her membership).

I will probably look around online and see if I can find the cat food in bulk; maybe shop some of the pet stores.

I have blogged much that we haven't really noticed grocery prices in our particular budget. Not to say it isn't happening, but just to say it hasn't affected us. But these will be two significant increases in price for us - so we will research our bulk options a little more.

(ETA: A quick online search shows these size changes are at the manufacturing level. So we may have little choice. What a way to sneak in SIGNIFICANT price increases... I've seen many of you blog about this - but WOW).

This month will be impossible to get a grip on our grocery budget (or I should say, a feeling about it) because we were gone a week and have had, what seems like, infinite amount of free meals. Next month will be normal and we'll have to see where we are at.

We did splurge on some ice cream yesterday (drumsticks - yummy).

& as a perfect example, dh found a 3.5 pound bag of gyozas at Bel Air, for $10. The full price at Safeway, for 1.5 pounds, was $6. He had bought the Safeway ones because they were on sale, and I found them to be rather good (as good as Trader Joe's, which is way out of the way for us). So if Bel Air's are any good, I think I am sold.

I can't believe we never thought to buy frozen gyozas before. !! Yum yum yum. Much cheaper than eating out, to find them. Though of course not as good as fresh ones, but they really aren't bad at all.

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Yesterday was a pretty simple day. My mom came for a visit and we played cards most of the day. ("Spite & Malice" & "Oh Hell" are our favorites - any other players out there?)

I made sloppy joes for lunch and dh did the soup for dinner. We usually get our parents to treat us out but we were in a simpler mood (tired of eating out this month, for sure).

I think we were all on the same page, so worked out.

In the morning, the kids and I went to Fairytale Town (a little park that is more than a park, here). The place opened at 9 and we got there closer to 9:30. We had been planning a hike in Old Town, but there is a huge jazz festival this weekend - all weekend - and we figured we would probably be lucky to find parking. So we were going to settle on something else when my mom decided to come over. So I had promised the kids a trip to Fairytale Town (we have membership, so the trip is "free" and we haven't been getting our money's worth in the winter months). So we headed over there about 1/2 hour after they opened and I swear for about a 1/2 hour we were the ONLY people there. We hung around a couple of hours until grandma got here.

It was COOL having the place to ourselves!

I did have to buy some nachos - what can I say. They are YUMMY. & hey, it's for a good cause...

That was my splurge for the day I guess.

Eventually some other kids came in (not many) and BM made fast friends with a 6-year-old.

He had actually befriended a 7-year-old at LEgoLand and had spent much the day with this kid, so it was much the same.

I think he is officially "graduated" and ready for Kindergarten. I know most people don't understand why we put our kids in preschool. We are fiercely vocal that the kids don't need a fancy preschool to learn academics (they learn them fine at home) and we also tend to be rather frugal. BUT socially/emotionally we really struggled with developing our child. It was probably extra hard with the man staying home, and not being so invited into the primarily female playgroups. But it's more than that. I have friends who don't let their kids out of their sight but expect them to thrive in Kindergarten in the fall. I think they are insane. No offense, but they are insane. I at least appreciate/understand the thinking when it comes to home schoolers. But I am at a complete loss to the emerging trend to shelter your kids 24/7 for 5 years and not let the kid out of your sight, but when they turn 5 they can magically go fend for themselves at school 6 hours a day.

Huh?

Thankfully that is not the "norm," but I see it a little too often.

Color me confused.

For me personally, we knew we always intended to send BM off to public school in the fall, and didn't feel we were properly preparing him socially and emotionally. So that is where preschool came in for us. We felt we needed help in that area, and searched it out. I see nothing wrong in that. To admit we needed help. I know we could have found more frugal help, but we found this route to be the best/easiest, and certainly no regrets there. Some areas we are frugal so we can splurge in other areas.

Anyway, to see him suddenly have the ability to make fast friends with just about anyone he meets, is quite an accomplishment. He has only one more month of preschool, and I think it has done its job.

I also like how he has a lot of "unsupervised time" to interact with other children. I know the 4:1 ratio he enjoys at preschool is nothing near the 20:1 ratio he will encounter in kindergarten. But at least he has spent much time with other kids without momma breathing down his neck and monitoring his every move. I think he will at least be much more prepared than those kids. He's learned, with much practice, how to solve conflict and get along with other kids, on his own, without adult intervention every second of the day.

We'll see how he does in Kindergarten. I notice he does gravitate to older kids. He may have less patience for the kids in his grade. But hopefully a few of them have gotten the emotional/social education he has. & if not, I guess the other kids will learn fast in that environment.

I guess the true test will be he how he does at school in the fall.

Crazy Weather & Artichokes

May 24th, 2008 at 03:17 pm

Rain?????????? Frown

Last night I was talking to my mom and she said tornadoes has obliterated a little town near Denver (my grandma lives in Denver). I guess they were peeved it got little media mention. So I popped in "tornado" in google and saw quite a few stories online BUT then I saw there was rain, snow, AND tornadoes in Southern California. Holy Cow! Glad we came back last week. Wink But yeah, look at that crazy weather.

Fire season has also started (quite a few months early). On our drive to LA, looking at all the dry landscape, we thought to ourselves, "this is not good." Likewise, a number of fires broke out with the hot weather and such. Will be a long summer... Usually the hills dry out in the summer and the fire season starts in the late summer and fall, before the rains come. So May is a tad early - but the vegetation is just so dry this year. & the weather has already been so hot.

Of course, on the plus side, it is raining...

I was quite bummed to hear the rain when I woke up this morning though. We had all sorts of outdoor plans, all weekend. The weather forecast I see is rain rain rain. I was looking forward to more pleasant weather (under 100 degrees) but the rain was a bit of a surprise. Don't expect it to be much to curb the fire danger though.
The 70-degree weather sounds divine though, if it does not rain too much.

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

Last night we had artichokes for dinner. I guess Cali is the only state where artichokes are grown commercially (for the most part) so we are lucky to get fresh artichokes. This is another reason it is worth it to live here - all the fresh, local produce.

We have been enjoying a TV show called "Good Eats." They had a special on artichokes (usually focuses on one food every episode - and VERY interesting). So we watched that and the kids were excited when they saw artichokes in the store. They were on sale so dh picked them up, though he had never braved cooking them before.

So we steamed them for dinner and they came out pretty darn yummy!

I am not much of a veggie person, so we need to work more treats like that into our diet.

I have no idea how much they cost in general but they were on sale for $2.50 each (jumbo size). So yes, definitely a bit of a splurge, but we enjoyed.

They were REALLY jumbo. Almost a full meal for me (didn't expect that).

I asked dh to keep an eye out for strawberries on sale. I love fruit smoothies in the summer but seem to remember finding strawberries expensive in the hottest months. There were many on sale on the side of the road last month. I wasn't thinking. I should have stocked up and frozen them...

But yes, not much of a fruit or veggie person so have no grasp on seasons and such. So I thought to have dh keep a look out for strawberries on sale...

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

I reviewed our investments yesterday (kind of on automatic pilot of late) and it looks like the asset allocation has changed little in the last 8 months or so. For a while I had to keep selling international because it was so on fire, to keep our asset allocations. We are still heavy on cash and int'l funds. We are just adding to domestic stocks until our allocations even out.

So I peeked at them yesterday as I haven't really set any sort of schedule yet on that. I should. But I was surprised little had changed in many months, as far as asset classes and the percentages I hold in each class.

As of yesterday, we also appear to be down 1% for the year.

Not bad...

Dh's Vanguard account is down by 2.6%. My cash is up 2.6%. (CD). & the rest of our investments (primarily managed funds) are up 0.25%. Average it all together and we are down almost 1%, for the year. The Vanguard account is by far the biggest piece, so explains that.

I am pleased my managed funds are doing their job though. I expect them to perform a little better than the indexes, in the downturn. That is the hope anyway.

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

Ugh, I was not prepared for a rainy day... Bummer.






Um, Scary? (ID-protection firm sued)

May 23rd, 2008 at 08:50 pm

ID-protection firm's clients sue founder
Even He Fell Prey to Data Thieves, Customers Say

http://www.mercurynews.com/businessheadlines/ci_9356426

Um, have you seen this guy's commercial? I just saw it the other day.

He advertises his own SS# in his commercials.

I watch that and think either the guy is an IDIOT or that is not his real SS#.

Well. Jury's out - he's an IDIOT. LOL.

OF course, to be fair, I knew this story:

http://www.ssa.gov/history/ssn/misused.html

So when I Saw this guy, I thought, "Oh boy. What BS - like that is his real number."

Apparently he was a little naive... Though still quite cocky. Ugh.

Anyway, that was an interesting read.

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

Today is SLOW.

I had fun playing "receptionist" today.

IT was fun because:

* No one came by
* No one called
* A client called with a tedious request immediately before my front desk shift. (Good tedious/brainless work for the fromt desk).

