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Archive for January, 2010

Financial Update

January 29th, 2010 at 06:36 pm

I popped some advil and went back to sleep last night. Wouldn't you know, my ear feels fine now? BUT, I do have a doctor appointment late in the day. Guess they were slammed - lucky to get in at all. Would just figure if it's all cleared up by then. Either that - or should I call advil the miracle cure? I assumed it would help with both the pain and swelling. I suppose they say like 25% of all infections are viral anyway. If all I have to do is sleep sitting up... I have been fine since getting up this morning.

Will see what the doc says. I am wearing a face mask to the doctor's office - that is for sure. & will wash my hands thoroughly on my way out. Sometimes it feels like a vicous cycle. I always seem to pick up something at the hospital, etc.

That being said, I haven't seen my doctor since 2005. I remember because I thought I had a bladder infection right after giving birth. I remember not liking the doctor, and I never switched. I am stuck with him today. He was fine - just an older male, hard to understand. Wanted a female at the least. I will put that on my to do list, and feel lucky to see any doctor, today.

I will laugh if it is a false alarm - since last time was. I generally don't get infections, period. If I feel one coming gone, it's gone by the time I get to the doctor. Was last time, anyway. Feels the same this time.

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I peeked at the credit card. Ugh! Not sure why it was so high. Then I thought through all the stocking up that dh did these last weeks.

Then again, lots of medical charges too. Pretty much all there was since the weekend. Pharmacy, pharmacy, pharmacy. Doctor appointment, doctor appointment, doctor appointment. Repeat repeat repeat.

I decided that by the time I transferred all the medical portion from "medical savings" I Was about breakeven for the month. I do have 5 more days until my credit card closes, but the cars are gassed up and the house is FILLED with food. & we all feel too crappy to do anything but stay home. I see an easy No-Spend-Week ahead.

I suppose that has been another cost savings - with MIL driving the kids around and such. Being home sick from work too - means no gas being bought.

I do have to run and get some normal bread while I am out. MIL has been torturing the kids with some god awful whole wheat bread. They don't mind wheat bread - just not the really intense wheat stuff. I had heard children don't digest it as well. So, will get them (& me) some normal bread. As I choked down the bread yesterday I decided I had bigger things to worry about. Had to suck it up. But I look forward to filling the house back up with normal food... In the end, this may be my biggest complaint about MIL. We are just kind of middle of the road/moderation types. & the fact is, compared to the average American, we eat EXTREMELY well. MIL is a health nut/health fad type. So it's kind of scary to see our cabinets filling up with her weird crap. I must save the children! LOL. I mean - if I could sum up her philosophy - "if it doesn't taste like sand, it's not good for you." That's how I would qualify it. Plus, not a fan of artificial sweeteners, artificial butter, and stuff like that. I'd rather just have a conservative helping of the real stuff. Yeah, that's where I draw the line. At least we have plenty of BUTTER. LOL. Reminds me, I should buy some mayo while I am out. Ugh, last time she bought me mayo it was awful. We suffered through it rather than toss it. I can't do that again... This time will send her home with her nasty food. Wink

& really, it's one thing if she thinks the adults should eat like this. But the kids have extremely high metabolisms. I mean - they need some fat in their diet!!! & Some sugar??? Though I got to hand it to them - the kids are good sports...

Some Finances, Some Ranting, Some Updates

January 28th, 2010 at 02:39 am

You may think I disappeared because life is crazy, but really I am just sicker than a dog. The "life is crazy" part is not helping though. I went into work this morning because I had pressing deadlines. I'm not good at asking for help, generally, but have been good these last weeks. Still, some of it needed to be directed by me. I delegated the rest. In the end, it felt good to be up and about. I may go to work tomorrow for 4 hours, even if I feel like hell still. Was good medicine.

I walked BM home from school yesterday thinking the exercise would help. Instead, I think the unusual cold made me worse. Was freezing... (I had noticed, fresh air walks to/fro the car helped my sinuses while at the hospital. I guess not so much with longer walks to school in cooler weather...)

Today I did see some sun, and not so much rain. Was nice!!

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How is this for money karma? Received $2k for medical bills. Mostly from MIL who thinks we are "hard up" on some insane level. BUT, the fam did pool their resources for a nice gift. It is what I suggested since a couple of other relatives did want to spend $400-ish on a gift that wouldn't have been used. I did tell her we need cash more than anything. (If they refused to buy the more modest gifts I suggested, anyway). Though entertainment for the hospital was a nice gesture, he wouldn't have been up to it - he was mostly a lifeless lump.

So - came home - and found a $2k charge on my card, from the hospital. Money karma in action! I deposited the check today and will send it to the card when it clears. (It was the first time they put a hold on a deposit - was kind of odd - but whatever).

The truth is I expect to pay our $6k out-of-pocket this year. It just may take some years to bill. If the past is any indication...

Ironically, I swear the hospital told us the deposit would be $300, and they asked us if we would need help paying for it, etc. To be fair, dh heard, "$300 per day." Regardless, neither of those figures added up to anywhere near $2k. I love how they just charged the card without telling us what it was going to be. I suppose I should have asked upon release. But why do you ask someone if they can afford $300? & then charge them $2k? !!

Since we already have the medical cash, will probably put $1k to open a regular IRA (need one to roll my profit sharing into) and will probably invest in a bed for LM. Dh wants the TV, of course, but I think that may be on hold due to his medical status.

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As somewhat expected, it also hasn't been very spendy here. My parents and in-laws fed me most the time dh was in the hospital. I did spend a LOT on gas and all. But, food has been well taken care of here. I will offer MIL cash for the next grocery run (she shopped today) but not sure she will take it. I'd give her a check if I thought she would cash it...

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Yesterday, I had some time to look up some of dh's issues, and was disappointed to see some of it could be permanent. The double vision is common, but could be an issue forever. I am fretting a bit if he will be able to drive again, for a long time. The nurses/docs, just said it would get better. Though that will most likely improve, a lot of people say they have double vision YEARS later, with fatigue, too much computer time, lots of reading, etc. Will have to discuss his options with the doctor. He is wearing an eye patch for now, but don't think that is a safe way to drive. Anyway, overall, maybe months to a couple of years. Yikes!

Also, was disappointed to see that his mouth/jaw numbness may also last months/years, and will very likely be permanent. !!! Being a bit of a foodie, I can hardly imagine anything worse. Though I am sure he will adjust.

For now, he doesn't know any better, and tells me both are improving a little each day. I will cross my fingers for that. In the interim, he escaped from so many other bad outcomes, but it's still hard to accept that this may be what he is left with. *sigh*

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The MIL situation is okay. She drove me a little nuts, and is the reason I am sick again (unnecessary stress). But, overall, since she has been home with us, she has chilled out a bit. So, all I can say is, Phew! Until the next drama, anyway.

We're Home!

January 25th, 2010 at 01:13 am

That's all I have time to say for now. But it feels GOOD to be home!

Enjoying a little peace before the kids and MIL arrive. Any minute...

I already went grocery shopping (for soft food) and made some soup. Getting very domestic!

& the kids have pink eye... I am so sick of hospitals. I have spent about 2 hours sitting in 3 different pharmacies the last couple of days. Of course the hospital where dh was didn't have an open pharmacy (for the kids' prescriptions).

& um, it hasn't stopped raining all week, pretty much. Not sure I have ever seen the rivers so full, etc. Hopefully the rain stops soon... Relieved to see our house above ground (& not under water!), when we got home. Hope it stays that way!

P.S. He is definitely deaf in the one ear. But, no surprise. He is lucky that is really the only sacrifice for the surgery...

Surgery is OVER!

January 22nd, 2010 at 06:23 am

It felt like this day would never arrive, as we have been anxiously waiting.

Surgery went better than expected. Can we call my dh "miracle boy," or what?

Wednesday was a whirlwind of medical appointments and tests. We met briefly with the surgeon, who told us that he may leave up to 50% of the tumor, in a futile attempt to save dh's stereo hearing. He said he had never saved hearing with such a large tumor before (ever), BUT that it is extremely rare that any one with this type tumor has much hearing to begin with. The fact that dh lost his hearing only temporarily twice, is no less than miracle. Usually, once it's gone, it's gone.

Oh yes - let me back up - the weather here is CRAZY. It is also a miracle we made it to the Bay Area in one piece. Egads, what a week it has been. We drove through some terrible rain, saw some amazing rainbows, and somehow managed to miss every lightning storm with all our driving. We also have sat in a lot of homes without electricity. The hotel and the hospital have been a nice change of pace, with electricity and all. Big Grin

So, back to surgery (it's been a LONG day!!!)

It was a whole day affair, though the actual cutting and stitching was about 6 hours. Was at the hospital over 12 hours, though.

We were all stunned when the surgeon walked out and said that 95% of the tumor had been removed. Too early to tell, I suppose, but he said that radiation may not be necessary after all. That, I never expected. He said his hearing seemed okay, but they never know. The truth is it would be a miracle.

