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Archive for April, 2010

Still Feeling Positive...

April 28th, 2010 at 02:08 pm

I suppose it has been a little spendy, and the MRI bill shocked me a wee bit.

I was scared to look, but am pleased to stay I am still on course. Cash still hovers around $20k, even after paying for all this. I would like to move forward this year (yeesh) but still have time to try. This $20k mark feels like my nemesis, lately. Can't get past it. I am saving $1k per month, right now, and can't get past it!!!! Talk about frustrating. Well, it isn't for lack of trying.

If we can cut out the large/unexpected expenses, I project that I can meet my 2010 financial goals still. Which means I can put some into retirement this year, and end up with about $10k in the mid-term fund. If I make it, hallelujah. Is enough to buy a decent replacement car, which is the place I am struggling to get to. I expect to keep dh's car (the older one of the two) another 5 years. But, by the same token, have to be prepared if it gets totaled tomorrow.

This year has been a challenging one, but it is still possible to meet our financial goals. So, for now, I will stay positive.

The MRI bill stressed me out quite a bit. Knocking off the home improvements with such a lower than expected cost, will offset that tremendously. Phew!







The Dentist

April 28th, 2010 at 01:21 am

So, I had never missed a 6-month checkup, in my life.

We had apparently made a January appointment, during our last appointment, and I forgot. They called me the day before. I think it was right after dh had his surgery. We weren't making it!

I have been with the same dentist for about 30 years, but he has a new receptionist. I called and left a message begging for a Saturday appointment. I have so many vacations planned this year and took so much time off for the surgery, not to mention a school schedule to work around. I really didn't want to use a week day for the 2-hour trip to the dentist! We couldn't fit a 6-month schedule that fit around the kids and mine schedule. They get all this time off during Christmas and tax season, which is the only time I can't spare 5 minutes off work. We could go for summer, but the kids have no days off in November/December. (But for holidays - which doesn't exactly work). I can't take time off January - April. Not for a dental appointment 2 hours away!

So, I told her we had been going forever and yadda yadda yadda. Her only experience with me is that I must be a flake!

She actually had an appointment in like 2 weeks (must have had a cancellation) so we are going WAY earlier than expected. I was hoping to beg for something in June or July.

Phew!

With the kids in school, we probably need to make a renewed effort to find a local dentist. The last couple of HIGHLY RECOMMENDED dentists I tried out were pure scam artists. I got a third opinion from a dentist friend, who lives about THREE hours away. I know our dentist will retire in the near future, probably, and our friend dentist is not a realistic alternative. (Though it was nice he verified how scammy the other dentists were).

I don't even know where to start. If everyone is happy to settle for scammy dentists, how the heck do you find a good recommendation? *sigh* Our solution has just been to keep our old dentist. It's not a big deal - we visit family all the time. But, I guess it's back to the drawing board. I just dread dread dread it. I should send dh as the guniea pig, this time.

Our current dentist is very conservative. Not only do I want someone who is not a total scam artist (who wants to do $3k worth of work on perfectly good teeth). BUT, I would prefer someone on the conservative side. One dentists did want to replace all my fillings. I don't think that part is "scammy." I just think it is a little unnecessary. I've only had one fixed, since then. Last I dentist shopped was 2005. & it's not just being cheap. Why drill your teeth more than you need to? I like my teeth! Big Grin

Interestingly, dentist friend told us that dentists who went to public school tended to be less aggressive. Kind of an interesting piece of information. I'll start with that.

Soda & Candy

April 25th, 2010 at 12:18 am

The weather is just gorgeous here today!

I think it is working to relax me.

Today, I took the kids to a little zoo/park.

Dh took LM to a birthday party.

I thought BM and I might do a bike ride, but he wanted to play a video game. I obliged him - told him whatever he wanted to do.

We finished the game, JUST as the rest of the family got home. So I sent them outside to run in the sprinklers. Overall, a pretty frugal/nice day. Oh, we had a $5-off coupon so I asked dh to pick up a pizza for lunch. That was a bit of a splurge. I can't resist a $5 off Round Table pizza (we usually just get Take & Bake at the grocery store to satisfy pizza cravings. It's REALLY good).

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While at the park, I did get a soda and nachos. Knowing we would get pizza, I didn't want to overdo it. (Not that we ever get more than this, anyway?). But I swear the lady asked me 2 times if I was sure that was it. Yes, I am sure! So then she grabs a small soda cup for me and asks if I am sure if that will be enough. Wants to make sure I know how "small" it is. In the grand scheme of things, it is on the small side. Maybe 12 ounces (filled to the BRIM). Honestly, it was more soda than we needed. Just wanted something to wash down the nachos. The kids barely took more than a sip.

I guess it's somewhat cultural. Do they get a lot of complaints about the "small" sodas? Why on earth wouldn't that be enough for a mid-morning snack?

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Anyway, dh returns home from this party with 2 giant bags of candy. He said, "You are gonna love this!" We hadn't really come up with a formal plan of what to do with the excess candy I have been complaining about.

So, we dumped it out and I was probably overly generous letting LM pick out about 10 pieces of candy to keep. We threw it in the candy bowl we have that is still full of V-day and Easter candy. The rest got put in the cabinet to hand out at Halloween. I can already see that we won't need to buy any Halloween candy this year! (More overflow - will move on to ideas to donate it).

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As I am sitting here, typing, dh brought me a present. A $1500 bill from his MRI last year. Lovely!

I had totally forgotten about that one. They had told us it would cost $1100, but I think they billed us $2k in the end (up to our deductible).

I had been thinking about it, but then totally forgot. Dh and I agree it is better than some past bills that have "never arrived." It just figured that they waited for the minute that I forgot about it. (The bill is for a MRI 6 months ago). Thankfully, they have been MUCH faster to bill his surgery. We've already been billed up to our 2010 deductible, for that. Most of it was billed the day they discharged him. I prefer this to "waiting forever," to the point of "forgetting about it."

We will get about 30% of it back in credit card rewards and tax breaks. Got to look on the bright side...

Net Worth Update

April 24th, 2010 at 03:17 pm

I hadn't looked at my net worth this year. It is too depressing.

I don't expect to do well this year, so why track how horrible I am doing? Kind of the attitude.

BUT, I know the stock market has been doing well and so I decided to peak:

Um, I am up about $7k for the year.

I decided since I am not tracking regularly to just update my annual net worth statement, adding "12/31/10" and filling in current numbers to see where I am at.

It's an interesting perspective.

**Cash is hovering around $20k. Though I have made cash savings my primary goal for 2010, to get over the hump, I am still spinning my wheels a bit.

That being said, the house can be painted without pulling money from savings, and is FAR cheaper than I expected it to be. Assuming it all pans out. So that is a good thing, and will help.

**Investments are up about $5k, in returns. I've only contributed $1k to retirement, so far this year.

We've been kind of hovering around the $100k mark with cash/investments, but it seems to depend on the day. With the positive stock market gains, we are at about $105k at the moment.

I'd really like to have more cash/investments than debt (mortgage). I can see it getting closer - which feels real nice! (Don't get me wrong - I've got a ways to go!)

**Mortgage - paid $1500 off this year. Actually, in June we will dip below our "first ever mortgage" balance, once again. We had passed the mark about 2 years ago, but ended up borrowing closing costs to refi last January. We've already past the breakeven mark and it is nice to make true forward progress again. We should break the $200k barrier within 2 years. That is what I really look forward to.

**Net worth is still hovering around $200k. It's not overly impressive since our net worth was a little higher in 2007. BUT, I suppose we haven't had much backward slide either. We really bulked up our investments while the stock market was super low. Right now we are battling sliding house prices more than anything. Though prices actually seem to be holding (knock on wood).

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Overall, feeling good about things. I project we will be able to max out both of our ROTHs next year, with my income. Which is something we haven't done (from income alone. Not since living on one income). & I actually think it is possible during the calendar year. (We usually utilize until April to fund). That said, I suppose I could *up* that a notch and just about max out 2009, if we do a May through April funding schedule.

Will see.

Net worth is still going to slow considerably. I am no longer getting $8k-ish per year in my work retirement plan. That slows things down a LOT. BUT, I also have no other retirement vehicles at my disposal, so it doesn't really change my financial goals. If we max out our ROTHs (about 12% of income), every spare penny will go to mortgage pre-payments.