So basically, it was fun to sit somewhere else for a while. LOL. OTherwise it's not exactly my cup of tea. I much prefer to sit in my office uninterrupted, where I don't have to be "on" all the time.

There is no one here and I am not terribly motivated. Finishing the tedious stuff and then running for it. Wink

Have a good weekend!

Free Movie

May 23rd, 2008 at 06:48 pm

Dh saw Indiana Jones movie yesterday.

Surprised?

He's the biggest movie buff, so I am not surprised.

I can tell he is getting old/tired though because he did not go to the midnight showing the night before. He took the opportunity while the kids were in school to see the matinee.

Anyway, he was telling me the sound was really bad and kept cutting out.

So he went to complain to an employee. More to say, "um, you might want to fix it", then anything.

He said she could care less (looked annoyed) by his complaints, and just handed him a free movie voucher.

So he got a free movie, but I think he was astounded by the response.

Well that and she was very defensive.

(I can't remember um, ever seeing a movie before with sounds problems. Something people expect - sound and picture - too much to ask?)

But I guess our next date out will be a movie... Big Grin

Getting spoiled over here. Movies out have just been too luxury for us, for a very long time...

With more reasonable drop-in childcare AND matinees before 6pm weekdays and 2pm weekends - it is VERY in the cards lately. We'll probably do a weeknight date in June.

We are trying to do one date a month and 2 date lunches a month as well. All very new to our budget (with our eldest turning 5). Though we are very open to dates at home or "Free" dates, so far we have been enjoying splurging a little more.

Of course, with me foregoing cash for lunch I Was worried I would be tempted to charge too much. I was WAY wrong. I have not gone out for lunch this month but for dates and meeting friends. I have been funneling my "last minute runs for fast food" budget to date lunches with dh with good coupons. IT wasn't a big budget ($20/month??), but the date lunches have been very satisfying.



Financial Update

May 22nd, 2008 at 02:51 pm

Well, as we move past the expensive months of April & May, summer should be pretty good to us. (I hope!)

June is our last payment to our mortgage where interest exceeds $1,000. Woohoo! Our July interest payment is $999.99 (something like that - hehe).

Psychological, yes, and little more. But it is still nice.

Dh told me he is waiting for our principle payments to exceed the interest portion. Agreed, but so that is so long in the future I have to find something sooner to get excited about. We also drop below the $200k balance in 2010. So that will be cool too. Another psychological advance...

Of course, as usual, looking at it - I am tempted to throw $50/month to the mortgage, extra, next year.

I talked myself out of it for now.

Another $150/month would really put us at our goal to pay off in our 40s. Quite simple really. BUT doesn't make much sense for now.

The other thing about this summer is the stimulus check (which will help greatly) and the removal of one child from the ever expensive preschool.

So summer seems like a turning point of sorts, for us financially.

As of summer I hope to have:

*Replenished the $1k I unexpectedly owe the IRS and sucked out of the emergency fund for now.

*$3k balance in our mid-term savings (which has been 0 for a while).

*Contributing $315/month to our ROTHs. (bumps our retirement savings to 15% from 12%. Phew).

I really hope to have another $100/month raise come next year to allocate to the ROTHs and get to the max for one roth and about 17% income to retirement. From there I think it is a good spot and we will just try to increase it 1% a year. (Minimum anyway. Certainly more if we have bigger raises or windfalls).

*Up our short-term savings from $900 monthly to $1k monthly, which really should suffice to cover more of the unexpected things (like a similar IRS bill).

So I would say our retirement and short-term savings should be in pretty good shape come summer.

As tempting as it is to earmark a token $50 to the mortgage, I know we really need to focus on getting our mid-term savings up to snuff. My goal is to save $5k this year, but we have some catching up to do AND I will barely squeak by this but for the help of a large stimulus check.

Of course, I also just remembered the other competing want is college money for the kids. With BM our of expensive preschool I had considered saving $50/month for that.

There's only so many directions it will go. But I admit that is probably where the money is best spent, for now.

Short-Term Savings up to snuff
Retirement up to snuff
Work on BM's college money

I guess all I can hope for is a really decent raise next year so I can put some more to mid-term savings as well. We have cars to save up to buy and home maintenance to save up for.

Dh may consider some temp work with the kids in school. I am not sure we are hot on the idea right now, but the option is certainly nice. It could significantly help the cash savings. (For now is working on a movie script and a movie which I rather him do now while he has some significant child rearing to do. BEcause lord knows I will be pushing for more income if we are not doing better when LM starts public school. Just giving him the space to do his thing for now).

Getting there, but still a ways to go...

Getting so close to where we were before we dropped to one income... That part is nice. I don't think we expected to get back to this point, so soon, on my income alone. & I am excited as we near this sort of crossover point where we are so close to getting back to a larger measure of financial security.

We've done without a lot of savings and retirement contributions and a lot of things as we slowed down to raise kids. I didn't exactly imagine with time we would find a way to have our cake and eat it too (so soon anyway). Wink Our lifestyle for now is far cushier than I imagined it would be when we made sacrifices for our kids. For that I am extremely grateful.

& I am certainly enjoying!

The idea of putting $5k in a ROTH next year is DIVINE. To me, that is luxury. Big Grin






Extreme Makeover Home Too Expensive

May 22nd, 2008 at 02:18 pm

http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/6420ap_id_extreme_makeov...

"Extreme Makeover" recipient in Idaho selling home

The article goes on how the 3600 square feet is too expensive to maintain.

I have to say I have caught the end of this show a few times and wondered the same thing. How in the hell can these people afford to maintain these homes?

I guess I am too realistic.

Though the gift is nice, I think often it is way misguided.

Of course, I also find it a shame to read that this guy's bills have tripled since the change. I know that with some care and planning it doesn't have to be that way.

We had the fortune to move from 1300 square feet to 2600 square feet, for about the same price, moving somewhere cheaper. The thing is for us that none of our bills went up. The house is new so needs little maintenance, as of yet. Our utilities are the same. Our property taxes are the same. All same same same. I doubt few people can say the same. BUT it does irk me when people go on and and on and on about big houses being energy hogs. Says who? We have twice as many people now and are home 3 times as much (home all day/every day instead of just evenings and weekends), but we pay less for our utilities, due to the energy efficiency.

So I think, for one, for these makeovers, you think they would really consider this in the makeover - making these homes super energy efficient so the recipient's bills don't triple. Really. Realistically, the bills could be lowered.

But even so, watching that show, I always figured for the long run there was a lot to maintain. & of course just because things are "new" doesn't make them foolproof.

I've always been far too practical to enjoy that show. LOL. I keep thinking, "how will they afford to maintain that mansion?" Egads.

I can't imagine he is the only one who feels that way. Too bad he feels some measure of guilt selling his home.

Spinach Manicotti

May 20th, 2008 at 08:13 pm

http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Spinach-Manicotti

Dinner last night!

Yes, I did have a meatless day. Actually had cheese enchilada at lunch so, yes, meatless. We don't eat meat every day. (Just seems like we have been lately).

Anyway, this recipe is DIVINE. Love it.

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

Dh and I are spoiled this week. We had date lunch yesterday, so he could run an errand for me.

Tonight he has a volunteer appreciation dinner. So we will drop off the kids for 2 hours and get a "free" dinner. Daycare will be around $25, but will be worth it. We may even win some prize? Kids will be in daycare about 10am - 8pm. They couldn't be happier. (Weird kids. Grass is always greener... They wish they could go more - and this week they get their wish).

The local public TV station does a great job on their appreciation dinners - we always enjoy. For the longest time it was our only standing date night. One night a year out?

Not much else up this week.

Today BM had an evaluation at the school - for Kindergarten. Dh told me while they were waiting he read a sign about how they had won $10k (a teacher had won some award). NEither of us knew he could read "$10,000." Don't ask me - nothing I showed him. LOL. (Dh figured I had been showing him bank accounts or something).

We imagine he did well enough in the evaluation... He knows things we didn't even know he did. Kids are scary sometimes...

I don't think we have much planned for the weekend, though I may pull for a local hike if the weather is nice. Dh wants to drive to San Jose next weekend, so no driving for us. The car needs a break and so will the gas budget. After all the driving this month... 2 trips to SJ & a trip to LA. Yeesh.

The pool opens Monday and we will enjoy. But mostly low-key, and low-spend, in the plans. We will eat in, watch some TV, run around in the background, go for walks, and go swimming. All free free free. If the weather is awful we will hole up indoors and increase the TV watching I guess. But if not so bad we may go for a drive I guess. Just not too far... OF course if it is bad we will go to the gym. We'll still get our workout but harder for the kids to run off their steam. But these are all very low cost activities.

The calm of it all sounds rather attractive after our big vacation... The low cost sounds even better!

Oh yeah - and free lunch tomorrow - from a vendor. I honestly usually don't get this much free food. Big Grin





Getting My Money's Worth

May 19th, 2008 at 09:20 pm

Preschool had spots so the kids are going 4 days this week. Woohoo. I hadn't even thought of it but dh has a lot of video work to do too - so this should help.