Dh was pretty insistent when he woke up, that he see me. The first thing he told me was that he couldn't hear (out of one side). I told him 95% of the tumor was gone, and he seemed relieved. I think we had more second thoughts at the last minute. Truth is, how would he feel with 50% of the tumor still in there, and no hearing? Which in the end was a likely scenario. I am so relieved we don't have to live with that. It was never raised as an option that we would skip radiation. It is amazing.

I do admit, that I hold some hope on the hearing. He's got it back before. What about when all the swelling goes down? Even a little bit means a simple hearing aid as opposed to more expensive hearing procedures/devices. Will see...

Facial paralysis was another biggie. Doctor said the tumor was most entwined with the facial sensory nerve. Which had really been his only symptom (numb face) besides hearing that came and went. In the end, he asked if his face was droopy. It looked a tad droopy, though I don't think I would have noticed otherwise. He has a beard which I think hides it. His eyes and cheeks seems fine, we only really noticed his lips being a little lax. Regardless, the surgeon felt his facial nerve was fine, and temporary facial weakness is expected. Paralysis is pretty rare. Not a lot of worries there. Clearly he wasn't paralyzed...

Dh looked amazing! Everyone warned me about how terrible he would look, etc.

Is that it? But for the bandaging, you'd never guess he had brain surgery. He was obviously doing quite well.

All along they told us he would get a private room, probably. Which surprised me as we were in an old hospital. In the end, they were wrong. I was rather relieved. The nurse said she would be in the room all night, waking him every hour to check his vitals, etc. I was so relieved to come to my hotel and rest. I couldn't stay over since he didn't have a private room. (Bummer - not?) He won't remember anything. Well, so they say. He seemed amazingly alert. Not "too" loopy? Though admittedly, loopy!

Tomorrow night he may get a private room, and that may be nice. When he gets out of ICU. He may go home Saturday or Sunday - is that absurd?

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Anyway, I suppose we already knew, but there is nothing more important than friends and family. Times like these you just kind of get that kick in the butt. This week has been made bearable by the love of friends and family.

I know MIL was set on this clinic in LA, but I think being so close to our family has been FAR more important. & let's face it, the doctor we decided on kicked butt! I can't tell you how relieved we are today that we didn't fall for the LA hype. I had reservations all along about the logistics of all that. It wasn't a sole reason to not go there, but I have to kind of say, "I was right!" I was so annoyed that MIL was writing off places like Stanford, for LA. I couldn't understand why looking in our own backyard (with AMAZING medical facilities) wouldn't be a priority. All we have heard all week is how our HMO has the best neurosurgery facility in Northern California, and how our surgeon is one of the best in the world. & we have been justifying our choice all along. What sweet revenge today was. Though maybe the best thing is that all our family is here, too. It just is kind of the icing on the cake. I never imagined that today could "fly by," but it kind of did with all the support we had.

Anyway, this is really just the beginning, on some level. But, I think it's a good start. I am wishing dh a very speedy recovery!

Odds & Ends

January 17th, 2010 at 04:20 pm

I am SO procrastinating here. Big Grin

If you scroll to my last post, I had some thoughts on home ownership. FYI to anyone interested.

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Anyway, dh's family is very dramatic. I heard rumor that a very close relative is convinced he will die! (While, a VERY religous relative, and a psychic, had visions he would be just fine!). Anyway, when I heard this, I did tell dh. Just as a heads up. For this particular relative, seemed more than a fear than anything. (They didn't tell me why he had this fear. If there was a "vision" - no one told me about that part). So anyway, dh and I discussed how driving to the surgery would probably be more dangerous.

I only share for the back story... (We all know that we have a ball of crazy to deal with there).

Um, I wasn't tempting fate or anything with that sentiment!

BUT, yesterday, my mom tells me some crazy storm is coming in all week, and to bring my umbrella, etc. SO, I look up the weather, and see that it will be really stormy all next week, the WORST of it being the night we drive down to the Bay Area. Plus, it's no small trek from the family's houses to the hospital, anyway. Will be doing lots of driving in the rain.

But anyway, driving in some torrential rain storm, in the dark, doesn't sound appealing. I will keep an eye on it, but I think I will bust my butt at work tomorrow, in case we decide to cut out early and get some daylight driving in. Hell, we might have to pull BM out of school. Maybe just get all packed up and leave at 3:30. Should get there by dark?

Regardless, will monitor it all. The forecast is never right on, anyway. IDeally the worst will pass before we hit the road. Just one more thing. Like we need one more thing!

(Just read - worst storm in a decade. Great!)

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Yesterday I was pretty lazy. I filed some statements away, because MIL is nosy. Kind of just put away things I didn't want her to see laying around.

I did make fudge for dh, on a whim. (For me and dh, I should say). HE seemed to like it so much last time - that took a whopping 5 minutes.

Finished a movie I had fallen asleep during...

Took out some trash.

I suppose I wasn't totally useless, but in the end, kind of hit a wall. Didn't help that dh and the kids were JUST starting to pick up when I got home from work. Not very helpful. I had expected them to do more while I was gone. But, what else is new?

Dh did get his oil changed (turned out, was due - we had a good coupon), and picked up some more groceries.

Oh - and we did clear out the freezer. I threw away a lot of frozen fruits for smoothies. They may have been okay, but we needed to clear some room out for frozen dinners and such. The freezer wasn't too bad otherwise - I had a lot of nuts in there - lord knows how old. Threw those away too.

At the least, I want to vacuum the floors and scrub the toilets. I suppose that will be my task for today. I also want to clean the cat litter box. I rarely just empty it out and scrub it down. It is LONG overdue. So, it's not really necessary at all, but as I look critically at the house, it just nags at me a bit. On some level, probably not something that should be put off longer. NEcessary in that sense. If it doesn't get done now...

I am probably going to come up with a chore list. As structured/organized as I am when it comes to finances, I am the complete opposite when it comes to housework. I just don't care that much about most housework? BUT, I don't want to wake up Thursday morning and have no clean underwear. Or forget to change the cat litter in all the fray. Stuff like that. I figured I better make a list. Not that I have to stick to the list, but to break things out by day and have a little "reminder list." Like a reminder to check the laundry status mid-week, and the grocery status, etc., etc. This is just stuff I would never think of otherwise. & the usual - "wait until the weekend to do it all," probably won't fly so well!

The More Things Change, The More they Stay the Same (Housing)

January 17th, 2010 at 03:35 pm

Having graduated college in 1999, it's been interesting. I'd consider myself an adult long before that, but only since 1999 have I been investing in real estate and the stock market. Thus, my only experience in those things is during the "lost decade." & what a decade it was!

I guess it's extra interesting since the dot com bust was in my backyard, as was one of the biggest housing bubbles in the country. I have always had a lot of extra insight to all this as I watched it unfold before my very eyes. (I know a lot of people in the world weren't quite aware of all the insane borrowing going on around here, etc. & in the end both collapses had worldwide effects).

Anyway, as our 10-year anniversary of home ownership passes, I was reflecting a bit on it.

The wisest advice I can give people is to not give into the hype. It's kind of funny, but everything I hear about housing TODAY is everything I have been hearing the last decade. Nothing really changes. We have had the luck to be homeowners in a most volatile real estate market decade. In 1999 people were saying the exact same things as they are today. Mainly, "If I don't buy now, I will never be able to!!!!" Irony is that I have heard the same frantic statement every year for the last decade. On the way up and on the way down - it's all the same.

I suppose it's a lot like the stock market. You can't time the market. You just have to buy when it makes sense for you. & make it a fiscal decision, not an emotional one. What's the point of "buying now because it's my last chance," if you can't afford it and end in foreclosure.

Another juicy tidbit I heard up until 2008, I suppose, was that it was stupid to pay down our house. (Told to me by people with multiple homes and ARMs, who eventually lost all their houses to foreclosure. Not surprisingly!). As our house value falls to about the price we paid for it, I am relieved it has another $90k to go before we hit "upside down." & though we put a fair amount down, I understand the sentiment not to put too much into your house early on. I understand inflation and all that. BUT I am talking people who thought have a fixed rate mortgage was stupid. (Not even getting into large down payments, 15-year loans and extra principle payments). I remember people telling me I was stupid, and me wondering what planet THEY were from! (Stupid because I want to pay off my house some day? BEcause I am locking in the lowest mortgage rates of the century?)

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Anyway, when I think back it is kind of funny since dh and I were so young and naive when we bought our first home. Some smarts and good financial advice helped us through though.

As was the entire last decade, we decided to buy in an extremely volatile market. I would have never bought a home if not for dh. Living near San francisco the prices of homes were absurd in 1999. It was somewhere near the end of college that dh told me he didn't want to get married until we bought a home. I had actually been waiting 4 years, to finish college, to turn my engagement ring into a wedding ring. When he first told me this, I thought he was stalling. I REALLY thought he was insane. Who can own a flipping home here, right out of college? What is he thinking?

