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Archive for June, 2011

Woke Up To Snow

June 29th, 2011 at 01:15 pm

The *heat wave* last week made camp bearable. So, we ended up going.

The weather was just perfect the whole time. The snow was absurd probably a week ago, but it had been melting rapidly in the heat. A lot of the snow melted while we were there.

This morning the kids told me they had seen snow falling all night from the windows at their top bunks. I thought they must be mistaken, but shortly after, more snow blessed us. Thankfully, we were getting the heck out of there. (Hadn't exactly brought that kind of warm clothing!) So a perfect end to a perfect little vacation.

I think turnout was a little small because of the snow/weather situation. Which made it an extraordinarily pleasant camp.

I was wary because we were the first group in. But, so many of the staff had been there so many years, everything ran perfectly smooth.

I don't know if it was because of lower turnout, but they also served us drinks on the patio and kept a tab. Like a 5-star resort. Big Grin

Down side? The big hike was snowed in. To top if off, dh decided to take BM yesterday, anyway (many adults had braved it - though got wet feet), but BM ended up mildly ill. With red eyes, just hoping that it is not pink eye AGAIN! Pink eye seems to never end. I promised him we could wait since last time it just went away. IT doesn't seem to be getting worse... (Anything but MORE eye drops!!)

I also considered allergies, but he completely lost his appetite. Free food for 3 days - and my kid loses his appetite. Of course! (My kids are generally bottomless pits). Of course, accordingly, his lack of appetite was very unsettling. But in the grand scheme of things - seemed like a pretty mild virus. Well, he doesn't let that kind of thing slow him down usually. & he was not happy that we would not let him hike like that!

Anyway, then the cold and rain came in last night anyway. So, we told him that we could probably go back and do the hike any time. Maybe we will go back in a month when the trail is more dry! There is public parking in camp for this particular hike - and it is only a 90-mile drive from our home.

At home, it will be about 75F degrees today, but it is supposed to be near 100F on Friday. The weather continues to be crazy and unpredictable.

Oh - the snow. It was "melt when it hits the ground" snow. But, it was exciting all the same. Will share some pictures later. I am so relieved we didn't get stuck in mud. So concerned about the mud situation, and then it rained/snowed for 12 hours straight (overnight). We slip and slided out of camp - not exactly fun - but we survived!

Vacation was super awesome because SIL came. Which means, MIL was all up in her business, and I barely saw her the whole time. To the extent she probably thinks I was avoiding her or whatever. I wasn't consciously, and don't mind her in small doses. But, also, the kids were old enough to do their own thing, and it was an extraordinarily relaxing vacation. Aaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhh... Lots of sleeping, reading, hiking, vegging out.

Birthday Parties

June 26th, 2011 at 07:37 am

Two years ago, when BM was in Kinder, he was invited to a party for every one of his classmates. Just about. The invites were endless, and the whole class was invited, of course!

This year there were no birthday parties in Kinder. Zero. Zilch. Nada.

Kind of weird.

I think dh was annoyed when the kids and I decided to do one combined birthday for the kids. We always do, and had discussed separating them this year. BUT, the kids were pretty gung ho on having one party, and I encouraged them since it would probably be a lot cheaper. IF nothing else, I made clear it was 2 modest parties, or one party of better means. "You can pool your resources," I told them. They chose one big bash.

I am glad it worked out that way. BM is Mr. Social and usually has pretty good birthday party turnouts - even in the middle of summer. Plus, he wants to invite everyone, which increases the odds that some will show (& will not be on vacation). LM, on the other hand, wanted to invite 4 kids from his class. & NONE can make it.

Though I am relieved that we combined the parties (with family), it does make it ackward with presents, I guess. For next year we may just have to do a class party during the school year to increase the odds of a decent turnout. I don't know - more thought will need to be made.

I voiced aloud to my friend about the lack of birthday party enthusiasm - that just dried up with only one year in between kids. She told me that everyone was doing family parties these days and just bringing cupcakes to class. I presume that is due to the economy. Because the parties we go to are generally across the board over-the-top. I suppose in the midst of endless foreclosures, a $300 party is out of the equation for the 6-year-old. As with everything, it then just becomes "all or nothing." If you can't go ALL OUT, then no party? Really? I think it's kind of a sad state of society. (This isn't exactly Beverly Hills or anything - thus the guess of a $300 price tag - but I don't know since when a birthday party wasn't complete without a bounce house rental or something like that. The parties of today resemble nothing of the simple parties of my own youth. Plus, I am thinking of the 0-6 year-old crowd. I have less disdain for the *bounce house party* for older kids who will actually remember their parties).

We generally do pretty modest birthday parties. Years 1-5 were pretty much hang out and eat cake and ice cream. The funny thing is we always get compliments. How nice to have such a simple party! Yet it is something few seem interested in attempting.

This year is a mixture of simple and fancy, for us. We did hire a magician at $150. But the thing is I only have one party and I don't mind splurging a bit. We also don't really do much in gifts (kids will be drowning in them from family and so on). So I don't mind splurging a bit. BUT, that is about the extent of it. I'll make some "instant" cupcakes and order some cheap pizza. & that is all I have planned. As with anything, why make it more complicated than it has to be???

I suppose that next year we will probably do a pool party. I don't remember the cost to reserve our HOA pool/clubhouse, but from the past I remember it was dirt cheap. It may only be a deposit - it is probably free. If I recall correctly. We show up with some food, and a party is born. Easy peasy, right?

If people are really making the hard choices, financially, I applaud them for that. But, I don't particularly see the hard choices being made. Over and over I see little sense of middle ground when it comes to financial choices. It always seems to be all or nothing, and birthday parties have gone the way of "all or nothing," it seems.

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I was just talking to BM about his e-vite and he mentioned his "maybe" friend RSVPed yes for 6 people. 6 people? What? LOL. (I saw the "maybe" but not the "6 people.")

I had actually put his name only on the evite because his younger twin siblings are in the same grade as LM - and I figured that made it clear that only the eldest child was invited. (The younger kids are not in the same class and don't particularly know each other).

I just checked - and he was right. Problem is both our neighbors RSVPed yes for the whole family (of course they would) as did several relatives. Plus a couple of family friends. Several of the classmates RSVPed one yes, in comparison. But reviewing the evite I See why they felt comfortable replying yes for the whole family - since so many others did.

Note to self: When you just want to invite the kids - don't send an evite where everyone can see the RSVPs. Big Grin

Oh well - this will be a packed house on party day!

The Clothing Shuffle

June 25th, 2011 at 11:26 am

IT was an extraordinarily odd year in that there was no need to shift wardrobes until practically July!!

So, I did the deed today, and was rather pleased with the outcome. Dh was trying to tell me that "BM only has 3 pairs of shorts." I knew he had 2 pairs we bought for track (Casual) and 2 pairs that I had bought specifically because they were casual, but could work for school uniform. In the end I found 5 pairs - not including what was in laundry. Meaning - he doesn't need any more! Shorts are easy with my kids - they grow up but not out. So they have a pile of shorts that would otherwise be SEVERAL sizes too small. But the pants are not as forgiving since they become "flood pants" so quickly with the rapid growth.

BM's wardrobe looks threadbare compared to LM. For LM I have all the clothes that MIL bought for BM (though she never listens to me as far as size). So TONS of clothes that BM never even wore (too SMALL), that I kept for LM. There are always hand-me-downs from relatives and friends (usually BM's friends). & then, to top it all off - I buy LM something once in a while just so his wardrobe is not 100% hand-me-down. It's not like it matters or he cares - but it's fun to spend $10 here and there and to know he is not lacking for anything. Of course we can splurge on something new here and there since I never need to buy him much otherwise.

Anyway, due to the sheer volume of clothing, I set aside everything labeled 3 & 4. Even though many items still fit.

I hit the sweet spot with the kids. BM can pretty much hand his clothes directly to LM, any more. No more storing things in between. The "in between" bin now merely contains a handful of size 7 pants. & the only reason they are there is because he has so many size 6 pants (no room for more pants in his drawers!). Anyway, in past years, "in between" was maybe 2-3 bins full. That said - "sharing clothes" can get kind of confusing. As it becomes less clear what belongs to who, as their sizes converge. I am sure at some point they will simply be the same size. Even their shoes are only one size apart any more - and they keep putting on the wrong pairs because they look the same.

