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Archive for November, 2010

2011 Goals

November 30th, 2010 at 07:12 am

I usually keep my goals pretty simple. That said, I don't really have any new goals for 2011. I am just cutting and pasting a lot from 2010.

Financially, I only expect to put about $8k in our ROTHS (about 10% gross). But, I will stretch and make my goal to max out for 2011. If nothing else, we are starting contributions in January, and I can use next Jan, Feb, March, April to max out. IF we are in a good cash position in Jan 2012, we can max out.

Our cash savings will be $400/month come January. I need to work enough overtime to cover our medical deductible (2012). Otherwise, no idea where that will come from. Those two add up to $8k. & interest and credit card rewards, etc., go to cash.

Of course, come fall 2011 I expect my spouse to be working a bit. Our primary goal will be to build up cash. Then, mortgage pay down would probably come second (assuming the ROTHs are maxed).

HOUSE - I completed some long range goals in 2010, but pretty much ignored the shorter term goals. Will try again for 2011. (My motivation feels about a 0 at the moment. Too much other stuff going on).

PERSONAL GOALS - those are all about the same. My quest to read a book a month in 2010 ended up being about 1 every other month (Which was good). But, now I got this giant series to read. Dh read it in a year, so I can certainly read it in a year!

I am pretty content at the moment, so my main goals are the financial ones, and it's good to keep on top of the house stuff, because there is always something!

**Financial**

[ ]$8,000 to Savings ($5k house/car & $3k medical)
[ ]$10,000 to ROTHs (Max)

**House**
[ ]Fix Gutter
[ ]Plant Fruit Tree (February)
[ ]Replace Kitchen sink caulk
[ ]Paint BMs room (maybe)
[/]Price Security Screen Door
[ ]Price Security Upgrades
(I was going to move the last 2 to "buy," but expect too many expenses in 2011 with house and medical. Same story as 2010).

**Personal**
[ ] Read "Game of Thrones" series
(like, a million pages?)
[ ]2 weekends away, with just dh
[ ]1 camping trip
[ ]More trips to the cabin
[ ]More biking & hiking

Money Shuffling

November 27th, 2010 at 10:59 pm

My plan this year was to bump my emergency fund from $12k to $15k.

To do so, I was going to add $3k to my cash ROTHs.

I expect a $2k tax refund due to all the medical bills (& thus, many one-time tax deductions). I will file my taxes in early Feb. and apply the refund to our 2010 ROTH contributions.

I've been waffling back and forth on that other $1k. It was my goal all along, but next year I will be sacrificing cash for retirement savings. I don't know if I want to tie up another $1k in retirement (even if I could easily pull it out in emergency!)

Anyway, I was just paying all the bills for December, and seemed flush with cash. I finally figured that since I was charging my insurance premiums (new feature) that I was skipping one month of payment. Since I don't have to pay for the December charge until the credit card bill was due in January.

Wala! I rounded up and put $750 as a transfer to my ROTH in December. I expect $250, easily, in Christmas cash to cover the rest. Problem solved!

It's cheating a little, but this was a really unexpected benefit to being able to charge my insurance. I was just looking forward to the cash rewards. Big Grin

Insurance Insurance Insurance

November 27th, 2010 at 06:55 pm

**Weird. Got an "overdue bill" for my supplemental life insurance. It was due 10/1. !! I looked back and couldn't find the bill, nor any payment for it.

No idea what happened with that! Set to pay it immediately, of course.

**While at it, I needed to transfer some money over to pay that (rather unexpected). So, decided to transfer the money to pay my property taxes, homes insurance, etc. December is a spendy month! About $4k in bills, money transferred, checks ready to mail.

**While at it, looked on line for the 10th time (on a whim) to see if new health insurance rates came through yet. Nothing, as of Wednesday.

Glad I checked! New numbers were there - so I could pay the December bill, etc.

Our insurance went up 12%. No surprise! I just worked $100/month increase in the budget. In the end it was $77 increase.

Of course, it was even better than expected, since they now take credit card payments for premiums. (They have always taken cc for everything but the premiums).

So, I figured I will earn about $15/month in credit card rewards, with that bill alone. Phew!

Other good news? Absolutely no change to our plan. I am not 100% sure if my surgery will be better in Dec or Jan. Financially. In the end, I don't think it will matter much. So, I don't have to stress about that. (If they raised the deductible or something like that - then it would be time to panic!)

Our health insurance is absurd, as usual, and gaining very fast on our mortgage payment. But, the flip side of the coin is I feel we REALLY got our money's worth this year, and we didn't pay much of anything after the deductible. (Knock on wood - still a month to go!). But, I am rather pleased with it.

In addition to all that, dh will probably be working next year, and can help shoulder the costs. IT would really be the only reason he needs to work. 15% of my income to health insurance - it's gotten pretty ridiculous over the years.

Free Deals

November 26th, 2010 at 10:02 am

**I just finished ordering my free 8x10 collage - Walgreens.

Decided to just do some Hawaii pictures.

It's a good promo because Walgreens is the only store we have within walking distance. (Can pick up in store). I was checking out their picture options and comparing to Shutterfly. One of these days I would like to print out some of our photos. Since the digital age, our pictures primarily seem to be stored online. I am sure there is lots of competition out there, too. But Walgreens is pretty darn convenient.

So I figured, what the heck. Print some Hawaii photos. We have some frames laying around. Will think of Walgreens next time I need photos. (Said could be ready in one hour! Pretty sweet!)

**I have $3 free MP3 from Amazon. I will have to ponder what I want to get since I paid for a few MP3s rather recently. It had been a long/dry spell between promos.

Of course, if I can't think of something, I am sure dh could use it (he already spent his free $3).

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I think free collages and free MP3s will be the limit to our Black Friday purchases. We have no shopping plans for today.

Sometimes dh is enticed by something, but this year only the online deals have been enticing. I know he has been picking up some Blue Rays on deep discount this week.

Happy Turkey Day!

November 25th, 2010 at 08:52 am

WE always host Thanksgiving. We got the job when we moved to a low cost area - we have more room than anyone else in the family. BUT, I also enjoy not having to travel for the holiday. (Now that I think about it, since we stay home for Xmas, and a local cousin does Easter, we don't travel much for holidays - how did that work out? Big Grin )

Anyway, but we do a potluck. Dh made some casserole and I whipped up my "5 minute fudge" and boiled some eggs this morning. Dh and kids helped a little more than usual with the cleaning. When I got home last night, the dining room was cleared and they had put out place mats and decorations, etc. Phew! This has been the easiest one thus far. (Maybe not so easy when the kids were smaller! But now they can help!)

