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Archive for April, 2009

More Money Drains...

April 30th, 2009 at 08:30 pm

I mentioned in my last post it's just been $$$ the last week. Figures I wanted to go to aerobics twice this week and my card runs out today. I haven't bought a card in like 3 months. Why TODAY? LOL. Well, for Saturday class anyway.

Just stuff like that. In itself not a biggie, but then 10 thing piling on at once is not good!

We also made an appointment to take the car in tomorrow. The minivan of course. The window also stopped working again. Though I wrote down which fuse to pull out and put back on (supposedly the magic fix - which I should try because if it doesn't work we'll ask the mechanic to fix it again - while it's there).

The engine light keeps turning on and then off. It was during tax season so I ignored it. I Can be pretty intent on taking the car in for the first sign of anything, but this car most of the time it's nothing. So I give up. It cycled on and off a couple of times and now it's been *on* past a second gas fillup. So I figured it's time to stop dragging my feet. I toyed with the idea of ignoring it another week because this was a bad money week. Then I thought better of it. Putting it off and making it worse isn't exactly the best course of action. I have plenty of cash for an auto repair - big or small. So yeah - time to take it in. The van's been completely fine otherwise. Just a little light that keeps turning on and off.

Reminds me dh's car is coming up on 100k miles and probably needs new tires soon. Something to look into this year.

All of these things are minor compared to buying another car. Big Grin So no, not complaining!

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I don't know why, but BM's school delights in having all of their fundraisers in March and April. I am not entirely sure how they have been going because I completely ignored them all (too busy with work). THough I grumbled to myself why they didn't have any fundraisers the rest of the year. Gah.

Well, I got my chance. They are having a big event this Saturday and they needed 7 volunteers from every class. Guess how many they got???? ONE! Well, one besides me. So I offered to cover 3 shifts to make up for lost time. I volunteered for 2 slots, and talked dh into a third. It's my first Saturday of the year not working (pretty much) but the day is looking pretty busy. Oh well - it will be fun. A change of pace, for sure.

An Update

April 29th, 2009 at 08:13 pm

**The tide has definitely turned. We have been flush with cash infusions the last month or so. Last week the tide turned. Now it's just cash outflow. Mostly little things, but I swear if I get one more "$50 surprise" before Monday ("month end" for us). Gah. Just one of those weeks.

I am thinking we may have to pull a little money from my bonus after all. I am not sure. We over splurged the month of April which is our other problem. Big Grin

I have mixed feelings about May. We have a pile of events that will mostly cost us little. We picked out a tent that we were going to buy next month. Since we have a wedding to attend there is the whole wedding gift thing. So it's still adding up, regardless. We have discussed going to Monterey, but haven't decided much. We talked about even spending the night there and not being super cheap like usual. But, we'll see. That can come from the vacation budget, so it doesn't really matter either way. But yeah, May will be BUSY.

Looking ahead to June, I am taking a week off - happens to be BM's last week of school. I figured I Would enjoy the peace and quiet the first part of the week, and time with BM the rest of the week. We have a camping-thing planned for one night and a trip to the minor league game (with the preschool) on another night. I think it will be a very nice staycation. Though I had wanted to maybe go on a day trip or something, BM only has Friday off and the campout is Friday, so I think it will just be a staycation. We won't have to leave the city limits. We are also going to family camp a couple of weeks after that. My May is filled with 3-day weekends, so I am really looking forward to both May and June.

PP's post reminded me. When we get the tent we will do a backyard trial run. The tent is more for the backyard than anything! We may take it somewhere once or twice a year...

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**We got our internet back. Dh is driving me nuts. Enough said. LOL.

We're just in internet limbo while we decide how to proceed. IT's likely we will switch to phone VOIP/fibre optic internet with a more local company. DOwnside? May have to sign a contract. We don't sign contracts for anything, so it strikes me as odd. But it's a far better deal than most anything else, so why we are considering it. We may break our contract rule (the only other contracts we have are our mortgage and Verizon - we've only been with Verizon for over a decade... So that one seems rather moot as we have never found a better deal for our needs).

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**As our cash grows (if the tide turns anyway...) we will have to consider our cash savings accounts. With, really, little cash to go around, I have been sticking with GMAC Online Savings account. The rate is overall pretty competitive. I have been with them a couple of years, at least, and they seem to be slow to lower rates; fast to raise rates. Win-win. Since our cash has mostly consisted of our emergency fund, this is fine. Plus the fees are $0 and the customer service is eons above most of the other banks offering anything similar. I am extremely particular. I haven't found much to like about many of the other popular high-yield banks.

As our cash grows I do become more concerned about spreading it out a bit. PArticularly with so many banks in trouble. Confident in FDIC, I would just prefer not to lose access to all my cash at once, for a time, if my bank(s) went under.

Yeah, I Was looking at some of the other higher paying banks the other day and didn't find much. One of the more popular ones lately has our mortgage. The customer reviews are atrocious. I thought that one might be convenient, but have had second thoughts.

Along the same lines, we will probably start a CD ladder in the future. We just aren't quite there yet. We may also investigate Treasury bills, etc., etc. We will have much to look into as our cash balance grows. It's hard to "set it and forget it" and really make progress. So these are all things I see in the near future. Things change as circumstances change.

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**I think we may start paying down the mortgage a bit extra. It's the thing I eternally struggle with. I could literally flip a coin most of the time.

If we deposit $1500 to the mortgage around christmas we will literally hit our 10-year home owning anniversary with the same mortgage balance we started with.

Sounds terrible, huh? 10 years and the SAME mortgage!?!

There's much more to it than that. Big Grin We literally only borrowed $30k in addition to get twice the house (+ LAND!). It's just been slow going with this whole one-income/kid thing. We actually paid $10k off during our first year on our first home. It was a 15-year mortgage. But things change and we spent the last 7 years or so paying off about $20k.

The tide seemed to turn when we were hitting $4k per year in principal. Certainly no $10k per year, but better than the SLOW process we had been making.

Which I guess is the other thing. Simply paying another $1k per year would put us where we left off (paying off old amortization - shaving a few years off the new loan - to where we were).

We were in no hurry to get there because our recent refi no doubt made an earlier mortgage payoff an easier reality. But we have other more important things to take care of in the interim. So we decided.

But yeah, adding another $1k per year is starting to look so simple and psychologically rewarding. (Still paying $1300 less annually than we were with our old higher-interest mortgage. Win-win).

So I am thinking about it. I may flip a coin come January. I'll let you know what I decide then. Big Grin January 2010 will be our 10-year milestone.

Our mortgage balance has never been below $200k which is a big psychological milestone. That one is kind of exciting too... Give me 3 years...

Thoughts on Home Ownership

April 27th, 2009 at 02:21 pm

I have been thinking about it because it seems so many people are home shopping. So here are my observations/advice for potential new home buyers.

**Be careful out there. In the last decade everyone was running out and snatching up houses because "they could never afford to buy a house" if they didn't act fast. As if the double digit appreciation could be sustained forever? I tell you, I never quite *got* that thinking. Though it was a factor on when we bought our first home, it was only because it was well within our means. Since a single detached home was not even in the realm of reasonable we didn't even bother trying. (We moved instead). I have people all the time tell me I don't understand because I own a home. Uh, believe me, I understand what it's like to be priced out of a home market. When that happens, the smart thing to do is to not buy. Wink Not to snatch it up before it gets even more expensive!!! & that is precisely what we did (not buy in the unaffordable market).

I share this because the pendulum has swung so far in the opposite direction, I see much of the same stuff going on. People are stretching into homes they can't afford because they are worried prices and interest rates will never be so low again. The same wisdom stands. I mean really, what is the freaking rush? Buying a home you can't afford because of the "low price" and "low interest rates" is little more than crazy. You have a certain amount of time and power that has not been seen for a long time. Enjoy it!

