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Archive for July, 2011

VERY SAD!

July 30th, 2011 at 05:14 pm

I am sure everyone goes through this on some level, but I had the luck to grow up in an always more popular area - which means old buildings are torn down and new housing is put in every single chance given.

Anyway, my dad sent me a news article this morning that said the skating rink where I grew up is closing. TOMORROW. That, by itself is sad. But, then there is the inevitable "The building will be razed and 100 single homes will be built." Something like that.

*sigh*

They already tore down the music store my middle school teacher owned, where I learned to play piano, and where I taught piano through college. That was hard. Now when I drive by all there is are houses.

Both these places mean about as much to my childhood as the house I grew up in and the schools I attended.

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I had already committed to a no-spend weekend. & I wasn't thrilled with the idea of being spontaneous to go there one last time (had been meaning to take the kids for ages).

I was also planning to work tomorrow.

BUT, on facebook, I saw a childhood friend was in town and might go there with her kids today. It's not anyone I was overly close to, but went to the same school grades K-12. Our high school was so huge, there will never be a reunion. This is the best thing I got. There may be others there.

So, I e-mailed her and asked what time she'd be there. Will consider it from there. Looks like we might be VERY spontaneous. I'd invite my dad along, visit my folks for dinner, and then drive back because I need to work tomorrow. Dh got *the virus* and I took some time off work this week to run the kids around, etc. So, have to make up 3 hours or so this weekend.

I am not going to bother if no one I know is going. I think I am more intrigued by the reunion factor. I'd probably rather remember the place as I did in my childhood. So, will see...

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I went to aerobics this morning and was craving a smoothie the entire time (Was hungry!). My smoothie maker has been a bit finicky lately. So I kind of set it aside a few weeks ago. I decided to give it a whirl today - had frozen strawberries, watermelon and bananas. Plus some yogurt and juice. Ah - hit the spot perfect! Smoothie maker was very well behaved today.

I will probably put one on my wish list for Christmas. A nicer one. This one was real cheap - but does so much better than a blender (in my opinion). Then I don't have to be too rough on our old/cheap blender. Anyway, I bought it when I had intense cravings for fruit during my last pregnancy. I don't really care much for fruit, plus it wasn't exactly the kind of calories I needed to sustain a pregnancy (all I wanted was FRUIT)! & so I bought the smoothie maker and started making yogurt smoothies to cure my cravings and get adequate protein and calories. (I had made smoothies before, but didn't want to put my blender through that every single day!).

Now that I know it was a great investment and we use it all the time, and since it is not working up to par any more, I am ready to invest in a nicer one!

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LM qualified for a focus group. Sometimes the kids get money, toys, or both. Today it is just a toy. But, it is his first focus group, so will be interesting. (BM has done several).

It's funny how it all kind of ebbs and flows. I don't think dh or I have done one paid focus group this year. BUT, the credit card rewards have been REALLY lucrative (& far less effort)! It's just funny to me how when some income streams are slow, others speed up.

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Work aside, and spontaneous trip aside, we had little planned but to lounge by the pool all weekend. So plan A is lots of driving and reunion-ing today. Plan B is a low key lounge by the pool weekend. (Work and focus group duties both over by noon!)

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ETA: Did not go, since heard line was out the door! Will stick with the no-spend weekend.

Approved!

July 30th, 2011 at 02:04 pm

Dh is usually immediately approved for ANY credit card offer. *I* usually have to wait for a call (Fraud alert on my credit bureau accounts). That said, I am getting kind of aggravated at Chase for checking my identity every single time. I am a current customer with a current account using the same address, etc. To be fair, my account was very inactive when I applied for the last card. But, this time I am just aggravated. Seems overkill to me! (It would be one thing if I applied under a different address and e-mail).

{I've personally never found any one to ignore the fraud alert - maybe that is more of a department store practice? I don't know - you always hear that credit card companies don't care or pay attention - but my experience has been opposite - kind of overkill}.

ANYWAY...

Since dh is already an *authorized user* on my Chase Freedom, and he wasn't immediately approved, I thought we might have to call and beg to get this card. Big Grin

So, I Was relieved to see the approval today! Was one whole week.

Phew.

That's a $200 cash bonus.

I am still waiting for approval on the $500 amazon gift card bonus. Which at this point is most lucrative - aside from the $500 cash I got from Chase. I will also find out in a few days if Chase is going to give me another $500 for the Sapphire.

I still haven't heard back from Citi on the annual fee that they shouldn't have charged me. If nothing else, dh should be up to calling Monday. But, I like correspondence in *writing.* Not that it means much to some credit card companies. But, still feel a little more substantial than another promise over the phone!

Refi Relief

July 28th, 2011 at 05:55 pm

I think my cautious nature, plus other random circumstances, and continually falling interest rates, has contributed to the fact that we have refinanced more times than I can probably remember at this point!

Every time I can save 1% interest, it seems like a no brainer to refinance. (I am not talking about cash out refinances, borrowing money, blahdeblahdeblah. JUST lowering the interest rate!) But, hell if I was going to sit around and wait for something better. I didn't have the crystal ball that said rates would slide down to rock bottom the entire first 12 years+ I owned a home. I could have just refinanced once or twice to the same end - had I known!

Anyway, I was *just* seeing 15-year mortgage rates at 3.75%, and I had to salivate. They've probably been around awhile, but I completely wrote off the 15-year mortgage at this point in time. Easy peasy if we are both working. But, just a tad too much to take on without a second income.

For whatever reason, I ran the numbers anyway, on the latest and greatest. The extra push to get our balance down to $199,999 this year, seemed to significantly decrease the payment from last I checked. Probably lower interest rates, too (though just barely). We also have the cash to pay the closing costs (maybe we didn't last time I looked).

Payment? $1450 per month.

Really, it's nothing. Our initial 30-year mortgage was MORE Than that. $1500-ish. We've paid $1300-ish on FAR less income.

But, alas, I have really taken a liking to my $1125/month mortgage payment. It's really the only reason we are making progress on our other financial goals. $1450 is probably extremely reasonable considering my income. BUT, I am also paying $1000/month for health insurance. That's obviously the reason I can't really stomach what is otherwise a VERY Reasonable payment.