This year, I am MOST grateful for having our entire family together for T-Day. I have hundreds of things to be thankful for, but that is the biggest one. Dh's Grandma is not getting any younger, and lord knows what we will do without her. She does the turkey and stuffing! So, I am grateful to get one more year of her expert turkey & stuffing, my dh's help, my dad's gravy, etc., etc. Everyone does their part, and after having so many health scares the past couple of years, I feel blessed to get another T-Day with ALL of my loved ones.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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P.S. Something else to be thankful for - the day our new external drive arrived, the old one started working. Not terribly reliable, but dh is getting all our files back, and says he rescued my spreadsheets. Woohoo!!

Just Chugging Along

November 21st, 2010 at 08:08 am

Trying to get as much done for T-Day as possible, because lord knows how next week will go.

Dh is handling the groceries/food, but we've been kind of lazy around here. The fam is helpful with picking up and vacuuming, but I am the only one who scrubs anything.

Yesterday, admittedly, I spent most of the day on the couch. We all seem to have this lingering cold thing, which isn't too bad, but doesn't leave much "umph" to get anything done. Which I think is why the house looks like hell - we haven't felt well the past 2 weeks.

So, my goal is to work until I drop, today. (Then maybe sleep all afternoon!)

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IT doesn't help that I Was asked not to eat/drink 4 hours before my biopsy on Friday. In the morning I asked dh to bring me a big refreshing soda when he picked me up. I had some snacks. I usually snack constantly, and I figured I'd be starving. I told him I was going to need a sugar infusion.

Later, I changed my mind. I said, "Just bring me water!" I was SO Thirsty.

Yesterday, I just felt thirsty and told dh I felt like that is why I went a step backwards. So I drank a ton of water yesterday and do seem to be feeling better today.

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Credit card update:

I resisted calling AmEx about weird charges that had not gone through yet. I am glad I did.

The "BMW" charge completely disappeared. I finally realized that our dinner the other night was a very similar amount, and narrowed it down to that. Doh!

IT wasn't the BMW I was thinking of. Wink

So I stared at the $109 and change cellular charge wondering what the heck it could be (still hadn't cleared), and it finally hit me that I just paid the cell phone bill. (What threw me off was the name and city it was showing up as - which made no sense).

I just knew I hadn't spent $100+ on anything, so was determined to figure that one out.

In the future, I will do as AmEx advises, and not pay attention to anything that hasn't cleared. Wink As they cleared, the proper names showed up on my statement.

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Today I whipped up an excel sheet, because I haven't had a chance to have dh dig out some older copies. (Says he has a late 2009 backup, which I can start over with for 2011).

I am mostly waiting for November to be over, to see where we stand for the year. Any unplanned expenses in December can be charged and paid in January. With using the cards, we are always paying last months' bills, so just how it is.

Having Quicken up and running has been MUCH better, but still feeling a little blind without my excel sheets. This will get me through the end of the year probably. Phew!

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I did some unexpected Xmas shopping yesterday. I forgot that the kids are expected to buy gifts (both of them this year) now that they have allowances. It's kind of dh's rule, and I am still adjusting.

Well, this is the first year that both kids are buying, and I found the perfect gift for them to go in on for dh. (Usually we just pick up something random last minute, because I forget?)

So, I am pleased with that.

I actually found a random catalog while cleaning up, that had a lot of gag gifts. I was trying to get ideas for my mom, and funny enough, didn't get any ideas. But, I found the perfect thing for dh. & then I saw this cute mohawk hat that screamed BM.

But, let me back up. I used to be a catalog shopper, before the days of internet. A habit I picked up from my mom, I suppose. With the internet, I generally get ideas from the catalogs, and then search out deals on the internet.

It doesn't always work out so well, but yesterday worked out pretty darn well!

The comic book set I bought for dh was on sale at Amazon. I grabbed something else from the kids' wish list to get the free shipping. (I am not sure we will give it to them for Xmas - but I rather buy that than pay about the same amount for shipping anyway).

I initially found a similar $40 hat for $15 on Ebay. I was actually pretty set to buy it, but on a whim did one last search, and found it for $5 at Children's Place. Score! This hat had a lot of negative reviews, which I Was set to ignore (it's a hat!). But, I peeked, and was glad I did. Complaints about the sizes running REALLY small. Which means the Ebay one would have been a waste. They had bigger sizes, which I ordered. phew. I also found a 20% off coupon online, so the hat ended up being $4.

I then did ask BM to help me find something for LM on the site. Might as well - was going to have to pay $5 to ship the $4 hat. There were some REALLY cute hats, but they were all baby sized. Which makes me feel even luckier that I got such a large sized hat for BM.

I gave up but they also had scarves for $4, and BM had been wanting one. I think it was more meant for toddlers, so will see. But it's $4 down the hole if so, and we know plenty of toddlers. The scarf I have in mind for a stocking stuffer.

I'll still keep an eye out for something for my mom, but if I don't find anything, I won't sweat it. We have gotten very casual with gifts over the years. We pretty much just buy my dad FOOD!

Updates

November 19th, 2010 at 06:03 am

I don't remember November ever being like this. It's like the stars aligned at crazy. It's usually my slowest, most relaxing time of the year. Will have to pass that up for this year!

Just a lot going on - work, home and everywhere.

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I am pleasantly surprised by our HOA. If nothing else, they do seem to have their finances in order.

Our first HOA (condo) was fine. No complaints. However, the fees were $250/month when we lived there (included cable, some utilities, and some nice facilities like clubhouse, pool, racquet ball courts, and stuff like that). The fact that it was an uber high cost of living area probably didn't help. Last I saw, the fees had risen to $400/month. Ouch! Glad we sold the place 8 years ago.

Our current HOA? Maybe a little more particular, but not much bite. (I'm to the point where I would complain more about them letting homeowners off easy - which I never thought I would complain about. But the economy has left little in the way of *pride of ownership*).

We just got notice that our dues would go down this year, by $5/month. (They are lower than they started at 9 years ago).

We bought in the community new, and they sent us a note this week that though they had completely paid off the clubhouse this year, they were not going to reduce our dues in light of foreclosures and lack of payment from many owners.