BM, on the other hand, did outgrow all his pants, so I will buy him a couple of pairs of jeans to get through summer. But, he's got some flip flops that still fit, and plenty of other clothing. So, for summer shopping - 2 pairs of pants is pretty easy. I think we can swing that!

As far as when school starts, I will hit the hand-me-down exchange closet. I never have before - left it for people who needed it more. BUT, now that I have clothing to contribute - I will see if I can just do an even exchange. All the XS clothing in exchange for size 8 pants for BM. Unless he is up to size 9 by fall. I swear I just bought size 7s about 6 months ago. But alas, they are getting way too short!

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I ended up splurging on myself last night. My year-o-date allowance expenditures was only about $20 as of yesterday. I hit Target merely to get some white t-shirts for camp (tie dye) but got sucked in by all the summer clothing. Truth is I only have one pair of shorts that really fit well, anyway. Which is fine for most the year. It's always pre-vacation that I become aware about how minimal my summer wardrobe really is. (In comparison, for work I have one wardrobe for all year. A/C in the summer = wearing sweaters to work all summer). On the weekends, one pair of shorts suffices. Plus, I tend to hole up inside rather than go out in the heat, anyway.

For $100 I bought:

-2 shirts for tie-dye (was going to return one after getting more opinions - but dh encouraged me to just do both).

-Leggings for $7 (could use for the wardrobe)

-2 pairs of shorts

-2 VERY causal pairs of shorts (for around the house)

I could have easily lumped a lot of this into "needed clothing" category. But, since my allowance spending has been so little this year, I will just toss it to the allowance category. Not entirely altruistic since I am sure I have pushed the envelope in the past with, "I need that!" I figured it probably evens out in the end.

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I've got one large bag for Goodwill. Will set it out next time a charity comes by. (I just missed a pick up for last week). I went through my closet and grabbed about 10 things to donate, as well.

There is probably a lot of stuff in my closet I Would never miss. But, it has been working well to just grab a handful of things (very quickly) every time I have a bag for charity. Or, every time I buy more clothing. Best not to over-think it. I just get rid of whatever I am in the mood to get rid of. There are several items I was reluctant to give up on the 1st, 2nd or 3rd pass. But on every pass, it gets easier!

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Anyway, the long and the short of it is that if you went through my older child's clothing, you'd think it was pretty minimalistic. But, if all you saw was LM's wardrobe, you'd think I was a shopping fiend!

June is not over...

June 24th, 2011 at 01:08 pm

But I think we did well.

Last night we got Free dinner #10 or so for the month. I had forgotten about that one - volunteer appreciation dinner at the public TV station. Every year is better than the last. I'll have to post some pictures later - fancy schmanzy!

After attending almost 9 years in a row I will say it was a very small turnout compared to usual, and a really small raffle also. Of course, maybe it was just last year - seemed to be far more raffle items. Usually odds are good enough to win something, but didn't win last night.

Of course, spent $20 on babysitting, so was not free.

Looks like there may be a big neighborhood 4th of July party, so we may be able to string out the parties/celebrations/lots of free food into a bit of July. (Last year we were asked to bring plates - and there was SO MUCH food. I wouldn't mind bringing something more substantial - but I am sure we will get far more than we put in - if anything like last year).

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We had the luck to leave town when the triple digits hit, so did not run the A/C much this week. I believe that our electric bill will reflect a huge decrease compared to last June. May was not that impressive (compared to last May) but June will reward us for *lower than normal* temps. I hope! If not, it's because our A/C is so efficient. Sometimes it's hard to improve on. Which is certainly not a bad thing!

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I do not believe that we will need groceries or gas until the 1st, either.

That said, we do need to pick up some sun screen, mosquito spray, white t-shirts (tie die), etc. for camp. I hadn't thought much about any of that until today. The kids have some grungy looking white polo shirts for school that I decided to take this year. (I personally don't do white - too much hassle - and lord knows why dh insists on some white t-shirts for them. But glad we can find another use since they are more grey than white any more. Plus some sort of other stain - they are rambuctious boys - and seem to attract permanent marker marks if nothing else - don't ask me how or why). I may look for a white tank top or something different, for myself. Though waiting until the last minute I may stick with a plain old men's shirt again - is probably the 4th to add to my wardrobe - why I wanted to choose another style this time.

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I was poking around my Chase reward today and was able to squeeze a $5 Olive Garden gift card out of my old Chase card. Last time I looked I could not find anything to redeem for less than 1000 points - so I think this was new. I am glad I looked. If this was all I could redeem - is worthwhile - and I don't remember the last time we went to O.G.!

While poking around I realized I can probably redeem $1030 cash when all is said and done - with the Sapphire card. $1000 with the bonus points, but $3000 charged = $30 cash reward, in addition. I didn't catch that part before.

I will have to sit down and pay the July bills tonight and see where we are at. But so far, so good. (Well - I put everything in Quicken. Then I set everything to pay on their due dates. How it relates to June is I pay off the June credit cards in July - so why I sit down ahead of time to make sure it all balances and that I didn't do anything stupid!)

July is also going to have to be a low-spend month, outside of "vacation" type purchases, which comes from our short-term savings. We are on track to not spend our entire vacation budget this year, anyway. Well below budget. Since no big trips planned. Even LegoLand = free admission and free hotel. The food always adds up for us since we can't be as uber frugal as we are at home. & food will make up the bulk of the vacation budget. Food and random adult admissions - the kids seem to have free admission to everywhere.

Quiet Weekend

June 21st, 2011 at 01:24 pm

The weekend was quiet, and very nice!

Lots of reading, lots of kids playing in the backyard, and lots of vegging by the pool. We also made our first smoothies of the year.

LM has remembered all of his swimming skills. Just took some time. Still not overly strong in the water, so would still like to do lessons. "When?" is the question. Maybe some time in July. But in the meantime, I am glad to see it all coming back.

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"Vacation Plans" for this week? We are FINALLY making it to the Academy of Sciences in San Francisco. First, it is expensive. Two, it's usually crowded beyond belief. Three, it's kind of a pain to get to.

BUT, we are making the trek this week. Going mid-week since it should be a little more bearable with the crowds.

In the end, I found a 20% off coupon code, and it really isn't that expensive when all is said and done. Almost 20% off for getting tickets online, so maybe paid 40% off the initial prices I looked at a while back. Phew!

On the flip side, gas is adding up very quickly with driving logistics. We are pretty much taking a huge detour south to pick up my dad - and have to drive the van, accordingly. But, may save us hours of sitting in traffic - so may work for sanity. I am hoping we can just drop my dad off at the train and drive straight home. We haven't discussed that part yet, but will work it out. Driving him home too, still beats meeting him there - traffic-wise.

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I finally looked at my calendar and worked everything out. Signed up for all my continuing education seminars, etc. & then narrowed down when it made sense to take vacation time.

Chose a day between the kids' birthdays where we will go to Six Flags on a week day. They've got free tickets to use up.

I narrowed down one week that would work for a trip to So Cal. Maybe the last week before school starts up.

If I do so, that makes all my vacation days as time off with the kids. But, I did have 2 weeks surgery recovery (kids in school) where I laid around and didn't do anything. So, I think I can forego a vacation of REAL down time. I usually look forward to a little quiet time at home.

I had already requested a week off in October (with the kids) since it is the only week they get off during the school year that I can get off. The rest being during tax season and all... So, I suppose that can be a bit of a down time-y type vacation. We were thinking road trip, but the weather has been so wacky. IT was kind of an iffy time, and who knows how that will pan out. If we do a road trip, we will probably wing it. It would also be nice if the weather was nice enough to camp, etc. (versus freezing cold). Since camping could really keep our costs down. I don't think we will really know until the time approaches. Of course, it just occured to me that a Plan B could be to drop off the kids with Grandma a few days, since that is like a week after our anniversary! We could maybe do both - road trip with kids + weekend getaway alone.