The loss of retirement benefits just means that dh's "optional return to work," feels less optional at the moment. But I know we can increase our income significantly in a year or 2, so I am not freaking out about it. I almost feel more calm because dh and I have both agreed on a "return to work" date. Which helps since I really think my job will be up in the air very soon. My boss is going to close up shop and I am not quite sure how that will pan out. Another income would be extremely helpful during that time of transition. & honestly, I do not know if I have the stamina for anything more than part-time. My industry is all about 80-hour weeks. My current work schedule is pretty unheard of. Though if dh were working, I may be able to take the time to find a full-time job that pays well and won't kill me. Big Grin On the flip side, if he settles in a job, I will feel more free to search out part-time/seasonal work. I could work "full-time" half the year and yet have slow summers with the kids. I know there are better part-time options out there - I just can't swing those as the sole breadwinner - too much risk for me.

I am feeling positive, today, but will see what the year has in store for us still...

Contractor Stories

April 22nd, 2010 at 07:48 pm

Our first home was a condo (little upkeep, but had been completely remodeled before we moved in, so we didn't do a thing to the place). Second home was bought brand new.

Needless to say, I don't have a lot of contractor stories, even if we have been homeowners for a decade.

We are probably going to have our house painted in the next couple of weeks.

We have been waiting a year (or two) for some neighbors to paint. To get a good recommendation. To see who was good and who to stay away from.

We gave up on this angle. Since no one has painted their home.

I haven't really asked many friends. I asked a couple of financially savvy friends for referrals. They have never painted their home. This is they kind of thing I wouldn't just taken any referral. I think people tend to be really stupid. I have had terrible referrals in the past. If it's not family, I am wary of any recommendation of this type. I just want a good/ethical contractor that is reasonably priced.

All that said, it's not an area we have any experience with!

I think we may have lucked out with this painter, but won't speak too soon. Found an ad online. Has been in business forever, A+ rating with the BBB, properly licensed and insured, and all that jazz. I picked him because he was giving rock bottom prices "due to the economy." I would stay away from any ad that had the word "cheap" in the price. I don't want cheap - I Want quality. The way his ad was worded, sold me.

Of course, he looks good on paper, but the next step was to meet him in person, and get a quote (and a gut feeling).

I would generally get multiple quotes and maybe we should, but from what I know about prices, I know the price we did get is rock bottom. I know no one has complained about this guy to anyone who matters (licensing board, or BBB) in the last few years. I know he has been in business for many decades. Liked him as much in person. He does not even ask for a deposit (which would be standard). It seemed clear he would go above and beyond the minimum standard - looking at the contract.

So, will see how it goes. & so we bite the bullet. Dh is supposed to call him this week. Though with all the rain, lord knows when we can get it done. No rush - my angle was just to get a discount with the pre-season. Plus, probably best to paint before the wasps move in. Why I kind of wanted to beat warmer weather a bit. But I Can wait a couple of weeks!

Of course, I am open to ANY advice on the subject.

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We actually hired a contractor when we first bought our home, to get the backyard landscaped. Concrete, lawn, irrigation, plants/trees.

I am sure it was in the realm of $5k, though I don't remember for sure. At the time, we had tons of landscapers going door to door. We asked a couple of our neighbors who actually did their yards (most waited YEARS - ugh). They all had horror stories and said they wouldn't recommend their landscapers. If nothing else, they don't show up.

Great!

We started talking to the door to door guys and settled on someone who sounded like they really knew what they were doing, and was really "cheap," to boot. Wasn't the lowest quote we got. Just the "best feeling" we got. We were really young and no idea what we were doing. Though I am sure we got advice about what to ask about and look for.

The results are mixed. In the end, turns out the guy was using a relative's license (he had a very similar name). The whole thing was kind of frustrating. We would never know, but he didn't pay for the concrete, and so the concrete company put a lien on our house. Yeah. So, dh calls them, and they tell us that they are going to report us for hiring someone without a license. Okay then. Report away. How do you explain how you allow a non-licensed contractor to get a lien on our house??? Maybe they found out after the fact. I have no idea - but they seemed to have a clearer picture of the situation than we did.

Dh tracked down the actual licensed contractor we thought we had hired. HE paid the bill, apologized for his relative, and that was that. No more lien.

So, yeah, not a great experience.

Don't get me wrong - he did a nice job. But we tried to do right, and the whole thing kind of sucked in the end.

Anyway, in the end I suppose it worked. He showed up and did a nice job for a reasonable price. Extra reaosonable because he was a fraud, I suppose.

Sometimes another perspective can be so eye opening. Only recently, one of our neighbors commented how we had the nicest landscape job. I had never really thought about it. But, they had bought a second house in the neighborhood and both the homes just had terrible backyards. She was telling me how much she loved our trees when she lived behind us, and how nice our landscaping look compared to theirs.

I suppose though the guy was a fraud, he obviously knew what he was doing and did a nice job. We asked for "low maintenance" and that is what we got. It was only looking at my neighbor's crappy looking yard that I appreciated that we really could have done a lot worse. So, phew.

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Needless to say, when we met with the painter, we asked to see his I.D. He also apologetically told us he had to disclose about the whole lien thing, legally. "Oh, but I've never had to put a lien on anyone's home." Dh and I just looked at each other when that subject came up.

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Actually, I am also looking for someone to clean our gutters and do a small repair. I thought that maybe we should just rush that out before the paint job. Probably should, but I can't find anyone. I just want someone license/insured who doesn't have terrible reviews all over the internet. A lot of contractors say they are, without sharing their license #. Clearly not licensed - so probably not insured. Still more homework to do for that one. There's no (big) trees so we have never cleaned our gutters. Dh found a leak and was going to take care of it, but has never got around to it. I had to climb up on the lower roof to remove some of the Dish equipment and saw the buildup in the gutter. It does need a cleaning, to prevent more damage.

Funny enough, a lot of gutter places around here do pigeon cleanup and bird proofing, etc. I had NO IDEA. We hired a guy to put up bird proofing and he moved away. Last time we just called a big pest control company to fix one area, but they didn't clean up all the bird droppings on the roof. Looks like we can get the painter or the gutter cleaner to spray that off. & it's nice to know who to call if we ever have any problems. (Knock on wood, but haven't had any bird issues in a while. The birds are pretty bad around here - well, they were).

I may renew my gutter cleaning/fixing efforts this weekend. Might as well get it done.

Why not do our own? Oy vey! Not the proper tools/ladders/guts for the crazy high gutters. Will spend $150 for a pro. It's a steal.

Going forward, will probably have to do a wee bit more often than once a decade.

Oh yeah - we never wash our windows either. I don't see the point. Painter said they would be "cleaned" in the process with the spray - and they go over them with a squeegee so they look nice. Our house will look so shiny!

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I know - I have been so knee deep in work, I haven't felt terribly bloggy.

But, now I am knee deep in home improvements and long put off stuff - all costing money - and thus I swing the other way, to very bloggy.

Big Picture Approach to Finances

April 22nd, 2010 at 02:16 pm

Quicken helps me micro-manage my money in just minutes a week. I know the impression is that I am overly anal about my finances, and is probably true to a point in lower income years where I tend to have more financial goals than means to cover. When I need to make every penny scream! (& that would by most of my adulthood - we only were a 2-income family for a couple of years - lived on minimum wage before that).

BUT, for the most part, I don't really have an elaborate financial plan. Most of our frugal habits are just that - lifelong habits. Don't think about most of them, most of the time.

I can attest that it is pretty simple to manage your finances, by just setting a few big picture goals. You don't have to track every penny or have a budget to do the following:

1 - Make savings goals your first priority (pay yourself first). Manage goals around tax planning.

2 - Limit regular/recurring spending/contracts, etc. to x dollars

3 - Don't borrow for anything

4 - Strive for balance

If I could sum up my financial philosophy, that would be it. & it works.

#1 I was thinking about because someone asked in the forums how you decide how much to save. Something along those lines. Well, we sit down and figure how much money we need in the future, for x, y, and z, and save accordingly. Right now we need about $1200/month for short-term savings goals (property taxes, insurance, car repairs, vacation, dental visits, and EVERYTHING within the year that is not a regular monthly bill). We need about $5k per year for long term savings goals (car replacements and home maintenance being the biggies). 10% minimum to retirement. More is better, of course.

How we decide to save, what and where, is often influenced by tax law. I had to add that to #1. One day while discussing 529s, HSAs, IRAs, etc., my spouse tells me, "Why do you have to make things so complicated?!?" Ain't that the truth? Don't blame me for tax policy, but I will certainly take advantage. These days we try to put most of our savings into our ROTHs, due to our current income, retirement, and tax situation.