I decided to run the numbers as if we just paid $1450/month on our current mortgage. Any time I have done this exercise before, we come out MILES ahead on the refi. We are talking a 1.125% decrease in interest!

The verdict? Not so much this time. Huge sigh of relief!

I need to pre-pay $15,000 at some point. If I do so, the $1450 payment knocks out the mortgage in exactly 15 years.

$15,000 might seem like a lot, but once you consider the cost to refi, the hassle factor, the tying up of cash, and the $325 increase to our minimum payments, it's nothing. So we maybe have to come up with $10,000 more - than refi costs - in exchange for some huge flexibility (a LOW minimum payment).

For the first time ever, it just doesn't make sense to refi. Hallelujah!

All that said, I am excited because my goal to pay off our mortgage at age 45 seems little more than a pipe dream lately. I think *this* 15-year plan is doable, and it puts us at mortgage payoff about the time of my 50th birthday!!

Dh then just needs to work enough to knock off 5 years off the mortgage. That, plus the $15,000 I mentioned. If he never works again? I can live with the age 50 pay off. It would mean only 25 years of even having a mortgage, and we'd have our parents beat by a couple of years.

I think between gifts, overtime, etc., we can aim for the extra $3900 ($325 x 12) per year to the mortgage. I am motivated because forming the plan to pay an extra $3000-ish this year seemed like a huge pipe dream, but we are well on the way. I am motivated by how powerful thought and a plan is.

I haven't tried before because too behind on other financial goals. The last decade was definitely: *screw the mortgage - time with our kids is more important - working more would be insane anyway.*

But, today, we are at:

**Rebuilt cash savings. Should reach $30,000 by the end of the year. Have not had this much cash since the DINK years. I feel like we are getting back on solid ground.

**We are maxing out our ROTHs. $10,000 per year.

**As of next week, dh has about 7 hours per week day free to work (no daycare costs). With the economy and all, I don't expect him to be working full-time next week. Hardly! But, being overly aggressive on the mortgage for one or two years doesn't really mean much as we ramp up our income. The last decade it might have left us behind in other savings goals. We might have to be creative for the next year or two, but eventually a second income will take up the slack.

I go back and forth because I regret tying too much cash in the mortgage, in the past. That said, I also feel defeated at how little progress we have made on the mortgage since having kids. I just need to find better middle ground. (In addition - seeing way too much under-employment once hitting age 50 - in the family and such - even before economy really went south. I feel extra motivation to be mortgage free by that age. Age 45 goal comes from the wish to be mortgage free before kids start college).

If interest rates stay low, though, I wouldn't be surprised if we take on a 15-year mortgage if we have an income boost. Though I always caution taking on more mortgage than needed, the flip side is we are talking about extremely reasonable territory with these LOW interest rates. The more we pay off, the more reasonable the 15-year payment is.

Credit Card Offers

July 28th, 2011 at 04:30 pm

I really need to start reading all the credit card offers that come in the mail (versus throwing them in the trash)!

My $300 cash or $500 gift cards from Citi will not come easy. I set aside the offer we got in the mail but didn't look at it until AFTER I applied for it. Doh! Lesson learned. Offer in mail waived annual fee. (Lord knows what other awesome deals have come through our mail that I never looked at. Seems if "available to everyone" offers are enticing, then direct mail ones seem to be even better).

Anyway, I thought we were doing very well on budget this month (sick and homebound for a week was a LOT of it). So was surprised to see the Citi credit card uptick $200. I was thinking we may spend $50 more this month - on gas and food. I wondered what on earth dh had bought, and quickly narrowed it down to $175 in fees.

Ugh!

Dh got my germs and he is sick - card is in his name. He is not up to calling them today! Maybe for the best. Citi is easy to deal with over the internet (good secure messaging, etc. - last time I had a Citi card I never once had to call them. I did a balance transfer online and then asked for a cash refund - did it all to invest the cash at 5% or 6%. SO EASY). So I sent them a message how I didn't appreciate being charged $175, after they told me over the phone a couple of weeks ago that they would charge me $0. $125 annual fee + $50 authorized user. I didn't catch the $50 authorized user part until after I applied (have NEVER been charged for that before). So dh asked them to take me off. They told him he didn't need to - was no charge. Of course they charged him anyway!

Since the credit card closed 7/25 or so - it won't affect my budget in the interim. I will just pay the 7/31 balance minus $175. Thus far, that is more than the balance on the 7/25 statement. So, phew. I'd usually be more insistent that they remove the charge from the statement they added it to, but this way I can just focus on getting it reversed. I don't really care when - as long as it is SOON.

I think this is a hassle factor we brought upon ouselves in some regard (applied for the lesser offer). I generally equate these one-time offers with "5 minutes to apply" and maybe "15 minutes to close the card." If that. Generally no hassle in between. Earning $200 or $500 for 20 minutes of my time? Seems like a steal for me.

This one - I just have to work a little harder for.

Lesson learned - I'll start paying more attention to credit card offers! I could kick myself for not checking the mail offer first and just applying under the "no fee" deal in the first place.

Unemployment

July 27th, 2011 at 12:42 am

**Just found out family friend was laid off from AAA after 12 years or so. Job outsourced to India.

My dad has been struggling with unemployment most of his 50s. But, he is well prepared for early retirement, and doing just fine.

It hit me when my dad mentioned to another friend that this guy is 60. We were bemoaning his fate and how ill prepared he is for unemployment. But, for whatever reason, I compartmentalized him as much younger in my mind. When my dad said he was 60, it was just like, geez.

My dad and his friend could probably hardly be more opposite, financially. It kind of changed my mind from "poor guy," to a slight "tsk tsk." His situation was entirely preventable, really. Forced retirement at 60 is probably tough for most anyone. But "hardly a penny to my name" at 60, is pretty riduclous.

Will be interesting to see how it pans out. I won't be surprised if my parents end up helping him out.

I just read unemployment is ticking up. I see it, as I have several friends/relatives/acquaintances getting laid off from LONG TIME jobs - in recent weeks.

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Check out this article:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/business/help-wanted-ads-e...

