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Archive for December, 2011

Verizon

December 31st, 2011 at 03:30 pm

So, I think I have been pretty clear that I do not do auto pay. I am way too much of a control freak about that. Too easy to think, "Well, the bills are paid, so whatever - I will look at them later." I think mostly it would drive me nuts to not have more control over payments being made. I set up the gym (a whopping $15/month) as auto pay and a couple of city utilities who would only let me pay by credit if it was automatic. But, that's about it. When it comes to bigger bills and giant corporations, I couldn't do it. I want to be able to choose not to pay a bill when I don't agree with it, etc. It is MUCH easier to dispute bills before you pay them - trust me. & I only allow regular payments to my credit card. More recourse when there is a disagreement - doesn't screw up my bank account if THEY make a mistake, either.

SO. I just saw this:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/verizon-wireless-2-payment-fee-an...

"On December 29th, Verizon Wireless announced via official press release that “Starting January 15, a new $2 payment convenience fee will be instituted for customers who make single bill payments online or by telephone.”

A day later, on December 30th, after a barrage of consumer complaints and a possible FCC investigation, Verizon retracted their fee.

Sigh, Verizon. You do realize you’re charging us to pay you, right?"

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Where was I? I hadn't even heard all of this.

I have also said that I don't do business with big banks, giant corporations, big cable, etc., etc. BUT Verizon is the one shining example. They have always been affordable and pleasant and no issues in over 10 years.

*This* would be a horrible precedent. One I am not sure I could put up with. So I am relieved to see they changed their minds. OF course, as Mr. MyMoneyBlog said, they could certainly offer a discount to those who pay automatically or work it out in a more hidden way over time. But, that is the more PR thing to do. Any of that is certainly better than "pay us to pay us!" I mean, it didn't occur to them that people would be pissed about that?

ETA: I know better to take secondhand commentary as gospel. I do usually look at the source, but hadn't bothered in this case. Anyway, I just read the Verizon press release and it was a REALLY BADLY WORDED PR kind of thing that basically says they will charge a $2 convenience fee to customers who pay one-time with credit card. Um, from my experience this is very standard. To be clear, they are not charging people to pay by check, to pay by EFT, or to pay with online bill pay. Only with credit card. This is not how I read it, initially, so I am way less outraged! I've never had anyone pull a switcheroo like that, but whatever. Many many many businesses pass on the cost of credit card merchant fees to their customers. Those are the ones I don't use my credit cards with. Lord knows why they worded the press release in that manner - it does come across to charge every customer $2 to pay their bill, then lists all the exceptions (all-non-creditcard payments, and auto pay).

Of course, I do admit in an era where most businesses are dropping charge card fees, that this is pretty backwards. I had mentioned that as of 2011 the only holdouts seem to be the government and any mortgage company. Oh, and PG&E - who seems to be in the dark ages. I can't charge my mortgage, I can't pay the county utility (though all the city utilities are fine with no-fee credit payments), I can't charge payments made to the IRS or state or county without being charged a fee. & PG&E. & Verizon wants to be added to that very narrow list??? I suppose after thinking about it, it is still pretty stupid. But I am sure they will find a way to get that money back another way.

BUSY!

December 29th, 2011 at 02:00 am

This is the worst week of the year for me, at work. April 15th isn't exactly easy, but we have several months to prepare. This is a 4-day workweek and it's all about the year-end CRUNCH. (Plus, heck, we just extend tax returns. Wink )

I think it's extra frustrating because everyone else has the week off and doesn't understand why one would be so busy. It's hard to deal with well-meaning friends who think I am just avoiding them or something. *sigh*

Anyway, I have no idea what it is because I try to go for the calm, relaxed, and low-key lifestyle. But someone recently commented that "my life was so busy." She is not the only one, but I don't really understand that impression.

BUT, today I worked non-stop for 10 hours, dealt with a ton of issues, and accomplished a ton. Plus took a couple of phone calls since I got home (from less organized or later sleeping co-workers - I went to work at dawn so I could leave at 5:00). *This* is busy. I feel like I have been going a million miles a minute all day.

Tomorrow and Friday probably won't be much better, but once it's done, it's done. Then I collapse! It's like a good warm up for tax season though - which starts next week. Er, I guess it really started last week - but the 3-day weekends confuse the issue a bit. Only 6-day workweeks starting next week, until May. So I look forward to the 3-day weekend before the craziness REALLY begins.

Of course, it's all relative. Came home by 5:15, had a nice dinner with the fam, and spent the evening watching Elf with the kids. Plenty of hours of down time - could be much worse. I usually have much more morning and noon time, is all. Definitely no lunches home this week...

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Anyway, somewhat related, I read a really great post the other day:

http://simplemom.net/4-minimum-requirements-for-vibrant-livi...

"Ask yourself these things:

1. Food: How are you feeding yourself?
2. Rest: How are you sleeping?
3. Calm: How are you handling stress?
4. Activity: How are you moving (aka exercising)?

Yes, of course we need love and joy, laughter and fresh air. We need spiritual connection and mental stimulation and creativity and purpose. But the truth is, a chronically sleep-deprived mama living off of Diet Coke and cheese doodles is nowhere near as prepared to experience the kind of deep, vital, and vibrant life meant for her. To some degree, we simply must take care of the basics first."

These are words I personally live by.

I commented on the blog post too, because I have been noticing a lot lately how other "moms" don't seem terribly supportive when one chooses to focus on these four basics. I am personally a strong believer in taking care of myself, first. It's not a popular viewpoint with the mom crowd. Especially newer moms who are learning the ropes. There is a lot of "spend every moment with your kids, no time away or other hobbies allowed," and if you exercise and look good then the claws really come out...

Of course, this basic concept applies to anyone - man, woman, whoever. The blog I link just caters to moms, is all. It's hard to do much of anything if you don't take care of yourself first. No matter who you are!

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I was also thinking about all this in terms of New Years goals. I have no New Years goals. I generally get a raise every Jan. 1 (since I started my job 1/1) and most our bills tend to go up Jan. 1. So, for me it is a time to review the past year financially and revise the budget for new numbers and think to new goals. Nice how it works out, I guess.

BUT, I am entering busy season at work so I have no other goals. "Survive tax season" just about covers it. OF course, the more sleep and exercise I get the easier it will be.

I just don't get the "Set a ton of goals at once" mentality. & of course I watch my friends fail at the same pile of goals every single year. I am sure it works for some, but I have always followed the approach of "one thing at a time." I am all about the "one thing at a time." It REALLY works. You accomplish one big goal and set a good habit, and then you move on to the next one. IT certainly does not happen overnight.

Bills, Bills, Bills, + $20

December 27th, 2011 at 05:11 am

Today I paid bills, bills, bills and more bills. I suppose most of the big stuff seems to be due this time of year (property taxes, home insurance, flood insurance, umbrella insurance, disability insurance), plus paid for school lunches the rest of the year, paid the refi deposit, auto insurance, and some car repairs - new battery and new tires. All of the above was $5000+. Of course, we set aside 1/12 of all these type bills every month so no biggie, but I imagine not preparing for the bill landslide could be VERY overwhelming. Just a reminder to "plan ahead." Aside from the refi, all of this was extremely foreseeable. I paid for the refi deposit with cash Xmas gifts.

I put some of this on the credit card and so I don't have to pay cash for about $1000 of it until February. Some I had to pay off in December (Am Ex had a very short grace period) - so if kind of spreads over 3 months. It's just most of this stuff is due between Dec. 10 and Jan. 10.

Oh disability insurance ticked up. I barely noticed but then saw that it was about 30% higher AND that it had been stagnant the past several years. I guessed it - getting older! IT's still dirt cheap. About $300 with a "one-time 10% discount" due to the economy. But I saw the rates tick up every 5 years. (I also have to belong to two professional associations to get the rate, so that doesn't tell the whole story. It's still reasonable when you consider that - maybe $1k-ish per year). They've been aggressively trying to get me to increase my coverage. Um, considering it can't be more than 60% of my current income? I'd love to, but they are sure wasting a lot of paper and postage trying to convince me to get more coverage - I simply can't.

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Appraisal is tomorrow. Woohoo! Crossing my fingers for $250k+.

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My mom slipped me $40 for Christmas food and stuff. Lord knows we spent nowhere near $40, but it is appreciated. I returned $20 to dh for the money I took to pay the mortgage this month. I was going to deposit the other $20 but was digging in our cash stash for $5 bills (that's a LONG story). Anyway! It occurred to me I didn't need the $20 for anything, and so should add it to the cash stash. The "cash emergency fund," which we do have but is not always front of mind. It's probably been a couple of years since I added to it. Since MIL has been handing us so much cash, I will have to remember to add to the stash next time.