2 - #2 can be summed up as "don't live beyond your means." WE avoid contracts and limit our regular monthly expenses as much as possible. We consciously keep our spending low so that we don't base purchase decisions on our income. Due to low inflation, we have barely increased our spending over the years. Our health insurance used to cost about $1000 per year and now costs about $15k. We used to live on $45k per year before having kids, and now it is about $60k. We haven't really changed our spending, overall. (Not much we can do about the healthcare). In the interim we did buy things like daycare/preschool. Thing is we didn't *need* it, were not locked into any contracts, and would drop in a minute if we had to. Temporary expenses like that are always open for discussion. This year my kids will both be in school and our expenses are mostly same as they were a decade ago. We haven't increased our means for the long-term. That is just an example. Dh's future income would go to savings and one-time expenses. (Maybe nicer things, or a vacation here and there, but nothing that needs additional money to keep or maintain).

I suppose I bring up the healthcare thing because thank goodness we weren't buying a lot of other stuff - who knew it would get so expensive in a very short time. & literally, the rest of our spending has been rather stagnant over the years.

3 - Don't borrow for anything. Don't get me wrong. I am not saying I have never borrowed a dime for anything. But it is a rare day when dh and I borrow money. At this point in our lives, I don't see ever borrowing another dime, again. (0% offers, credit card arbitrage and paying off cards monthly for rewards are fine by me. I just refuse to pay any interest on anything - or to borrow any money that I don't already have in the bank). Exception for us was first car in the $1k range, and our home because owning is way cheaper than renting around here. These are the reasons why. I would have borrowed a very small amount for college if I had to. I figured out other options instead, though. We are pretty debt adverse, which goes a long way to helping with #2 - keeping our expenses down. We don't have any payments in our budget. We buy what we have the cash for - that's about it. Makes it easy not to bite off more than we can chew. To make it work we have just bought a lot of really used things over the years.

Correction: We have a mortgage payment. Hardly count it because it is cheaper than renting. Don't get me wrong - don't plan to keep it forever, either.

P.S. The first car I bought (for $1500?) lasted 7 years, and my $10k public college education (yes - $10k for 4 years - if even that much) gives me the exact same career that a six-figure private degree would have. On the cars, we can afford a little more with every purchase. $1k, $5k, $10k, has been the progression. Cash paid for each one after the first.

4 - Balance is so important. I think this one comes easy to dh and I because we grew up in very balanced families. I think most people really struggle with this, but I feel grateful that we don't struggle with it too much.

An example? I completely agree that it is humanly possible to have a paid off house, very quickly and young. Even with the high cost of real estate here. Dh and I could have put our entire life on hold, he could have worked another 5-7 years, and we could have paid off our home before we had children.

Why would we do this? Where is the balance? Neither of us saw the point. When my dh found out he had a brain tumor at the end of 2009, he told me he had no regrets. If it was his time, it was his time. All he ever really wanted was a family. & he has his nice, little family. He has dedicated the last 8 years of his life to his kids, which is all he ever really wanted to do.

I couldn't help but think about what if we had just paid off our house and were about to start our family? What if we had a newborn? I think my dh would be facing this whole thing with a lot of deep regrets, personally. It's not as simple as "being debt free is the best thing ever." Every financial decision is about sacrifices. You just have to figure out which sacrifices you can live with and are worthwhile. Everyone has their own priorities to sort through. Though I think most our friends and relative would describe us overly-cautious, financially, they also have to admit that we have never put off anything that was truly important to us. We have both significantly put work on hold to spend time with our young kids. We bought our dream home when we were like 25. My spouse has all the time in the world to pursue his passions, without a job. (I just happen to get paid well for my passions). & so it goes.

Of course, the irony is that the more you manage your money, the less you ever have to think about it. Wink

Sad Day for DH

April 21st, 2010 at 09:17 pm

He sold...

The TIVO!

(I thought the day would never come - has been gathering dust for about 2 years).

It was a first generation TIVO, gift from my dad who got it from a friend/colleague who worked at TIVO. About a decade old.

& TV was never the same!

Then, our mom and pop cable company got bought out and it was no longer compatible with any other option.

Anyway, the thing holds like just a few hours and only has one tuner. But it was TOP NOTCH. Every DVR we have rented since, just sucks in comparison. I love the 4 tuners and the gazillion hours on our current DVR, but its still not quite as user friendly and top notch as the TIVO. TIVO should really be making more money, in my opinion! (To be fair - the new Surewest DVR is pretty good. The 4 tuners and gazillion hours make it a rather even match, I suppose).

Dh sold the TIVO for $60. Worth so much because we had paid $150-ish for a lifetime subscription. I don't remember exactly what we paid for that. Dh was pretty sad when a couple of people were clearly only interested in the lifetime subscription. He told me the person he sold it to was going to use it. Some elderly person who probably will. Made dh happy.

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In other news, I found the paint colors for our house and trim, but not for the accents.

There is no doubt we will stick with the same color to avoid HOA hassles, and because our lighter color has held up better against the elements, anyway. Might as well keep it.

The accents are kind of a barfy brown color. The reason we chose the color scheme is it was used on one of the models and looked the nicest of them all. Had trouble visualizing, otherwise. Never much cared for it. Well, love/hate relationship. It's nice, but always struck me as kind of barfy, all the same.

Wondering if we should just bite the bullet and pick a completely different color for the accents. Tempting, tempting. On one hand, I really try hard to avoid conflict. But on the other hand, I really do feel like the HOA has better things to do at the moment than to badger the only homeowner who has bothered to paint. It's only one pair of shutters, and a door, from the front of the house. (I don't even know if there is anything on the back of the house). Easy to redo ourselves if the HOA goes raving mad.

I think I might like to pick some dark colored shutters... Big Grin

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P.S. Dh just got signed up for a $65 focus group (it's been forever since we qualified for anything). Guess it's his lucky day.

Score one for the Savers...

April 20th, 2010 at 09:20 pm

What advantage do savers have?

Rock bottom prices on just about everything, while the economy is sour.

I am so ecstatic - just got a quote to paint our house.

Was discussing with a co-worker, who told me she had been quoted $5k to paint her house, in the last few years. I was expecting $5k-$6k, but saw some lowball adds for the pre-season, and was deciding if we should just bite.

I also blogged how this looked like a case where painting 2 stories cost twice as much as one. I always roll my eyes when people say a house like ours cost twice as much as a house like theirs (to maintain, to heat, to cool, etc.). In general, I have not found that to be the case, at all. This little known thing called, "economies of scale."

But, anyway, from everything I heard, I thought this assertion was correct for house painting.

So, answered an add for a $2000-$3500 paint job (2 story quote) and almost fell over when the guy quotes us $2200.

I do think he was salivating over all the "badly needing paint job" homes in our neighborhood. Good luck with that - most of them are bank owned. Wink But I wouldn't be surprised if we got a bit of a discount for the potential business.

I suppose I should have asked why we luck out on the low end. All I could figure is that our house is very square. Really, that's probably it. (Maybe I underestimate the amount of McMansions in the area, too). They do have a lot of cracks to fill and windows to tape off, so I wish them good luck with that. Glad I don't have to do it. (Oh yeah, I thought the tall height of our house would be another big issue - apparently it doesn't matter to them).

The cheapest this guy paints is for $1700. So, I am happy to say, in this case, it won't cost twice as much as if we had a smaller home.

It's raining cats and dogs today, so I am not sure where that leaves us. (I thought we were done with rain). But we may get our house painted in the next week or 2. Dh and I will discuss our final decision tonight. I couldn't find the paint color for our shutters, so may have to ask my neighbor. Since my feeling on price was so *off* we may get some other quotes. Who knows, but we liked the guy and he looked good on paper.

I am going to start talking to the neighbors about replacing our fence. Just feel them out. If they are too broke, or totally uninterested, so be it. But there has got to be bargains to be had. I kind of don't want to have to scramble while the fence is blown down or anything. Our renter neighbors just moved out and they had a TON of pets. Now would be a good time. Though I have no idea how to get ahold of the landlord. May be worth it just doing it ourselves. Small yards mean cheap fences. But I want something little better quality than the builder put in. It would be nice if the neighbors agreed and pitched in, but will see.

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This year really isn't the greatest for us financially. BUT, on the flip side, we have more means than we have had in a while, to do a lot of put off projects. Throw in the prices for the sour economy, and it means we can stretch our dollars further. Maybe it's good we didn't necessarily have the cash for this in the boom.