The Help-Wanted Sign Comes With a Frustrating Asterisk:

The unemployed need not apply.


Really, really obnoxious and sad.

I can't really complain about my lot, but reading this, it looks like the odds of my spouse returning to the workforce any time soon? Pretty slim. It's ugly out there. Of course, I am far more worried about friends who have been out of work a long time, etc. But, yeah, it's just UGLY out there.

More Credit Cards!

July 26th, 2011 at 05:41 pm

These rewards are completely out of control!

I just applied for Southwest Rapid Rewards card. A $99 annual fee + ONE purchase = $500 Amazon gift cards.

I usually write off any card with annual fee (when it's not waived first year), off the bat. BUT, I have made so much cash this year off credit cards, it was a very small gamble.

Rewards round up:

$600-ish deposits to ROTH IRA (Fidelity AmEx)
$1000 (maybe?) cash - not sure if Chase will honor second $500
$300 Cash - Citi
$200 Cash - Chase
$500 Amazon gift cards - Southwest Chase
-$99 fee

=$2500

If Chase flakes out on full $1000 cash, I am still up $2000 for VERY little effort.

I am not sure if I will be approved for this Southwest card - since it is another Chase card. I decided to apply, and ask them to close my Chase Freedom - *if* they deny me for that (too many Chase cards). Was going to close it anyway, but figured it was easiest to do it this way.

I will probably redeem these rewards and close all of these credit cards (4 cards - 2 for the each of us) before I consider any more reward cards this year. I think 4 *extra* cards is about my limit. Should be able to close them all by end of September, and to start anew.

{CAVEATS - we tend to charge most our bills anyway (so we don't have to do anything extraordinary to meet purchase minimums), we ALWAYS pay the balance off monthly, and our 800-ish FICOs seem unaffected by semi-frequent card opening and closings for cash rewards. Once one-time rewards are earned - we immediately close those credit cards. I was blessed to be taught how to handle credit cards versus just fearing them. That said, I don't recommend utilizing these deals if you can't treat your credit card like a debit card, or if you have to rack up expenses that you wouldn't otherwise. Then, it's no deal...}.

Camping

July 26th, 2011 at 02:40 am



Nope, I didn't change my mind and go camping. But, the fam did go without me.

Sounds like they had a blast.

From a frugal standpoint, doesn't get much cheaper than a camping trip. But look at that amazing beauty! This is just a couple hours from our home - in the Sierras.

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I can't believe that summer has only 2 weeks left! I kind of equate summer with slowness, because work is pretty quiet this time of year. BUT, I suppose it's nice not having to deal with *school* stuff 2 months of the year.

When the kids are older, we might appreciate the short summers, but for now - it just goes by way too fast!

Seeing the pictures reminded me that we promised BM to go back on that big hike by family camp. Probably something we will do in September. We have time this weekend, but after being so ill for an entire week, I hardly feel up to anything like that.

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Next weekend will probably be a *take it easy* and stay close to home kind of weekend.

Weekend after that we are planning a little vacation in San Jose. Nothing really set in stone - but several things we want to do. Maybe a day trip to the beach, or a hike. A day at the water park, etc.

Our anniversary is 2 months away, so we should probably think about booking a room in Napa for that weekend. Was what we decided to do (something different and pretty close to home). Well, I better start figuring something out!

Heck, our Napa trip is about 2 weeks before our So Cal trip. Best get that figured out, too.

Credit Rewards Update

July 23rd, 2011 at 06:08 pm

**Hit $3000 spending on the Chase Sapphire. Closes in a week or so - will see if I get my points on that statement.

If I get my check, will donate $250 to school and add $250 to the mortgage.

**Hit $600 on the Citi card (need $1000 or $2000). I think I will just aim for $2000 to keep it simple. (Dh got a $1000 offer in the mail after I applied - but it's easier to just stick with the $2000 than to deal with a cc company which may or may not honor anything they tell us!)

Anyway, I just set up the health insurance to pay on that card next month. Which means I just need another $700 or so. Probably will hit it by mid-August and be done with that card.

Reward = gift cards galore.

**I just applied for a Chase Freedom in dh's name. I already have one, so easier just to apply in his name to guarantee approval. But, we only have to spend $500 to earn $200 cash back. EASY MONEY. IT may pail in comparison to the $2000 or so I am expecting from our 3 other cards this year, but in the grand scheme of things, it's not so often an easy $200 reward like that comes along. I'll take it!!

Will probably put the $200 to the mortgage.

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No, we have never opened up so many credit cards in such a short time, for rewards, in our lives. This year has been unreal. I am usually only in the game for more rare/lucrative cards. Maybe once a year or so, on average.

Still wondering how much the competition will heat up and if there will be more for the taking in 2011.

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{CAVEATS - we tend to charge most our bills anyway (so we don't have to do anything extraordinary to meet purchase minimums), we ALWAYS pay the balance off monthly, and our 800-ish FICOs seem unaffected by semi-frequent card opening and closings for cash rewards. Once one-time rewards are earned - we immediately close those credit cards. I was blessed to be taught how to handle credit cards versus just fearing them. That said, I don't recommend utilizing these deals if you can't treat your credit card like a debit card, or if you have to rack up expenses that you wouldn't otherwise. Then, it's no deal...}.

Rough Week!

July 21st, 2011 at 11:01 pm

Gah!

Kids both had a mild virus recently, so when I felt it coming on last Thursday night, figured it couldn't be too bad.

One week later, I feel chewed up and spit out. Still not 100%, but getting there...

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The kids' party was excellent, so I hear.

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I also get to miss that awesome concert tonight. Frown I suppose I could go if I really wanted to, but think I rather rest up. If nothing else, throat is REALLY sensitive and don't think I could take any smoke, etc. A co-worker walked by with some perfume on, and about knocked me over. Hard to describe - but it just feels TERRIBLE as those chemicals are breathed in and make contact with my throat.

Dh is a SAINT and has taken care of a very grumpy/sick wife all week.