So, who knows. But, it feels good to have all my dates planned out. I like looking at all the time off from "work work" on my calendar. Big Grin January - April is *work* 6 days a week. & the rest of the year really averages about 4 days a week when all is said and done. I've got all these Mondays and Fridays off for seminars, for one. & we actually get holidays the rest of the year. & then there is all the vacation time. Ah, MUCH more relaxing!!

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If you noticed my side bar, summer really did arrive. 100F+ degrees today. This is the June I know and hate! Eh, it's not do bad. It's the summer I know and am used to and why I don't see why working is such a big deal. What else am I going to do from 9-5 but hole up indoors anyway. With the A/C! Outdoor activities resume in the evenings and in the early mornings when it is bearable outside.

The kids have been going to the dirt cheap city day camp, but are sitting out these three-digit days. I've never been thrilled that it is outdoors, because of our ultra hot summers. Why I never signed them up before. But, still is a good deal if we only take them on cooler days.

How I will make $2000 sitting on my butt!! (Chase Sapphire double bonus!)

June 21st, 2011 at 06:41 am

Okay, almost, but not quite.

I am well on the way to $600 Fidelity (Cash) rewards this year.

I took a small detour from this card to get the Chase Sapphire $500 bonus.

I did see a promo for Citi for that could be translated into about $450 cash. BUT there was an initial annual fee of $125. So I scratched this one.

However, I just popped onto MyMoneyBlog this morning, and was probably one of the first to see that I could convert my $500 reward from Chase into $1,000.

I followed the instructions and e-mailed Chase, asking to match a new bonus they are offering to specific customers. They wrote me back in just a couple of minutes. Even better, they will just give me 50,000 bonus points when my statement closes this month. (No waiting until I spend $3,000 - the initial reward was supposed to take 6 weeks after you spend the $3,000). Woohoo!

I am thinking of taking $125 of my $1000 reward to have dh apply for the Citi deal.

& that is how I will make $2,000 on credit rewards in 2011, without hardly lifting a finger. (Okay - maybe closer to $1900 with the fee - but the year is young. More offers are sure to entice!!!)

It literally took me one minute or so to apply for the Chase card through my existing account. It then took me about 30 seconds to cut and paste the e-mail request (& edit slightly) that I sent to Chase this morning. Spend credit cards as would otherwise, and wala. EASY MONEY!

This is also tax-free money, by the way!

For the Sapphire bonus:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/follow-up-chase-sapphire-preferre...

I will apply for the Citi card once we are well on our way to rest of Chase bonus. Have to get that one out of the way first, since Citi requires $2k spending in 3 months. (& anyway, maybe something better will come along in the interim. Though $300-ish net back from Citi is a pretty sweet reward in the grand scheme of things!!)

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As an aside, I was going to get off my lazy butt and cancel my Chase Freedom card this morning. I think I will wait until I get these bonus points now. Since I told them in my e-mail I Was such a loyal customer. Wink If I had cancelled it first, not sure it would have mattered. (Maybe they would want to entice me to stay, even more). But just funny that I hadn't gotten to that. & now I will wait a bit before I get to it.

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This $$ will go a LONG way to my overly aggressive mortgage goal for this year. I didn't really think it was possible, but now it is.

I was also going to apply for a $250 bonus to donate to the school. Before all this. So I may still give $250 for the school. That's a tax deduction on tax-free money. Rest will probably go to the mortgage, though I may wait until the end of the year to decide for sure.

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2011 is going down as a record year for credit card rewards! I can usually earn $500 - $1000 pretty easily, and I don't shun EASY money. But, this is far better than usual.

Smoky Chicken Enchilada Skillet

June 18th, 2011 at 09:28 am

Smoky Chicken Enchilada Skillet Recipe:

http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Smoky-Chicken-Enchilada-S...

This is one of the better new recipes we've tried recently. Dh made it last week and I see the recipe is available to the public now (without registering anyway. I highly recommend registering, for free, to get recipe ideas).

This recipe = YUM!!!

For dinner, it's Bacon Cheeseburger Pasta:

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Bacon-Cheeseburger-Pasta

It's nothing spectacular, but sure beats Hamburger Helper!

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**I *think* camp is on, but we will be packing boots and sleds. We've been given the option to cancel or try it out. I was impressed with pictures of DRY areas (snow completely shoveled out and given some days to dry). & dh made the point that it was "muddy as heck" last year - anyway. So it looks like it will be about the same maybe? Though we will be completely surrounded by tons of snow this time, probably. Hence, sleds. Unless 9 feet of snow melts faster than I realize. In camp, they simply dug it all out. Well - they have a ways to go. But there are now places to park and stuff. Will see!

**Haven't done a thing for Father's Day. Was going to go on a hike with my dad tomorrow, but the driving itinerary this month was pretty out of control. I wanted to postpone, and my dad agreed.

Dh is working Scholastic all day (he brought home a pile of books last week, and today's work is for the school library). So, we have got all day to work something out for Father's Day. We will think of something.

**Will go swimming this morning before the peak sun hours. We either go very early, or in the late afternoon/evening. Probably saves a fortune on sun block that way. I just hate the stuff. & well - makes life much easier.

**Going to the library today for some puppet show or something, and I will attempt to renew my library card again.

While out I figured we would grab some yogurt, juice and bananas, to make some smoothies. It's been so cold and haven't really been in a smoothie mood. But, smoothie weather has arrived!

Auto Insurance

June 16th, 2011 at 07:01 am

I got dh's auto insurance renewal and was able to sign up for the low mileage discount for him.

His premiums had reduced $70 per year, anyway. When I get the paper bill I will look at what changed. Woohoo!

I then got a $20 up front discount for signing up for the low miles discount. It's State Farm "Drive Safe and Save" which I mentioned recently. Before you had to drive less than 7500 mils or so per year to get any discount, but if you sign up for this program they have a tiered savings program. Since we drive about 10k miles per year, each car, will have a chance to save 5% - 10% off our premiums.

I signed up my van before, but had to wait for the other car's insurance to renew.

Before we moved to Sacramento we had just turned 25. I remember our auto insurance was next to nothing (neither of us had collision insurance either, with our OLD cars). We moved up here and it immediately doubled. Rolleyes I could quickly see why. I drive different here. Everyone is CRAZY. I wouldn't label Bay Area drivers as the best and the safest, but when I am there it's TOTALLY different. People are polite there. Here? God forbid you try to merge. People rather run you off the road. Literally. God forbid you drive the speed limit, etc. Everyone is in some insane huge hurry - no idea why. & just little patience when anyone gets in their way.

Thus, I understand the high insurance.

So, to see dh's auto insurance drop below $300 per semi-annual renewal, is pretty sweet! Was $400 just a couple of years ago - and this car hasn't had collision in many years either. So, it's just the liability insurance. We are probably paying more than we were a decade ago, still. But it's getting better.

Got Some Sun!

June 14th, 2011 at 05:44 pm

Saw a bunch of people walking down the street in their swim suits, so decided to go to the pool last night (on a whim). Good call. I started to worry it would probably be too cool, etc., but it was actually still pretty warm - even when we left closer to 8pm. Just LM and I since BM had track practice.

At first, LM remembered nothing. But after some time he got more comfortable in the pool. For example, he seemed to recall relaxing and floating as a way to catch his breath. But that didn't come to him for about 1/2 hour. I may encourage dh to sign him up for swim lessons next week (if possible). Otherwise, will probably have to wait another month with vacation plans, etc. I am leaning against paying for more lessons for BM. Couldn't hurt, but LM clearly needs another round. (Or maybe it will all come back to him with some practice? Which is fine since doubt we can get into lessons for a while anyway). I do hope this is the last year to pay for swim lessons. We should have done them sooner (indoor pool) but it's been so BUSY!

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I officially have a 1st/3rd grader. HARD to believe! I feel like they will be asking for the keys for the car, any day.

I am surprised it took this long, but dh deeply offended a parent on the "PTA." I never guessed it would happen like this. Surprised it took this long because he is very opinionated. But, for whatever reason has been laying low. Anyway, is it "PTA" or "PITA"? Wink I never got the mommy politics (which are pretty awful when you consider the hormones and lack of sleep - early on), but this is apparently more of the same. More mommy politics I guess. I'll take office politics any day.