Monday is a holiday so they are going T/W next week. At least I feel we are getting our money's worth. They were under no obligation to make up for holidays or vacations.

I signed up BM for swim classes in July - with the city - very reasonable. About $12/hour.

OF course we just got an e-mail regarding lessons at our community pool. It's within walking distance and private lessons are merely $30/hour. Really, not horrid. 2 weeks of classes. VERY convenient.

So I am signing up for those as well. I don't care if he has to take 10 sessions through the city. I want BM to be swimming by end of this summer. He's ready. I think ideally he will have the private lessons first, and dh will practice with him a lot.

Grandma is finally getting a fence around her pool too - that is where her stimulus check went. You don't know how relieved I am.

I guess pool/swimming is on our minds here with this horrid hot weather. Our pool does not open until Memorial Day. That annoys me every year. (though think - just one week!). We have a birthday party to go to at the pool Monday, so we will enjoy the day it opens...

Today dh met me for lunch since I had wanted/needed to deposit my paycheck today. He met me, picked up my check, and went to the bank for me. That's my guy! I had considered driving by yesterday but wasn't exactly in the mood. This was way better.

We ate at a Taqueria around the corner - lunch for 2 - $8. Was a lot of food. & yummy yummy yummy.

I was kind of dreading work today, but it wasn't so bad. The kids were thrilled to go back to preschool today so dropping them off left me on a happy note (we just love the place). & work was not so bad - not a lot of calls or e-mails during my absence. The place did not fall apart either. Phew!

Heck, just a couple of hours before I pick up the kids. The whole kid drop-off/pick-up thing will not leave me very productive this week, so oh well. I had considered working a bit Saturday, to catch up a bit. But I hadn't realized Memorial Day was so soon. Wow. I think I will enjoy a 3-day weekend. Forget working extra...

Just a little more catching up to do, though once I hit June I expect the pace to slow considerably. HEck, it already has... But work has slowed to a more bearable pace. Summer will be slow. I will probably be bored. Figures!









Back From Disney

May 18th, 2008 at 03:49 pm

Well, I will try not to make a post 10-miles long. Big Grin

We just got back from our week-long vacation to Disney, last night. & I am rather pleased with how it went. We had a really great time, and it didn't break the bank at all. Woohoo. Total cost $1111. The in-laws gave me $150 before we left and we are expecting $250 cash back from our credit card in a couple of weeks, so this will lower our out-of-pocket to about $700. Not half bad?

Particularly since we generally do Disney as a weekend thing (we live close enough). It's usually not a big expensive week-long thing for us. So this was a very unique trip for us. I wanted to really take our time driving and spend more than one day at Disney, etc. I don't think we'll go to Disneyland for a week again, for a VERY long time, if ever. So, it was just different.



*Other - this category was for souvenirs and unforeseen things. $40 was for valet parking at our hotel (blech - totally unexpected, and annoying). $27 was for stroller rentals - 3 days(rather expected). $20 on souvenirs and $20 for Lego Sets from Lego Land (cheaper than we had seen retail so picked some up).

*Gas - Gas wasn't bad. Prices here have been $3.65 - $3.99 (depending on coupons and brand). We only got stuck paying more ($4.08) on the last leg of our trip. So we only filled up half tank, which we estimated, and was, exactly enough to get home. We filled up for $3.77 when we got home (Safeway, with discount). We paid $3.99 somewhere on the way down (prices seemed cheaper last Monday on the way down). We found $3.83 near our hotel, though we actually found some $3.75 gas after we had filled up twice. Right in front of Disney where we thought it would have been more expensive. But that is where we saw $3.75 gas when we drove past on our last day. Figured. We had already filled up for the drive home, when we saw it.

So we drive about 1200 miles total for $106. Not bad (sure beat flying) and dh's car did get awfully close to 40mpg most of the trip. Freeway. We didn't see much traffic all week, except it was horrid on our way out Saturday morning (no idea why). So we got some pretty decent gas mileage most of the trip.

I know many acquaintances thought it was horrible not only we drove, but we took the subcompact. But man, the 6 hour drive was really nothing. I have driven to Kansas too many times (family there) to sweat a 6-hour drive. Dh fashioned a makeshift TV with his DS2 so the kids did watch some shows on the way (maybe an hour each way). The thing that shocked us was they did not sleep either way, at all. Figures. They were okay considering the close quarters and everything though. Though LM did have the great meltdown of 2008 shortly after we got out of LA yesterday. Egads. He seemed to be a little under the weather all week, so poor guy. But after that he was pretty pleasant the rest of the 6 hours. Phew.

Disneyland - I was going to buy tickets online for a $6 discount, but the $3 service fee and the whole "will call" thing (couldn't print them out) annoyed me. We figured we'd just buy tickets there. Which did work our since the first day there was no line for tickets.

Legoland, I was going to buy online as well, but saw we would get a $10 pr ticket discount with AAA if we bought in person there. So we just bought there as well.

LM was free everywhere, since he is not quite 3 yet.

Our hotel was 1 mile from the park so we decided to walk it the first day (it seemed closer once we got there. though we noted the hotel was next to Motel 6 - will consider Motel 6 next time - great location - probably an expensive Motel 6). Our hotel was completely free (relative's timeshare) except for the mandatory valet parking. We didn't have full kitchen, but was 2 rooms, microwave, fridge, etc.

We were nervous when we got there but put the kids together on the pull-out couch bed, and they did great. (I think they were too exhausted every night to do little more than sleep. We were worried they'd play too much, or disturb each other).

We also brought lots of food and stocked up on juice and milk once we got there. The breakfast was right across from our room and had long hours, so probably would have sufficed. We ate much more breakfast there than we had planned/expected.

Anyway, day 1 we walked to D-Land and we probably could have gone all day without a stroller, but LM really needed a nap and so we got one for him to nap in, late in the afternoon. I think dh carried him back to the hotel most of the way that night. The second day we went as long as we could without stroller (just a PITA) but we got one much earlier day 2. Friday we went to Legoland and picked one up when we got there. He was just fed up with walking by then. BM on the other hand, outgrew strollers long ago. I figured we would probably rent strollers all 3 days, and was pleased the rest of us could do just fine without the shuttle. The walk was not a big deal at all.

On our beach day we did not have to pay to park, so we didn't spend any money that day outside food and gas. LM walked that day since we didn't do so much walking.

Which leaves food! I just budgeted $100/day or so because food is always so insane. I know we could have easily spent less, but with some advanced planning we had saved a lot, and the second half of the week we ate rather well. So, really, no complaints.

We ate lunch in the parks 3 days and dinner out of the parks every night. Wasn't so sure we would swing the late dinners, but in the end it worked out well to walk over to the IHOP/Denny's outside the park and rest before our walk back to the hotel.

So, $367 was to feed us all for 6 full days. IT also included treating 2 friends to dinner one night. So, not bad.

Day 1 we packed a picnic lunch and ate at a rest stop. We stopped to visit dh's aunt for dinner, which worked out really well. They say it never rains in So Cal, but last time we drove down (September 2006?) it poured and it kicked up so much oil and grime from the road our car was just black. It was very memorable. So Monday we are driving into LA and it is sprinkling. We are just confused. What is up with the rain???? We stopped at the convent and had dinner with the nuns there - beautiful real estate - as I expected - nestled in the hills. Their dinner spread wasn't very big (I've had many lunches when I audited other religious organizations) and they did say lunch was generally bigger. So we had a light dinner and enjoyed walking around the grounds (though admittedly it was wet and cold). Lots of pretty flowers. We saw lots of poppies driving in and lots of trees with purple blooms. I have no idea what those are. I tried to remember if I had ever been to LA in the spring before. Probably not in many years - was just gorgeous.

So, anyway, this made day 1 a cheap eating day.

Days 2 & 3 we ate expensive lunches in the park and dinner right outside the park at IHOP/Denny's. Kids were free at IHOP I believe, though of course prices were inflated due to location.

We snuck in some trail mix and brought bottled water (from home - refilled with tap water) but it was so hot I bought a few cold waters and sodas. Particularly Friday. IT seems like the hotter it was the hungrier we were too. So bought more snacks on those days. That is where they REALLY gouge you though and we tried to keep it to a minimum. I kept cold sodas as the hotel too and we did not order any soda while out at. Though in the parks the water was so expensive I would just get soda because it cost the same anyway.

I think we got really sick of burgers and greasy food the first couple of days. Thursday we went to San Diego to the beach and we went to a placed called Panini's. I had looked up places ahead of time and was more upscale than I expected but the food was DIVINE.

For dinner that night we tried out a Thai place near our hotel and it was excellent. So we ate VERY well that day. We spent $95 on those 2 meals, but we met some friends for dinner and treated them, so it was more than just us.

Friday at Legoland we stumbled upon a wonderful restaurant. Lunch was $45, but was worth getting more than grease. Dh had stir fry and I stocked up at the salad bar (with potato salad and pasta, rolls, etc.). We also got a cake for dessert. Splurged a little. Was another great meal though.

