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Archive for November, 2011

German/Irish Cookie Recipes?

November 29th, 2011 at 06:45 pm

Here are all the butterflies we couldn't see when we went to the beach the other day:



WOW! It just wasn't quite so impressive down on the ground. (My dad sent me this picture and was also surprised how many there were).

Next time we will have to remember our binoculars.

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BM needs to work on a big cookie project for school. He is supposed to pick a recipe from his heritage. I told him he was American and we have been here for several generations - and I have no non-American recipes. I have a great chocolate chip cookie recipe from his Grandma, and is the best I could come up with. I googled it to check that chocolate chip cookies were American. Encyclopedia BM already knew the answer to that.

Anyway, we googled German cookies and found a couple of recipes, and I said we could try a couple this weekend and see what we like best.

BUT, if you have any Irish or German cookie recipes, please share. Of course, preferably the easier the better since he has to make a how to book of some sort. We ruled out some of the recipes with 20 ingredients.

I still think we should just pick something American, but that just isn't as cool!

There will be lots of baking in my house this weekend!

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Tonight we tried this recipe:

Sweet Potato Enchiladas

http://www.netplaces.com/potluck-recipes/healthy-vegetarian-...

Thumbs up!

Dh got a few free recipe books on the kindle - so this was one of those - glad I could find it online to share.

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Today I received that annual refund from Chase. YAY! I will have to update my rewards tallies. Maybe tomorrow.

Plastic Jungle is less impressive this round. Last time they struck me as lightning fast - I sold some gift cards for cash. This time it took them EIGHT DAYS to receive half of my gift cards. The other half has apparently not arrived yet. They clearly closed their offices for the holidays, but from 2 to 8+ days is a little ridiculous. (To be fair, the US Postal service has gone amazingly downhill the last decade, and I use it as little as possible any more - I understand it may not all be their fault - but I think the Holidays slowed them down VERY considerably).

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Tomorrow is back to work for me. The end of lazy and the beginning of CRAZY.

Perfect Beach Day

November 28th, 2011 at 09:30 am









I am so glad we made it to the beach yesterday.

First off, gas was significantly cheaper from last time we filled up. Yay!

We got to my folks house around noon and gave my mom her kindle (Christmas/Birthday present). She seemed to love it though we couldn't get their library system to work with it. Dh will figure it out. Or maybe it is just the library. Oh well!

We ate lunch at Burger King and it only took 45 minutes to get to the beach. Dh is definitely not a beach person, but with the short drive I realized it would be really easy to take the kids again. It was just a "Gee, this is a lot closer than I remembered!!" kind of moment.

We saw the monarch butterflies, and it wasn't all that exciting. There were a lot of them, yes. But they were all way up in the trees, so not much to see.

That said, the beach was AMAZING. I had never been to this particular beach, but it is definitely now my favorite.

The tide pools were amazing. We ended up getting there so late we stayed for the sunset and the low tide.

IT was crowded, which didn't bother me, BUT everyone and their brother was there to take pictures of the sunset. We moved away from the main picture focus to a little beach off to the side, and I heard someone say about my kids, "We should tell those kids to get out of the way." I could only think: Rolleyes Some of us were actually there to enjoy the beach and not just take pictures of it. Thankfully, they decided against asking the frolicking kids to get out of their way.

Of course, I figured we'd do Taco Bell for lunch and the deli for dinner - keep it cheap. BUT, my parents took us out to my favorite mexican restaurant for dinner. We might have gone anyway, but my birthday is this week so was an early birthday dinner.

All that, and we got home by 10pm.

Oh, and the weather was just perfect. I was questioning the weather report I saw because on the drive we mostly saw thick fog, both ways. But it was a very sunny and beautiful day at the beach, which is hard to come by. Thank goodness weather.com did not lie! Big Grin Since when is the land covered in fog and the beach clear and sunny? Bizarro! It's usually the opposite around here.

I have today off of work. & tomorrow I have a seminar. So, I have been very happy with this vacation. IT was kind of spontaneous, but I mostly prefer to stay close to home and keep it low key. As such, I definitely feel very refreshed! It was a very good call.

IF we have time, we might go to the art museum today. If not, we will maybe go Sunday instead. Today will mostly be a lazy day at home.

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Credit card closes on the 4th (Sunday) and so not much fiscal I have to do before then. At that point I should have a good sense of our 12/31/11 status.

When I get paid on Thursday I will pay the mortgage and the property taxes. The assessed value of our home went down about $7000, but the taxes went up with all the voted tax increases the past year.

My mom did slip me $40 for groceries on T-Day, per usual. Yay!

Weekend Doings

November 27th, 2011 at 09:13 am

**Dh got another unexpected *$15 off next purchase* coupon at the grocery store. This seems to be common on weekends, though he usually shops during the week. I need to remember to check the website since who knows how many of these we have missed!!!

**We got some mild bug on Thanksgiving. We all felt pretty terrible and useless on Friday so didn't go anywhere. I really perked up last night, so we decided to go to the beach today. I am so relieved we are still able to fit it in!!!

Most of yesterday I didn't feel too bad, but just felt pretty blah and didn't want to do anything. So barely got off the couch all day. I was thinking it was just the *no schedule* - I do better with a schedule. But I perked up so much in the late afternoon that I suppose there is probably an element of that along with an element of just not feeling very well. Ah, family and all their GERMS!

Thankfully I feel energized today.

We are going to see the migrating monarch butterflies today and hopefully just laze around the beach for a while. I hear the tide pools are also amazing there, BUT high tide is noon-ish - so I don't think we will get to experience those. Will stop by on the way to eat lunch with my folks, invite my dad along to take some pictures, and can stop for dinner before we drive home. The beach is a 3-hour drive, but our folks are on the way - about 2 hours out.

Black Friday

November 25th, 2011 at 04:09 pm

You couldn't pay me to shop today.

Black Friday symbolizes to me the time to stay away from the stores. I won't go near a mall probably until January, again. I'll stay away from the big box stores, too.

The kids still have to get Xmas and Bday presents for dh. We've got the internet for that.

ETA: While thinking about it, we bought dh a Christmas gift (with rewards, so was free). I have a very nice gift in mind for his birthday - will wait to see if I can use my next $250 credit card reward for it - the item cost $250 and isn't released until after his birthday, anyway. So, can wait on that one. The kids are learning that you don't have to spend money when you nice gifts for other people.

The Car Won't Co-operate!

November 25th, 2011 at 10:52 am

Thanksgiving was lovely!!

I just love how the entire family works so well as a team (everyone seems to have their *job* but no one person works too hard). Everyone really seems to enjoy spending time in our home too. Since most of our family lives in a high cost area and has such small homes, I suppose that may be a lot of it. (They ooh and aah over our space and big kitchen every Thanksgiving). But, we are also extraordinarily laid back, and people tend to thank us for that too (always have a very nice and relaxing time). & for the women, since they aren't doing all the cooking, they love it. & since they didn't have to ready their homes. But yesterday dh's male cousin commented that we should host every holiday at our house. I don't know what specifically he enjoyed so much. All I know was a good time was had by all, and my heart is very happy. I kind of get that Grandma/matriarch feeling. Though I am 34 and no Grandma. Big Grin

Of course, everyone seems to think it was such a relaxing day because obviously I slaved away to make it so. All I can say is: Rolleyes I really didn't do much of anything! (Whatever we did do - dh and the kids were of immense help - they probably did the bulk of it anyway. No one ever believes that though).

Kids' cousin - college student - fulfilled a new role for Turkey Day. She took most the leftovers. Big Grin

I checked the grocery budget and we still have $100 left for the month. I don't mind that we probably won't be eating turkey all week. Phew.

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About the only thing that I could think of to ruin the November budget and our 12/31 cash standing was auto repairs, because those charges would be due immediately if we took the car in. Well, of course dh's car has been hesitating when starting. I consulted with my dad (DIY car expert) and he thinks it is the battery. At least the battery is under warranty, so I feel a little better. If it is just the battery, it won't matter much. I am thinking we should just take it in Monday to have it looked over. If It is a large repair I can put it on the Visa and still put that off to January. (The visa closes the 25th every month, for whatever reason).

Of course, the weekend plans are up in the air then. I really wanted to drive the gas sipper to the beach this weekend to see the butterfly migration. I checked the weather thinking the following weekend may be better, with a car that is in better shape. BUT, of course next weekend calls for rain and this weekend is sunny and perfect. I am leaning towards just taking the van. Will cost almost twice as much in gas. Also, van has been making weird noises, smells, etc. Since it has been behaving totally fine in recent weeks, I think a big test run would be good. But, I'd rather do the test run with another car in perfect working condition for backup.

So, will see. Today I want to do nothing but crash. Clean up a bit after the tornado that left our house yesterday.

I think I would be happiest to go to the beach Saturday. These are my last few days off before crazy busy season at work!