In the end, it wasn't a stall tactic. Since my family had come from more reasonably priced areas, we had never really heard of the "start with a condo and move up to house" strategy. So dh told me we should buy a condo. At first, still thought he was crazy. But I did my homework. At the time, the cheapest house we could probably find was about $500k, whereas nice condos were to be had for as little as $150k. & when we did the math, it made sense. I Was renting a room (had roommates) for $400/month. Dh was living at home. Thing was, we couldn't get our own place for less than $1k per month. PRobably would cost more if we wanted anything safe and decent. When you run the numbers, condos were far cheaper. & this is somewhere we grew up and intended to stay forever. No doubt about it.

There was just one problem. Though the asking prices looked okay, all condos were selling in minutes with up to 6-figure over-bids. Condos and town houses were appreciating FASTER than houses, which was a selling point to me (my parents were wary if we wanted to invest in a condo, but the region was unique enough to make sense). So yeah, honestly, I didn't think we would be buying a condo anytime soon. I had heard the horror stories from the trenches.

The next part of my story is why I would never do a real estate transaction without a GOOD realtor. A relative referred a realtor who was worth her weight in gold. She had a lot of insights into some of the better neighborhoods, and some of the inside info that no casual buyer would have. (i.e. she told us not to buy in the complex next to where we ended up, because there were construction defects, etc.). Anyway, and I suppose this is how we stumbled upon our home buying MO. Find a TERRIBLE selling realtor - the rest is in the bag. Not a conscious decision at all, but over the years we have stumbled onto homes worth farm more than ever advertised. Way underpriced, etc., etc. I suppose "no realtor" is better than a bad one. But I would personally never buy or sell, without a good realtor on my side.

So, that's how we did it. We wanted 2 or 3 bedrooms, though were sure we would probably end up with 2. We were only shopping end units. I didn't want to share all our walls with neighbors. So, we come across this 3-bedroom condo, remodeled to the hilt, that had been sitting on the market for 6 months. At which point, I swear to you, we just about turned and ran the other way. It was impossible that anything semi-decent was on the market for 6 months!!! (I still think to this day - what if we didn't give it a try). We walked in, and we fell in love. (In the end? Problem was terrible selling realtor. SO penny wise and pound foolish for the sellers - I can't even tell you how much so. We were relieved to narrow down the problem and know the place was just fine. It was a GEM!)

I suppose some of our friends or family thought it was a bit much to take on 3-bedrooms. Dh and I were always looking for the long term. Though we hoped to ride the equity wave up to a house, we wanted somewhere where we could have kids, etc., if it didn't work out. We weren't sure if we could ever afford a house. Let's face it - this might be our "forever home." & we were happy with that!

Anyway, the condo was at the top of our price range, and they immediately accepted our full price offer. (Bad realtor had said they had lower offers and would accept nothing less. Can you believe our relief that we didn't have to get into a bidding war with 100 people? Full price it is!)

The financial advice I got from my parents at the time was to:

1 - put 20% down
2 - get a fixed rate mortgage
3 - No pre-payment penalties
4 - Don't escrow taxes/insurance

They didn't really give advice on how much to borrow, but I presume if we bought a $500k house, they would have said something. Wink At the time, lenders were still pretty conservative (1999). I mean, our lender was trying to talk us into ARMs, and 0% down, of course. But beyond that, the income guidelines were pretty strict even then.

So, we put 20% down ($52k), and financed the rest ($208k) at about 8%. At the time, we borrowed a fair amount - PITI was probably 36%-ish of income. We didn't really care about that so much. The place was dirt cheap when it came to renting anything similar, and with the homeowner tax breaks, would not cost us much more than renting a studio apartment, anyway. So, we did think hard through the finances and were happy.

Dh and I both got a $10k raise within the year, and with dropping interest rates, refied to a 15-year with a much lower interest rate, soon after.

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The thing about San Jose, is that the place was *nothing* in the 70s. It was just a little farming comunity, and by the 90s, its housing prices rivaled Manhattan.

Most of the people I know want to buy there because that is where they grew up. BUT, a lot of them seem to think they will make their riches in housing, like all our parents did. Dh and I have always felt it was a little insane. Um, that ship has SAILED? How do prices appreciate from "most expensive in the country" to twice as much, overnight? It's not going to happen. It's like chasing stock market returns. You have to find the good values. The "Manhattans of the future."

Considering dh and I didn't want to work into eternity, to buy a HOUSE (or to afford rent), we pretty quickly decided just to leave the area. Our condo appreciated $100k overnight, but houses went up $200k. IT started to feel pretty futile. Couldn't save fast enough, if you tried. Even with equity to help us along.

At the time, most of our friends with kids were moving to Sacramento. But we had a few single friends who made the move, to. Why pay $500k for a house, when you can get the same thing for $100k, in Sacramento?

We weren't exposed to much real estate crazy in San Jose. I mean - the people who were buying, were buying before they were "priced out forever." I would put dh and I in that category. (Which in the end, was over dramatic).

BUT, the real real estate crazy was in Sacramento. We bought a beautiful home for the same price our condo had been, and with no condo HOA fees, and lower interest rates, it was actually cheaper in the end - for us. Hell, our utilities are lower here - all the energy efficiency.

The people I met locally, never understood. We were labeled as "rich" or "crazy" to have such a nice home. Or we came with buttloads of equity. (Truth is - $0 equity - by the time we sold the condo). To us, it was just a matter of perspective. These prices were a dream!

But as people moved here from more expensive areas (LA, San Francisco), in droves, prices got pretty sky high. Then the locals started getting sucked in and paying $400k-$600k for homes, before they were "priced out forever."

I had been trying to talk my dad to invest in real estate, forever. Sacramento was going to be HOT! In 2004, he actually became open to the idea. I remember one of us came across a graph of the local real estate market, for like decades. The usual market was a series of hills and valleys, but the current cycle was a hill with no end in sight. It took just one look and we both said, "Now is not the time to buy." You know, we could wait for a valley...

So, you fast forward to today. What are my friends saying? The ones "who would never buy a house!" in particular. They are running out and snatching up houses before this "low" disappears forever. You know what the irony is? I have local relatives here, and when we bought this house, in 2001, they thought we were INSANE. Because they just didn't grasp how expensive our home town was. I remember precisely, one relative was in the process of selling his investment real estate. He had a good run, and as far as he was concerned, it was over. I always thought *he* was the foolish one, honestly. Seeing the potential for the market, from my eyes. & so - you fast forward to 2009/2010. What the locals thought was an "insane high" in 2001, is not an "insane low" in 2010? I suppose you realize through all this, how short-term people's minds think, sometime. I think that is what struck dh and I the most through all this. We are VERY long-term thinkers. Which is why I commented quite a few times, we do have friends/relatives who thought we were insane all along, who are now running out to snatch up houses for the same prices today, with little thought. In fact, they brag to us how they waited (& mostly paid more for the same thing). Because their memory ain't too good. It's like they try to rub it in our face that THEY Waited for the low of the low. & we go, "huh?" I thought this was the high of the high? Make up your mind? (I suppose that was before housing doubled overnight and all that).

Anyway, which is the final chapter in all this. Interest rates! Interest rates are the low of the low. No doubt. BUT, if you can not afford said house if the rate went up 1%, um, can you really afford it???? This is what drives me crazy about people these days. I know we are young, but we bought before most of our peers did. As such, we started out with a 8% interest rate. I don't know if people really grasp how that even with a fixed rate loan, they could be forced to refi, in death or divorce, etc., etc. IF you can afford 4.5%, but not 5.5%, I think I would step back and think it through a little more. For us, being able to refi down to 4.875% has been super awesome for our finances. But fact is, we could easily afford our house payment if we had to reset it at 8% for any reason. Even 10%. In the era of low interest rates - the advice I would add to my father's, is, "Don't let affordability be dictated by interest rates." Just consider it a nice bonus. I know we do!!!

I think the low interest rates are a big driver in the "crazy" in the real estate market here. The thing is, that good properties are getting snatched up in bidding wars here, today. In the end, it falls very deja vu. In the bubble, in the bust, always the bidding wars and the "if I don't buy it today, I never will!"

I've actually got home-owning friends with NO CASH who are buying investment real estate with $0 down in this "time of opportunity." (Um, did they know the vacancy rate on houses was sky high? Not sure who they will rent to). I just cringe as I watch it all unfold. On some level I wonder what is to stop another bubble from forming fast and furiously.

Anyway, typing all this out makes me curious about the insights of people who have been home owners for many more decades than I. You know, my parents have told us about the days of 13% interest rates (when they bought their house!), etc. & I appreciate having an intelligent, long-term perspective, when it came to the whole subject. It helped us from doing anything too stupid!

I know this is LONG, but these are all some thoughts I had been wanting to put out there, for a while!

Counting Down the Days

January 16th, 2010 at 09:10 pm

**Dh did some serious grocery shopping this week! He bought stuff for 4 meals (mostly non-perishable items) to cook the week after next. 4 big meals + plenty of leftovers. (Most of next week will be out of town for surgery). BEtween that and frozen meals filling our fridge, we may have enough to eat for months! Big Grin

The grocery bill will be ugly, but will probably offset, next month. (Besides the above - he stocked up on just about EVERYTHING!)