The irony is that this completely confuses people like my MIL. We basically live the same, financially. We really couldn't be much more alike. But, she has a REALLY hard time understanding other people's priorities. Like, if I didn't have $2k+ sitting around to drop everything and go to Florida for a week. I protested that we didn't have the money. Maybe I should have said, "We have too many other financial priorities right now."

When we got sick of hearing how cheap dh's surgery would be, and pointed out it wasn't "free" like she imagined, means we must be broke. All she knows is "free healthcare." Dh told her we had the cash to pay the bills, but she just couldn't get past why we had any medical bills.

I can just hear it now. "I thought the surgery was SO expensive. How can you afford all this stuff?"

We also have more cash than we have had in a while. This year isn't really a great year for us financially. I did take a 10% hit to compensation. We are still riding the wave of 2009 though. We lowered our house payment by $200/month and cut our preschool costs by about as much. We have cash for LONG put-off projects. Low prices in this economy just means it's a good time to jump on these things.

That is the other thing with MIL - she always was over-estimates what we pay for things. She was JUST bragging to me the other day that they paid $15k or so for THEIR car. (You should have heard this conversation!) I didn't say anything. Dh's car cost $8k, and mine, $12k. Who is she trying to impress? She has made a lot of weird comments about our van, and it was thay conversation that made me realize she thinks we paid $20k for it or something. As did a lot of people, when we bought it. I thought *she* was smarter than that. Apparently not. Is that why she always looks at our van in disgust? She's always had issues with it - I have no idea why. Maybe I should have bragged we only paid $12k for the van. With her, it's just best not to say anything though.

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Oh, in other news, I made an optometry appointment. My eyes haven't really changed and I have a spectacular pair of glasses. Which means, it feels very suddenly that I haven't had an eye exam in about 6 years. I know - egads.

I haven't had glasses all my life and just haven't got in a groove. I know I should go in more often.

SO, I decided to just make an appointment with my HMO (Easiest). I actually have VSP through my employer. Really, the only benefit I do have, at this point. BUt, we used our deductible and rather just go there where all my medical records are and stuff. (Will use VSP to pick up some new glasses, elsewhere).

I checked the prices to be sure this wasn't a stupid move financially. They must have updated everything to reflect we spent our deductible! Pretty much everything is free the rest of the year. Optomestrist? FREE. Woohoo! It even confirmed that dh's MRIs will only cost us $50 (what they charged us last time). Woot.

We have $3k to go on our out-of-pocket. I have an GYN appointment, too this year. The kids' checkups are always free (preventive). Probably the GYN ones too.

Even the emergency is pretty cheap. We will try not to end up in the hospital - that will eat out out-of-pocket in week. Was the only thing listed that actually really cost anything. Surgeries and hospital stays, I suppose. Will try to avoid. Wink

Just an Update

April 18th, 2010 at 10:11 pm

**Decided to take the weekend off. I think I needed a day off just to "detox." I "woke up" from my catatonic state around 5pm last night. Have felt great, since. Today I am mixing cooking, laundry and cleaning, with sleeping, vegging, hanging out. I feel like I have all the time in the world, compared to the last few months. BUT, a little stuck indoors since the kids are sick.

Of course, may work a BIG weekend next weekend. But should be the last one...

**Dh talked me into going to see the new baby, but BM woke up with his "croup cough" again. HE said the inhaler helped (first time I had it during an episode). I didn't notice much difference, he still sounded terrible. But I think his throat closes up a bit and it did seem to help with that. Usually he goes about a year between episodes. Just got the inhaler last month after his "annual episode." Didn't expect to actually get to use it.

Of course, I was up with LM last night administering his inhaler. *sigh* HE uses his much more often. Might just be allergies, but didn't want to take any chances - and kids needed to rest.

**Target is hard to get through anymore - they have too many monkeys! I went to return a couple of items that LM did not like. I drug him along to help me pick out summer footwear he WOULD like, etc. Monkeys everywhere. Got him a monkey outfit, to boot. The plus side is with all the hand-me-downs, he should be pretty set with the $30 monkey wardrobe. (Bought him some sandals and a $4 shirt, too).

Their "meat and produce" arrives in June. Will be interesting. I still find it unlikely that they will beat the prices at our local grocery store - which has extremely high quality/low cost meat and produce. But, will see!

I don't know if BM will need some new summer clothes. Will see. He tends to grow more up than out, so his shorts from last year may fit just dandy. I bought him some new shoes and swim trunks, already (on sale). It is possible that he may be set for summer.

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**I tried really hard not to count my eggs until they hatched. But, phew, I did get a tax season bonus, after all. With dh's surgery and everything, a little less than last year. But still, not bad.

I deposited 100% of it into savings. We have no needs/wants at the moment. But for more savings!

I was also relying on said bonus, to reach my aggressive savings goals for this year. Will be close... If things settled down, I think we could still make decent progress this year. But, it is possible dh will have another expensive medical procedure, so who knows.

I don't mind using the money to paint the house. BUT, as I ponder foreseeable home maintenance (like painting the exterior) I also worry about the unforseeable. Maybe "unforseeable" isn't the right word. We've been in this house 9 years. No doubt we should save up for more home maintenance. I just figure once we get to a sufficient savings level, about $5k per year should do it. That would be $50k per decade for car purchases and home maintenance (+ other large items like orthodontia and random medical things). Should really be more than ample.

I suppose I should feel lucky that our long range plan worked and that we really haven't had any large outflows while the kids were real small (& while income was super low). But the last 2-3 years have been progressively more expensive. I just know there will be more to be had. Appliances will not last forever, etc. Spinning my wheels a bit in the interim. Once I get a little ahead of the curve, $5k/year should really do. For now, still working on the "getting ahead."

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I am gearing up for vacation mode.

I don't think dh will be working next summer. BUT, I do realize that it is possible that this could be our last "slow summer" for a while.

For the longest time, the only schedule we have had to work around is my work schedule. Which is pretty flexible come summer. Now we have BM's school schedule, and will soon add LM (come August). Their summer break is very brief.

As I dreamt about summer, it did hit me that before long dh may be working and will have his own work schedule to work around. We might as well enjoy - might be our last "carefree" summer on many levels.

The first weekday I can swing off (in May) we are going to Monterey. Well, going on a Saturday. But I will enjoy the day off, and we can drive down when BM gets off school.

That is just the start. The rest of summer, we are looking forward to a lot of pool time, bike riding, hiking, and the like. Will go to some museums, amusement parks, water parks, and all that jazz.

What we really need to do is plan some camping.

Dh and I are going to Hawaii in September, too. That just feels like a million years away, at this point!

But I am definitely shifting gears, from crazy to lazy! Big Grin Until December...

Free check copies

April 14th, 2010 at 07:53 pm

Feeling super aggravated because school sent me a "balance due" notice. $25 for supplies. You know, the check they asked for in August, that I paid in August, that by some miracle actually cleared my bank account in early September! (Sometimes those checks don't clear for many months).

So, fast forward to mid-April, now you want to try to collect it again? Gah.

It doesn't help that I can write separate checks and be clear as day in the memo, but things will never get to where they are supposed to go. This was just the first time it was something, "mandatory."

On the same day we got a field trip permission slip with cost labeled $8.50. Um, seriously? We paid $60 in August for field trip costs, too. I presumed in the last minute rush (field trip is in only 2 days?) that somethine was missing. Usually a note will go with that saying, "if you want to come too, this is the cost." & will usually detail the lunch plan and stuff. I don't really think they will try to collect $8.50. But if so, I will be annoyed.

Hey, we donated $250 from the kindness of our hearts. Can you just deduct it from that? Will wait until June next year, to be generous. Let the nickel and diming be done, first.

I know, I know - I am an accountant. Can't use my kind hearted donations for mandatory "supply reimbursements." Just the way they do it since they can buy all the supplies in bulk - instead of having everyone buy their own supplies. IT's nice when it works.

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From past experiences, I am sure I could direct them to find my check quite easily, BUT decided to see what I had to do to get a canceled check copy from my credit union. Maybe consider myself lucky? Something I haven't had to do in a few years - since switching CUs?

FREE. Online request. I checked Quicken last night to see when I paid it. Then scanned online bank statements until I found when it cleared. Noted the check number (I am kind of bad about using proper check #s in Quicken. Just use the "next number," I really only write checks for the school in this day and age). With info in hand, completed online request for free check copy. Well, that was easy. Will arrive in the mail a few days - dh can finish clearing this up.