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Oh yes, and I got a bunch of birthday presents from dh's family and was spoiled rotten. Interestingly, my parents said they also had something for me. (They don't necessarily get me anything at times, so was surprising to hear!)

Mortgage Goal

November 22nd, 2011 at 10:55 am

Well, if we can go 8 more days with no major unexpected bills, then 2011 should wrap up pretty AWESOME-ly. (& frankly, even if I end up in the emergency room, what are the odds any bills would be due before December - things are looking promising). {Note: Any unexpected December bills can be charged in December and paid physically in January - which would not affect 12/31/11 cash position or net worth}.

I am looking at knocking out 3 huge (long-term) financial goals this year. I find it fascinating that all goals will probably be met at about the same time. What are the odds? IT has not been particularly a banner year of any sort. Hell, I started out in January by having another surgery. BUT medical bills aside, we have not had one large expenditure this year. I have not touched our savings for ANYTHING, and so it has flourished, though I honestly saved less this year than I have the past several years. (This would still be much more impressive if we could also stem the tide of medical bills).

Of course, credit card rewards will largely be responsible for meeting agressive mortgage goal this year. I suppose over all, much more financial luck this year than the past few years.

Last I mentioned, I Was about $165 or so short on mortgage goal - to come out of savings or birthday money. Well, Chase is sending me a $69 annual fee refund, so that takes care of some of that - I will just put it to the mortgage.

I wondered if my annual Christmas bonus would be bumped up this year - now that I have been here 10 years. ??? Will find out in about a month. It's nothing overly special - usually $250. But I believe it was $50 or $100 for first 5 years, $250 the last 5 years, and will see for this year. I've got mortgage and ROTH goals to fund, though if it is more than usual, I probably will put $100 to top off the mortgage goal, and the rest to charity. Will see!

Come December 1 I will update you all on my amazing goal progress. I won't believe it until November passes! I did pay all the December bills already and updated my progress on the side bar, so you can see all the goals I believe I have achieved for 2011. The trifecta part is that my cash position is much higher than expected!

Credit Card Rewards

November 21st, 2011 at 05:50 pm

All of the cards are officially closed, as of today. (Southwest Chase was kind of slow to respond).

Chase did not offer automatic refund of annual fee to dh, like they had to me. So I wrote back and asked them if the fee would be refunded (because in my experience it usually is - I said something like that). I poked around and saw that Chase has a policy on refunds within 30 days or 60 days - depending who you ask. Interestingly, they charged me the fee on the second billing cycle, so I thought maybe I fell in the 30-day time period as a fluke. BUT, I looked, and it was about 45 days from when I was charged the fee and when I closed the card. It was over 60 days that I actually had the card. The only thing I did different when I closed the card was cite the fee as a reason not to keep the card. Not sure if that mattered.

Anyway, dh has also had the card 45 days. So, will be interesting to see what they say. (Er, 45 days from when the fee was charged, anyway?)

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I checked my AmEx Gold, and $1000 in charges is showing up there (they got my insurance charges). SO, I just have to wait for December 15th to redeem that reward - I am hoping I can pay it off January 1. I suppose if I don't pay it until January, I can't kill it until January.

It's the only one-time rewards card we still have open from the pile. I cut up a LOT of credit cards over the weekend.

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As an aside, I am SO not liking the trend of credit card companies to offer rewards based on rotating categories.

For one, it's far more complicated than what I am used to (I am used to 3% back on gas and groceries, all the time, which was GREAT since most of our variable spending is gas and groceries).

Rotating Categories?

Dining
Department Stores
Movie Theaters
Charitable Organizations
Clothing Stores
Electronics Stores
Toy Stores
Travel

Even if they had these categories all year, don't think they would help ME much. But, the fact that it changes every quarter, and you have to register for the categories to save on? I find uber annoying. I hope someone is making money off this. I've closed all my cards that have moved to this rewards structure. Thanks, but no thanks. (I think I am almost more annoyed about how complicated all this is, than anything else).

Procrastinating - Lots of Thoughts to Share

November 20th, 2011 at 12:12 pm

The weather is cold (not going outside)! and there is absolutely nothing to be done today.

I should be readying the house for T-Day, but I am procrastinating. As long as I get going by noon, probably have plenty of time to clean up the house AND work on some fall cleaning. (We picked up a bit last night - family is a great help - so not much left to do). I suppose that is the plus side. We were going to dinner at our neighbors, but they canceled due to sickness.

Oh yes, and we had wanted to go to the free museum day today but had changed our mind with dinner plans. I suppose I will look into that - there is a really cool exhibit going on - some "mad scientist" from the Bay Area - has all sorts of cool looking robots and things. We were thinking of just going on one of our days off from school/work, but might as well take advantage of the free day with no other plans. I am planning on getting a family museum membership, but our plan was to check out some of the free days and figure out the parking situation. If we never go because the parking sucks... So, it will be a bit of an experiment.

This is the kind of art that the kids can get excited about:

http://www.crockerartmuseum.org/exhibitions-collections/exhi...

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When it comes to the online blogosphere and such, I generally settle down somewhere for a period of time, and then move on when life changes. For example, I found pregnancy support message boards to be incredibly invaluable while pregnant, but didn't find what the community evolved into post-birth to be terribly useful. I am sure there was probably a lot of wisdom and tips to be gleaned in such groups, but the problem is you have to wade through the minefield of sleep-deprived hormonal new moms. NOT a pleasant experience. Wink Throw in the mommy wars, and I found the experience pretty useless. Beyond useless - it was a pretty toxic environment.

When I moved away from that and found savingadvice, I settled here and has definitely been a VERY positive experience. I have often wondered when I Would move on and where I would be taken next. I think it all started with "Small Notebook." I LOVE that blog and really identify with it on many levels. I find myself finding more and more blogs that are along the same lines. I don't think I had ever really thought about it, but a running theme in my own life is simplification. I find most people make things far harder than they have to be. I am ALL about the short cuts! & so I am really digging finding bloggers who focus on simplicity and love thinking about things in new ways and getting new ideas.

That said, I don't think I am going anywhere! No matter where I am in my financial journey, I am an accountant at heart. I have always delighted in organizing my finances, and I always will. I often go to work and can't believe how well I get paid for simply doing what I love doing. So, I don't think I am going anywhere.

But, I share because I have been linking more and more of these blogs to my website links, AND the more I read them and focus elsewhere, the less posty I have been. & I suppose that is my intro as I start to think more about how I do simplify things in my life, if there are any tips I can share, and I why I am excited to share new things I am learning.

Anyway, I read this old blog post this past week and thought it was fascinating:

The myth of doing it all: modern moms and hiring help

http://thehappiestmom.com/?p=3217

Love love love this article. It really made me stop and think about the cultural norms that are behind the attitude we have often gotten for our own personal choices when it comes to hiring help.

What kind of attitude?

A - our parents think it is TERRIBLE that we hire any help at all. We hire a gardener. Interestingly, our parents were always supportive of us hiring out childcare (as women who could not afford it - they realized we were incredibly lucky to be able to - better for both us and our kids).

B - From very frugal friends, we always got a LOT of attitude about hiring out daycare though my spouse stayed home. To me it was always a "What the hell is their problem???" kind of thing. Even though we stretched a bit to make it work, I wouldn't change it for anything. Towards the end I said specifically in this blog, "Why do people with HUGE car payments get so judgmental about such a practical, and so very temporary, expense?"

Ding ding ding - societal norms. Society says be in debt forever in your car, but only snooty/wasteful Stay-at-home people hire help. I was thinking that daycare help was much more pleasing for the soul than a brand new car. Big Grin

C - A friend of mind who is deep in debt, orders lattes every day, and goes to the salon endlessly, well her or her husband have made several "it must be nice" comments to us over the years, about the fact that we have a gardener.

Again - societal norms. Forget that they are paying WAY more on a monthly basis for simply salon visits. Hired help just has a much bigger stigma.

& what I realized thinking about this was that on every level, getting to think outside the box and look at things differently is so freeing. It really does make life easier to not to be so conformist. I have never had a lot of problem being different. But reading that post made me look at things a little different. I think next time anyone makes a snide comment about any decision to hire help, it will be easier for me to see where *they* are coming from. & maybe I know better how to reply to help open their own eyes. It's like I realized, but I didn't really realize. A bit of an *aha* moment.

So next time my friend makes an "it must be nice" comment (honestly, I think it is her husband, not sure she has ever said the same?), I think I will just smile and say, "yes, it is nice." What can you do?

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In other news, I made a new step in organizing in my house, after reading this post:

Clearing the �Counter Pile� with a Tickler File

http://simplemom.net/clearing-the-counter-pile-with-a-tickle...

I am a big believer in manila envelopes. I organize my life pretty much in manila envelopes, anyway.

BUT, when it comes to bills and stuff, my way is not overly organized. My method is simply this. I don't procrastinate. So, when papers come in, I send them back out. I either shred them, or pay the bills, or send back the school forms, or whatever. If it can wait a bit, I just throw it in a pile. The pile never gets very big, and I know where to find anything I need.