Today was last day of school so maybe it's good. Feelings can fester over the summer. Dh is going to drive me nuts next year. This year was bad enough - hearing all about the BS. It all came to a head this weekend, it seems. Just google PTA and it seems to be a story as old as time. PTA appears exclusionary but then complains that no one helps. We've learned no input is welcome unless you are in charge. I am worried dh will take that challenge and run a fundraiser next year. Oy vey! I don't think the other side is all roses, for sure. But I am rather taken aback how very well regarded and important people are apparently rather "insane" and "childish." I mean, these are really people who have done a lot of good - so didn't expect this.

Anyway, it's all a game. Hell if they really want dh to run a fundraiser anyway. Be careful what you ask for. Big Grin

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Chicken Cordon Bleu

I was at the store grabbing beef for hamburgers over the weekend, and noticed all this fancy pre-made stuff. Like Beef Florentine, etc., etc. Not bad really. I think the Florentine cost little more than the raw meat. Just have to cook it.

So Sunday night we tried the Chicken Cordon Bleu. Yum! $10-ish for a meal for 4. Was small for 4, no doubt, but we heated up some rice and made it a round meal.

I did go to Farmers Market Saturday and stocked up on salad fixings. Radishes, sprouts, lettuce, etc.

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This post is random. It's been pretty go go go here with kid activities and such. So, haven't been too posty. Went to an event at the library, 3 BBQs, and a track meet the last few days.

I tried to renew my library card (Expired 2008 apparently), but theit computer system was down. Probably for the best, because I did not realize until days later than I had taken my San Jose library card (circa 1980s?). The color of the card is the same. I could just see it now - "
please re-activate my card - for a city 2 hours away." Big Grin

So, once I realized I tried my real card and my login still worked online. Then I saw it expired 2008. Will try again to get that worked out next weekend. I assume I have to show up in person. & I have to get another card for BM - his is long lost.

It's not that I haven't been to the library or anything in so long. It's just that it's easier to check out books under dh's card and have them pick up books for me while I am at work, etc. That said, with this whole ebook thing, two is a crowd. I can check out more books if I get my own card back up and running.

Rentals

June 11th, 2011 at 06:39 am

Homes have been selling fast in our neighborhood. $200k is the tipping point for the smaller homes. Anything priced $199k will apparently sell in minutes. Even short sales.

I saw a house sell like ours for $286k or so (exactly what we paid?). I couldn't see an extra large yard or anything that would set it apart. Price seemed very high. Others maybe sold $250k-ish. Usually $250k is pretty safe if the smaller ones sell $200k. So, weird.

Anyway, all that said, don't think I can count on a property tax decrease this year. But, who knows.

I have mentioned over and over how I keep reading that most buyers in the region are investors. MANY foreign investors. They pay cash for homes. Ironically, this was very similar to things in the real estate run up. Few around here actually buy homes to live in.

Though I have the feeling the housing market is very heavy in rentals at the moment, I am just starting to see the evidence of that in our own neighborhood. The short sales that all just sold are now all up for rent. Immediate neighbor who has never had problem finding tenants? Will see this time around. Her price is still cheaper than the rest, so bodes well for her. $2000 to rent a 4-bedroom home? Really??? Will see on that one. These things continue to surprise me. In the short run. (I expect disaster in the long run).

Vacation Lifestyle Can Resume

June 10th, 2011 at 01:39 pm

I am no fan of the heat, but at least with the heat I know what month it is.

Of course, that said, the weather changed in a flash. (ugh - no transition!) But, for the most part I am embracing it.

I washed a pile of fleece figuring I maybe really wouldn't need it again until fall. & I suppose it's time to evaluate the kids' wardrobes.

I was dissapointed to see that our electric bills was not much lower than average, for May. Maybe 8% lower, at most. Though I recall many heat waves in May, I suppose that is not the norm.

We did turn on the air last night. Certainly has got to be a record - June 9th - first AC of the year! I wouldn't say it has been that hot, but when I went up to bed it was sweltering upstairs. Flipped on the air about 20 minutes to make it bearable for sleep. Of course, house cooled off overnight.

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The last few days of school are upon us, so many activities are going on.

I can't believe I will have two all-day grade-schoolers. LM goes to school an extra 45 minutes next year, so no huge adjustment. We learned that he thrives on a schedule. That part, I didn't expect. I really thought he'd have a tough transition to Kinder. Now, somehow the year is over. Next year I will also sign the kids up for daycare, for some added flexibility. Not that they will go often, but I just didn't want to add that on top of a whole new experience for LM last year so we never signed up or utilized this past year. IT had been kind of nice and handy for drop-in care the year before - we had signed BM up due to uncertainty over dh's recovery from surgery, and did utilizie it sparingly.

I've gotten so many requests for money this week, and have been very *bah humbug* about it. Next year I am going to tally it all up. I may be extra scroogey and say no to every single request and add the amounts to my mortgage instead. Wink Will see. Just this idea I had, since I mostly thought all this stuff was done. Last minute requests are really my pet peeve.

BM is on track for perfect attendance. LM is perfect minus one day. I think he is outgrowing his asthma (mostly expected to outgrow from family history, but asthma/allergies are terrible in the region so wasn't so sure). Anyway, all those germs all year and I've never seen him healthier. We paid our dues - first year of preschool/daycare was a nonstop sick hell. Everyone told me, "Then you won't have to go through that when they start grade school." I am pleased to say this was true.

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Next week I will take some time off for last days of school stuff (2 BBQs, for one - I will take the free food).

Following week we are taking a day off to go to a museum.

The week after that is vacation.

Then, we have 2 weeks to prepare for the kids' birthday party. I sent out invites today - wanting to get those out before school was out. Almost forgot.

We still need to pick a day to go to Six Flags (got some free tickets). Will take a mid-week day off to hopefully avoid crowds. Probably some time around their birthdays.

Pool is open so will resume lazy day sat the pool. It's been far too cold up until now, which has been ridiculously unusual.

So, it's starting to feel like summer.

Anyway, I look forward to the next 4 weeks or so of work being pretty light. A bunch of 4-day workweeks, etc. The weather has made it hard to execute my vacation lifestyle (generally May through November). But, we can try again now.

Interesting Article of the Day

June 9th, 2011 at 05:54 pm

Not sure if it makes much sense, but I have some thoughts about this:

Does Busier Job Equal Happier Marriage?

http://blogs.wsj.com/juggle/2011/06/06/does-busier-job-equal...

"Working moms tend to be happier with their marriages when they are shouldering heavy workloads on the job"

"However, when dadsí on-the-job workloads rise, both they and their wives tend to become less satisfied with their marriages"

This doesn't help my reservations about my spouse returning to the workforce...

Gotta run, but will comment more later.

Frugal Doings + Perceptions

June 9th, 2011 at 02:01 pm

Frugal Doings:

Found the Silicon Valley Target family concert dates. Bummer, since they are Sunday nights. BUT, is before school starts so maybe we can make it work. Will probably pick one night to go. Either "Disney" or "Movie Blockbuster" themed - I am sure there will be some overlap between the two concerts. Not only are these concerts free, but have free ice cream, and are at our University alma mater. So, I am excited about the experience as a whole.

We've seen the Sacramento Symphony Target concerts but had to pay a bit to get in, and wasn't quite as directed to the younger kids. But, if those fit our schedule, we may do one too. I believe the kids were free at least.

Dh has quite a few Scholastic volunteer shifts this upcoming week. I believe he settled on 4 hours per teacher and 8 hours for the school. (Plus 8 hours towards buying whatever his heart delights). Truth is we need to purge some books - I am not as thrilled about that part, though books are the primary gift for the kids any holiday. More than just books - often video games, activity books, etc., etc. That said, dh did purge some books from the bookshelf recently. Maybe for the first time ever (outside baby books we bought before our Scholastic days). I'd say we could purge more.

I've got so much time off and free food (BBQs, etc.) coming this month that the $0 spending has been easy. Not that I am having a no-spend month (I don't like extremes). I just figured it would be easy to spend $0 on food this month. Vacation plans being up in the air is bad for our plans though. That was 3.5 days of free food. Was planning on saving a lot of groceries, too. The budget would be best if camp is not cancelled!