I just have to roll my eyes when so many people are running out buying houses like the world will end if they don't do it today. Take a deep breath and SLOW DOWN. Enjoy the BUYER'S market, for sure. It's been a long time coming. I have to say I am a wee bit jealous of the opportunity to buy in a buyer's market. Wink

But yeah, to sum it up simply, "It's not a deal if you can't afford it!"

Our first home had an interest rate of 8.25%. It's all relative. My parents' mortgage was in the double digits for a long time (they bought in the 80s during the era of high interest rates). In the 1990s, an 8%+ rate was not the end of the world. It was a "good deal." If nothing else, prices tend to drop as interest rates rise. If you can't afford it, did you ever stop to think no else can either? Stop with the panic already!

**My second point is a bit of a rant as well. Since we moved somewhere a little more inexpensive, and prices rose very rapidly here in the mid 2000s, this is the norm we came across with our friends. & I NEVER understood the thinking at all, because back home owning an apartment was far cheaper than renting. So though I understood on some level, the high desire for home ownership there, I never quite got the whole desperation when we moved somewhere with cheap rent options. I guess what happened is home prices just got so astronomical ($250k homes were selling for $650k within 3 years) that people panicked and decided they could never afford a home if they didn't jump prematurely. As a result, I got a pile of friends renting for pennies, who can't save a dime, taking on $3k/month PITI with $0 down.

I was completely lost as this whole thing unfolded. You don't know how many people told me they simply could not afford to save a DIME for a down payment, but they were taking on these massive house payments, far above what local rents were going for. Huh? & how in the heck can they afford such a massive mortgage payment if they can't save a dime with a $1k monthly rent payment? Have they lost their minds?

The short answer is, "YES!"

It was not sustainable, home prices have tumbled back to 2001 levels, very rapidly, and every single one of those people have lost their homes to foreclosure.

Anyway, being able to save up a significant down payment on a home is by no means the only indicator of the affordability of a house. BUT it is a BIGGIE. Quite simply, if you can't afford to save 20% down, I honestly think you have no business buying said house. Mortgages are expensive. House maintenance is expensive. & if you can't save 20% down, odds are you are going to sink. I know it's an extreme view for this day and age, but it's true. I haven't come across anyone who put 20% down on a home and lost it. Not that it doesn't happen, but it is certainly more rare. & with lower down payments comes the expense of PMI, etc.

Along the same lines, if you can't afford the fixed mortgage rate, you can't afford house. All it becomes is a gamble. One that most people are currently losing. I know there's a couple of people around here with ARMs who can AFFORD IT. No issue there. But if you don't have enough assets to pay off your house if things go horribly wrong, back away from the ARM!

I think this is why I often say any more, "If you can afford to save 20% down you can probably afford the house." It's not a hard and fast rule, but you are doing a million times better than most people who live in my city, which I guess is my point. Wink You stand half a chance to catch the curveballs of home ownership if you are a good saver.

BTW, people need to get real. IT can take YEARS to save up a down payment. & that's how we did it in the olden days. Even though we bought our first home quite young, my dh simply saved most of his wage from age 15-23. That is where most of our down payment came from. Sure we were in a unique position to be able to save so much so young, but if not, we would have waited a few more years to buy a home. No doubt about it.

**So how much house can you afford???

Obviously be wary of the loan products out there and what greedy brokers tell you.

All that being said, be wary of even the hard and fast rules of thumbs. Everyone's situation is so unique.

I was playing with a pile of online calculators, and using the usual hard and fast rules of thumbs, all of the online calculators said I could afford homes that I personally would feel very uncomfortable buying. An "ideal" PITI range for us is $1800 - $2300. Um, no thanks???? (We're at about $1700 today). These were mostly $400k homes. (Dh and I made a commitment to draw the line at $300k home price, when we were 25. Needless to say, as we age, the less we would consider tying up in a house. $400k sounds a little crazy if you ask me. Bought with equity? Perhaps. But I was assuming we used the same 20% down we already had. I was not running these calculators with home equity to spare).

The irony is since I live in California I am probably willing to stretch it a little more than most of the frugalites around here. Which I think says a lot when I feel extremely uncomfortable when a calculator tells me I can afford PITI of 35% of my income. No thanks!

When we were younger and just starting out we stretched more because rents were astronomical (higher than owning) and because we had just started out in well paying careers (both of us). We may have pushed it with 40%. I also know our PITI was higher than 40% (50%+?) when my spouse stopped working. That being said, both situations were extremely temporary. Neither of us had any urging to get in over our head with a house payment. At 30 our PITI is around 25%. That is about as high as I would go any more. (& that is 25% of only one income. We wouldn't increase it simply because dh returned to work). Which reminds me, yeah, I was running all the calculators on my income alone.

Reminds me, I would advise to run the calculators assuming you only live on one income (if you are a dual income family). We certainly bought both our homes when we were both working, with payments we felt we could afford on one income. Boy it would be interesting to run these calculators with a second income. Scary!

Our goal is to lower our PITI with time. We have no plans to upgrade our home, ever, and we are young enough in our careers that we expect our income to grow considerably in the future (though we have already had a lot of income growth in our 20s). Thus if we were just buying a home today for the first time we would play it far more conservatively than we did in our early 20s. In our 40s we would like to have our house paid off. Which basically means I would have little desire to buy anything we couldn't pay cash for, or pay off rapidly, in our 40s. Thus, though we were aggressive on one end of the spectrum, individual circumstances certainly change how we approach things.

& some other food for thought - if you are single - don't push it. You have only yourself to fall back on. We always tried to aim for a house payment WE felt comfortable with on one income. But having a second income to fall back on increased our ability to stretch a bit. I find myself in the forums thinking some people can likely afford more house than the forum gives them credit for. But then I feel like I am just contrary because a single person will come along and everyone gives them a thumbs up. & I just cringe. I could not personally imagine taking on such a large mortgage (standard rules of thumb) if I were single. Little details like that really change the playing field, in my opinion.

It's all food for thought.

& I have to say, I am glad I am "out of the game" so to speak. Buying a house is not an easy decision. It is a decision that needs much more thought than it has been given by most in the last decade. For that, I wish all you new home buyers lots of luck!

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ETA: I was thinking about this because I have a relative in her 60s, single, who just bought a home recently (partially with inheritance). My dad asked me if I thought she should pay it off rapidly (because she is hitting it hard). Considering her age and economic circumstances I told him it wasn't the worst - there is always a reverse mortgage for a case like hers. She pretty much makes minimum wage. She lives in small town Kansas. I mentioned paying off a small mortgage makes sense. I'd be more keen to hit mine harder on the front end if it would be gone in a few short years. Anyway, my dad told me he thought her mortgage balance was $60k-$80k. I simply gasped. O.M.G. I am sure she would look at my $210k mortgage balance and gasp. But I am merely 31, I've already paid off $90k, and I make about 4 times her income. To be fair, my dad merely ventured a guess from her broke status, the cost of the home (known) and the inheritance they received (known). So though he was guessing, I think his guess was reasonable. & all I Could think is, "Yikes!"

Free Day

April 25th, 2009 at 02:51 pm

Today we have tee ball (we paid our whopping $100 back in January?) For the rest of spring it's "free" entertainment/activity, if you ask me. IT's probably how they suck you in. Make it cheap for tee ball and becomes more expensive as you move up the ranks.

Anyway, the high school is putting on a free play (Aesop's Fables) for little kids, in the afternoon.

The library at the same location is offering free books to kids.

So it sounds like a nice, cheap day. Big Grin

ETA: Speaking of nickel and diming, dh did go to McDs and the Wifi was $3 (for 2 hours). HE said, "No Thanks!" Too expensive for his blood. Stuck with the libabry until Monday diagnosis... But it is interesting he can sit outside and use the Wifi during off hours. (It's just not the greatest area and I Will consider it a blessing if we still have our laptop come Monday. We usually never take it out of the house so if nothing else it makes me nervous every day he takes it out somewhere. Um, there's a reason you don't usually see people at the playground outside the library with their laptops out!)