**We have seemed to make some progress on neighbor's nanny, arrangements. I don't know if we will even use her, but boy it is nice to have options!!! We haven't finalized price, but what we have discussed is very workable.

**The rest of the weekend will be so busy getting the house in order.

Work should be crazy, and is certainly busy, but mostly seems under control. Which is a big relief!

The "prepare for the worst" in me needs to remember to bring dh's medical directive and power of attorney, etc., etc.

Though I suppose it is good to keep busy, I am kind of annoyed with myself. I was going to spend the evenings doing some chores. Figured I better get used to it (since my evenings will be BUSY for a while - cooking meals, help with homework, and such). Thing is my gas tank runs out about 5pm. I can sometimes muster energy for the gym - it's very relaxing to me. BUT, has anything gotten done around the house? Um, no??? I know I will be fine in survival mode. I just haven't gotten there yet. More like, "I better enjoy some relaxing evenings while I Can..."

So I am annoyed that I feel so rushed to get so much stuff done this weekend.

It's always WAY less overwhelming when we all chip in. I asked dh and the kids to work on the house today. Will see if they listened. (Last time they didn't! But I think dh knows better, this weekend. Big Grin ). Maybe we can all work together tonight, get 'er done, and just RELAX tomorrow. I can dream!

Ugh!

January 15th, 2010 at 03:33 pm

I am in the midst of a financial firestorm.

When it rains, it pours...

Got news that my compensation is taking a HUGE hit for 2010. Maybe, but who knows. YEah...

So, anyway, I don't think it has a lot to do with the economy (though it could). It has more to do with my boss winding down the business. HE is closing our profit sharing, which is not all bad. I can roll my balance to an IRA, take full control, and now my family can inherit 100% if something happens to me (couldn't before). I think I am more upset about the writing on the wall. My boss is cleaning things up as he prepares for retirement. HE would love to take on a partner or sell the business, but no takers. So, makes me fret about that more. I'd LOVE to work here forever like so many of my co-workers have. Alas, too young!

He hasn't really committed to the decrease - says, "will see," as he may open a SEP IRA instead - far less administration. I suppose I have 15 months to fund my IRAs for 2010, which is good, because I will need it. In the back of my mind I wonder why my boss is giving up a $50k per year tax break. IT doesn't make a whole lot of sense... In a SEP, if he contributed 25%, he would have to give us all 25%, I believe. So obviously he is happy to give up the GIANT, LUCRATIVE tax break. Which stresses me out a bit as to why that would be. What's the next announcement? Closing up shop?

I will also have to decide if I should contribute to a regular IRA then. I don't think I can put enough away, otherwise. Without the tax break. Then I wonder if 8% to a ROTH is the same as 10% to a regular IRA, in the end, since there are no taxes on the back end. Lots to think about there.

I have to put is aside for now. Timing is TERRIBLE. I can't think about it too much.

I have to focus on dh getting well, and we will have to sit down and work on the budget once all this medical stuff shakes out.

I think this is also a bit of a kick in the butt. I knew my compensation was awesome before, and I appreciated a mostly low-stress, highly flexible job, with small kids. BUT, I think I will feel out the market a bit this year and see what else is out there. Not really ready to jump ship. But I think I Would feel less stressed about it all if I knew what my options were. & for the long run, I may need a bargaining chip. I will consider it a trial run/covert option to see what kind of salary other firms are willing to pay me.

In other news, I should get a raise Monday, so I am trying to hold off panic. I kind of get the feeling most people don't really care that much about money being put away for retirement. To me, this is a HUGE hit. I have really relied on it, though I knew this day would come. Anyway, I do not expect a salary adjustment (to make up for lack of profit sharing), because my boss was very vague and clearly wasn't sure what he would do.

I discussed it with dh yesterday, and told him, "We will worry about all this when you recover." I've got other things to deal with right now!

Our insurances have gone up about $4k this year, for various reasons, so this is not helping the UGLY.

2009 was really prosperous for us. I am bummed that 2010 is starting out so freaking opposite!

Gearing Up for Some Crazy

January 14th, 2010 at 04:35 pm

I've heard and seen some interesting opinions and attitudes over the years - when it comes to a male stay-at-home-parent.

I can conclude from many a conversation that most people think men are incapable of housework, cooking, and child rearing. EVEN if it has been their full-time job for many years. (I have had women snidely tell me that they would NEVER leave their kids in the care of their husband. Um, and this is something to brag about? Good for you - you married a moron? Or that you are that much of a control freak?)

I have gathered that most people I know think that I am happy to fill in the role of "do it all mom," while my husband sits at home and does nothing. I mean, he may pick up the kids from school, and care for them while I am at work. But obviously I do everything else. (& it's a miracle the house hasn't burned down, and the kids haven't starved, in the meantime!)

???

So, anyway. It will be interesting to fill in the role of "do it all mom." Not looking forward to it in the least. But I suppose I will fill the role that everyone expects I already have. Or which most moms I know already fill. Which means - I suppose I will get little sympathy. Wink

But honestly, I am just EXHAUSTED thinking about it. Beyond the chauffering, cooking, cleaning, errands, staying home with sick kid days, etc., etc. it is so much more than that. There is the discipline and the refereeing, and the "eat your dinner if you want dessert" and all that stuff that dh usually takes on. He has always taken that on, because he is way better at all that stuff than I.

For our kids' sake, I hope dh's recovery is speedy. Big Grin

His surgery is in just one week!

Quick Updates

January 13th, 2010 at 05:52 pm

**Noticed just yesterday that the hotel never charged our credit card, for our insanely low "advanced purchase" rate.

I called today to verify. Reservation is in the system and they seem surprised I hadn't been charged. BUT, said they would just charge us on checkout. Well, okay then! Big Grin I just wanted to make sure the reservation was still there!

**Tried to make a school lunch deposit - which was an exercise in futility. Did I ever mention that I HATE PayPal??? Ugh. They switched to PayPal, which was a real PITA. I also don't understand why I Couldn't put it ALL on my card. Dh is in the middle of a few sales, and they pulled most of it from the PayPal balance, which was also annoying. Why do I want it on my card? For cash rewards!!!

Stupid PayPal! Which also costs more - of course.

On the flip side, the new system is much nicer, overall. BM really has not been buying much lunch. But it's insanely cheap for the well rounded meals. & he will eat the fruits/veggies. I assume he may be buying more with dh laid up in bed.

**Today I dropped off BM at before-school care. I hadn't really tried it because it meant getting up even earlier to get him all ready and such. BUT, dh hadn't communicated to me that he couldn't take him to school today. So I dropped him off for 15 minutes. IT seemed silly, but there were a lot more people dropping kids off after I. I suppose it's how it will go. It only takes me 10 minutes to drive to work, but allows me to drop him off at school and get to work on time - even just those 10 minutes. I can't drop him off at school until 8:00 otherwise, when I should be at work! Though, during tax season I will probably drop him off closer to 7 once in a while. He's an early bird, so no biggie. & he LOVES it.

**Cable update. So, DISH has finally grown on us, I suppose. Not thrilled with it, but let's face it, it's the cheapest thing out there. WE got a new DVR at some point, which has had a lot less issues. So I have toned down my negativity on Dish.

Anyway, we have had a free trial with Surewest for MONTHS (haven't used it) because they kept insisting we have to try their new DVR when it comes out. We briefly tried the old one, and it sucked. Dh has heard really good things about the new one, so he figured he could wait and try. We hate Dish anyway.

So it's been forever, but the new DVR has finally arrived! Thing is they told him the monthly charge would be $90/month. Something like that. Just for TV!

Ugh. I told dh that since DISH was $65 - taxes and all - that I wasn't really happy about this. I pretty much said - if you want the TV that bad, then we need to get a slower internet speed. HEck - that is just a promotional rate, though I presume so is our DISH rate.

The thing is, Dish is far more expensive than our old cable company (which was bought out by Comcast). I suppose I should just appreciate that we had such dirt cheap cable for so many years. *sigh*

Honetly, whenever I read that you have to cut out things like cable, to be debt free... I just roll my eyes. I often think cable gets a really bad rap. To us, it has always been cheap entertainment (compared to say - going to the movies???). & for dh - it's just a priority for him. Though when we were broke, we never wasted our money on cable. I just don't see why it is so bad to put less than 1% of our income to cable, as we have more means, etc. (Even dh would never pay for cable if he were in debt).

BUT. IF these are the going rates for mid-range cable? I suppose I *get* the sentiment a little more. I Wasn't quite aware in my "mom and pop cable" bubble.

I will probably let it be while dh has surgery and everything. But we will have some serious talks about this in the near future. I tried to get dh to consider dropping the gardener when we signed up for the super high speed internet. I kind of feel like something can give.

On the flip side, LM will be done with preschool in just a few months. & another $50 to internet/cable, still means a big bump in our overall savings. So, will see. I suppose I just want to make sure dh REALLY Wants this and there is really nothing else that can give. & he is going to have to realize that it will be a long time before I let him upgrade this stuff, again!