It works.

BUT, the idea on this blog post was to have one manila type folder for each month, and to file things away by month. So, if a bill is not due until January, I could file the bill in January, rather than leave it in a pile. If I have a form I want to take care of next month, I can file it away for next month. So simple, and yet so genius! I went one further and got out some folders for coupon categories and also labeled one for each kid. In the kid folders I put school stuff that I may need to reference, but didn't want to toss yet. Or stuff they may need next month, or later.

In addition, I put an envelope in each month to keep all receipts. Talk about a simple way to get mega organized. I will probably toss most the receipts once the month is over, but I too often have to ask dh what this or that purchase was for, or forget some purchase I made 4 weeks ago. So, this should help simplify.

So yeah, I organized all of the coupons into folders, too, by category. Our old method was a pile of coupons. I can't say it was working overly well.

I already put EVERYTHING on the calendar as a simple way to keep organized, so I find I didn't have to follow this tickler system to a tee. I just have to remember to check the folders every month, is all. I like the tip to put, say, wedding invitations in the month for when the wedding is. That is something that is generally sitting in a pile. We had a birthday we went to that we got the invite MONTHS in advance. So we just left the invite in the "pile" for many months. OF course it was on the calendar, but I just had no where to put the actual invite, aside from the "pile." Oh, that folder system would have been so nice for that. Big Grin

Anyway, read that link - it may change your life!

The funny thing was I had went to the store for manila folders a day or two before I came across that post. All they had was a set of 50. I probably only needed a few. I thought, "well, here is a lifetimes supply of folders," and just bought them since it was all I Could find. So I have suddenly found much use for all the extra folders.

T-Day + Kindle Fire

November 19th, 2011 at 04:31 pm

**Our free Kindle Fire has arrived. It's pretty cool. I think I am realizing that it is pretty easy to say, "What's the point of that?" when you haven't tried a technology. But once you utilize it, well, you realize more how awesome it is.

Kindle Fire = so amazingly cool. Forget the smart phone, I think I rather have a tablet. & I had no idea why the tablet was so great, until yesterday. You just have to experience it.

Sure, the kindle fire does not have any cameras, so it is not ideal. But, for the long run, give me a tablet with a webcam, and that should be all I need. Might replace my cell phone and my netbook. For the LONG run. My first impression is A+. I guess it looks like we are keeping it! (We were going to try it out, and were open to selling it if it wasn't awesome).

I suppose I was really surprised how big the screen seems for such a small device. It was much more impressive than I imagined. & yet small enough to be extremely portable. Not at all what I expected.

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In the end I decided to take some time off work, for T-Day. For a long time I always took the week off, which was kind of essential with hosting T-Day and having babies underfoot. Last few years I let someone else take those days, but no one ever does. So, I decided at the last minute to take Wednesday off, and the Monday after off. Of course, for Monday I was imagining a quiet day. Turns out the kids have off school. Oh well - so much for quiet! (Odd day to have off, huh? We didn't even realize).

For T-Day, it is the usual. Since we moved up to our low cost haven, we have the biggest house to host Thanksgiving. Will this be our 10th year? I suppose that makes it tradition?

Of course, dh is in charge of all the food, AND we do more of a potluck style anyway. Our grocery store has $10 turkeys (grocery store brand) that always taste DIVINE. So dh picked one up yesterday. I am in charge of deviled eggs. Dh makes some spinach thing. My dad makes salsa. Great Grandma makes the stuffing. (We provide the turkey - but that is about it! Dh's mom and grandma always bake it. My dad carves it). Everyone else brings drinks and side dishes. Someone makes mashed potatoes, and sweet potatoes, and on and on and on...

We invited a family friend who was recently laid off, and his mother. They've come in the past, but with all our surgeries and everything we hadn't invited them the last couple of years. I thought of them this year and told them just to bring themselves.

The heat is still off, and we usually turn it on the first time for T-Day. By the end of the day the body heat and oven may heat up the house (I remember opening windows some years!) but for the early birds that come to start the turkey, and for little old Great Grandma, they'd probably like some heat. I think we will easily make it until T-Day otherwise, but will turn on the heat for our early guests.

It would be one thing if I had to cook the entire meal, but since I don't have much responsibility for dinner, then I really like just getting to stay home for the holiday and not drive anywhere. I think it works out pretty nice! My parents don't have any family here, besides me, and so it is always dh's huge family, and my folks. But, dh's sisters/cousins have in-laws to contend with so only hit certain years. I thought this year was going to be *small* but it looks like 20. I suppose if everyone showed up it would be more like 26. OF course, the family is still growing every year.

We got a bottle of wine in Napa (was more like grape juice than wine? Was tasty, and very popular for the holidays). Dh's uncle and cousin always bring really cheap but tasty wines. They are like always in a contest to find the best inexpensive wine.

My mom usually slips me a little money for groceries. (I think she appreciates not having to do anything, after making Turkey dinner for 4, MANY years). I can't say we have spent any more than we would have, and we will have TONS of leftovers.

Citi

November 18th, 2011 at 03:03 pm

Well, Citi did absolutely nothing to make me warm up to them.

I e-mailed them to close my card today, and it was literally closed within one minute.

The only reason I know is I then went to plastic jungle to sell some gift cards, and they asked me for a credit card #. To verify my identity. Rolleyes I was aggravated, so decided to use the card that would be closed by the end of the day. Except it wouldn't work and just caused problems. I checked my e-mail. CLOSED! ALREADY!

Dh called and closed his Citi card. They begged him to stay, but decided to stop giving him cash rewards for stayinng just one more month. They didn't offer anything useful. I am just glad to get the card closed.

Not sure what it is but they were like kissing dh's feet the whole time, and offered him the moon. Me? They just put up with me and are happy to be rid of me. So, just leaves me annoyed. I believe that is the only Citi card I ever had. Chase - sure - I am no longer banking with them in any capacity (no more chase credit cards), but they did shower me with rewards and give me everything I asked for. It bodes well for the future - if they ever have a credit card that fits my needs, again. Citi? Meh. Who needs them? It probably pays off in the long run to have a little more customer service. Even if it means no difference in the short run.

That said, besides messing up my plastic jungle scheme (to not give them a REAL credit card number), I do appreciate how fast and simple it was to close the card. Easy Peasy!

I'll e-mail Chase tonight to close dh's 2 remanining Chase cards.

Tomorrow I will mail all these gift cards to Plastic Jungle - they will mail me a check for $182 in return.

All that should be left is to redeem my AmEx Gold rewards in about one month time, and close that card too. It's the only one-time reward card that I (and dh) should have open by the end of the day.

Usually the only *annoyance* factor for these schemes, for me, is having to close the cards. (Keeping them open would be infinitely more time consuming and annoying. I prefer to kill the card once reward is redeemed - never have to think about it again. Ever). With these e-mail systems, the *annoyance* factor is virtually eliminated. Which makes this super crazy easy money. Didn't even have to sit on hold with the credit card company. Reminds me, AmEx even let me activiate my card online. NO SALES SPIEL. Love it!

Amazon Redeemed

November 18th, 2011 at 07:08 am

Amazon redeemed themselves a wee bit.

Dh had called to complain about them shipping everything so flipping late. PLUS, after he called, they showed everything as shipped, but then there was no movement on it (on the tracking). We strongly believed they slapped labels on them but they were still sitting in a warehouse.

So I was griping about all the ways Amazon was being really annoying this past week or so.

THEN, they called dh to follow up on his phone call. They asked if his problem had been resolved. Dh said no, that they had been very nice, but not really of any help. SO, the guy says if he can't track down his package, he will overnight another kindle fire.

So, I guess Amazon redeems themselves.

In the end, dh found out the package was actually in San Jose, last night. Not sure if they called back or if his tracking updates. IT's already out for delivery, so will get here today. Plus, should get our parent's kindles and everything.

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I also received all of our gift cards yesterday. I will mail out $200 in gift cards to plastic jungle today (in exchange for cash!!). I am stashing some Amazon gift cards for Christmas.

Today's chore will be to close credit cards. I have one to close - will do by e-mail. I will have dh call Citi and I will e-mail dh's Chase accounts. (No point him being on the phone all day - I have the login info).

I charged $1000 on my American Express. When I pre-paid the health insurance, AGAIN, I realized I could just pay whatever. So I made the amount exactly what I needed to get to $1000. I was relieved to see the statement closes 12/15 or so. I expect the payment won't be due until January, which means this is not really a pre-payment. Well, I suppose it might be due by January 15th whereas I usually pay that the second half of the month. But that is much easier to arrange than paying a month early again. So, phew. Hopefully I can redeem those final rewards by 12/31. To get to $4000 for the year!

Amazon Complaints

November 16th, 2011 at 07:26 am

Amazon Complaints:

1 - They told us that non-high-volume sellers can't sell during holiday season. Holiday season = November 1 through December 25th or so?? Not exactly sure on end date.

