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Archive for March, 2009

California Ain't So Bad!!!

March 31st, 2009 at 02:01 pm

So says I, on the eve of a 1% sales tax increase.

Then again, it's 73 degrees right now. Big Grin

Yeah, today was interesting. California is pretty aggressive about taxing anything you may have ever earned if you ever lived in California, and anything you earn in this state if you are not a resident, etc., etc.

& California is not likely the best choice if you are a high income earner. That is for sure.

But I think it gets a bad rap. Since it is a little more socialistic, the penalty isn't so bad if you don't earn so much. The college prices can't be beat.

I bring it up because a client in another state earned a whopping $2k from a speaking engagement in North Carolina. He got a 1099 and had $100 income tax withheld in North Carolina. I filed the NC return to get a refund, and instead he owed them like $25. What the heck??? The tax rate on the $2k was 6%. Holy COW!!!!!!

Seriously?

I pulled up NC tax rates and yeah, every taxable dime over $0 is taxed at 6% plus.

I pulled up California in comparison. You have to have $30k taxable income before you even hit the 6% tax breacket.

Yeesh.

One of my favorite bloggers, in this state, blogged recently how California is the most HIGHLY taxed state in the nation.

I had to take issue with that. Seriously? We don't have the highest income tax rates (though maybe close). Not the highest sales tax rates (though close). Certainly not the highest property tax rates. Apparently this guy has never lived in NYC (nor prepared a NYC tax return).

You don't know how many people I know who moved up north but didn't do any research and didn't realize property taxes were sky high.

& so it goes.

Can't say where California will be tomorrow with this budget mess. But for today, being middle income isn't really taxed that much, if you ask me.

Anyway, my sister lives in NC. I had no idea how tax crazy they were. They are a bit like California. Very aggressive.

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Yeah, I had completely forgotten. Our sales tax rates increase by 1% tomorrow. 7.75 to 8.75.

In the grand scheme of things I don't expect it to affect us much. Most of our budget goes to savings, groceries, gas and services, which do not have sales taxes. In fact, they haven't raised gas taxes (yet) in all this mess.

If we average $2400 per year in taxable purchases (just a guess) our tax bill will increase $24. I think we will survive.

One item we have been splurging a bit more on is eating out. Which IS taxed. & unfortunately, is a reason to scale back a bit. It doesn't look good for the restaurants.

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Last night I officially paid all the bills for May. I had a whopping FIVE entries to make on online bill pay. Seriously?

Let's see...

The savings is automatic.

I do have to go in and pay a lot of the utilities monthly with the credit card. I do most of those around the 10th.

But the bills that I could not charge were the mortgage, health insurance, preschool, gardener, gas company. (Don't ask me why all the city owned utilities can be paid by credit card, but not the giant regional for-profit gas company. Whatevah).

& that's it? I have been moving more and more to the credit card. I didn't realize how simple it had gotten. (Until another credit card breach, of course. I am sure handing my info over to so many organizations is not helping the cause. I still have no inkling where the last 3 breaches came from - all about in a years time. I guess it's becoming old hat).

I will have to of course, pay the credit card off, when it closes on the 3rd. So that is another one. The county (sewer) only bills only other month; I have some random annual bills to add to the mix too. But MONTHLY is getting quite simple.

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Beyond all that I paid $500 online for our life insurance (annual billing) and wrote a check of $2300 for the property taxes. Oh joy!

I deposited my $1k gift and with my $1700 in cash savings next month, it will be a wash. Usually I slide backwards a little bit in net worth when I pay the property taxes. I guess my overtime check will help too. It will probably arrive literally days after the property tax check clears. Happy not to fork it over to the county though. Blech. I think there is no better feeling than taking a windfall and just putting it in a savings account. It's nice not to *need* it immediately.

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I am not sure if my paycheck will get stimulated. Guess I find out tomorrow. I think the boss is too busy to care nor to update the software. I actually spent the weekend updating the clients' software as I am sure questions would arise. I think it woud have been overlooked otherwise, in the tax fray. But I did send an e-mail to the boss that it was done. *hint hint*

Anyway, either way I don't particularly care. I expect a bigger tax bill this year and wihholding more isn't the worst. But if it does so happen to arrive I am going to *up* my ROTH contribution to $415/month. That's mostly what I have decided to do. It's just enough to get us to one maxed out IRA. How's that for a sign?

Dreaming...

March 30th, 2009 at 03:16 pm

**It was terribly windy yesterday. I dreamt that our fence blew down and I felt very relieved that we just had passed the $5k mark on our non-emergency cash savings. Replacing the fence is high on my list of things we will spend our savings on in the near future.

Of course, in my dream, I was informed a fence cost $20k. Though IRL I had seen we could probably get it done in the $1k-$3k range (through random web searches anyway) I was informed that was the national average. In California, a fence for 0.05 acres cost $20k. Figures.

(In my dream I forgot we'd only be on the hook for half - shared fence).

I woke up before I had too much time to panic over this. I think you get a glimpse into my psyche though. I am not sure if I will ever feel "prepared" enough.

When I awoke and showered I could tell the wind was pretty fierce. No doubt feeding into my dream. I was going to peek outside and see if the fence was still standing, but I forgot to.

I've said before, but there are a number of houses on our street that NEED paint jobs. Bad. (Ours will pass because we had the luck to pick a light color, which is close to the color of the stucco so you can't see it peeking out underneath. The dark houses look pretty bad). & the fences the builder put in? Crap. I can't believe us lazy procrastinators (when it comes to home improvement anyway) will be the first to cave. It's kind of sad. I've just been hoping to save up the cash in time for when our neighbors are ready to replace their side of the fence; for when the HOA send us a notice to paint or face the consequences. I never dreamed we'd be the first to take the initiative to show some pride of ownership.

As crappy as the fence appears, it sure can withstand some wind. I'll give it that. Wink Though I have been more frantic about the whole thing ever since our neighbor lost a portion of fence last winter or spring. I wouldn't call a fence replacement an "unforeseen emergency" in these circumstances.

**Reminds me, I saw another foreclosure; street behind us. House was bought about same time as ours, for $300k. It just foreclosed for $320k??? Means that was the loan still owing. I don't know what to say about that one.

Though, in the grand scheme of things, these people didn't borrow near as much as I've seen with most of the other foreclosures.

No wonder there is such a disconnect between our reality and people's assumptions about our situation. Give us 2 minimum wage jobs (or one $40k wage) and the mortgage will get paid. Quite easily. I think most people assume we pay about $40k/year for our PITI. People also don't understand that while they had 10 rent increases, our mortgage payment stayed stagnant, and then lowered due to lower interest rates. Oh yeah, but "NO ONE" can refi in this day and age. Just stupid people like us who pay down our debts while everyone else is borrowing into eternity. You don't know how many people have called us stupid for paying down our mortgage. Actually, I am sure many of you can relate. Being able to refi under a 5% fixed rate is sweet revenge I guess. "You got under 5% for TWO years? I get it 30 years. I was only paying 5.75% to begin with. With no risk of increase." Yeah, stupid me.

A Quick Update

March 25th, 2009 at 12:12 pm

**Filled up the van for $30 yesterday. Woohoo. (I hadn't gotten gas in a while - but I still remember the one time it cost $75 to fill it up). Dh was unimpressed because I guess prices have been lower recently. I haven't a clue.

**Boy does BM love his karate class. I left early yesterday to watch. We are going to a festival Saturday. I still manage to find some life balance even when work is crazy.

Reminds me, parent/teacher conference is Thursday. IT will be interesting.

**Weather is gorgeous here. We have used the heat very sparingly in the last 30 days, but I think officially it will be off for the rest of the year.