I griped to dh about how I Was going to have to write 4 checks next year since combining this check spelled disaster. Wouldn't you know - when I looked it up? I hadn't combined it. I figured they would be slow. What more do you want than a check for $25, "SUPPLIES" clear as day in the memo, and to send it back with the form it was requested. Nothing I can do about their idiocy. I really love that they didn't bother to tell me it was missing for 8 months. I suppose next year I will just write one check for both kids, for all fees requested, because it's not like following directions and being clear reaped any benefit.

I sent some specific donation last year that didn't make it to the right place. I never would have known except I verbally agreed and someone asked me a few months later if I had forgotten. (Um no - sent in a check the day you asked???) Gotta love it.

Stupid stuff, but it put me in a bad mood.

& I learned that it is easy to get a copy of a check. That is the bright side in all this. (I can just go online and print them if they are newer than 120 days. I was initially bummed that this was too far back, but it didn't hurt much to track it down, all the same. Phew!).

Until next year...

P.S. I am sure you can attribute some of my bad mood to the fact that it is April 14th... Unfortunately, April 16th doesn't look much better - my deadlines end April 30th. Wink I do think things will rachet down a bit after tomorrow though. Right now the bane in my side is some random state use tax April 15 deadline. Seriously??? Whose bright idea was this? I haven't finished that stuff because my very few tax clients are full of last minute drama. It's been a day, that is for sure.

Credit Karma

April 14th, 2010 at 12:46 am

Since my large scale identity theft, I have been a looking for different ways to keep on top of my credit info. (A free report from each Bureau, once a year, hardly cuts it when someone steals your identity. A lot of damage can be done in one day).

I did pay for monitoring for a year, and since things have settled down (only one or 2 days of fraudulent activity) I have to figure they threw out my info, and that's that. I don't feel as pressed to monitor daily, for eternity. I have also had a lot of opportunity to test the fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts. So far, any vendor I have used has honored the alert and called me to verify that I am me. I can't say the same for the kinds of institutions that let you open a credit card and max it out in five seconds, even when you have 5 credit inquiries the day before. So I am not sure it means much.

I have sinced sign up for a Class Action settlement (Experian?) that is useless. I saw my credit report once, and should be able to check it every day online, for a year, if I like. But due to my fraud alert they will make me jump through a ton of hoops every time I Want to check it. Great! I give up.

I signed up for Credit Karma, which I mentioned before. This one I like. It's a FAKO score, but they actually tell you how many accounts and inquiries you have, etc. Which is a good clue to see if something changes suddenly. Downside is that it does only pull from one credit Bureau. But the FAKO score is a clue, if it were to suddenly plumment.

Interestingly, Alliant Credit Union gives me the same FAKO score (they update it quarterly), and it was the same one that the settlement used.

Anyway, while things are calm, Credit Karma is a good tool to keep an eye on things.

I logged in yesterday (after a reminder from the site: www.creditkarma.com) and there was nothing to see. IT was interesting though. The concept behind Credit Karma is to pull your personal data, and offer you ways to save money.

I had offers from 1.3% interest rates. Their data showed I Was receiving 0.5% at my bank. (Um, try 2%. The 1.3% isn't impressing me).

They were trying to sell me mortgages that cost me more than my current one. It's hard to find a better interest rate than my fixed 4.875%. Certainly nothing worth refinancing for.

Life insurance and car and auto insurance that costs MORE.

I really rarely get a legit offer, like in the mail, that would actually save me any money. We keep REALLY on top of that stuff. IT can make a huge difference.

Credit Karma is going to have to try a lot harder to impress me. Wink

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On the radio the other day, there was a discussion about identity theft.

After the blah blah blah, there was mention of mail theft. This perked up my ears. Had a lot of mail theft issue in this area and I believe the mail is where my big ID theft, and a little credit card number theft, took place.

I was dissapointed when all they said was put your mail in a locked mail box. Pffft. Doesn't everyone know that? I don't even have an unlocked mailbox.

I was dissapointed they did not say, "Do not put personal information in the mail unless you absolutely have to." That's what I would advise. Of course, my city is filled with rogue mail carriers. I do avoid the U.S. mail if at all possible, after quite a few shady experiences. (Mail slowed down, things always dissapear for weeks/months, culminating in a check washing scheme centered in the post office. Yeah. I also believe an IRA rollover application of mine, that dissapeared, was stolen by a U.S. postal worker. IT's the only thing I have ever 100% lost in the mail. The mail can still be slow - which is a very bad sign. I wonder what the heck they are up to these days).

April 15th is so close...

April 11th, 2010 at 04:56 pm

I believe this Saturday was my last big Saturday working. April 30th is another deadline, and most of my work is non-tax, so I have TONS to catch up on. Wouldn't be surprised if I work a bit next weekend, or 2, but I think as of this week the craziness should rachet down quite a bit!

I will probably make the effort to just work more during the week, and free up my weekends again. I swear the main reason I feel I have to work Saturdays is so that I can get some uninterrupted work done. Interruptions galore, this time of year.

I am more caught up than usual, for this time of year. It was a good year. But dealing with lots of client drama (a very messy divorce and feuding shareholders who are splitting). I've also got a handful of new clients. Which is okay, considering we have lost a ton. We are also short employees, as always, so it's not like things will slow down, either. It is anything but slow. It's just not quite as frantic as usual. Things will be easier once all these new clients get in a groove.

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I haven't been to the gym or worked out forever. I think I have eaten in more than usual. I don't usually eat out much, at all, BUT once or twice a week, a fast meal - but I definitely notice the difference to my waistline, just by cutting it back to zero. Tax reason will either run, "I forgot to eat," or "stuff myself with food to deal with the stress." This year was more "forgot to eat." I haven't gained an ounce, or an inch (more to the point).

But, yes, I have been doing a fair amount of bike riding. I find it hard to deal with the stress without regular exercise. I think the thing is this is the least stressful tax season I remember in a LONG time. For various reasons. So I don't think I needed the exercise outlet quite as much, and let it slide a bit. On the other hand, bike riding fills the void much more easily. Like, last night we did a light bike ride, but it was SO amazingly peaceful out. Wasn't a big workout, but was good for the soul.

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Today I have got some returns to take to Kohls. I would like to peruse the grocery store for cheaper salmon - I am having a hankering for some crockpot salmon. I don't require fresh salmon. Will see what I can find - if I can find a frugal medium.

I've been making breakfast every Sunday morning - will fry up more potatoes and scramble some eggs, probably, this morning.

It's raining all day, so not much else to do. May just have to go to the gym - though I may just take a nap and veg out all day.

As usual, I won't be having a huge celebration April 15th. April 30th, yes, I will. As always, I am excited and ready for a slow, leisurely summer. Phew.

Thinking of Biting the Bullet

April 10th, 2010 at 11:13 pm

& getting the house painted...

We've been putting it off a couple of years. I think we can get by longer because our house is a light color. A lot of the homes on our block are dark colored and the paint is at least 25% faded off. Our might be as faded but you can't tell since the color underneath is so close in color. HOA has made mention once or twice, but I think is too busy trying to collect HOA fees from banks and broke homeowners, to really push it. Let's face it - they rather have your late dues than have you pay a painter.

I've blogged about this before. I still can't believe we may be the first in our neighborhood to paint - especially since our house still looks like one of the best. Figures.

I don't know why it's suddenly in my craw, but I have seen some decent pre-season deals from hungry painters on Craigslist. May just have to bite.

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Will probably transfer a few thousand dollars to my Ally account - I have a money market with checking. In case we decide to paint right away. It's either right now, or flate fall, or try to wait another year. I just want to get a solid paint job that will last more than a few years. The house needs some cleaning and caulking anyway, which will come with the paint.

I honestly wouldn't be opposed to a DIY job at this point. Not at all. BUT, out home is about 25 feet high. It's the second story that I don't want to bother with. I had to climb a ladder to the lowest roof (over the garage) to disconnect some things from the DISH since dh was not up to it at the time. Almost had a heart attack, 10 feet or so up in the air. I wouldn't even know where to begin, though our neighbor would let us borrow his ladders.

Nope, leaving this one to the pros. The next best thing is to get a real good job so we don't have to paint again for a LONG time. Now is the time to get a discount for quality.

The house is large - this is one time we will pay for that fact. (I don't find most things cost "twice as much" or takes "twice as much work," because the house is "twice as large." But in this case - it does).

