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Archive for October, 2010

Credit Card Doings & Asset Protection

October 30th, 2010 at 07:39 am

After my recent credit card breach, my new Chase Freedom cards arrived in the mail. A day or 2 later, a lovely note arrived from them about the discontinuation of my rewards. (I knew that was coming - most people with the program have already been cut off).

I couldn't help but feel that them changing every thing over made them do a second look at my card, and spurred this decision. BOO!

All that said, I will consider myself incredibly lucky. I am due for a $250 rebate, come Thursday. Big Grin I can't complain about the timing! (On the flip side, if they cut me off a month sooner, I'd be pretty peeved).

We will meet the $250, even though the card was inactive for a few days. Phew!

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OF course, if I had known, I wouldn't have changed all our payments over to the replacement card. True to my word, I am dropping the card, now that I no longer have the lucrative rewards. No more big banks in my life. Big Grin

Considering that I just applied for a Target card, and my State farm card was just closed, it's not a great time to open and close a second set of cards. But I only expect short term negative FICO consequences. I really don't care!

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I might have been a little rash, but I had my eye on the Fidelity American Express (2% cash back deposited into my IRA). So, I already applied for it.

It just now occurs to me that I should have looked around a bit - see what else is out there. BUT, this has been my plan for a good year - just sitting and waiting. It's hard to beat contributions to my IRA. Big Grin

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I went to a seminar yesterday (For my CPA license) on Asset Protection Planning. IT was actually VERY interesting. (Usually no matter how interesting I think a topic will be, it can either be over my head or a bit of a snooze).

All I Can say is, NEVER take free legal advice. I'll probably be real annoying in the forums, correcting everyone's bad asset protection legal advice, for a while.

(I always say good legal advice is worth paying for, but boy, did I have my eyes opened on a lot of stuff that is taken as gospel and just not true).

For one, IRAs really offer no asset protection from creditors/lawsuits, unless you are of traditional retirement age. That was the scariest part that I learned. (Not sure what to think about that - better to keep as much as possible in ERISA plans, like 401ks and profit sharing plans. Now I am not so thrilled to rollover my profit sharing plan into my IRA). Of course, depends on the state you live in. California does not care if you work hard and work up huge IRA balances.

The attorney who led the seminar was excellent and/or a good salesman. Needless to say, I know who to call if I am ever sued. Though much of what we talked about applied to much more high net worth individuals. But I have ideas rolling in my head to protect our own assets in the future, as they grow.

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I spent the evening in San Francisco last night, after my seminar. Had a really nice time. Spent too much money, ate too much food, stayed up too late, but had a nice time. I have another seminar in the Bay Area next week, so made plans with my parents. I think they were upset I had so little time with them (I crashed with them the night before - my commute was a quick half hour to SF in the a.m., that way).

I still have the San Francisco GPS jinx. We turned on the feature to "Avoid toll roads" in Colorado, and never turned it back off. My astute friend noticed it was sending me in the wrong directions, and I finally realized it wanted me to avoid all toll bridges, which would maybe add an hour to my drive home? UGH! I felt relieved not to get stuck on a huge detour again!

One of the only reasons I feel more comfortable traversing SF is because of the GPS, but I keep running into these type snafus! Third time will be a charm. (Even with the snafus, I find it infinitely easier to traverse the big city with the GPS. Phew!!).

REAL BACON

October 27th, 2010 at 07:44 am

**I went to the bread store yesterday, and the empty building next to it was filled with produce. Signs advertised $1 for 2 pounds, though. It was dark and closed at the time - will be interesting to see what that is. (The store still had all the signs from when it was a paint store - so I couldn't gleam much else).

I suppose I should go by on a Saturday and see what is going on. (I am in the area generally week nights or Saturday mornings for my aerobics class).

**For the life of me, I can't find our little mini broom and dustpan. Lords knows where it went. IT's kind of maddening because I don't generally lose things. (Maybe I should have searched the kids rooms!)

So, dh spent a few dollars on a new one yesterday. Ugh! I hate stupid purchases like that!

**At some point we just switched to the "fully cooked" bacon that you pop in the microwave. Lord knows why. we don't consume a lot of processed foods. As I am increasing my culinary talents, I asked dh to buy me some real bacon.

Um, DIVINE! It's probably been a long time since I had REAL bacon, at home.

I got the inspiration from Alton Brown. Layer foil on a cookie sheet and place a cooling rack on top. That way the bacon grease drips down and you just toss the foil when you are done.

Easy peasy. No more crappy bacon for this family! (Though dh may still use the other stuff for recipes since it is easier to crumble).

I'm heating up some bacon for breakfast. Yummy!

Though we generally make a concerted effort to reuse/reduce/recycle, I have no idea how to tackle that when it comes to GREASE! I suppose limiting greasy foods is all we can do. But we certainly like our grease, in moderation of course!

More Good Medical News

October 26th, 2010 at 06:43 am

I finally got in to a Doctor for the lump on my throat/thyroid.

He really thinks it is nothing. I have an ultrasound Wednesday to look closer, and he is considering if I should get a MRI or a Cat Scan, too. (I guess Cat Scans are better for the thyroid, but do expose you to radiation. No wonder MRIs are the "go to " scan in this day and age).

It's funny because there are a lot of HDHP horror stories out there. For example, my dad's friend called an ambulance once (for a fall? turned out to be nothing?) and they got some huge bill.

I have tried to explain that our deductible is only $3k, and we save more than $3k in premiums, so it we come out ahead, regardless. Until dh's brain tumor, we never hit our deductible, anyway. So we are WAY ahead.

Our out-of-pocket increased this year and I figured that was how they would stick us - this has all been "too good to be true" on some level. Don't get me wrong - we still pay a fortune for insurance, but so much less than we would be if we had no HDHP options.

In the end, once we hit our deductible, they REALLY racheted down what they have been charging us. I could still get a surprise bill down the road (timeliness is not their strong suit). But reading all the fine print, it did seem we wouldn't get charged much beyond the deductible, and that seems to be standing true.

Under the insurance that cost a small fortune, we were charged much more heavily for things like emergency and overnight stays (maybe $500 vs. the $50 we are paying now. That's pretty substantial).

So, overall, I am still happy with our HDHP, all things considered. I feel like we are still ahead, even with a very heavy hospital/doctor usage year.

Doctor visits have been $0 (& I have had a pile), $10 for blood draws, $10 for ultrasounds, and $50 for MRIs. We maxed our deductible in January with dh's surgery, so this is all we have had to pay for, since.

Before the deductible, MRIs cost $1500. So, $50 sounds like a steal, to me. Since we will have 3-4 MRIs between the 2 of us this year. Phew!!

Packing Light

October 24th, 2010 at 01:22 pm

I was surprised how well I did with packing for our recent trip to Hawaii.