For dinner that night we had Taco Bell and Dairy Queen for dessert ($12). Which really we could have done that every night and saved a lot. Was just nice to eat more than fast food. Though really IHOP and Denny's kind of fell short when we looked forward to some more homemade-like food. Just so greasy.

On the drive home we mostly went fast food.

& that sums up the nitty gritty of our trip.

I was really pleased how it panned out because Thursday we really needed a day of rest. Besides the drive to the beach, and dinner with friends, we did little that day. Had a chance to rest our feet.

Friday was the hottest day of the week (in the 90s in LA?) so was a great day to spend in LegoLand - much closer to the cooler shore. They also had a lot of great water rides. So was easy to keep cool.

So I don't think we could have planned it any better. D-Land closed at 8:00 the days we were there, but it was empty enough, we got a lot done. Though, last time I believe we went on a Saturday, and with the whole Fast Pass thing we found little advantage during the week. Most of the Fast Passes were closed which meant we waited in lines longer than we were accustomed to. Fast Pass wait is usually like 0 if you come back in an hour, and we waited in a lot of 15-minute to 1/2-hour lines. Though certainly no longer lines - I'll give you that. But we were a little disappointed at the amount of 1/2 hour lines we had to wait in. However, it was significantly less crowded than the last Friday we were there (particularly in the afternoon/evening) which was probably preferable with the kids. The BIG crowds would have been a lot harder to navigate. But my feelings were kind of mixed about the mid-week advantage. We have just gotten so accustomed to the Fast Pass thing - felt lost without it. I don't think we were able to use Fast Pass once. As a result, lines were longer than we have grown accustomed to. I guess the good thing is a weekend trip in the future doesn't sound so bad.

Oh yeah, in D-Land I thought I read that some restaurants had 10% AAA discount. But it was rather hit and miss. At one restaurant dh got food for him and the kids and when I went to get my food they wouldn't give me AAA discount. They had just given it to dh, but insisted it had been a mistake and they don't have AAA discounts. Of course, dh showed me his receipt and it said "-10% AAA." So we were rather frustrated. I still have no idea what the deal with that is. Do they take AAA or do they not? Maybe haven't updated the registers?

We also went to California Adventure for a few hours while at Disney, and we really liked the park. It was really great for the kids and we really enjoyed it (had heard mixed reviews before).

Legoland was perfect for the kids' age range. I don't know if we will ever get back there (if they will be too old for it next time) but we just had a blast there. It was a great little park. The water area was just perfect on such a hot day, and probably where we had the most fun.

One reason why we went was because unexpectedly, LM LOVED Disney World in the fall. He was feeling a little under the weather all week and I don't think he particularly enjoyed Disney this round. Which was a little disappointing. BUT CA Adventure had some great kiddie areas, and LegoLand was very much his speed. BM actually went on all the big rides at Disney. He has no fear, and LM was terrified of just about everything. I don't think they could have been more opposite, so we split up a lot. But dh and I took turns with the kids and got to go on most of the big rides, etc.

LM absolutely LOVED seeing all the characters in the park though. & there was certainly much he enjoyed.

We also happened to catch the Disney fireworks show on our drive home Friday night from dinner, so it worked out pretty good. LM would have been terrified if we were any closer, but we watched from the car and our hotel, and the kids loved it. Seemed a fitting finale for our trip.

& it certainly feels good to be home.

Today we are unpacking, laundry, grocery shopping.

Oh yes, we left the A/C on 86 for the cat (we just left it on downstairs). So when we got home last night it was 91 degrees upstairs, and took quite a while to cool down to 80. I can't imagine how hot it would have been without the A/C on down here. I am glad I thought ahead. Not sure I exactly expected this weather in May, but heard a heat wave was coming so thought ahead to leave the air on for the cat.

We have a cat, but we just left her plenty of food and water. Sometimes we talk about getting a dog, but eh. Cats are such low maintenance... Makes it easy to vacation. Though if we were gone any longer we'd have someone check in on her at least once.

Well, I guess I have to adjust back to reality now. Bummer!

Electricity/Heat

May 12th, 2008 at 01:46 pm

I found another electricity drain today.

Since we moved here in 2001 our electric bills have been insanely low. So have our gas bills, as this is an energy star home.

Anyway, well, this is what we thought. Until last spring when they came out and worked on our meter and our bills about doubled. I guess we were undercharged all these years? Said our mete was broken. (Don't ask me how they knew). Bummer. They are still quite low for the size of our house. But we certainly weren't doing as good as we thought we were!

So I have gone from kind of eh, how could we save more energy (we don't need to), to, well, let's try to save more energy.

I noticed a new one I hadn't today. The baby monitors!

We will keep using them for a while. But I think LM is getting to an age where we can try to remember to turn it off when he is not sleeping in his room. we have just been lazy and have been leaving it on 24/7.

He turns 3 in July and we will probably remove the gate from his room and give him free roam. Particularly as we expect he will be moving to going diaper-less by then. If he is free to get up and roam, I don't think we need the monitors. We have never used them at night. We just use them for when we our downstairs and they are sleeping upstairs. Though sometimes it is nice as they get older and play upstairs on their own now, to hear what is going on. Though when the screaming ensues, you can probably hear it anyway.

Dh might use them once in a while after that - he often watches movies while they nap - in his theater room. so he still uses the monitors a lot so he can watch a loud movie in here, but know if anything is going on in the rest of the house.

For now we will be nice and use them so we can hear when LM wants out of his room in the morning. He isn't particularly loud and sometimes you can't hear them calling for us from the upstairs, without the monitor.

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On the flip side, we are barely into May and they are calling for some 100-degree+ weather this week. The ironic thing is today is WINDY. A little stormy. But Thursday will be 103? Ugh.

I think our A/C will get a workout this week.

Reminds me, we were visiting the fam this week, in San JOSE. My FIL told me that that their house used to get into the 90s about 4 days a year, but these days it is more like 20 days a year. I don't know if it is global warming or what. But people out of the region are always shocked we don't have A/C. I always think, "we don't need a/c." Think mostly 60-80 degree weather year round. Throw in the very occasional cooler or hotter day.

BUT my parents broke down and got A/C a couple of years ago. Their electric bills are insane (probably because A/C is rare and they charge like crazy for that excess electricity usage). But my mom doesn't do well in the heat.

We actually had A/C in or condo, but it sucked. Though it was nice on the really hot days since we were stuck in an upper unit. IT certainly wouldn't have cut it in Sacramento weather.

Anyway, though the weather is so much more brutal up here, I generally find it more pleasant, if I stay inside, since every home has A/C. I mean here, every home has to. So now when we catch a hot day in San Jose - it is brutal. I don't remember the last day I had to suffer inside a house over 80 degrees. Up here anyway. Reminds me, if we go to SJ for any weekends in the summer we'll have to stay with my parents in their chilled oasis. Big Grin

Well, I am glad I mentioned to my boss Friday that I didn't think the A/C in my office was working. I would have mentioned it sooner if I knew it was going to be a 100-degree week. Yikes!







Busy Weekend

May 12th, 2008 at 01:05 am

I started a long entry and it didn't stick - I think yesterday. Bummer, was too tired to try again.

In the meantime I probably forgot half of it. But some of it is coming back to me...

I think on our trip we will be gone 4 full days. 2 days spent driving, which will be expensive on the eating out as well.

Anyway, on the way out we were going to stop for a picnic. Today we were told by the fam that we are expected to stop and visit Auntie Nun (the family nun) a good hour north of Disneyland.

At first I Was annoyed. We see her all the time and dh is planning to visit a friend too, which has been a gigantic PITA. So much for the relaxing vacation! As it keeps getting bogged down with "appointments."

Well, today I woke up in a better mood about it and asked dh how far out of the way it was. He feels the same way but thought I might be happy we would get a free meal out of it. The place I worked last actually audited a lot of religious organizations and I have to say I remember they always had good spreads for their priests and nuns. So anyway, today I asked him how far out of the way it was. Since we were considering taking a long cut to avoid some of the traffic (if need be) this was actually more on the way than not. Not far off our long cut. We figured regardless it only added about 40 minutes to our drive. Not so bad. So we decided on our way down we will stop for a picnic lunch and for dinner we will stop for free dinner service with the nuns. She said we could also pick some fresh fruit from the grounds. & don't get me wrong, it will certainly be nice to see where she lives. The kids LOVE her, so all will be well there.

Beyond all that, dh has started loading up on snacks on sale at the store, and got me some bottled water, for the trip.

He also wants to go to the grocery store the night we get there to get some milk for the fridge. Maybe some other perishables.

& sounds like we will have fresh fruit (free) too. We don't plan to eat many meals in the hotel. Since we'll be out so much. But breakfast, certainly. & the snacks are covered.