For now dh told me, that he agrees it is insane, so he is just hoping he hates it. But he has to TRY it!!! I suppose if it is far superior to Dish, that I could maybe talk him into cutting the internet bill a bit. Will see! But yeah - it better be REALLY GOOD! Big Grin

Exhausted, but had fun!

January 11th, 2010 at 03:33 pm

What an exhausting weekend!!

Dh may never take us to the snow again. Wink I would say we planned it perfect, but it was so warm that the unkempt driveways were slushy and the van got stuck. Poor dh. Other than that - perfect trip. (Might bring a shovel next time - to be sure).

Our GPS saved us a ton of money - thank goodness!!!!

We were in search of some elusive sno park (public snow area) that we could not find. We found one, and pulled off to look at it. Could be the usual - or could be due to budget cuts, but the driveway was just filled with snow. Blech. (I remember it being cleared last time). Made for some interesting driving. In the end, wasn't really anywhere to sled. & though I knew it would cost the SAME to stop at the ski resort right there ($5), we figured it would be more crowded for our taste - and knew they closed at 4:00. It was getting to be almost 2:00, so we moved on. Dh thought at first that was the one we went to last time (5 years ago?????). I told him the next one was about 30 miles away in Tahoe and I remember driving really far - must be it. Had some good sledding. So we moved on. With the GPS we decided we'd just try some public parks along the way. Might be something. In Tahoe we decided to turn around - it was REALLY far! We were not 100% sure it was the one we envisioned. We stopped by a place along the way. Dh ran in and it was $10 per PERSON to sled. LOL. No thanks. We saw some good sledding on the side of the road, but couldn't figure out how to get to any parking (or how to get in there in the first place). So, it's getting late and we just go back to the sno park. Once there for the SECOND time, only then do we see that we have to pay somewhere else. Ugh!!!!!! The kids and I got out of the car to get bundled up, and dh took the GPS to the list of locations for "permits" and figured out the closest one was 8 miles away - back in Tahoe. So he went out - which worked out perfect. But for getting stuck in slush. Some nice person helped him out. We learned a lot, that is for sure. Though to his credit, he said even the sno pros had a hard time getting it unstuck. Wink

That was the other thing. Everywhere we went, elderly people were chatting it up with dh. Not just elderly, but older than us. Um, he just shaved his head into a mohawk. Kind of taking charge of his head before surgery. Every time I turned around someone was striking up a conversation with him. (Even in Sacramento - not just a friendlier town or anything). We joked that his mohawk makes him more approachable? LOL. Okay then!

Anyway, back to the snow. The sledding wasn't great, but the place we ended up was FANTASTIC otherwise. The kids had a blast.

On the way there we passed a sledding spot we couldn't see going the opposite direction. Dh said - "Oh yeah - that's where I used to go as a kid." Now we know - for next time. Doh!

The weather was divine. It was HOT and we were shedding layers. Beautiful and sunny. Out of curiosity I peaked, and the weather said 38 degrees. Maybe in the shade? LOL. It was pretty warm.

Not a lot of traffic. In the end - a perfect snow day.

It was cold and dreary here in the valley, and so beautiful up in the mountains, yesterday.







On the way up we stopped at Taco Bell for lunch. Went to the family cabin and stocked up on snow clothing & sleds. Was a bit of a bust since I thought we had bought some needed things, but in the end, BM didn't have boots that fit well. (Made a new list of things to buy!). Dh and I could hardly find anything - not sure what happened to all the adult clothes. I had everything but boots and snow pants, but found some to make do. Dh could only find boots, but it was hot anyway. Worked out. I suppose we will buy some snow clothes for next winter.

On the way home, it was much later than planned, after the aimless driving, so we decided to search the GPS for Hometown Buffet (a favorite of ours in San Jose). We found one in Sacramento, in the end. (It was a little run down and not as good as I expected - but was okay - certainly lots of food!) I cringed when I saw the weekend dinner prices - over $11 for adults. BUT, they only charged us 99 cents each, for the kids. Holy Cow!!! Don't know if that was a Sunday thing, or what? Considering the kids eat more than I, it turned out to be an awesome deal. So, unintended splurge on dinner out - but for $25 for all that food - I think it worked out. We were hungry after such an active day!


Don't want to jinx it, but...

January 9th, 2010 at 05:25 pm

**We are due for another Chase reward ($250 cash). I read about 6 months ago that they were completely phasing out Chase Freedom rewards. I thought I was lucky to redeem my $250 LAST time! Anyway, I have to wait until Februay 4th to redeem it (with next billing cycle). Crossing my fingers.

Along the same lines, I could care less what the cards change my limits and terms to. I use credit cards for convenience and don't expect the perks to be around forever. BUT, I have yet to have a card change their credit limit on me (or dh).

Now I will knock on wood! Wink

I actually got a new credit card with my credit union a while back thinking I might phase out my old State Farm card. In the end, I am just kind of waiting for Chase to make their move. They can take away my rewards, but if so I will close my Chase card and move on. Back to cards with the little guys - where I started. I'd boycott Chase, but the rewards are too good. I earn more on my purchases than I do on my SAVINGS!

Anyway, if I get the $250 - it will cover my income tax bill for 2009. Which means I may just file and pay as soon as I get the reward check. & be done with it!

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I got another Burger King coupon book in the mail. Just in time for tax season! A lot of "Buy 1 Get 1 Free." The chicken sandwhiches hold up well - and there are 3-4 of those coupons. I bought 2 for $4 yesterday. Ate one for lunch - saved one for today. Not sure if the burgers will hold up so well overnight, but I will try.

(I've got bananas, oranges, and apple sauce, and WATER at the office).

Though honestly, I probably could eat half a chicken sandwhich and make that a meal for most of the week. I really should do that next time. 2 sanwiches = 4 lunches? The trick is to keep these things in a plastic bag - to preserve freshness.

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Today I will probably busy myself printing reports. I need to print my year-to-date reports from Quicken, and such. Make sure I have copies of all my investment statements for 2009, etc., etc. I try to make hard copies once a year, just in case my software crashes or something. I should probably do it more often...

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Next weekend I am torn with working and spending time with my family. I suppose I will leave it up to dh. I could work all weekend and avoid using up vacation time for dh's surgery. (Which may be smart in case I need to take time during his recovery).

BUT, for his last weekend pre-surgery, if he wants me to stay home - I can totally understand, and oblige. Thing is I am taking the day before, off work. So we will have that day together.

For today I am the only one sucker enough to work. But considering I am taking 3 days off in the height of busy season, I need to get some work done!!! (I suppose everyone else is taking a last hoorah - didn't realize I'd be the only one working today!)

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Oh yeah. Almost forgot - Wii Sports Resort was the hit Christmas gift at my house. (Not sure if we ever had Wii Sports - the original?).

Anyway, the bowling is phenomenal (100-pin bowling being a favorite).

I whined how we couldn't play against each other on most the games, and dh said we could buy accessories too. As I envisioned expensive accessories, I said, "eh." BUT, in the end he bought them new for $20-ish. Well worth it!!! (I suppose they were hard to find use - we don't own anything new generally, when it comes to the Wii).

So yeah - tried it out last night. Even better than before! I suppose for bowling, it is nice to not have to pass the one controller around, too.

Anyway, dh is also now Wii shopping for my mom. I just find it funny. She is totally sucked in by the bowling. He thinks he can get the whole package for $150-ish (Wii, controllers, games, etc.), and I Would like it to be a gift if they would accept.

I was personally kind of dissapointed in Wii Fit, and hadn't really been into it lately (believe me - the kids and dh USE the Wii). But guess I am sucked back in!

An Update...

January 8th, 2010 at 09:49 pm

**MIL is coming around a bit. Though in the past we tend to never get anywhere when it comes to certain boundary issues, it seems that she has at least retained some sanity, and respected dh's wishes, in this case. Honestly, it may be a FIRST! (In the past certain things have come to a head and just have never been resolved...)

I know - sounds too good to be true. Will see how it pans out. But his family seems to think he is intelligent, after all, and seems to be supporting him. No doubt this outpouring of support came from MIL telling them about their conversation. But I think it signals that she is listening. The opposite would be some sort of intervention of sorts, for his terrible choices, which is what we were more expecting. The fact that he got so much encouragement/support after their "showdown," seems to signal that it was instigated by her. At last - Sanity!

**BM is in total heaven because he got to go to "after school care" this week. "It's about time!" would be his words. He is the sole extrovert of our immediate family. Oy vey. Though we would have gladly sent him off earlier, it's not exactly cheap. In the end, we didn't really have any reason to sign up before, but I think long after all this, it will come in handy. I suppose he will be attending more. (At $6/hour or $24/day, or $330 per month, it's not TERRIBLY expensive, either. Certainly not for the convenience factor).

If only LM were so easy! *sigh*

I suppose what it comes down to, is BM will go to school like always, and I will go to work like always. & though LM is not the easiest to please, and the clingiest, his is the little world that will be turned upside down. It's not quite so dramatic - I know he will be fine. But, I think it will be easier on BM and I since not too much will change for us.