Anyway, I kicked myself for probably not having enough food at work today (forgot to bring anything), so just went to BK for a $1 menu item. Woman there handed me a pile of coupons. It's been a while since someone has handed me a pile of coupons. I could clearly tell why - who comes through to just spend a dollar, right? & puts it on a credit card? Big Grin Funny thing is strict budget or no, I'd probably order the same thing regardless. Not wanting their french fries and over-priced soda has little to do with anything but my taste and appetite. Well, and their over-priced sodas...

Well, it was a reminder that I can still splurge on a lunch.

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So, Joan asked an interesting question a while back when I mentioned a mix up between us and another family struggling financially. She legimitimately asked if we *looked poor* or could be *mistaken as poor* by the impression we give off. In this case, was just an e-mail mix up.

But, I think this is an interesting question. Why, if someone is frugal, are they perceived to be so cheap that they must stick out and have a miserable life? Not that Joan was saying all that. BUT, I do find that people treat me VERY different on the internet at times, than they do on real life.

The truth is, we fit in QUITE well. Very well. To the point where most people think we are just rich tightwads. Because clearly it is ridiculous that we would watch our pennies so much. (To most people, they don't seem to understand the cause and effect. I'd sum it up as saving money on stuff we don't care about so we have more to spend on the stuff we do care about).

These are the things people will never notice:

**How much stuff we buy used, hand-me-down clothes, hand-me-down furniture. We are big fans of *barely used* goods. I can assure you that no one would ever know if we didn't tell.

**That we eat most our meals at home.

**I delight in finding birthday presents that look REALLY expensive but only cost $5-$10 (on deep discount, of course).

**That when we vacation we make frugal choices - like drive and stay at Motel 6. No one sees that - all they know if that you went to some exciting destination they couldn't afford (i.e. they couldn't afford flying too and staying at a luxury hotel - usually what that seems to mean).

**That I don't spend a fortune on beauty products. Online this is met with *horror.* In person I am often told, "Well - you are lucky you don't *need* it." As if everyone needs hundreds of dollars of beauty products and spa treatments to pass in society. Wink

I do admit everyone thinks we just buy used cars because we are ridiculously cheap (and crazy). They couldn't possibly fathom how much we save (since we are usually told that *old cars cost more*). At the end of the day, my car doesn't come up much anyway. Few people do seem to notice the car situation. Likewise, the few friends I drive around in my van know we paid cash for it and they can't wrap their brain around that anyway.

I admit we are in a unique position since we moved to a low cost area. So, this translates into maybe owning in a prestigious neighborhood, while having the lowest mortgage of anyone we know. Most assumptions are we are about to foreclose like 95% of our neighbors, that we are rich, or that we made a fortune on Bay Area real estate. The truth is that a $300k house feels extremely reasonable to us compared to what we are used to, and that we put 25% down, never borrowed against the home, and have a low fixed mortgage rate. The home was a lateral move from a $290k-ish condo we made no money on. No one else seems to comprehend how we could not be upside down. To be fair, buying price is ALWAYS assumed to be much higher than we paid. We bought the house because it was an awesome deal. Since it was new construction, we locked the price in much lower to what it was even worth when we eventually moved in. For a while (years), when the models were still open, everyone would comment, "I could never afford this neighborhood" after stopping to tour the models. But they seemed completely deaf when we would laugh and reply, "neither could we at THOSE prices."

Then there is the whole *hubby stays home* thing. No one will accuse us of being poor as long as that is a fact. You have to be lucky and rich to manage that, of course. Do you think all of our Joneses type friends can even fathom living on one income? If I opened up my tax returns I think most my friends would faint dead away.

I think for the most part we can figure out how to have whatever we want, cheaper. Whether it be a good eduction (primary or college), a reliable car, a nice home, or whatever it may be. One interesting thing with the kids is dh's love of video games and the prevalence of them around the house. Yes, I'd think it would probably be ridiculous to give my 5-year-old a brand new Nintendo DS, but both kids have a DS and a PSP at their disposal. Cost? Free. As such, they fit in quite well with all the kids and their new game systems.

I remember one day when LM was younger and we were waiting at one of BM's extra-curricular classes. I pulled out a zip lock just bursting at the seams full of games for his Leap Frog. I looked at it, probably for the first time, and thought, "Where the hell did all these games come from?" I had probably paid for just a few games over the years. I was keenly aware that other people must be thinking I was carrying around thousands of dollars of games around, when really it was probably no more than $100 to us.

Anyway, it isn't really hard to fit in. I've got a college degree, a nice home, reliable cars, furniture, appliances, clothing, etc. IT all looks the same as what everyone else has got, for the most part. I can assure we paid very little compared to average for most of the things we own.

So, I had to giggle a bit to myself when Joan asked, though I Wasn't surprised at the question. I think if our passions were different, and we didn't have the whole benefit of the low cost of living thing, my experience may be very different. I think also we are very moderate. I can think of a few people who are stingy to an extreme. Some have come across very poor when they weren't poor at all. I can't imagine ever being so extreme - in either direction.

I am curious about other's experiences in these type perceptions.

Library + Weather Doings

June 8th, 2011 at 01:07 pm

I was extremely pleased to see that the ebook selection at our library has increased dramatically since December. (I hadn't looked the past many months since I have been knee-deep in my series). I requested several ebooks that I am waiting for - chosen from just browsing the library selection.

The only book immediately available was "Strength in What Remains," by Tracy Kidder. Absolutely riveting from page 1, and since the book is only 250 pages on my nook, so will go by in a flash. "Game of Thrones" had set the bar very high and got me out of a long reading lull. I worried about the bar being set high, but realized a lot of that will be offset by reading normal length books that don't take such a huge commitment. I hadn't thought about it until I open this ebook and saw the 250 pages. "Pfffft - I can read that today," I thought when I saw that.

We did sign up the kids for the library's summer reading program.

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We ate well yesterday.

MIL/FIL really wanted to go to the culinary school for lunch. So, we went yesterday. The school is closed 6 weeks or so for summer, so good thing we went. Works out, since we probably wouldn't go with the kids out of school anyway. No lunch dates for 2 months, probably. Though with their summer camp we can maybe swing some early lunch dates, alone.

MIL insisted on paying because "they are retired, after all." ??? Because being retired means you have more money? Since they are young in retirement, my worry is very minimal, but for the long run, I do worry if they really know what they are doing. Their savings is probably far higher than average, and they have a huge home asset to tap. BUT, they entrust all their money to an expensive brokerage. At current, MIL seems to be extremely optimistic (thinks she will never touch principal and will leave us their nest egg - so she says). FIL just retired, and seems extremely wary. To the point he has told us he is "not necessarily retired" - as if he expects to have to go back. Anyway, it's interesting to watch their extreme opposite reactions to retirement.

For reference, my parents' nest egg seems to be about double the in-laws, and they are far more cautious. They certainly aren't planning to leave us any of it! My parents are a bit younger, and my dad is still looking for work anyway. Writing on the wall seems to be forced retirement for my folks. MIL certainly comes across overly optimistic, in comparison.

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Vacation plans are up in the air. Camp is closed, camp is open. Who knows? Sun came out yesterday. Things are back to *normal.* Forecast just calls for sun. Phew! That said, not sure how 65-degree-days equate to snow melt when it comes to shady areas with 9 feet of snow. I don't have the experience to know, but sounds like 2 weeks is pretty optimistic. MIL claims they are bulldozing snow out, but they have to figure some drainage or something so the non-shoeveled snow doesn't leave the entire campground a giant mud pit. I don't foresee any hikes this year. Shoveling out camp by itself sounds like a HUGE task. But, if they make it bearable (cars not sinking in mud), then it will be an experience!

We've decided if it does get cancelled that we will just do our own thing. Probably stay home, since we will need more notice to get a free place to stay in So Cal. But, will see what we can throw together at the last minute. I'd probably rather stay home and plan for a more frugal trip for later. Will see.

Interesting Articles

June 6th, 2011 at 05:19 pm

I don't have much to add to these. For anyone with a mortgage, read the mortgage scam article. Yikes!