We also picked up his parent's GPS this weekend, to borrow, since we saw them. Dh went to Florida with them last fall and is now GPS crazy. Every time we go anywhere now and are not 1000% where we are I always say, come on, it's an adventure. He always gripes we need GPS. He got so spoiled on that one short trip. We have talked of getting one around Christmas. What we are planning - one for driving and hiking. But this will be my first time test driving one. I did wonder if it would be fair to get one and how we would fight over it. But he made the point that I probably wouldn't need it for my commute to work every day. Either of us can use it whenever we need it. So yeah - that will be our Christmas gift to each other. Though we may buy sooner if we see a good sale.

Yesterday I took the kids to an art & wine festival and spent way too much money. But we did have fun! I'll have to take a picture of the solar powered art we bought - because there is no describing it. Wink

While walking into the festival a woman walked passed me in the other direction and dropped a wad of cash. IT took me a few seconds to react (both kids in tow) but dh came up from behind, spotted it (of course - he would never miss cash on the ground) and stopped to pick him up. I pointed to the woman just as another lady started to say - "that cash is hers." He handed it back to her. I joked if we were a little slower maybe we would have found $20+. (Not sure how much was in the wad, but was a $20 on the outside). Then again I have the feeling that wouldn't have gone long at all, unnoticed. Particularly since so many people saw her drop it - lucky for her!!

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In other news, I had an overdraft!!!!!!! Ugh!

In the end it wasn't so bad.

My system is to run checking to $0 and to keep around $1k in my linked savings account (overdraft protection).

This system has always been fine, and even better since using Quicken. This way I don't worry about math errors.

Anyway, for years dh had much of our money in another credit union, and though we had tens of thousands in his linked checking, and he had some sort of "overdraft protection" he couldn't keep track that his checking account had a large minimum. So every time he went under the minimum they charged him $50 overdraft. No kidding. After 2 or 3 of those I had had enough. !!

Which incidentally is one of our biggest fights to this day. HE does not understand in the least why our checking account has no interest. Every time he brings it up I have to roll my eyes. I say, "yeah, that really worked out well for you in the past." LOL. We seem to have this conversation over and over and it drives me nuts. I just don't want to worry about minimums to earn 1%. I like that my checking account minimum is $0. Big Grin & likewise, any money that is not immediately spent goes into our high yield savings accounts. Considering that this system is simple, and yields no fees, I am much happier with this.

So anyway. I logged onto Quicken and downloaded my data yesterday and was shocked to see the word "overdraft" pop up. Wha?????????

I was relieved to see that my CU charged a mere $3. A small price to pay for my stupidity.

I actually hadn't slept well at all Friday night and was absolutely exhausted. Therefore, it took a long while for my very tired brain to figure it out. I finally realized I had dated a transfer into checking, about a week too early in Quicken. Ugh.

So I made a stupid mistake, but the price was small. Thank goodness for that. They pulled $200 over to cover the overdraft. Since that was going to be my transfer anyway, then it's all even steven.

Well, except down $3. Bummer.

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Besides all that, today was Mother's Day, of course!

We went to a nice luncheon at dh's grandmother's retirement village.

Oh yes, and last night my parents treated us to dinner at one of my favorite mexican restaurants in the Bay.

Oh yes, I think Friday night I asked BM what his favorite thing of the whole week was. He told me it was "making my Mother's Day present." That was the highlight of my week. How sweet is that?

I also saw something else in Quicken that peeved me Saturday morning. I saw a $3 charge to Trader Joe's. My first thought, was, since when did dh go there???? I made a mental note to ask him about it. But I soon remembered I had heard great things a while back about their frozen gyozas. I had been wanting to try them, but now we got this all-you-can eat Japanese buffet we have been frequenting more. So I have been getting plenty of my share of gyoza!

Anyway, I realized then that was my Mother's Day gift. I often feel bad that dh can sneak little past me since I control all thing finances (just our choice, though this is the one downside). But then I thought about it. $3? Like dh couldn't scrounge $3. Hell, he could have borrowed $3 from the kids' piggy banks and put it back after Mother's Day. But since I had just gone to the ATM for him last week, I knew he had $3.

So, bah!

So we got home around dinner time and I had my gyoza appetizers. & yes, they were actually pretty good. He tried a new dipping sauce, which was okay. I think we will try again though.

I thought this was a GREAT gift. Though I told him this would lead to a bad habit. Though at least not a terribly expensive one. It's just one of those things where you can't eat just one, though.

The kids also wrote me a story. LM's story was about the day I got to meet his friend "Wormy." From my last narrative on wormy, you know how cool this is. That was very sweet. I got to meet him on a flying card ride and sleep in his bed.

BM's story, well not sure what his story was. A lot of nonsense, but about a Crazy Boy and some things he did with his mother. But, he drew a lovely picture of me standing on my head. Now that is priceless!

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My mom also sent dh $100 for the work he is doing on a relative's wedding (since it is my family and he is doing it as favor to my parents and them, more than anything). More than just a favor now. BEst part was he had discussed it with my mom but didn't bother to tell me. Figured I'd see the check in the mail when it arrived. (I say that sarcastically. Sometimes I stress so much about the budget, I can't believe he didn't tell me about this windfall before it arrived).

Of course, today his mother gave me $100 & his grandma gave me $50. For Mother's Day, though clear it was for our upcoming Disney trip as well. His fam is always way too generous. I am thinking of applying it all to vacation. We'll just see where all this windfall lands. Will save us a trip to the ATM, but we'll deposit the rest into the bank when we get back, and I will probably apply to vacation. Heck this could go a long way to our Yosemite trip.

I know, I keep thinking one of these days that every windfall will just go to retirement. Or more long-term savings. Just, not there yet. Getting there. But not quite yet...

Foods

May 9th, 2008 at 02:14 pm

I haven't been eating much this week.

For example, I skipped dinner Monday after my gigantuan lunch. Very strange for me. But believe me - I had plenty of sustenance for the day.

Yesterday we had a work meeting and I filled up on bagels and cream cheese and salami, cookies, etc. (Another free meal I guess). I had plans to stop home for lunch and dh and I got into a heated arguments. I was at a loss what to eat and I thought maybe I was just too upset. Then I realized, once again, I Was entirely full. I went back to work without lunch.

I had a yogurt in the fridge (Was getting old anyway) and so ate that in the afternoon. I think I took another bagel sandwich as well.

For dinner, we still had burrito leftovers, so I finished those off. Dh complained a very small portion was left, but was perfect size for me.

Dh made a quick/simple/cheap pasta dish a couple of nights ago. I didn't particularly care for it.

I was surprised to see he made some mexican casserole last night (another vegetarian dish). VERY spicy.

Surprised since we still have leftover overload (a good chunk of the sausaga/pasts casserole left) and because we will not be eating in all weekend (lunch at a festival, dinner with parents, brunch with parents sunday, and I guess plenty of leftovers for dinner sunday night).

Lunch is s'posed to be exciting!

May 8th, 2008 at 01:26 pm

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/archives/2008/05/frugal-brown-bag...

I actually really enjoy this blog, and found this to be a decent post. Though personally I prefer to eat even cheaper lunches. But hey, sure beats eating out every day. (Well, depends. I can get a decent meal at Taco Bell or BK for $2).

Which I guess is my own lunch plan. Leftovers, mixed up with sandwiches (bologna, slami, tuna, whatever), mixed in with runs for $1 fast food meals and buy-one-get-one-free lunch buffet dates with dh.

I guess between all that I get plenty of variety. Though I am quite happy on a lazy day, when we are out of lunch meat, to just slap together a PBJ sandwich.

Anyway, the disturbing thing to me was reading all the replies on the above blog post. I have to admit I have some food issues of my own. Growing up my parents didn't cook much and never made me ate what they cooked. If I didn't like it I was free to fend for myself. I notice as I try to set an example for my kids that it is really hard for me to sit down and eat what is prepared for dinner. It is really hard for me to plan a week of meals in advance because I rather eat what strikes my fancy that very night. It's just how I was raised. But I also realize this is a terribly nasty habit, and a terrible example for the kids. I still work on it, much.

For lunch however. I don't know. It's so busy at work I rarely put much thought to lunch. I don't make a big production of it and often I just eat while I work or surf the net. I don't really care what I eat. I learned long ago if I behaved the same way at work, as at home, that I would be broke and extremely overweight. So I make it a rule to take food to work and that is all I can eat. No runs to the convenient store for what I really want, etc., etc., etc.

I have settled in this routine quite easily. It's not a big deal. I never feel deprived. Dinner is for the good stuff. Wink

So it was kind of funny to me reading all these replies. That everyone is too good for wonder bread sandwiches (I'd eat them every day) and can't brown bag lunch because it is too boring.

It just struck me funny. & like they are all a bunch of spoiled brats or something. Seriously. Wah wah, we have to have a gourmet meal for every lunch?