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I think I will pay the mortgage again tomorrow. That way it will be paid up through mid-March, and won't have to deal with that again during the refi process. (You know, every time you make a payment, it changes the balance due, etc.). Then there's no "don't make the mortgage payment" if it doesn't close in time or it doesn't go through - don't want to deal with a potential late payment. I am quite sure I am being overly cautious, but overly cautious works for me. Wink That, and it does just simplify things for us. I have the cash flow with Christmas cash gifts. I get paid Friday anyway and will just do ROTH contributions with the next paycheck after - usually I do ROTHs on 1st and mortgage with mid-month paycheck. IT's just a little shuffle helped along with a little bit of extra cash.

Christmas Spending

December 24th, 2011 at 02:13 pm

Spent about $250 on Christmas this year.

Of course, it is also birthday season here, so includes a lot of birthday spending.

In addition, donated $200 cash to charity. I usually just apply some of the gifts/bonuses we get to charity, so don't usually count it as a Christmas expense. BUT, with all the credit card rewards, we spent so little, so I just paid out $200 a couple of weeks ago, from the budget. I won't be so generous with the cash gifts we receive because I am hoarding those to pay for our refinance costs.

OF course, money received so far:

$1000 from my mom
$ 50 Bday money
$ 110 from dh's Grandad (we used for a nice dinner out on 10-year move/house anniversary. Since it arrived that DAY - perfect timing!)
$ 250 work bonus (didn't end up getting more for *10 years.* Bummed about that, though happy to get anything. This is the money I usually give to charity. Usually $50 back to boss and $200 to charity).

In-Laws always gives us $1000. Will find out today, for sure.

The Spending??

$200 Charity
$20 to Gardener
$50 towards boss gift
$20 for in-law gifts (Grandkid photo calendars, gift cards, split 50/50 with SIL)
$ 8 Christmas plates/bowls (cute and on sale!)
$ 4 calendars (for kids)
$ 8 Almond roca for my dad
$17 toys for kids (some game? - was a July purchase)
$15 Frame/print for work gift exchange
$ 5 Gag gift for my mom
$15 Birthday Pie for me
$30 Frames/prints for our home (Bday gift to self)
$40 Dh/kids bought me some t-shirts (dh kept one too)
$20 lighted bows and flowers (for us, though may give the flowers to my mom to take home Xmas Day. Lighted bows were cute! We can re-use)
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$452 TOTAL
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Of course, with cash gifts, we come out ahead about $2000. Woohoo!

In addition to the above we did all the following for free (credit card rewards and creativity):

Nintendo DS3 for the kids
Several used video games for the kids
LOTS of free books/games for the kids (Scholastic)
Kindle for my mom
Kindle for dh's folks
Kindle Fire for us
$25 Amazon gift card for my dad's 60th B-Day
$25 Amazon gift card (x2) for teachers
$300 free books for teachers, approximately (Scholastic)

In addition, I printed out some sheet music from some of LM's favorite video games. The kids are with Grandma so I practiced them a bit to surprise him tomorrow. I thought of it because #1 - dh got some free CD of video game themes played by a Symphony - that kind of thing. LM LOVES it. & also we are trying to talk him into starting piano lessons. So, I thought maybe this would encourage him a bit. Wink But I can't wait to see his face when I play "Chocobo theme song" and "Angry Birds Theme Song." Big Grin For extra motivation I need to find some easier arrangements for BM. (To showcase what one year of piano lessons can do). I am sure I will find something - the internet is AMAZING. I couldn't believe all the free music I found. I usually pay for music. & I will be mindful to buy it if I find a good arrangement. But there is just so much free stuff being shared by people online, too. Like, their own arrangements of popular songs. WOW!

This year was certainly a unique year with so much opportunity for so much fancy free stuff!!

We probably usually spend about $500 on Xmas + $200 to charity. So, we saved about $250 this year, with credit card rewards. (Plus, were able to be extra generous).

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BTW, framed print of my dad's photo was a HUGE hit at work gift exchange. I did good! Funniest part? Boss and his wife are really into art and have ridiculously expensive frames, etc. around the office. I had to get my frames approved for my certificates for example - to hang them in my office. Um, they approved my cheap Michael frame to hang on their wall? Seriously? OF course, I am thinking GIFT idea for THEM next year. I should go buy another of these frames - if they approve. (I love how nice and sturdy and sleek they look though I paid little more than $10 for them on sale!)

I received a dainty little gold watch. I LOVE it. The funny thing is that I have been thinking I could use a watch, but haven't exactly voiced that out loud. Must be "good gift" karma!

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Merry Christmas, Happy Holidays, to everyone.

This will be a monster post!

December 23rd, 2011 at 01:06 pm

Oh, work has just been crazy as it always been this time of year. So, I have about 10 things I want to blog about but haven't had time to. Will see how much I can squeeze in a post.

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UGH!

I got a bill from our HMO last night. I peeked at it while I was out at the mail box and was surprised to see a bill for $1500. Holy Heck! I just assumed it was probably in regards to the emergency room visit last October. They aren't particularly known for prompt billing. (Heck, likely more related to my surgery in January).

BUT, imagine my second surprise when I saw this was for dh's ultrasound LAST WEEK. Rolleyes

Anyway, though my annoyance level is pretty darn high, I am 99% sure this is a mistake, so am not too stressed out about it.

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BTW, dh seems to be feeling much better. It was "nothing" and it has passed. Will see...

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I had forgotten that the deductible is basically included in the monthly cost of our health insurance. We have ALWAYS maxed out, and the whole point of switching was that it was a little cheaper, with deductible, than our old plan. Which means, if you look at it that way, our health insurance will cost MORE than our mortgage after this refi. $950/month versus $1050/month. Ouch! (Our old health insurance plan must cost $1100+ these days. IT cost about $900 when we switched - it was insane). But yeah, I am just adding the average $250/month deductible we have been paying - adding that to the insurance premium.

& yes, we have made HUGE efforts to cut our living costs down. HUGE moves, and I think getting our mortgage down under $1k is pretty respectable from a regional perspective. (The average person I know has a $2k+ mortgage. Rent isn't any cheaper as an option). BUT, I don't know if I should feel exasperated with the medical side, or just glad we have controlled what we can as much as we have, so it doesn't kill us financially. I feel a little of both. Grateful we can afford it all, but still a little exasperated. I just was telling dh last night, more than 25% of our take home pay went to medical and dental bills this year." Ouch!

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This week I gave blood - that is my giving for the holiday season.

(Actually, we gave a little cash too. Good thing we did that before monster medical bill. Wink )

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My dad is upset because for the first time in his life he can not contribute to an IRA! I had to inform him that he needed "Earned income" to contribute. HE didn't earn a cent in 2011.

My dad is still on COBRA, and I think they can easily live on unemployment, for the most part.

My dad was telling me how many of his friends can't find any work and how screwed they are financially. I am starting to REALLY realize that the reason our generation is in such a financial mess has everything to do with my dad's generation. This is the common story: Bought a big house, fancy cars, private schools, supporting adult kids well into their 30s, divorce.

All of the above is VERY expensive. & then I wonder what financial planet most of my peers are on? This is how they grew up?

(To be clear - I Am talking about people who had $100k-$300k steady paychecks for the last 2 decades. THIS is what I See all around me).

My parents did none of the above, and the reward is a *shrug* if he can never work again.

OF course, my dad just never took his income for granted, and having grown up dirt poor, I just think he felt VERY content at a much lower spending level. Food, shelter, what else do you really *NEED*? More where I get my own attitude from.

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Anyway, I didn't see much point for my dad to contribute to ROTHs near retirement, when he had a huge income. BUT, he has been converting since unemployed. This year he was able to convert $50k. He will pay some taxes, but nothing above 15%. Basically, will pay in the tax instead of making ROTH contributions.

IT's kind of funny because I have never heard of this tax strategy, but we have both used it. Contribute to 401k and regular IRAs while income is really high and get a HUGE tax break. When income is low, convert to ROTH and pay no or little tax on the conversion. Win-win.

All the more reason to just keep our IRAs for the long run. We are not any more than the 15% tax bracket, even with a big conversion. But I haven't wanted to come up with the cash. & I am thinking that I probably shouldn't. Maybe we can convert those during the early years or our retirement. ??? If it would make sense to?