**I barely got a bill for the HBO and dh is already dropping it. His show is over. (We dropped long distance on land line, and call waiting, to justify it). Well, that was shorter than I thought (he says it's been 10 weeks; feels like 2). Anyway, I am strongly considering maxing out one ROTH with the $20 monthly savings & with the stimulus, *if* it arrives in my paycheck. I will *up* my contributions to $416/month, indefinitely. It puts our current retirement contribution rate to 16.25%. Why I am not so eager on the second ROTH until our emergency/cash savings is back up to snuff. (I already have most our efund in our ROTHs anyway - how I maxed us both for 2007 - I am not putting any more cash in ROTHS - we need usable cash for more near term expenses).

Anyway, I started the year with $333/month to ROTH (up from $100 last year). Mostly doable with house refi. We will get this up to $415 with phone cost savings and stimulus. I'd been doing $350/month with gas cost savings of new preschool.

I have been depositing 100% of it into MY Roth, simply because T Rowe lets you do auto deposits for prior year (Vanguard does not). After April, when 2008 contributions are no longer allowed - I will probably deposit 100% into dh's ROTH. Since I have a retirement plan through my work, I prefer to bulk up dh's ROTH overall.

**EBAY challenge - I'd say we officially brought in closer to $360 this year. So we are averaging $120/month profit. Not bad. I don't have any of the details. Dh keeps track of all that (& is doing all the work). I just have all the deposits in my checking account. Big Grin

I think the biggest annoyance is crazy people who ask way too much or are insulted by "low ball" offers. Hey, for every one person who flips out, 9 people will sell at that price. People are just funny. Dh has really offneded a few (clueless) people, apparently. Dh's best deals are people who live out in the boonies though. He's gotten some steals, and doesn't hurt his car gets about 40mpg, freeway. He can offer a really low price, drive out, pick it up, and sell in the city for quite a profit.

**Today is just one point in time, but our net worth has started to move forward again. It's been pretty stagnant for a solid year. I'm not *too* excited about the whole thing (not expecting it to last or anything), but it will be nice while it does last. Our net worth has hovered around $200k, for what feels like forever. We've been putting far more away the last couple of years, but the markets have slid, of course. So it feels like we have been treading a little too long.

**We sealed up a leak in our budget. We did discuss eating out a little more and more babysitting, to for the last stretch of tax season. Not like every December I say, "Things will be crazy - let's splurge my entire overtime paycheck." But about this time of year we get pretty tired and something has to give. We decided taking a small percentage of my bonus for some breathing room, wasn't the worst thing. It's the last month in a 4-month stretch.

However, with tee ball and everything adding more hecticness to the schedule, we have been eating out way too much. I told dh the other day we really should not spend ANY more money this month, but for groceries and gas. Though I was okay with the daycare thing as discussed. As far as eating out I told him I was happy with Ramen noodles on busy days. Frozen pizza, beanies & weanies, whatever. HE is a little more particular, but I suggested he go out and treat himself to a nice meal, and the kids and I would be JUST fine. THat's the thing. Eating out, one of us, once in a while, isn't really a biggie. I eat out on average once a week for lunch. BUT ALL OF US Eating out is suddenly like $20-$30 as opposed to $5k in frozen dinners.

So, I think it was a good thing. I know dh is tired of cooking every night and I am fine with that. But he took it to heart, and whipped up something quick last night. I will probably come home earlier and try to cook something next week on tee ball or karate night. Will see... I think we will save some considerable cash through the end of the month, stopping that money leak dead in its tracks. Phew.

When you are not used to eating out much at all? Geez louise does it add up fast!

I really don't mind if dh took a bit of a break though. We don't have to have a home cooked meal every night. IT's his thing though. His job is to keep costs down, so he doesn't have to work, and therefore he really takes it to heart when I bring it up. I didn't mean he shoulk cook dinner. But I am too busy to really think very far ahead. I will try to remember to cook dinner next Tuesday night and give him a break, for sure.

Pictures

March 22nd, 2009 at 02:17 pm

I keep reading about astronomical prices for pictures (grade school and such) and before this year I kept saying over and over, "Um, you don't have to BUY them." If too astronomical, if nothing else I would protest. Much. In hopes of a more reasonable picture vendor.

But 9 months into the school year, and I am down 2 for 2.

I just bought the tee ball pictures. The thing that suckered me in was the pictures were REALLY good.

Reasonable? Not really. I just spent $35 on a 8x10 with single and group picture. It also came with an 8x10, 2 5x7s, and 8 wallets. We could have easily scanned and reprinted for the relatives. But it's more for the relatives than anything. I didn't mind paying a little for convenience, while I was ordering anyway. I guess to, with all our parents do for us, we can order them a few pictures. We'll keep the main one and that is all we need. (I don't need a zillion pictures, for sure).

So, yeah, I caved there. & I caved fast.

Kindergarten was the same way, except I don't think it cost more than $10. So it was like, eh. It was reasonable. Came with a class photo, and a handful of wallets for the fam. The picture wasn't great. But it was kindergarten. !!!

I honestly do not expect to buy pictures every year. Or every time they are offered. The school did say they do pictures twice a year. Can't say I see the point of buying again this year.

LM's preschool also does pictures. Will see when the time comes. I don't know.

But so far my track record isn't so great. Some day I will stand by my words and not buy pictures. For one, I don't think 1st grade will be so exciting as Kindergarten. Eh.

Gobble Gobble

March 22nd, 2009 at 09:11 am

**Yesterday I was at work and I about jumped out of my skin when I heard "gobble gobble gobble." The turkeys are out in full force. LOL. It was just kind of funny. I still find it odd that there are so many wild turkeys running around such an incorporated area. & boy can they be loud!

There were about 10 in the parking lot hanging out the other day. They like looking at their reflection in the windows.

There is a creek, horse pasture, and a golf course across the street. No doubt somewhere in all that green is where they reside. But yeah, they like our windows.

**Work is crazy. This week and next is a little crazed because we have so much other stuff going on. I am working more Sundays than Saturday, this week and next. Since we have so many Saturday activities. Makes for a long week...

**Yesterday was little league opening day. It was FUN! This whole sports thing is growing on me. They had a parade and it was quite a production. (As an aside dh video taped some of it and said it was unfortunate that he was near some horse poop - because all you hear is everyone exclaiming about the horse poop as they walk by). LOL. Anyway, I told him he captured the very essence of any parade - so I wouldn't worry about it. I was in marching band in high school and college. The second he told me that, it brought back many parade memories. They really should put the horses in the back. Wink In marching band we were s'posed to march right through it. We always stepped around it. LOL.

**Along with opening day we also had the kid's first game. It was far more fun than I imagined as well. The kids did well (better than practice) but they were also just so funny. BM got a lot of comments because he turned his baseball hat backwards and just had this "cool" stance. Everyone kept commenting if he was like 20 or something. Some of the kids were rolling in the grass. Some were laying down (no doubt exhausted because it was late afternoon and they had already done a big parade thing early in the morning). They were just a crack up. & of course, whenever the ball landed, all the kids would run to tackle it. Was a mix between football and baseball, I'd say. They were cute to watch. But I think with everyone watching and getting all dressed up they made an effort to follow the rules. & to listen. Can't say so much for practice. LOL. So it went better than I thought. & yeah, was fun. Sports was NOT my thing as a kid. So I was wary how being a sport parent would be. But I see why people get so involved. IT is fun.

At this age it is so low key anyway.

Oh, and the kids lucked out BIG time. We live on the western border of the city. I thought the game would be rained out and was intent to work. Dh called me at about 1:30 (at work) to say, "um, the game is on." I was 10 miles away at work and it was pouring. It poured all the way home. It was sprinkling when I got off the freeway. As I drove the half mile west from the freeway to the park, it was just gorgeous. The sprinkles tapered off. The sun was out. I figured the game would get rained out in the end. Instead, there wasn't even a drop. Kids were lucky as can be. The rain came a few hours later.

I am sure most of the games were rained out yesterday, but we lucked out, for sure.

**There was a thread in the forums about what to never buy generic. I figure, it depends. Some products have good and bad generic brands. BUT I have to add something to the mix. Generic razors. I am pretty particular about my razors. My dh keeps coming home with different generic brands, and I keep tossing them in the trash. They simply DO NOT work.