Of course, I admit as much as I only eat what will tickle my fancy for dinner, the other issue my family had was we pretty much ate the same things over and over and over. So I admit I have a pretty high tolerance for monotony. I guess that could be part of it. But still. It seems to me that people are a little too attached to exciting lunches. Man, I love my food, but I don't exactly *get* it. I guess maybe this is much that is wrong with our society now. Food is s'posed to be EXCITING. People forget that it really is just s'posed to sustain us.

As long as I am not hungry (after eating) and it tastes okay, then I am good. Big Grin

I of course work on my own issues on some level whereas I look at food as comfort. But it is funny how I don't really deal with that in the confines of work. & if I want to get the hell out of the office at lunch time (which I usually don't really care) then I go to the mall and go for a walk. Sure beats going out and eating a large calorie meal. I never understood why you had to eat to escape the office. If I worked in a safer area I'd just go for a walk, right outside, instead. There are plenty of alternatives to eating. I didn't know there was a rule you could only leave the premises at lunch if you were to EAT. I don't think there usually is. Wink



Spendy May

May 7th, 2008 at 07:49 pm

Well, yes, I already said May would be spendy.

Just charged about $1k to the card (& it's only the 7th?). Almost $600 in medical bills (emergency room and hearing test for dh - most of it hearing test - as I mentioned before). Also paid $400 for the rest of our camping reservation. At least there should be no more money spent on that trip but gas. The food is included. I would have preferred to pay that in June, but they wanted the money this month. On the charge card made little difference when I charged it, this month. So just got that taken care of. The medical bills, I generally only have a week or 2 to pay them. I just waited so I could put it on the latest charge cycle possible - waited until after the 4th so it would be on May's bill.

We expect to charge around $1500 this month, for Disneyland. I guess we'll see how much we spend...

& so the spendy month begins.

May is kind of crazy.

But in July I will only pay 50% the usual preschool bill (& monthly going forward) and we will get our stimulus rebate.

So, yes, I look forward to July...

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Oh yeah, and dh had $100 charge removed for 2007 lab bill. Way to go dh! I asked what the deal with it was and he said no one knows, that they are just idiots. So, we'll see. For now the word is we don't owe it. We'll see what the bills say. I don't always have the faith in one phone call clearing up stuff like this. Wink

End of the Week meals

May 6th, 2008 at 01:31 pm

I think this rounds out meals for the entire week. So you got a glimpse anyway.

Dh made us some chicago style pizza "casserole" (quick/easy recipe) on Sunday night. The dough is store bought and he puts it in a casserole dish and tops with all the fixings. Quick, easy and divine. I'll have to see if I can find the recipe.

For last night we still had some leftover burritos, so dh made some homemade salsa to go with it. For Cinco de Mayo. Our salsa recipe is actually mexican, so seemed fitting. I had asked him anyway when we would have salsa again. It had been too long! We've been stocking up on chips on sale, and no fresh salsa to dip them in!

I actually did not eat dinner last night - but for chips and salsa. !! I just remembered as I my boss treated me to lunch (very rare treat) and I was just STUFFED. I came home and took me a bit to remember why I was SO full. I told dh I was going to skip dinner. He said - "you mean you will eat later?" I said "no, I mean I am too full to eat dinner." & then I fell asleep early, and certainly did not wake up hungry. Geez. That was some lunch. I had bacon cheeseburger and fries. Was just a very large meal for me.

So I pretty much was free to feed yesterday. Big Grin

We have a lot of plans this weekend and probably won't eat home so dh said we'll probably just have leftovers the rest of the week. He is making some pasta/garlic/chickpea casserole maybe tomorrow. I don't remember it, but I guess we'll see.

BM is going through some major growthspurt. I was thinking of making pancakes and/or eggs for breakfast. LM woke me up at 5am, so there is time... Unusual for a week day, but I think that kids needs some extra FOOD.

Picnic Sunday

May 5th, 2008 at 02:48 pm

I got the fam out to a hike yesterday. IT was another new one (as most of them are; we haven't been up to much hiking since moving out here).

I had heard great things about this lake - it is some kind of government park and they keep cows and horses and goats there (the animals we saw). The lake is home to the biggest geese I have ever seen. Biggest and Loudest. Egads!

They also had a nice playground.

Yesterday was s'posed to be 80 degrees and was a bit on the warm side for this place. Not a ton of shade. Though unlike last weekend, there was at least a small breeze.

Anyway, so we checked it out and liked it much. We ate a picnic lunch (which the kids LOVE - LOVE picnics).

We then set off on a hike that started along the creek that bordered the park.

I forgot that I had read to bring a change of shoes. The geese poop was pretty bad, but the trail is apparently a very popular house trail. So the kids just had to announce the horse poop they saw every couple of feet. LOL.

We saw some kind of white crane, some brilliant bluebirds, and I spotted a lizard. Also, lots of butterflies. Some fish in the creek. We also saw some yellow-billed magpies. I think they are magnificent and had not realized until recently that this is one of their only habitats. I think they only live one other place in the world. Anyway, they have been hit hard by West Nile. I have not even seen one in a couple of years. It was nice to see they haven't gone entirely extinct, though I guess there is great danger of that with the West Nile virus.

Anyway, so the walk along the shady creek path wasn't so bad but we looped back around all the corrals on the unshaded side of the park. Poor animals?

Dh mentioned it wasn't such a nice hike without the shade. I said well, next time we could just turn around and go back the way we came. Doh. IT was actually kind of nice. The kids love creeks of course. Though I made a mental note that maybe we should avoid popular horse trails in the future. The last hike we did was a horse trail, but not a well used one, so it wasn't so bad. LOL.

I am kind of disappointed we have moved so rapidly to summer weather here though. YEsterday was okay but I wouldn't go there on a day that was any hotter.

There are plenty of amazing hikes we have in mind 1-2 hours away. With gas prices though I don't know how much we will be able to do. But I expect in the summer to try some coastal hikes and maybe stuff closer to San Francisco (NICE summer weather - stays rather cool by the shore. Will be divine to get away from the 100-degree-heat here).

Yesterday I also worked on cleaning house, and by the time we got home from the park I was absolutely exhausted. No need to go the gym - I got plenty work out yesterday. Full body workout.

Of course the kids wanted to go back to the track AGAIN. They ran 3 laps Saturday night. Dh and I were too exhausted. We said how about a night off from the track. YEesh.

LM also had an unfortunate incident with his imaginary friend. LOL. BM has always been good at telling jokes and getting a rise out of people. But LM has not been into that so much. So yesterday he told me he had gotten into a fight with his little friend. Which was an interesting turn of events, since life is usually so rosy for them. So I asked him a few questions about it. I brought it up at dinner to dh, wondering if he had heard. Then BM asks LM, "did you do something to wormy first?" Kind of like, let's be honest here. (Yes his best friend is wormy the worm. Don't ask. LOL). So LM gets a mischevious look in his face and exclaims, well, yeah, "I ATE him!" & he starts laughing this evil laugh. Dh and I were kind of appalled actually. I mean seriously, this is his best friend, he talks about him 24/7. But if he wanted to get a rise out of us - OMG - that worked. Just SO out of left field. BM also looked horrified - he kept saying, "You are joking, right?" LM was rather vague. But later he told me Wormy was out on a date, so I think Wormy is okay. Phew.

Kids!




Weekend Update

May 4th, 2008 at 02:30 pm

Um, okay. Did I ever mention my kids are weird? LOL. On Friday I was in the mood for a walk, and was also feeling ambitious. Thankfully, dh was up for it as well. I wanted to attempt a long walk to a new park, but dinner was running a little late and we got a late start. We realized we'd never make it. Probably a 30-45-minute walk one way. I was just happy to walk.

So on the way we were trying to cut through the school and I pointed out the track to the kids. The kids LOVE to run around in circles, so the sight of the track was like heaven on earth. At home they run round and round endlessly around the kitchen island. There are many bumped heads and encouragement to slow down, but running around in circles is like heaven on earth for them - we just let them do it. I am sure we are terrible parents, but I don't know - it's really hard to get them not to run around.

Anyway, so this whole giant loop was quite amazing to them. BM ran one lap in just under 3 minutes and was off on another one. LM has do to everything BM does so he also ran 2 laps.

BM couldn't be any happier and LM was yelling "This is awesome!!" the whole time. If only I had thought of it, should have brought them to the track ages ago. I told dh - well when they refuse to nap - I think you have a new "weapon." LOL. Run them ragged at the track.

I couldn't help but wonder if any casual observer would think we were insane. As BM insisted that we time his laps. I imagine the whole thing could look pretty bad - making our toddler run laps - LOL.

Anyway, BM insisted he wanted to run a mile last night. We went to the track (they mostly ran the entire way there and back as well) and they ended up doing 3 laps. I think they both did. BM's time had slowed a bit, and he really wanted to run a full mile. We told him he should probably work up to it a bit more. Mostly I was worried about LM trying to keep up with him. He was running 4.5 minute laps.

But I have the feeling we will make it back to the track tonight and let him run a mile.

Well, that is certainly cheap entertainment.

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Dh and I were going to go to the movies last weekend but we never made it for various reasons.