Anyway, we were most definitely in the 25% tax bracket and took advantage when we both worked. 401k and IRAs. But our income has been so low since having kids, that we did a big ROTH conversion at the 10%/15% tax rate. When you figured the state taxes, we might have gotten a 30% tax break up front, but converted and paid 15%.

Heck, my dad might have saved 40% on his taxes, with 401k and IRA deductions, being in a higher tax bracket, but will pay little more than 15% total on this conversion. Pretty sweet!

Of course, you may wonder why on earth I would recommend him to convert now, to ROTH, and pay tax. On a practical level, my parents can probably live off social security (starts in 5 years?). So, less money in regular IRAs = less RMDs. & of course, RMDs and social security will eventually equal a large tax bill for them. Certainly not as large as when my dad worked, but definitely more than 15% tax. Right now they are just kind of in limbo - no real taxable income. But I have enough retired clients to know that won't last. Wink

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Squeaky Wheel Update

CU called me back yesterday. I think it was good I called so much. Customer service is majorly lacking over there, but whatever.

They put in a request for an appraiser because "locked in rate a week before application was approved." I am not sure what this means except they are really damn slow to approve applications? So, we may have sped up the appraisal process being squeaky.

I Was griping to dh that the whole application was online, but I have to sit and play phone tag. When I am swamped I can much easier reply to an e-mail. ANYWAY, no sooner than I griped, my loan processor e-mailed me to assure me her supervisor told her I Called, that the requests for info are in the mail, the appraisal is ordered, and to E-MAIL her if I need anything. PERFECT!

I just wanted to make sure all the time consuming stuff was rolling and I was doing everything on MY part to get this thing through on time. Getting a request for documents, and an appraisal, is a good start. Hopefully we get the appraisal done first of January.

I've got all the documentation I should need. I will probably drop it off in person. Or hopefully I can just send it securely over the internet. I will not be mailing all that personal information (too many bad experiences with mail). But, however I deliver it, it will be done the second I get the request. My part will be DONE! & hearing all the stories, I am really curious how the rest of this will go. I am bracing myself for odd requests and follow up questions, though it's hard to be more straightforward than our situation. Borrowin 80% or less equity, W-2 income only, ample cash savings, all of our investments in retirement. No other debt. PITI will be about 20% of income. What else is there to analyze? & yet I know people in FAR better financial situations being put through the ringer with these mortgage loans. But I think a lot of them have self-employment income, other mortgages, stuff like that. So I am hoping we get it easy. Will see!!!

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Spending Christmas Eve with the family (in-law gift extravaganza) and Christmas Day here at home. I've done nothing to prepare and will do nothing to prepare. (Anything to be done has been done, ages ago). Well, might scrub the toilet tonight? That's about it. Dh is doing grocery shopping today and making a butternut squash soup today, for Sunday. YUM. Take and bake pizzas, also. The ones at our grocery store are DIVINE. The kids went with Grandma yesterday, and we pick them up Saturday.

In regards to MIL drama of Christmases past, I won't hold my breath, but I think she found something else to do Christmas morning. Hallelujah! It's more of a charity minded thing, but this is the second year in a row. Could this be a tradition? She actually DROPPED THE DRAMA and found something more positive to do on Christmas Day? I can't believe it!

Anyway, if we get 2-3 hours with MY parents, alone, and MIL doesn't cry the whole time she is here, it will be a success. That is ALL I ever asked for. Can I hope? Big Grin

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Anyone who read all this gets a gold star from me!

Ditto!

December 20th, 2011 at 11:53 pm

Why didn't I think of this?



Actually, we took the kids out to look at Christmas lights and someone did the same to a REALLY decked out house. BUT, they pretty much just set up a giant piece of cardboard and put the "ditto" lights on that. Was maybe wood, not cardboard, but was very much a "thrown together in a few minutes" kind of look.

LOVED it.

I told dh that if we every move into a neighborhood with crazy Christmas spirit, we knew how to play along without looking like total scrooges. I'll stick to the "ditto." Wink OF course, why bother with the arrow? I don't think the one we saw had an arrow - the meaning was clear. LOL.

$199,999

December 20th, 2011 at 01:36 am

I am really surprised the bank updated their balance so fast. They tend to be a little slower.

So, it is official!

Per bank:



I suppose this is the first time our debt load has ever been under $200k, since being homeowners.

Woohoo!

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My checking account is also drained, as mentioned before.

I am not really sure how much money to expect for Christmas. I don't know if 10 years at my job buys me a bigger Christmas bonus?

BUT, whatever cash we receive this week, I will be hoarding for our refinance. It probably won't be too much of a cash drain in the end, to pay cash for the closing costs. Will probably receive enough cash this month to cover it. That wasn't my plan, but it works out very well!

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Tomorrow is our day of many anniversaries. (Primarily, 10 years of owning this home and moving to our low cost haven). I thought of more (I've had my CPA license 10 years, too). Boy were we BUSY 10 years ago! I am not feeling very reflective or philosophical, so maybe tomorrow I will think of a better post. For today, I am just relaxing and enjoying this milestone.

Tomorrow we do dinner out - lots to celebrate.

My DOH Moment

December 19th, 2011 at 02:43 pm

I braced myself and went to Walgreens over the weekend to pick up some almond roca for my dad.

Um, there was no one there??? How bizarre. Actually, there were people there, and there was a line, but it was just for cigarettes. I often run in for a soda, and notice a lot of people buying cigs. They must make bank on our bad habits. Wink

Anyway, I slapped a bow on my dad's almond roca (the one I got from a gift given to me last week) and wrapped up the big box I had for the work gift exchange. I had packaged it up, but the box was so big I Was procrastinating on actually wrapping it.

And so I was in the mindset of wrapping things up, and I thought, "Hmmmmm - I should have given the teachers their gifts on Friday?" Doh! I majorly spaced on that. I have known all along the kids have no school for two weeks, but just spaced on the details.

Anyway, I was totally serious when I told the kids that it is okay and we will just give them "New YEars Gifts." They will be totally surprised and the gifts will be totally unexpected. Works out. & dh gave them some Scholastic credit which they LOVED, so it's not a total loss.

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Maybe I always notice it, but this year I am REALLY noticing that the more broke and financially screwed people seem to be giving more. Kind of, "Look at me, look how generous I am - look how I am doing okay." IT probably stands out a bit more because all of the really fiscally sound people I know are pretty *over* the materialism. This is one reason Christmas is easy on us. Our siblings and cousins say, "PLEASE do not buy any gifts for our kids. We have way too much." & they are always very open to giving that money to charity, instead. & then of course my bankrupt friends will be spending thousands of dollars on gifts. Maybe it's because I know everyone lose their home to foreclosure, or is in the middle of losing their home to foreclosure. The holiday spending seems extra insane this year.

'Tis the season to be broke!

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In other news, dh is making an appointment with a specialist this week. *sigh* We seem to have an affinity for January medical procedures. At this point we really have absolutely no idea what is wrong with him.

Rewards Update $4129

December 18th, 2011 at 05:14 pm

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
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$3239 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 500 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex
+$ 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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=$3879

+ $250 American Express reward (gift cards)
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=$4129 Total CC REWARDS 2011
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**I am still waiting to be able to redeem the last AmEx reward of $250. Points are "pending." This one looks like it will be a Kohls gift card.

**I just noticed a $25 statement credit from AmEx. I remember signing up for some bonus, but can't seem to find the details. I believe it was 5% back on $500 of grocery purchases - something like that. Woohoo! (A nice surprise, because I totally forgot!)

*Dh received an offer for a $100 cash back credit card. I haven't ruled it out, but did put it aside for after the refinance. If it was more enticing, I probably wouldn't bother waiting...

Flat Tire

December 18th, 2011 at 12:40 am

Eh, thankfully it was only a minor inconvenience! We've actually had a good flat tire run. I had a car that seemed to get a flat tire every few months. Rolleyes It's funny how certain cars just attract certain trouble! But, in the end, it's been a long time since either one of us has gotten a flat tire. Phew!

I noticed it this morning when I tried to drive dh's car. I went to work today and so just put it back in the garage and took the van instead. I had a feeling dh would be too lazy to take care of it today, so I was relieved when he called to tell me I had the good tire iron. SO, he is out fixing it right now. (Who knows how long it was flat and if the tire is salvageable - it was flat all the way).

OF course, that tire was one that had a continuous slow leak and dh mentioned that was probably what happened. (For YEARS it had a VERY slow leak that no one could diagnose - we just made sure to fill it often). Anyway, that commented reminded me that it is not the same tire. "Um, it was the slow leak tire, but I just replaced the back tires a few months ago?"