I was frustrated when I was at Walgreens the other day picking up a few items. I thought, "I better check the razors and see if they are on sale while I am here." No, none on sale. None there at all. But they sure had a lot of generic brands on sale with giant signs about how great they are. Ugh. I will never buy Walgreens brand generic razors again. For sure. Wording says - "Just like the leading brand." Um, I don't think so.

**I have some pics. I was just getting pics off the camera and all. I took these a while ago and had been so busy.

Just showing our old bulbs and our new bulbs in the bathroom. There were a lot of comments about how we had 8 lightbulbs in each bathroom.

This is why:

Lights we did not change (we never use these - so much natural light)



Changed lights in the kids' bathroom



& I do have to admit, since we replaced a few burned out bulbs, I guess the fact that our electric bill did not go up, is good.

But yeah - you can buy the fancy looking round bulb style for the CFLs. But the lights are so high and we never particularly look at them. We are happy with these.

I still look forward to going out of town and seeing what our baseline electric usage is. We usually go to the Bay Area so much, but with tax season, it probably won't be until May. I'm going next weekend, but dh is staying here to catch a break. & he will have the TV and computers on all day - so yeah - won't help. We are just home too much. Dh even stays up so late so I can't even see what our energy usage is overnight. It would probably be the same as away from home, except dh is usually up until 2am. & I'm often up at 5am. So yeah, there isn't much I can test until we all leave the house for ANY length of time. Which we probably won't do until May.

Economy Whoas & Paying Self First

March 19th, 2009 at 01:18 pm

Most of my clients have been doing amazingly well. A lot of retired clients with pensions, little affected. The younger working ones seemed to have banner years in 2008 - go figure. Most of them seem to be pretty fiscally conservative in the first place though. Which certainly pays off.

In fact, I have my LAST tax appointment today. Woohoo! No more dressing up extra - hehe. & usually it's impossible to get my regular work done this time of year - but I have more help this year. So I don't feel too slammed or behind (knock on wood). I usually do not enjoy my tax clients so much because I am the type who prefers to work alone behind the scenes - and I get to do that MOST of the time. But this year was pretty easy. I am getting to know my clients well, and even the new ones weren't too critical of my youngness. The social interaction is growing on me.

But yeah, what I wanted to say, was one of my favorite client couples came in the other day and they seemed rather stressed. This surprised me considering the tone of the year thus far, and as I told you all my married clients seemed just fine.

Turns out they own a commercial property that brings in about $75k income annually, which is mostly what they live off of. Their tenant moved out and they are not sure if they can find a new one (considering the millions of square feet of empty retail/business space as I mentioned in a recent blog). Talk about an example of people doing "everything right" and getting screwed over by all this mess. They have owned the property for a very long time (decades) and decided to keep it to live off of in retirement. As they told me this I glanced at their income tax info. Their IRA only had $100k and besides a small amount of investment income, all they had was social security. Thank goodness for that.

I am sure they will be fine. But that was my one really "down and out" client for the year.

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On the financial front, this month is turning out quite spendy. Just lots of little things coming up. It's so crazed with work and all that we have been paying more for convenience - eating out more and such, etc., etc. Since LM is going to preschool 6 hours a week as opposed to the old 18 hours a week, dh is going a little crazy. (& he usually goed crazy regardless). I told him just to send him to the drop-in place a little more. I don't mind putting some of my overtime $$$ towards that. It's easier for me to work more when everyone else is less stressed. But I have the feeling this month will be a bit pricey.

Anyway, usually I think I get more stressed by the home front than anything this time of year. This year has been good. Considering LM was home full-time for about 2 months of it, and it is only NOW that dh is going crazy, I Will consider it a success. Just about one more month - I know we can make it!

Reminds me, I deposited $100 into my checking account from ebay the other day. I haven't updated on it much because I do not know what the NET profit is right now. BUT I know we have been averaging $100/month profit, as planned.

I am also now officially a "pay myself first" gal. I would like to say all that money is going into dh's ROTH, or something spectacular like that. It isn't. But my aggressive savings goals are very doable because of the extra cash. So I will just have to be happy with that.

It's still very different for me. I used to be a "leftover saver" and being quite motivated we could have a lot leftover. But with kids and squeezing more out of less, the "pay self first" thing is the way to go. It's working out far better in our current situation.

I could beat myself up more for not saving more of dh's side income. Then again, I haven't touched our savings for a thing this year. Not for the car repair, for license renewal, or for anything we have purchased. & it would be quite reasonable to (we save up for these kinds of things). So I think in the end we are saving. Will see. I am worried come summer we will splurge more of it. But I guess there are worse things...

I think we will try out the year and see where we are at. If dh really and truly makes $1200 this year, I may consider putting away another $1200 into our ROTHs next year. It's hard, in the meantime, to pay ourselves first with money that is not guaranteed. I was wary how the economy would change things, but business is good. If nothing else, lots of desparate sellers. Dh picks up a lot of stuff at a bargain, and turns around it sells it for a premium. HE simply has the time. With the kids and everything $100/month is reasonable. I am wondering if he can turn this into a $400/month business when the kids are in school. IF so, I don't care if he gets a "Real" job for a long time. If we can fund his ROTH? I'm happy... & well, with more than 6 hours a week, I think he can do more...

Getting My Beauty Sleep

March 18th, 2009 at 01:21 pm

Snoopycool's post reminded me.

Lately I have been asked a lot of I am a student. Since I went to a college with mostly older students, I know this doesn't necessarily mean people assume I am only 20.

In fact, I narrowed it down that I am only asked this when I am in my workout clothes (t-shirts I did wear in my teens/20s) or if I am really dressed down.

But still, I welcome the compliment.

I also had not worn my wedding ring in many years in my major procrastination to re-size after 2 pregnancies. I gave in a few months ago.

So today, quite dressed up for a client, and wearing my wedding ring, a store clerk asked if I was a student, along with many other questions.

Um, no? Haven't been to school in a decade.

I looked down to see if my wedding tring was on my finger, as I Walked out of the store. It was, of course.

One thing that is different today over the last few years, is that I am getting my beauty sleep. After having babies and walking around with giant black circles under my eyes, for many years.

& the men are definitely noticing! (Though the women seem to comment on the student thing as much as anyone).

But in all honesty, I am completely unadjusted to the attention. I am sorry to say a couple of men said hi to me on the street and I literally turned around to see who they could possibly be talking to. & then when I realized they were talking to me, I just kind of hurriedly walked away. I maybe muttered a hello. I was completely thrown off.

I assumed marriage and kids and all that just sucked all the attraction vibes out of my body. I am starting to think the truth is I just don't get out much. LOL.

But I do honestly think getting enough sleep is helping me to look more youthful, as a bonus. Can't say I have ever been asked if I was a student wearing my professional clothing.

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Anyway, funny enough, I did have a new client yesterday, and they are one of the very few who didn't immediately ask, "Um, how long have you worked here?" Meaning, "You are going to do our tax return? Did you even graduate college yet???" I've actually had some pretty rude questions. More than one person has asked me, "Do I get a discount because YOU are doing my tax return?" LOL. Though every tax return we do goes through the same quality control process. & I have only been a professional for TEN years. Gah. They usually do relax when I point to my CPA license on the wall - dated 2001 and all.

Anyway, yesterday my new clients were quite pleasant. Phew.

Oh well, just my silly tales of looking young... There are certainly pluses and minuses.

Just Catching Up...

March 17th, 2009 at 02:44 pm

**I forgot, I was also eager for paycheck to see if stimulus had arrived in my check. The answer is... NO! I didn't even think about it until today...

**I got BM's baseball shots and hadn't intended to buy any. Certainly not many. Holy Cow. I should get that boy in modeling. Just extremely confident and his personality just shone through. GREAT pics. But yeah - will cost me $$$$$$.

It's funny because his school pictures were rather, eh. So yeah, just didn't expect much.