For whatever reason, I planned way far ahead more than usual on the kids' party and it was far simpler than usual. All that said, dh and I were annoyed when we asked his mom to whip up box mix cupcakes (we were at hospital hours before party) and she wanted to buy some at the store. Rolleyes I told dh, "I rather make them right now, in my ill state, than buy that store bought crap." LOL. But had cleaned the house well ahead (some night before admittedly, *just in case* because felt sick by then). Dh had made some salsa and hummus ahead of time (for adults). The only thing we cut was the watermelon since I knew no one else would want to slice it. I figured it was a small sacrifice. (Don't ask me how on earth I am designated watermelon slicer. I hate knives and have no idea what I am doing - but everyone seems to think I do it well?) Someone made cupcakes for us, and we bought cheap pizza, as planned. Entertainment was all arranged. So, it went off without a hitch. If not for dh's family, I think he would have cancelled. So thank goodness for them coming up a little early and helping.

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From reading all the posts lately, I can tell you all took our heat! We have never had such a PLEASANT July in Sacramento.

That said, I've been home sick running the A/C pretty hard. (The cool air feels good - well - it helped). Plus, we usually only run it downstairs most the day, but have had many days where we have been running it both up and down stairs all day. So, will see if low heat July really comes with any electric savings. Oh yeah - and how much electricity does it cost to run a bounce house for 8 hours? Will find out soon... I suppose if nothing else, it will all even out in the end.

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Frugal activities for July:

**Cancelled camping trip this weekend. Pretty bummed about it, but need to recover. Camping doesn't sound fun at the moment! Of course, dh and kids could go with my dad, but I think dh is exhausted and just wants to stay home.

**Dh will enjoy $5 concert tonight and will probably meet awesome musician. Sounds like a very intimate setting and dh was on his mailing list so is on his *guest list.* Will see what that entails!

**Library event this week - meeting lizards, snakes and all that.

**Train museum membership even next week. We invited 2 sets of friends (can bring 6 guests) and will see the awesome musician who totally flaked out on our party. (He came through with free substitute who worked out pretty well).

Still like his show - would just never hire him again. Anyway, free substitute was his mentor and did many of the same tricks - so worked out as well as it could. In the end - happy to see him perform somewhere else. Especially, free.

**In addition to all of the above, it is still good pool weather. But, geez, have we not been there since the 4th? Maybe I will feel up to the pool this weekend?

**Oh yeah - dh took the kids to see Harry Potter opening day (BM's birthday). IT costs $15. $5 x 3. So, was a nice little splurge. (I could care less - so didn't even want to spend $5, myself. I am happy to watch it on Blu Ray some day). They just went to a low priced matinee - didn't even have to wait in line. Midnight before or later that day would be another story!

Ugh!

July 16th, 2011 at 12:38 am

Well, the only reason I agreed to spend $150 on a magician for the kids' party is it was a super cool magician that we were super excited to invite to our private party.

So, I hadn't gotten any confirmation and nothing in the mail (as he said he would send), so I Called to confirm the party time (Wednesday) and make sure he had the correct address.

He called me back and left a message all was well. THEN, called back Thursday to say he had a scheduling problem and would not make it. He was sending some other guy (who looks like no amateur). He left a message about this. For reference, we are pretty easy to reach. He happened to call when I Was on the phone at work or something, both times.

Ugh! I was so annoyed, and then he didn't call back for 24 hours!!! So he called and left a message today that the show would be free. MEanwhile, party is tomorrow.

Rolleyes

I honestly thought he was joking at first, when he left that message. I am so aggravated on so many levels! It's 5pm Friday night and we still haven't talked to him so I GIVE UP!!!! I had initially wanted to make clear we didn't hire *a magician.* We hired *the magician* and he has some really upset kids. Wondering if he could just come later or whatever.

But, no word, and so I give up. I ordered a bounce house rental. I now have this fear that no one will show. Not happy at all with the experience. Will probably never hire another private entertainer again.

So, we could have delighted with the free show (which I can look on the bright side). BUT, I have to get some backup entertainment. I don't want to figure out how to entertain all these kids if no one shows.

Plus, I am sick today. Am worried I will be sick tomorrow. All the more reason I *need* to keep it simple.

Anyway, all the above said, it is only supposed to be about 80F degrees tomorrow - which is about 30 degrees cooler than usual. This is probably the only bouncy house the kids will ever get, accordingly. I don't even think they'd rent to us in 110 weather - it would be like an oven! I will save $50 over original plan, in the end. & will (maybe?) get a magician and a bouncy house. I can look on the bright side when I Feel better!

Bounce house place - I was able to reserve online at 5pm, the night before. I even found a coupon code for $10 off. The kids get 8 hours of bounce bliss. So far, so good with that! Is a positive turn of events.

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OF course, to top off my day, I am sure some co-workers are rolling their eyes at my Friday sick call today, but I feel like hell. Someone called me and woke me up around 1pm from my office - for something VERY non-important. !!! What the heck?? The family was gone watching Harry Potter and I had turned off the ringer in the bedroom, but I think subconsciously I was keeping an ear out in case the magician ever called back.

& yesterday just really sucked all around, so I am pretty cranky!!

Hopefully tomorrow I can report back that the party was super awesome, and who cares about that magician anyway!

Hanes Update + Credit Update

July 14th, 2011 at 06:59 pm

So, I e-mailed Hanes July 4th to ask for 20% discount towards an order that I placed just hours before their big "20% off site-wide" sale on the 4th.

(Mental note: Never shop day before big holiday?)

So, I didn't hear anything.

I kept thinking:

#1 - That I really should call them. That they may ignore my e-mail, but I may get farther on the phone.

#2 - That I have been spoiled by Amazon. (Last time I live chatted a Zappos rep and got an immediate discount applied - and it was in reference to a return that I hadn't even returned at that time).

Apparently, laziness paid off.

Yesterday (9 days later???), I got a reply that my account was credited.

Thing was, it wasn't.

About 24 hours after I got the e-mail, the credit showed up on my account.

My AmEx card shows credits in process, but apparently Chase doesn't. It never showed up "in process" - just showed up as a finalized transaction today. TO be fair - maybe it had been credited when they said it had.

Anyway, so though the customer experience leaves a little to be desired, I saved myself $5 with one simple e-mail.

Woohoo!!