We went yesterday and dropped off the kids at the drop-in care place. They told us rates go up tomorrow. They suck you in and then raise the rates. !! Up $1/hour.

We have been trying to swing 1 date a month, and they also have sent us a ton of coupons, so I think we'll survive.

Of course, if I think about it, it makes me cringe. 'Twas $40 for 2 hours without the kids. Yikes! They childcare was about $25, and we paid $15 at the movies. (Matinee).

On the flip side, it was absolutely amazing to drop off the kids and do something. Our parents are GREAT about giving us time alone, and their daycare will take them on occassion at night. But all of this takes great care and planning. & with our parents, a 2-hour drive. IT was so weird just to say, "let's go out" and drop off the kids.

I think we likey.

& the kids LOVE this place so they had a blast.

At that cost though it is a luxury we can afford no more than once a month. It was actually our April date which we hadn't gotten to with tax deadlines and all.

In May we have a date - a volunteer appreciation dinner - which is always fun.

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I assumed gas would be more pricey in LA but in the paper there was a story on gas prices and gas is on average 2 cents a gallon cheaper there, than here. I think our best bet is not to fill up the tank in the middle of nowhere. Where the high prices will be. But that is good to know. That maybe gas won't be any worse there. Woohoo.

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I am fed up to here with my health insurer. We have always paid the higher price for co-pay insurance with our HMO. Which means sure we had a $50 co-pay last year (no small beans) and insane insurance premiums, but we have never had any hassle and everything is pretty much covered. I've never received a bill more than $50 or anything like that. We never receive statements or bills - we just had the comfort knowing most anything we would need was fully covered.

Of course, ideally, this is the insurance I would love to keep, but it went from insanely expensive to completely unaffordable, as they push their subscribers more to HDHPs.

So we signed up for the HDHP and I Was thinking it wasn't so bad. Our total out-of-pocket and premiums are lower than they were last year. (I think our out-of-pocket was honestly a good $3k higher last year though it was all stuff we generally never would have used).

So I was starting out looking at this quite favorably. We had a lot of doctors visits early in the year and they charged very little up front. They also sent me the average charge for various services, and it didn't look so bad.

Then I realized this was a false sense of hope.

They bill slower than molasses so the bills are starting to roll in. We eventually got a $400 bill for dh's hearing check. Which we thought had only been $75.

I am not sure how much they will bill for the ambulance for BM, but they recently sent us a notice for $1500. I admit the drive is a bit far (not like the hospital is down the street) but when I had googled ambulance costs the most I saw was $500. ??????? What in the hell would cost $1500 for someone who was borderline if they even really needed it. Not like they hooked him up to machines or anything costly.

So I try not to get too upset about it as it was not the bill. For all I know the bill will be $500. I just don't know.
But the "cost" is apparently $1500.

I have never seen bills and non-bills like this before. I liked when it was all behind the scened.

Anyway, this is the kicker though. The kicker! I got a bill friday for $100 for lab work in 2007. I was livid. It was for dh and he likes to deal with this stuff. So I handed it to him to take care of. I said, when you call, tell them in the last 30 years I have NEVER received a bill. Likewise, I don't understand why it takes ONE YEAR to bill for simple lab work. I think it is an error since we were under the copay plan last year and the copay was $10.

So I know the bill is wrong. But I am just livid that they seem to be going back through old charges and treating them like we were in the HDHP. I didn't pay an extra $300/month insurance last year for crap like this.

Anyway, I had a terrible thought that dh had been told originally he prepaid these lab tests and he made a big STINK about it when they tried to charge him. In the end, after they removed the $10 charge we found out that we had been misinformed in the first place and the prepayment was not for the lab - was for something else. I don't remember the exact sequence of events, but I remember learning after the fact that the $10 was a valid charge - after they removed it.

So I have a fear it has something to do with that. Like they are going through old records.

I am sure dh will work it out and just pay the stinking $10. But if I had any idea I would have gotten a $100 bill? Would have paid $10 then.

I almost hope this is it because I would hope this means no more surprise bills for 2007. Ridiculous. At least this would be a logical reason they would go through and see we never paid for it. But it just makes me nervous. What next? This certainly doesn't apply to our 2008 deductible.

Likewise, I have a fear we will get bills for 2008, well into 2009. No sigh of relief here if/when we get through the year under our deductible. IT would be like, let's wait a year and see. I think this whole 12 months to bill thing is completely ridiculous. It is 3-months and going as far as these emergency room charges - the first bills started to roll in last week.

Anyway, so it takes 1 year to bill for certain things, and I keep getting notices and statements and random bills all over the place. The bills are really hard to keep on top of. One itemized all our visits for the last 3 years (thought it didn't charge anything pre-2008). Of course I had to pull that one out and check this lab test was not on there. IT wasn't.

I "only" have 4 bills to compare any future charges to, for now, but I imagine in the long run this will turn into a nightmare. Since I am getting on average one bill every few days.

I imagine by the end of the year I will have 50 random bills that I will have to scour through as 2008 charges roll in well into next year and I am checking to make sure we are not double charged for anything.

So this is how the other half lives?

All I can think is thank goodness we had the premium insurance through my pregnancies. No paperworks; no bills. The thought just gives me a headache. Where we would be if I was pregnant with this freaking HDHP.

Yes, this is the first year that I feel our health plan is not bankrupting us. Yes. There is a plus there. But the hassle factor is like 1000-fold. I am not enjoying this at all. Is this the trade off?

I keep wondering how they keep costs down with this insanely inefficient billing. I imagine all this stuff generally goes on behind the scenes anyway. Only difference is that us and our pocketbooks are now in the loop. It's so convoluted though. Egads!

You know, for the long term I had considered getting into medical billing. (If you can't beat them; join them) or getting in at the accounting department of our HMO. For the benefits.

I have always said I could/would never work for the IRS. I would go insane. I can't tell if this is better or worse. IT's about the same caliber. I don't think I could do it. Just big, inefficient bureaucracy. I better start working on another pan...

Meatball Subs

May 4th, 2008 at 02:21 pm

Spinach Meatball Subs
http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Spinach-Meatball-Subs

This is what we had for dinner last night - lots of leftovers as well.

It's been a red meat week. We don't necessarily always eat so much red meat. That is one thing we have been cutting back on, with time. I assume meat was on sale or something.

Anyway, this recipe has converted us more to homemade meatballs. We realize they aren't that difficult, and boy they are sure tastier than the frozen variety.

Kids LOVE this recipe and a great way to get them (& me) to eat green stuff.

For lunch we had leftovers and PBJ, per usual. You see the trend that we don't really do much for breakfast, and rely on leftovers and frugal standbys for lunch. So a bulk of our cash goes to dinners. & we live on leftovers.

IT was funny when I read that pfadvice article about how so many people are "too good" for leftovers. I had never even realized this. What's wrong with leftovers? There are so many meals that taste better the longer they sit and blend. So anyway, I had just never heard that concept. If it weren't for leftovers I wonder how would we survive. Sure makes life easier since removes the need to cook for EVERY single meal. Sure, a lot of things taste better fresher, but somehow we survive. Wink

I guess when you don't even know you are deprived, it doesn't matter much...

For today I was thinking of breaking out the cereal. we actually do eat name brand cereal but we don't necessarily eat it every day. I actually LOVE the nature valley granola bar cereal. IT is divine. I sometimes pop it into a small tupperware container for a breakfast supplement or a snack at work. But mostly we eat this kind of stuff in moderation so we can enjoy it. (We couldn't afford it if we all ate a heaping bowl every single day). On the weekends I tend to break this stuff out for the kids or we make monkey bread or pancakes; stuff like that. I think today will be a good cereal day though. Feeling lazy for cooking...

The Cost of Milk

May 4th, 2008 at 01:48 pm

Dh ran to the store last night to get some milk.

Since he does all the shopping he keeps telling me has NOT noticed grocery prices going up. As I track our monthly expenses I have to say he is not crazy. At first I thought it was just small increases he wasn't noticing, though he has a rather photographic memory and we don't even keep a price book (because it is way too time consuming but also he seems to do a good job keeping most of it in his head. Obviously a price book would be even better, but his brain/memory doesn't do half bad).

Anyway, so he runs out to get milk yesterday and considered just getting 1 gallon, since we were a little short on cash (credit card closed yesterday and I did not want to put more than we had to on it).

He came home with 2 gallons. He said - "I get it now. I didn't realize milk had gone up to $4/gallon" (even though he read it in the paper) because he has been paying 4.50 for 2 gallons. !!!

Anyway, we just all switched to the same milk so we could get it on sale - we switched around Jan. 1. LM is rather borderline and could have probably used 2% milk for another year, but the rest of us drink non-fat.

Not that long ago we were buying 3 kinds of milk as the kids were at different levels. There is apparently no discount for buying 3 gallons when they all have different fat content.

Anyway, we hadn't realized just how much we were saving with this move.