They did not remove dh's listings AND he had a game to sell, so he listed it. We thought maybe we didn't understand the notice and dh was okay.

THEN they sent him a note that he could not sell after November 15th, as per original letter. Original letter says November 1. So was that just a typo, or are they backing down a bit, but not really admitting it? Rolleyes

Last year we made about $200 during the Christmas season. Nothing life changing, but it's generally the easiest time of year to make money. So, BOO!

2 - Yesterday they told dh to give them his tax information or they would close his seller account.

Oh, they are getting worse than Ebay, if that is possible.

I understand they have a lot to manage with new tax laws coming up, etc. BUT, I don't like giving my SS# to people who do not need it. I am not sure of the legalities of them really asking for it in that manner. I am going to look into that a bit. Dh just gave it to them. After having my identity stolen, I am just extra sensitive about that.

Dh will never sell enough to have to be reported to the IRS. & I have a right not to give my SS# to people who don't really need it for tax reporting purposes. So, Bah!

3 - As of yesterday, Amazon had not shipped our Kindle fire or any of our Kindle pre-orders made ages ago. Plus, dh had ordered some Harry Potter Blu Ray that released last week but did not ship. For reference, when you pre-order things, they tend to be at your door they day of release. Particularly movies and books.

They must have TONS of these kindle orders. They have never been so slow on this type stuff. Anyway, dh griped all week, and then he called them to gripe at them. I don't know if it worked, but I decided to check on a whim. EVERYTHING shipped overnight. Dh will be pleased they shipped OnTrac - so everything should get here tomorrow. (OnTrac is lightning fast). Of course, this is free shipping, but we always order everything free shipping. It's usually pretty dang fast - in this case will probably just be one day to ship.

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In other news, I ran into next-door neighbor a month or two ago. She was telling me the charter high school that her daughter got into. HIGH SCHOOL? When did that happen? She's "babysat" our kids before, at her parent's house, but really her mom insists we bring the kids over to play with their 7yo and then refuses to let us pay. So we kind of left it that she will be a great babysitting resource when she is older. I feel awkward otherwise - don't want to take advantage.

I am not sure much has changed. We decided to ask if she could babysit tonight so we can go to parent/teacher conferences without spending a ton at the drop-in place. OF course mom said, "bring the kids over." They are saving us so much gas, time and money that I think we will just offer $10 per hour. Plus, it's not like leaving the kids with a teen - will be adults too - and won't be at our house. We will INSIST on paying. Will see how that goes. Should only be $10 since we have two conferences back to back. This might save us $15, by the time we would have driven over to the commercial drop-in place and paid more like $13 per hour. Not to mention what a TIME saver!

Now we just have to remember in the future. If they take our money, this could be a much cheaper alternative for date night.

Credit Card Rewards Update

November 15th, 2011 at 08:15 pm

2 Snafus today on the credit cards.

#1 - American Express Gold Premier - what a racket! First, they left the credit card at my front door. Literally. Dh said, "My you got quite the package today!" I said, "Um, aren't those our gift cards?" I thought they were our Southwest gift cards. HE looked appalled and said, "I hope not! They just left it at the front door." (They = UPS)

Even better - they left a credit card on my front door! Rolleyes

Plus it came with this big bound book detailing many rewards. It was gold. I told dh I suppose I was supposed to leave that laying around to show how special I was with my premier rewards card.

Then I couldn't find the credit limit, so I finally realized there is no "pre-set" limit. Which is basically a pile of BS. I googled that out of curiosity. Really? No limit. Apparently they just randomly change the limit whenever they want. It's just not *set.* (I saw lots of rants online about how aggravating that whole thing is - since there really is a limit, it's just no one knows what it is until they get denied).

Of course this is just the *you have got to be kidding me* parts of it all.

So I go online to charge my $1000 and be done. But, apparently State Farm doesn't take American Express. Small Details!!! Problem is our flood insurance used to be through State Farm, but I think it is now directly through FEMA. So I did thoroughly check that the flood insurance could be paid with AmEx, and just assumed it would be okay for the rest of our insurance.

(IT's such a bummer since we get 2% back on our primary AmEx - can't use that one either!!)

I'll have to charge the flood insurance and one month health insurance, for reward. I already prepaid one month health insurance, so shouldn't pay again until December. BUT, I want to kill this card, so more pre-payments. It's just one more thing to remember/juggle. Anyway, I have nothing else to charge, so this is what it is.

(I wonder if my health insurer wonders why I use a different credit card every single month, lately. HA! I could online imagine what my CU thinks about my endless credit card bill additions and deletions in "online bill pay," too).

#2 - I decided to pass on the PenFed $200 reward. First, you have to apply to be a PenFed CU member. Not sure if we would qualify. Plus, then we have to close the card AND end the membership when we are done. Secondly, the rewards weren't very good. Nothing we would spend otherwise (gift cards) or could sell for very much cash. For $200 cash? Sure. I'd go through with it. But for $200 in restaurant gift cards? Eh. I'll check with dh to be sure - the offer is in his name. But I am personally not feeling this one. (No huge loss - I am sure there will be more credit card offers on their way!)

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

Er, since I can't charge my home insurance for rewards, and it's not due until late December, it is now a bill I can pass off to next year. It will add about $1,000 to my bottom line. Big Grin

It's cheating, but it works. I have some dream at some point to have an extra one month of expenses in cash. Since I do tend to pay last month's bills this month. More so every year as credit cards are more widely accepted. IT just is what it is. All it means is I will have some extra cash for my net worth, come 12/31/11.

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In other news, dh was able to get 25 hours at the big Scholastic Sale this winter. (Will earn $250 in Scholastic books). I am assuming $100 for us, $50 for each teacher, and $50 for the school. Just because dh usually keeps about one day's work ($80) for Christmas shopping. Of course, last time we gave BM's teacher a $80 voucher, I think he bought a bazillion books. It's like earning $1000 in books, or more.

So, more free stuff there. Free stuff; free charity.

Tuesday Update

November 15th, 2011 at 09:37 am

Not much to report here.

I was planning to buy some fresh salmon this weekend, anyway. But dh gave me the $10 catalina so that I could get it for free. (& he didn't want to forget about it!). The salmon cost 13 cents in the end. Big Grin

I reported the odometer reading on the gas sipper, to our insurer. Ouch! We easily drove 1500-2000 miles on our LA trip.

That said, I peeked at the van's history, and we maybe only drove it 2500 miles the last 6 months. That was a surprise. That said, I can't remember the last time I drove it anywhere but to work. It's been having weird noises/rattles/smells that it won't do for anyone else. My short commute also does not seem to create any unusual effects. But, maybe we should drive it to San Jose next time just to check it out. I think a melted plastic part is the most likely explanation at this point. A little transmission fluid seemed to appease the transmission. Hopefully that's it!

Anyway, I'd say on average we drive both vehicles about 10,000 miles per year. So both results were surprising in the short run.

Otherwise, I am just struggling with the fact that time seems to be FLYING. I was looking forward to this slow time of year and fall cleaning, etc. Somehow it is already 11/15. ??? December just signifies the start of crazy and busy tax season. It will be here in a blink! Where did my super slow and relaxing November go? The weirdest thing is I haven't done anything. I went to a birthday party for a couple of hours on Saturday, and a soccer game. I did a lot of cooking Sunday. & then the weekend was gone! I was idealizing November and forgetting how quickly the days go with the sun down at 5pm.

Weekend Doings

November 12th, 2011 at 07:10 pm

Geez, where did the day go???

**The heat challenge has been interesting. It has been very cold, but the house has not dropped below 60 degrees. The boys in my house could care less about the cold - I only find the weekends challenging (when home all day). Anyway, with the cold weather, I expected the temp to drop below 60, inside. But it hasn't. It's hard to get across the energy efficiency of our house, and how little we actually rely on the heat system. The house regulates the temperature pretty well. I think it does so more easily in the winter than the summer. Our summer heat is far more extreme than our winters.

Anyway, it's been pretty warm today. A beautiful/sunny day! I checked the weather website and we are back up to average fall temperatures. About 45 at night and 65 during the day. I think one reason the temp does not drop much in our house in fall is largely due to harnessing heat from the sun. It's been sunny - the house won't get any colder than 60-66.

What's interesting is we have had several nights in the 30-degree range. So I think it is interesting that the house hasn't gotten any colder. But maybe we have had just enough sun. Winter brings both colder temps and less sun, in comparison.

At these temps, there is no challenge this weekend. The heat will stay off. I am thinking of sticking it out until the house gets to 59 degrees. I wonder if it ever will... (I do generally get more wimpy in real winter, so will see. If you think 60 degrees is crazy, I'd generally agree in January. But for being a little wimpy last Saturday, the cold has not bothered me at all. I also seem less sensitive to the cold as each year passes).