Great! So the car has a rear driver side wheel jinx? See what I mean?

That said, our car repairs have been well below budget for the year (& for the decade?). A flat tire at home, when I don't need the car, is a pretty minor inconvenience in the scheme of things. If I have to have a flat, this is the way to do it. (Dh has nowhere to be for like 2 whole weeks, so why I thought he would be more lazy about it).

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Have you all seen these Christmas light glasses? They are so cool!!! All the christmas lights look like snowmen (& they have different shapes).

http://www.amazon.com/Snowman-Holiday-Glasses-Christmas-Ligh...

I had actually bought some after Christmas last year and had totally forgotten about them. What a FUN surprise when we got out all the Christmas lights and stuff.

Tonight we are going to wear them when we do the Christmas light rounds. I haven't used them on such a large scale - should be fun.

Mortgage, HSA, etc.

December 16th, 2011 at 07:10 pm

Today is the day! Dropping by the bank mid day to deposit my paycheck. Will go home and pay the mortgage down below $200,000. (& eat lunch). WOOHOO!

Our 10-year anniversary of living in this city/buying this home will be Tuesday. We can also add "a mortgage balance under $200k" to the celebration. I don't care if the lender updates their website or not by then, but it's likely that I can log in next Tuesday and see no more "2" at the beginning of my balance. Big Grin

We decided to take the kids out to a fondue feast to celebrate. So much of where we are today, when we decided to have kids, etc., comes from this brave move that we made. So, it is a lot to celebrate. I will post more about that next week.

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I mentioned my long-term goal trifecta was a no go at 12/31 because AmEx demanded payment 12/29 for my reward card. Rolleyes

Oh well - I still got two of three. & close enough on #3. At this point it is just semantics. I was going to pay the card off 1/1.

So, what next??? I mentioned all the reasons I need to continue saving cash and will likely pay a little extra to the mortgage. I also discussed tax efficiency as a motivator for some of my financial goals.

SO, I revisited the HSA. For about 5 seconds. Um, still a no go for us. Thing is our medical exenses were about $15k for 2011, and about $9000 of that is tax deductible. So, putting money in a HSA doesn't save me any taxes. Then I only get to deduct what I put in the HSA, AND California will probably never recognize HSAs as a tax shelter, which is a whole other thing. So, basically, the HSA still makes absolutely no sense for us. It might be worth the hassle if we have a huge jump in income down the road. But, I suppose I was rather relieved to find it still makes no sense. Not any more sense than it did last year, anyway. I just might actually have cash to put away this year, is the only difference, and why I revisted it. (This state not recognizing the tax break is just a huge nightmare, and kind of why I am relieved. Plain vanilla medical bills are deductible by both Fed and state if they amount to more than 7.5% of your income, and if you itemize. We have that WELL covered, refinance and all. Our interest and propety taxes alone will still be enough to itemize).

& I do share because so much financial advice is *one size fits all* but some of this tax stuff is really complicated. We will be personally skipping the 529 plans and the HSAs, because they are of absolutely not tax benefit to us, at current. (If my spouse was working, we would likely fund both. That is just a WHOLE other ballgame!)

We don't pay any taxes of note with just me working. So, ROTHs are our primary savings venue. We don't need the tax savings now - but we will take it later.

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I called the CU today. They told me that our underwriting was approved yesterday. Well, at least something is going on. Someone is supposed to call me today. & their "loan status" website is down.

All I know is squeaky wheel gets the grease. I am not accustomed to being a squeaky wheel, but I think it's a good idea for a 4% mortgage loan! So I am being pretty squeaky for my personality. This means I have to call them first thing Monday if no one calls me today. Why do I get the feeling I will be very squeaky with this whole process??? Well, I want them to be sick of me so the loan closes in time. Wink

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How funny is this? Checked the kids' school lunch balance and LM's balance will be $0 after lunch today. How is that for planning? I had put in enough to get through 2011. OF course, I had a wee bit more of a cushion in there, but lots of extra school lunches these last two weeks with "daddy sick" and "mommy busy."

BM is not quite as fond of school lunch - he has a $15 balance. I will re-fund both accounts January 1, for the rest of the school year.

Debt Free, Cash Poor

December 16th, 2011 at 02:12 pm

It's kind of funny for me, because I do often feel like I live on another planet or speak another language from those around me. Anyway, I grew up in a debt free, creative, and open minded household. Thus, I was not raised with the preconceived notions that most people seem to pick up somewhere along the line.

Examples?

**It is impossible to pay cash for a car.**

**It is impossible to afford a decent house around here.**

**It is impossible to raise a family on one income.**

You know, stuff like that. Oh, I could go on all day!!

Anyway, these comments always throw me for a loop! & at age 35, I often feel like I am still learning where other people are coming from. I still get these lightbulb moments in my head when I finally understand some preconceived notion that I never learned, but that everyone else is assuming.

The latest???

I am understanding that there is some preconceived notion that debt free must be somewhat equated with *broke* and *cash poor.*

Ding ding ding!

*Debt free* means I am the crazy one who pays off debt at expense of all other financial goals. I never have money for anything else, because I have to pay cash for anything.

Hmmmmm. Interesting perspective. But not anything in line with my personal reality. Wink

I am sure a lot of this comes from the Dave Ramsey mindset and the popularity of his plan. I have been watching some non-SA debt bloggers whose financial priorities seem terribly screwed up. Okay, I totally understand putting retirement on hold and draining cash for that 20%+ credit card debt. IT's quite a mess, and you do need a shovel to dig out. BUT, what I don't understand is paying down low interest car and student loans while ignoring retirement and not saving any money in cash. ??? Would I Recommend that? Um, no???

& so I get my lightbulb moment.

I believe in being debt free. BUT, I also do not believe in being cash poor and I do not believe in putting the rest of my finances on hold.

I have never been cash poor. I do not believe being debt free and having only $1,000 in the bank. Being debt free does not go in line with having no cash. The opposite is the truth. You need to be able to save and have savings to avoid debt.

I have never scrimped on my retirement savings. Retirement has always been a priority for us.

I think I have noticed it a lot with the car thing, lately. You say you pay cash for your cars, you might as well say you have a third eye. The thing is, if we keep our car 10 years, and we save $100/month, we have $12k cash every decade to replace our cars. IT's really no biggie. It's not a huge financial commitment that drains our savings and that we can never get past. Heck, the reality is dh's car is 11 years old and I will probably save up $5k this year and $5k next year, to replace it. We've got enough cash if that doesn't quite work out, but I honestly have not been saving up for his car for 10 years, anyway. From my perspective, I paid cash 10 years ago, and that's it. Notice how I didn't say we bought a car for $20k. That is infinitely more to the point in being debt free.

When you pay cash for everything, you simply don't spend as much. That is the bottom line and that is the part that works for us. IT's not that I am diverting hundreds or thousands of dollars every year to pay cash for cars or to pay down debt. My experience is the opposite. I have no payments to worry about, and so we have far more money to invest, save, and do what we WANT to do with it. OF course, a cash mentality means you can't just buy everything on a whim. So I think it gives you the added of bonus to give you time to really think about what is important. I don't know how many times I mentioned in this blog that I really want to buy x, y or z, but then the moment eventually passes. By the time the money is saved? By then I have a clearer idea what I truly want, and am not wasting money on a bunch of whims.

Anyway, obviously not everyone equates *debt free* with *cash poor* but I am just starting to understand the mindset when people look horrified when I say that we pay cash for our cars. Wink I think the lightbulb moment came from a comment in the forums. "I would never pay cash for a car because I would never spend all my savings like that." Something like that. As if when you finance a car, you never have to pay that money out??? To me it's kind of semantics. You save up the money first, or you pay it out later. Either way, a big purchase is a big money drain, but there isn't anything extraordinarily negative, to me, about just saving up the money first.

Rewards Update & Other Updates

December 15th, 2011 at 02:55 pm

I am almost done redeeming rewards and closing credit cards! (No new offers of late...)

That said, most every credit card I have has a 30-ish days to pay the balance. Since I knew the AmEx closed yesterday, I figured I'd just pay it January 1. BUT... the payment is due 12/29. Seriously??? I'll quote that as a reason for closing the card. "Um, everyone else gives me 30 days?" At least 20?" & keep in mind, they haven't even sent me the bill yet. Will probably *get it* one week before the due date - is a paper statement.