Anyway, BM is trying out the school care on an afternoon next week (short school day) and then we will just use it as needed, once dh has surgery. I think we could largely live without it, but may utilize it to keep some normalcy, for BM. Will see...

Still working on some trial runs for LM with the neighbor's nanny. (Cloaking it as play time with his friends - which he will be a little more open to). Again - even in the best of times - more drop-in options are always good when it comes to daycare. You just never know when something will happen...

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I suppose I lied to myself. As the weekend approaches, I Feel like I should be getting as much overtime as possible. Decided to work most of Saturday.

If the weather co-operates, we may take the kids to the snow Sunday. IT's long overdue. We made it last year, but just stayed at the cabin where it was pretty icey. We will drive up to the *real* snow, this time. The snow parks here are $5 to park - with sleds and snow clothing kept at the family cabin. We bought some new stuff to take up anyway - to add our contribution. So we will stop by the cabin, check on it for Grandma, and borrow some snow stuff for the day. But for gas and $5 - and maybe a meal out - will be an overall frugal outing.

We are happy not to *do* snow, but to visit it once every year (or few!)

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**It all reminds me when I was on maternity leave with my first, and we barely touched all the savings we had piled up for the event. I am starting to think that it is possible that we will save money rather than lose money on all this surgery stuff.

For one - dh is going to be too out of it to shop. & this time of year we don't tend to spend much anyway (we live/eat/breathe work, it seems).

I am so overwhelmed with daycare and food offers (in a good way) that I wonder if my grocery bill will be nil, instead, for February.

I can only hope, right? Well, it will be interesting to see how this all pans out.

Even the medicals bills may take YEARS to materialize (if the past is any indication).

& I may work record overtime, so MIL doesn't drive me insane!

Maybe 2010 won't be so bad, financially, after all?

Random Thoughts

January 4th, 2010 at 03:08 pm

Phew!

Credit card closed on our spendy month. I am going to get gas this a.m., and book the hotel, as mentioned.

Actually, both our cars need gas. But as such, I can't leave that for dh to take care of - I need some gas to get to work. Big Grin

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I've decided that our GPS will be completely invaluable with dh in the hospital. The kids will be staying with 3 or 4 relatives where I always get lost because I am not quite as familiar with their city. (Problem is I think I know where I am - then I drive around in circles). The hospital is in a completely unknown area, etc.

I was thinking if I should get a hotel for longer, but eventually decided against it. The fact is I will be doing a LOT of driving though. BUT, I figure if I could find the nearest library (which dh pointed out will probably have wifi - woohoo), the nearest Taco Bell (cheap food), and the nearest Borders type store (a cushy chair to read in) that I would probably do okay. I am not a fan of coffee shops. Over-priced drinks that I don't like anyway. I'll be going for the library instead! (I suppose our library has cushy chairs, too. So maybe that will be my hangout of choice).

& I also realized if I need to leave, I should probably be with my kids. So, driving it is. Lots of driving back and forth. (I had forgotten about the kids!!)

The GPS will allow me to find all this stuff on a whim. & keep me efficient as I drive all over tarnation.

It never would occur to me that their was "medical rates" for hotel rooms. Particularly ones so close to the hospital. I did see that mentioned by the hospital as well. I doubt if the rates will be much better than my AAA discount and such, BUT I will of course ask before I finalize anything. (Thanks everyone for the tip!!)

Someone asked if I use Hotwire. I actually use Cheaptickets (this was the most awesome travel deal website in the 90s). BUT, in the end, I usually search rates and book the hotel directly. In this day and age, I find the best deals are by calling up and asking. & by booking directly (cut out the middle man!) & in an extreme example, the last hotel we stayed at cost about THREE times as much through all the travel websites. As far as I can tell, those websites are all the same really. I am just loyal to cheaptickets. Though the catch is you do have to prepay. Then again, I haven't actually booked a room through them in a few years. It's just a jumping off point, for me. I have also tried Priceline or whatever, where you don't get to pick your hotel, and had a HORRID experience. I know with a ton of effort, you can work it to your advantage (& get an idea what your hotel will be). But the experience really turned me off. I will just pick my hotel room, thanks!

ETA: Oh Hotwire is one of those where you don't get to choose the hotel. Nope - not going there... Will be in the same area that I had the terrible experience with. Too much "good area" mixed in with "bad."

I've chosen the hotel, so I just need to call and see if I can get a cheaper medical rate. In this case cheaptickets = booking directly (price wise). So I will just book directly... Then I don't have to prepay the room.

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In an effort to cheer myself up, since I know 2010 will be a mess financially...

It occurred to me that I am further along on my cash goals, than imagined. When I look at my year-end cash balances for older years (years that I am striving to live up to), I just get my 12/31 statements and look at my cash balances.

I was just thinking about it, because I have $5k sitting in my checkbook today. For net worth and measuring progress, I don't count my checkbook. That money is earmarked to be spent the second it hits my checkbook. Whatever is not to be spent immediately, is transferred to savings, the second I get it. So, for net worth, I don't count my checking. Nor my credit card balance, which do tend to cancel each other out a bit.

So, I thought about it today. If I look at it that way, I can add $5k to my cash balance and be that much closer to my goal. I know it doesn't change anything about where I am at now. But it does change the fact that this elusive goal of $30k cash, is much closer than I realized.

I am not changing my goal, but once I have $25k or so, I Am going to pat myself on the back for making it to a DINK cash level. Big Grin

$30k is still an extremely worthy minimum cash savings goal. We are living on one-income, we own a house, and we have kids. We NEED a lot more cash than we needed as DINKS. But there is something warm and fuzzy about saving as much as we were before kids. I think we are closer than we realized.

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Speaking of which. I did update my net worth on 12/31.

Official Result: Net worth DOWN $2300.

Culprit? House! Did awesome on the retirement savings this year. But the house continued on it's backward slide. We start 2010 with the house worth what we paid. I expect 2010 to be ugly, but since we've paid down about 30%, I won't lose sleep over it...

*Cash was about $20k
*The kids are up to about $10k in college money
*Retirement is up to $80k
*we have about $75k in home equity (From $450k at the PEAK!)

I think 2010 will be rather stagnant, in comparison. I don't expect the stock market to be on fire, I don't expect to save as much (with so many large impending bills). & well, I do expect the house value to slide considerably. It's just ugly around here - I don't feel like we have neared the rock bottom on house prices. (Though for the long run, I am not too worried about it - just the short run is pretty ugly!)

I'll Second That - Sick and TIRED

January 3rd, 2010 at 04:51 pm

O.M.G.

I wouldn't even know where to begin, but dh's family is insane. INSANE.

(Content removed after VENTING!)

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In the end, dh wants to go down next weekend to visit his family. His sister wants to give him a mohawk, in honor of surgery. HE figured we better get used to the shaved head - make it an easier adjustment for the kids and such. HE also knew the mohawk would be a good lead-in to acquaintances about how he is going in for surgery. Kind of ingenious.

Anyway, so then we talked of going to a museum we have long wanted to visit in San Francisco. Kind of a what the heck because who knows when we will feel up to it again.

I suppose this will be a good opportunity to test out the family and see it they can truly support dh. I just don't know if I am emotionally up for more *battle.*

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So, yeah. I am just not dealing well with all the emotions. I was mostly over my virus, but awoke today with a scratchy throat. No surprise since the night before, I spent all night talking this through with dh. Who needs rest, right???

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Well, switching gears to the financial.

I was productive and put away a lot of paperwork FRiday.

I was kind of surprised to note that we drove 25k miles in 2009. You know - since my commute is very small and dh does not work and all. Though overall, it's pretty consistent where we have been. About 10k miles on the van, and 15k on the gas sipper.

Overall, the number surprises me though. Most of our driving is that I have tended to come at lunch far more often with lower gas prices (lower than insane) AND we tend to travel so much around the state.

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My dad took some nice photos of us yesterday. We can check that one off the list. Dh wanted some pictures, in case he ends up with facial weakness or paralysis. No doubt, in the back of the mind, we should get a nice family picture in case something happens - now matter how remote the possibility.

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My parents came over yesterday and we did Christmas dinner. (Postponed due to illness). It was nothing fancy - just the crockpot meal we had planned. Though the bread had gone bad and we didn't get to try our bread appetizer recipe thing. We may just try it today.

I also finally got around to making fudge. I usually make it for *me.* IT was funny - no idea dh loved it so much. He really asked a lot about it the last few days - otherwise I may have forgotten!

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I ended up returning my gift (before all the drama). I made out well. I exchanged the towel warmer for some glass cannisters (to replace some cheap ones I never liked - for sugar/flour and such), a microwave plate cover (been meaning to get for ages - still usually use paper towels to prevent splatters), AND a nice cake/cupcake storage/carrying case. Dang thing was $30. Which seems crazy to me. BUT, will be nice. We usually just cover with foil. I suppose these purchases were in an effort to reduce waste - but will also be a little more convenient.