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In other news, I am starting to drown in credit cards. Big Grin

Usually, when dh and I sign up for one-time bonuses, we just get one card in our name - stuff like that. Since these bonuses were so HUGE - we had to spend a little more to get them - so put each other as authorized users on each card.

I currently have like 8 credit cards sitting in my *dead* pile. Dh's old cc he never uses, 2 sets of Chase cards I need to close eventually, and our regular AmEx (2 copies) which are on hold until we earn our Citi bonus. (Is that 7?). Plus we both have 2 credit cards in our wallets?

I don't think I've ever had this many credit cards at once before. Yeesh!

They will mostly be closed, cut up and gone, soon enough. Just want to get my rewards first!

Week of Birthday

July 14th, 2011 at 02:15 pm

It's still the week of birthday here, so a little busy.

We went to Six Flags Tuesday. Nothing like going to an amusement park to feel your age. Big Grin Actually, I did better than usual. Last time we went to Disney, I had to take a nap, but it is open some insane amount of hours. Six Flag hours are weird (10:30 - 8:00). The weather was PERFECT, which probably helped the energy level. So, we lucked out. Weather couldn't be any better. 70F degrees at most - sunny day - cool breeze.

It's so cool at home that we haven't even been running the A/C. Kids' birthday party is usually the *hottest* day of the year - at about 110F degrees. I've been watching the weather forecast in disbelief. Says 85F, or maybe even cooler. Will see!

Actually, I am relieved we can keep some of the party outside. Usually, *outside* is completely out of the question.

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I think we are going to Disney this year. We were going to go to So Cal for LegoLand. (Kids want to go, it will be a pretty cheap trip, and they will outgrow it soon, so might as well oblige).

Dh says to me, "I don't want to Disney, though" - a few months back.

I didn't argue at the time. Kids have been spoiled rotten and have been almost every year. I personally think it is easier to appreciate things when they are a rare treat.

At some point I whined to dh that I Wasn't sure I agreed. Since I missed Disney World in 2007 and 2009. I might not have been since 2008, myself. I was a wee bit sad to skip it, though for the most part I don't think I care that much.

But, going to Six Flags sealed the deal. This one in particular started out as more of a "Sea World" and they crammed in the rides later. They layout is terrible. We theorized that it wasn't conceptualized from the ground up, like most theme parks. But, we were left annoyed by so many things at this park, that dh said, "Maybe because I have been to Disney so much the last decade - but there is just no comparison."

So, now all of a sudden he wants to go to Disney.

Will see!

We will get a free place to stay through MIL's endless timeshares, and will just drive down. Kids have free tickets to LegoLand. So, all we really have to spend money on is one-day Disney tickets, and food. FOOD will be the biggie. We decided one day is plenty for our purposes. I've done it MANY times. Never with the kids, but since it is more of a last-minute thing, and they have been 10 times already, I think we will survive. (Plus, going mid-week in October means we may accomplish more anyway).

I've never understood what was so expensive about Disney. So many times in college, etc., that we just drove down for the day. Maybe stayed one night in a shared hotel with friends. IT's not the cheapest thing ever, but doesn't have to be a 4-figure vacation, either. (I am referring to the *local* idea that Disney = 4 figures, when it doesn't have to be AT ALL! Not picking on anyone who has to fly thousands of miles to get there. The locals are pretty whiny about the expense, and it is just a 5 or 6-hour drive. So - their attitude would drive you mad).

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We are still tweaking our San Jose *staycation.*

We were going to take the kids to Great America (where dh and I both worked many years - and met). BUT, are no longer enthused with this idea after being tossed around all the rides at Six Flags in our old age. LOL.

We will go sometime - just need to spread it out a little more for us old folgies. Maybe next year? It just really struck me since I practically lived at Great America in my youth (& was always going in on my days off to ride the rides, etc.). Ah, to be young.

We had talked about visiting Winchester Mystery House, but I priced it and the price was insane. Would be like $100 for a 1-hour tour! Whatevah! Decided the kids would appreciate that more later, anyway. Will go in a few years. (We've been several times - apparently never since our parents paid for us, as children).

For reference, I just paid $100 for an entire day at Sig Flags. Price just struck me as insane.

The water park is still a good contender. So far all we have set in stone is a free concert at our alma mater. It's looking like that and a day at the water park. Planning that the last couple of days before school starts. Sounds like a nice end to summer vacation! San Jose has a really nice water park.

The kids get a week off in October, and so that is the week we are looking at our So Cal trip.

Watermelon + More Tales form Foreclosure Central

July 9th, 2011 at 07:35 pm

My food saving trick is to freeze bananas for smoothies. Works in the spring/summer, anyway. Sometimes we devour them all in a day or 2, and sometimes they get forgotten, but freezing them salvages them. I always cut them up for freezing - which makes them like little banana ice cubes!

Bought a watermelon for 4th of July and so cut some up to freeze. Aaaah - divine!!!

I still have half a watermelon in the fridge so will slice some up for the family today and freeze the rest. Maybe 1/4, each.

MIL told me she expects to bring us leftover watermelon next week, as well. She was delighted at the idea of freezing it.

Of course, my friend was just telling me how she pickles watermelons (the rind?). Interesting.

For his birthday, LM wanted to go to the pool *alone.* BM as at another birthday party. In the end - swimming alone wasn't all that exciting. Wink

Once I sign off I will make some smoothies, slice watermelon, and work on his birthday cake.

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Our renting neighbors moved out. They had been foreclosed on and were the epitome of the Joneses.

As I watched the new "Extremely expensive cars/toys" move in next door, I briefly wondered why the renters always seemed to have the most expensive crap. I personally have no preconceived notion that *renters* are less well off - but I do think people with a lot of expensive toys are generally less well off. Has been my own experience. Our neighborhood seems to attract extremely Jonesy renters and owners.

Anyway, met the new neighbor today. VERY NICE, but the first thing he tells me is he lost his house. Well, I hadn't assumed *that.* But really, no surprise. I am continually surprised of how open people are about their financial whoas.

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Reminds me, we were watching a comedy show last night. The guy REALLY wanted this $17 million home in New York. (His budget was initially $2500/month - which you know would buy crap in NYC). When he met with his accountant, the guy is like, "Do I really have to spell it out for you??? You have $6,000 in the bank. You can afford a $6,000 house."