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Okay, enough about the weather!!

**I made an impulse online Target purchase yesterday. Ooooh, I knew that free shipping RedCard would be evil! But, not too bad. Dh threw away an old blanket that was just falling apart. One of those vellux blankets? I looked online just to see if I could replace it cheaply. I lucked out. $12.99 at Target. Free Shipping. Done and shipped already. Too easy! (Blanket was maybe 12 years old, but I think problem is dh didn't wash it properly. Figured I would try again - I do love those soft blankets!)

**While at it, I told dh the one on our bed was also kid of sad. Certainly not "throw it away" or "replace it today" sad, but I added it to my wish list. King size vellux.

I also added a sleep mat, for camping to the list. The one I got last year sucked. I am trying again. I am a pretty picky sleeper since we have such a marvelous mattress. Must be the down side to having such an awesome bed. I generally sleep VERY well, but can't sleep well anywhere else. Frown I keep trying though. There's got to be a better option for camping. I don't want an air mattress - anything super bulky or loud to inflate.

**Dh got a credit card offer today. PenFed American Express - $200 reward for spending $650?

We are applying for it.

Dh told me, "This is starting to sound way too good to be true. Are you sure?"

*Starting*? "Starting to sound?" I assured him that the credit card companies are hoping we keep the cards open a long time and forget to pay our balances, or find ourselves unable to. I said the odds are against us. We are just too *weird.*

This would put our rewards to $4200 for the calendar year. Big Grin

Credit Card Rewards Broken Down

November 12th, 2011 at 01:08 pm

This is my original tally:

UPDATED TALLY:

$1030 cash Chase Sapphire (moi)
$200 cash Chase Freedom (dh)
$625 gift cards - Chase SW (dh)
$515 gift cards - Chase SW (moi)
$500 gift cards Citi (dh)
+$100 gift cards - Citi for trying to close card
$310 gift cards - Citi (moi)
-$99 annual fee (SW card)
+$99 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$69 Fee (SW card)
+$69 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$41 lost value for exchanging some Citi gift cards for cash and amazon gift cards
-----------
$3239 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 500 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 80 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)
+$ 35 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx)
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=$3854 TOTAL REWARDS 2011
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It's not overly organized, because, well, I didn't expect so many rewards. I just kept adding more and more. So I went back and re-organized a bit to show by reward offer.

What I also wanted to see is what exactly I received in rewards, and what I did with said rewards.

So here is another break down:

CASH: $1230
AMAZON GIFT CARDS: $1225
ROTH DEPOSITS (CASH) $500
WALMART GIFT CARDS: $500
KOHLS GIFT CARDS: $250
B&N GIFT CARDS: $50
CARLS JR GC: $20
OLIVE GARDEN GC: $5

TOTAL = $3780

For simplicity, I left out ongoing Target and Visa rewards (small).

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

I was able to sell the WalMart gift cards for cash and more amazon gift cards, so I ended up with:

CASH: $1594
AMAZON GIFT CARDS: $1320
ROTH DEPOSITS (CASH) $500
KOHLS GIFT CARDS: $250
B&N GIFT CARDS: $50
CARLS JR GC: $20
OLIVE GARDEN GC: $5

TOTAL = $3739


With these rewards I was able to:

Add $500 to my ROTH
Add $1132 to payments of mortgage principal (amount is greater than one monthly mortgage payment)
Donate $250 to kids' school
Paid $212 towards Napa vacation
$700-ish towards kindles/etc. for Christmas gifts
$80 Roku (to help with dropping cable)
**Didn't have to spend cash for many household or fun purchases the last few months/made, and some long put-off purchases, with remaining Amazon gift cards

NOTE: I could have easily sold all the gift cards for cash, at a 80%-90% discount, if I would have just preferred cash.

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I've still got significant gift card balances to carry me through next year. $100 Kohls, $50 Barnes & Noble, at least $50 Amazon, etc.

I am working on a $250 reward at the moment. If I can sell the rewards for cash, I will probably put this reward toward the mortgage. I am $162 short of my goal for year, and this will put me to goal without touching savings or any gift (birthday/christmas) money.

Denied

November 11th, 2011 at 02:29 pm

I went to fill up my gas tank and was met with this reply from the little credit card screen: DENIED

Of course, my may concern was that I could still use my coupon. I hurriedly dug out my "backup" credit card and tried again. Coupon still took, so, phew! (The procedure at this gas station is to scan the coupon, and then to choose payment method. I wasn't sure if I could use it a second time, easily).

While I pumped gas I remembered that dh's gas tank was empty, we had lots of gas coupons, and he had gotten groceries this morning. He usually gets gas at Safeway and it's rare we both get gas on the same day anyway. But we get groceries and van gas at Bel Air. So obviously he had used a gas coupon while getting groceries, today.

We did the exact thing about a month ago. They lock the card because they assume you dropped it and someone else tried to use it. IT's annoying to me in this day and age that they can't seperate that we are DIFFERENT users. That our cards are different, even if the account # is the same.

I thought it was funny that their system was so blunt. DENIED. Usually they tend to word these things a little nicer, like, "CALL YOUR CREDIT CARD COMPANY."

I lost $0.56 in rewards due to bad planning (earned 1% instead of 2%). Worse, I have to go call the credit card company. Bah!

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WE always get gas coupons for spending $50 or $100 at this grocery store.

TODAY they had a promo - spend $75, get a $10 gift card. Dh saw the advertisement and planned his week around this promo. You may recall that a month or so ago he went to the store, he spent $100 like always (for best gas coupon) and their coupon printer wasn't working, so they handed him a $20 bill. He had NO IDEA WHY. IT was a similar promo. They just did cash since the "free $20" was not printing correctly. We were both stunned that we seemed to have no idea about said promo. I googled it and figured it out pretty quickly, that time. So, I am glad dh caught this one. We wondered if we missed it without the newspaper. Could be. But, this time it was advertised in the mail.

My mom also sent me a $10 "off everything at Kohls" coupon. I haven't gotten one of those in ages! She told me she got it from the Kohls ad in the paper. I told her to tell me next time so I can go buy the paper!

Approved

November 11th, 2011 at 10:37 am

I am officially approved for another $250 reward card.

Plan of action is to charge home insurance when I receive the card. Pay off card December 1. Redeem rewards. Close card.

I believe the reward was CASH!

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This may be the 6th credit card I have applied for this year. (Though, to be fair, I closed 3 credit cards, too. So my number of open accounts is not overly high).

I have never been denied for any loan or credit I have ever applied for. Of course, being rather anti-debt, I don't apply/use much credit in the grand scheme of things.

But, 6th card in one year? I wasn't feeling overly confident about approval. Though I have said my credit card reward activity seems pretty small beans compared to some others. I am sure it is possible that nothing about my credit report would make any credit card company blink - even if I opened 10 cards or more... But it's just getting to the point for me where it sounds kind of ridiculous. & so I will keep opening these credit cards, until I get denied.

Interestingly, they have been so *one at a time* in recent months that I haven't done much to keep track of all these cards. Open, charge, payoff, reward, close. Repeat. I have been managing this all in my head. I stopped putting the cards in Quicken. It was really mucking it up. Especially when it comes to these "one charge for reward" cards. (Of course, I have all the deals in writing, etc., to dispute any problems. & Quicken and online bill pay at my CU has helped me manage. Instead of setting up every credit card entirely in Quicken, I just put the payments when I want to pay them, in my Quicken checkbook. Between that and oreceiving online bills - from both cc companies and my CU - would be impossible to forget).

$4,000, here I come!!

Rewards Redeemed 2011 - UPDATE

November 10th, 2011 at 09:21 am

I am updating for redeemed SW rewards. Was about $375 more than expected. Firstly, rewards were on sale. Secondly, dh was able to get a newer/better reward honored. So, he went from $250 in rewards to $500. The sale turned $500 into $625. I still can't believe the rewards were on sale all month - I didn't really think by the time the second half came through that they would still be on sale! We officially redeemed those, yesterday.

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UPDATED TALLY:

$1230 cash (Chase Sapphire $1030 + Chase Frdm $200)
$1640 gift cards (Citi $500 + SW $515 + SW $625)
$100 gift cards - Citi for trying to close card
$310 gift cards - Citi
-$99 annual fee (SW card)
+$99 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$69 Fee (SW card)
*Will they refund this one too?*
-$41 lost value for exchanging some Citi gift cards for cash and amazon gift cards
-----------
$3170 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 500 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 80 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)
+$ 35 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx)
------------------------
=$3785 TOTAL REWARDS 2011
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In addition, I expect a $69 refund from SW card and just applied for another $250 cash reward. So, $4000 Total is looking very doable. (& if you told me this in June, I wouldn't have believed you!!)

At a later date I will breakdown exactly what I received (break down all the gift cards - what they were - and how much were sold for cash, etc.).

Keeping Christmas Simple

November 9th, 2011 at 05:46 pm

It's that time of year when everyone gets crazed!!