I'll probably spend $20-$30 on some pictures.

**Reminds me, I got stood up for lunch yesterday, so dh and LM met me instead. It was nice. Mid way through lunch, aboslutely out of nowhere, LM says to us, "I hope BM doesn't get hurt at school today." I thought to all his skinned knees and such and said, "Yeah, he does get hurt a lot doesn't he. Is that what you mean?" He was kind of vague so I looked at dh and said, "Um, why does that make me nervous?" & it turns out yes, BM did get hurt. Nothing serious. But he his finger was smashed by a rock. Talk about creepy. IT's the first thing he told dh when he picked him up.

I wouldn't say I yield any psychic powers, but definitely have had weird experiences since having children. PArticularly when it comes to the children. Vivid dreams that come true, along with the whole "being completely in tune with the kids" thing. Dh would try to help at night when the kids were infants, but I always woke up before they even started to cry. It really creeped him out. I mean I know because he observed it. "Um, why do you always wake up before the baby starts to cry???" & then I'd be like, "well I am awake anyway - might as well get up." Anyway, kind of jealous LM seems to be more in tune with BM than I, these days. I just assume it is because they are so close, more than anything. Or just a coincidence. I don't know. Creepy!

I guess it's nice I sleep through the kids waking up these days though. Wink Since they generally don't need me.

**I just realized I have $17k cash. Which I have not had since, um, 2005!?!

My goal is to hit $20k this year.

I don't know - if our our minds, bodies, and teeth can stay healthy until 12/31, well, it us quite feasible. Not sure what the odds are...

But seriously, saving $3k this year for medical. We didn't use it for medical last year - but it did go to the dentist. If we can stay out of the hospital in 2009 (all FOUR of us), then we may make some decent progress on our cash this year. Probably wishful thinking!

Dh & I did discuss finances briefly yesterday. I can sum up our financial position to this:

We are in a good spot, but we have a lot of catchng up to do...

I told dh I was putting away 15% to retirement, 10% to cash savings, that we had plenty in cash for property taxes and any unexpected medical bills, etc., etc. (in addition to the 10% I am putting away for more long-term things).

He's like, "really?" & of course I have to say, "Don't get too excited. We have a lot of catching up to do."

Our emergency fund is pretty much at the bare minimum, if anything else.

& once that is back to snuff, there is the whole pay off the house and the whole college thing. THere still seems to be aplenty on the financial to-do list.

Payday & Other Insights

March 16th, 2009 at 10:31 am

**I don't necessarily pay much attention to pay day. I Tend to stay ahead of the curve, so the day of pay is of little consequence. However, I am excited about today because I can transfer $1200 to savings. My March financial chores are then complete. (Mortgage and health insurance still due the last of the month - but already set up to be paid automatically).

**Along the same lines, I am happy to report that I have $2k+ in my savings to pay the property tax bills. I was discussing my overtime bonus arrangement with a friend and she said, "Just in time for property taxes." Well, actually a few days late. How depressing if I had to fork it over right away. No thanks. I am planning to save my overtime towards stuff around the house/next car purchase. I will probably spend $200 on a bicycle as well. But if that wasn't on my horizon I would be happy to save it all. I am trying to remember if I have ever in my life relied on a windfall to pay property taxes. I don't think so. (Possible in some year with infants - so maybe once, maybe twice?). Saving it for later (for a big purchase later - or something needed later) is so much more freeing!

**I have a new observation this tax season. *sigh* It's been apparent for many years, but I think this economy is making people more cranky so it really shows.

All my married clients are happy as can be. & the single ones? GRUMPY! & I am talking more on the retired end. The working, young single people are just fine. I just realized though all my gripey clients are retired and single. They have always been grumpy. But this year - whew. These are people that mostly retired young and seem to be doing quite well. I understand the stress some of them feel financially. Then again, one elderly gentleman griped and griped about taxes and such, and then told me he expected to inherit much soon, on top of his pretty hefty pension. It's not like he is stressed financially, at all. But I would not add him to my list of "cheery people."

Anyway, I had a few older single people come in and seemed unusually cranky this year. & they are usually pretty cranky anyway. & then my married clients came in and they had nothing negative to say. Some of the said, "The economy sucks, but what are you going to do?" Most of them had far more pressing financial whoas than my cranky clients.

It has been really eye opening.

I find it kind of sad too. A lot of them are widowed. I am sure they expected to grow old with that special someone and are rather bitter that they have lost that opportunity. I see it with our own Grandma's.

Anyway, I am making a mental note that romantic partnership is important in old age. Interestingly enough the men in our family seem much more open to remarriage, after widowhood, than the women. & I think they are happier for it. & from another angle I am making a mental note to be supportive of our parents if they ever find themselves in that situation. I can't imagine my parents ever re-marrying, but knowing they will be far happier in the long run makes the idea easier.

In general, the whole thing just makes me sad. *sigh* That's life I guess.

Monkey Bowling Bag

March 14th, 2009 at 01:24 pm

How cute is this? The banana is a great touch.



I spotted it when shopping for bowling shoes.

Since there is usually so little in material items I actually want, though I have plenty allowance to justify the purchase, I am putting it on my birthday/Christmas list. Too bad my birthday is in December...

I think I will fill my list up with bowling and biking gear this year. IT will appease the friends/relatives that are usually annoyed I don't want anything. But really, I don't mind waiting and see how we really stick to the bowling. IT was awfully crowded last Sunday too. *sigh* The first time we went it wasn't so crowded, so I don't know. Week days are cheap, but there is the whole working thing.

& no, I haven't been bike shopping. Definitely on hold until April, at the least. It's just too crazy! I must admit I don't mind hoarding more cash in the interim, or waiting until I get my tax season bonus first.

I do admit the bag does not match my bowling ball in the least. Wonder if I can get a monkey ball...

Woohoo - 3/15!

March 14th, 2009 at 12:21 pm

I am excited. Maybe prematurely excited, but excited all the same. It's March 15th! The thing is, all of my Corporate stuff is due March 15th (Corporate tax returns) which is our bread and butter. The individual tax returns are really just a nuisance. Bah.

I know I still have another long month, and plenty of opportunity to earn lots of overtime. But I feel I can feel a sigh of relief today. (Even though most everything is on extension. At least, tehcnically, we have a few more months to worry about it all).

I have a few indivudal tax appointments next week, but then I will be done with those. I am tired of dressing up extra nice - dragging out the panty hose and suit jackets and all that. BAck to getting by with the bare minimum of dressing up. Phew! Wink So I am excited about that too.

& strangely I feel pretty caught up. (knock on wood). I have to hound a few clients for stuff I am waiting on. I am sure quite a few tax returns will also arrive in the mail the next few weeks. Will see...

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Clients of note this week -

Another couple of ONE-INCOME families in the LOW six figure range who owed literally 10 times the tax we paid. IT's just craziness. 2-income families have it even worse, because they tend to pay in more social security as well.
But yeah, basically if I made another $40k income, it would be taxed in the realm of 50%.

Another older couple came in and said their young son was house hunting right now and things were selling lightning fast for multiple offers. So that was interesting to hear. THey said it was very troublesome because to gather all the paperwork and loan approvals to put an offer was pretty cumbersome anymore. & yet houses are selling so fast. People with more cash have the edge it seems, for sure. Sounds like could be good news for housing here.

A house behind us, that is clearly jinxed (been on the market most of the last 5 years - various owners) just went up for sale. Surprise surprise. 2 or 3 like it are asking $325k. That's what ours appraised for in November. We shall see. But things seem to be holding on. To be clear though - these are not the houses getting multiple offers. One small home down the street asked $210k and sold in a flash. That one I am still waiting to see what it sold for.

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BM asked us the other day how much money we had. We evaded the question. Well, we told him we had to save up for many different things and we have money in many different "buckets" so to speak. I asked him how much he thought we had, first. He said $3,000. I don't know if he thinks that is a little or a large sum. I think dh said, "We have enough to be comfortable."