Yeah, the thing about McDs is we generally only go there for the playground. willing to make a trip and buy some food to let the kids play or enjoy free wifi. $3 too? Forget it. Won't bother going... As dh said, "I already bought their crappy food... & they want $3 too???"

Freedom - Woohoo

April 24th, 2009 at 08:05 pm

**Weather is a lovely 67 degrees (inching up to low 70s perhaps).

May that be the last time I go upstairs in April and see the thermostat at 85 degrees! Ugh. We lived AC-free downstairs (thank you energy efficient house) though it was high 90s a couple of days. Of course, can't say so much for the upstairs. We turned the AC on briefly before bed the last few nights to make sleeping bearable... Otherwise it was much like summer. The days can be pretty horrid but the nights are usually cool. So no need to run the AC all night or anything. It was probably a little extra cool at night so the downstairs stayed much more bearable.

**As far as FREEDOM, tax season is winding down and I feel like a giant load is lifted from my shoulders. Rest of the year will be easy peasy at work.

Sad to say, Chase has dropped the WAMU School Savings program so I just got word I don't have to take over next year after all.

As much as that sucks, I feel like I have little responsibility for the rest of the year. Big Grin So I feel "free" in that regard. I have a tendency to do too much and as long as my kids are young my priorities have changed. I have no inkling to take on a pile of responsibilities. I already have plenty. It's a little different for me, but I am enjoying. The school savings program would have been minimal work, but I am kind of glad not to be in full charge of something. Woohoo.

**Got a surprise refund of $70 from the city. They overcharged on some bonds paid with our property taxes. GREAT! I was annoyed I didn't notice (not sure how I would know though). The interesting thing is since our property is in a living trust, they made the check out to "_____ Family Trust." I am not sure how hard a time our bank will give us with this (depositing a trust check). Depends how trust educated the bank employees are. (There is no difference between a living individual and a living trust - they are one. IT only makes any difference when you die - then the trust becomes a seaparate entity). Yeah, I don't expect much. This could be the catalyst to open a new bank account in the trust's name. We just haven't bothered because we don't have much cash and we haven't opened any new bank accounts since the trust was established.

I have no idea what is involved in converting our current bank accounts - but maybe it's time to find out. I seem to recall our lawyer giving us letters to send to our financial institutions (Example letters anyway). Time to dig them out?

**I don't think my allergies are getting worse, but I am starting to notice what I once thought was illness was probably allergies all along. The area, that we have only lived in a few years has a horrible reputation for allergies. & I definitely suffer every spring. I just realized I get fall and summer allergies too... Dh heard that eating local honey helps with allergies, so he bought a pile of honey from a local outfit. We'll see if it helps. He was sweet and bought me honey from Oakland a while back (Oakland is 2 hours away?) because it was all he could find. Now we have a variety of locally harvested honey.

I do know I am allergic to grass. I am not sure if honey will help me (I am skeptical). Unless dh can find "grass honey." He got like alfalfa and some other kinds of honey...

**The local radio station has been paying people's car payments (up to $1000 by the way) as part of a promotion. Most of the payments end up being $300-$500. But still. I just don't *get* people and their cars.

Plus I am kind of bummed I don't qualify since I don't have a car payment. Wink I'll take a house payment? (They ran that promo in the past - I think they've certainly gone cheaper in the economy).

**How could I forget? Still no internet. Dh called ATT 100 times and they upped their day to come out to Monday from Wednesday. Still at least one full week without internet, at the least. Assuming they can resolve it Monday even.

I've adjusted remarkably well to no internet at home, though I spent a couple of lunch breaks manning dh's ebay auctions. & the truth is I have internet at work. Coming in Saturday doesn't seem so bad this week either. That being said, I usually do most of my internet time at home. So it is surprising how little I have missed it. & why my blog has been quiet!

Dh has also done amazingly well. He found if he takes the kids to the playground behind the library before the library opens, he can download things for later, and catch up on e-mails. Library wifi. We also found out the McDonalds by the kids' old preschool has wifi. Thank goodness for the laptop. (When the library is open the wifi connection is slow - too many to share with I guess).

I am fed up with ATT. I am done. There is no excuse. Dh wants to wait and search out other options once he has more internet time. HE called Surewest about Fibre Optic and they said it would take 10 days to hook up. If it took less than a week I think we would have signed up. But for now we will wait and peruse our options. We haven't been happy with Dish either so we may peruse cable options again. Dh has some research to do.

I don't know how many times I have stayed away from a company that has a reputation for not coming through when things go bad (or like when you need anything). So, the second ATT said they couldn't help us for 10 days I Was out. That's just crazy. On the flip side, we don't seem to have a lot of options. *sigh*

Well, hope everyone has a nice weekend!

Summer is Here...

April 21st, 2009 at 03:44 pm

Blech.

The weather is atrocious. Though I hear it is even worse in So Cal.

Today is s'posed to be something like 95 and then it will cool down.

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I finally saw the final sales price on our latest foreclosure. It was priced low and sold in a flash. & it was bid up. To $226k. We are back to the prices when we moved in. 2001. But I think the whole selling in a flash and being bid up thing is a good sign. Prices are still falling, but priced right we could sell our house in just days (for more than we paid even).

All that being said, as prices inch down you can't help but wonder how low they will go.

I read median price in region fell to $160k. I know the locals think the median price will fall to $100k but I think honestly they are crazy. I think it is possible it may bottom out there for a short time, but I don't think $100k home prices will become the norm.

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I read an interesting article the other day that living trusts are imperative if you live in California, but not really necessary in places like Texas. Basically, it depends where you live. Article writer recommended just about everyone in California have a living tust (excepting young and single with no assets, etc., where it makes little sense).

My personal experience, in California, is that probate is a complete nightmare. IT is expensive. & it is time consuming. For our clients with trusts it is easy as a breeze, and for those without living trusts, even just following out the wishes of a will, can take years. Even for those with little in assets, it can be quite costly. & the truth is the lawyers do get paid more if you don't have a living trust.

So I cringe when I come across well meaning frugalites who wouldn't touch a living trust with a 10-foot pole. Talk about penny wise and pound foolish. So I shared this for that reason. To the rest of you, maybe you are right. But if you live in California, it's a good thing to have. I always tell people the expense is more often emotional than anything else. Most of our clients are dealing with the death of their parents. Having to deal with the courts and probate and everything is emotionally exhausting. HAving a living trust greatly simplifies things. I think that is the best part about it. There is definitely money saved, but that is honestly just a small piece of it. It seems like every year I have someone sitting across from me telling me the nightmares of California probate. I haven't been through probate personally, but I have heard enough to know it is something to avoid. I am also relieved our parents have living trusts because we have been appointed as their trustees.

No one executing a living trust has sat across from me, poured out their heart and cried during their entire appointment. That's all I know! IT seems with a trust it is easier to get on with your life. But, my only caveat is if you have someone you can trust. Probate is good if you have quibbling beneficiaries. Everything goes through the court process and I see how that could be better than a trustee who may not follow your wishes. IT does happen.

Anniversaries & A JINX

April 21st, 2009 at 12:28 am

It just occured to me all the vacations that are coming up in the next year, for us.

10-year anniversary from college grad is next month. Holy cow!!!! Where did the time go?

Which means we are coming up on 10 years of home ownership (January) and 10 years of marriage (Fall 2010).

Anyway, before I continue I just had to say I just put a lengthy comment on someone's blog about why I do not particularly care for traveling. But there is ONE exception to this rule. Hawaii! I LOVE Hawaii.

(I am sitting here pondering this and I think I get a glimpse into my psychology. I am simply not extremely adventurous. If I find something I like, I stick with it. I am not going to waste a lot of money going to somewhere I have never been and not liking it. Maybe that is some of it).