An old mortgage scam aims to hijack a payment or two

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-lew-20110605,0,2071538...

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Nest egg should be 10 times your annual salary, study says

"Only about 1 in 10 Americans manage to meet that goal for retirement savings, but those who do report feeling financially secure, a study by Lincoln Financial Group finds."

http://articles.latimes.com/2011/jun/04/business/la-fi-retir...

Depressing part?

"Also, a majority of those who became 10-timers boosted their savings rate when they had extra money to salt away. It's especially helpful to do that early in your career, according to the study.

"Steadily saving a modest amount each year is important but is probably not enough by itself" to achieve 10-timer status, the study says."

Flowers - Week 2

June 5th, 2011 at 03:33 pm

I pruned my flowers (from farmers market last weekend) and moved them to a new vase:



Well, I also moved the prettiest ones to a single-flower vase.

Their time is almost up. I think I will get more flowers next weekend - will be enjoyed for the rest of the month.

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We are starting to assume that camp will be cancelled. Just saw pictures from last Thursday, before the latest round of storms. Snow has fallen since those pictures.

It is clear that few vehicles will be able to navigate the mud, and that there is nowhere to park anyway (since they have cleared roads, etc., but everywhere else is covered in at least 8 feet of snow).

We hadn't agreed/decided when to take the kids to LegoLand. I suppose we will just wing it if camp gets cancelled. Would drive, and MIL could work her timeshare magic. Don't think we need too much notice. Either that, or we will find a Motel 6. Either way, will work.

We could maybe start planning for an alternate camp location at a lower elevation, but I think everywhere is going to be cold and uncomfortable. I suppose we should keep that in mind for So Cal, too. Maybe we should just stay home!!

Plan B could also be to just stay at the family cabin, which is near camp. To keep the family/campy nature of our planned vacation.

Will see...

Napa + Simplicity

June 5th, 2011 at 07:45 am

Yesterday we drove through Napa/wine country for an elegant birthday party on top of a hill. The picture does not do it justice - was just gorgeous:



We have probably been through the area in less lush (more average) times. It's not like we get this much green, usually. It did not rain too much on the drive, so we got to take in the scenery.



The landscape was far more beautiful than I remembered - vineyards as far as the eye could see.

I've never been to Napa and the areas north of there, but for a few family functions in the past. Dh and thrown out earlier that he wanted to do a weekend getaway for our anniversary. My first reaction was, "eh." I'd love to stay home! Ship the kids off, of course. But, we had settled on maybe going to Carmel. We can swing a free hotel room through MIL's endless timeshare points. It's an hour's drive from Grandma's house - so it is not a pricey proposition.

But, yesterday, we changed our minds. We will be adventurous. We will stay in Napa and do the wine country thing. Will shave 3 hours of driving down to about 1-hour (each way) and a perfect half way point is on the way - to drop off the kids with Grandma.

So, I am excited to explore a new area. I think we lean heavily in our state exploration as far as where friends and family live. Particularly when younger - of course we only traveled (in college) where there was a free place to stay. & here is Napa practically in our backyard, and we have never explored.

Anyway, dinner last night was lovely. We were supposed to eat outside on the terrace, and the view was divine. Instead, it poured down rain all through dinner, and we were stuck inside. It worked out because it was pretty dry for our drive, thankfully.

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I've got a ton of chores to do today. Have been pretty lazy. Some house cleaning, some fiscal chores, etc. The cold/blah weather is not very motivating. You think it would be, because otherwise we'd be lazing by the pool today. But, I just feel very blah.

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In other news, had a shopping spree at Target. I had been promising some new art supplies for LM's Christmas present easel, and had never gotten around to it.

I felt very silly when we went because found a lot of great stuff for very cheap. Should have gone ages ago...

So, we bought a bunch of art supplies there. Bought a birthday present for BM (from LM - he will owe me some money for that), bought some underwear for the kids, and some magnets for the fridge (we sold all the kid fridge magnet toys last month). Just a lot of stuff like that.

We got the Target cars in November for the 5% off. We have been averaging about $100/month for groceries. This was the first shopping spree I've had there with the new card. Most everything we bought was on our "need to buy" list for a long time.

I haven't been much in a retail mood this year. Not sure why. But, I will take it.

I always get annoyed in the forums when people get judgemental of bare bones type budgets. I've had to defend a few people who said they "spent very little" who were attacked as leading boring lives, etc. *Whatever* It strikes me too much as "If you don't spend your money just so, you can't be happy." Oh yes, the people I know endlessly upside down on their cars and homes are so happy, in comparison. Right? These are the biggies where culture tells you to spend the bulk of your money. Vacations also come to front of mind - I can't even go there. Vacations are fine, but not the be-all, end-all of human happiness.

I share, because my own retail purchases have dwindled down to virtually nothing. $5 here and there to itch the scratch, but not much more. I think there is always a bit of an itch for something different and beautiful. Which I think is fine within reason. Last week I bought some flowers, for example. I've spent $20 for 2011, thus far. I managed 3 new sweaters on deep discount, and several pairs of earrings. Flowers last weekend, as mentioned. What the heck? I have never spent so little in my life, on stuff. Ever. I wonder if I have just reached a level of extreme contentment in other areas of my life. (For reference, I spent $425 last year on allowance purchases - $575 in 2009, $535 2008, $900 2007). I have been focusing on less clutter and trying to spend my money only on things that truly make me happy. All of this has been YEARS in the making - small progress every year.

I find great happiness from my electronic toys. I have really delighted having any/all music I could possibly want on my teeny-tiny MP3 player. The ebook is just one more step in that direction. I delight in carrying all those books with me everywhere I go. I really enjoyed our last trip to Hawaii because I could carry our netbook and Mp3 player and a handful of clothes, and felt I had all that I needed. (We had packed a lot of books, because we didn't have our e-readers at that point). I think it reinforced how nice it is to have all your belongings fit in a tiny carry-on suitcase. We view electronics like this as very simplifying. I am not a huge fan of travel, but enjoyed it much more feeling I could bring all my important belongings along. I think all that contributed heavily into a very happy/no-homesick vacation. Usually travel just reinforces for me how much I love being HOME. For the first time I felt home could really be anywhere, with all these electronic gadgets. We skyped the kids a lot, for one (it wasn't *just* about the stuff - it was a better connection with loved ones while gone, too).

I am blessed to know that spending more money on more things and more experiences, won't make me any happier. It's the quality - not the quantity. I think my shrinking spending habits illustrate that perfectly. Though I've never felt like a particularly material person, that small material side of me is just shrinking down to hardly anything any more. I think it's interesting. Will see how the rest of 2011 pans out. Will see if I can get through 2011 with such a lean spending on myself. Who knows - I admit the year is young.

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Every topic I write about reminds me of another. I believe the fact that BM's class all gets iPads next year is very lucky and probably not very cost saving? (I suppose I do not know for sure).

BUT, since the school expands to 6th grade next year, BM's teacher has been pushing the electronic angle as a cost saver. The school has decided to use iPads versus expensive and out-dated textbooks. For the middle school grades.

I am so excited about this. Though I knew this 3rd grade iPad class would be an amazing opportunity for BM, I also realized his future education would likely be a huge downer in comparison. I mean, to see the amazing-ness of all the technology, and to go back to pen and paper for the rest of his education... He is a smart boy - he will wonder why he is stuck with pen and paper after that. Obviously the technology is amazing.

All that said, a lot of the programs the kids piloted this year in the same teacher's class will go school-wide next year. The kids' test results in this one class have been that amazing. If they can pull off the same with the iPad (show real results) they may eventually be used school-wide. The teacher is just really into technology. I like to see the "thinking outside the box," myself. It hadn't occurred to me that they could save money with the iPads, for one. It initially struck me as very frivolous, but my mind is changing.

Updates

June 4th, 2011 at 11:15 am

I just posted a financial/savings update and updated my sidebar (see last post, too).

I don't have enough time to post all I Want to today. But, will get some of it out.