I did mention paying for the house as a pretty big bucket and so he asked if the house was paid if I Would have to work. I said, "yes. We tried really hard not to get too much house and the house is not a lot of our bills - we would still need to work." He asked if we could EVER stop working. I said his grandparents were at the age where they were quitting work - to give him a frame of reference. & to say ideally we are aiming for the same age (about 60).

Dh of course pointed out my mom retired in her 20s. I said if you look at it that way, well dh is retired too. Wink IT just struck me as funny that he hasn't quite grasped that we are in a pretty similar situation. Except I remember my parents struggling far more. I really doubt often if he will ever return to work. ANything of the full-time, "have to work" variety anyway.

Just funny conversation with kids. A lot of intelligent questions.

BM's latest thing though is he never wants to work. I have no idea where he gets that from! He just asked me the other day if you have to go to college to become a daddy. He's stuck on that (being a daddy) but if you ask him why it's because "everything else is hard work." Oh, poor naive kid. Wink

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I haven't got my stimulus yet - maybe with my paycheck Monday - I don't know. But our bills have changed enough this year I was playing with it - trying to see where we are at. I was looking at percentages - not necessarily the most helpful way to look at things. But it is what it is:

% of gross income:

16% Mortgage (well I guess it is still our biggest expense - but don't expect it to be - the biggest - forever).

12% short-term savings (Needs - property taxes, insurance, car maintenance, dental, etc.)

12% Health Insurance (close second, as far as expenses go)

12% Income Taxes/Social Security Taxes

10% Work Retirement contribution

7% Groceries/Household goods

6% Mid-Term Savings (for bigger purchases)

5% ROTH Contributions

4% Other (entertainment, extra-cirricular, dining out, stuff needed around the house, wants, etc.)

4% Gas/Auto (though most auto expenses are up in short-term savings - insurance, licenses, etc.)

3% Utilities (gas/electric/water/sewer)

2% Preschool

2% Phone/Internet/Cell (utilities of the unnecessary variety)

2% HOA/gardener (house maintenance expenses I guess)

2% short-term savings (wants - mostly vacation)

***Of biggest note, we lowered mortgage by about 3% of income, with our refi.

Preschool also went down by about 2%.

All of that has gone to increasing savings.

I don't think we are 50/30/20, per se, as far as wants/needs/savings. But I think we are closest we have been since having kids. Getting pretty darn close. IT feels good. It really is a good balance to strive for, for the long run.

I was just thinking the other say about mortgages and how one of our first mortgages was $1800/month (15-year term; much higher interest rate) and I Was thinking we would probably resume that payment when dh returned to work. & I thought, "Gosh. Our take-home pay today is the same probably as it was when we both worked last. Why does that $1800 payment sounds so insane right now?" Oh, could be the $800/month health insurance. $700 more monthly than we paid right before having kids. Yeah - that would explain it.

When I read "All Your Worth" I realized we had been so out of whack since our health insurance had started skyrocketing around 2004. So yeah, before kids $1800/month? No biggie. These days, it's hard to justify throwing any money at the mortgage over our $1100 payment. Boy do things change!

A Quick Update...

March 12th, 2009 at 01:42 pm

**Work is a little crazy. I don't think it is a bad year in particular though. Doesn't make it any less crazy. Wink

**I splurged and took the kids to IHOP on a whim Monday night after tee ball practice. NO ONE was there. Our rare lunch/weekend trips out show little slowdown, but WOW. So much for a week night. Tried to leave a nice tip. (Dh was volunteering).

**BM had a more advanced karate class Tuesday night. Oh, he LOVED it. Oh boy. My plan was to dabble in tee ball, soccer, piano and continue karate this year. From there let him narrow down what he likes. I guess good thing sports are seasonal. HE LOVES everything. He's like me - "Jack of many trades; Master of None." Pretty much. I think odds are stacked against piano. Which is too bad. One of the few things I have mastered, and I want the kids to learn to read music, etc. Excellent foundation for the future. But yeah, I don't want to have an activity every night either. Kindergarten has been so intense that we put off the piano thing. Thinking summer. My crystal ball tells me sports all year round for BM, and LM will be the musical one. At least I got one budding musician.

**Preschool seems to be going well. Though LM did tell his teacher, and dh, that it was "boring" and "stupid." Oy vey. It is only recently he vocalizes missing his old friends and preschool. I am hoping it is just the transition. (& I am glad he is vocalizing it - though very slow in coming). When he is there, when we pick him up, and when we drop him off, he couldn't be happier. I am sure this is his way of saying, "I miss the old place!" I am not sure something so grand exists. But I think this one will come a close second. I HOPE.

**My monthly ROTH contribution went in on the 10th, on the day the stock market rallied. I thought, "it figures." Then I looked at my buying history. Mostly been buying around $20/share. This year - around $11. Tuesday? $9/share. I am a firm believer in dollar cost averaging. I guess buying Tuesday wasn't so bad after all. Plus I am contributing 3.5 times as much as I did in 2008. So hey. The stock market is certainly not getting me down. Because we simply did not invest very much, very high... But yes, LOVING these low stock prices.

**Got our electric bill - it went down like $2. Maybe 3%? Yeah, I am thinking our major electricity usage is not lights. When we think about it, not surprising. We are very conservative with lights and have a lot of natural lighting in our house. So though we replaced a TON of lightbulbs with CFLs, seems to make little difference. Certainly not investing in more right now. I honestly am getting to the point where I feel there is little we can do to decrease our electricity usage further. We will see how our receiver/TIVO turn offs will do for the month of March. Maybe those are bigger electricity culprits? Will see!

Our gas bill is like $10/month in the summer months and electricity is like $50/month in winter. It seems we should be able to get that electricity down. I guess electricity is way more expensive. I'll be glad most of our appliances are gas!

Oh well, back to work!

Tales from Saving & Preparing

March 9th, 2009 at 01:49 pm

Bad news on the horizon - lots of laid off relatives (news this weekend). It's starting to hit the same old demographic.

I was telling my mom about how it seemed we knew at least one person per household laid off in the 2002 era. & that I Was susprised to not know so many with this new 10% unemployment rate in the state. (Though clearly the layoffs are starting to pile up. Could just be a matter of time). But in reference to 2002 I said, "Everyone was laid off, including us." My mom said, "What do you mean?" I said, "I mean when my husband was laid off in 2002." She didn't remember. She said, "I thought he quit."

I think that nails it on the head. Yes, he was laid off, after working shortened hours and many mandatory unpaid vacations, for about 18 months, in 2002. No one remembers because our savings and preparation made it smooth sailing. At this point everyone thinks it was planned that my spouse has not worked a day in 6 years. Um, NOT planned! But I must admit I am pleased that something that could be so devastating to a newly starting out couple, was barely a bump in the road for us. I am honored that people think we planned things this way. (Though often the same people would say we are lucky to have never had a hardship. Which is kind of annoying. Just because we were prepared didn't mean it wasn't a hardship).

I mean there was a good solid year in there he looked for work - if not longer.

I think this is why I am a true believer in saving. & when I have to roll my eyes when I hear the word "deprivation" as an analogy to saving. I feel like our savings has kept up from feeling deprived.

I'll put it this way - being prepared lessens the hardship blows of life. Indeed.

As for us, we don't dwell on the bad. If I think about it there was plenty of hardship along the way for us. But we don't dwell; we move on.

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Anyway, along the same lines, FIL will be laid off this summer (government, so lots of notice). He is just going to retire. Now there is a perfect example. Wasn't the plan, but they will make do. They seem surprisingly zen about the whole thing.

It looks like our parents will all be in a position to retire around 60. (Probably sooner, if not for the health benefit issues - my dad is 57 now and I think it's the only reason he is working full-time any more - for benefits). It's interesting to have a number (an age) for retirement. We always look to our parents as our baseline. They are moderately successful, and we seem to have it easier than them at this point in our lives (easier than they did at this age). I know we face very different parameters as well, but it's like. "Hey. Is retiring in our late 50s really out there?" Maybe not?