Honestly, I think it's a miracle they had the foresight to stay solvent. They also have an almost 7-figure repair reserves (which means I see more due decreases in our future. They are playing it WAY safe, but I have no complaints about that in the interim). In the end, our dues have stayed rather steady, even decreasing slightly, even while the economy has all gone to hell.

& I never thought I'd see the day I'd praise a HOA. Wink

So hey - good financial news!

The dues are around $72/month, but not apples to apples with our condo, by ANY means. For one, our HOA doesn't own our walls and roof!

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The kids finished their first trimester. Had conferences yesterday.

BM? He has the same awesome teacher as last year and is in academic heaven. I didn't expect to gleam much from the meeting.

LM? I was curious because though he seems to be doing great, and is mostly pretty "go with the flow" he has his difficult/stubborn side.

So, I was relieved that they both had glowing reports from their teachers. WE always get lots of compliments from the teachers, but I can't help but feel it's the school and the teachers who should get the compliments. (I know we raise our kids to be respectful, and that we emphasize doing well in school, but they can be a bit of handful if not properly challenged, etc. I can't take all the credit for them being VERY happy in their school environment). This is PUBLIC school, so I know it is a huge blessing.

I am also completely amazed by the technology factor and how they utilize technology to keep our kids challenged. I am still reeling from this whole lexile reading thing (which I wish they had when I was a child!), but now they are doing similar things in math. BM will have a completely custom/computer generated math curriculum come January. (Is that cool or what?)

Anyway, pleased with the kids' reviews, we treated them out to dinner. Their choice was Sizzler. Yum! We have a really nice one with a pretty big buffet. So, we ate well. (I think the kids chose it for the dessert factor - make your own sundaes).

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Got my dishes:



I think they are just beautiful! (The red is more of a deep maroon - love love love).

Out of 48 pieces, we had one broken bowl. So, maybe best I couldn't cancel my online order. Out of 3 boxes due to arrive, I think I can fish out one intact bowl.

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I've been flying blind on my finances. (My Quicken data in limbo!)

It doesn't help that with the Target card, transitioning out the Chase, and that not everyone takes AmEx - we have been regularly using 3 cards, plus some straggling expenses on the Chase. Make it 5, since dh insisted on using his own Chase. I finally talked him out of that - because moving from one cards to 4+ is driving me a LITTLE crazy - but will be a couple of charges there. (He is concerned if we need a backup Visa since the AmEx is so limited. I told him I would carry his card in my wallet - in case we ever needed it. He couldn't possibly carry 3 cards. Rolleyes )

So anyway, yesterday I had a few moments to sit down with dh and assess the Quicken situation.

I didn't lose ANY data! (Happy Dance). Over the weekend I need to search for any remnants of my excel sheets. Those, I probably won't be so lucky with (since he didn't back those up!)

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The Fidelity AmEx is interesting because they show transactions before they authorize. They have all sorts of disclaimers how not to call about those transactions because they have not posted.

Anyway, a weird charge for $2-ish had posted, which I have to ask dh about. It could possibly be for the online backup site.

But, in the "not cleared" area was charges to BMW, a cell phone company, and other companies I never heard of. I Was googling them all to clarify.

Um, seriously? We have had the card 5 minutes.

The thing is I don't think I can call to make a fraud claim because they haven't posted. Rolleyes I will read all the fine print on that later and maybe call them anyway (after I check with dh).

I am less happy with AmEx by the minute. Maybe time to shop some Visa reward cards. (Not that this has to be an AmEx thing, but who on earth could have our credit card info? we just got the cards)!

To be continued...

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Turkey Day - we provide the turkey and the place, but not much else. Maybe a few sides, etc. Dh is going to do some shopping today.

Xmas - Not much to do. I got LM that art stuff, and my parents are giving BM a hugely expensive gift (something nerdy - robotics thing). Dh will fill in the rest with his Scholastic vouchers - he is volunteering 24 hours or something (so means about $500 in books - though will donate most to the school). BM's teacher told us last time we donated 8 hours, he got 300 books from that. IT's a non-cash way to make a HUGE difference. His goal is to add 500 to his class library the next Scholastic sale. !!

Anyway, Dh's family is big into Xmas and he may buy some things, but I am not sure I will bother buying anything else for anyone. Maybe a work gift exchange and stuff like that. I prefer simplicity and a non-material Christmas, myself.

We don't necessarily buy big gifts for the kids every year. I didn't buy the art stuff for Christmas, but since we found something big for BM to open on Xmas Day, (even thought not from us), it seemed appropriate to hold the art stuff to Christmas, too.

The kids will get a zillion gifts from the in-laws, which is why we don't bother much with it. They don't seem to notice or care. As far as they are concerned, "Grandma" is in charge of Christmas gifts. My parents don't even usually buy them anything, and they are too small to think that is weird. Books and games from Scholastic are perfect for stockings and a couple of gifts under the tree.

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I've been writing down all our misc. purchases, and after adding everything from the credit cards today, that dh didn't tell me about. I think we have about $11 left for the rest of the month. In fact, may need it today for co-pays.

It's a work in process!

Money spent?

Medical $10
Gifts $20
Parking $10
Eating Out $70
Babysitting $15
Clothing $50
Music Downloads $5
Misc. $9
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$189

Today, I am going to sit down with dh and tell him how we have no more money for the rest of the month. (I can pull co-pays from medical savings, but rather not. The savings is for more substantial expenses!)

So, if we cut our gas and grocery spending through the end of the month - will buy us wiggle room. I need to immerse him in my own world so I don't have to do this every month. (& I have to take our spending limits more seriously, myself). We both have room for improvement.

Success!

November 17th, 2010 at 11:52 am

Got my CU's online deposit to work.

No more trips to the deposit paychecks! Will be real nice...

It took a little trial and error to get it to work, but not too bad.

Dh had some cash from his focus group, so will have to run to the bCU to deposit that.

Dh didn't see what the big deal is, (since I usually go on the way home, or he goes while he is at the grocery store or gas station right there), but he often forgets to make deposits for me, which makes me anxious. I think this will make life much easier. & considering we don't use our scanner much, might as well utilize it more.

We scanned it last night, and it showed up in my account around 11am today.

Updates & Links

November 17th, 2010 at 07:40 am

Get your Fico score for free:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/easy-cancellations-free-fico-scor...

I wasn't able to get mine (Easily) due to fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts. I didn't care enough to call and all that jazz. But I did check dh's score. I think it was 796 (as opposed to usual 800s) but we have made a mess with 0% credit card balance transfers and all sorts of activity the last few years. I'll take it (& assume my score is very similar). I don't remember the last time I saw his score, outside of our last refi.