Packing light is not my thing. Just ask my dh or any other friend I have traveled with.

Granted, I might have packed one long sleeve shirt in with the shorts, swim suits and t-shirts. There really wasn't anything bulky in my suitcase, so I know this challenge was easier with the tropical destination. But, I have never met the challenge to survive one week with an itty bitty suitcase before, either.

In the end, it is amazing how much the simplicity improved our trip.

You might laugh at me to know we had our netbook, cell phones, MP3 players, a DS for some games, and a GPS to navigate. & a camera, of course! I can't help but feel that this was a reason I Was so content to travel with less (other stuff). I couldn't help but think a Kindle or e-reader would have reduced our bulk significantly (We traveled with about 4 large books).

Electronics aside, I couldn't help but feel I was really feeling the effects of our de-cluttering effort. IT's been many years in the making. I started seriously de-cluttering when the nesting instinct hit me late in pregnancy. Moreso with second baby since I had to clear out my whole extra room (office/spare bedroom with my old furniture) to make way for the baby. From then on, we just make a more conscious effort not to keep stuff we don't really need or use.

On top of this, our vow to live on one income with small children means certainly much less means to go around. I think dh and I have always been good with our financial priorities. But lately, we have had to be ultra efficient in our material purchases.

I think for the most part, I felt it when we traveled. I was able to quite easily carry everything material that really mattered to me. Being very much a homebody, it was profound for me not to get more homesick.

On the flip side of this, I also think resistance to electronics is often misguided. Being able to carry all of my favorite songs (& then some) in the palm of my hand, is kind of amazing. & the fact is it greatly reduces the clutter. As with most of the electronic items I mentioned. Instead of boxes of photo albums, we store most pictures electronically, etc. I just have a lot of very similarly minded friends, and we tend to diverge greatly in our life philosophies when it comes to electronics. We find, in moderation, the electronics greatly simplify our lives.

& i am sure one smart phone will take the place of most of this stuff, in the near future, anyway. Talk about simplicity!

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The reason I was thinking about all this was because I was watching a Real Housewives episode (my guilty pleasure). One of the ladies was traveling just for the weekend, and had about 10 suitcases. (All the make up, clothes, shoes, etc., etc.).

I had to giggle myself.

I know that so many people think more stuff will make them happy. But I can't help but feel I'd rather just have my teeny tiny suitcase with everything I really *need*, any day. Rather than be a slave to all that stuff? Ugh!

Popcorn on the Cob

October 23rd, 2010 at 10:46 am

We haven't made it to our new Farmers Market in ages.

Vacation, sick, soccer games, you name it. I have been looking forward to some FRESH corn again! (We have only made it to the market once!)

So, we made it today. The morning was cool and wet, and the place was pretty empty. I suppose they may close up shop for winter, which would be a bummer.

We just got some corn, grapes, and apples. But next to the corn was some "popcorn on the cob." I am not clear exactly how they prepped the corn for popcorn (I read you can get the same result by freezing corn, but it looks more than just frozen).

So, we decided to give it a try.

These were the kids as they scarfed it down: "I don't like it - it's not salty!" Though it lasted all of 5 seconds. Yes, clearly it was terrible! (I did add a little of salt and gladly would have added some butter if they let me! Wink )

I think we are "popcorn on the cob" converts. We should have asked how long it should last - we bought 3 cobs. Will ask next time.

Beats pre-packaged popcorn by a mile. Yum!

Random Updates

October 22nd, 2010 at 12:53 pm

**The mall is on fire!!! Well, it was. Interestingly, in a region that has suffered so much in the economy, apparently we had a mall that was doing QUITE well. (I didn't know). I was surprised to read that the vacancy rate was only 5%. (Come drive through Sacramento and most of its suburbs, and you will see miles and miles of empty retail and business space. Over 1 million square feet in our own suburb - what I heard a while ago - it's only gotten worse). Needless to say, that 5% vacancy rate is mind boggling to me. 200 stores, ruined and/or out of business at the moment. Some crazy person set the mall on fire yesterday morning.

I initially thought of all the ruined merchandise, but they say who knows when they will reopen, how bad the timing is right before Christmas, how much city sales tax revenue will be hurt, and how many people will be unemployed because of this. Ouch! (Plus, huge loss of seasonal jobs).

I've never been to said mall because I live very close to two other malls (which haven't been doing so well!).

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**The weekend is upon us. Aside from a soccer game, no plans. Phew!! The house is a disaster, and so I suppose it will be a weekend of house cleaning.

Between all the illness, and being gone last weekend, I haven't done much around the house since we got home Oct. 1.

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**Reminds me, I must be crazy! MIL wants to try QUICKEN! I didn't really sell her on it. She uses excel and dh helps here with the formulas/set up all the time. Probably something he set up for her. When the subject has come up, I will just say, "We use Quicken - it's so much easier."

I guess she was listening because the topic came up and I told her she could borrow a copy of mine and try it out. (We'd buy it for her for Christmas or something, if she liked it).

So, next weekend we have a Quicken date.

I should be excited, that I found someone to convert (muahahaha). But, realistically, I am just hoping she doesn't drive me crazy with it. Will see!

Plus side? The plus side is that I feel a little uncomfortable getting all in her financial business, and dh has far more time. SO, I told him that he was going to have to help. I can show them how to use it together. & then I will have more confidence that dh can figure it all out if something happens to me. & if she needs a LOT of hand holding, he can take over (because that is when I will go nuts!)

A little hand holding will be fun. An excuse to call me every single day? What was I thinking?

Good News, Fast!

October 21st, 2010 at 08:34 am

The good is that the Doctor does not think dh's tumor has grown at all.

The bad is he wants to do another MRI in 6 months (because he is not sure). Which just means more $$$$$$$

Overall, it's good!

Credit Card Doings

October 21st, 2010 at 07:13 am

There is no doubt that identity theft and credit card breaches are on the rise.

I don't remember ever having my credit card info stolen, in the farther past, but lately, it just comes with the territory.

I am also concerned because every time I mention any breach, older people always think, "It's the internet!!" No doubt, some of it is the internet, but I know of far many more cases of mail fraud. I can trace my BIG identity theft breach to a lost IRA application (lost in the mail).

IT could be a coincidence, but my HMO bills me and lets me put things on my credit card if I write out the number and mail it back. I always feel uncomfortable doing so, and both times my current info was breached, was within a week of doing so. In the past there was a check washing ring traced to our local post office, so I avoid snail mail as much as possible. I can't help but feel maybe there is still some shady stuff going on. I really just need to pick up the phone and ask if I can pay over the phone, next time. I am getting more and more leery of sending anything in the mail. (A check would be worse, I think. Knowing the check washing history. At least the credit card theft does not affect my cash balance while it gets straightened out).

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So, what is it about OCtober? I am looking and my card was last breached exactly 2 years ago - October. Kind of ironic.