On the flip side, my parents seem well prepared. My impoverished grandparents were quite able to take care of themselves. My more well off grandparents have done quite well for themselves. Dh's family? His grandma really struggles financially (though not quite the same hardships my own grandparents faced) and we have offered to help out. His parents scare me. I don't think they had any good role models financially like my parents did. So I do worry about them, for sure. But in the short term they seem quite all right. (The panicked and cashed out their retiremet for one - so of course we worry).

Now if my dad told me tomorrow he was retiring, I wouldn't worry about him a bit. So it's a little different. His parents taught him how to save, for sure (purely survival) and my mom's parents were good examples for managing money. They seem to be managing their money a little better. I can't see ever worrying about them.

Phantom Energy Usage & Education Credit Info

March 7th, 2009 at 12:02 pm

Really interesting article on yahoo today - about phantom energy use (or whatever they call it). Included a link for a variety of products, tested for energy use in on mode, off mode, standby mode, etc. Now that's what I have been waiting for!

http://standby.lbl.gov/summary-table.html

For us, our average electric bill is in the realm of $60/month. When everyone was saying to "unplug cellphone chargers when not in use," I Asked my dad, an electrical engineer, who said, "Complete B.S." But the masses told me it was so. So we unplugged our cell phone chargers when not in use, and our bill stayed the same. Big surprise...

More recently I saw some woman on Oprah saying something like she power stripped everything in her home, off when not in use, and she cut her bill from like $200 to $100 per month. Yeah, color me skeptical. I find that hard to believe.

Anyway, I checked this link out of extreme curiosity. Cell phone charger, not hooked up to phone, uses virtually NO electricicty. Not even 1KWH per year. Yeah, my dad was right on that one.

So I skimmed the list and found some USEFUL ideas to cut our electricity usage.

1 - One of the biggest power eaters, in standby position, is audio receivers. Interesting because dh likes to leave our main one on 24/7, and I am always turning it off because it gets really warm! I haven't noticed it so much lately, but I think we will have a chat about that.

He has a receiver in his office that used to be on all the time as well. Now, not so much. But I think we will have a new "turn it off when not in use" rule. Maybe he has seen this article already...

2 - We are proud that we have never bought a computer monitor in our life. We got some ancient hand-me-downs. Dh replaced one that went defunct a while ago, with another old one.

WOW, the difference in energy usage between CRT & LCD monitors is astounding. Maybe we should use our stimulus to upgrade? An idea. PArticularly the one main computer that is on almost all the time. The rest probably don't matter so much. But that one, the monitor is on standby about 12 hours a day. Interesting.

3 - It's the DVR, stupid! Since we switched to Dish, and HATE it, we are in DVR limbo. In the meantime dh has not unplugged the TIVO. Plus we are renting a DVR from Dish (well, 2 of them to be exact). Those need to be on all the time, to work.

We also have a VCR that dh uses for the "clock."

I will approach him about unplugging the TIVO (I am not sure if there is a reason to keep it plugged in. We are concerned about keeping our lifetime subscription status, in case we stick with TIVO in the end. It's just not compatible with Dish. But yeah, I am skeptical that it needs to be plugged in for any reason, other than dh is having trouble "letting go").

As far as the VCR/clock, I am thinking we can easily get the time off of the TV, or get up our butt and walk to the kitchen with all its little appliances with clocks. So I think I will suggest we unplug the VCR too. Generally the only reason our butt is parked in front of the VCR is because we are watching TV anyway.

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Anyway, I am just glad to see truly useful information on the subject. & I definitely had to share!

Since we use so little electricity in the grand scheme of things, and calculating the KWH saved by implementing the above ideas, I could see it actually making a noticable impact on our bill.

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Oh, and sorry I Am slow. I have been swamped at work so have taken opportunity to read and comment on other blogs, but hadn't read my own comments in a while. Doh. I saw some questions on the new education credit.

There is not a lot of info on it yet. I will fill you in as I hear more. The literature I have in front of me says it is ony for the first 2 years of full-time school (replaces the HOPE credit with a more generous one). I could have swore I read elsewhere it was also going to replace the lifetime learning credit as well (which applies to a lot more kinds of education). So, maybe it won't help me after all. I'll keep my eyes peeled for more info. But if you already have a degree, I Wouldn't get too excited about it. My bad! There has certainly been a lot of talk about more generous education credits though. I was confusing some of the talk with the actual law that was passed.

Here is some info:

http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2009/03/04/...

Along the same lines, I was scared to look, as I noted in my last post on the subject. But I did look, and the Masters Program at my alma mater went from $8k in 2001 or so, to $12k today. Not bad!!!!! They still do not offer online courses. *sigh* I haven't ruled out driving once a week. It just won't be in the near future. (240 miles round trip - but I'd have a place to sleep there).

The private University I took one class at went from $15k to $30k in the same time frame. I thought $15k was bad back then. The online format does leave much to be desired, in my opinion. I took one Masters class at my alma mater, and it was most excellent. & then I took one private course when we moved up here, and got disillusioned. My employer up here would not pay for it. & there were no local schools to take live classes. Why I would certainly drive down one night a week, to get a higher degree there. Can't beat the price, anyway. More than than - it's just an excellent program. It's probably unlikley I will get access to a large education tax credit, since I am already educated and well paid. Fair enough!

Local Economy Update

March 6th, 2009 at 06:51 am

I started to post this earlier, but I don't think I did.

Unemployment surpassed 10% in California recently.

Interestingly, it seems to be hitting a different demographic. Whereas one person in every household we knew seemed to be laid off in the 2002 era (& MANY in the 2005 era) it seems our friends and family are mostly being spared, for now. (Most of them are worried, of course). & yeah, I don't remember unemployment hitting 10% in 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005. Did it? It's hard to believe it didn't considering our personal experience. But I don't recall it every getting that high.

It seems more low wage workers, and people in the home, construction, mortgage industry are being hit hard now.

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This was also an interesting follow up post from the Sac Real Estate Blog:

http://sacrealstats.blogspot.com/2009/02/elk-grove-commercia...

Just a look at the massive empty retail space.

Looks like my neighborhood. (This is a different suburb, but yeah, looks exactly the same for all intensive purposes. BTW, we almost bought a home in "Stone Lake." Glad we didn't. We ended up buying in a truly more upscale community and I feel like it is our only saving grace right now. It's completely built, and it seems to be keeping high quality residents - ones who can pay their mortgages and are very involved in the community (both quite important in this economy). Knocking on wood that it lasts. A LOT of people paid just as much for McMansion neighborhoods that are just falling to pieces. I posted earlier, a lot of people paid a lot for their homes expecting this to be the next Beverly Hills. They are getting something more along the lines of Detroit. Our neighborhood is certainly not Beverly Hills, but we never expected it to be.

Anyway, one of the comments on this photo log was "Big Deal. This could be any city in America at one time or another?"

Huh?

I don't think so. I had heard in 2007 that there was 1 million square feet unused retail and business space in my suburb. & there are like 3 of these monstrosities surrounding Sacramento. I can't imagine this has happened in every city in the U.S. 3 million square feet+ of unused space. Abandoned new home lots as far as the eye can see??? It is obviously quite extreme. I don't even want to know what those figures were today. They wanted to break ground on a couple of giant retail/business projects on our side of the freeway and they got sidelines by flood issues. Thank goodness. I'd probably rather have an empty strip mall than these levee issues. But the last thing we need is more vacant buildings. A mixed blessing I guess.

But mostly, this guy keeps me from having to go out and take a pile of pictures to show a slice of my world. He's done all the work...

Boy, it's crazy out there!

ETA: Just read the other day (mentioned in forums) 40% of homes in sacramento are "upside down." Yeowch. Some days I feel like the only 30-year-old with equity in this place. The older people keep asking me how we can afford our $2k+ monthly mortgages. & I get looks of pity. I am not sure I like being lumped in the "young and stupid" crowd. Wink But I am definitely used to it. It's just getting worse. Oh, the comments I get any more... It doesn't help I look really young. Obviously the young are hit harder because more of them bought at the peak...