So yeah, though I have no travel goals in particular, in the back of my head I have made a mental note that we should go to Hawaii if we can score a good airfare deal (not that hard from the west coast). So I perused ticket prices around April 15th, as I daydreamed about what to do with tax season being over. & I did find decent tickets!

But next year we can probably get a free condo (relative timeshare - it's being used this year).

& it occured to me next year is our anniversary!!!!!

OF course I rather go in May. May will be our 15-year anniversary of actually meeting, so even better. I'd go in May anyway, but makes it nice May is also an important anniversary. I won't say 10 years of marriage have gone fast because I met my spouse at age 18 and hardly remember life without him. It feels like I have known him an eternity. It's weird to think we have only been married 10 years actually.

Going to Hawaii is not set in stone, but something we are considering. I think we can squeak out a nice trip in the $1k range (if the room is free). I've never been to Kaui though dh had been many times. But that is where I Want to go.

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BTW I had to say DisneySteve completely and totally jinxed me today. (Or made me jinx myself). Gee, thanks. LOL.

He had a thread about his unreliable DSL. I said ours has NEVER had a problem (because it hasn't) although our cable (for most of the last 7 years) was another story. We've maybe had our current DSL setup for 8 months? (We had it 2 years in our old condo as well - without a problem).

So anyway, dh calls me today to tell me internet went out last night and has been out all day. DSL!

When he called ATT they said it was our problem, not theirs. That everything is fine. Dh is pretty technically savvy and so we both find this hard to believe.

Better yet, they can't send someone out until NEXT WEEK!!!!!!

Are you flipping kidding me?

Next wednesday, and dh badgered them until he got a date for NEXT Monday. Ugh. My dh doesn't generally take no for an answer, so it's maddening how little progress he was making with them.

In the meantime, dh has an online conference call tonight for a video project, he has all his project stuff online (script program or something) and he is in the midst of ebay and craigslist sales. There is the library, but he has kids to cart around too. At home he can occupy them more easily while he does his web work.

I hadn't really thought about it, but yeah, he can't really function. SO naturally he is pretty pissed.

I told him if that's the case I think we should just drop ATT. I asked what our options were. He said fibre optic or cable. We are boycotting Comcast, which leaves Surewest (they don't service cable at out house, but have fibre optic).

Since we have been having a really good year and I Realize how much of dh's income and productivity relies on the internet, I told him if he can get Surewest to hook up fibre optic this week I am in. Even if the internet is $50 per month (double what we pay now), whatever. We dropped a whole bunch of cable and phone stuff this year. With my income boost it seems like a decent splurge. I looked up the prices while we were chatting.

So he is looking into it. I think he is hesitant to spend so much, which is fair enough. But I could really care less about keeping ATT at this point. We would ideally prefer Surewest cable, if they ever offer it to us. But that is a sticking point.

It's hard to search out options without internet. IT's hard to do ANYTHING without the internet. At least I can keep an eye on the ebay stuff from work. Phew.

Simple Weekend

April 19th, 2009 at 04:47 pm

**We are having a heat wave. Ugh. I kept feeling like I should get out the spring clothes and do the seasonal shuffle (pull out BM's old clothes and see what fits LM, etc. Then figure out what we need to buy new for BM). But the weather keeps going back and forth between a warming trend, and then unusual cold. Any time I commit to do the shuffle, it gets cold again.

BUT yesterday was 85 degrees. Doesn't sound horrid but the house has gotten awfully warm. I think we will be lucky not to turn on the AC in April. The house got up to 78 yesterday. (We usually turn the AC on 78 - 80). It's supposed to be in the 90s for a couple of days. Ugh. Definitely time to do the shuffle.

As an aside, a friend of mine gave me a bunch of hand-me-downs for LM, but most of the shirts were more BM's size. Since he grows up and not out, for the most part, I expect all his shorts from last season to still fit. I may not have to buy much of anything for the warm weather. Now that I have a pile of bigger shirts for him. Yahoo! & LM can enjoy a little more variety to his wardrobe than BM's hand-me-downs. The only thing I really envision buying is sandals for the kids.

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**Yesterday was not totally simple. We did take my parents out to lunch (they came up to see BM's tee ball game). The weather was actually absolutely perfect for the morning game. We lucked out there. & lunch was quite a splurge.

But the rest of the day was rather simple. We played card games most of the day and the kids played outside in the afternoon - at first digging for bugs and later we turned on the sprinklers for them. For dinner I asked my mom to help me with one of her recipes I never quite figured out. She had showed me once before, but we tried again. I think I got the hang of it now. Overall it was a simple meatball recipe. The copy I had of the recipe had different instructions though. Could be part of the problem!

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**I picked up the house a bit Friday and it wasn't so bad. It won't win any awards, but it is much better. Phew. I realized maybe keeping up a little more had helped. There is so much more time these days for that kind of stuff. Phew. What seems like an impossible task with infants under foot is so much more manageable these days. It's not just the time. It's the fact we can all pitch in and accomplish as much work in like half the time.

I think I am just going to sit back the rest of April and recover. BUT I do have some things to sell on Craigslist and some chores around the house to get to. Many listed in my sidebar. I will probably start tackling those soon. Seems like perfect spring work (spring cleaning).

Reminds me, I decided not to go to work this weekend after all. Big Grin I am excited about that. There is a chance I may have to go in next weekend, but I think I will feel much more refreshed for the busy week ahead.

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Oh yeah, and I updated my sidebar. Almost forgot to mention that. The thing about goals is that they are ever evolving. My cash savings goal will probably be met in June, so I revised it a bit. I added $2k to my cash savings goal and $1k to my ROTH savings goal, for 2009.

Sticker Shock

April 18th, 2009 at 01:30 am

If Life's success is measured whether you need an alarm clock or not, then consider me successful! Teehee. I just have to roll my eyes at the constant mantra that the best thing about retirement is not setting an alarm clock. How about not setting an alarm clock the decades before you retire? Even better! (I am sure alarm clocks will take over our life a little more when the kids are older. But anyway, I am a morning person, I don't use alarm clocks. No one in my family does at present...)

It's just one of those things that bugs me. Maybe this is why I do not mind employment, AT ALL. Being a morning person helps. & not being worked to death (& thus not being so exhausted to need an alarm clock to wake up).

But it's more than that - we try to keep life simple.

I know it's symbolic more than anything - but yeah - a lot of the times I just don't understand the psychology of people who want to retire super early. I am just not wired that way. So I read the alarm clock thing and think people sure seem to go through a lot of unnecessary effort to not need an alarm clock. Wink

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Today I was lazy and decided to treat myself to lunch. In fact, I decided to go to Togo's. It had been ages and I figured I wanted to keep them in business. (Not that I would succeed, but I should try).

I went over there and in the past I would get the whole meal thing. I decided I didn't need the calories so skipped the whole chip/meal thing. I decided to get a soda though since I just didn't have any. I cringed at the $1.50 or so price. I so often just keep soda at work, but was caught unprepared.

So I ordered my sandwhich and soda, and probably froze in shock when they told me the price was $7.70.

Um, okay?

I guess their prices have gone up in the last few years... YEesh.

I did notice my favorite sandwhich is on special on Monday. Yes, I will remember that!

The new sales tax does not help, I am sure.

I wondered if the meal was a better deal and if I should have just gotten the chips, as I left. I grabbed a menu. The prices were all higher than I remembered and I no longer saw the sandwhich/chip/soda deal, though they had others.

I hadn't frequented there since pre-kid really. So I wonder how much is rising prices and how much is I am just not used to forking over $8 for a LUNCH.

The only plus side is, as usual, I ate half my sandwich, and saved half for later.

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As I sat here typing I heard the gardener outside trimming our bushes. That makes me happy as a clam. You don't know how much I hate yard work. Worth every penny. I am just sitting here marveling at how nice the yard must look and how I didn't have to lift a finger. Which is good because I actually have some serious housework to do. Housework I don't particularly mind. But yeah, the house looks like a tornado hit it, and we have guests this weekend. So I better go make a dent.