So he moves in to the house.

LOL.

I just loved it. Dh and I were kind of confused at first, and he says to me, "I think this speaks to the ridiculous living situations portrayed on TV - in sitcoms and such."

*ding ding ding*

Having come from a high cost area, I am always noticing how ridiculous the homes and apartments are compared to income portrayed. It's hard to ignore. I can't even watch the Simpsons without wondering why they have such a NICE and large home. LOL.

Slow Week

July 8th, 2011 at 08:41 pm

Ah, it's extremely slow and lazy over here.

Absolutely no plans this weekend, but need to make preparations for birthday party next weekend.

I was thinking of taking the kids to their favorite buffet, but figured it was overkill with all the birthday plans already in place (Six Flags, party, etc.).

Of course, MIL will be in town today, and wants to treat us to dinner at this buffet. So, let the spoiling begin!

I've had so many days off of work (no driving) and we only have two small-ish out-of-town trips planned this month, so I it is very low spend on the gas front. Particularly compared to recent months.

Will have to look out for pizza coupons this week and find the best deal for our party. Usually with adults I am more concerned about quality, but I thinking we are just going to go with the cheapest pizza we can find.

Six Flags - looks like we can keep tickets, parking and food to about $100. Kids have free tickets, and the internet tickets are pretty reasonable (kids' pricing for adults).

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I attended a seminar webcast today.

Meh.

I never much liked working from home, and usually I attend out-of-town seminars to spend time with family, get some quiet time, etc.

SO, I must say, the whole thing was rather "meh." I thought I might like the "no driving" aspect and the "get out of bed and show up."

Truth is I rather get out of the house, and see something different. Which is kind of funny because I am a bit of a home body. Which is probably why I don't see the joy in becoming 100% home body. Because then it's just too extreme. & pretty boring.

But, it was frugal - I will give you that.

The Baby Fund

July 8th, 2011 at 02:02 am

I was listening to Dave Ramey (alright - he's grown on me, I admit it!)

Anyway, was telling someone to hoard up cash for impending birth of baby.

"Listen to Dave!!!" I was thinking, because no one ever listens to this advice.

Anyway, then I Was deflated when Dave said, "Throw it all at the debt when you get home from the hospital - everyone healthy."

Seriously?

Not what I was thinking!

Okay. To be fair, this is a "get out of debt" show. So, maybe this is the right thing to do when deep in debt. I'll give him that. (I'd personally pay off the debt before having a baby - but I suppose not everyone can possibly pull that off!)

I guess, it just seems to be the norm to get caught off guard financially when it comes to babies.

So let me break down why I think it's important to keep cash on hand when you have a baby. Ideally you have several months to save up:

**Unintended disability - I think Dave has this one covered. Save up that cash in case you end up on bed rest or unable to work.

**Health Issues with delivery - mom health issues, baby health issues - whatever. You may get some big medical bills. This seems to be Dave's primary concern.

Oh no - it doesn't end there.

**So you thought you could work, but now it's the last thing you want to do. Ooops, but you didn't save a penny and there is nothing you can do. You can't even prolong your maternity leave by one week. That's gotta suck!

**So you are working and are happy, but under-estimated how daycare was going to eat up most your paycheck.

**Clean bill of health the minute you got home from the hospital, but health issues crop up later. (PPD, anyone?)

& on and on it goes...

& honestly - who here with kids had everything go exactly according to plan? You had EVERYTHING figured out beforehand, right? Wink

Honestly, a little cash in the bank can mean the difference between YEARS of misery and a lot of freedom and flexibility.

All that said, I think I probably dole out the same advice as Dave. I see pregnant women all the time who don't seem to consider the possibility that they might not be able to work 9 months. That really may be the main problem. Because then you just start out in the hole, and it really erodes your options. Like it's that unheard of for something (anything) to throw you off track. Unemployment? Disability? Bed rest? So, maybe that is the most important time to focus on some cash savings.

We learned the hard way. I looked forward to saving 9 months x $2500 (dh's take home) before baby arrived. What is that? Almost $23,000?

He got laid off the second I got pregnant. Which put us significantly under our savings plan. & one reason we felt this plan was important was in case I ended up being unable to work full-time to full term.

We are way super crazy overly cautious and had $30,000 in the bank. & things have been way tighter than we planned for. But I admit watching the majority of new parents with $0 in the bank - we obviously have had it pretty easy in comparison.

& frankly, baby #1 was easy peasy, but the extra cash cushion came in handy with baby #2, in our case. Everything about #1 was pretty easy. Everything about baby #2 was not so easy. & that's just one more reason not to get rid of all your cash the second you have your first baby. Wink

But seriously, I feel like having kids is a lesson in learning that NOTHING ever goes to plan. When it comes to kids, does it ever?

Odds & Ends

July 6th, 2011 at 04:47 pm

**Got news that property tax assesments were released. (I always forget about that - so glad I saw).

Assessment went from $270k to $263k. Something like that.

First - a decrease in taxes is GREAT! That is a $70 annual reduction.

Second - For many reasons, I decided to use tax assesment for net worth purposes - value of home. So, yippee - I don't have to fight a large decline this year. My net worth may go UP this year? Imagine that.

Interestingly, I think assessment has been on low side, since decline (no complaints as far as tax bill) but feel it was pretty spot on this year.

For the record, I wouldn't be surprised if values sunk *much* further. I've mentioned how home prices have stagnated/kept afloat with large percent of 0% - 3% down payment programs STILL available, large number of cash investors from outside the area (& outside the country) AND maybe most importantly all that phantom inventory (tons of homes in default and in foreclosure but not listed for sale very promptly). Banks seem to be heavily controlling supply, whereas MANY more homes should probably be up for sale at any given time. I think there is largely an element of "there is only so much you can do to keep up with the avalanche" - regardless of any sly motivations. As a homeowner, it's good. As a home buyer, I personally wouldn't be impressed with the inflated sales prices.

We still maintain 25%-ish equity - which is where we started out. Lost some value, but have paid down some principal this last decade.