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Adoption for cheapskates

http://gracefulretirement.blogspot.com/

Here was a good post. I knew state of California was very generous with foster-to-adopt program (will pay you quite well to adopt a baby. Yes, they pay YOU!)

A relative of ours has adopted two siblings, and had them both since the day they were born, through this program. (There may be more siblings in her future - the biological mother has 10+ kids in the system already. Very sad, but has been a blessing for our family).

What was eye opening about this post is that other states have similar programs.

It's a good reminder for those facing the high cost of adoption - that the state will pay you to take babies that no one else wants. I think people focus so much on private adoption, that they lose sight on all the unwanted babies in this country.

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Made an "impulsive purchase" of sorts.

We actually just asked for cheap dishes/silverware when we got married. We may have bought some of it. I don't remember spending much of anything.

The funny thing is that we get endless compliments on our cheap/plain dishes. Okay then!

They are getting worn, tired, chipped, and some broken/trashed (10 years later).

So, I know dh has talked about replacing them, or buying some supplemental dishes at least.

& then I saw them. I saw the most beautiful set of dishes in the Kohls ads. I looked them up online, and it was even better. Free shipping and glowing reviews about how sturdy the plates were and how much everyone's guests always loved them.

So, I asked dh when he got home, and braced himself. I thought he would hate them. He said, "Fine by me."

I felt bad purchasing them, because it's been a rough year, and it's really not a need. BUT, we decided to just get 12 sets (cheaper to buy sets) and keep the old plates as a backup (for large family gatherings and stuff).

Truthfully, I just bought the cheapest thing I could find to start, and have never loved them. As I went back and forth over this set, I just looked at them and thought, "I have never seen such pretty plates before. Those are mine!" & I finalized the purchase.

I spent about $180 - the sets were 50% off between coupons and sales.

Though the shipping was free, there was a surcharge, and I couldn't use my $10-off coupon. So, dh may be able to get the total down to $160 if he can find them in the store. He said he would double check today, for me. Big Grin

IF we can't cancel the order, we may be stuck with the shipping surcharge, but still worth a try to save $10. I know returns are easy with Kohls - we can just return to the store.

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I hit target the other day and tried my new RedCard. BM had absolutely no non-school pants that fit him any more. I ended up spending about $50 (new pants, a couple of shirts, socks, underwear). Plus, saved 5% off that. Not bad, for a new wardrobe.

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The weather here has been pretty warm. I am out of the heat contest as of Sat or Sun. Probably Saturday. I was upstairs putting away laundry and stuff like that and it was just FREEZING. I told dh that I knew I would survive, but that it was probably a good idea to test out the heater and make sure it was still working. Before winter really hit. (I was justifying, but I think it was a good excuse!)

I heated the upstairs to 68 and took a luxurious shower. The sad thing is that it got hot after that and the house has been mostly 68 - 72, in the days since. (I think warmer than otherwise, since I did warm it up about 8 degrees!)

This time of the year, there is really no point to go cold turkey. Turning on the heat 15 minutes for some extra comfort can't mean much to our gas bill. BUT, the longer we draw it out, the better I think we do in the winter.

I'd still like to make it to Thanksgiving, before turning the heat on again, but not holding my breath. We got a cold spell this week and it's already in the 30s outside. Hasn't gotten inside yet (still 68) but I think I will be cold in a couple of days! There is a big/cold storm coming through this weekend. Feels like spring to winter, overnight.

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Anyway, I am pleased with my plate purchase. I justified it as a birthday gift (b-day in a couple weeks) - I may get the cash to pay for it. If not, will get Christmas money.

Next year I feel we will really be tightening the screws, so hopefully that is my last hoorah for a while.

When we first had kids, our budget was so tight that it was hard to justify much of anything. I have been spending the last couple of years replacing things around the house and making LONG put-off purchases. I Was looking at the stockpiles around the house of stuff I have been buying on sale. Or, if I find something I really like (shoes, bras, whatever), I just buy extras for later. (That's a function of being picky more than frugality).

I think we are well equipped to have a spending freeze of sorts for a while. Phew!

For Jeffrey (& Chase Funny)

November 16th, 2010 at 01:26 pm

Today, I was just listening to a random radio station that was doing it's little trivia (to make you listen to the commercials - asks a question and then answers at the end of the commercials, I believe).

I was just about to get out of my car when the Trivia question asked was, "How much money is Jeffrey Strain trying to prepare an entire Thanksgiving meal with?" Something along those lines.

I know the answer to that one. $1

It was 92.1 in Sacramento. Big Grin

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In other news:

Um, I got an E-mail from Chase reminding me all about how they are changing my cash rewards to way less favorable terms.

Really???

You would think they would sneak that into the fine print, rather than shout it from the rooftop! I already got the clear as day letter about this.

I just think it's funny. Am I supposed to be excited and happy about this? ???

Did they notice I haven't used the card since I received the first notice? Wink

Backup Snafu

November 16th, 2010 at 07:03 am

Dh decided to pay for an online backup service to save our data.

For the most part, we have most of our computer files on external drives, and dh even backs those up once in a while.

My dad gave us a new drive about 2 months ago. We used it to replace our net disk.

I was telling dh about some free online storage I was thinking of trying. (Apparently, I should have, for my very few important documents!)

He had his eye on something that could back up the whole computer. But, it wouldn't back up the external drives. SO, he found another place - that was cheaper anyway.

For whatever reason, he didn't backup everything. Just what he thought was important - and I don't think he captured any of my spreadsheets or Quicken data.

The problem is that the process killed the hard drive. He now thinks it *burned out* being ran so constantly through the backup. (Maybe the other place had a good reason not to back those up!)

How frustrating is it to do something right, and then lose a lot of your data? Ugh!

The kicker is that the old net disk had everything from about "2 months ago." But that seems to not be working at all either. ??? So the only other backup he has is from September 2009. Thanks, Murphy!

In the grand scheme of things we are well backed up. & whatever didn't get backed up was not important. But it's pretty annoying to be so pro-active in protecting your data, and losing some of it in the process!

The only thing that saves my butt is that I downloaded a copy of our Quicken data just a couple of weeks ago, on another computer. It is unclear at the moment if dh made a newer backup. But 2 weeks ago, I can certainly live with.