Don't get me wrong. I don't love housework. I am not a fan. But since I don't hate it with a passion, I Can do it myself. Hehe. Plus if I let it slide for months while work is crazy, I don't get angry letters in my mail box. That could be more to the point. The neighbors don't have to know what slobs we are.

I am actually kind of bummed because the house did look great a few weeks ago and I was thinking maybe with the kids getting older I could be more on top of things. & then this happened. I don't know what the heck happened really. This is why I do not do much housework. It feels so futile most of the time. It's nice for 5 minutes and then we seem to be back to square one.

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It will be nice to have a neater house and I look forward to a mostly relaxing weekend. Though I will probably work a few hours, but much less than I have been. & I think this is my last weekend working all year. Woohoo!

Looking Ahead

April 17th, 2009 at 02:38 pm

More income means business to take care of.

I posted yesterday I received a nice bonus. The amount was somewhat unexpected. Big Grin

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I decided to run my tax numbers again for the year. I was aiming for rather breakeven before the extra income kicked in. I plugged my numbers in our tax planning software and it wasn't good. Not only would we owe over $1k, but I was in AMT! HUH? I knew dh returning to work could push us into AMT, but not a flipping $5k raise. I finally decided that the AMT calcs were wrong - the software had not been updated for more recent tax law changes. I also did not see the Making work pay credit. So I took out the AMT and deducted $800 for the credit. This left us with a $500 refund from the Feds and $500 due to the state, estimated. Good enough for me. I am punishing the state, so that works (hell if I will take a refund from them - they won't pay it anyway).

I was rather pleased with this scenario. I assumed we had no medical expenses this year (beyond insurance/regular checkups) and that we gave nothing to charity, etc., etc. Odds are we will have more deductions. Dh's (ebay) income should be offset by the dependent care credit. So overall, I am happy with this. & we have a little extra cash in the bank if I screwed up my calculations.

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Lest you think I am all work and no play (harldy!), we actually went out on a nice dinner April 15th to celebrate the end of "tax" season and told my parents we would take them out to lunch Sunday. But we can fit this all out of our budget - why we just saved the whole bonus. All this was done and put into motion before the actual bonus arrived.

Reminds me, there is an excellent, albeit a little pricey, Indian cafe in our neighborhood. There is never many people there and it is rather small. We went there Wednesday and it was PACKED. I think that is a wonderful sign. We took dh's friends out to eat on a weeknight when they were here and our other favorite place was just jam packed. IT always is on weekends but it gets so quiet around here during the week any more. I don't know if it's a fluke or what. The food is excellent so I am glad they are doing well.

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It looked like our net worth was up considerably; higher than it has ever been (barely). So I looked at that today. Net worth today was $213k. We hit $212k late in mid 2008. So it's nice to move forward. But barely. Still pretty much at the whim of the stock market. But I do feel like we can make forward progress this year.

Our cash/investment assets are not quite at six figures yet. The rest of our equity is in our house - mostly what we paid off as the value still holds rather steady slightly above what we paid.

Most of that is rather up in the air. (Stock market and home values).

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CASH

We have always saved up a lot of cash. We wanted to put at least 20% down on our home. We wanted to have plenty of cash to supplement my income when dh stopped working, etc. & moving forward we would like to continue to pay cash for everything and to increase our "emergency" cash savings. I think 3 months' expenses suffice for our situation today, but I think this money should always be growing (interest, if nothing else).

Anyway, in the past decade we have mostly been ridiculed as far too conservative (and not investing every spare dime in the stock market). So it's been kind of interesting to read a multitude of articles lately about how cash is IN. Suze no longer thinks you can afford anything until you have 8 months expenses in the bank, etc. Basically, our thinking all along is becoming rather in vogue. & yes, I think it's little more than a trend.

I mentioned briefly in my last post that our goal was $30k cash in the bank. This actually does work out to about 8 months of living expenses. Suze would be pleased. The number mostly comes from the fact that we have hardly ever had less cash as adults. Having our second child changed things a bit. So it's where we want to get back to as kind of a minimum. & of course we would continue to grow our cash savings from there. But 8 months of living expenses is a nice goal. To start. I think our personal goal is more like a year, and growing.

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Finally, as I look at my compensation for the year I realize we are officially back to more of a 2-income level. I never expected to make so much on my income alone, so rapidly. Inflation has eaten at our earnings power over the last few years, but our income taxes have also decreased quite dramatically. I look forward as a result, to rapid savings going forward. In fact, I expect we can possibly do better than before because we are managing our assets better.

I at least know we can get through the next year. Once LM starts school next summer, dh and I will probably sit down and discuss our future more. Right now he is working on some film projects, trying to get them off the ground with his limited spare time. If things continue like this I wouldn't mind him taking a year or 2 to work on that stuff, when he actually has some considerable free time. (& the kids will still need him much). But from there, as the kids get older, he will probably return to school and/or seek employment to help move us along. Though we may be in a spot we won't need his income, it doesn't mean he doesn't want to grow professionally or build up his skills so he has more to fall back on if something happens to me. So yeah, we will have a LOT to figure out.

I am pleased that our current path will probably buy us a little more time to figure this all out. I have the feeling his main job will be staying home the first couple of years LM is in school. Though going back to college during those years may be a wise move. In our current position I don't mind giving him a solid year or 2 to work on his DREAM further. One would argue he has had almost 7 years to do so. But being in full charge of 2 wee little ones, and me making too little to pay for childcare most of that time, has meant I wouldn't exactly see it fair to say, "You had some time and you didn't make it." The elementary school years seem okay for that time - time to try to make it and prove he can make any money with his hobbies. Dh is still young enough that he has time...

April 15th!

April 15th, 2009 at 10:06 pm

I saw this article and it seemed rather fitting on a day like today.

What I Learned in My 16 Years on the Tax Beat
http://list.calcpa.org/t/26295/12258596/12778/0/


HAppy Tax Day! Big Grin

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I've said before, taxes are NOT our bread and butter. So, I am not going on vacation, or anything of that nature. I am a month or 2 behind on all of my usual work. THat's what I will be working on the next few weeks - just simply catching up.

Though I guess it is a wee bit of a sigh of relief. April 30th will be far better. We have payroll tax returns and personal property tax returns to crank out the next 2 weeks though. May 1 will be my deadline reprieve and I do look forward that...

It happens ever year. All my friends call me and everyone wants to go party. & it's like, "Can you get back to me in 2 weeks?" It's not like I have worked here for 8 years or anything... People just latch on to that whole April 15th thing...

Thoughts on the ROTH

April 15th, 2009 at 03:28 pm

I changed our retirement contributions around.

I made my last 2008 contribution on Monday. We maxed out 2007 due to a windfall but didn't even bother trying in 2008. But I always put as much as I can into the prior year. So if we were to have another windfall, or dh were to return to work, we don't let go of ROTH contributions foolishly.

Anyway, since January I have been contributing $350 per month to MY ROTH simply because it was the only financial institution I Could figure out how to make 2008 contributions to automatically, during 2009.

Dh and I view our retirement (As everything else) merely as "one." That being said, he does not work and I have a pretty awesome retirement plan at work. The only downside, and it is a big one, is that if something happens to me, dh only gets something like 50%. I didn't even necessarily realize this until rather recently when I updated my paperwork to add my children as secondary beneficiaries.

Anyway, so between those 2 factors, I think it is a priority to plump up his ROTH. I will probably get $8k in my work plan this year. We will probably only put $4k-$5k into the ROTHs. Seems fair that it should go to him. (In the meantime, life insurance makes up for this unfortunate fact).

That being said, my boss will retire in a few years and I can roll my work retirement into an IRA. So this is certainly not the situation forever.

