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Archive for February, 2012

Citi & Financial Discipline

February 29th, 2012 at 07:40 am

**Got gas today - holy cow. I hadn't gotten gas in about 4 weeks - I paid 50 cents per gallon more than last time. Was $3.96 at the cheapest gas station I know of.

Of course, rising gas prices seems awfully predictable to me - we keep a buffer in the budget for that.

**I think dh got 10 credit card offers from Citi last week. When you put his middle initial at the end of his last name, turns his male name into a female name. So both him and his female alter ego received several offers for the Citi Platinum Diamond card. No rewards, so, meh. I think he got 3 or 4 of those??? 2 offers for the Simplicity (no rewards - marketed to those who pay balance off every month - no fees if you make one late payment. As if you couldn't just ask to remove it when you make a mistake once in a very blue moon -no thanks). Another offer for the Thank You card he already had for one-time rewards. The offer was good so will apply again. Not sure if they really mean it - since he already told them the first time he only signed up for the rewards. We just closed that card a few months ago.

There may have been more - Holy cow on the Citi offers. Still *none* for me though our credit profiles are identical. Even female alter ego must have an *identical* profile - same sex and everything. Wink

**Saw another interesting blog post today through mymoneyblog:

http://bucks.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/06/your-mistaken-beli...

I think this is so true and hard to get across. I am often complimented on financial discipline. Sure, I am sure I have a fair amount of discipline. BUT, it's not all about discipline. I think a lot of it is just about habits. This link talks a lot about automating everything. I actually don't really automate anything about my finances. I like to be more involved and in control. But "pay yourself first" is really of the same mind. When I get paid, I immediately make all transfers to savings and live with what is left. A - this is little more than habit. B - this has always paid off extraordinarily in the long run, so why on earth would I be tempted to touch that money?

Of course, automation sounds like a great means to the same end.

On another level, I just strongly believe in moderation. For example, I have never had the slightest desire to participate in a no-spend kind of challenge. No Thanks! For me, that kind of deprivation would only backfire. I know I do best with a very small amount of immediate gratification and luxury in my budget. If I am content, I don't have any problem with "paying myself first." If I feel deprived, I lose my discipline and everything gets out of whack.

Another example is how we tend to put 100% windfalls to savings. *Every day contentment* means it takes no discipline to do so. I mean, would I rather blow it on some crap I don't want or need, or have it there for when I really need it? Is that discipline?

I'd say this applies to just about everything in my life. I think both dh and I are good at simplifying things and being organized. I am continually amused how many people in real life how *perfect* and *disciplined* we are. IT comes up a lot. Which REALLY bothers me because I am probably the complete opposite of a perfectionist and dh and I are actually pretty darn laid back and low key. I can assure you "perfection" is not an image I try to project and is definitely not an image I am interested in projecting. Everyone is always asking me how I get the kids ready every day, pack their lunches, work all day, clean house, cook dinner, help kids with homework, do the laundry, bathe kids, on and on and on and on. & I always tell them, "Yeah, I don't do all that stuff." & they will never *get* it. I mean seriously, they do understand with my spouse at home we literally work half as much as them outside the house? They don't *get* it! We do the important things, we split duties to our strengths, and we are organized. Which means we work a fraction of everyone we know but appear to be doing more. I'd say we literally don't do half the stuff most our friends do. I mean, our kids aren't babies any more - they can chip in too - they can do some things for themselves, etc. Like our parents before us, we are raising our kids to be able to take responsibility of themselves in a culture where people *baby* their kids well into adulthood. Seems like "making life infinitely harder for no reason," if you ask me.

It's the same with finances. It's simplified, it's organized, it's habit, and that is the long and the short of it. Do I have more than average willpower? Heck no.

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ETA: Didn't see any articles worth sharing today in the tax sphere, but saw this and thought it was relevant to my blog today:

Are You As Busy As You Think?

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020335870457723...

Interestingly, the author has written books on both money management and time management.

Ouch!

February 28th, 2012 at 05:53 pm

Mojo with *across the street* neighbors is not good in our family these days.

Parents' neighbor's house just burned down.

Ouch!

Just horrible. I can't even begin to imagine.

By some miracle no one was hurt. No civilians anyway. Fire fighters are working hard to contain it - mom says it will burn for hours, but seems contained to the relief of everyone since the homes are so close together. IT's a goner. No one knows how it started - no one was home.

Frown

We've seen a few Christmas Tree/Holiday fires over the years. Frankly, this is the first time I have a heard of a fire so close to home and it wasn't a Christmas Tree incident.

I guess I am just in shock, but feeling very sorry for the family.

Another Article

February 28th, 2012 at 01:47 pm

Not tax related, but SO true and well written.

Too Rich, Too Soon

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB1000142405297020413100457723...

An Intelligent Tax Article

February 28th, 2012 at 10:24 am

As promised. I read something stupid so I will pass along something with some facts in it.

Few Wealthy Farmers Owe Estate Taxes, Report Says
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/07/10/politics/10tax.html

It's an old article, but it's the best I can find right now.