Be Proud for Being Responsible!

March 5th, 2009 at 09:18 am

I am putting this here for future cutting and pasting. Wink

A question I answered in the forums (& a pet peeve of mine I do keep bringing up).

QUESTION: "Someone remind we I am working so hard to be responsible with debt?"

MY ANSWER: So you can enjoy low interest rates, own your assets outright, refinance at will, enjoy lower interest rates on just about everything.

So you don't have to juggle all your bills and worry where you are going to live tomorrow or how you are going to afford the mortgage you can't afford, for the LONG run. (A lot of the programs being offered do little more than prolong the inevitable, in my opinion).

So you can sleep at night.

{I know way too many people on the brink of losing their home - I wouldn't trade places with them for NOTHING. Loan modifications, forgiven liens, and all. They can HAVE it}.

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I think I understand some of the sentiment for people who are struggling. IT's like welfare. Anyone doing well would be insane to be jealous of those on welfare. But often times those on the brink are jealous of the handouts. IF only they did a little less, they would get more help.

& I will just never *get* that. I think ideally, to not be on welfare, should be the road to something better. I have relatives and friends who have had to rely on welfare to survive. But I think some of the happiest days of their lives was when they no longer needed it. & that was very early on a long journey to financial self sufficiency.

Anyway, I don't want to say, "NEVER gripe about the welfare system." Or, "NEVER gripe about Obama's mortgage plan." Sure, there is plenty to gripe about.

But being bitter about BEING financially responsible? From my perspective there are clearly many more benefits, in the long run, to being financially responsible. Too many to count. Tangible and intangible. I guess I forget how short sighted our society has become... No one can look past today. *sigh*

Lunch - buy or bag?

March 4th, 2009 at 06:30 pm

For me? I brown bag it all the way. Mostly leftovers. Sometimes sandwiches.

We did the same with BM when he started Kindergarten. He is allowed to buy once a week (a treat for him; a break for us).
One week he threw a fit he wanted a second lunch for whatever reason. Dh said it was fine if he paid for it himself. I think the system is good.

BUT, I don't know why, but it just hit me the other day. Is brown bagging it really cheaper? School lunch is a whopping $2, for all the fruits and veggies and everything.

Dh and I crunched some numbers and decided we spent about $1 per day brown bagging peanut butter sandwiches. We tend to do cereal/granola bars/occasional real breakfasts in the morning. Sandwiches (kid's choice) for lunch. & then go all out for dinner. I think this is one way we keep our food bill down. I could eat PBJ every day - I love it. Kids don't seem to mind either. It's a nice round meal (with fruit or veggies).

Anyway, I am sure our $1/day estimate could likely be on the high side. BUT the thing about BM is we make him a double decker sandwich because he is always so ravenous. So we go through a lot of bread - easily a loaf a week with him. Plus he wants it piled high with the PB & the jelly.

That's all we usually pack. Usually a snack (cheese and crackers) and water in a bottle. It's easy and fills him up. HE can buy once a week to mix it up.

So I was thinking. Is $2 a day for a solid meal, some fruits and veggies, and a carton of milk, really so bad? I am sure if we packed the same level of lunch, we would be hard pressed to keep it under $2.

I then wondered why buying lunch at school is so frowned upon by the frugal crowd. I admit it, I am lost!

I've seen the arguments that it's not healthy? I don't know - the school's food looks about as healthy as can be if you ask me. Of course we're not health freaks. I'd say our diet philosophy is "moderation." But it's definitely not the slop they served when I was a child. I am not sure if our school is all organic (nor do I Care) but I thought that it was.

(Reminds me, dh told me he didn't like the idea of dessert every day. Um, who said anything about dessert every day? LOL. I think BM usually chooses Friday for its desserts, yes. That's just Fridays).

The thing about BM is he will eat anything. So it's not like he will pick at his food or pick and choose what he wants. They seem to serve a lot of salad at his school, but he LOVES salad. & really it's hard to pack anything like that and keep it fresh until lunch time. Though it's more the kind of meals we eat for dinner.

On the menu next week:
*Hot Dog/whole wheat roll/beans/carrots/juice/milk
*Spaghetti, cheese bread, salad, trail mix
*Baked chicken/wheat bun/fries/pear/milk
*Mesquite burger/wheat bun/pickles/lettuce/raisins/apple slices/milk
*Pepperoni pizza/salad/kiwi/chocolate milk
(I guess kiwi is the dessert)

BM would absolutely eat it all. Sounds good to me. I think we will switch to PBJ once a week for him. We will give it a whirl anyway. BM is thrilled with this idea. I think he loves his PBJ, but he loves school lunch even more.

I am sure it will cost us more in the end, but I think it will be a better rounded lunch for him. Plus I think this is an area you can get pretty penny wise/pound foolish. Is my time worth $1? To sleep in 10 minutes and not make lunch? Hell yeah! Is he going to accept PBJ for the next 12 years? I hope not. LOL. We'd certainly have to get more creative. I guess this is the easy way. I am usually for the easy way. Wink

A final thought about lunch for the K level - I think it is the same as lunch for the 5th graders. But, um, my kid eats like and adult. So it works. I could see with a lot of my friends it would be a complete waste of money because their kids are happy to eat half a sandwich and call it a day. & then there is my kid with the double decker every day...

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BTW, I am a dork and had no idea our electric meter was digital. Which means basically it is a SNAP to keep track of. We had changed to CFLs and were just waiting until the end of the month to see what difference it made. Then I looked at the meter and saw how easy it was to track - so have been doing just that.

I was disappointed we used 20kwh over 24 hours because our average was like 21 kwh per day, last month. But we'll see... We'll see what the bill is (in a couple of days) and I can keep a closer eye on it going forward. Kind of interesting.

In the 9 hours I was at work today, the fam used 9kwh (with the slow cooker on most of the day). I am sure we use most of our electricity in the evening hours (we don't really use lights during the day - furnace and hot water is gas). I don't expect we use any electricity at night. But for the fridge and all that. IT will be REALLY interesting to calculate usage when we are not home for a weekend, next time. We can kind of gauge our baseline (I imagine would be mostly the fridge and our digital clocks. It will be interesting to see).

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Tax Thoughts...

I found another way to obliterate the tax on dh's ebay income. Since he legitimately does most of the work while LM is at daycare/preschool anyway, we can actually claim the dependent childcare credit in 2009. The credit would be 20% of his income. BAsically would obliterate the tax on his income, in our tax bracket (about 20% fed/state). He'd pay self-employment tax, but a little social security credit isn't the worst thing for him. It's been $0 for quite a few years! Then his "making work pay" credit would be mostly gravy.

Also, I don't think we will be rushing into college decisions or anything for dh (to brush up his degree, get a teaching credential, or whatever he decides). BUT the new $2500 education tax credit is pretty sweet. 2009 & 2010. He may consider school in 2010 as a result. I have also heard that the government intends to extend this credit for longer, which could be pretty sweet for us. I will have to keep an eye on it. For now I don't know all the details, but seems like it would work in our case (from what I do know).

I always wanted to get a Masters (more for personal growth; though it wouldn't hurt my resume) when the kids are older. If dh doesn't take the credit, I have to say I may consider it. Wonder how much classes are these days. They were literally $750/class and paid by my employer (10 classes?) when we lived in San Jose. I had to do long distance learning at a private university for $1500/class when we moved here. Nothing close and I left unimpressed. I'll take public university any day. (Fair enough it could have been the internet format that didn't impress me. The cost didn't impress me much either). $2500/year FREE MONEY for college is tempting. I had long considered commuting once a week and taking classes at my alma mater. Tax Masters aren't even offered at any of the big universities up here.