I just logged in, and saw a few odd charges in NYC. Nope - haven't been to NYC lately. The charges were a quarter for parking, $50 at Rite Aid, and $150 at some east coast super market.

Unfortunately, random traveling and trips to the super market aren't unusual at all. (The first place we went in Hawaii was to the grocery store!) This is the first time that I have caught a breach like that before the credit card company did.

Should be easy enough to straighten out. I only automatically pay about 1 bill, so will have to fix that and memorize a new number. Eh.

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In other news, I have had a State Farm credit card for a LONG time. It was my backup card, though I more recently got a credit union credit card, to fit the bill.

So, I got a note in the mail that they were going to close the SF card if I didn't use it in the next 30 days.

I figure it's for the best. I don't really need 3 cards. I was keeping it for my "backup card" when I closed the Chase card (when they reduce my rewards or up my fees). Backup cards are a must for time like these. I hate cash, and I don't want to be credit card-less while they issue me new cards.

BUT, it is taking way longer for Chase to scare me off than I imagined, and now I am eyeing another card with 2% cash back to my retirement account. Basically, when Chase pisses me off I will shop for a new 2nd card. I am fine with letting go of the State Farm card.

I have never found that closing old cards amounts to a hill of beans to my almost perfect credit score. Though I closed my first credit card a few years ago, I learned since that good credit stays on your credit report for a whole decade. I can't help but feel this may be why I have never noticed much impact from closing old cards (& keeping my list of credit cards very small, manageable, and most useful - best rewards). Because absolutely none of my credit history has fallen off my report, I can only assume FICO is using it too. & by the time it falls off, I will have 10 years of new history.

Property Taxes

October 20th, 2010 at 08:17 am

**I scored some *free* toothbrushes. They were on sale for 99 cents, and I got $1 0ff coupons for Walgreens, for buying them. I bought one, and went back and snatched up 3 more (I hadn't realized they were on sale, and I didn't realize the coupon was for the toothbrush, so I got another one). If I had realized I would have bought one at lunch and one after work (the Walgreens is on my way home), to make them all essentially FREE. But what I did was run back first thing in the morning to snatch up more before the sale ended. I hadn't realized they were on sale until I got home and looked at the receipt. Doh.

Was nice, since I like a particular kind of toothbrush that usually cost more like $4 or $5.

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I got our new property tax bill. No surprises since I had looked up our property assessment earlier in the year.

In our state, property taxes can not go up more than 2% per year, but they can go down as low as property values go, any given year. (These rules were put in place when absurd price appreciation meant a lot of seniors could no longer afford the property taxes to keep their homes).

I have no complaints about our property taxes, as they have steadily gone up 2% per year (even while the price of our property more than doubled in a very short time). But with the economy, I welcome the chance to pay even less.

Last year our bill went down $400 for the year. This year, it went down about $300. That's some pretty substantial savings. We are still in this sweet spot where we have over 20% equity, etc. (Last year, our assessment fell to the price we paid for the house. This year, down another $15k or so).

For net worth purposes, I long ago decided just to track the assessment to value our home, since it was only a steady 2% increase. (Fair market value has been crazy and volatile, on the other hand). On the flip side, a large loss of value would be more important to track and is accurately reflected with this method. It just works for my purposes.

SO, I have to lower my assets by $15k for the year. But I won't complain too much, since I have no plans to move anytime soon, and welcome the lower tax bill. Phew!

Cross Your Fingers for my DH

October 19th, 2010 at 06:46 pm

He is going in for an MRI tomorrow. (He did finally set that up!)

IT would be a miracle, but I am hoping his tumor shrunk/died/disappeared.

It looks like the odds are that either it is growing again, or it stopped growing. So, realistically, I can only hope for no growth.

We probably won't know any results until the following week.

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I am so glad we waited 6 months to bring this whole thing up again. It is still very likely that his doctor will recommend radiation. (cyber knife - small amounts of radiation directed only at the tumor - much safer than other radiation. A VERY simple procedure).

We just couldn't handle all this immediately after his surgery recovery. But, I think we feel ready to open that discussion and tackle it, if need be. So, I am kind of bracing myself for round 2 - which may be brought up even if there is no growth.

FALL

October 18th, 2010 at 07:17 am

**Dh's air conditioning is fixed, which has signaled the arrival of fall.

We visited family over the weekend, and were wary to drive home in the first rain. (You always hear the stories about slick roads, but last year dh spun out on the first rain, so we were a little extra wary). It doesn't rain here all summer - it could have been 6 months since it rained, easily, which is why the roads get so slick.

When we got home, we turned off the front sprinklers (I just flip them off and on as rain comes through - last year was unique in that we got so much rain I don't think we needed to irrigate all winter). Average rainfall is 20 inches per year - not a lot.

Knowing the temps would drop this week, I turned up the hot water a wee bit.

I suppose I should evaluate the pants and warm clothing situation (kids). I just haven't thought about it at all because it has been so HOT! It's been in the 90s, until yesterday.

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**Fall is always my big kind of "spring clean" mode, so I welcome the cool weather and hope it motivates me soon. I've lost most of October, so hopefully November will be a good "get things done" kind of month!

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I offered to make some pumpkin pie play dough for the Kinder class. I had no idea what "pumpkin pie spice" was, but found it for about $5.50 at the grocery store (after a long search). I was picking up just a couple of other things and looked while I was there. I didn't realize until I got to the parking lot that the tiny little container was missed - not on my receipt nor on my bag.

I figured it was for the best - maybe I could just borrow some.

MIL didn't have any but told me it was just cimmanom, nutmeg, allspice, etc. I felt "duh," when she told me because we tend to mix our own spices. But, I didn't know what it was. Mental note to look that up next time. I found a simple recipe on the internet - all with spices we did have on hand.

Then, my mom (non-cook) actually found some, and it still had a strong smell to it. (I wouldn't be surprised if it was 20 years old!) I think in this case, it is just for the fragrance (since the kids won't eat the play dough!) In the end, MIL found some too, and neither of them wanted it so now I have tons of pumpkin spice for next time. Big Grin Way to save $5!

I can't help but think this is one of those things where people don't understand if you "have money," why you would be so "cheap." Whereas, why would I have money, if I didn't try to cut costs like these down. All I Could think is, "What have I gotten myself into," when I Saw that like an ounce of pumpkin spice was almost $6. Ouch!

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**The weekend was nice. We took the kids to a zoo/park that we have membership at (in San Jose). We spent some time with their cousins (who we never seem to see. It seems we have been spending a lot more time with their second cousins, but first cousins are always so busy). & they had a blast. We need to make more of that time.

I think with our parents retiring, we have cut back significantly on the visits. For a time it seems many weekend were spent traveling to see family. IT can get exhausting (As this weekend was). BUT, I don't remember the last time we visited just to visit. It's been a long while. I think our schedule gets busier every year, and our parents' get less busy, and we are doing less of the driving to visit. Phew!