& I sit back and don't partake in the crazy. Phew!

Sure, we do Christmas, but just not in the manner that our culture prescribes.

I think my attitude about Christmas has largely evolved from working at the office I do now, and have worked for the last 10 years. The last 2 weeks of December symbolize the beginning of tax season, for us. We are lucky we get Christmas Day and New Years Day off. I am always amazed how we make it work those two 4-day weeks with the insane workload.

Thus, I have no interest in running myself ragged for Christmas. In the past I generally would have all my shopping done well before Thanksgiving. But these days I don't even bother to shop.

While I have been too busy to care that much, most our family and friends have done pretty well and decided they are tired of all the stuff that Christmas symbolizes. So, no one really wants to trade gifts any more. Makes it easy on me!

Dh will do the Sholastic volunteering at the big pre-Christmas sales and will earn enough credit to give the teachers and the schools nice gifts (Scholastic gift cards, basically) and we will have piles of books for our kids and nieces for Christmas.

I've got so many Amazon gift cards, that I am thinking we will give $25/each to the two primary school teachers of our children, and maybe keep one for the work gift exchange. This keeps with our Scholastic theme of being generous but not spending money.

I spotted calendars at Michael's for $2. Sometimes we wait until after New Years, but sometime the pickings are slim. At $2 I didn't mind taking first choice. Stocking stuffers for the kids (silly calendars for them).

Our moms are both getting free kindles from us (Amazon gift cards). Is definitely a SPECIAL treat.

Dh got the kids some new DS system. Free through amazon.

& dh has bought up a few (small) things throughout the year.

I saw something cute at Walgreens yesterday - for more stocking stuffers. Most years I also hit the Dollar Store (at lunch break - it's right by my work) for some stocking stuffers. I don't think I need to bother this year.

SIL makes photo calendars every year of the kids. I sent her a bunch of photos. For Grandma and Great-Grandma. They get some gift cards for Grandma. Since we are going in on the kindle, I don't think I will owe her anything for the stuff - dh and her usually go in on all the gifts. SIL aside, dh's parents and Grandma are WAY into the material Christmas thing. But, they don't expect much from us, all the same. So they are the only ones we really buy gifts for, specifically. With our own kids, we tend to go small, because in-laws tend to go insane and give them each tens of gifts.

Dh will put up the (fake) tree after Thanksgiving. We will all decorate it. There isn't a lot of other decorating we do. (Keep it simple)!

On Christmas Day our folks come over. Dh and I agreed our primary rule for Christmas is that we do not go anywhere. Dh really wants to let the kid enjoy Christmas at home. I just don't want to commit to anything during my hell weeks at work. Visiting family takes hours of driving. Let the retired ones come to us. I won't clean the house and we usually order pizza. Whoever doesn't like a relaxed Christmas doesn't have to come. Wink

Sometimes dh will throw something in the crockpot for Christmas Day. I do always make my "easiest ever" fudge - it takes about 5 minutes to make - and is DIVINE!

I suppose it is tradition to buy my dad some almond roca, and write checks for big work gift to boss (we all go in on something nice, and boss gives us nice gifts in return). & I give a little extra to the gardener. These are all in the vein of simple. & for this year this may be our only real spending...

Is my Christmas shopping done? I suppose so. There just wasn't much to it!

This & That

November 9th, 2011 at 02:16 pm

Dh made butternut squash soup for dinner, Sunday? YUM! We had some at a restaurant last weekend, and it was DIVINE. A recipe came in our cooking magazine this week. The quality was about the same. Perfect for a cold weekend.

That also reminds me that dh got these awesome frozen pizzas this week, at the grocery store. YUM! When searching for the online, just to link, I saw the tip that this company makes other entrees and that they are cheap to buy at Indian grocers. Dh told me there was an Indian grocer by the gym - I might just have to check it out.

Tandoor Pizza

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The heat challenge is on. Made it through the weekend. Saturday was hard with drastic temperature drop. Nothing much hard since then. Work week is easy for me (free heat at work). Men and boys at my house don't seem to mind cold. Cooking warms up kitchen/living area by the time I get home from work. As much as I am a wimp in the cold, it doesn't bother me at all at night (fleece clothing, blankets, and hubby body heat are all just fine - a prior house I lived in was regularly 50 degrees at night. I might have had an electric blanket, but now I have a husband to keep me warm at night. I don't think our current house has ever dropped below 60F degrees - good insulation).

Anyway, considering we are only paying $240 per year for gas (hot water, central heating, gas stove, etc.), or merely $20/month on budget billing, why don't I just flip on the dang heat? The point is not to be uncomfortable. It's just realizing that we are extremely adaptable. The biggest shift I have made in the past couple of years is not relying on the thermostat. It's easy to think, "By God, it is 65 degrees in here - it's COLD!" and to just flip on the heat without thinking. I ideally prefer it to be about 70-72. Probably why I am not much into the programmable thermostat thing. The last couple of years I have been more mindful that in fall the thermostat may fall, but the air isn't always quite that cold. (Whereas in winter the air will feel FAR colder at the same thermostat temperature. Maybe because our two thermostats are kind of central in the home, though we may spend a lot of time closer to walls and windows - where it gets chillier as it gets colder outside. The evidence is I can be fine at 60 degrees in fall while freezing my butt off at 70 degrees in the winter. IT's just, different!).

Because of this, I find that the cold is not bothering me at all this year, beyond initial shock factor. Showering while 60 degrees is not the most fun, but truth is water is nice and hot and I can throw on a warm robe the second I step out of the shower. A minute or so of discomfort not necessarily worth running the heat - using resources, etc.

Since we jumped from summer to winter, pretty much overnight, temperature-wise, I will probably turn on the heat if it drops below 60F. I don't know how long that will take. It was 60F when I showered this morning but maybe 66 or 67 when I went to bed last night (by kitchen, anyway). It's been near freezing at night, but sunny during the day, so maybe this pattern will hold for a bit. It is usually not quite so cold this time of year and this is probably the coldest I have been comfortable - so leaves me wondering if the house will get below 60 degrees. I think that will be my breaking point - will see. I might break before it gets to that point...

We can generally make it to Thanksgiving. We usually turn on the heat for guests on Turkey Day.

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I ran by Michael's and lucked into a great frame sale. Holy cow! I went a little crazy, and also hoped that MIL would just accept them as my birthday gifts, from her to me. (She can wrap them and reimburse dh the cost, whatever).

BUT, I decided to go back for some more frames for my dad's prints. The ones I got were GREAT. They looked of very high quality, for odd-shaped 11 x 14 frames (selection for which was huge), but were on sale for about $18/each. That said, I then found a 25% off coupon. Online.

Made me feel like an idiot, since I had spent $100 the night before. Or $25 more than I needed to spend!! Rolleyes

So I got 2 more frames at about $13.50/each. (Thinking maybe for gifts - framed prints? The prints cost me all of $2/each - my dad's photos).

I toyed with the idea of returning some frames and re-buying with coupon (could use once per day, per household). Problem is I already used frames, and mostly cleared the store out of these particular frames. There were a lot of them and I didn't really want to haul any of them back. Considered it for smaller $20 purchase, but seemed like a lot of work to save $5.

I suppose no matter - MIL said she will make them my birthday gifts. Big Grin

In the meantime, my house looks like an art gallery for my dad's photos. & I have no idea what to do with all these frames, but even if I ended up paying for them, was a nice investment. Was nice to invest in higher quality frames, and regardless I am very happy with the price I paid. Everything was already 40% off for the holidays. I got a REALLY nice collage frame that was 65% off. I also got a monkey frame! House art will need some serious re-arranging. I expect to get most the prints for free, or VERY cheap. In the grand scheme of things, was a very low investment for some semi-serious home improvement. It's been so long that I shopped at Michael's, or for frames, I just didn't expect to find such great deals!!

Mental note: Never go to Michael's without checking website. There's a lot of coupons there!

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Dh finished that creative video with lots of special effects for LM's class.

It makes me a wee bit sad because clearly he has SO MUCH TALENT in that area. But I just don't think he has the personality to make it work. (Feels too practical to pursue creative endeavors, plus doesn't have the pushiness to really sell himself. Kind of two strikes against him).

I told him that people would eat that up and he could make it a business. His reply? "Anyone can do that!" Anyone can do that? Oy vey. & anyone can do their own photography in this day and age (really, cheap cheap technology), and yet people still pay tons for professionals! Meanshile, I'd argue this was 10 times more creative and specialized.

Anyway, his sister now wants a personalized video. This is my "I told you so," moment. People will talk - people want videos. I see business opportunity. OF course, same for weddings, but dh was really bored with subject and bridezillas. But this has got to be a little more fun?? Totally could sell the personalized kid video thing - as some kind of childhood memento.