My spreadsheets don't matter so much, since I had already figured out most of it through the end of the year. I think those will be easy to re-create (or to just start over 1/1). Most the rest I only really update once a year - so those should be fine.

Pictures, we always back up often, so those are fine. Dh puts them on CD and gives them to our parents, all the time. (It's a good backuo method!)

I am going to sign up for free online storage for my very own few important documents. Because I know dh meant well, but he didn't realize where some of my important documents were. & I don't want to have to re-invent the wheel again. I feel blessed that it's not too bad, this time, but I better cover my own butt for next time.

I will try out the free site and let you know what I think.

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In other computer news, dh finished fixing the upstairs computer. It is about 8 years old. He spent $250 (+ some hand-me-down parts) to fix it up. He tells me he thinks it should last another 8 years, easy.

The kids now have 2 computers at their disposal. (The other is just a hand-me-down - well, so is this one obviously - but had to put more $$ into it).

New Card Snafu / Computer Update

November 13th, 2010 at 06:44 am

Ugh!

I probably love Quicken because any credit card or bank account (MANY) I have had with them, have been easy to download, etc.

Not so for the Fidelity reward card. I can download all my transactions, but only at the end of the month, after the statement is closed.

Um, NOT helpful.

I had just sat down and had a financial meeting with dh, laying out how tight our budget is as we shoulder our own retirement contributions now. Retirement back to 10% is a must, January 1, and our budget is fine, but just not a lot of room for error.

I told dh we had $200/month Misc. spending and that at the beginning of every month we were going to have to keep a running total. Back to PAPER for that.

For the most part, this is fine. I can still look online and make sure I am capturing every misc. item (which shouldn't be that many). BUT, the other side is monitoring our gas usage and grocery purchases. 1 - to make sure we aren't going over budget. & 2 - to know which months we have more wiggle room due to lower grocery bills and stuff like that.

The only thing I can think of is to manually enter every gas and grocery purchase, into Quicken. (Then download the rest at the end of the month!) Manually write down every "Misc." purchase on paper. & the rest is rather fixed and can wait until the end of the month to download it.

It will be worth it, for the rewards. But will take some getting used to. I will also write them a letter about how I feel about their Quicken compatability - boo hiss. My little credit union let me download every day if I like. ???

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Dh landed a $65 focus group next week. IT's funny, because I will come home and literally have 4 messages from focus group companies, but we haven't qualified for any lately. (Actually, BM did one a toy one for a new company, but it turns out it was identical to one he did for our regular focus group company).

They have also been a little more "looking for moms" lately, whereas usually dh is the only one who qualifies for these since he does most the shopping. So he has been rather frustrated. Usually he will just say, "can I do it?" and he may qualify. These days, "women only!"

So, he is happy he got one.

I actually have to pay about $65 to renew my tax preparer PIN this year (it's a new thing, and my boss is being cheap, with the economy). SO, I figure that will pay for that!

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Dh is still working with the computer. He tried to convince me that spending $200 to upgrade our current computer was better than spending $250-ish for some crappy computer off Overstock.

I have been skeptical, and probably rightly so. So far, he has had to buy 2-3 parts rather unexpectedly because the old computer didn't have this compatibility or this compatibility. He had a hand-me-down external hard-drive, but then he couldn't hook it up AND hook up a DVD drive. The workaround cost money. His dad gave him a box that he had laying around, but the printer cable isn't compatible with the new box. Stuff like that! (I guess that would be a new computer problem too - fair enough).

HE worked all day on it Sunday and spent about $200. Yesterday he met his dad for spare/free computer parts. Last night he probably spent another $50. If his dad didn't live 100+ miles away, he'd probably have those parts too. But, he is anxious to complete the project. Was on hold all week until he was able to meet his dad (aka free computer part store - he is a hoarder of sorts).

I am hoping today it is up and running.

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I got my final Chase rebate. My Credit Union now offers remote scanning of deposits, so I am going to try that out this weekend. This check will be my test.

Fiscal Chores

November 11th, 2010 at 06:31 am

Ugh! I am drowning in fiscal chores, it feels like.

**Got my new Target card & ordered one for dh. I just put him as an authorized user, since it seemed easier. (We usually own all our cards jointly).

I couldn't add him until my card arrived, which I thought was kind of a pain. (I've always just applied for a joint card).

**My boss gave us the distribution forms for our profit sharing plan. He announced January that he was closing the plan - lord knows what took so long. I opened an IRA in Feb or March and have been waiting to roll it over.

I got to update my net worth by $1k (current year returns) - I presume it's been sitting in cash for quite a while, while getting the paperwork ready, etc.

The rollover into my IRA should be rather easy. But, now I have to figure out how to invest it. Doubling the retirement funds in our control will give me considerably more leeway to diversify (more funds, etc.). On the flip side, it is a lot more to manage. I haven't had control of this money before, so now I have to consider putting all the high return stuff in the ROTHs and the lower return stuff in the regular IRA. I will probably just stick it somewhere simple to begin with, and will think long and hard about our strategy. It's a lot of pressure, to suddenly double the retirement funds that I manage on my own, but without the fees in the profit sharing plan I think I can fare better for the long haul.

**Refinance? I think the odds are slim.

I have had mixed feelings on our mortgage broker, but don't want to go through the hassle for so little benefit, without knowing it is going to be an easy process with no B.S. So, I only want to refi with this guy.

Our broker was hard to reach. He was playing conservative (partly probably because he was just SWAMPED). He really didn't think it made sense for us to refi, and I tried to convince him otherwise.

Reverse psychology- genius, eh?

Sounds funny, but we quickly figured out our disconnect. I presume we will stay in this house forever. We've already been here a decade. (I also presume we will pay off the house in about 15 years' time, anyway. Maybe faster when dh returns to work).

For him, the presumption is everyone moves every 5 years, anyway. So he asked me point blank, "How long are you planning to stay in this house?" My reply? Forever!

He then conceded that it might make sense. IT would shave 3 years off the loan, afterall, if we stayed to the bitter end. Which is why I think it's a bit of a no brainer.

He then told me that he couldn't get the rate lock for long enough because it's so crazy. So, to just call him if rates drop slightly.

He was talking 4.25%/no points, but with the forever factor, I think I rather go 4% and pay a point. BUT, I since ran the numbers and the 4.25% was "keep the same payment and shave 3 years off our current payoff time." The numbers say it is worthwhile, though I hesitate to go through the whole process to save just over 0.5%. But, I suppose it makes sense if we can get the rate lock. (If no rate lock - forget about it!)