Those were all a pretty even exchange. All things I had been wanting for a LONG while. So that was nice.

While at the store, I saw the nicest cutting board for about $15. So I got that for dh, for his birthday. I am still not sure if we will spend $100 on a food processor or not. I just gave it to him so he can enjoy the next few weeks. It had a bit of a curved handle so it is easy to pick up and scoop into a cooking pan, etc.

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Though MIL tried her best to ruin these plans, I think it was still a success. Dh finally got around to taking BM rock climbing (indoors). Thing is his friend works at the place, and so invited them after hours.

As expected, BM The monkey, ran to the top in mere seconds. Since the wall is made for adults, they were super impressed. I am not surprised, since he climbs to the top of everything he comes across. With ease!

So, he was in his element.

That was like the only think on dh's bucket list. He felt bad he had put off taking BM rock climbing. What a way to make it up to him though. I suppose they will probably get a membership to the local place, after dh recovers from surgery. BM was in his element. Though they also can visit the Bay Area one, any time, for free. Which may be good enough for us. Will see!

When we lived in the Bay Area we knew so many people who worked for places like TIVO, Adobe, 3M? (palm pilots) - we always got free or extremely cheap gadgets. These days - it's free rock climbing. It's always nice to have friends in high places. Big Grin

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For today, not much in the plans. The house is pretty picked up. The financial chores are done. I believe I will scrub showers and do some deep cleaning since I expect a lot of guests during dh's recovery. Just kind of get that stuff out of the way for now. I want to enjoy and relax our next couple of weeks - not spend the weekends doing chores!!!

It was funny though. I filed papers and cleaned up my desk last night. Since my move to laptop, I rarely use my desk. It looked ugly, but once I cleared all the trash and junk, there really wasn't much to it. (The filing was lightning fast since I barely get any statements by mail any more). That was kind of how the whole house was. I wouldn't say I have spent more time than usual being organized or clean. But I suppose we seem to be keeping up a little better with the kids being a little more older and independent. All I can say is - Phew!!! What I thought would be endless chores, went lightning fast. Yay!

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Anyway, I no longer feel like I need good thoughts for dh's surgery. I know TONS of people for praying for him.

I need good thoughts and prayers that his family gets a CLUE!!! I just DREAD how these next few weeks will play out... For dh's sake, his family needs to get a freaking clue. It's hard enough making such a hard decision without your loved ones second-guessing you, every step of the way.

The fact of the matter that the outcomes are expected to mostly be the same, whether we go with our choice or MIL's choice for treatment/surgeon. We have no idea where all the craziness is coming from. *sigh* As my mom says, "MIL just isn't used to not getting *her* way." I just have no idea why her way is so devoid of logic!

2009 Totals

January 1st, 2010 at 07:05 pm

2009 was an awesomely awesome financial year for us. Phew!

INCOME

My salary went up $1500 for the year, and I earned another $3k in overtime (over the year before). In fact - best overtime year by a mile, since having children.

Gifts were up $2k this year, since MIL randomly gave us $1k they got for turning in an "old clunker" to the state. A state program - not the "cash for cars." This was a TRUE clunker. My mom also ended up giving us $1k for the MRI. So, got $2k completely unexpected, and this was a large reason why we decided to just pay cash on my auto body work. Borderline to file a claim anyway - and ruin our perfect driving record. This way - we had the cash and it was done. No rising insurance to worry about. Phew!
MIL always gives $1k each to the kids, and $1k to us, every year. So we had a fruitful gift year.

Interest income was about $240, as opposed to $350 last year. Though I had MORE cash! Ouch!

Our other income was down about $600 this year. A bit of a bummer. Looking closer - we had a lot less focus groups this year. Last year dh sold a projector for $250. He did a wedding video for a family member for $100. $500 credit card rewards. About $300 focus groups. The rest, about $700, was ebay selling and such. In 2009, $500 credit card rebates, and about $800 in ebay sales. I don't have the grand total of what dh sold. I think he sold a lot more this year (though summer was a very slow patch). BUT, $800 is all he gave me for bills/saving. I am quite sure he netted $1200 this year - as was our goal.

His ebay sales, which are very helpful, will take a big hit this year with his surgery. But he may be able to make up for it when both kids are in school in the fall. He should have a lot more time to make a go of it, then.

In addition to all that, I did get a 10% employer contribution in 2008 - to retirement. As always. In this economy though, I don't take it for granted. Won't know for many months about 2009.

That covers the income side of things.

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EXPENSE

I was more careful to check everything was included in this report, this year. I can not, for the life of me, get my mortgage principal payments to show up. That will add about $3500 to both years. Leaving my YTD expenses at about $65k. My goal is to limit expenses to $60k, but does not necessarily account for big, one-time items. I also will be able to reduce annual daycare (preschool) expense by about $2k, in a few months time. So - pretty darn close. If I hadn't of smashed my car this year - we'd be about there.





**Allowances - Dh and I generally give ourselves $50/month. Just to have the freedom to buy whatever the heck we want! I am not much of a strict budgeter, and this year I pretty much ignored it. (Dh tends to save up for bigger items so I usually track more closely, for him). Anyway - I find it funny how we both kind of ended up about $600 for the year. We just know our limits.

I actually cut down my clothing buying by about $300. I bought a bike instead, this year! Which was a most awesome purchase. So I used my allowance quite well this year.

**AUTO - We spent about $800 less on gas, thanks to lower gas prices. Insurance/registration was all about the same, though dh and I both had to renew our driver's licenses for a fee. Service/maintenance was the usual $1500 (for 2 cars) though I spent $2200 to repair my van (the pole run in). WE spent about $800 on the van (stupid stuff) and $600 on the old Ford (new brakes for the first time ever - 100k+ miles - new tires and work on the AC). About $100 on oil changes for both cars throughout the year. Pretty typical. The "new" Dodge is a PITA and dh's old car is extremely light on repairs/maintenance - always has been.

Chalk up the $1800 increase in Auto expenses this year to my run-in with a pole. Hopefully we can avoid that next year.

**Bank Charge - I stupidly got an overdraft charge last year. You wanna know why I don't bank with the big boys? So a stupid mistake only costs me $3. This year was a typical no-fee year.

**CASH - Dh talked me into using my card more this year. I used to reserve it for over-$10 purchases and such. This year I see a slew of $1-$5 charges on my credit card. But it is nice not to carry around cash. (But for the token amount for emergency - I no longer carry any cash).

**CHarity - It looks like we were more charitable, eh? Not particularly. Oh - our usual $250 donations for 2008 didn't get made until January 2009. That is part of it. The rest is just school stuff. Every dime and donation to the school is tax-deductible, and this was BM's first full calendar year in school. We also have memberships to a couple of museums and such.

**Childcare - In 2008 both kids were in preschool for 1/2 of the year. In 2009, Ms. PReschool up and moved. So we haven't been paying as much for preschool. The new one we found is very cheap. This is also a large reason why our auto fuel expense went down. This is also why I Was able to work more overtime. Found a preschool closer to home. Ms. Preschool was worth every penny though and we miss her TERRIBLY. I am so sad she can not care for LM while dh is in the hosptial, etc.

Dh and I did not pay much for babysitting this year. We were able to squeeze in a fair amount of lunch dates while the kids were in school - much cheaper.

**CLOTHING - BM grew like a weed, and I actually splurged on some workout clothing this year. I was actually surprised to see how much we spent compared to last year. BUT, I did really go through my wardrobe and upgrade things this year. Things that were just falling to pieces, etc. These were not "allowance" items. We had a little more money to buy what we "needed" this year and made more of a priority than other years. Even dh bought a few things - though mostly thrift.

**Dining - we spent a fair amount more this year. As mentioned, dh and I did a lot of lunch dates. We also ended up spending a lot on eating out with my dad in the hospital so much, and with our own issues at the end of the year.

**EDUCATION - This is just karate classes for BM. He got bumped up to the big kid class, which cost more. Also bought 2 belts for him this year, etc. He is officially yellow belt, now! Through the community center - which is far cheaper than any of the private places around here.

**Entertainment - is just our blockbuster online. More than the movies, we also get free game rentals and such, with this plan.

**Gifts - I suppose we were predictable here.

**Groceries - up $200. I suppose consistent here, too.

**Household - last year we bought a lot of thermal drapes and CFLs and such. This year we did a lot more low-cost maintenance. Also - $80/month for the gardener - my #1 luxury.

**ID Theft - I started this category to track expenses when my Identity was stolen. Since then we have had a lot of fraudulent credit card activity (completely unrelated. I don't think I have ever had fraudulent activity on my own card - in over 15 years of having credit cards. Last 2 years have been the pits!). Anyway, I just throw any improper expenses here so I don't forget - make sure it gets taken care of. Not sure why the -$19.99, but that's all it is.

**Insurance - we upped our umbrella insurance a bit, this year. Everything else was pretty status qou.

**Medical was about the same. BM didn't have a pile of cavities in 2009 (phew), but we did have more medical bills and higher premiums than last year. Still came out a tad ahead, I suppose? Not so lucky for 2010, that is for sure!