I may faint if I saw the current prices though. (okay, I peeked, and courses are now $1200/unit. $12k versus $7500 in 2001, for a MASTERS). Hmmmmm, not bad! PRoblem is it would probably take me 10 years to finish... Not sure how long that credit will be around. But much to think about.

February Totals

March 4th, 2009 at 07:46 am

February went pretty well. I could even almost assume my savings plan was not too optimistic or aggressive (a problem I have - I tend to be too optimistic with everything) BUT February was a short month, so we will see how March goes. Big Grin



AUTO - Only about $190 for gas (we budget $300). $140 on maintenance - had to clean something on the van (forget the name) and dh replaced windshield wipers on his car. That's about as handy as he gets - hehe. Since our gas was so little, we were able to pay the maintenance from the monthly budget (I usually reserve about $1200/year in savings for that). I don't think we drove anywhere this month (no trips to the snow or the Bay), which explains much!

CASH - Dh pulled out $40 cash for his ebay buying/selling business. (Basically took some of his profits out).

CHARITY - was a contribution to BM's school - their first fundraiser of the year (they seem to do okay - not a lot of begging for money - this was the first time).

CHILDCARE - about $220 for Feb/March preschool tuition. $50 childcare in-between preschools. $50 babysitting for a weekend date.

CLOTHING - I stocked up on work shoes because I actually found some in my size. Way too high heels. They don't make small heels in my size anymore, apparently. I don't know what the heck. But I stocked up while I could find anything. I had NO HEELS for about 6 months.

DINING - Well, we apparently ate out a lot. A few lunch dates with dh. A few cheap things and fast food, lunch date with a friend, met LM & dh for pizza one day, and we ate at the new Indian restaurant by my work twice. (Crazy horrid location - enjoying it while it lasts). But yeah, the appetizers get us there. We spent $20 on $5 lunches? LOL.

EDUCATION - Karate class for March

GROCERIES - squeaked under $500 budget.

HOUSEHOLD - gardener, and spent about $100 on CFL light bulbs.

INSURANCE - got some refunds on home insurance and disability insurance.

MEDICAL - $550 insurance premiums and $385 for the kids' dental checkup.

MISC - I bought a blanket, we went to the movies on our "date", and we went bowling 2 times. Well under budget here, which means we were able to buy my shoes and the light bulbs without touching our slush savings. Dh wants to stock up on printer ink in March.

(We generally try to stock up on stuff during tax season because we are too busy to spend money or go out otherwise).

PERSONAL CARE - LM & I got our hair cut

TO HOUSE LOAN - is just regular principal payment with mortgage.

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Other financial doings:

**Deposited $50 IRS refund in mid-term savings (IRS was slow to pay compared to state - funny enough). Also, deposited $550 state tax refund (I filed before February to be like one of the only people in Cali who got their refund already).

**Deposited $1k to short term savings. (& pulled $385 out for the dental bill).

**Deposited $250 to medical savings

**Deposited $250 to mid-term savings (will be $400 next month with new preschool)

**Deposited $333 to our ROTHs (Will be $350 next month with new preschool. Considering $416 per month with stimulus. We were only contributing $100/month in 2008).

**Earned $650 contribution to work retirement plan

**Earned a whopping $20 interest on cash

**Net worth still at a standstill. We seem to contribute to savings at the rate we lose money in the market.

Tired of Crowded Classes

March 3rd, 2009 at 04:11 pm

I can tell you what this economy is doing. Zillions of parents are putting their children in cheaper extra-cirricular activities. Sucks for us!

{Suddenly everything we have done for eternity, is *in*}

I was suprised BM was invited to the next level karate class (parks and rec). He hadn't been back taking classes that long and it's a good 6 months before he is the proper age (though he looks 7 or 8 easily; not 5).

But dh did admit he thought the teacher had an ulterior motive. HE said, "The class has been PACKED!"

Even she raised the price 17% in January!

We had our first tee ball meeting yesterday and they are reeling with this year's high enrollment. Truth is it's really cheap at the tee ball level. I guess that is why. Like $80 for 4 months of practice and games. Sounds good to me.

It's not just the kids. I have been lucky to make aerobics (parks and rec) once a week. Which is fine. I love Saturday class, but hard to fit in during tax season. Last couple of Saturdays I went there were like 20 people instead of the usual 5. Class is merely $2.50 per hour (when you show up). I guess the cat is out of the bag. I was so relieved last Thursday to show up and only see like 10 people. Though even that was twice as much as usual. But 20 is just too dang crowded.

I don't even want to think about our discount gym. January, February always sucks with the New Years resolution crowd. Don't tell me our gym is now the *it* gym. It's a nice perk usually how empty it is. I guess MArch and April will give us a clue who is sticking it out a bit. Who finally realizes that $150/month for a family gym is kind of ridiculous... Don't tell them lifetime/unlimited childcare is only a $200 investment! (We pay $29/month membership, but a single membership is merely $10/month these days).

{On the flip side I do realize this is a GOOD thing. I would cry if our gym went out of business!!!}

Actually, I am relieved we have our current preschool option. I wouldn't be surprised if the parks and rec preschool has a wait list a mile long in this economy. Particularly after most of the prices we saw. Yeowch!

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Of course, in another area, I can not believe the deals some of my friends have been getting on cars. I saw the most beautiful BMW roadster for $9999. Seriously??????? IT was only a few years old even!!! A convertible/fun car is on my wish list. For when we have like all our retirement maxed out, 6 months efund, and a few thousand dollars to spend on a used car. *sigh* I was hoping for maybe a really used Celica or just going cheap with a Mustang. Maybe even a boring Sebring. BMW Roadster was not on my peripheral before. Holy cow! I haven't looked purposely. I think I would cry at all the insanely cheap sporty cars I can't justify buying right now. There's probably a few I would love in the $3k variety. I could almost justify the $3k (just ALMOST) but the insurance and upkeep is just out of the question. I am sure roadster insurance is not cheap!

Most of my friends shopping are shopping for teens. Who now have nicer cars than their frugal parents. Cars in the $3k range, you know.

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I just read that the "making work pay" tax credit is $800 per couple, in 2009, even if one spouse does not work. Nothing I read before clarified that issue so I assumed we would be getting $400.

$800, seriously? Actually, seems like there will be a lot of problems with this whole thing. I have read that everyone who marks their W-4 as "married" will get $800 back this year, in their paycheck. I am not sure if this is true. What a nightmare. (Means many couples would incorrectly receive $1600?). As for me, I'll work it out with my boss - he'll withhold whatever I want. IT seems it would make more sense for you to request $800 if you were a married single earner. No statistics, but in my region most married people are dual-earners. So why I Was skeptical about what I read. Will see when the time comes (April 1?). IT's hard to separate the mis-information. But I did research it and the whole $800 per one-earner-couple thing is very true, and was intended.

We were going to donate our $400. Dh will probably owe in the range of $400 taxes on his ebay sales and such. So that just works out kind of perfect, that he gets a credit too. Will make his little income essentially "tax free."

Watching the stock market I do admit I am terribly tempted to bump our monthly ROTH contributions from $350/month to $416, and go ahead and max out one ROTH. It would push our retirement contributions as a whole just over 16% of gross income. On the other hand, an IRA limit is so arbitrary. But there would be something that would feel so good about maxing out one. *sigh* IT just bugs me because my brain knows $5k is an arbitrary figure. But some other crazy part of me is all excited about maxing out one ROTH on one income. Something I don't think we have done before. Not from income anyway. We've been funding our IRAs from savings for so long...

The arbitray $5k may be a good excuse to funnel more in while the market is low though. If it takes 20 years to recover, so be it. We don't plan to retire for 30+ years...

OF course, if the withholding tables are messed up and it doesn't appear in my check, I will probably leave it be. I would prefer not to have near the deductions we had in 2008 again (mostly medical and dental expenses), and if not maybe it would be nice not to owe much of anything. So will see...

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& yeah, work is CRAZY. NEed I say more?

(I usually wouldn't complain, but hell if I would complain about a crazy busy work load in this economy. IT's ALL good).