I am contributing $50/month, going forward, to my ROTH. Just to keep it rolling. I am contributing $300/month to dh's ROTH starting in May. I just set it all up for automatic contributions. Since the last couple of years we have only been contributing around $100/month max, we have stuck to the "retirement funds" and "Total stock indexes." As I changed things around my $50 continues to go to a "retirement fund" and dh's contributions are 50% total stock index/ 25% international index / 25% balanced fund. We haven't bought much international since the market dropped, so it's good to jump back in at lower prices.

I read something the other day like those Retirement funds are risky. Some are down 50%! Well, sure, if you just contributed once, at the peak, and never looked back. Dollar cost averaging significantly smooths those bumps. My "retirement fund" is down 20% today. I have contributed every month since mid 2007. I became a fan of dollar cost averaging when I had my 401k at my last job. It REALLY helps when the market slides anyway. We've unfortunately contributed most of our retirement monies in 2000-2001 and 2007-2008. Great! Right before the busts. But the dollar cost averaging makes it manageable. The losses are significantly muted. Being able to continue to contribute while the market is in the toilet, does pay off in the long run. WE are literally about breakeven - the balance in our retirement today reflect the initial contributions we have put in the last decade. Which kind of sucks that we don't have gains - but happy to say we truly have not "lost" much.

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This year has been good to us. We met our 15% gross to retirement and 10% gross to cash savings goals in one fell swoop. I was hoping to meet these goals when LM garduated preschool. Our home refinance and his unplanned switch to a much cheaper school has made these possible about 18 months of schedule.

So I have been stepping back and looking at our startegy. My goals are clear. The best way to achieve them are not.

Maxing out the ROTH (basically, maxing out a second one) is clearly a priority. WE are still in a virtually zero tax bracket and we would be crazy not to take advantage.

Other goals are to save for college and to pay down the mortgage ahead of schedule. I will put up with a mortgage that is reasonable and cheaper than renting, in the short term. In the long run we are extremely debt adverse and want it paid off well before retirement.

I am worried about affording our health care, as usual. But besides those types of expected expense increases there is not a lot on the horizon. WE are very content with our "Wants" spending at present. I know dh wants more gadgets and we talk about more grand vacations when the children are older. But those things can wait for a second income or a big raise. In the meantime we are quite content. The nice thing for our wants wish list is most of them are one time expenses. Nothing we necessarily need a permanently increased income for.

I have personally been tempted to stop or greatly reduce ROTH contributions just long enough to get our cash savings up to snuff. It is TEMPTING!!!!!! IF we had $30k in the bank I think our current $5k annual cash contributions would suffice. But with the market in such a tizzy, dh and I decided to continue the ROTH contributions as is. We are instead nearing $20k in the bank, and so have a decent amount of cathing up to do. But for now we are optimistic we can max out one ROTH and get our savings up to snuff in the next year or 2.

As far as maxing out the second ROTH? If we can avoid using our medical deductible, we can max out a second ROTH, maybe in 2010. We could contribute that money to a HSA but I like HSAs about as much as 529s. Lots of fees and little flexibility. Which leaves me of the opinion that HSAs and 529s will be our friend when my spouse returns to work and we have more savings than we know what to do with (& when our income tax rates are higher). In the meantime? Not ready to contribute to a HSA or a 529. They make little sense for people in our situation.

Which leads me to thoughts on college. No one in my family has spent much on college, and prices are still quite reasonable in California. In fact, my parents did not save a dime of money for me for college and since dh's parents are huge college money gifters, my kids have about as much money as my entire college education cost (a whopping $10k) at age 3 & 5. IT's not something I particularly sweat, and is another reason I would not save TONS in a 529. BEcause you get penalized on the money that is not used for college.

I have been thinking about it and maxing out our ROTH would put us about 25% contributions to retirement. Clearly more than necessary (we have always put away 10% - 15%, since we graduated college). As long as we are in this position I have decided not to contribute more money to the kids. The one exception is I may contribute a little more so I Can diversify their funds a bit more. (Since every fund needs a certain minimum). Aside from that, the ROTHs will become triple purposed. They hold some of our cash emergency fund, they hold a decent amount of our true retirement funds, and now they will hold a decent amount of investments for college in the offchance our kids "must" go to Stanford or something along those lines. In the meantime, truth is, their college will probably be paid for by the grandparents anyway. So even if dh returned to work, not sure we would go the 529 route... I view it more as contributing to retirement, but I can still sleep well at night if I am REALLY wrong about the whole college thing.

Which means simply, after thinking about it, the only true goal we have once our retirement vehicles are maxed, is to pay off the house.

Dh's income literally went about 100% to our house when he worked (down payment). & I think we will resume this plan when/if he returns to work. Literally, take his paycheck and pay down the house. It's amazing to me what a huge difference a mere $5k a year in income could make. That would be quite a dent. But yes, I think we have come full circle.

I tend to be extremely idealistic so we shall see. One thing at a time...

I just wanted to share my thinking with my current goals. They always seem to be evolving as circumstances change.

DMV, Advertised Prices

April 15th, 2009 at 12:38 am

I am breathing a little sigh of relief today. I think tax season madness is DONE. Knock on wood though. It will still be pretty busy here another couple of weeks. May is filled with 3-day weekends for me. I probably will have no idea what to do with myself. Big Grin

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I don't have anything exciting to chat about. It's been work work work. I've actually had a decent amount of computer time. It's just I have nothing interesting to report. Not that I ever do! Hehe. But I definitely feel dry for blogging ideas. My brain has been maxed out on work. So this will have to be a DH Edition.

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Dh happened to notice, lord knows why, that he had a March 2008 registration expiration sticker on his car. Doh. He called the DMV and they said they sent it (2009) to us a month ago. IDeally we shouldn't get a ticket. I am avoiding his car like the plague though. It's just no fun to get pulled over, even if you know why.

They said they would sent it out ASAP. I figure they will both arrive at the same time. IT is not unusual for things to take 30 days from postmark date to our mailbox. This is why I do not use standard mail much at all any more. We joked about how much our second sticker will be worth on the black market. Assuming we get two eventually. I have literally never had anything "lost" in the mail so I assume it will come. IT's just, lord knows when. I've had quite a few things that should take a day end up taking 30 days to arrive.

Dh was worried he would have to go down to the DMV and started researching options. He learned one of the closer ones to our house, but a bit out of the way, boasted a 0 minute wait most of yesterday when he was researching. Now we know where to go. I've been to the crowded "downtown" once twice. I just never thought to look elsewhere (apparently no one does either).

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If Dh was a superhero he would be Super Advertised PRice Man. LOL. He got into quite an argument at Blockbuster a while ago about their unclear game rental prices advertised on the wall. IT sounded like a riot almost ensued, but my dh is NOT one to back down. (All I can say was I glad I wasn't there). It was literally like over $2. But hell if he will get screwed out of $2.

Anyway, last night when I got home he told me he was fuming about something and would tell me later. Later he handed me a Fry's ad and asked me what I thought about it. It said something along the lines 50% off games. Regular price $30. 1/2 price $15. I could figure where he was going with this so I studied it pretty hard and told him it looked plain as day like games were 50% off. (I guess GAMES is the running theme here).

He went over to Fry's and they told him that was not what the ad said. Above that part of the ad (completely sectioned off) it said buy a DS for $170 and it said something about games with an asterik. If you look below in a box that does not look related in any way shape or form it mentions the half-priced games and apparently has an asterik (so small it looks like a dot) that goes along with the asterik way above it in a different square.

This really peeved my dh. He said, "I don't think so. This is not a clear ad. I want this game at the ADVERTISED PRICE." Dh shops Fry's all the time and in the past they have honored ad mistakes, etc. Instead I guess they were real pricks. He said some extremely condescending managers pointed out how he didn't know how to read ads and somewhat of a row ensued. (I am laughing as he tells me this. BEcause we are couponers. We KNOW how to read ads). It culminated in him realizing that he would get nowhere and so he left and wrote a "nice" e-mail to the store higher ups.