Dh's dad is officially retiring in about 3 months. (Holding on for some better benefits - he has almost been laid off 2 or 3 times, so crossing our fingers he can make the final stretch).

MIL is retired, but working a lot. Tutoring, subbing, babysitting, etc. I kind of dreaded the day (she is so in everyone's business), but I think she works more than before. Kind of funny, I think. But she is happier with all the control. & obviously teaching is a much tougher/time consuming job, overall.

My dad is just a few months in his new job, but the place is shutting down in a few months. Boo! So, come 2011, none of our parents will be working again. My dad wants to work, and will continue to look for more work. The jobs are far and few in between with his age, any more (he turns 60 next year. But it's been like this since he turned about 55. HE had never been laid off any length of time before the past 5 years or so).

Both dh's parents retired (will retire) at 62.

My mom *retired* in her 20s, and my dad would work forever if he could! But, it is looking like 62 may be a magical number for him, too. Maybe younger. I don't know if he will find much more work in his field.

Just More Updates

October 15th, 2010 at 01:48 pm

**Dh's vehicle had more serious air conditioning problems, so it will be $450 to fix. We had already talked about taking it in this week, before I got the news of the $1k insurance reduction. So, I am glad we brought it in after that news. I am more open to the idea to spending $450 to fix it in October. (It is another scorcher today!)

In the grand scheme of things, I don't think our luck is turning back to the bad side. IT's a repair we have been putting off, and knock on wood, but we are nowhere near our car maintenance budget for the year. So, in the grand scheme of things, it's no biggie.

It is officially our first A/C repair, ever. It's a newer car thing - our ancient cars' A/Cs just always worked forever.

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**Really GOOD news on the school front. (& good for long term financial planning!). The schools' test scores were through the roof for 2010. As such, I think the school has decided that now is a good as time as any, to expand. (They have wanted to expand since inception 5 years ago, but have been very busy getting the school set up and slowly adding grades 4 & 5, etc.). We also didn't even have a principal, last the subject was broached.

It really seems to me that the test scores have something to do with it. (Expecting more support from the district and community, etc.?)

The primary wish is to add Grades 6-8. Since the other middle school choices at current are completely abyssmal, I am very happy that there is such serious talk about moving forward with this. I have 3 or so more years to worry about all this. (My approach has just been very one year at a time. If I had panicked about elemtary school options, it would have worked against us probably. We now have the best school we could ever want. It just kind of happened. So, I haven't found it very worthwhile to panic about 4 years down the road, yet!).

We are exceptionally pleased with the school, so I hope it all works out. Will see...

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I lucked into a really nice art set for LM, for just under $50. I mentioned before, that LM wanted to take an extra-curricular art class. Dh and I cringed at the price, and decided to use the money to set up his own art studio at home. (The plus is that he gets art instruction at school - they have a REALLY good art program). So, at home, he cam practice practice practice, and expand on the ideas he gets from school.

Since the original idea, I can tell you, I am even more glad I thought of it. I am running out of paper to keep him occupied - he just draws and draws and draws, all the time.

So, I have been keeping my eye out on Craigslist. I haven't seen much, but the other day I was perusing Amazon (again), and one brand of art products was on sale (many items were 75% - 90% off). I found a chalkboard/dry erase board/easel for $38. (The full price on all these items were ridiculous, but the sales prices were quite good, in comparison). I ended up getting a pile of chalk, markers, paper and other accessories for $10. So, a REALLY good start. The shipping was free.

I really just need to keep my eye out for some paint.

It wasn't my intent to make this a Christmas gift. BUT, will probably just hold it for Christmas. (We weren't really planning to buy the kids anything - between all the free stuff dh will get from Scholastic and his game buying/selling, and how much MIL Spoils them). It's the slippery slope of what to get BM, if we get something big for LM. Dh thinks my parents wanted to give BM a big gift though. If that works out, we will just go with that. They will both get a nice gift for Christmas Day, then. They don't seem to notice or care who their gifts are from, at this age.

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For the final news, BM's class is the "richest" in the school. Was the same class last year, and they always raised the most money for any fundraiser.

At the beginning of the year, teacher asked for about $500 for some software for the kids. The money was raised in an instant. When I saw the request, I thought, "pfffft," since I just wrote out a pile of checks to the school for field trips, supplies, etc. I initially thought, "Maybe we can contribute around Christmas." But when it took him 5 mintues to raise $500, I thought, "nevermind." We focus much more on giving time than money, at this stage in our lives. Seems like a *time* giving year. & I appreciated not feeling the pressure to help, once the money was raised.

That said, I think the techer was so surprised/amazed, he decided to ask for even more. (Why not???). HE asked for money for a video camera for the classroom. BUT, he did it through some donation site, while we were on vacation. Where he was limited to only certain retailers. I Was just showing dh this week, and he said, "What? I can get that for 25% the price." I looked, and no one had contributed one cent. I told dh, "The other parents may have a lot of money, but they aren't stupid." No one wants to pay way more than they have to! (I have found a lot of our well off neighbors are actually pretty money wise and frugal, so I wasn't surprised at all to see the parents balk at this purchase).

So, dh contacted him and told him we would offer to just donate the equipment - we could get it for $100.

I am glad we waited for a more "fitting" opportunity to help. Dh is excited to help with their video projects. With a camera, they can get started!

2011 IRA Contribution Limits

October 15th, 2010 at 07:47 am

**It's official that 2011 IRA Contribution Limits will remain unchanged for 2011. (Our tax research company calculates the changes every September - I just remembered to look). IRS will make an announcement in the next couple of weeks, probably.

For whatever reason, they didn't calculate 401k limits this year. I presume the $16,500 max will stay the same (my educated guess).

A Very Pleasant Surprise!

October 14th, 2010 at 10:32 am

Knock on wood, but I think it is official that our financial luck is turning around.

I feel like ever since I smashed the side of my van last year (into a pole), it's just been one thing after another! $1k here, $2k there. Neverending big bills and suprises.

Turning point? We didn't end up spending much of anything for our Hawaii trip. BM suddenly doesn't need $1k+ of dental work, after all.

The latest? I got our flood insurance renewal. IT was supposed to cost an extra $1k, for this year only. (The amount of our flood insurance is 100% political. I've ranted before. It was a 500-year flood zone or something, when we bought our home. We were skeptical and have always had flood insurance - we live in a basin next to a river - it's kind of "duh" thing. Since Katrina and all that, we have received a lot of focus for being in a very similar situation. The plus is that there is ton of money being piled into improving levies here. The bad is that we are now considered a 10-year-flood zone. Rolleyes Seems about as ridiculous to me as the 500-year designation. The rates we pay for our flood insurance still depend on the whim of all the politics. We were supposed to pay higher rates for the year 2010 (though certainly not what we probably should pay for a 10 year flood zone!!). We were going back to $300/year annual rates for the next 2 years, ideally until levies improved enough to warrant 200+ year protection.