This will be a case of if rates drop at all, we will probably go for it. If not, oh well. It's hard to cry about 4.875%. Wink

Now I have to keep an eye on rates. I just printed out rates on Bankrate yesterday and will check it daily to see if it drops.

Psychologically, without the 4%, not sure I want to bother! I admit that part is psychological. 4%!!!!!!!

Brrrrrrrr...

November 9th, 2010 at 05:44 pm

I suppose you all took our warm weather! It's been darn cold, and very sudden at that.

I usually get in a fall cleaning mood, so hopefully this is what I need. Felt more like spring (or summer), until today.

A few more days of this and we may cave with the heat. For now, it's still 70-ish inside (warmth leftover from the hot weekend). Just depends if it heats up again, outside, before the house gets too cold.

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The kids still refuse to wear pants (only shorts!), but I did go through their drawers. Had a few donations from LM's drawers (outgrown clothes).

BM is out of jeans that don't look like flood pants. As soon as my new Target card arrives, we will go pant shopping there. (I think that's all he really needs though. Phew!)

To fill up the donation bag (to the brim), I went through my closet and threw a few things in. I haven't been strict with the "1 in/1 out" rules, but made up for it with this purge!

Some charity came by to pick up our donations today. It is so easy to stay de-cluttered with the curb service. I am so spoiled with that. (I don't care who it is - if they will take my crap from the curb - they can have it).

A toy purge is probably in order, before Christmas...

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I got my new Fidelity Retirement Awards American Express.

For the most part I am very happy with them - good first impressions. (The cards arrived within a week of applying - how about that?)

I have avoided Am Ex for a LONG time feeling they weren't quite as convenient as Visa.

Of course, our local utilities do not take American Express. Rolleyes Kind of a pain, but we will survive. (Extra pain, since the utilities are some of our bigger bills. All our small bills like netflix, gym, etc., will take it, but that's just $10/$20 per month versus the $160 in utilities I have to charge to my visa instead). Oh well!

I haven't found out for our cable/internet/phone provider, but that's another $150/month that will probably go to visa. Boo! (On the plus side, I haven't been charging it - I asked dh to get our online account set up so I could start charging it. It's a small/local company which is why I guess Visa will be our only option). For a bill like that, might as well get some cash back. Our Visa is 1% cash back.

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Vacation plans are forming for next year. Sort of, I guess. It's so far away.

LM declared that he wanted to go to Legoland some time. I agreed we should probably go before the kids got too much older (it's for small kids, really). Dh said he had 2-for-1 coupons. Kids free with adults, or something like that. Expires end of next year. So, that is our loose plan. Maybe next October since the kids get a week off school.

MIL can get us a free place to stay. We will drive. We decided maybe we should skip Disney (been there the last 4 years in a row) and that maybe we should do Universal Studios or Magic Mountain instead. If it's just a few days, I don't expect it to be a very pricey vacation. (More like, dirt cheap!). Last time we did LegoLand, we did a week-long trip and 2 days at Disney - for $1000-ish. I can't help but feel this will be significantly cheaper. & really, $1k wasn't bad.

I've never been to the Grand Canyon, and we have talked about driving through Vegas quickly (showing the kids some of the sights on the strip - but not a place to hang around long with small kids - a drive by would probably do for now). So, we may think about camping and/or making a bit of a road trip of it.

529 Plans - The Bad

November 8th, 2010 at 04:58 pm

10 Things 529 Providers Won't Tell You

http://www.smartmoney.com/spending/rip-offs/10-things-529-pr...

Hmmmm, and I can't help but feel this list is incomplete. I read recently that 529 plans were very restrictive in how much often you can buy/sell funds within the plan. (I do not know if this applies to ALL 529 plans, but the article I read seemed to hint that it did).

I recently said in the forums, that to point out the flaws of 529 plans used to be "blasphame," but lately, there is more media about the downsides.

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Not to say 529 plans don't have their place. I just think they generally have their place with wealth planning and higher net worth individuals.

I don't think the average person understands all the pitfalls, that is for sure. So I like seeing more of these articles.

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BTW, #4 is just plain stupid. Something like, "Save $100k and lose $5k of financial aid." Rolleyes Do you need $5k of financial aid if you saved up $100k for college?

But, I think #4 pointed out some other good things that most people don't understand about financial aid considerations.

Refi Temptation

November 8th, 2010 at 05:29 am

We refinanced 2 years ago (to 4.875%), because we were not sure we would have enough equity to refi later. Plus, not a fan of ignoring rock bottom rates for the "possibility" they will drop further.

I talked to our mortgage broker recently and he said he was keeping an eye out for me. I was kind of rolling my eyes, thinking, "yeah right." Like it will really be worth it to refi. I thought he may turn into a pushy salesman.

But, now I am starting to appreciate it. Because, I haven't heard anything from him. (So he isn't being overly pushy, obviously).

Over the weekend we got an offer for 3.99% (that a 30 year loan!) from Quicken.

I ran the numbers out of curiosity. Even if we borrowed the closing costs, we are looking at a monthly payment of $999. O.M.G. (I was freaking out during our last refi to $1100/month, because that was cheaper than renting a studio condo when I Was 18 - admittedly a more expensive area. But, you know, to me that just seems insanely cheap for a mortgage, considering what we looked at a decade ago as far as rent or condo ownership).

I told dh, "Rates will NEVER be lower." He said, "I've heard that before." (Yes - he has - twice already).

I will pass this one up. I know that we would have to pay a higher rate to opt out of escrow, and I don't want to deal with an online company like this. The reviews are mixed.

We went with a broker last round, and it was the most pleasant refi experience we have ever had (compared to some horrendous ones).

But, I will probably e-mail our broker guy and ask him if he can get us 3.99%. I presume no (not in a low cost way) since he hasn't called us. But, doesn't hurt to put the bug in his ear.

Selling point? Initially, we'd pay off the loan a little faster. ($300/month to principal versus current $285?). This time I would just keep paying the old payments, so we'd be paying down $400/month to start. The breakeven seems lightning fast. That's the final selling point for me. Guess that happens when you get so low in the interest rate.

I think it's almost impossible to pass up rates below 4%. It's insane.

I know I could more easily get a rate that low with a 15-year mortgage, but we just aren't there. In a couple of years? Maybe. But with just my income, now? Sticking with the 30 years. OF course, last time we had a 15-year loan, it was in the realm of 7%. !!! (2000 or 2001). You can see why a 30-year at 3.99% might be more appealing. Low rates AND a longer term, both? Sweet.