Anyway, on a whim he did decide to take the ad over to Best Buy and they honored it, as a price match, without a blink. Dh really didn't think it would fly. I think he said he called first and they said they honor adds but that one would be below cost so they couldn't honor it. He tried anyway. IT pays to be persistent I guess.

As for me? Honestly, I am not a pushy person and I would have just let it go. He may have saved $15, but he probably wouldn't have spent that money otherwise, and I can just imagine his blood pressure boiling in that whole situation. I'd say it just isn't worth it. IT's worth it to ask. Even to complain to a higher up. But arguing with idiotic sales clerks on power trips? Ugh. Seems pretty futile. Unfortunately it seems to be common any more. It's just odd that this is like the second time this year. Maybe businesses are trying to hold on tighter to every dime any more - I don't know. So are consumers. Maybe that is also part of the problem.

Today was a Beauty

April 6th, 2009 at 12:08 am

The weather here is a little manic depressive. I was shivering upstairs when I got dressed this morning. Yeesh. It was just freezing. I was tempted to put on the heat, to say the least (it's probably been weeks). Anyway, I decided I would wait and see - I was leaving for work anyway - I'd see how it was later. It was like 66 degrees, but a COLD 66. The kids and hub were no doubt enjoying it (they like it cold - they are weird).

Glad I waited. I took a shower around 3 and it was still chilly, but then we went outside for a walk. It was gorgeous and the kids talked me into turning on the sprinklers and letting them play in the water. We had quite a bit of rain the last few weeks and I hadn't turned on the sprinklers since, so I figured it wasn't the worst to get the grass wet and feed the trees, etc. It just occurred to me maybe it's been a couple of weeks. Amazing how green the lawn looked with all the neglect.

The kids are having a blast. Spring has definitely arrived. (I logged online to cash in my $250 reward check - Chase). I actually came to this site to look at my weather thing since I couldn't find a current reading anywhere else).

Inside the house is only 69 degrees, because the night was so chilly. It's probably still colder upstairs. But I am opening up the windows and trying to let some sun in. It feels nice!

Yesterday was Uplifting

April 5th, 2009 at 02:18 pm

Aaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhh. I am refreshed as I can be, the week before April 15th.

Yesterday was uplifting. We did decide to go out to dinner. I wanted to go to Cheesecake Factory since we were right there, but the line was OUT THE DOOR. We had only braved it once - a weeknight in December - but we were like the only people there. Of course, as recently as last week we notice no one goes out week nights any more. Which is kind of odd. So peeved as I was that we couldn't eat there, & that I wasn't going to wait an hour for dinner (would cost an extra $12 in childcare) I do admit it was nice to see so many people out spending their money. We saw a lot of limos to boot. Some people were out splurging!

You could say the same for our second choice. We eventually ended up at a slow restaurant next to a HOPPING brewery restaurant.

Along the same lines, everyone I know who has lost their job has found better, higher paying jobs. So the news is uplifting around here, so far.

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But yes, I typed yesterday that our weekend was so filled with work that it could be an easy No Spend Weekend. But though we couldn't go to the matinee I just wanted nothing more than to go to the movies as we originally planned. We decided to make it spendy.

It was fun because we went to an older movie theater and dh commented, "I think this is one of the older movie theaters in the area. I have never been here." I said, "Well if you haven't been here - don't think I have either." He goes to the movies far more than I. IT is at the mall. The funny thing is the place had a million signs about not admitting people under 17 to R-rated movies. I laughed when we walked inside and I had deja vu. I said - "I have been here - they are really strict with that 17 and under thing." Dh was like, "Were you here with a kid?" I look young but haven't been mistaken for 16 for a while. Wink I said, "No. We came here in college once and they almost wouldn't let me in because I didn't have my ID - they thought I was under 17." I think since all my friends were in their 20s they gave me the benefit of the doubt in the end. LOL. It was just funny - brought back some college memories. Don't ever remember being carded at a movie theater otherwise. We didn't live here but some of my friends went to college in the area and is part of the reason I was happy to choose this area as our low cost of living haven. I knew the area somewhat; had spent a lot of time around here.

Anyway - movies $20. We couldn't swing the matinee this time. Babysitting $35. Dinner $35. Makes for a $90 date. Oh yeah, why we don't do that very often. It was nice to get a break though. AND to get OUT of the house. I just needed a break from the routine.

The drop-in childcare place was not hopping as I had seen it on a Saturday. They had a "free registration" sign up. I hope they can hang in there - not sure what we would do without them. The place appeals to us much more than searching out someone we trust with both our children and our home. All the good people are always booked solid anyway, so lord I hope this place stays in business. At least there were people there.

They messed up the bill last time and dh caught it so they had given him a full hours' credit (more money than the mistake - but all they could do with their system). We also had a 10% coupon. 3.7 hours would have cost about $52 otherwise. But we spent $35. Kind of why we decided to go to dinner after all. Since we had an hour credit. Usually it's hard to justify more than 2 hours of babysitting.

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Today the limitations of my cheap gym are getting to me. Was thinking of going to gym at 7, before work. But they don't open until 8. Dh is "working" rest of day but the gym daycare is closed on Sunday. Figures. I will probably be able to sneak in before lunch, but would have just preferred to go to the gym before work.

I'll get over it. Can't beat the cost.

I am not sure I made it to the gym or aerobics at all last week. *sigh* I have done good most of the year, but off the wagon last week. We will see about next week. After April 15th I do intend to hit it all full force again.

Spendy Weekend

April 4th, 2009 at 02:37 pm

This weekend would be an easy No-Spend weekend.

But we decided to be SPENDY!

I am not sure what it is, maybe I am just knee deep in work.

But we have been living the dreaded "2-income" lifestyle without the second income. Which is 10 times worse. LOL. But it hasn't really gotten to me.

Last Saturday I took the kids out of town and worked Sunday instead. I had to rush home though because dh had a volunteer shift at 5:00. Ugh.

This weekend I was pretty much going to work all weekend. But dh just informed me he is volunteering 1pm - 10pm Sunday. Seriously?

We had made plans for a date Sunday. Movies; drop off the kids. Was looking forward to it.

It would be easy to not see each other all weekend and not to spend any money. Work is so crazy it seems to make little difference that his schedule is crazy too. I have been too busy working to notice much I guess. We usually avoid this kind of schedule like the plague. I'd rather be broke than never see my spouse. But I guess I am resigned to it this time of year.

BUT anyway, since it's been so crazy, I really looked forward to our date and to just turn off my brain and spend time with dh. BM has a tee ball game today and so I will probably leave work early for that.

I told dh I was planning to work tomorrow anyway but felt a little caught up. I suggested we drop off the kids after tee ball and go to the movies. We can decide what to do for dinner after. Maybe just come home; maybe splurge on a meal out without having to buy food out of the house for "eat like adults" kids.

Then I can go to work a few hours Sunday morning, but the whole weekend sounds about 10 times more appealing. I don't mind working every day if there is balance. I like my job; I just don't want to work 16 hours every weekend. So working Sunday buys me lots of time with my family Saturday. Tee ball game and a date. Phew. I'll be home Sunday before noon. The kids and I will have a nice afternoon/evening together Sunday.

So we decided to spend!

Dh has a dinner next week but the kids are out of school. We did not have to pay for preschool this week. So we get another date without spending more money than we usually would. Woohoo.

Easter will be fun and "free" for the most part. I expect we will spend the last 2 weeks of April recovering. Being homebodies. Though we have discussed going out to dinner after the 15th to celebrate. Big Grin

That is how our April is shaping up. & that is how we decided having a No-Spend weekend had more of a "personal" price than we really cared for. Sometimes, spending money is good. I would never work so hard if I was never going to enjoy any of my money. Wink

-$1.28 Gas Bill

April 3rd, 2009 at 04:43 pm

This post is a fitting follow up to the last one. (re: our energy bills are not high!)