So, as I understood it, we would need to cough up $1300 for this year. I haven't really focused on the "hardship" of that. Was just relieved we were getting so many breaks in the interim, until this is all worked out. But, all the same, it was going to hurt our bottom line this year.

So, I got the renewal, and I Was pretty pissed off, to get a bill for $300. I told dh that everyone was an idiot who didn't know what they were doing.

But I called my insurance agent today, and since we have had "continous coverage" for "so long," we get to keep the old rate. Big Grin

I am still a little skeptical, but I have it in writing.

I was feeling uncomfortable moving $3k from savings to our ROTHs, this year. Wanted to be a little better off with the savings. However, I will probably fund $2k from our tax refund. & wala, here is another $1k I Didn't expect. So I am feeling more confident about reaching our financial goals for the year.

I am so happy about this! IT's like I found about $2500 during the last 2 weeks alone. What a load off! Big Grin

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

To celebrate, I am setting up an appointment with our auto mechanic. I really thought we could just live until next summer with the broken AC thing. Meanwhile, it's been HOT here. So, I give up.

It's supposed to cool off in a few days, and it might not matter at this point. But, I suppose I no longer have any reason to suffer through any more freak hot spells. I don't expect it to be much to fix - just a recharge. Will see.

Random Updates

October 12th, 2010 at 12:05 pm

**My arm has been poked, prodded, zipped and zapped, and apparently nothing is wrong with it. I feel relieved that it cost so little for all that. (I think, anyway. Will see what future bills say). $50 for a MRI and $10 for an ultrasounds. Since we surpassed our deductible for the year, we seem to be only left with very small/reasonable co-pays. Phew!

Since they found no mass/tumor/cyst with the MRI, they were concerned it could be a blood clot. Which is why I went in for an ultrasound (immediately). They found nothing, so I am back to the original diagnosis that it seems to be nothing.

I still can't get into the head/neck doctor for a couple of more weeks! So I still have to figure out the lump on my neck. But I suppose it's nice to put the arm thing behimd me and focus on the neck. (Verus facing 2 different medical issues at once).

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My Grandma seems to be going downhill pretty fast. I can't help but feel like it was REALLY the right thing to visit her. One of those things were it didn't make much financial sense at the time. Hopefully, one of the few times I will ever have to make a decision like that.

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My job is uber frustrating because Congress can't pass timely tax legislation. I giggle a little when anyone talks about tax planning. It's an art we have long gave up on even trying in the tax profession.

So, I Read this article today - which sums it up and shows how things will affect the average taxpayer.

I hadn't run the numbers as I have been in blissful denial, waiting for tax patches and extended tax breaks. But, according to this article, I can expect to lose $200/month to income taxes, next year. Figures. *sigh* I'll wait until 12/31 to run the numbers myself, and see what the heck to do about it.

I also heard the state raised taxes, but no details (not sure yet if it affects income taxes).

But yeah, the gist of the article is that Congress may not have decided anything, but payroll tax withholding tables need to be finalized soon, for the year 2011.

Delays to Tax Tables May Dent Paychecks

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405274870468980457553...

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I started reading the 4000-ish page series. Songs of Fire & Ice. A Game of Thrones is the first book.

Took dh a year to finish it. He finished the 4th book in Hawaii. 3 more books are due in the series. He says it is by far the best series he ever read, but is frustrated since it really is just a 7-book story with no real ending to any one book.

I've been putting off the undertaking, but had thought maybe I would have time to read the first book on vacation. (Instead, we didn't have much down time - lots of eating, napping, hiking - not a lot of reading).

So, dh keeps leaving the book around the house very conspicuously.

Finally, I wasn't feeling well over the weekend and the kids were bouncing off the walls. They were home from school all week, and usually I get them out of the house much more than dh. So, a week with no school, and a sick mom on the weekend, didn't bode well for them. So I finally told the dh, "If you take the kids to the park, I will start that book." Which he had placed somewhere near my sick bed over the weekend - with a nudge nudge. I Was really in no mood to read, but I was in the mood for some settled down kids.

So, I am committed. I am hoping to read 3 books by the end of the year. Will see. First book is 800 pages, but I know one of them is 1300 pages. But, it's going fast.

As such, I won't meet my "12 book" goal for the year, but an equivalent amount of pages? Maybe.

Anyone else read the series?

Halloween & VG Admiral Shares

October 8th, 2010 at 08:30 am

The kids are set for Halloween. I am not crafty at all. Usually we just buy BM a costume, give LM a hand-me-down, or request that they both wear some past year costume.

The kids wanted to be Mario/Luigi this year, so I just bought them new costumes. Was about $70 for the both, with shipping, but I had a $20 rebate I applied to that. I could have gotten some really dumbed down costumes for about $20/each (but then I'd have to buy the red/green shirts too, etc., etc.). So, I just got the deluxe costumes that came with everything. They were very cute. They even come with inflatable little tummies - LOL. I bought on the large side so they could wear more years.

MIL kept insisting she must hem the pants on LM's costume. Rolleyes I told her it was fine, we could tuck the pant leg in his socks. Since he grows a mile a minute, I just didn't see the point. (I haven't looked at the costume since we got back and won't be surprised if it's been hemmed!)

BM's costume fit better than expected. I didn't buy big enough, I guess, to last very long. Well, LM has many more years of Luigi ahead of him, then.

Anyway, the kids are happy. I only spoil them like this once in a blue moon (this may be the first time?). LAst year, BM was content with some cheap dracula costume at the drug store, and LM Was content with his choice from the hand-me-down/old costume pile. Plus, I imagine they will wear these costumes another year, the both of them, at least.

I REALLY need to go through the old costumes this weekend and see what we can sell. I think there are a couple that are too small - will have dh list on Craigslist. This will help whittle down the cost for this year.

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I saw this post on MyMoneyBlog:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/vanguard-lowers-minimum-balance-r...

Admiral shares mean lower expense ratios. The new minimum is $10k for a couple of funds we already have.

I checked because I thought it was possible we had $10k in one fund, but we didn't (more like $6500).

BUT, it is interesting because I am still waiting on my profit sharing rollover. I hadn't decided what to do with it. Now I am thinking of going with the simple allocation I have for dh - Total Stock Market & Total Int'l Funds. The expense ratio is roughly half for the admiral shares.

In fact, I may just put dh's money into a Target fund (I have always kept his more simple) and I may just do a lazy type portfolio with those and some sort of bond fund, for my own money.

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10/15 is the big tax deadline. My boss needed some help with the tax software yesterday - he was filing our profit sharing plan's information return.