So much for my cash balance goal. I know it's semantics and it doesn't make a large difference financially, either way. But, um, I can't claim I made my cash goal if I have to shell out $1k this month I wasn't expecting. Boo!

Since I got that check from my mom, I Will just pay off the card right now. I juggled some things around, and I really wanted to pay the mortgage tomorrow when I get paid. BUT, that will leave me in the red $15 when I pay off the other credit cards for the month. Rolleyes (Any other time I'd just pay the mortgage after the first, but I want to see that below $200k balance, NOW!!!!) I think when I go to the bank I will just deposit all my cash - will probably get some more cash somewhere down the road. Maybe dh has $5 he can spare so I am not completely cash-less. (I never use cash, but I think it's prudent to have a few dollars on hand, "just in case." I have $20 in my wallet, which will cover this.

Any other time I might transfer from savings, but I already did 2 savings transfers this month and I am sure I will do a third with Christmas money. Knowing the limits on savings transfers, I usually try to keep it to 1-2 times a month (any money going in or out of savings). Usually one big net transfer every month. I am not going to waste one transfer on $15!!

Anyway, the points I earned on this are currently "pending." Hopefully I can redeem them soon!

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I am not feeling warm and fuzzy on this refinance, because it's been a week since I was approved, and no one has called me. Rolleyes

To be fair "super crazy fast mortgage guy" - I thought he forgot me too, but he sent me some paperwork Tuesday. He also sent a list of stuff they would need, so I gathered all that stuff up for the CU. I didn't want to write back and say "nevermind" until I talked to a live person at my CU. If it is impossible to complete this in 60 days, at this rate, don't waste my time. That was what I Was going to tell them. 7 days have past with absolutely no action, thus not feeling warm and fuzzy. I would love a CU mortgage loan, but I have been through this before with them. Their refinance customer service is majorly lacking compared to more hungry mortgage brokers. If nothing else I will call them tomorrow...

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Oh, and the holiday medical tests never end around here. DH went in for an ultrasound Monday because he was having pain where he shouldn't. It's not related to any other medical issue in the past. We just like getting medical tests during the holidays. Rolleyes The whole thing has put me on edge far more than it should. It's just, we had two holiday seasons in a row of *that is probably nothing* turning into serious surgery and cancer scares. WE are supposed to hear back from the doctor today with some results. I think we are both really on edge with this whole thing. *sigh*

Of course, kids have school off next two weeks, my work schedule is insane, and dh is having trouble making all his commitments (he as supposed to volunteer pretty much full time this week and feels bad that he needs to lay down and rest. Any other time he'd have all the time in the world to lay down and rest - we have a knack for timing). At least we can pawn the kids off with relatives the last two weeks of December, if need be. They all seem to be pretty free of work obligations the next two weeks while I am swamped. I don't see it coming to that, but emergency surgery is not off the table. I never signed the kids up for school daycare like I said I would. At least I know from past experience I can sign them up tomorrow if need be. Now that both kids are in school pretty full-time, this whole thing isn't quite the nightmare it was when dh had surgery and LM was at home. I know we are blessed to have such a flexible and under-utilized school daycare. I have heard of the wait lists and higher cost at other schools. Phew.

Long-Term Goal Trifecta

December 11th, 2011 at 04:14 pm

So...

I am not crazy after all. I was feeling perplexed because felt like parents were going to send me money. But they didn't. How could I misread that situation do wrong??? (I mentioned they were being cryptic, though it is odd for them to send money at all, even moreso with my dad out of work).

But then they did. Got a surprise check for $1,000 yesterday, in the mail. Woohoo!

The nice thing is my parents received some gift money from grandma's estate. They simply wanted to pass some of it along. Which they ALWAYS do, but it is nice that this was the first time they passed on money from someone still alive. Makes it a much happier event!

& with that, I will have crossed off THREE long-term goals from my list, this very month. What are the odds of that?

The Trifecta?

1 - $30,000 cash in the bank - check
2 - Mortgage balance under $200,000 - check
3 - Maxed ROTHS from income - check
(meaning, did not use cash or gifts to max out)

Basically, I put $600 of the money to the mortgage (don't have to scrounge that from savings or gift money) and the other $400 to savings.

I plan to pay the mortgage with my paycheck next Friday - to make #2 official.

Any surprises can be charged and paid next month - how we do it anyway. So I don't foresee any change to cash balance between now and 12/31. Certainly anything can happen, but would have to be something really crazy to mess up our cash status.

I am still expecting some Christmas money too, which I originally figured I would put to the mortgage and to cash goal. This amount was much more than I Was expecting. So, will save any more cash received this month to cash savings, for costs of our upcoming refinance.

Anyway, we already had plans to celebrate some major anniversaries on 12/20, so we will just add this to the reasons to celebrate. We are going to splurge on a nice dinner, for sure.

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2012

I need to figure out what my salary will be and how this refinance shakes out, before I make any concrete goals for 2012. But, I am thinking our goals will look like this:

1 - Max out ROTHs
2 - $5k to cash savings
3 - $3,900 extra to mortgage

#1 is the obvious.

#2 is just how much cash I have figured we need to save, working backwards. Our cars are getting old, our house is getting older, our kids need lots of orthodontia work, dh may want to go back to school, we don't borrow money for any of this stuff, and my job is nearing the end of its useful life. So, basically $30k is merely a minimum. We will just keep adding to that until we get on more solid ground. Dh's car is 11 years old so if nothing else, looking at a $10k outflow to replace his car in the not so distant future. & would like to save that above $30k, with job situation and economy.

#3 - I wanted to talk a little bit about #3, because I have about a million reasons why I Want to pay down the mortgage. I wouldn't even know where to begin. & I share because personal finance is never one size fits all. You might think, "That is so Dave Ramsey" or "Why on earth would you prepay a 4% mortgage?"

Oh, let me count the ways.

First off, we are only paying off the mortgage with extra money. NOT From my regular income. Will pay it down with payroll tax holiday if it is extended (don't want to get use to that money), overtime, gifts, amazon sales, and maybe even income from another job.

Should I be putting this money to retirement or kids college or somewhere else? These are just some reasons I am leaning towards mortgage. (Notice I said "some" - not "all the reasons" - as they are too many to list).

A - The housing market sucks, and I would like to make sure we stay above water. I think extra principal payments are prudent.

B - Still want to pay off the closing costs we rolled into our last loan. I didn't mind borrowing them, but I want to pay off while we have some extra cash. I did not intend to borrow that money for 30 years. Wink

C - It's tax efficient. The next step for us is taxable investing, and that is kind of a pain. Admittedly, we will start small, but in the long run it will significantly increase the complexity of our taxes.

D - My dh is infinitely more motivated by debt payoff than any other financial goal. He hates debt more than I do. This is no doubt one reason why we made our trifecta this year. It's the first time we have ever paid extra on our mortgage. (Beyond $10 here or $100 there).

E - The psychology of mortgage pre-payment is interesting. I think I am extremely disciplined when it comes to our cash savings. I put money in our cash savings, I simply don't touch it. I don't find that hard. BUT, it is easier to think, "I have the money, so let's buy this or that." I also feel like in the end we saved more by locking some of it away in our mortgage. IT works extraordinarily well for mortgage chips, for me. For little amounts that maybe I would have decided against adding to savings any given month. But, every time I got any sort of refund, rebate, or unexpected cash, I just added it to my mortgage payment in Quicken, and pretended like it wasn't there. I can do that with larger sums in savings, but not smaller sums. So, I have to play what works for me. That is money that honestly would just be frittered way, otherwise. So, I found something that works, that keeps us more efficient without "hurting" at all. It's not money that we miss, otherwise.

So, you get the picture why mortgage payoff is my next goal.

That said, we did make the goal trifecta, and taxable investing is in our very near future. We simply have to start down that road. I don't believe in being debt free and cash/investment poor. I think by next December we will be opening a taxable investment account and starting to supplement our retirement savings, and saving for kids college, stuff like that.

4% Locked

December 9th, 2011 at 07:51 pm

Does it sound too good to be true?

You betcha!

I'll get back to you in about 60 days.

I see no reason why we can't close a refinance in 60 days. But, from prior experience, and considering the insane rate of refinancing right now... All I Can do is not think about it or get too excited until it is official and those closing papers are signed.

But, a commitment has been made, and a huge leap towards 4% has been taken.

4%, 30 year mortgage. I can't even tell you how much this improves our long-term financial position. Will most likely pay it down as a 20-year-loan, by simply paying old payment which also very low to begin with, while still trying to scrounge about $4,000 per year in extra principal payments (outside of my own income). In the first year, we would knock out $10,000 in principal.