In this case LM is VERY creative and kind of lives in a dream world. So dh made this whole video how he lives with clones of himself, and has to spend every day taking care of all this craziness. He had to save his brother from two of his clones, help daddy find his body when he lost it, and he had to save me from a giant robot. Just a typical day in the life. I was unsure how his class would react to it (& had dh tone down some stuff that I felt was a bit too violent). BUT, the kids LOVED it. Some asked if it was real. HA! The headless (and, er, bodyless) scene was absolute genius & came out very well.

Anyway, I'd also say that LM wouldn't make a bad actor. BM and I were both pretty terrible, at acting. Maybe that boy needs acting classes - he's got some natural talent.

Rewards Update

November 9th, 2011 at 07:13 am

I am still awaiting some gift cards in the mail.

No word on last offer I applied for, but it usually takes a week for them to verify my identity. I expect a call this weekend.

Chase transferred dh's extra points over extraordinarily quickly this time AND Southwest is still having a sale on rewards!!!!!! BUT, the online redemption is STILL not working. He will have to call when he wakes up.

That said, should be able to get $125 in Amazon gift cards (to keep, and for gifts). & $200 Wal-Mart gift cards that I can sell for about $180.

That said, plasticjungle.com no longer tells you how much they will give you ahead of time. I went to double check that Wal Mart was still the most valuable of the bunch. Will see...

$180 cash will pay for our Napa trip.

(Okay, so I did a little research and looks like several companies pay 90% on the dollar for WalMart gift cards - much more than average, so still looks like the best choice!).

November Goal - Finish Baby Book

November 7th, 2011 at 03:48 pm

I made an extremely modest start to our Fall Cleaning last night. I am a fall cleaner. Cold weather keeps me inside, and November is slowest time of year at work. The cold weather gets me in clean mode, for whatever reason besides the others.

It's the only time I generally do big deep cleaning projects. We've decluttered pretty well over the years, so it's also that time to just to make sure things are in check. I find every year we have less and less to de-clutter. (Don't get me wrong - there is always SOMETHING).

So though my start was small and wimpy, I hit an area of the kitchen I probably haven't gone through thoroughly in years.

Besides some glasses I have to figure out how I can recycle (my first pair of glasses ever? Almost 20 years old?), and some old cell phone accessories (will e-waste recycle) there wasn't much I couldn't finish last night with my efforts. I have a very teeny offering for the charities - mostly restaurant crayons. Pushing it - but I don't like throwing things away.

That said - I found a project. The kids' baby books.

Oh, BM's book looks pretty thorough.

& LM's book? I think he's lucky I put anything in there. I wrote that his "first vacation" was to Hawaii. Like we would forget that??? I managed to write down the time he was born and the name of his Doctor. Interestingly, I also found a 2006 calendar (kept because it was a photo calendar of the cousins). I had jotted several milestones in the calendar. Which is fine and all - but maybe I should have put the calendar with the baby book. On the plus side, I did throw in all the Doctor appointment info (growth charts) and other useful momentos in with the baby book. There is hope. (& luck in that I found the calendar and bothered to skim through it to see the treasure trove of baby book information).

Plan of action? Finish baby book this week. Best I can.

Pictures? This baby book has an awful lot of spots for pictures. What I will do is pick out the pictures and make notes of which ones I need, but I will wait for another photo deal to actually print them out. I just got over 50 free prints the last couple of months - a couple of different deals. As long as the heavy lifting is done, the final touches can wait for a good sale.

I tend to keep on top of things, am organized, and I don't procrastinate. So this is a little embarassing. (He is about 6.5 years of age). But, what's the best way to solve the problem? Get 'er done! So that is what I will do.

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I also bought a photo album while I was picking up my free prints at Walgreens, over the weekend. I put all the free prints I have amassed, into the photo album, in chronological order.

We have been so stuck in the digital age (& have all of our pictures well organized on the computer). But, I've never really bothered to print many out. We've got the color printer, and my dad gives me ton of photo paper (of the variety he no longer wants/needs). BUT, it's always such a pain. & the ink is always so expensive. My new startegy is just to wait for the very best photo deals. Though this may just seem cheap, the strategy is twofold. I don't want to clutter up my house with endless prints of great pictures. I have TONS of great pictures. Sticking with the great deals forces you to narrow it down. So it is almost even more of a low-clutter strategy than anything, for me.

Target RedCard - Free Shipping

November 7th, 2011 at 09:13 am

Did you hear?

Target is now offering free shipping (no minimum purchase) to RedCard holders.

I heard about 3 ads on the radio about it on my 10 minute commute. I was like, "Since when???" I looked up when I got to work - it was just announced today. Phew. I thought I was slacking on knowing all my credit card rewards and benefits. Wink

Interestingly, the RedCard has worked out really well for us. Target is probably one of my favorite stores for retail therapy. BUT, we have had the RedCard for one year and I have barely been in the store. We do spend about $100/month, on average, on groceries there. & cat litter, laundry detergent - that kind of stuff that they seem to have in bulk and on sale often. Groceries - we generally stock up on nuts, granola bars, generic cereals, and stuff like that.

Free online shipping??? Boy, that's trouble! I will have to resist! Big Grin I do most my shopping online - free shipping is a bit of a weakness. I think shipping charges is generally what reins me in pretty well.

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Does any techie know why *everyone* is revamping their websites in the next 1-2 weeks???? I've got notices from several credit card companies, mortgage company, etc. that site will be down for a couple of days over the weekend. (Last weekend, next weekend, some in October. MOST will be down this upcoming weekend).

THEN, PG&E sent me a similar notice, but they will have lots of new features. I am wondering if this means I can finally pay this bill by credit card! That will be the first thing I check when it comes back online.

My CU will also be doing a revamp of some sort. We have had online scanning of deposits for a while, but they just got a smart phone app worked out. That will be SWEET if we ever get smart phones. (We both want them and know we will eventually, but the cost is just ridiculous at the moment - waiting it out for more reasonable costs - as we tend to do with these things). So yeah, CU website will be down too, this weekend.

Weekend Doings

November 5th, 2011 at 08:07 pm

I am kind of freezing my but off today. We jumped straight from *mild summer* to *the thick of winter.* I think it is mostly the shock of it - I am fighting the urge to turn on the heat. I usually wouldn't cave so early, nor at these temps inside the house. But, brrrrr... I had the sense to turn up the hot water heater to winter levels, earlier in the week. We hadn't even put any blankets on our bed - will need to for tonight.

Dh has got some Indian spiced lentils in the crockpot. Sounds DIVINE... Perfect day for something hot and soupy.

I just ordered 25 free prints from Walgreens. I was bummed to learn that I could not pick up the pictures at our corner Walgreens? What is up with that? I had the same thing happen a couple of weeks ago, but I thought it was just because they were larger posters. This time just said the location was "temporarily unavailable." Bah - I hope they figure that out. I needed some of the pictures for Monday. School project. So will have to take a drive. Otherwise is semi-convenient on the way home from work. Oh well - besides the gas - will be 100% FREE. Got some prints for vacation, and some for school project, as mentioned.

ETA: Remember 1-hour photo? My free photos were processed in 20 minutes flat. Awesome!

In other news, dh is making a video with the kids - putting all sorts of crazy effects, etc. IS for school, and is of course going way overboard. But, it's been a fun project.

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To add to the "spendy" posts, I did buy soccer pictures this week (they turned out GREAT) and made some random purchases at Hanes. An ANCIENT nightgown broke and I tossed it a few weeks ago. I saw a really cute new one on the Hanes site a while back and wrote it off at $20. A couple of days ago I decided to treat myself. It was on sale, plus I found a 20% off coupon. Final cost was $11. Woohoo! That said, couldn't work out free or "reasonable" shipping. (I forgot about Veterans Day - maybe should have waited - they always have more coupons and deals for Holiday sales). I suppose I am used to paying in the range of $1-$2 for shipping, and often use free in-store pickup, instead. But, in this case, I think I paid $6 shipping. I got a couple of tanks for $3. (I got one earlier in order to get free shipping, and it was a nice tank top for so cheap).

SO, I spent about $25 at Hanes and about $35 on pictures. I know, ouch on the pictures. I couldn't find any reasonable option for a team picture - was like $15??? I gave in, mostly because they gave us free pictures last year. (Free for apparently a $25-ish value - I had no idea a team + individual picture was so pricey). This team is awesome and we really wanted a nice group picture. For the individual picture I bought postcards - that was far more reasonable.

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We've had a *way too close to home* incident here, ourselves. A teenager (almost adult) has gone missing from the school that is right by our home. It is the same campus our kid attend school. There are 2 charter schools crammed onto the same campus, basically. I saw the news earlier in the week and it creeped me out a bit. BUT, considering the age of the kid I kind of brushed it off that he would probably be found any minute. (Runaway, perhaps?)

Today they did a big search and had the dogs out trying to follow his scent. It was hard to watch. No matter what the age, no family should have to go through that. He simply never returned home from school. Hopefully this all turns out okay.