I hadn't thought about it, but I hadn't got a statement of the 2009 performance yet. I estimated some returns in Quicken - don't remember what percent I used. I am hoping today that I get my updated statement. Seems to me if he had enough info to file the return, he can give us our balances. I usually get them some time around 10/15. So I am hoping I get that today.

He told us in January to get ready to roll the money over, since he was closing the plan. Maybe he will get that rolling soon, too, while top of mind. I am upset to lose the benefits, but am looking forward to managing my own money. The plan cost a fair amount (administrative fees, brokers, etc., etc.), and these admiral shares will be much cheaper!!! Anyway, I opened a non-ROTH IRA to roll the money into - probably around March. Just waiting waiting waiting. But the timing of this Admiral share thing may work out then. Because really, I have been kind of paralyzed by choice. I chose a Vanguard IRA, but no idea what to do from there. I've got $1k here and $5k there, and dh's IRA might be up to about $20k. So this will be a big chunk of money to manage (I expect it to be about $45k).

Finances in Order - Part 2

October 7th, 2010 at 08:40 am

Just noticed someone moving into a house which had been on the market for MANY years. Maybe 2-3. I don't know - the house has been clearly empty forever.

Bank owned - was asking about $250k. With a little digging, I found that it sold for $193k.

A lot of the same model houses sold in a flash when priced at $199k (which meant bidding wars and final sales prices around $220k at times).

Some of the banks have been kind of slow - and living in some sort of dream world. THough, certainly not all of them have been like that.

Guess this one finally woke up.

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My finances were mostly in order, but when I went to transfer money to my savings account, I was locked out of the account.

Which, of course, worried me a bit. I figured out that Quicken had been unable to retrieve data the last week or so, and so assumed that maybe that is why my account got locked.

So, I begrudgingly called today (not my favorite thing to do). This is a large credit union, and I immediately talked to someone, and had the problem solved in about a minute. They beat Chase, because I didn't have to sit on hold for a long time or deal with those "say yes" systems which never work.

OF course, when I Called today, I realized the phone service was 24/7. So I could have taken care of it last night! Will have to remember for next time. (We called Chase Saturday, on the contrary) and they told us they couldn't help us until Monday. Kind of obnoxious).

If you want to know why I solely bank at credit unions. (Consider big banks for credit cards, on occasion, but that's about it).

Finances in Order

October 6th, 2010 at 06:21 pm

**I'll give it to Chase. The only reason I have a credit card with them is for their generous cash rewards. I consider them kind of the scum of the earth, along with all the other banks, otherwise.

But, I accidentally paid the wrong Chase credit card, and got dinged with $70 interest/late fees. Ouch! Any other time, I'd notice sooner, but I Was in Hawaii and not checking my account balances!

Dh got that squared away today, very easily. Phew. Makes you think how quickly all that stuff can add up. I am usually blissfully unaware of interest charges and fees. It was kind of insane.

On my online bill pay, I wrote DO NOT USE in "caps" for that bill. It's dh's old ancient/card and I leave it up there so I see if there are every any charges to it. Hopefully that will work.

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**Dh finally got around to depositing my paycheck from October 1. Phew! (I picked it up on Monday). Had some bills set to pay on Friday.

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**I got the American Express bill, so paid it off. We await all our rewards, and then will cancel the card after they arrive. Was good to make sure that was taken care of. I hate keeping track of more than one card with charges on it!

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**I had my MRI today. A few people asked when I would hear back. I Said, "No news is good news!"

All I can say is, never get an MRI on your arm. The most uncomfortable experience ever. 45 minutes in that thing!

But yeah -they just had me in a really uncomfortable position, and I couldn't move my arm afterwards, for a bit. My arm went numb about 30 minutes in. They scanned me for almost an hour (did the contrast dye and all that).

OF course, they praised me for staying so still and getting through it, "especially with a bum arm." Thankfully, my arm feels totally fine. I really felt bad for anyone who had to do that with painful arm maladies. Seems like they could make it a little more comfortable. Big Grin

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I can't help but notice that dh has been procrastinating about his own MRI. *sigh* Kind of want to kick him in the butt!

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My other doctor appointment got delayed 3 weeks. Ugh! Doctor was sick, and it is apparently very hard to get into the head/neck department. (Generally, we can get into see any Doctor pretty quickly).

I can't say I was sad to skip the appointment. I wasn't feeling great Monday. Doc was sick. I returned to work and some major germs had been making the rounds. Ugh! I have been trying to avoid all the germs.

Just annoyed I have to wait 3 more weeks.

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If it's not overly serious, I expect to hear about my MRI results next week. If I get a phone call sooner, I will know to worry!

Mixed Financial News - Dentist

October 6th, 2010 at 11:32 am

Starting with the good news, BM's dental quote of $1800 has been downgraded to $650. $1150 lower than expected. Yipee!!!!!

(Now that I think about it, I suppose that lowers my tax refund estimate by about $250 - but that's okay. I am still ahead by about $900 then). Phew!!!

They decided they can't do the retainer thing for another year since he doesn't have one of his permanent molars yet. (I don't know if they just missed that part last time, or what).

That is one expense I am estatic to delay.

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

The dental news is mixed. My forever dentist is retiring. I knew it would happen some day, but am really bummed.

I tried a couple of dentists when we moved here - very HIGHLY recommended - and they were total scam dentists.

I told dh he could be the guniea pig this time. I just so do not look forward to the new dentist search. Dh said "Now we can have a local dentist." Pfffft. I will take any dentist within 200 or so miles, if they are honest and reasonable. I wouldn't hold my breath if I Was dh. Wink

Anyway, I have no idea what to do!

I think we can find an honest dentist. But, what I worry about is finding a CONSERVATIVE dentist.

For one, I Was told a decade ago that I needed all my fillings replaced. I understand a new dentist may be cautious and want to start from scratch. My fillings are ancient, yes. But, I REALLY do not see the point to drill and do work when it doesn't need to be done. So, I think this will be my biggest challenge.

Recommendations sound nice, but my conclusion is that the average person is really gullible when it comes to dental work. As evidenced by glowing reviews for dentists who wanted to charge me LOTS of money for clearly unnecessary work.

I'd also prefer a more experienced dentist, though one that is not retiring this decade either.

Picky picky picky, huh? Big Grin Dh has a dentist friend about 150 miles away. HE helped us sort these scammy dentists out so I know he is our type dentist. We can ask again if he recommends anyone a little closer, I suppose.

Either way, I expect our dental bills to go up. We are used to the "forever patient discounts" and the super conservative dentist. *sigh*

The first dentist who doesn't want to replace all my fillings, will be the obvious winner. Worried it will be a long time to find said dentist. (My current dentist is the one I've had since I Was 4?)

Financial Goals Update

October 3rd, 2010 at 09:51 am

Well, I had time to pay all the October bills and see how much I needed for the credit cards, etc.