Anyway, I absolutely can not think about it until we sign the papers! It is too good to be true! (& yes, I Said the same thing last time - I think that one was almost more shocking, because we knocked our mortgage payment to the realm of the crappy studio apartment rentss I was looking at in the mid 1990s. I will never complain about paying $1100/month for this beautiful home, neighborhood, community. $900 is simply too unreal to imagine).

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What's funny is that last time we refied was the year my identity was stolen, and I was in the middle of some pretty serious 0% credit card arbitrage (more free money from credit cards). The refi was after the identity issues were cleaned up, but while I had several credit card balances (& tons of cash earning a high interest rate).

I've never opened up so many credit cards in my life, and here I am with another amazing refi opportunity.

Is the greater purpose of this blog simply to say, "I can do a lot of credit card deals without hurting my credit score!" ? IT feels like a theme. I know there are people out there thinking I am insane to do all these credit scores because it will ruin my FICO, and stuff like that. You can see why it doesn't worry me. Wink

Refinance Update

December 8th, 2011 at 09:06 pm

Talked to broker guy yesterday. He's got some issues, but the transaction could not have been smoother last time. I frankly don't want to bother unless I know it will go smooth and customer service is A+.

Anyway, he was really pushing 0-cost loans with "no skin in the game." Rolleyes Which is completely useless and one-sided. Sure, let's refi to save 0.375%. Then we can just do it again later! (Obviously more in it for him than me. I am sure the average person jumps when they hear *no cost.*). I might be sold if my interest rate wasn't already rock bottom. That is the problem.

To be fair, we also talked 15-year mortgages. So, he is not totally insane. I told him 4% please, or no thanks. He said he could not get that rate with no points, but maybe soon. I am to submit an application so I can lock at a moment's notice.

Rates were same today at my CU. I REALLY should have applied yesterday. I applied this morning, but doesn't look like can lock in the rate today. I am hoping for tomorrow???

Whoever can lock me at 4% first, wins. At worst, I fill out a lot of paperwork and no one wins. (The paperwork hasn't been bad at all). The only thing I worry is if they will be picky about our cash balance, since I do want to pay cash for closing costs. I have just heard the stories, but I think our situation is pretty plain vanilla. Have plenty of equity, a steady salary from a long-term job, and no other investments outside of retirement. No debts - so not much to look at. In 1999 when they were pickier and we were just college grads, they wanted us to have $10k in the bank. I don't know what they will say, this time. If things are so strict, you would think they want more. Will see...

I checked my creditkarma report after I was approved by the CU for their best rate. I was just curious if the last credit card closure was showing up. It Was! I am not sure if it would make any difference, but I eeked out getting all of those cards closed before I applied for this refinance.

One thing I had had forgotten or not thought of... I am not concerned at all with *length of open credit history" (seeing as I have never been turned down for any line of credit or loan). BUT, I got myself in a situation where my oldest open line of credit is our mortgage. By a mile. So it just occurred to me that a refinance may not be good for the credit score. That said, it will certainly be an experiment. Credit Karma tells me that my length of open credit history equals an *F* score. FICO tells me my score is 800. So, I am not sure what difference it could possibly make. F is an F, and if they want to lower my score by 50 points, what difference would that make anyway? Who cares? 750, 800, same difference. (With an F in that category, I don't particularly expect it to make much difference). But maybe I will be able to tell you all for sure!

Thankfully, paying your bills on time seems to account for about 99% of your FICO score. & not over-leveraging. From my experience. That's what should matter the most.

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I ran to Michael's about 11:50 today. There was hardly anywhere to park, and the line behind me was about 10 people when I left. Phew - it helped to beat the crowd a wee bit.

Scored frames at 50% off. IF dh and I never agree where to hang these prints, I have gifts to give for a long time. Either way, is good. I will post a picture of the framed prints later. They are gorgeous!

Taxes Done, Cash OUT

December 8th, 2011 at 05:05 pm

I've basically got all the information I need to do my tax return. It's SIMPLE.

So I plugged in numbers to see where I was at. Last I projected was that we'd owe about $1000. Unfortunately, not much has changed.

I was just happy to put $8k into ROTHS. The rest seems like gravy. We are maxing out this year ($10k), so I decided to shift some of that to my regular IRA. It looks like we will probably do $7500 ROTH and $2500 Regular IRA. I really didn't foresee putting any more money into regular IRAS, but I feel rather "eh, it's just one year." & only 25% of contributions, at that. If it makes it easier to max out... I whittled our taxes owed down to about $500 with this move.

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I was feeling really great about finally reaching cash goal this year. But, maybe I got excited too soon. I need to take the following from cash:

**$900 to replenish cash in our ROTH efund. I had bought stock and planned to replenish the cash with regular ROTH Contributions this month. Instead, I am diverting that money to my regular IRA. (I often use this money to jump on stock market dips, but usually replenish it ASAP).

**$3,000 if we refinance? (Closing costs)

**$300 short on maxing out IRAs, 2011 - will transfer from savings before April 15.

**$500 or so due for taxes. Admittedly, will just pay those in April.

**$400 to meet mortgage goal by 12/31

& on and on it seems to go...

I think the refinance cash outflow is mostly what is stressing me out, and is compounding the rest which wasn't so bad on its own. IT will be SO worth it though, if we get that through. I realized the interest portion of our mortgage will be HALF of what it was, initially. With a loan balance of exactly $200k and an interest rate of 4%, we are looking at $8k per year interest, and dropping.

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I am going to submit loan application with creidt union today. Cross your fingers for me. I would love love love to have my loan with them. It just simply won't work if rates go up before I lock the rate. (I've tried before, believe me). But it costs nothing to *try.*

I talked to broker, which is my second choice but most likely to go through smooth. He said he could not offer me 4% but it was so likely to happen soon, so I Should fill out an application. No commitment to either until they can lock the rate. CU rates are 0.125% lower. I am not holding my breath, but will try.

Christmas Crazy

December 7th, 2011 at 09:01 pm

I ordered some prints from Walgreens - some more of my dad's prints (one for gift - some to keep - I couldn't decide so picked 3 - got 50% off). OF course, they only print poster-sized prints at another location. IT's about a 5-minute drive from work and kinda sorta can be on the way home, so just went by there at lunch yesterday to pick them up. Ate lunch at home.

Holy Cow.

Firstly, the traffic was insane, since I had to drive past the mall. Though I try to avoid the mall in December, it didn't occur to me that driving past on a weekday noon hour would be such a painful experience.

Secondly, the line inside Walgreens was a mile long. I needed to pick up a couple of things, so just paid with the photos - there was no line at the photo counter. Phew!!

Mental note: No more "quick trips" anywhere in the vicinity of any mall.

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I need to get another frame, and just saw that Michael's has *buy one get one free* this week. I will brave the crowds. That shopping center has the worst parking lot ever - I hate it any time of year. BUT, Michael's is kind of off to the side, so it is not too hard to get in and out without bypassing the rest of the traffic. I will give it a go. Crossing my fingers! This is for myself, so no deadline. But I want to see if I can get more of the same frames I already have - is the only rush.

Lord knows when we will ever hang these pictures - dh can never seem to agree on anything when it comes to home decor. I tried to get him to help me hang them over the weekend - it was a no go. I wanted to replace an "ugly picture." Dh does not agree. Beautiful pictures, but no idea where they will end up. Will see...

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Okay, I can't take it any more. 4% for 30-year mortgages. I know this is not the first time. But I e-mailed our broker. One more thing to piss dh off about - he hates refinancing.

Just call me the perpetual refinancer.

If we keep our old payment, we will shave about 6 years off our current loan - would go from 27 years left to 22 years left. (If not - still pay off by about age 64 - which is about my maximum). I'd rather go through this broker because he was great and low stress and no problems. The fees are the exact same at our credit union. I'd rather get a credit union loan but they seem extraordinarily inflexible on waiting for an interest rate lock. With broker guy, I think it took over a year to get the rate we wanted, last time. Talk about service. Anyway, I informed him we had paid down our mortgage a bit, and I want 4%! Will see what he says. Last time it took two weeks, from rate lock, so who knows. May be refinanced again by 12/31? Dh won't be too surprised. I already said the ugly word a few times in recent weeks: refinance. Would be 0 point refinance, will pay cash for closing costs. New payment - something like $950 down from $1130.