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I think people's reactions to our constant refinancing are kind of funny. PArticularly in the area we live in. People equate "refi" with "cash out."

I personally equate "refi" with "making it easier to pay off our home SOONER!!!!!" We generally don't even borrow the closing costs. Only considering the last couple of times, and paying points, because the rates were so lucrative.

IF we had just waited, would have been even better, but I didn't have my crystal ball. I don't regret any refis we have ever done.

This refi would put us well on track to pay off in 25 years. Which may be 3 years behind original purchase pay off, but we would be paying $500/month less than original loan payments (for decades).

I won't hold my breath, but am looking into it.

Computer Doings

November 7th, 2010 at 10:28 am

**I was annoyed when dh seemed to write off my old laptop, and then the second I replaced it, he wiped the thing clean and set it up with some kid friendly installation. (Was trying Linux or whatever that free operating system is). HE set it up with passwords and child controls, so the kids could do some of their online stuff.

I was annoyed because he could have just fixed it for ME! Rolleyes

But, it has turned out useful since BM's teacher bought some software program - he can do all the math stuff online from home.

So, I was annoyed, but I suppose it works. I have come to much prefer the netbook for my own purposes.

Anyway, I attended a seminar that focused on free and inexpensive computer gadgets, internet resources, etc. Today, I was setting up the kids for their spanish class website, and both kids wanted to use the computer.

We do have the "oldest hand-me-down" in my *office* at the top of the stairs (since taken over by the kids). Our hand-me-down system is thrown off since one of our newer computers bit the dust 2-3 years ago. No plans to replace another any time soon. The old one isn't even functional at this point - though it sits there. I suppose its non-function is why dh got the laptop all set up for them.

At the seminar, speaker mentions good refurbished computers on Overstock.com - $250 price range. That perked up my ears. I'd buy one today to get that set up back up and running.

I was trying to convince dh, and finally said, "Anything is better than what we have up there!" He just wasn't very gung ho on going cheap.

So, he's up there wiping it clean and re-installing everything. Big Grin Who knew I'd just have to threaten to spend some money, for him to fix what we already have?

The computer is 8 years old - darn it - we can get a few more years out of it.

Thinking to 2011...

November 7th, 2010 at 08:06 am

I was reminded yesterday that with the Target card, Target will donate 1% to the school of our choice. (I don't expect it to add up to much - but every penny helps!)

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It's been a weekend on the more relaxing side. Phew!

Dh had planned to do some location scouting for a film project he is working on. (Wanted to take pictures of the family cabin and a nearby lake and waterfall). He was going to run up there during the week, and I said, "Um, why don't we all go?" Hello? A hike would be nice. I have never seen this waterfall though I have heard about it.

Unfortunately, today is rain rain rain. So I suppose we will postpone.

We'd also been wanting to go to the Aerospace museum, but will get far more money's worth on a clear day (lots of outside exhibits and a cool playground).

So this weekend is full of cooking, working out, napping, board games, etc.

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We had a soccer game yesterday and it was downright warm outside. It was nice to bask in the sun a bit and wear our flip flops. The house was getting on the warm side yesterday. Heat is NOT on the horizon. Usually the *challenge* begins, for us, around Halloween and if we are lucky (or tough) we can make it to Thanksgiving without running the heat. But, it's November 7 and the house has yet to drop below 70F degrees.

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AS far as 2011?

With our tax refund (due to large medical expenses), it looks like we may hit $25k cash by year-end. (I've been spinning my wheels around $20k-ish for most of the last 2 years - building up cash being my primary goal = and putting LOTS of cash to this goal).

I hesitate to speak it, because the last 18 months or so have been rife with emergencies and surprises.

But, I can also be optimistic.

The $25k breaks down as follows:

$5k cash efund
$10k cash ROTH efund (for catastrophe)
$3k medical deductible (will be spent, unfortunately)
$7k mid-term cash savings (replacement vehicles and home maintenance, primarily)
----------------------
$25k Total

(My goal was $30k, but I officially give up! A loss in retirement benefits means I have to shift priorities away from cash and towards retirement. Which is primarily why I give up altogether. I'd prefer more emergency funds considering the economy, etc.).

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I don't have enough info to finalize any plans, but am tweaking the numbers and thinking I can make it work for 2011:

**Assume no raise
**Assume + $100/month to health insurance
**$1100/month to short-term savings
**$400/month to mid-term savings (cash)
**$600/month to ROTHS (10% gross income)
**Overtime to fund medical deductible for 2012

That's the plan!

When LM was done with preschool, I Changed our short-term cash contributions from $1k to $1200 per month. However, our property taxes and insurances have been decreasing, so I think it is reasonable (though tight) to go with $1100/month. This is for every expense, all year, no matter how big or small, that is just one-time or random.

This way, I can squeeze 10% to retirement, out of the budget. We only went with about 5% this year, with all the events of this year (medical bills and 10% cut in compensation).

I am pleased that I Was still able to get cash to a comfortable level. It's really more cash than we've had since having 2 kids, and it was a hell of a year to make said goal.

I also have a backup plan for 2011. Dh will probably work a bit to help build up cash further, max out the ROTHs, and start paying the mortgage down faster. I really don't need that much to make these goals - a few thousand dollars a year would be a huge help as far as maxing out the ROTHs and having extra for the mortgage.

More Good News

November 5th, 2010 at 06:47 am

**Our home insurance premium went down 15%. It's back to where it was in 2006.

I didn't notice at first. When I got it I thought, "Hmmm, it didn't go up!" But then I looked in Quicken and saw it was significantly lower than last year. So I looked at the last few years to see the last time it was this low.

Between that and getting a surprise of being grandfathered into some old flood insurance premium, I saved about $1200 in insurance this year that I certainly was not expecting! Woohoo.

**I just have to get through this month with no giant surprise bills. Since everything we charge in December is paid in January, I can push off any December surprises to next year!

**All in all, the numbers look pretty good for 2010. Especially considering the expensive year we have had. I felt like my financial luck had turned a corner, about a month ago. With all this medical hoo ha, not sure I still feel that way. But the home insurance bill is a step in the right direction (surprise good news versus surprise big bills).