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I haven't really made a large purchase like this - with cash - in a LONG time. (All the medical bills we just paid were on the credit card - bought me 30+ days to transfer funds). Now that we are better money managers, I do have most my cash tied up in a high-yield bank, without a checking account. I suppose while I am thinking about it I will transfer over a few thousand dollars, just so we have the cash for a deposit, if we do hire someone sooner rather than later. The Ally interest rate is not too much lower - good compromise. I had just drained the Ally account for property taxes (no plans to replenish since I am getting 2% at Alliant Credit Union - much better than the 1.3% or so at Ally).

If we are lucky, we can probably pay with credit. In this particular situation though, I rather just pay the guy we hire in cash - will probably hire someone small beans.

It's going to be a real boring paint job. The HOA originally said we did not need to get "permission" to paint the same color, and then changed their mind. Though I'd love a new color, I don't get the feeling they would be very fast, efficient, or reasonable. I just want this done. I think we will say, "screw it," and just paint it the same color. What are they going to do? I still have the note that says that is okay. Wink They should have other things to worry about then homeowners who paint their homes the same color.

Life with our HOA has been pretty uneventful, but this is one time they are a PITA. & no - I don't see the point of HOAs. My neighborhood looks like crap, for one (all the fading paint). They've got a lot of bark, but not much bite. Never liked them - but like them even less, these days. We bought with a HOA because it was impossible to find the kind of home we wanted, without one. So, eh.

ETA: Ooooh. Alliant has sped up their ACH transfers by one day. That is the other thing about Ally. Checks aside, I can do an ACH transfer, generally in one business day. This is good news!

I will probably pay for the paint job with my May savings ($2k) and with my overtime bonus. So, phew. Will probably get to put the money back in a month, anyway.

$1400 Farmville Bill

April 10th, 2010 at 05:12 pm

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/99807-12-Year-Old-...

A woman in the U.K. is out a few bucks after her 12-year-old son ran up a bill of almost $1400 while playing the Facebook game Farmville.

Reading the comments is kind of funny. All about, "kids these days." I know plenty of adults who would do the same. Maybe not $1400. But does anyone else think that spending a dime on this site, is absurd? Clearly, there are a lot of adults paying for this stuff, too.



Random Thoughts About Divorce

April 9th, 2010 at 08:29 pm

I was reading the forums the other day and there was talk of divorce. Thinking about it, I had a startling revelation.

In my family, there is a predictor for divorce - a predictor with a 100% success rate. What is it? Being uneducated.

I thought about it because there was talk in the forums of not divorcing because of coming from good/solid families, happily married parents, etc. I chuckled. Then what's my family's problem? Divorce is more common than not. Though both dh and I's parents and grandparents are happily married "'til death do us part" types.

So, I was just thinking about it, and a light bulb went off in my head. Most of my blood relatives are women. Dh and I have sisters. Our parents only have sisters (we have no blood uncles). Sisters, sisters, sisters. My family is really large, too.

All of the women who got a college education, are HAPPILY married.

It doesn't matter if they got their education before they married (my parents married in college). It doesn't matter how young or old they married (though my family I think was all married by age 25-ish - I do admit we marry young). It doesn't matter if they ever used their degree. My mom never did - most of the women in my family are homemakers, first and foremost. Oh - doesn't matter if they had kids or not, either.

Nothing really matters but the education itself.

I think it is somewhat generational. Like, our grandmothers were not particularly educated (though I know a couple of them did work). Then again, my little sister is uneducated, and already divorced. Hmmmm... But the rest of us are all educated (my generation). Will be interesting to see how that pans out.

They may be educated, but the rest of them (my generation) choose to live in an extreme high cost area and the females are all the main breadwinners. I would presume that puts a strain on their marriages (they all would prefer to stay home - and admit they are somewhat bitter they have to work so much. I can't imagine that is great for marriage). Maybe the key is to be educated, but not too educated. Wink

I told this theory to dh. He asked if I meant that the college educated had more "follow through." Not really, but I suppose there could be something to it. The patience to stick something out through thick and thin? I don't know.

I honestly thought it just meant the educated women were more well rounded and make for more interesting mates. But he does have a point.

Could be a little of both, or maybe I totally miss the point. But I think it's kind of fascinating.

Is there any pattern for divorce that you've ever noticed? I presume my family is a bit of an anomally. Clearly I have a lot of divorced and educated friends, etc.

Other interesting tidbit? But for one nun, all of the females over age 18, are married. Yes. My family likes marriage, apparently. (The men? Not so much. Dh does have an unmarried male cousin. Dh on the other hand? VERY marriage minded).

A New Long Term Goal

April 8th, 2010 at 05:18 pm

Bah - lost my entry too. First time has happened since the changeover - though usually I save as I go, I hadn't bothered.

More thoughts on real estate. I perused our old zip code for homes maxed at $100k. No surprise - nothing listed for sale. BUT, I moved my criteria to $150k max. The cheapest thing that popped up was a ONE BEDROOM in our old condo complex, for $120k. NO WAY! (We were thinking we could maybe score a 400-foot studio in that price range. This is almost 800 square feet!)

Unfortunately, not ready to buy real estate. But will add that to my long term goals. I asked dh if he thought I was crazy, and he is totally on board. Loves the idea.

I think two things have prevented us from even think about it. We obviously would love to own Bay Area real estate if money was no object. $100k price range is getting to the "money is no object" range. Just never occured to us that would happen. Of course, the flip side is the entire time we lived there we were focusing on a HOUSE. You know, something with 4 walls, a roof, a little yard. Not much. Not terribly picky. But you know, something that didn't cost at least $600k. Good luck. I don't know why the thought never really crossed our mind to just buy something really small for all our weekend visits. We loved the low maintenance of living in a condo, and could really care less about the size. Then again 800 square feet is as big as some of our friend's $750k houses.

Our current plan is to pay off our mortgage by age 45. We can push that to age 50 and pay cash for a $100k-ish second home in the interim. I don't think we will do so for quite a while. It will only be possible if dh returns to the work force for at least a couple of years. We would wait for another down cycle if we had to - certainly no rush. I wouldn't be opposed to renting a small unit in the interim to see how much we used it and if it was really beneficial. Maybe it sounds a lot better than it is. Oh, and I did check rents in the old neighborhood. 1-bedroom would rent for $1300/month. It's not like we could rent anything cheap to satisfy this want. The $120k price tag looks pretty good. IT would be a second home. Not interested at all in landlording - that is why we sold our old condo without a second thought. Could have rented it out for a fortune. Not worth the headache, to us.

It's kind of fun to revive an old, dead dream. So, we never saw the point of working crazy hours to afford an insane mortgage there. Or being stuck in a condo forever. Neither appealed to us. We may not move back or live ther full-time, but to own a home there would be a dream, yes. I am kind of giddy thinking about it. It's kind of nice to have some crazy goal besides retirement. We don't really have any other goals between now and then. We always play it too safe. This may be kind of fun. Now just give me a decade or so to execute... Big Grin

The irony is it isn't about "real estate" or investing, for us. We just want a place to call home, where we grew up. *sigh*

We much prefer the bigger abode and slow lifestyle here. But we still seem to have a foot in the Bay Area with all of our relatives and friends. In retirement, I could see spending more time there too. Could be a good long-term purchase, if we choose something we think will work for the long-term. I could totally see living there in the summers, for one. Since the only think I really dislike here is the summer heat. Big Grin

This & That

April 8th, 2010 at 01:07 am

**We were bummed that LM's Leapster (game system for little kids) seemed to break. We fretted a bit. Dh wondered if we should replace it. I said, "hell no." Maybe one of the only "new" game systems we have - not sure if we bought it or was a gift - bought many moons ago. LM is so close to outgrowing it - I don't think it's worth a dime to get a new one. I told dh just to get him a DS. (He always can snatch them used, without touching the budget).

If it's dead, we do have a TON of games to sell. Don't ask me where they all came from - I bought just a couple from my paycheck. I noticed we have a ton because every time I See the pile I have to wonder how much they would all cost brand new (4 figures?). I wonder who pays full price for any of these things. I am sure plenty of people wonder how we can afford so many games and systems, too.

Well, in the end, my dad saved the day. Not only was it a problem with the touch panel (his forte) but he has got a ton of contacts at Leap Frog, anyway. He said he basically pushed in the screen and it worked. Will get us through - will probably recycle rather than sell it, once it runs its course. Phew.