This is not the *last time ever.* I made the mistake of thinking that the last 2 or 3 times. It is possible we can pay down a chunk and get an even lower 15-year rate, at some point. So, I give up on "this is the best it gets" thinking. Who even knows? I would hope this is the last 30-year loan we ever refinance. I feel uncomfortable with a *worst case payoff* any higher than age 65-ish.

Christmas Outside The Box

December 6th, 2011 at 03:31 pm



We put up our Christmas tree, set out the gifts, and there you have it.

Anyway, I have been noticing more and more that *thinking outside the box* can be such a small difference in thinking. I think sometimes people equate the sentiment of thinking outside the box with being extreme. Frankly, really small differences in thinking can make a huge difference.

Example? I was reading a discussion about Christmas on a non-financial message board. The question was how to scale back Christmas. IT became obvious from the discussion that several people did not think "Santa" could be part of Christmas at all unless you wanted it to be a very materialistic affair.

???

I was raised with a very different Santa concept. Santa generally leaves our kids books that we got for free. Wink "Santa" pretty much just does stocking stuffers, at our house.

OF course, there was also talk of peer pressure. Mind you, these were parents with young kids. 1 - I haven't noticed much Christmas peer pressure with my 6yo. 2 - I never knew growing up that there were people out there getting TONS of gifts from Santa. I simply didn't know we were so weird.

I just think parents put a lot of unnecessary pressures on themselves. & put unnecessary limits on themselves. For example, thinking that Santa is the symbol of uber materialism, and the only other option is to drop Santa altogether. Thankfully there is a ton of middle ground.

BTW, there was a similar discussion in the SA forums, but there was a wide variety of ideas in that discussion.

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Anyway, don't feel sorry for my kids.

A - One of those presents is a 3D Nintendo DS (free with credit card rewards).

B - Though I grew up in a house with extremely modest Christmases, my spouse's family is the polar opposite. The in-laws (Dh's mom and Grandma) go CRAZY at Christmas, and for them it is all about the materialism. As a result, dh agrees with my extreme "modest Christmas" ways, and no one else in the family particularly sees the point to buy my kids gifts. It's important to the in-laws, because it symbolizes being able to splurge and make their kids' and grandkids' material dreams come true, once every year. So basically, the kids will be spoiled rotten. I might be a little more open to actually buying our kids big Christmas gifts otherwise (maybe one each - something BIG), but we generally don't get them anything extraordinary. It's not like anything we buy them would mean anything after the in-law deluge.

C - Funny enough, my extraordinarily creative husband and child wrapped most of these gifts. Rolleyes Since having kids, we will never lack for pencils, crayons or stickers. IT never ends! So I will offer the idea for the kids to decorate the packages, later. The plain paper comes from dh's "I could care less about wrapping" attitude. I actually wrapped his present with underwear models from a Kohls ad - that one is the colorful one.

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I don't think our Christmas is terribly *outside the box.* We have a Christas tree and presents just like anybody. But Christmas is not at all about worrying about what other people think about us, that is for sure. It's about creating a holiday tradition that works for us.

Credit Card Reward Update *$4,000*

December 6th, 2011 at 04:34 am

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
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$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

+ $250 American Express reward (gift cards)
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=$4104 Total CC REWARDS 2011
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This is my first *$4000 is official* post.

YAY!!!

I am just waiting to redeem my latest rewards - should be $250 around December 15th.

All of our other one-time credit cards are closed and cut up.

I haven't come across any offers in the interim - it has been very quiet on the credit card reward front.

Perspective

December 5th, 2011 at 09:10 pm

Sometimes, perspective is everything.

Tax season is gearing up here, and I told dh I was stressed out. HE said, "Why are you stressed out?" The last 2 years we were gearing up for surgery and wondering if we had cancer!"

Boy, he has a point! So today I am focusing on being grateful that I am not going through that. Today. (I can't speak for tomorrow - that we have learned all too well).

A tax season without surgery and a holiday season without doctors visits and biopsies. Ah, it sounds too good to be true!

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I easily wrangled the co-worker I wanted for the work gift exchange. She has admired some of my dad's photos, and so I got her a framed print. (I knew who picked her, and asked to switch).

I will still give her the Amazon gift card I had set aside for this, too. She could use it. & I will look amazingly generous for $15 or so spent.

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I prepaid kids' school lunch balance through 12/31, so I hoped. I checked today and probably have enough balance to get through mid-January. Yay! Since school lunch went up to $2.50, the rule this year has been they can buy lunch twice a week. They seem to be sticking to that okay. Last year was so dirt cheap they bought more often. & frankly, $2.50 isn't bad for the well rounded meals and convenience factor. To me, money well spent.

I will bulk up their accounts next month. For the rest of the year.

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We still didn't take dh's car in to the shop. He said he would take it in tomorrow, see if it is just the battery, and ask about the warranty if that is all it is. (The battery itself is well under warranty - our mechanic put it in). He is due for an oil change anyway. I've got a pile of jiffy lube coupons, but the convenience factor for being at the mechanic anyway, may win.

Various Updates

December 3rd, 2011 at 02:48 pm

Where to begin?

**The best and most awesome news is that my employer got some test results back and is officially cancer free (they got it and it hadn't spread at all). Woohoo!

**The update on both men I mentioned fighting for their lives in hospitals - not much change. The one family is probably going to have to decide when/if to pull the plug. The other guy is having a TON of reconstructive surgeries - so I wonder if he will even walk again. What are the odds of two people that you are so close to going through this at the same time? (My friend is going through this - I do not know either of these families personally). The whole thing is just so terrible.

**On a lighter note, Grandma sent us some family recipes. Phew! BUT one recipe was uber complicated and the other had nuts. So we decided to make the nut one for ourselves. (Realizing what a shame it is we seem to have no family recipes? I think this is mostly because my dad's sisters probably all his family recipes - my mom's family is kind of a mess. So mental note - get family recipes from the females. I have a great aunt who is still alive to -almost 100 - but I don't get the impression she spent a lot of time in the kitchen. Doesn't hurt to ask. She may have some family recipes, regardless. She is unusual in a family full of housewives - she is almost 100 and was always single woman working in the big city!).

I found an easy snickerdoodle recipe so will go with that - thanks for the suggestion. I also found German Chocolate Bar cookies - looks easy and delish. So we are ambitiously making all three this weekend. What the heck.

**Christmas shopping season has begun and two of dh's games up on Amazon sold. Rolleyes Amazon has been extraordinarily annoying with this "We will only let high volume sellers sell during the Holidays" thing. They keep back tracking but not telling anyone they are back tracking. Does that mean we can put up new sales listings??? Lord knows, but dh is actively looking for deals to sell. It's usually the easiest time of year to sell. As you see with these sales - both on the same day. So, if something good comes along, we will try.

**Cash balance is hovering about $29,750 for 12/31. How annoying is that? It's good, but I am frustrated that there is no way I Will hit $30k this year. I am just pinning my hopes on a higher than usual Christmas check from my boss - since my 10-year anniversary is this year! (I still need to come up with $400 for the mortgage, too - which I am more optimistic about). That said, this goal looks pretty in the bag for 2012. April 2012, at the least. So I may be a few months off from making this all 12/31, but I have slayed some major financial goals this year. Woohoo!

**I have had an extraordinary year of not spending any money on retail or anything like that. BUT, everyone was badgering me for my wish list and I went to Michael's to look at frames. Suddenly I am spending money left and right. I went from "Ugh - I hate this stupid wishlist thing" to endlessly adding to it. The problem is I usually just put more need-type items on the list throughout the year. BUT, with all these credit card rewards it has been nothing but free instant gratification. & then nothing on my wish list. So what have I learned from all this? The easiest way to not spend money is to simply stay out of the stores. It is amazing to me how weak my resolve is once I am in a store and looking online at all the stuff I Would suddenly like to have. & it's not as simple as I Can not control myself. I can easily leave the store and not buy anything. But the thing is you can't lust for things you never see. Suddenly I see all this stuff that I didn't even know I Wanted. Know what I mean?

I am also far removed from the de-clutter stage. There were years we were de-cluttering the house where the last thing I would ever buy was a knicknack of any sort. So I haven't de-cluttered in a LONG time and I start mindlessly buying stuff like that. So I have had to remind myself about that - how there is a reason I do not buy stuff like that. & if I want to, well, I have to make room for it somewhere (the best would be to toss something else). & if I don't want to toss the very few things I have decided to keep...

Lesson learned? The practical wish list works very well for me. & I am going to make an extra effort to stay out of any stores in 2012. & it is true - I spend far less money when I shop online, personally. There is something I need or want, I get it, and I don't look at anything else. That works amazingly well for me.