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**On the Chase - we only need to spend $160 more to complete our reward. I haven't filled up the van since camp, so when I fill that up - and next grocery trip - that will do it. Probably within one week.

Perfect timing. New Citi cards should arrive any day. Will switch to that one probably as soon as it arrives. Easy peasy.

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Chimichurri Shrimp

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/Chimichurri-Shrimp-Skillet

This is what we had for dinner the other night. It was pretty good.

Like the one reviewer, we skipped the grapes, and felt it was a bit too much rice. But, it had an interesting flavor. Oh - no need for instant rice since you just add it in the end. We just use regular rice in those instances. IT almost seems easier to throw it in the rice cooker than to go through all the "instant rice" cooking.

I am actually not a huge fan of shrimp, but liked it. I suppose I can handle very flavorful/salty shrimp. & regardless, the rice itself was a meal. I left most the shrimp for the boys.

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**4th of July was great, and we feasted very well. Today I am eating the last of the hamburgers for lunch.

I brought the shrimp/rice to work today - to cover for tomorrow - and in case I didn't have enough food today.

Friday I have my first continuing education webcast. I am going to attend it from home. (NO GAS or wear and tear). I am excited about that.

Since we have so many leftovers, not sure when dh will cook dinner again? For the best - he apparently ended up spending almost $70 on food for 4th of July. BUT, we probably have enough food to get through 10 more days. So, works out.

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**It's cake season.

LM requested chocolate cake with melted hershey chocolate "frosting." This week - for his birthday.

BM requested red velvet cake - which is a new one. Dh found a box mix for it though - so there we go.

I like the funfetti mix + mini chip frosting, so will probably do that for the party. Cupcakes. Plus, will probably have leftover cake to get rid of at the party. Might work out well.

I admit dh bought a lot of cake mix/frosting along with the 4th of July groceries.

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Today should be last day of heat wave. Phew!

Anything can happen, but weather looks perfect for upcoming Six Flags day trip. Woohoo!

True Cost of Bucket List

July 5th, 2011 at 08:17 pm

The True Cost of Your Bucket List

http://www.smartmoney.com/retirement/estate-planning/the-tru...

I thought this was a great article!

"Simply prioritizing those fantasies can help as well, allowing some adventures to be crossed off the roster. Some pros recommend identifying the rationale behind each desire, to see if a less expensive alternative might achieve the same result. If you want to spend more time with your children, for instance, a long weekend trout fishing might give you everything you've hoped for -- without the fantasy price tag."

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I suppose my pet peeve of late is every time someone in the forums mentions saving money, etc., no doubt a large number of people have to come out and say, "Live life!" "Don't forget to spend money to be happy."

It just annoys me I suppose, because who says one had to spend more to be happy? I am one of the blessed few in our society that understands this?

Bucket Lists just strike me as more of the same. The idea that a $10,000 vacation is inherently more meaningful and life affirming than any cheaper alternative. I applaud the marketing, but I personally ain't buying it.

I put this in the "living on one-income category" because we choose on a daily basis to put aside grand adventures with huge price tags so that we can focus on what is truly important. Home. Family. Relationships.

I've also seen quite a few online discussions in recent years about how throwing money away (money you don't have) on bucket list type items is overly encouraged. Usually a large sea of "You will never regret that $10k debt for that dream vacation with your spouse/parent/loved one." Really??? In those discussions, to disagree is to be immediately labeled as "jealous." Really speaks to the maturity of these groups. I'd beg to differ. Jealous is not the word that comes to mind - I have had amazing travel opportunities in my own life. They just don't mean that much to me in regards to my relationships and loved ones. They are shiny/expensive things, where my fondest memories are generally the cheapest and simplest. It's extraordinarily easier to find happiness when you realize how important the simple things in life are.

Spend Spend Spend

July 4th, 2011 at 04:15 pm

**Having friends over for dinner tonight. We had made loose plans and then both went on vacation. & I was extraordinarily lazy all weekend thinking maybe they made other plans. But got a call late last night that they still plan to come. So, will just get some hamburger, hot dogs, etc. Watermelon and chips. We don't have a BBQ but will make do and try to be 4th of July-ish.

Block party fell apart so neighbor invited us over for steaks on the barbie, but I wasn't sure if it was a pity invite and if our friends would show. So, oh well!

Will hang out buy the pool, eat dinner, and watch the neighbors shoot off fireworks.

This morning will have to run around a bit to get ready.

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I made an order on Hanes for some needed clothing items yesterday. Of course, today I got an e-mail about how everything was 20% off. Rolleyes Isn't that ALWAYS how it goes? I e-mailed and requested the discount. Will see. Never hurts to ask!

Bought some party favors for the kids' birthday. Nothing much. I kind of despise them and often don't do them, but I thought getting magic wands would be cute. Just hoping they aren't so cheap they immediately fall apart.

Someone gave me a black hat (like a ball cap) that said "Wicked" - in regards to the play. I really like it. Black is my favorite color. & it was free. That said - there is the inevitable questions about if I am in Wicked. (??? - I get that a lot - very weird). Or how I liked it, blahblahblah. Anyway, I'd survive, but I happened to see that HBO Game of Thrones was selling a black cap too. Well, I'd much rather get all those questions about Game of Thrones. SO, more allowance money spent... It was easy to find a 20%-off coupon, at least. Must be a BIG sale day.

(P.S. We cancelled HBO since the show has ended. Was a nice splurge - but generally we watch all HBO on Blu Ray or netflix, after that fact. I'd be fine with that for G.O.T - season 2 - not sure on dh. Well, for $5/month maybe he could sway me to add a couple of months of HBO. BUT, supposedly we are dropping cable in the fall. Crossing my fingers!!!).

Dh needs to take the kids for some birthday shopping. Not only their birthdays this month (BM still need to get a gift for LM), but a lot of BM's friends have July birthdays.

Oh yeah - and MIL paid for our Family Camp trip - so I donated $100 to the camp. It is a non-profit and they are always raising money for this and that. I carded that yesterday because I knew it would help us get the bonus faster. Next year I will probably just have it come from online bill pay. Had to use PayPal - and I despise PayPal.

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I suppose it is not all spend spend spend. I just deposited 10% of my monthly earnings into our ROTHs, and 10% into cash savings.