We hit the $24k cash mark, which we may or may not have hit recently. I have been treading water at about $22k all year (goal is $30k - saving $1k per month - just one thing after another this year with expenses though!)

I don't think it's as good as it sounds. A lot of big bills are due in December, and not much in the interim, so our cash balance builds up a bit before the 12/31 landslide of bills. We get an extra $1k flood insurance bill this year, to boot. (Plus, BM still needs over $1k in dental work).

So, I think I Will be lucky to end the year at $22k. Ugh!

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As such, for my 2010 goals, I have only been tracking how much I put away. Not how much spending I have been doing from the savings account for what will go down as probably our most expensive year ever (medical bills, if nothing else).

My goal was $11k to savings, and I am up to about $12,400 now. I was going to put the extra cash (above $11k) at the end of the year to my ROTH, but now I don't feel comfortable doing that. I am just going to wait until the end of the year and see how everything pans out. I may delay the IRA funding until March.

My goal was to put $4080 to my IRA, of which I only put $1080 for the year.

I am expecting $2k in tax refunds with the way the year has been (plenty of medical deductions). I didn't change my withholding because it was just a really unique year. What would usually be breakeven will be $2k back with all the medical and dental deductions.

So, I expect to put that into my ROTH. I think I can swing the last $1k from savings, this year.

The other good thing (knock on wood, because the year isn't over) is I decimated my long-term cash savings account at the beginning of the year for our new medical out-of-pocket amount - $6k. I transferred that out and expected to spend it on medical bills. In the end, they seem to only be charging pennies above our $3k deductible, so I am starting to be optimistic that I already have a good $3k set aside for next year. (Though cautiously optimistic since I have a slew of medical tests coming up. What a year!).

I think I will revise my cash goal to $25k (I give up on $30k), and will start maxing out my IRA after that point. Dh may be able to fund his own IRA next year, so I won't sweat it too much at the moment. It's somewhat ironic that after so many years of him not working, that this is by far our worst retirement contribution year. It is also by far the most expensive year we have ever had. (Between that and losing my work retirement benefits - it's just been a bad year). Ample planning makes it seem like "no big deal," but I am stressed about being prepared for the next obstacles to come our way. That's life - there is always something.

Lazy Laundry

October 3rd, 2010 at 08:15 am

I recently declared myself to be a "Cut a Lot of Corners" mom. I kind of realized that a most of the moms I know seem to really struggle with priorities.

On the flip side, I know that I often give off the impressions of some sort of perfectionism. Which is laughable since I don't do half the things most my mom friends do. Rolleyes I suppose it's funny that I just kind of am putting two and two together. I decided to add a category in my blog called "Cutting Corners."

Anyway, I just read this post from small notebook (which got me thinking about all this initially when she started blogging about her own shortcuts):

http://smallnotebook.org/2010/09/21/the-guide-to-imperfect-b...

A great post!

Laundry is one of those things I don't really *get.* While everyone else is griping about how it is the worse chore ever, all I can think is that it is the EASIEST chore ever. The machine does all the work - doesn't it? Throw it in? Take it out? What else is there to do?

Aw, this post reminded me. Sorting, folding, ironing. Yeah, I don't do any of that!!

First off - our number one rule is no dry cleaning. Not only is it expensive, but dh is allergic to the chemicals. Thus, we have a good excuse to never waste our money on dry cleaning. We just shop accordingly.

My main rule is no ironing. I will iron something on occasion, but again, I refuse to buy anything that needs constant ironing. I would just go insane. I HATE ironing. I am sure this surprised dh when we first married. His mom delighted in ironing all his clothes (probably sheets and towels, too). & though I don't mind most household chores, the first thing I told him was, "I don't iron." I don't think he believed me at first, but it's just one of the few things I have completely refused to do.

WE generally put the kids' laundry away, but instead of folding it neatly, we just kind of lay everything flat in the drawers (huge time saver). Dh and I tend to leave our laundry in laundry baskets. He does most the laundry, though I certainly don't mind doing it - and do it often. We don't sort anything but the obvious reds and tie dye stuff we don't want to bleed. New clothes I always wash with my dark work clothes first in case they bleed. This always works.

My work clothes are another story. Most of them need to be washed in cold water, delicately, and hang dried. I have a drying rack in my closet and so wash those once a week and hang them on the rack. (I don't let dh touch these - and he is currently banned from my swimsuits after ruining one in the dryer). It's generally quicker/easier than folding or hanging. I tend to leave most my clothes there (on the rack) as I wear them over and over.

Bed sheets - we are the same way - tend to just wash them and put them back on the bed. So not a lot of folding. The towels tend to stay in the laundry basket until someone folds them and puts them away. I think we probably fold them more than not, but the thing is we don't do it all at once - they may sit a few days before we put them away.

Thus, we always have plenty of clean laundry. This is not a chore we ever get behind on (probably a must since we tend to have pretty small wardrobes). But we don't spend time making it more complicated than it has to be.

I LOVED doing laundry in our condo. The laundry room was right outside our unit. Back then we would save up laundry for a while and then do 4 loads at once. Clearly we didn't fold it all and hang it all up immediately. I always thought having a communal laundry room was a plus, myself. Big Grin

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It was a funny exercise having MIL stay at our house all week with the kids. The exact same concept. She just made everything so much more complicated than it had to be.

It was funny because she was total Martha Stewart - of course everything was immaculate when we came home. But she was too tired to heat up our frozen meals every night (more like, too tired to clean up after) so it sounds like they ate fast food every night. I just thought it was kind of funny. When she was younger she truly did it all. Out of practice and aging, she tired out by dinner. But she decided running around and making the house immaculate every second was more important than eating well. Poor kids! I can only imagine all the fumes of constant house cleaning that they had to endure. Nothing they usually experience. Wink

Since she did 10 times the work we would ever do (& there are TWO of us!), it was funny how she would go on and on how we do SO MUCH. Dh and I just kind of roll our eyes. Not really?

Financial Chores & A Bug

October 2nd, 2010 at 10:45 am

There's a bug going around. I guess LM was puking 2 nights ago (no one told us, which kind of annoys me), and so BM woke up puking this morning. Poor kid!

The irony is that after over 2 years, I think this is the first bug the kids have gotten at school. Kind of amazing, really.

I think daycare was a good investment in that sense. We were all sick as dogs for about a year straight, but we all seem to have immunity of steel, since then. I don't care what my non-daycare friends say - regular playdates are no match for spending all day eating and sharing sinks and a toilet with 10 other kids. IT was a horrible, horrible year, but the many years that have followed have been illness free.

Until this week - but this seems to be a pretty mild one. (When the kids had pink eye - we have NO IDEA where we came from - no one else at school ever got it).

The silver lining is that we don't have to go anywhere this weekend. I can look on the bright side - especially if he is good as new in a couple of hours like most the kids have been.