Death to Checks

December 2nd, 2011 at 04:29 am

I mailed all my deposits to my credit union for years (15 years?) without an issue. The primary reason I switched to a local credit union (2006?) was because things started to disappear in the mail for weeks at a time. Turns out there was a mail theft ring at our post office. But, regardless of any shenanigans, the speed of the post office has certainly slowed down over the years. Between getting a local banking institution and bill pay and all that jazz, I really have no need to mail much of anything.

Of course, it could be the holiday mail onslaught and business holidays and all, but everything I mailed the last few weeks has taken about 2 weeks to get to its destination. Really frustrating.

SO, anyway, I was just paying the property taxes and saw the option to just pay online by e-check. I was very excited by this and thinking, "Death to checks," since this is about the only bill I pay by check.

BUT... Of course there was a service charge. $1.50. My gut reaction was, "nevermind." BUT, as I pulled out a stamp, I wondered if it would even get there in time. So I told dh I was going to waste $1, in the hopes of saving $200 in potential late fees. I was thinking of my recent mail experience. It's not due for 10 days, but 10 days doesn't quite seem enough time to mail things, lately.

So, will see how that works out.

My gut feeling is that the only other checks I write are to the school. I checked and yup, that's it - school and property taxes. Everything else we charge or just pay through online bill pay. Or can pay directly, online. I don't even write checks to individuals any more - online bill pay does the job.

I wonder how many checks I have left and if I will ever use them! (& I know - soon enough we will all be paying our bills with our cell phones, or something like that. "In the OLD days, we paid with paper money...")

Mortgage Update

December 2nd, 2011 at 01:49 am

Just deposited my paycheck and paid the mortgage.

Mortgage Balance? $200,874!


What I have so far to apply to the balance on 12/31 is:

$311 regular payment (principal portion)
$150 payroll tax holiday
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$461 Total

Leaves about $415 to come up with. I am just crossing my fingers for Christmas money. If I don't get enough, will transfer from savings.

Ending balance should be $199,998

Wahoo!

I will probably wait until Christmas so that I can use Christmas money to pay it down. Merry Christmas to me!

Anyway, most extra payments made were from credit card rewards this year. Here are the extra principal payments made this year. I haven't had to touch savings for any of these, so crossing my fingers that I can say the same for December:

JAN - 72.79
FEB - 132.79
MAR - 156.00
APR - 177.79
MAY - 65.00
JUN - 552.79
JUL - 50.00
AUG - 300.00
SEP - 450.00
OCT - 150.00
NOV - 150.00
DEC - 876.00
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TOTAL $3133.16
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Boy do those mortgage chips add up fast!

I did mention none of these payments came from regular income? & just a place to park the payroll tax holiday, so I don't get used to it.

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I also wouldn't be surprised if we refinance AGAIN. The refinancing never ends. I am holding off and attacking the mortgage a bit in the hopes of getting 3%-ish for a 15-year loan. The 30-year isn't quite worth it, but getting close. I could never regret our last refinance - it freed up $200/month and locked in a GREAT rate. I wasn't sure if the value of our home would hold, and I am not one to wait for better rates when they are ROCK BOTTOM. But I knew there was a chance that rates would go even lower. So, we just refinance again. Every time I tell my hubby, "This is the last time ever - I swear!" He just hated those loan people, and the whole process. He knows I wouldn't bring it up unless we could save a ton of money! Our home value has held, and I just saw my FICO was 800, credit card dealings and all. So, now I just wait for the right time. (& if I miss the boat - oh well - I can't complain about 4.875%!) One thing that is interesting is that our rate is so low as is, that a small interest rate drop is rather significant. Also, the many times we have refinanced, 15-year rates were generally close to 30-year rates. So I am in awe of these low low low 15-year rates and trying to figure out how to snag one of those without regretting the bigger mortgage payment. All I can do is pay down the principal as much as possible, and hope these rates hold a while longer.

Waxing Philosophical

December 1st, 2011 at 07:16 pm

My birthday is today - going to the sushi buffet - I should get a FREE lunch. Big Grin

I also wanted to get cheesecake from Marie Callender's (lemon creamcheese - YUM - it's tradition).

We will put those both on the AmEx (lunch date with dh - will have to pay for his meal). Both the cars have ample gas, and I foresee no other spending before credit card closes on the 4th. BUT dh wanted to get groceries, so I told him to put those on the visa. I can decide later if I want to pay those this year or not. (Visa closed like a week ago).

That means that this weekend I can crunch year-end numbers. & I am excited about that! (I can charge anything else and just pay it in January - which makes December pretty predictable).

Oh - we didn't fix dh's battery yet. More from being lazy than cheap. We can get that fixed Monday though.

I also charged the home insurance today, and made sure I had enough in checking for the property taxes. I will write that check today or tomorrow. Lots of money OUT.

Oh - my parents have also been cryptic about my birthday gift - which I saw Sunday and is merely in an envelope. Makes me wonder if it is a large check, though I don't see why it would be with my dad's jobless situation. Of course, I probably would have gotten it yesterday BUT there was a big bomb scare not long after my mom dropped off my birthday card at the post office - she said the card was involved, since she doubt it was picked up before the scare, but that no mail was harmed. Will see! It really should have been here yesterday, but now I know why it wasn't. I suppose getting it on my birthday is appropriate!

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I had an interesting conversation with the kids a couple of weeks ago. I'd say both my kids are pretty wise, but LM (age 6) says things that just astound me. So, BM says something like he wishes he was his friend. & I said something like I would never want to be anyone else. & LM was totally on the same page with me. Why would you want to be anyone else??? Astoundingly wise words for a 6-year-old. (I can't say I was that wise when I was 6). So, we were talking about celebrities and stuff, and I mention BM's friend, who has a lot of money. I thought better of it and backed off of the example. His friend's mom is going through some serious medical problems and I realized he probably didn't know and I probably shouldn't say anything. BUT, 8yo BM says to me that, "Yeah, so and so just thought I was his friend because he is rich. I didn't even know he was rich." I thought it was funny that 8yos would make that distinction. Especially since there isn't much difference in BM's lifestyle or his friend's. Not that I can tell. They have a bigger house (& 4 more kids?) and some fancy car, but otherwise aren't that much different. I only thought of them because they are some of the only *financially sound* people I have met in this city - in our peer group. Just from casual conversation, I was impressed, because usually it's kind of scary talking to people about their finances. They seem to actually live within their means - imagine that! So, clearly they are doing pretty well. I wouldn't have lumped them as *financially well off* otherwise - easy for me to assume that they are in debt up to their eyeballs like most everyone else. I just don't get that vibe from them at all - not from things that have been said in passing conversation.

Anyway, I was thinking about, because I have this client going through a very messy divorce, is not happy at all, and has more money than she knows what to do with. It's easy to look at the superficial and be jealous, but wow, money does not buy happiness. In this economy I find her situation extremely ironic. She doesn't want her fortune to go to her husband, works very little and the money keeps rolling in - only someone who doesn't want it could so easily make those millions - it is completely ridiculous!

Anyway, switching gears but along the same vein, I have known my dh for 18 years, and I found out that someone in his family suffered a huge tragedy about 35 years ago. In 18 years this is something that I have not been privvy to - it just came up in conversation. I Was dumbfounded. I started to think that his family has suffered a lot of tragedy in general. What the heck did I marry into? But frankly, if I look at my own family I can see a lot of the same. It's all different, but plenty of hardships. I was thinking about it in terms of the *luck* conversation that always comes up in finances. Are some more lucky, or do they just deal with hardships better? Isn't life about the hardships? Is there really any one out there who has a totally easy life? I find that hard to believe. Anyway, this was a good reminder that you sometimes never know what a person has gone through. It's easy to judge and think someone who has handled their hardships well has always had it easy.

On another note, I commented on the life insurance discussion in the forums that needing life insurance didn't feel that remote of a possibility to me, knowing several people who lost parents very young. Interestingly, this week, a friend's friend's husband was in a terrible traffic accident, and her cousin was purposely hit by a car while he was walking. Cousin is a single father of a very young child, not likely to make it. The other man seems to be pulling through. BUT, all I Can think is do these people have life insurance? disability insurance? health insurance? Probably not. One more reminder that being young and healthy is not a reason to not have any insurance. I would at least hope they have health insurance. But without life and disability insurance, the outlook doesn't look good for their families. & it's not that the money is more important, but a little bit of insurance can sure make these situations a lot easier to deal with. Like, not worrying about how you will support your family while you fight for your life in a hospital. *sigh*