**Miscellaneous - We definitely had more cash this year. & spent a little of it. This year we did Little League and swim lessons. Stuff easier to justify with lower preschool costs. We also went ahead and bought a GPS and a tent. So was a little more spendy than the year prior.

**Mortgage Interest - with our refi around January 1, 2009, we saved $1800 in mortgage interest. Which is totally super awesome. The principal is being paid off about the same rate as before.

**Personal care - just haircuts for the 4 of us.

**PRofessional Dues - all of these are reimbursed by my employer, but I tend to make political contributions with my dues. Which is what remains.

**Subscriptions - just the newspaper - we renewed to weekends again. All we ever wanted, but they stopped offering for many years. Dh can't give up his paper.

**TAX - this is just our property taxes - they went down a bit this year. Much more down for next year.

**UTILITIES - I have no idea why our utilities went down. We are still in limbo. Hoping to change to Surewest for cable. Still waiting to test out their *new* DVR, so we can drop DISH. We did switch to high speed internet with Surewest. I believe it was this year that we first dropped long distance and call waiting (I finally convinced dh). I suppose this was also the first full year of sharing our cell phone plan with my folks, which also brought costs down. High speed internet was justified with the nearing end of expensive preschool. Phew!

Our gas/electric did go down 10%. Though most of that is due to lower rates. The CFLs were a bust as an investment, in my opinion. We apparently already had some sort of efficient bulbs (which also last forever - we gave a pile of 8-year-old bulbs to our neighbor - still going strong). I don't think we will bother going CFL with the rest of the bulbs. We had only changed the most used bulbs in the house - since we have SO MANY lightbulbs.

I suppose we got sucked in by hype. Which is good to be aware of. For example, our hot water heater costs pennies to run. I suppose it would be stupid to replace it eventually with a tankless heater. Which costs FAR more - and yet won't really offer us any cost savings. I didn't foresee the light bulbs would be the same way - but they are.

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Thinking to 2010...

I suspect most of our spending will be similar in 2010. With the exception of expected medical bills.

Our flood insurance may go up, from $300 to $1200-ish, per year. They have been wishy washy about that - all politics.

I know we will have a lot of "convenience/daycare" type expenses with dh's surgery. Some of these will mirror last year - since we drive a LOT to the Bay Area and helped out my parents when my dad was ill. WE will have a lot of similar costs with dh having surgery in the Bay Area, and such. I mostly plan to fund these with our "vacation fund" though. The last 3-4 years we have been trying to set aside $1500 for vacations, though had been low on our priority list and set to $0 for the few years prior. Basically - it's the first thing to go.
That frees up $1500 for daycare and convenience - more eating out and such. Which should really more than cover it. I also expect that our miscellaneous spending will be down a bit since dh will be out of commission for a while. HArd to say, since in January - March I tend to be so busy with work that we don't go out and do a lot of things together. It tends to be very low spend months anyway - the time while dh is recovering. But, will just have to see.

Anyway, with all this medical hoo-ha, I certainly don't expect to keep our expenses down to $60k. BUT, will of course, TRY!

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SAVINGS

I ended up saving about $10k cash in 2009, as well as putting $4k into our ROTHS.

2009 was the first year I ever contributed to our ROTHs regularly, from income (as opposed to funding later with cash - or with gifts, etc.). I wish I could say the same for 2010, but we are going back to the lump sum method for 2010 - depends how the medical bills stack up. If we feel we have any to spare, will do a lump sum contribution towards the end of 2010.

2009 was good - hopefully after this hump we can pick up where we left off!

End of Year Deals...

January 1st, 2010 at 03:27 pm

I will probably have a lot of posts today, as I have some time to relax and work on financial "chores." "Chores," in that I LOVE financial chores. Big Grin

Dh said something to me on the phone last night about reading or something like that. I was like, "eh - I have financial chores to do." Don't get me wrong - I LOVE reading. But I think I like crunching numbers, more!

Anyway, I believe it was the SUnday before Christmas, after coming home with a bajillion gifts from Grandma, that we realized that Amazon was having some insane sale. I suppose dh was removing items off his wish list, or something along those lines, when he noticed the prices on many things were slashed like 75%.

Um, okay. Tempting, but our Christmas was mostly over. I suppose next year we should shop late. Worth it for the savings - for sure. Grandma buys 99% of the kids' toys anyway. They can wait for anything we buy!

But we got sucked in. We did have 2 birthday gifts to buy - and this cooler than cool pirate ship think was on sale for $9.99 (from $50-ish). SO, we bought 3 of those - for free shipping - of course. We haven't decided what to do with the third one. Will be on hand for an unexpected birthday - or will just give to the kids. It's just the last thing they need right now, with their pile of toys. May save for their summer birthdays.

We usually don't tend to buy things just because they are "on sale." But, holy cow. For me - I feel relieved. One was a belated birthday gift I just hadn't gotten around to. I knew I'd find the perfect gift eventually!

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I perused some after Christmas sales online, on a whim. I didn't find much. BUT, I peeked at Hanes on a whim, and my bras were on sale for $3.99. I stocked up on a bunch. Then they were 10 or 20% off in addition. I just payed the shipping, which I never do. Couldn't find any coupon codes, but was well worth it. I had ordered some beige ones a while ago, and they canceled the order since they decided to no longer carry those - were out of stock. I am bummed, but with the sale, figured I'd just stock up a bit.

That about does it for my shopping the last couple of weeks. I don't do a lot of store shopping, in general. I usually do my shopping online. I could always use shoes and always love Kohls, so I checked around a few websites and didn't see anything else useful. Which is good for the pocketbook!

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I made out well this year (MIL was sucking up a bit, I think). SO, it is time to start working on the 2010 wish list. Usually MIL nitpicks my wish list. I can't believe like everything got bought. I always have a hard time making the wish list at the in-law's request. I suppose it is time to begin again.

Oh - and hell if dh would allow me to put anything practical on his wish list. By some miracle, he also got a power tool set. Woohoo! We have a hand-me-down which is useless. This was more for me than anyone else! Big Grin

From my list:

Monkey Bowling Bag
Netbook Case/Bag
New slippers (old ones ruined in wash)
Sweater
Tea Kettle

Also:

Monkey PJs
Scarf
Turkey Platter (for T-Day)
*Funny since we have only been hosting about 8 years, but this year everyone was upset we didn't have a proper platter. Don't remember anyone caring before...

I am sure I am forgetting some things.

& you will appreciate this one. My extremely frugal MIL also gave me a "towel warmer." I opened it up and thought, "that's interesting" and immediately put it in the "sell" pile in my brain. I tend to regift, so have never returned a gift. Thought didn't occur to me. Though I do tend to sell some things from MIL. Or donate them.

SO, MIL starts asking me about it and telling me she will take it if I don't want it. I am usually not very blunt when it comes to gifts, but if she wanted it so bad... She can have it!

Of course, I suppose this did upset her a bit. I told her to take it. Then she refused and told me to return it - showed me the receipt. (Hadn't thought of that - what a great idea!).

SO, then SIL starts telling me how awesome hers was. & then the next day, MIL bugged me how she can't believe I don't like warm towels.

LOOK. This is the MIL who poo poos items on my wish list for being so "impractical." I mean - HELLO. If I want warm towels - I do have a dryer. A darn cheap one, at that. Do I really need a separate (electric) appliance, to warm towels??? Seems extremely wasteful.

Funny enough - SIL and MIL have the same exact dryer. Like feet from their bedroom. I told dh I suppose I could plug it in upstairs so *I* didn't have to run all the way downstairs after a shower - to get a warm towel. I just found the whole thing absurd in SIL's case. The dryer is right next to her bedroom.

& finally, do I really need to get used to having hot towels as an everyday luxury? "You don't like hot towels!?!" Of course hot towels are nice. It's one of those things that are really nice to have - but that you don't particularly miss when you don't have them. Do I really need to make myself accustomed to hot towels? So that I am uncomfortable when I don't have hot towels?

In the end I was supposed to try it for 2 days and then give it back to MIL for $50. I got sick and haven't opened ANY of my presents - they are all still boxed up. SO, I suppose I will just return it this weekend and be done. Then the saga of the hot towels, can end already!!!! Wink

I know it's human nature and all, but it just drives me nuts when people don't say what they mean. Don't ask for a gift back if you don't really want it back! Though I suppose, if I wasn't honest, I wouldn't know there was a receipt. I will probably exchange it for some kitchen items. & though I am not surprised my SIL loves something so frivolous, I have no idea what it is with frugal MIL. I just will NEVER understand her. Why do I even try? Big Grin (I suppose she doesn't understand that it is cheaper to run our heat than to run an electric appliance in our house. Maybe the towel warmer is frugal in her case. She would live without heat- but have a towel warmer. I suppose it's slightly logical if you think of it that way. For us - it's WAY cheaper just to run the heat! & the house doesn't get so drafty, to begin with. I suppose the more I think about it, the more it begins to make some sense).