I don't think LM is really ready for a DS, but I do think he can survive a few months without a portable game system. None of the males in my house probably agree with this sentiment.

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**I decided exactly what to do with BM's science camp refund. We are definitely going to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, in May. It's usually more of a treat, because the Aquarium is a bit pricey. Most any other zoo, museum, etc., we can get reciprocity or good discounts, if we just have membership to one. But the Aquarium is certainly in a league of its own. We had the most awesome time last year, and LM just LOVED it. So, we decided it was worth a trip back. How to pay for it? Solved.

I'd also love to go back to the beach to look at wildlfowers and such. Not sure we can fit it all in one weekend. I don't think it was really worth the hotel last time. Will just have to drive down 2 days, or spread it out over a couple of weekends. We've got family to stay with just an hour out from Monterey. Will work it out.

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**We had quite an ebay run this week. Ugh!

Video games seem to attract flakes and difficult buyers. I'd say our dispute rate is about 20%. Maybe half of those people will pay the second we file an "unpaid dispute," the other half are a PITA. For the most part, you figure one person won't pay for a long time, if ever, out of every 5 or 10 auctions. It is what it is.

SO, I briefly mentioned the psycho guy who was really harrassing dh. It's actually my ebay account so I got copies of all the e-mails. Lovely. Long story short, he freaked out because dh was not around to cancel his bid during the last hour of auction. He sent about 4 or 5 e-mails in that hour, each getting more aggressive and harrassing. So dh is like, "Dude. I wasn't at my computer." To which the guy gets more annoyed and more e-mails to follow. I swear I have 20 e-mails form this idiot. The reasons why he wants to cancel his bid change every 5 minutes.

If he had just asked nicely, even after the fact, my dh might have worked with him. But clearly the guy is insane. So dh, decided to be a PITA and report him for not paying. It's been kind of quiet, but today I got a pile of more e-mails. I love how he is like, "I reported you to ebay. You are a difficult seller." Look dude, you are the DIFFICULT one.

But that's not all. One guy never paid or responded. This was out of 6 auctions. 2 of 6 is a new record. THEN, we got our first negative feedback! Ever. Dh has sold hundreds of video games probably. Some chick didn't know that you need Gamecube controllers and GC memory card to play a Gamecube game on the Wii. My dh was trying to be nice and work it out with her, when she leaves this negative feedback. Thankfully, we can at least respond. Any regular video game user would know this. (I don't, but I don't buy games!). I told dh that maybe he should specify as much with the games - most other sellers do. He told me he doesn't want to cater to the idiots of the world. Okay, then. Then he has to deal with the consequences. In this world, you just have to spell it out for people. Honestly, I am surprised this is the first time that this has happened.

We will survive, but if every round of auctions ended like that, I wouldn't bother. Oy vey. I feel like the universe was really against dh last week, for some reason! Ebay was the least of it.

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**March was spendy and work was crazy. I may get around to looking at my monthly totals, some day. I at least know all my bills were paid - even mailed off my property taxes a few days ahead of time. My head has been other places of late - so remembered to pay everything on time, yes.

In the end my HOA never penalized me for my late payment. I lucked out!

By some miracle we also earned another 20% rebate on our winter heating costs. I think this year we cheated with dh's out of town surgery. 20% of not much, is not much. But did get $20 credited. That said, my budget billing for gas (hot water and heat) went from $14/month to $30/month. Bummer! I've used less gas than ever, rates are down, but billing is up. I will never understand their balanced billing. Wish they would just divide our annual bill by 12. We are pretty predictable. (I am really only bummed that I can't brag about $14/month bills. That was probably too low).

Someone at Easter did ask about how we afforded heat and air in our home. I giggled since our balanced billing had been $14/month for the last 6 months, for heat. Big Grin Somehow, we survive. But seriously, though the weather is mild here, people can be pretty wasteful and have inefficient homes. Came up because a relative sells windows and sees a lot of $600/month winter gas bills. Oy vey! I just told him our utilities were lower than they were in the condo we owned before. That I wouldn't worry about us. Wink

Which also reminds me, some relatives are trying to buy investment property in the Bay Area. Could make an interesting option for our kids, for college. Hell, I am kind of tempted. Trying to get a condo the size of like a closet for $100k. If dh were working, I would so be there. IT was a condo owned by some family members before. Originally bought got $90k. Sold a few years later for $200k. Right now it is hovering around $120k. Crazy! So yeah, someone in the family wants to buy it back. Rent is still so crazy expensive, I'll take a closet for $100k! Big Grin We definitely spend enough time there. & there are so many affordable/great colleges around. (If that sounds insane, we owned a 3-bedroom condo for $260k, and there isn't a HOUSE to be had worth living in for under about $600k. NOt when we lived there, anyway. So $100k sounds like a steal, to me).

I never thought I'd see the day where I may buy Bay Area real estate (again). But it is something to consider for the long run. It sounds absurd. But, for a college pad or an occassional home, I wouldn't care about the size. Definitely low maintenance. We have already decided we didn't want to LIVE like that. But, let's face it, our parents won't be around forever either. Then again, if we aren't visiting our parents... I don't know. Something to chew on when we have a nice down payment and a bigger income. We do spend a lot of time there for other reasons. For now, we just stay with the parents. It's just something I never thought about before, but may make sense in the long run. Don't worry, we'd probably put 50% down or pay cash or something. Thinking to the distant future...

Millionaire Mindset

April 5th, 2010 at 02:37 pm

In the forums was an interesting question about working 2 jobs, and a lot of comments about work/life balance, etc.

I could see working 2 jobs to get ahead financially, but the key is the mindset. I could relate from the standpoint of how we approach our own finances.

Ideally, since I am married, we have 2 full-time jobs at our disposal (without working *too much,* either. I mean, obviously this differs from one person working 72 hours every week).

But the mindset is the same. If you rely on those two incomes, whether they are both your own, or one for you and a spouse, you are playing with fire. YOu are living up to an income that may not be sustainable. Obviously moreso if you do it all yourself. BUT, we have always taken the mindset that we will not always be healthy and fully employed. Odds are someone is out of work, some of the time, for endless reasons.

So, it's quite simple. Live on one income. Save the rest for a rainy day. Or save it to get ahead, etc.

I think the mindset was easy for me because I Was so used to living on so little during college. I couldn't even imagine living up to my first $30k per year job, much less the $100k or so we were making, combined, in a couple of years. I was intent on saving the difference and never having to live on so little means, again. We also knew we wanted children and wanted to take time off work to be with them. So it was easy to never consider the second income as "permanent."

I suppose this is somewhat the millionaire next door mindset. Nothing wrong with working a second job. IT's a GREAT way to get ahead, financially. BUT, getting so accustomed to it that you can't pay your bills without it, is kind of scary.

Our first income has ALWAYS been for:

*All Needs (housing, transportation, etc.)
*10% to retirement
*Saving for a rainy day

At the minimum, anyway.

Our second income USED TO be for:

*Saving 20%+ down payment on home
*Paying down a 15-year mortgage
*Extra to retirement
*Investing

Going forward, Our second income WILL BE used for:

*Paying down home rapidly
*More investing
*More retirement savings
*More luxuries

I can see us paying off the house pretty rapidly and having a lot more disposable income. What kind of luxuries would we buy? One-time luxuries, only. We won't be buying a nicer home or locking into any monthly contracts with more income. We may travel a bit more and buy more electronics. We may even buy nicer cars while dh is working (for cash). Thing is, if the second income disappeared, we haven't increased our lifestyle in a permanent way. A one-time vacation doesn't permanently increase your lifestyle. A car paid-for in cash doesn't matter when the income disappears.

That's the mindset.

I could see if I were single, working 2 jobs to reach the same end. I wouldn't do it forever, but a couple of years can make a HUGE difference to your bottom line. I would be VERY careful to not get attached to the second income. IF you get attached, it really just defeats the purpose. Then you just work work work with nothing really to show for it.

Before, dh and I both made the same amount of money. As my income has increased over the years, I think we will focus less on the first income/second income. & maybe more on the "first $50k" and "everything above that." We may have to change our thinking a bit, since my income is probably higher than we need, and his will probably be too low to cover the basics. For a while anyway. I think it's important to set a maximum amount for monthly/regular expenses. Health insurance aside, we could live on 2 minimum-wage incomes. I don't have any plans to increase our basic standard of living beyond that. Though I admit, that may be lofty in this economy (to believe we could both find work if we had to).