**A few people have told me I should have surgery this year because of the deductible. Honestly, not sure it really matters. (& it doesn't seem to be moving along quite that speedily. In fact, I may have a heart attack if I have to have surgery end of December - busiest time at work. They will give the time if I need it, but I think my stress level will be better come January. Early December is fine, but probably not in the cards).

For now, depends on what they do to our plan. If it stays put with the $3k deductible, I already have a good idea that we are using the deductible for dh's MRIs next year. Plus, it gives us another year to seriously consider radiation for dh, without freaking out about the cost. For this year, we still have out-of-pockets to run through, and I get the feeling surgery won't be as cheap as the services we have been using this year post-deductible. They can still bill us another $3k for 2010.

So, really, the surgery will make no difference - will just get billed earlier in the year if I have surgery early 2011. (Dh's first MRI wasn't until May which bought us more time to save up for it). Then again, sometimes it takes the hospital years to bill us. But dh's surgery? The bill was in the mail when we got home from the hospital! Not crossing my fingers for slow billing. Wink

What I am worried about is what they will do to our health plan, for 2011. I will find out in a couple of weeks, and will beg for a 2010 surgery date if it will save us a significant amount of money. But, if no changes? Not really a big difference. Any way you slice it, we will have a few medical bills and will run through our deductible in 2011, either way. IT may make sense to use our deductible for surgery next year, and then pay for all the low cost things like MRIs, post deductible. I'll have to find out the co pay for surgery, this year, to make an informed decision.

Credit Update

November 4th, 2010 at 12:59 pm

**I got my new Fidelity card set up. 2% of all purchases to my ROTH IRA account. Pretty sweet.

**Target also called me today to verify that I am me.

Both cards will arrive in about a week. Then it's on to dumping the old. (Target - will save 5% on all Target purchases).

**I logged onto Credit Karma today. IT says my oldest OPEN credit account is almost 8 years old. Probably my State Farm.

There is a credit score simulator on there. I simulated if I closed my oldest account. (I actually plan to close that one and a 3 or 4yo card). It said, "WARNING WARNING DANGER DANGER - THIS IS BAD FOR YOUR CREDIT SCORE." (Something along those lines, anyway). Then it simulated my score and told me it would be 805 instead of 810.

Rolleyes

I wasn't worried about it before, and am even less worried about it now.

{NOTE: I have always made it a habit to close an old credit card every time I opened a new one - which I do often to chase rewards. Anyway, it's kind of my pet peeve when lenders and the media scare people with great credit scores from ever closing an old card - it's kind of ludicrous if you ask me. Since recent identity theft, I feel more strongly about not keeping a pile of unused cards out there - just more to track and worry about.}

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In surgery news, my biopsy is in 2 weeks. (Sounds less fun by the minute!) Took forever to get it scheduled. I finally just called and asked for my appointment - tired of waiting. My ultrasounds for "nothing" was done within 48 hours. Biopsy is more complex I guess, but can't help but wonder when they would ever call me, otherwise. Was getting rather frustrated.

It's in 2 weeks. I need to do lab work exactly one week before. & a pile of instructions. Plus, I can't drive myself home, which makes me wonder what I have gotten into. (I thought I was just getting a fine needle biopsy which is suppose to be very simple). I kind of figure ignorance is bliss, so I don't think I will ask much. Just show up and get 'er done. I really don't need to know all the gory details.

Surgery

November 1st, 2010 at 12:01 pm

IT's my turn!

What a flipping year!

My Doctor just got back to me and told me that he got my ultrasound results. I do have a thyroid nodule and they want to send me for biopsy. I said, "So, if it's benign, we'll leave it be?" Oh no, of course not! IT's so large that they have to remove it. Biopsy and blood tests are just a starting point to gather info. (Glad I asked?)

The bright side is that if it is cancer, that it is 96% cureable with my age, etc.

The practical side of me quickly googled recovery time for thyroid surgery. 2 weeks.

IT's a mixed bag. We have an emergency fund, and if I can have the surgery this year (no idea) it shouldn't cost too much. But, I do recall from pregnancy that there was a 1-week-waiting period of no pay for disability (which pays about $900 per week. IT's not bad at all).

That said, I don't believe I can be paid during the waiting period. I'll have to check, but it may be easier to ask my boss to advance me vacation time. He has done it before. Disability may be better to apply for in case it becomes prolonged, though. But I may only get paid $900 for 2 weeks. *sigh*

LOTS to figure out.

I kind of had a feeling all along. I felt like the bump on my arm (which was absolutely nothing) was serendipitous in that it was the only reason I noticed the bump on my neck. So I really had a strong feeling it would come back as something. What, I wasn't sure.

Just like dh's ordeal, it probably sounds much worse than it is. Kind of a headache, but nothing earth shattering. I am not sure if I should consider that lucky or not! I Feel lucky since I know so many people dealing with much worse medical problems right now (Cancer cancer cancer).

ETA: Oh - I could probably use sick time. I last had surgery when I was 18. I've had a few so no real biggie, but I suppose it has been a while!

Winding Down

November 1st, 2010 at 06:54 am

November is typically a slow month.

Will see!

Work is unusual and we have so much planned because it is a "slow month," that I am not so sure. OF course, it will fly by just like the rest of the year has. Hard to believe it is November!

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Halloween was a mixed bag. VERY quiet. But, that was nice because the amount of candy we got last year was just insane. It was nice to tone it down a bit. But, it wasn't very exciting. Very quiet. Though I think the kids enjoyed themselves.

LM finished very quickly (just a handful of houses) and wanted to go home. Worked out well since they were able to hand out most the candy then.

Operation Candy was mostly a success. The kids were bringing home insane amounts of candy from school last year, so I started storing it for Halloween. Probably made up about 1/3 of what we handed out, so did save a few bucks for us. (Dh just bought 2 small bags of candy - we didn't need much since it was quiet).

The irony is that since I started saving the candy for Halloween, the volume has turned way down. In fact, I don't think the kids brought home any candy since last school year. They brought some home Friday, don't get me wrong, but it was a reasonable amount. I just get the feeling I won't get so much free candy this year. Big Grin

Likewise, no parties this year. It's been odd. No begging for money for parties (which always seem to be for the adults more than the kids). Instead, 2 kids in the school and not a word about any parties this Halloween. Phew! They way they do parties always bugs me. Sounds like they had some non-parent celebrations or something - sounds good to me. (Not that I think they should never have a party - I just don't know why they have to be so often and so over-the-top).

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I have another out of town seminar this week, so a little crazy I suppose.