Today was supposed to be a nice day - maybe a hike - swimming with cousins, etc. We have an 80th birthday party to attend tonight. Woke up to pouring rain. OF course, with the stormy/cloudy weather last night, I told dh I supposed we wouldn't go early. Will drive 2 hours for dinner. 2 hours back. Not San Jose - going up north. BUT, cousin thought it was a great idea to get a condo there overnight (has 3 SMALL kids) and why she invited us swimming, etc. Was a nice plan, anyway. Any other year but this one!

I must admit I do feel extremely *off* and I suppose the weather has a lot to do with it. I keep telling myself at least we don't have devastating tornadoes, and flooding, etc. As several friends and relatives are dealing with. But truth is this weather is really annoying me. We don't live in California for rain and storms. Non-100 degree weather is nice (since we usually get a heat wave in May), but too extreme in the other direction to actually enjoy. So there is my petty whine.

I was telling dh about an article in the newspaper about 3 different weather phenomenons that are potentially causing storms and 20-degree lower temps than usual. For many many months (winter, spring, and now into summer). Dh replies with, "I know why it's raining like crazy. Because I still have my mom's umbrella!" I burst out laughing at that. I had forgotten about that. She brought it up for BM's recital - when we had ultra weird weather. She wanted dh to meet her half way and return it the following week. To which dh and I both replied with, "Um, hell no." I just rolled my eyes and said something like, "Yeah, like she needs her umbrella. Whatever..." I had forgotten about that, but had to laugh when dh mentioned it. Guess she is upset we have her umbrella still. Rightly so. Will return it tonight. (For the record - we use umbrellas, never? Once in a blue moon??? Never in May or June).

Without the A/C, and with all the rain, will have lower than usual water and electric bills. Financially, is the plus side. I am curious how our electric usage will compare to last May. The house has settled about 70F degrees - no air or heat needed. Usually we are well into A/C weather by now.

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I had to share one more thing. Dh and I never do what everyone else is doing. We ALWAYS seem to be ying-ing while everyone else is yang-ing.

With the economy? We chose a very bare bones lifestyle when we first had children, so dh didn't have to work and so I could take some leave as well. So, basically, when the economy was good we were pinching our pennies severely. Of course, even before that we were, since were saving for a home, for kids, etc.

Then the economy tanks and suddenly everyone is cutting back and struggling. I'd say we had better times. Because I was working 100%, if nothing else. We've gotten some decent tax breaks. We got far more efficient with our budget, etc., etc.

I am used to most people being jealous of the fact that dh does not work. Jealous, envious, in awe, admired, whatever. People take it different ways. Many of our friends and family have been striving to take the same plunge.

But, for dh is I think very different than most people realize. He wasn't established in a career. He only work 2-3 years after college, and was not a big career kind of job. He was laid off, initially, and has looked for work a solid 2-3 years in the past decade. Was not 100% choice. I admit we planned ahead enough to just deal with.

BUT, from my perspective, he has a solid 30-year career ahead of him.

I am just setting the stage. On top of this, we have talked at length about him returning to the workforce soon. Whether he works very part-time while the kids are in school, to help us save more, or if he starts over and is career bound. His personal preference is to start a career and contribute heavily to the household. I don't think anyone *gets* that. I get the impression several of our friends think he is just lazy. Though he flounders with his career goals, etc., the truth is he has a huge work ethic and feels like he should work. He feels we should both work full-time, honestly, for the long run. I don't necessarily agree.

Anyway, serious talks are set aside for fall. Once both kids have the same school schedule. I think I kind of felt dh needed a break, and expected this year to be a much harder transition for LM. It wasn't, but why add daycare on top of Kindergarten? IF we didn't need to. Maybe it wouldn't have gone so smooth in that case.

& so here we are making a plan and moving forward, and everyone we know is quitting their job. What the heck???

It's WEIRD. Dh's sister was laid off and offered a generous severance. She wants to stay home indefinitely. MIL tells me her and cousin could never afford to stay home. Now she tells me cousin is well on her way. (They choose mortgages triple ours, by living in expensive area, and their spouses do not make big money - their pay is decent).

My other cousin just had a third baby - three very small ones - she quit her job.

My good friend just went part-time. We met for lunch and I figured she'd probably tell me she quit. Is her long-term goal. She did make the first step on that road - is winding down. She doesn't want to work again.

& so the trend is... Quit when kids start school.

Honestly, I think most of them are crazy. LOL. Let's work full time and go absolutely insane with babies and daycare, and then once they are in school, quit working. I am not saying that all my working mom friends aren't stressed beyond belief, even with school-aged children. But the order of things does strike me as odd. Everyone I mentioned is giving up BIG paying jobs - a decade into their solid careers. They will tell me, "Oh - can't you relate?" Building a career for 10 years and just walking away? No, neither dh nor I can relate.

I think SIL thinks that she and dh will get the kids together all the time and such. I think dh will be working and so goes the ying and the yang.

To be fair, financially this may have been a good road for them. They may have saved a TON while we focused on a much more modest and lower-income lifestyle. Maybe they will never have to work again. I don't know. I hope it works well for everyone. But, it's a sea of change. As for us, we'd probably rather do just about anything than both work full-time with small kids/babies. We may live longer because we haven't added all that stress to our lives. I have no doubt every one of these people is due a BIG BREAK. They have taken on far too much in recent years.

I just think it's interesting. Will all our friends and family be slowing down while we ramp it up again? It looks that way. We are always opposite, for whatever reason, so, what else is new?

Savings Update

June 4th, 2011 at 10:10 am

I'll have to download the credit card transactions and figure expenses, tomorrow.

I mentioned May sucked. I didn't write down one transaction. I couldn't tell you why. I did feel, looking back, that I was flying a bit blind not being able to download the credit card transactions. But, failed to mention that we seemed to be handling it just fine and managing expenses maybe even better than usual (January through April). Solution? Write every miscellaneous purchase down and discuss more ahead of time with dh. Which helps with the "me planning to buy x" and "him planning to buy y," and not really coordinating well at times. For some reason we never wrote anything down in May. I couldn't tell you why. DOH!

For May, I got out a piece of paper, and instead of writing "$200" across the top, like I usually do, I wrote "$0." We have $0 to spend. I don't really plan a no-spend month, and the $0 is an exaggeration. But it does set the tone. We didn't pay attention in May, and now we make up for it. For the record, I don't think dh gets it. LOL. It probably doesn't help with the communication to tell him we have $0 to spend, while spending money. But we did discuss our plans for the month. He wanted to spend $30 for kids' birthday. We may be treating his folks to lunch (long planned before - for their retirement). This is just a month where we discuss everything well ahead of time. & where we will say no more than usual. For one, I don't think we need to eat out at all this month (except as planned while out of town). To clarify - no eating out while at home. I will probably skip my once a week lunch outings, myself. I have 3 short weeks at work, so no biggie. I did not eat out this past week, for one.

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Interestingly, I was able to redeem $100 to my ROTH this month. Just about enough points on the AmEx to redeem $100. Will stop using that card and getting those rewards for 2 months it looks like, in exchange for $500 cash from Chase. So, was good timing for a BIG redemption.

Grand total for year? $350.

Between that, regular contributions of 10% gross income, and my $2k tax refund, we are well on our way to maxing out 2011. Over half way there.

I added $415 to my cash savings and earned $14 in interest this month. Well on our way to reaching cash savings goal, too.

For mortgage, have been adding $50/month, from payroll tax holiday. Only scrounged an additional $15 this month (insurance refund), in addition. That said, brought grand total of extra mortgage payments, to-date this year, to $605. This surpassed my goal of $600 ($50 x 12). So, I checked off the goal in my sidebar, and added my much more aggressive goal to get mortgage balance down to $199,999 this year. I am starting to think it is doable. It's been in the back of my mind, but wasn't confident it was possible, until about now. $500 Sapphire bonus being the swaying factor.

I did also transfer $1200 to short-term savings, per usual. May/June is slow for short-term (i.e. one-time) expenses. I did utilize the funds for $130 soccer sign ups and $150 for summer camp (for 2). Once I download the credit card tomorrow I expect to take a chunk for other things - I have to sort all that out. These were just the obvious things. I will find more. Short-term savings also buys us a little wiggle room for bad months like these.