Saved Money / Wasted Money

April 4th, 2010 at 03:35 pm

I saved money or wasted money, however you look at it.

Well - no doubt - I wasted money.

BUT, March was a little insane, so I welcome the refund.

Talking last night about BM's science camp, I decided to look at the date to make sure it didn't interfere with Family Camp. I didn't really think it did.

Well, um, I thought wrong.

I am not sure what it is, but the only schedule I have had to work around for at least 5 or 6 years was only my work schedule. & having worked at my office for 8 years, I have a good feel when things can be flexible, and when they are not.

BM has been in school for almost 2 years - you would think I remember. I am constantly making plans and appointments, to which dh says, "Um, BM has school!?!"

At least this was an unusual thing - not just school...

In fact, I never even bothered to put the thing on the calendar - either camp.

Good news, it is early enough for a refund for science camp (around $200). Bad news is $50 is non-refundable. Bah!

The reason we signed him up no longer exists, anyway - we told him he could go next year. Probably for the best.

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Though the weather here has been cold, damp and rainy, we have managed to go on quite a few evening bike rides, with daylight savings and everything. I feel lucky. It's been generally nice in the evenings (though a little chilly).

So, yesterday I squeezed in a nice bike ride after working all day.

I scored a brand new, packaged, eraser. Was just laying in the street. It's been a while since I have found anything. Sometimes find random toys.

Coins? Can't say I see coins while bike riding - moving too fast!

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Life is good! I will knock on wood furiously, but this is one of the calmer tax seasons that I remember. I didn't really expect it. I honestly expected more divorce (which is UGLY when it comes to taxes). As I think my boss said the other day - "only the accountants and lawyers win, in divorce." Though good for revenues, not sure it is worth the stress and complexity of it all.

I was thinking this since so many of our friends divorced this year. Like everyone we know, it felt like. I figured it would spill over to my work.

Anyway, I've got one more week of overtime, and though not counting on it, I do expect a nice bonus check around April 15th. Counting down the days to freedom and money.

I actually love my work schedule. I love the opportunity to make more money a few months of the year. AND, working hard is good for the soul. The 40 hour weeks always seem so easy peasy the rest of the year. IT honestly just feels like part time work to me, 8 months of the year. The best is I can probably "retire" and just work tax seasons, somewhere along the line. It's a good schedule. Though I admit I work for a one in a million employer who is not intent on working his employees to death.

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Anyway, work will still be busy, for all of April. I am aiming for a LOW SPEND April, that is for sure. I hope Murphy cooperates. Big Grin

March was pretty spendy. Though mostly planned, and paid for in cash, I am second guessing my ability to make all my financial goals for 2010. Economic pressures seem to be weighing heavily on us this year. So, tightening the belt for April.

Car Tales

April 3rd, 2010 at 03:43 pm

Brrrrr. I flipped on the heat to be nice to my family as I took off at dawn, for work. I thought I was being whimpy but saw it was 62 degrees inside. No wonder it felt so nippy. I don't remmeber when last we turned on the heat - probably February. Of course, if I were home more I would probably have turned it on a bit this past month. Generally when I get home in the p.m., the little boys are running around in their underwear. Dh is barely wearing more. I pile on the flannel. The sad thing is I have the most meat on my bones, but those *insane* metabolsims must keep them all warm. I think today they may have wanted some heat. (Well, the truth is I didn't want to freeze my butt off when I got home)!

Oh yes, and of course Easter looks like it will be rained out. Boo! But we will still look forward to stuffing ourselves with food, and seeing the family.

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Did I ever mention that I HATE car dealerships? Big Grin Why so much hate? Being treated like crap so many times - seeing friends treated with crap. I've got some stories.

SO, against our better judgement, we recently drug our minivan to the car dealership for a repair. Our trusted/awesome mechanic, was stumped, and though it was a long shot, he told me technically the repair should be under some state emissions warranty law. Well, okay then. (We all knew the dealership wasn't going to honor the warranty, but was worth a try - though now I am not so sure).

They did fix it reasonably, which is fine. But we had to drive way out to the middle of nowhere to the dealership, and their customer service was just horrendous. As usual, don't see the draw.

SO, because of that, we got on their mailing list. We actually bought the car at a more mom and pop dealership which I never really had any issue with (amazingly enough!). But they have since shut down. Which is why, we had to drag the vehicle out to this far off dealership for a repair.

{Note to self - look harder for a non-dealer alternative, next time}.

So, we get this thing in the mail. Based on your estimate mileage of (75k?), your car is due for a "major maintenance." I should have kept the thing. I forgot the wording they used, but it said something like, "Major maintenance," all over the thing. Dh and I both looked at it, and laughed. Could they be more vague and intimidating? "Your car needs major maintenance because the odometer got a little higher." Whatever!

I am not doing the letter justice because I forget the exact wording. It was just laughable though. I am sure I will get another one soon - I will share when I do.

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In other news, if you wonder where I get my extreme frugal car leanings, look no further than my parents.

I was doing their taxes and was surprised to see their vehicles were 1995 and 2000 Fords, respectively. I just hadn't really realized how old my mom's vehicle had gotten.

Actually, my mom has car shopped on and off, the last few years, but doesn't really like anything out there. I can identify. I would go buy dh's car all over again, today, if they still made anything like it.

So yeah, I understand.

My mom bought the "$45k for new," luxury car, for $20k cash as a barely used vehicle, in 1996. Since she doesn't like anything else, she recently decided to get some new tires and fix some little things that had been bothering her. She mentions to this to her friends one day, how she just got new tires, and her friend asks, "HOw old is that car???" To which my mom replies, "It's a '95." OF course her friend admonished her for putting any money into such an old car. Oh, the humanity! The irony is there is NOTHING wrong with the car, and looks about like new. Not that the looks matter, but to the look conscious, it's not as horrid as it sounds.

Oh, I've had similar conversations before. I can relate.

Miles for March

April 1st, 2010 at 11:20 pm

I've had mixed feelings on the car mile challenge.

We try really hard to keep our fuel costs down, in general.

On the other hand, driving I feel, is one of our luxuries. AND we often drive further out to save money on things. (i.e. I drive a few miles out of the way for my aerobics/yoga class, but it only costs $2.50/class, when I show up. The aerobics classes in my neighborhood cost $8-$10 a pop. Clearly, gas, wear and tear and everything, is worth it).

So basically, I don't feel any motivation to change my driving habits.

BUT, after thinking about it, I decided to keep track. Why? Because the last couple of years I have been AMAZED by our mile figures. We cut WAY back in 2009 and I Really expected a lower annual mileage figure, to show for it. I honestly couldn't tell you how the heck my dh racks up 10k miles per year, easy, though he doesn't have a commute.

SO, I jumped in and kept track.

& now, I wasn't cheating. Didn't see about the challenge until the 2nd, and no idea how much we drove on the 1st (dh had his big out of town appointment). I suppose I will add 200 miles for that, and call it a day (might not be enough!)

981 Total Miles March
-572 Commuting
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409 miles
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22 miles x 26 round trips = 572 commuting miles
(I usually don't commute so much - but been working every Saturday).

Other miles break down as:

37 miles errands/kids (one week was really bad since dh still couldn't do much)

40 miles to visit a good friend

132 miles - trips home for lunch (priceless)

200-ish miles - Dh had a big doctor visit in the Bay Area, plus we visited some family and had to pick up the kids after, etc., etc.

All in all, though I drove more for work, I was too busy and exhausted to drive home for lunch as much as I usually do, don't remember the last time I went to the gym or aerobics, and haven't been terribly social. We also tend to drive a lot to visit our friends and family, who mostly live 100-200 miles away.

How much I drive home for lunch is generally dictated by gas prices, and by my budget. When my eldest was born I drove home every noon hour to breastfeed. With rising gas prices I largely stopped the lunch visits. These days, the budget allows a few days a week, which I probably do more when it's busy. It really helps break up the day when it is crazy.

I VERY loosely kept track of dh's driving.

The gory details are here:

http://monkeymama.savingadvice.com/miles-driven-march.html

At the least, I think I will keep loose track of odometer readings on a monthly basis. I think March was a low drive month for us, in general. Will be interesting to see which months we drive more, and why, etc.

Oh yeah, and though walking BM to/from school is a good goal, the challenge wasn't really a motivating factor. I only dropped him off/picked him up on the way to/from work, which didn't *up* my miles at all. (It's a pretty short walk).