I also paid all the credit cards. What a pain! $500 or so left to spend on the Chase. So, hopefully once the Citi card arrives we can just switch over to that one. When done, we can close both cards and go back to just using 3 on a regular basis. (We usually use ONE on a regular basis, but AmEx has the best rewards and is often rejected by retailers. & there is the Target card. 3 hasn't been too much to manage. But this temporary 4/5 cards business is a little annoying). I just pay them all off the first of the month, except the big one which I pay much closer to the due date (maybe one week early). So the way I have simplified is not to worry about due dates, etc. I just pay most of them the second they close for the month (all around the 3rd).

Dh called Citi and they waived the annual fee, per paper mail offer. Woohoo!

On a Reading Tear...

July 3rd, 2011 at 05:01 pm

First, saw this cute little craft project:

Ice Cube Sail Boats

http://alphamom.com/family-fun/crafts/sail-into-summer-with-...

So, we made these yesterday (VERY easy and all supplies on hand!)

They melted fast so may look more pretty than be sturdy toys. But, still kind of fun.

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We found another free event for July - Train Museum event (we are members) and that super cool magician will be performing again. That was where we saw him last year. He is the one we hired for the kids' birthday - so they may get to see him twice this month.

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Dh went to the grocery store, and we all rejoiced, because the pantry was getting pretty empty! That said, I was surprised he only kept it to $100. He made a good haul.

He also brought home a smoothie bounty (yogurt, bananas and frozen juice), so we will have some smoothies to deal with the heat. We already have lots of frozen fruit on hand.

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My reading goal was only to finish the Game of Thrones series this year. It is MASSIVE.

But, getting an eReader has really put me on a reading tear.

I just added it up and I already read 8 books this year. Including three Game of Thrones books.

SO, I am thinking of upping my reading goal to 24 books per year.

I LOVE my nook.

I actually read 3 memoirs. & in addition, half-read 3 books that I decided not to finish. 3 Game of Thrones books, plus started the Hunger Games. The writing was good on Hunger Games, but it was hard for me to wrap my brain around. I have to borrow the third book from the library (Dh had books 1 & 2 - paperbacks free from Scholastic). Might as well see how it finishes. I am excited to see the movie. & curious how the Trilogy ends.

I am waiting for one library ebook, but I suppose it's time I go sing up for a bunch more. I don't want to overdo it and have too much to get through, but at the same token - I have nothing else to read! Our library does not allow renewal of ebooks, so if you miss it and you don't have time - you miss it. I guess you just ask for it again, then. But I find it hard to get in a groove. With paperbacks, you just renew them until you get around to finishing them.

I couldn't tell you what it is - but apparently it's feast or famine with me and books. I do think the eReader got me excited about reading again. Both that and Game of Thrones.

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Today we will probably lounge by the pool, sip smoothies, and play with our ice boats. Aaaaaaahhhhhhh... If I am good I may hit the gym. Too hot to do much outside but swim. But I am also still in "watch LM like a hawk" mode by the pool so not too much exercise to be had there.

That said, he was swimming so well yesterday, that I think we will skip swim lessons this year. Every time I take him to the pool he seems to remember some swimming skill. I am relieved for that. He just needs more practice is all.

The $500 Has Arrived...

July 1st, 2011 at 10:03 pm

Lucky me!

Thanks, Chase!!

& so goes $500 to the mortgage.

I was going to deposit my paycheck today and pay the mortgage, so, good timing.

I was willing to wait a few more days to pay the mortgage + $500, but now I don't have to.

That means, $850 to principal. Big Grin

It Pays to Read Junk Mail

July 1st, 2011 at 01:48 pm

I had wondered briefly if I had been offered the $1000 deal from Sapphire, anyway. Who knows - I threw the mail version of the offer in the trash without looking at it.

Yesterday I signed up dh for the Citi card - worth $500 in gift cards after annual fee. I decided to take the annual fee since I got so much from the Chase card. Was a small price to pay for the big rewards. & I have a $500 check in the mail - on its way to me from Chase!

I signed up yesterday since I saw the deadline was 6/30. I almost didn't because I thought something better may come along.

Of course, this morning I noticed the paper mail invitation I had set aside. 1 - to remember. 2 - to see if it was a better offer.

Indeed it was! Annual fee waived!! Plus, we only have to spend $1,000 in 3 months to get our reward. Big Grin

So, if they charge the annual fee, I have an offer code to ask them to remove it. Woohoo. I suppose we will call and ask when we get the card - make sure we only have to spend $1,000.

It looks like I can probably turn these rewards into $475 Amazon gift cards. I was expecting to get much less after fees, etc. Some of the gift cards sites are paying 95 cents on the dollar if you exchange other cards for amazon cards.

It was funny because at first dh thought I should settle for $175 cash. We were arguing a bit. I was telling him "How had is it to sell a gift card? I am going to at least try the gift card thing for $100 and go from there. We will see how it goes. If it is too much hassle - we can take the cash." Of course - once I saw the amazon exchange rate - now he wants me to get $475 in Amazon cards. Rolleyes

Of course, now that we don't have to pay the annual fee, $300 cash, with the push of a button - sounds pretty sweet. Big Grin

We've got some time to think about it...

Rewards round up for 2011:

$1000 Cash - Chase
$ 600 to ROTH - Fidelity AmEx
$ 475 Amazon gift cards - Citi

It's only 6/30 - the year is only half over - we'd both sign up for another card (each) without a thought. Is it too much to hope for more enticing rewards in 2011? I am curious what the rest of the year brings! IT's already been a record year though, so I will be content if the rewards frenzy ends...

{For reference - we tend to charge most our bills anyway (so we don't have to do anything extraordinary to meet purchase minimums), we ALWAYS pay the balance off monthly, and our 800-ish FICOs seem unaffected by semi-frequent card opening and closings for cash rewards. Once one-time rewards are earned - we immediately close those credit cards. I was blessed to be taught how to handle credit cards versus just fearing them. That said, I don't recommend utilizing these deals if you can't treat your credit card like a debit card, or if you have to rack up expenses that you wouldn't otherwise. Then, it's no deal...}.