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Today I updated Quicken.

Ugh! I did it again. I made a payment to the wrong Chase card, and didn't realize it since we were on vacation. The payment was due yesterday, of course. So I logged in to a large balance and a $25 late fee.

I paid dh's card (our only non-shared credit card I believe) so will have him call them in a bit. Last time they were very nice about it but we had found it before the due date. I was thinking that if they don't remove the late fee, that's it! Then I remembered I Was due a $250 rebate soon. I guess I don't care either way - the $250 is worth it. Though I am sure they will remove the fee. Well, will see. I did that once a while ago and tried to be more careful about it, but I suppose I was in a hurry paying bills before vacation.

Anyway, our investments seem to be doing well this month. I hadn't updated our mutual fund balances in quite a while.

I need to sit down and pay all the bills for October still, and then see where we are at. I also need to get dh's new American Express card in Quicken so I can see the charges and pay the bill. We get a large amazon gift certificate and a free kindle for that, in a couple of months.

So, I made some progress but still have some work to do before I see where we are at, post-vacation. In the end, I think all we spent was $200 for the rental car, and $250 for the zip line (paid in full with future Chase rebate). My savings numbers should be looking up, as a result. I thought our total cash outflow would be much higher!

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It will be a while before we think about the heat - still very summery here - ran the air yesterday it was so HOT!

Survived the Zip Line, Vacation Update & AC Fix

October 1st, 2010 at 05:58 pm

So, I survived the zip line!

Actually, I got pretty nervous just before. The anticipation on the long drive there, and second guessing myself as I saw the zip lines. (The first one was more of a test and didn't look too scary, but the rest sure did look scary!)

Of course, the irony was that everything on their website (and all over the internet) was how this company had the best safety rating, etc., etc. So when you get there, you pretty much have to sign your life away. Just what I want to read immediately beforehand: "$@!# happens!"

So I was nervous on the first couple (the second zip was the longest/fastest - great!). But, in the end it was easy peasy. I let go and looked down and was totally fine. (I am usually terrified of heights, but I think it just felt very safe. I think I usually get more terrified in the ferris wheel - was more like a tame amusement park ride).

IT was fun, and I am glad we did it, but it really wasn't *that* fun! Not sure I'd spend the money again. Dh and I both agreed. Of course, he really wants me to bungee jump (& he himself wants to skydive). To those, I say, "No Thanks!" I think the zip was good for me. Big Grin

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We missed the heat wave, but it is October 1 and it feels like a billion degrees. Everyone was in shorts (some little siblings in swim suits) when we picked up the kids from school today. IT will be about 90F today. (It was triple digits while we were gone - I hear LA was 113F or so - oy vey!)

As we drove home today, and sweated in the car, I told dh I gave in. We will take the car in for a AC service. I give up waiting for next summer = yeesh!

Actually, we got some generous cash gifts for our anniversary, so the trip was probably 100% paid for. As I got in the car and said "Oh yeah - forgot about that - didn't think I would notice in October," I told dh since we spent no money on the trip (aside from the zip line) that we should just fix the AC.

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I am so glad we had the weekend to recover. Our flight was going to come into SFO at 10pm last night, but got delayed 4 hours. My mom is a night owl and was nice enough to come pick us up at 2am. We were the only people in the airport - talk about weird! The place is enormous - clearly we were the last to arrives for the night.

The cab either to their house or ours (45 minutes or 1.5 hours) would have cost a fortune - so I was so relieved. (Not sure how feasible a hotel was at that hour!) It is not the first time my mom has gotten us out of a bind like that. We were able to sleep 6 hours before coming home. Phew!

We at first thought maybe we could get a flight to San Jose, or home (though getting our car and keys back would be an ordeal later). But, kind of nice to think we could be home sooner, or just fly into our parents' backyard. BUT, then we remembered the flight curfew in SJ And how there was just no way. Going to Sacramento meant catching 2 flights (more risk of delays), so we decided the 4-hour delay was our best option. We had plenty of time to drive the 2 hours home, late this morning, and refresh and relax a few hours before the kids got off school. Phew!

The airline gave us two $250 coupons for future flights, for the trouble. We are considering Florida or Vegas - we would have to buy tickets within the year. Something to consider. At the least, could be a mostly free Vegas weekend for us in the future. The airfare was so reasonable to Florida last I looked though. Could be a good opportunity to visit dh's Grandfather again. We can stay anywhere for free with MIL's timeshare points.

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Kauai was the best vacation ever. I don't care if I ever travel anywhere else again. With MIL's timeshare, all we really need is the airfare to go back again. (Which isn't horrible, particularly for 2 of us).

I was so surprised how little we had to spend there. The first day there we loaded up on bug spray, sunscreen, food, etc.

All the beaches in Hawaii are public, and we did not have to pay to park anywhere (so unlike California!).

We splurged on 2 three-figure meals, because of the money we received. Other than that, it was pretty low key. We could have easily lasted on $200 for the week. We had fast food a couple of nights, cooked in, and mostly had cereal/fruit for breakfast and sandwiches for lunch.

We had many runs for neosporin (the reef got me! & I was so careful...), aloe vera, etc., etc. Dh burned, and I turned a few shades darker than the dark tan I already was. But we were able to get small enough sizes to bring all that back.

I was impressed how we did with everything. We left an almost full bottle of bug spray (could not find a smaller size to take with us) and a fair amount of peanut butter and jelly. We went through all the rest of the food - or was able to bring most of it back with us. (We probably could have brought back the PB - but dh didn't want to mess with it).

Things we loved:

-I swear I saw no bugs. When you think tropical island - you think BUGS! But we really didn't see any. It's like paradise!

-We could drive anywhere in about 30 minutes - and so much variety to see.

-The night sky was AMAZING. I don't think we have ever seen such a star-filled sky, and we were right outside a populated area early in the evening with lots of lights. Dh said, "Forget camping. We should plan our next trip with a meteor shower." I kept meaning to wake up in the middle of the night and sneak outside to REALLY see some stars, but never made it out much past 8pm.

-With the exception of one trail along the Na Pali coast (which was just amazing) we never really came across many people. So, we are remembering the time of year for a future trip. We had most trails and sights completely to ourselves!

OF course, we were just plain lucky. It barely rained the whole time we were there, and we just had amazing views. When we got to the crowded trail, we weren't sure we could find parking, and this guy comes buy and says - "You want my spot? I am leaving." IT was the best spot in the parking lot - was just so funny. Kind of how the whole trip was.

I'd say the only downside was the snorkeling. MUCH better in Oahu. But, still fun, nonetheless. We were able to rent snorkel gear VERY cheaply for the week. That was a plus.

Having to spend all day in the airport on our last day, was the least of our worries. We had too much of a great trip to complain.

Not to mention that we just feel completely spoiled rotten!

Oh well - Back to reality!