A chance for $4000

November 3rd, 2011 at 06:34 pm

It never ends!

I figured we'd be putting all these cards to bed and closing the *crazy rewards of 2011* chapter.

I am really bad at checking mail offers because I am just in the habit of shredding them. I have tried to be more mindful, but doesn't seem like we have gotten many lately.

Until today! I got some Gold AmEx offer - spend $1000 - get $250 in rewards. No fee.

*sigh*

I have to - I can't pass it up!

This will push our year-to-date rewards over $4,000.

WOW!!!

I will apply ASAP - hope to get those rewards this before the year is up.

(Interestingly, I saw several people were offered this card in May - per MyMoneyBlog - and when they ignored all the offers they were eventually offered $750 in gift cards for charging $500. Double wow! I could try that game, but I think I rather just take the $250 and run. I have no reason to be greedy. What's one more card?).

I hope I can just charge home insurance - total bill is about $1200 for home and flood insurance. This makes it easy - if insurer takes AmEx - that is the only question.

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Oh, and my regular AmEx card offered me $25 cash today, if I spend $500 on groceries through the end of the year. Easy Peasy! (It was basically a 5% on groceries offer, through 12/31, capped at $25 reward).

Rewards Tally Update

November 3rd, 2011 at 07:14 am

I redeemed $310 in free gift cards today. I used some other gift cards to buy a kindle cover for my mom, and a new lunch bag for BM (Amazon).

I have updated rewards tally to reflect that I was able to squeeze $310 from Citi. ($10 was unexpected!). I also added smaller rewards - Target and visa.

The only thing I have yet to redeem is some SW gift cards - should be available in about a week. Then we can resuming closing cards again. Dh has 3 cards to close - I have just one. They have all been paid off, so not much to keep track of at this point.

UPDATED TALLY:

$1230 cash (Chase Sapphire $1030 + Chase Frdm $200)
$1580 gift cards (Citi $500 + SW $515 + SW $565)
$100 gift cards-Amazon- Citi for trying to close card
$310 gift cards Citi
-$99 annual fee (SW card)
+$99 annual fee refunded when closed card
-$69 Fee (SW card)
*Will they refund this one too?*
-$23 lost value for exchanging some Citi gift cards for cash and amazon gift cards
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$3128 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 500 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 80 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)
+$ 35 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx)
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=$3743 TOTAL REWARDS 2011
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I generally only use one primary rewards card, but since the AmEx is not taken everywhere, really have to rely on 2 cards. Target card adds another inconvenience factor, but the rewards sure add up!! (In addition, earned $16 for the kids' school, with Target card - 1%). So, it is working out well. What I have bee doing is paying off the smaller cards the first of every month (the second the cards close for the month). This really lessens the hassle factor. Not much to think about or remember. The negative red balances (Credit card balances) in Quicken is all I really need as a visual reminder that I now regularly pay off 3 credit cards instead of just one. Of course, I just pay online through my credit union, with the rest of the bills - VERY EASY.

Credit Card Rewards - What to Charge

November 2nd, 2011 at 12:57 pm

I personally haven't done anything special with credit card rewards this year. I just followed my usual rules of "charge anything and everything" in hopes of rewards, and jump on deals that pay off nicely for doing so. This year is unique in that there are just TONS of easy deals out there. We have never opened near this many credit cards for rewards. Maybe 7-8 in the last year. Our prior record was 3 or 4 in one year.

Anyway, there are numerous reasons I prefer to deal in credit versus cash. For reference, I have paid off the balance every month since aged 16, so I don't find anything scary about the process of utilizing a credit card. I have always managed my finances electronically, and am well aware how to avoid fees (pay off balance every month, well withing grace period). IT's from this electronic mindset that I look at cash with caution. Cash is very easily lost or stolen (& when it's gone, it is gone!). & having to track cash expenditures involves a lot of writing down. I don't have to bother with all that writing down. I can just look on the computer, download to Quicken, etc. Just to share that I have spent almost 20 years paying many bills with credit cards.

I suppose there is one other unique thing about the credit card reward bounty this year. I was able to charge an extra $11,000 or so that I usually don't. Basically, all of our insurance companies suddenly allowed us to charge everything with no fees to do so. That's like a quarter of our annual spending. So, I admit this made it MUCH easier to rack up rewards this year!

I've seen a lot of comments of surprise about the kinds of things we charge, so I wanted to mention things you can probably charge on credit, in the vein of earning rewards. (& as always, I only recommend if you are disciplined to pay off!!!). We generally earn our rewards with regular bills like insurance, gas, groceries, utilities. That is the bulk of it. There is not a lot of discretionary spending beyond that being racked up just to earn credit card rewards. THAT would defeat the purpose!

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As of today, we are able to charge the following:

*Medical insurance and all medical/dental bills
*DMV Fees (California)
*Any city utilities (water, electric - Sacramento)
*cell phone bill
*internet/landline/cable provider
*home/auto insurance
*gym membership
*charity (generally through paypal)
*groceries
*auto fuel
*retail
*restaurants - these days even most fast food
*most services (auto mechanic, etc.)
*netflix, hulu, blockbuster, etc.

Expenses I can not charge:

*Mortgage
*Most individuals (gardener, piano teacher)
*HOA Dues
*county utilities (sewer - our particular county)
*PG&E (gas bill)
*credit card payments (other debt payments)
*payments to public school (requests for money, etc.)

These are the very few items that I write checks for (or pay online, for the most part - online bill pay).

**It is possible that PG&E takes automatic payments by credit card. I personally avoid automatic payments - I like to authorize every charge before it is made - just a personal preference. So is one reason I know I have ruled out not paying by credit in the past.**

Expenses I choose not to charge, because fees are involved:

*Property Taxes (maybe just my county)
*Income Taxes (Fed/state)
*payments to charity, when I want to skip paypal fee (the paypal fee will generally ding the charity - I usually skip charging charitable donations, on principle)

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Of course, in addition to all this, I have ample savings so I can prepay items to build up credit card rewards. This month I prepaid health insurance to reach goal faster. One could buy gift certificates for groceries, etc., to try to advance purchases. Pre-pay utilities? I think that is an idea I have seen mentioned.

Beyond these ideas, check back often. For many years the DMV charged a fee for the privelege to pay by credit, but I just check every year and one year the fee was gone. All of our insurers really made the shift to accepting credit cards this year. I still have to check with our life insurer in the spring (we pay annually on that).

In the last year or two I have been able to stop using cash entirely. Most small places that did not accept credit cards before, will now accept cash. I carry a small amount of cash for "emergency" but besides the ocassional bridge toll, I don't seem to ever need it. Heck, when we were in L.A., the parking meters took credit cards. I thought that was genius! How many times have I been stuck digging around for change for a meter? Change I never have, since I never spend cash.

Is there anything else that you can charge? That you don't see mentioned?

Small Update

November 2nd, 2011 at 12:31 pm

Financial Doings:

Dh ran my paycheck to the bank today. Mil did slip us $100 for the weekend - so he deposited that as well. (Retirement makes in-laws want to give us lots of money - I won't complain, but I still find it odd!) The total is about $400, for this month alone. $100 for piano lessons, $200 for Disney, $100 for Napa. Plus, free babysitting to boot. Next year I will probably put ALL that cash to the mortgage. This year was all unexpected and so we thought, "Might as well splurge." Which is her wish. But I think we splurge plenty and those will be nice mortgage chips, if they continue. At the time I was so surprised that I couldn't quite thank that clearly. But going forward, it's good to have a plan.

So, anyway, with money in the bank, I paid the mortgage and the CU visa...

Waiting for Citi credit card to close so I can redeem points. I suppose I could have paid that one off to, but I wanted to check in Quicken and make sure my cash flow was okay.

I turned off medical insurance payments for the rest of the year. I pre-paid this month. I will have to go in around 12/31 and set it up again with increased 2012 premium. I figured I better just turn it off before I forget and pre-pay another month by accident.

I checked credit karma and my score went up 10 points - only change was another closed credit card showing up. Big Grin This is the second or third time I noticed an immediate score boost for closing a credit card. I am not concerned about score in the least - it is in the top tier no matter what I do. I share for the "Fear of FICO" crowd - more evidence of hype. I think the credit card companies profit from the fear of closing cards, but not sure who else does.

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Thankfully, I dropped 2 pounds as of this morning. I didn't expect all that "restaurant weight" to stick.

Funny enough? We went to Sizzler for dinner on Monday. Kids ate FREE. I don't think they advertised heavily since I saw a lot of seniors and not really many other kids. OF course, kids got endless salad bar, so was a great value for my high metabolismed bottomless pits. We had kind of planned ahead for that, and had no food at home anyway, after vacationing. So though I was reluctant to follow through (see last blog post), I decided a nice salad couldn't hurt.

So, restaurant food Monday night means no weight dropped off until I stayed out of a restuarant for 24 hours. Funny. The scale was not nice to me until this morning.