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Interesting side not - after simplifying our money system and having so few bills (paying most everything possible through the credit card), I was not thrilled to add the Target and AmEx cards this year for rewards. The AmEx can not function alone since so many vendors won't take it. So, I am paying the Visa, Target and AmEx off monthly. Versus the usual one card to pay off.

It really hasn't been too bad in the end. I immediately pay the Target and the Visa balances off the first of every month. It is more bills to pay, but not a lot to keep track of in the end. Quicken makes it simple I guess. I pay the bulk of the credit card purchases (AmEx for now) off at the end of the month. My second paycheck every month covers that and the mortgage. On the first I pay all the rest of the non-chargeable expenses. It maybe adds 30 second a month (if that) to plug in two more payments on my online bill pay. I am relieved it has been so easy to manage, because the rewards are nice.

Tornadoes and Articles

June 2nd, 2011 at 06:37 pm

Tornado warnings here yesterday. Of course, the hail and thunderstorms are just as unusual. Any time of year - much less June!

Our zip code attracts tornadoes. No idea why. So while everyone else was aghast at the region-wide warnings, I could comment that we've had a few tornadoes before. (Baby ones that damage property - but not much more than that). & of course the news reports confirmed that they expected them specifically in our zip code. As usual!

In the end, a tornado touched down up north - just open space. Phew! Though I'd usually think, "eh, baby tornadoes," while of course hoping it didn't cause damage to our house... With all this crazy weather, I was a tad more worried than otherwise. Who knows what these storms can produce.

Last I heard, more storms through the weekend - more snow in the mountains.

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I saw two articles today that made me roll my eyes:

Housing's Latest Double-Dip
New data says it's even worse than the 1930s.

http://www.smartmoney.com/spend/real-estate/housings-latest-...

So, what says you? Is real estate cheaper than it's been for 35 years? Adjusted for inflation?

I rolled my eyes, because from a regional perspective, there is nothing "cheapest in 35 years" about real estate here. I'd classify it as "more expensive than ever" - short/crazy bubble aside.

An excerpt:

"On the Case-Shiller measure, prices are now 33% below the 2006 peak and are back at a level last seen in the third quarter of 2002. This means that prices have now fallen by more than the 31% decline endured during the Great Depression."

Yes - my home lost 50% of it's value after the price doubled overnight. I'd theorize that insane borrowing accounted for insane prices, and that 30% - 50% and more losses in a short time frame sound horrible, but mean pretty much nothing in the big picture. It means prices are right where they started in 2002-ish (as article admits). Around here we could have bought our home for half as much just a few years prior. (Prior to 2002, to clarify).

So, did real estate go up 100% practically overnight, in the 1920s/1930s? If not, this decline comparison is useless.

But, makes me wonder if other regions are different. I constantly find my experiences very unique in the region I live in - in many different ways.

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Second article?

For Mortgage Defaulters, More Loans for the Taking

In yet another sign the credit crunch may be ending, some banks are offering loans to consumers with shaky credit.

http://www.smartmoney.com/borrow/home-loans/for-mortgage-def...

It wasn't the subject/title of the article that was so annoying to me, though. It was this quote:

"A lot of responsible people through no fault of their own found themselves in mortgages that weren't practical for them."

To which I can only roll my eyes. I know too many people who took on mortgages they could never realistically expect to repay. Hardly what I would call *responsible.* Which seems to be the bulk of the defaulters around here. There are the many who borrowed several times their booming income, and several who just borrowed six figures in equity to afford lifestyles they couldn't otherwise.

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Neighborhood Doings

Um, a short sale on our street sold in about a day. I wonder what bank it was. SMART bank. IT said "sale pending" from day 1 or day 2. Then it said "sold" after a few weeks. I wondered if that really meant SOLD! & then the movers came and it was so. That has got to be a record for a short sale.

Other neighbor just put house up for rent. With the glut of rentals, I am always amazed how this house is continually rented out with no vacancy. Still asking $1600/month - same as always (boom or bust). For reference, our PITI is about as much, but our home is much bigger. We live in a really nice neighborhood, so I imagine it's easier to fill vacancies. I told dh if we were on the other side of the freeway, how the heck do you stand out from all the rest??? There just seems to be endless empty homes. Everywhere.

Anyway, these renters were only here about a year. & I was shocked how quickly they found renters. Will see how it goes this time... I tell you - the rental market here defies logic. The only people really BUYING homes here are investors. I'd like to see the statistics of homes here - how many are rentals versus occupied by owners. Maybe it works because so many renters are being evicted as their landlords foreclose. Kind of a musical chairs? I wouldn't personally want to own real estate for rent here when it all settles down. Seems to me the rental market is on shaky ground. You can see it in the commercial real estate - has been hit VERY hard. & yet the landlords in our immediate neighborhood don't seem to have any problems covering their expenses with a constant flow of renters.

Financial Update

June 1st, 2011 at 07:51 am

Ugh - May was terrible!

Didn't 100% hit me that it was JUNE. Probably should have paid the bills a bit sooner.

About $500 short, for June bills, at current. Since I can't download the AmEx yet, I am not sure where we failed so badly. I think a little bit of everywhere. Kind of funny reading everyone else's May posts. Is it in the air?

Anyway, we usually loosen up a little bit in the summer, but I will be strict with the budget this month. Will have some chance to make it up. Though we have a lot of road trips, etc., we also have a LOT of free meals coming to us in June. So, will see how it pans out. Once the credit card closes I can look a little closer and see if I missed anything. Just a precursor early morning glance and an "UGH!," for now.

Got the new Chase card, and so I will delight in being able to download purchases in real time for a couple of months. It is much easier to manage that way - I have not had the inclination to manually enter everything in real time with the less flexible but very rewarding AmEx. It's not that time consuming - I have just put finances in the background lately. I thought I would do that more after tax season, but maybe not. Maybe the ugly month of May will motivate me?

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All that said, my pie in the sky mortgage goal is starting to look like a possible reality. For background, we never borrowed against our mortgage (many refis), except for the last refi. It was too good to pass up, but didn't really have the cash to part with. Anyway, since we are so close to breaking the $200k barrier, decided to pay off some of those closing costs this year. Didn't intend to finance that part for 30 years, anyway. Though we generally have a no pre-payment rule with the mortgage - before ROTHs are maxed and we build a little more savings.

To break $200k by 12/31/11 was pretty pie in the sky, but have been trying.

Anyway, I was about $2000 short on current trajectory. Trying to add whatever we can every month - any unexpected income, etc. We've earmarked this $500 Chase bonus for the mortgage, which will help a ton. Add that to expected christmas money, and we are currently only about $85 short. Which, I would transfer from savings to complete the goal.

Dh will apply for a $250 Chase bonus in a couple of months - if still available. We've earmarked that money for a school donation.

In addition, AmEx will earn us about $500 in ROTH contributions, this year. Would be a little more, but are focusing on the Chase rewards for the summer.

Yes, will probably be a record credit card reward year for us - and will go a long way to our financial goals. Everyone has their own credit card issues/personalities, but I Cringe every time Dave Ramsey types say "No one got rich off credit card rewards." I won't be rich, but will make virtually impossible financial goals very possible, with very little effort on our part. I can do a lot with a free $1000, personally. Big Grin Living on one income, those extra amounts sometimes make all the difference. $1000 here and there means bigger ROTH contributions, or mortgage pre-payments.

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I might finish my book tonight.

I was tearing through, and then it got very tedious in the 4th book. Problem is there so much going on, and then you have to sit through MORE characters and story lines being introduced. UGH. I was just thinking, "What is happening with everyone else? Is anything ever going to be reoslved???" I read more during tax season because those books were moving along much better. Harder to put down.

Anyway, the last 300 pages or so have turned back to fast paced and hard to put down. So, I will finish this week some time, and will have to wait for the new book in July.

The HBO series has been very good. We have found some nuances that we didn't quite pick up in the book. This is a series to be re-read for sure. But, I probably will never have the patience to read all those 1000-page books again. My tendency to skim/read quickly is apparently not good for this series, either. I felt better that dh completely missed some of what I did, too.

Anyway, it will be time for me to find some new reading material. I am glad to hear the library ebook selection seems to be rising quickly. That is where I will start.

This series was the first book I could get into in a long time. Unfortunately, only leaves my expectations higher.