I got my gas bill and was a little confused about why it was -$1.28. I had to dig around for the detail and found this in small print at the end of the bill:

“Congratulations] You earned a credit under PG&E's Winter Gas Savings Program. You've received a bill credit of $29.28, which is a total of 20.00% off your total PG&E gas charges from January 1 through February 28. The credit is based on your cumulative gas usage reduction of 11.00%, compared to the average usage at this location in January and February over the last three years.

Bill was only $28 before the credit. That explains much. I’ll take a negative bill any day! Big Grin

I can’t take much credit – the winter was mild. Though now that I think about it, all the thermal drapes maybe played a role. We tried to be a little more mindful also. But I think the mild winter explains most of it! I don’t think we topped $100 this year, at all. We usually do in January.

Also, because winter came so late, the cold has lingered longer than usual. Our $30 (pre-credit) gas bill was $10 higher (50% higher!) than the same bill last March.

It is getting warm enough to turn down the hot water heater. We rachet it down every spring, and even more in the summer. We pay little for gas the rest of the year (maybe $15/month average). We use it for cooking and hot water the rest of the year. (Gas heat in the winter).


I’ve been keeping an eye on our electric meter.

I notice spikes when we do laundry. Most days we have been averaging 15 Kwh per day. I noticed it was 22 kwh - Sunday, but I later realized we did laundry ALL DAY. I got a pile of free clothes for LM, for one. I hate the smell of other people’s clothes, plus they had some stuff all over them. So we washed washed washed, not to mention I washed my work clothes (no dryer for those though) and we had to wash our paint stained clothes from Saturday. So it was an unusual laundry day for sure. (Our dryer is as energy efficient as it gets though).

We’ve had a couple of low days of 11 Kwh. That’s about as low as we seem to go with people home. We haven’t all left the house more than an hour or so in WEEKS so I still have no idea what the baseline “nobody home/nothing on” usage is. I am very curious – of course. We will find out in May.

A quick web search shows our fridge probably used about 1.3 Kwh per day. I am not sure if newer ones are that much more efficient. (We bought ours in 2002 - right after they made a major step up in efficiency). Each of our DVRs uses about the same amount of electricity. This would put our baseline at 4 Kwh per day plus whatever for our clocks, smoke alarms (they are attached to the electrical system for backup), etc., etc. Will our baseline be 5 Kwh per day? It will be interesting to see how much the little stuff truly adds up. I can also look up our fridge model for a better estimate. I will later.

Net Worth, Suze, & Big Houses

April 3rd, 2009 at 02:26 pm

My net worth, went, UP? Woohoo.

IT went up $4k the first quarter.

Cash is up $3k, investments down $1k. Retirement is up about $1k, and we've paid about $1k off the mortgage. That makes for a grand total of $4k UP.

Though I track net worth quarterly, for the long run I only save my year-end net worth, for long-term tracking. I know our net worth was higher somewhere during 2008. But we are higher than year-end. & we are higher than any other year - though not much as far as 12/31/07.

I don't think we've bottomed out or seen the end of the bad news, but it still lifts my spirits, even if it's all on paper. My retirement would not be up $1k if I hadn't been contributing like mad while stocks were in the toilet. Big Grin

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I saw Suze on Oprah yesterday and she was AWESOME. The question was asked recently about which financial guru was best. I was rather, "eh." But Suze is growing on me.

Honestly she didn't say anything I didn't already know. But it's nice seeing her smack sense into people. & I think she just did a REALLY good job. She said something along the lines of, "Don't focus on what you HAD. Focus on what you HAVE." I think that is kind of my life philosophy - always looking forward - not much you can change about the past. I realized recently often people mistake this for a level of "perfection." That I must never do anything wrong. I do PLENTY wrong. I just don't dwell on it. I move on.

I've also said we were too young to lose much. We were focusing so much on buying a house out here we really didn't have that much in stocks. I also invest quite conservatively and and am putting FAR more into retirement today than we have the last few years since having kids. Because of this, I am not staring at $100k+ stock losses. For sure. We put it in about the rate of loss, so little slide backward. But we did lose $100k in 2001 (home equity we were COUNTING on to buy this home with). We never dwelled on it much. We just took the lesson that paper gains mean little, and moved on. I'd like to say if we lost $100k+ in the stock market, we'd be pretty zen. We don't focus on what we can't change. IT's kind of futile. Not that we wouldn't be upset. But we'd move on. I can say that with confidence because we've been there. It was a great lesson to learn right out the starting gate (we were 24 or so when we learned the lessons of the bubble (2001).

I think that was very wise advice from Suze.

She also told the audience to live on HALF of their income. Fact is, people should strive for that in GOOD times. But I liked that advice because that is how we are. Not that we live on 50% today, but we never relied at all on a second income. Many people assume these days, because of my job, that my dh's income must have been the lesser one we gave up. Fact is we were always paid pretty equally. So when he worked we saved 50% of our income. & when he didn't work, it wasn't a big deal to cut our income in half.

50%? That's what I strive for in the long run. Easy peasy on 2 incomes. But we don't know any different. & the only reason we talk of dh never returning to work, is as we near a pretty high savings rate on one income. (50% is a bit drastic - but something to aim for. The more the better). Anyway, it's nice to hear a financial guru say something we've preached forever. & that people usually consider us insane for. Wink

& not that everyone can do that. But plenty more people can who aren't even trying. Then again, it's much EASIER to take that advice when times are good.

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I am not sure what it is about the anti-big-house crowd. But I got to say. I find most of the arguments against buying a bigger house, false.

Because we had more room we didn't run out and buy more furniture. Eventually, yes, when we had kids. But half the house was empty when we moved in, and remained that way for a long time!

We don't have more appliances! We have one fridge, one stove, one oven, one microwave, one water heater, one A/C. We had all the same in our condo! & though our house is twice as big as our condo was it cost LESS to heat and cool. FAR LESS. BEcause it is so energy efficient. It means we don't even run the heat or air most of the year. It doesn't cost twice as much to heat or cool this house (than the one next door). Because most of the heating and cooling does not come from the appliances, it comes from the roof and the insulation, naturally.

My issue with the frugal crowd is they seem to think going big, then everything must cost TWICE as much. With the economies of scale, this simply isn’t the case. Home repairs, etc. usually cost 10% more - not 100% more. & we bought a new home from a builder. The 1500 sf house could have been had for about $230k. $153 per sf. The extra 1000 sf cost only $30k. That’s $30 per square feet for the extra square footage. The perk is today the same house next door (1500 sf) cost $100k LESS than ours. In a dire emergency, we could downsize the house. I wouldn't go broke over a big house, for sure. It is a luxury. I just don't find it to be a very expensive luxury.

{Of course, since we moved somewhere cheaper I admit our experience is truly unique. We used to own a 1300 square foot condo. The property taxes and the insurance are all about the same here, if not less. For the condo the association fees were $250 when we owned, and are like $400, MONTHLY, today. We don’t spend near that much to maintain our current house}.

Another nice perk, is lots are so small here, we have MUCH more land than our neighbors with one-story homes. I’ll take my big house any day!!! (& it doesn't mean tons of yardwork - just mean we actually have a little room to move. Lots in California have gotten smaller while houses have gotten bigger. But we have a similar backyard to our parent's who bought in the 70s/80s. Which to us is a lot of room. We thought so long we could never afford a yard, at all).

We both grew up in homes considerably smaller. If it was really that much more expensive, in our case, we wouldn’t have gone so big, for sure. We could certainly do just fine on much less.

Our house isn't necessarily big by national standards. It's 2600 square feet. But for out here, we know few our age with more than 1300 square feet. For the area, it's kind of big.

All I know is out here (IRL) my mortgage and utility bills are smaller than most of the people who criticize the size of our house. It gets old... It gets really old since we are so mindful of waste, etc. Not everyone who owns a "big home" wasteful. Wink