We probably have some advantage shopping for 4 and buying in bulk, when it comes to a lot of our groceries.

Of course we were going to wean BM off night-time and nap-time milk when he turns 5 this summer. I think it would be reasonable to do the same for LM. If milk keeps rising in cost, I think we will drink it a lot less.

Anyway, I can't help but wonder if grocery prices than affect single people and smaller families more dramatically.

Just kind of interesting.

Recipe/Eating/Stimulus for Groceries

May 2nd, 2008 at 07:20 pm

BEfore I forget - here is a simple recipe:

Cheeseburger Pasta

http://allrecipes.com/recipe/bacon-cheeseburger-pasta/detail...

This is my lunch - leftovers. & I look forward to it. Big Grin

I had burrito leftovers last night (another thing that lasta forever).

I Watched Top Chef last night and they had a challenge to create dinner for four with $10. They were absolutely freaking out. I was imagning a million things I could cook for $10 to feed my family. Burritos would come to mind as awfully close - meat, beans, tomato sauce, spices, tortillas, cheese. Leftovers for days...

OF course, admittedly, we don't eat a lot of gourmet. Big Grin

Though I was craving salsa on my way home from the gym last night and I wondered if we had salsa since Easter. Probably not with our rounds of illness. Dh said he would maybe make some this weekend. Woohoo. we have some chips - but no salsa. Kind of sad...

The salsa recipe is quite cheap as is usually made primarily with leftover veggies. The chips we bulk up on, when on sale.

No doubt kids are having PBJ for lunch, with grapes, and dh is having some sort of leftovers. We had some spinach lasagna and soup leftover as well.

I was surprised when dh told me he is making another pasta/beef dish tonight. Sausage penne pasta, with cheese and sour cream, etc. Certainly not a light meal, but we eat smaller portions and will have lots of leftovers for next week.

Oh I found this one too - we get most of these subscribing to Taste of Home Cooking mags - LOVE THEM. We have the "Light & Tasty" & the "Quick Cooking" - though they keep changing the names - I couldn't tell you what they are called now.

http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Cheesy-Sausage-Penne

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Dh told me today that Raley's (our primariy grocery store) is offering 10% return on stimulus rebates.

I have mixed feelings about it.

It is certainly an easy $180 - will about turn our stimulus into $2k. $2k in free groceries. Wow!

I had earmarked the money for other savings, which we could still do. IT would just be delayed, but I think it would be a record keeping nightmare.

I told dh we could get 3% in the bank and so the true savings will be 7% for us. BUT we would have to be committed to replenish our savings with the grocery savings (easier said than done) and it will be a record keeping nightmare for me. We figure we average $250/month at Bel Air and may take almost a year to recoupe.

Likewise, who wants to carry around a $2k gift card in their wallet for a year? Oy vey. What if it is lost???????

I did look it up to see what other grocery stores are offering and saw since our stimulus is $1800 that they would issue us 2 gift cards for $990. At least that is more reasonable, we can keep the second one under lock and key until we use up the first.

Well, overall I think it is worth it. But I don't think it is as clear cut that we save 10%. WE save 7%. & lord hope that $990 gift card is not lost or stolen. !!!

There is something (a lot actually) to be said for cash in the bank. Big Grin

I do like the choice to get 10% extra for groceries (as opposed to consumer goods, as many retailers are offering). I am just not sure I am convinced.

We have 2 months to decide, and see how our cash flow is when we get our stimulus in late June.

If we do it this way we will have to keep meticulous track of our grocery receipts and add them up monthly, and transfer that amount of cash to our savings every month.

It might take us 4 months just to replenish our short-term savings. Which is fine, since that is mostly for December bills.

But the more I think about it, the more it gives me a headache. Though I know in the end we'll be ahead $180.

I really think the whole risk factor thing has to be considered though. Since we are pretty disciplined with our savings, I find the odds slim that the cash would be used elsewhere, with all that grocery savings monthly. BUT I am less convinced I like the risk of carrying around almost $1k in my wallet. I usually carry $20 cash most. Big Grin

Dh is good with his wallet and good at keeping on top of that stuff, but it still makes me a wee bit nervous. I guess we can talk about locking the card up at home and only getting it out for grocery store trips. HE is good at remembering things and I think is probably the best plan. cuts down the risk a bit...

Likewise, I would probably want to save every grocery receipt until the gift card is used. Computers are not foolproof. Last thing I need is a bad card or computer reading issues.

All that in place? We'll probably spend our stimulus in this manner. (Was to go to savings, we'll just trickle it into savings over the next year, with our grocery savings).

I don't think either way this is what the government had in mind. Big Grin

Anyway, what people probably just jump into, I probably tend to over analyze. Slow and cautious says I.










April Additions

May 2nd, 2008 at 01:40 pm

2008 $20 challenge:

$2,160.00 - 4/16

$ 100.00 - ROTH Contributions - May
86.00 - April Interest
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$2,346.00 - Balance 5/1
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Not terribly exciting - nothing new.

I have a balance transfer (though small) that expires in June. So enjoying a little extra interest in the meantime. Which is the easiest to earn. Big Grin

Eating/Exercising

May 1st, 2008 at 04:17 pm

I am just trying to share more what we are eating and how we keep costs down.

I have to be clear that dh and I are not so much into hype and diet. WE are, as with anything, just into moderateness and reasonableness.

For one, I Am not going to stock up on organic produce to be healthy. Mostly I am very suspicious of how organic anything with an "organic" label is. So I am not one to rush out and pay double for the privelege of organic. If it meant that much to me I'd grow my own veggies.

Likewise, dh and I Are more likely to home cook our meals, and eat smaller portions. My dh is a stick and since we switched to primarily dining in since I became pregnant with our first child I think he lost a good 10 pounds+. (Not like he had any weight to lose).

Eating home is both healthier and cheaper than eating out. & it is quite simple. SO that is the extent we go to be healthy. We try to avoid junk food and prepackaged foods as much as possible. BUT we don't put a lot of thought into how healthy our food is. We don't count calories or only buy whole grains or go extreme in any direction.

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So with that said, last night dh made a beef/pasta casserole for dinner. IT was actually a briefly forgotten recipe that he had found. Hamburger pasta or something - is what it was called. Not the healthiest meal ever, but yummy and made LOTS of leftovers.

Dh ran out of penne pasta so he threw in some egg noodles to round out the pasta portion. Was fine with us.

We also had salad (prepackaged) with dinner. We really love those expensive salads that you mix together (like mexican salad is our favorite - you mix up the salad, chips, and salsa and dressing - yummy - divine). But dh only stocks up on those when they are on sale. Otherwise he just buys a giant bag of plain salad that we go through slowly.

Our kids LOVE salad. Don't ask me why -kind of weird. LOL. But one of the few veggies I can really stomach - lettuce. So we try to eat salad regularly. But yeah okay - we go prepackage there. IF food prices rise dramatically that is certainly one area we can change up a bit to save money - make our own salad. FOr now, call us lazy. Wink

For dessert (Rare) we actually had some ice cream. We had some left over from the weekend. IT was the first night since Saturday the kids had really eaten their dinner and I had promised BM ice cream on Monday. But no dessert unless they eat most of their dinner.

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Today as I left for work the kids were eating granola bars for breakfast. (LOVE the nature valley granola bars - buy them on sale whenever/wherever. USually Walgreens or Target).

Dh doesn't do breakfast so probably saves us money there.

I just have my apple sauce, which is plenty for me.

For lunch dh will probably have leftovers, and the kids will have PBJ. That is just standard lucnch fare. They will probably have apples or grapes to round it out. They also both get one cup of juice a day. BM drinks whole juice but LM's we still water down.

With lunch they will drink water or milk. & they get a small cup of milk before nap time.

I am actually going out to lunch today, though we would have PLENTY leftovers otherwise. Meeting a friend at the buffet.

I assume dinner will be leftovers just because we have so much food.

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Oh yeah, with the rush of busy season over I Feel I have much more time.

Anyway, Tuesday I did go to aerobics (& got my butt kicked as usual). Last night we went for a walk around the lake. The walk was an hour with a leisurely stroll and a stop at the playground. I had guessed 1 mile, but I think it may be a little longer than that. Maybe something like 1.25. I need to re-measure one of these days. I have a pedometer I think which will give me an idea.

Tonight I will go by the gym on the way home. I think I have only been once or twice since I was so sick in February. Mostly just sick or little time, though with the nice weather have been doing much more outdoors. The gym is more for winter and summer when the outside is so extreme.

The thing that struck me when we joined the gym, and I hadn't thought of, was how plopping the kids in the gym daycare while we worked out was little help to them. Dh and I could maybe work out more efficiently, but then they would be less involved. So we try to do much more activity with the kids outdoors when the weather allows it.

I am going to aerobics Saturday and gym Sunday (ideally). We were going to do a small hike this weekend also if it is not too hot.

An active Monkey Mama is a happy Monkey Mama.

Plus I need to get in shape for Disneyland. !!! Will be LOTS of walking.