For reference, when I was about 25 and had an income of about $50,000, we implemented estate planning in our house. Life insurance, and living trusts. The cost? Dirt cheap.

If you have a million dollars + in net worth, you generally have the sense to do the most basic of estate planning.

I will give you that if the estate tax reverts to $1 million exemption again, this could become more of a problem in the *long run.* But it seems extremely unlikely that things will go back that way. There are a lot more important things regarding taxes to address and worry about in the here and now.

& why the masses are worried about a tax that only affects 1% (at most) of the population, I will never know. It reads: "Those poor rich millionaires." Yeah, my heart is bleeding...

To be honest, the estate tax doesn't collect that much to begin with. So, if the obliterated it tomorrow or not, I could tell you I really couldn't give a flip. But the misinformation out there just makes me roll my eyes. I'd be pleased if I saw an article that said, "The estate tax does not bring in any real revenue for the government - it just makes lawyers and accountants rich." Now that is a statement I can agree with! So, no, I am not in love with the estate tax. But, I just don't see that it's really hurting anyone. So, meh.

Anyway, this is one myth that just won't die!

This & That

February 28th, 2012 at 06:50 am

Reminds me, kids and dh had a quiet week at home - they spent no money. They did things like go to the park and the library. I had asked him if he anything planned and he didn't. I didn't exactly say "don't spend any money," but did say, "Glad you don't have anything expensive planned."

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MORTGAGES

Mortgages mortgages mortgages

A client came in and bought a second home with 3% down. Rolleyes {They can barely afford the first?} Many clients have been requesting pay information for lower income employee's mortgage applications. One I know is a single mom with a $25k-$30k income. I wondered what on earth kind of bank loan this woman was applying for. (Homes aren't exactly affordable/cheap here - nothing that works with that income - not even a condo). Her mom is the office manager and when I talked to her later she said, "I don't think she can afford it - I don't know what she is doing - but she really wants this house." She said what I had already figured as an extremely removed third party. IF it's a house it would have to be $200k+ for anything even remotely liveable, for reference. If she *really wants it* maybe it is even more.

So, yeah, did I mention NOTHING has changed around here? I am sure she was putting $0 down or something like that - like the most of them.

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I did my parents' taxes. Dad is 61 and bummed that this is the first year *ever* that he can not contribute to an IRA. {No Earned Income}.

He had unemployment (paltry) and that was tax-free. All of his capital gains/dividends were tax-free (15% tax bracket). HE did a $50k ROTH conversion that was taxed at 15% - no state taxes (because state does not tax unemployment - no taxable income with deductions). We did good tax planning. When unemployment runs out it will be even better. Well, presuming he still wants to spend the cash to convert.

It will probably be the same the next several years, except he is still hoping to find employment again. But in the interim, no other income and just investments. Social security, IRA distributions and all the like will push up their taxable income *significantly* down the road. I could at least warn them about that. I have a lot of retired tax clients - I bet money on higher taxes down the road.

Reminds me, I wonder if dh's parents did their taxes yet. I am worried they are in for a *huge* tax hit. This was their first year of retirement and MIL seemed to act like they were rolling in it. I glimpsed enough of their finances to see their social security/pension/side work income was very high. I wondered if they were withholding any taxes. Will see. I might get an ear full about it later. Or they may surprise me by being prepared. But the thing is my dad is VERY financially savvy but he didn't even realize social security income is taxed if you have other income. So, if *he* didn't know it, I think it's safe to say that in-laws are in for a surprise. I Was going to talk to them about it but just never did.

Will see...

FIL retired more due to the economy than anything else. Most our entire family was out of work the entire year of 2011. Economy on the rebound? Ha! Frankly it only seems to be getting worse around here. Like I said, the last year my dad went an entire year with no earned income, was *never.*

One More Week

February 25th, 2012 at 07:44 am

February has been good financially. Will see how the next week goes. Credit card closes next Saturday, so have another week. I foresee spending $100 on gas and $100 on groceries. Nothing else is planned or on the horizon. Will see...

I added $1000 to the credit card payment, since I have been hoarding cash anyway. Might as well pay off our big purchases this month. I decided to do that rather than max out our ROTHs. I might be able to max out mid-month (next paycheck). Another refi date has passed, so time to badger them again. This couldn't possibly take longer than our longest refi ever? Could it? 4 months is our record, but that was some *crazy* financing. All they asked me for was a couple of pay stubs and my employer's info to verify employment. & they did an appraisal 2 months ago. I couldn't tell you what on earth takes 3+ months. We refied only three years ago and it took 2-3 weeks. I know mortgage broker guy is pissy we didn't go with him again. It comes down to the rate. Waiting 3-4 months is fine for the better rate. As annoying as it is, it isn't *that* annoying. It hasn't taken any more effort on my part. I've been a little more proactive, but they also didn't really ask me for much of anything, so I think it evens out on how much it has put me out. So far...

Anyway, the Visa closed for the month and so I carded the DMV ($85 tags on older car) and auto insurance on van - both due in March. Last time I carded the insurance I had to pay it that day. Since it is due in March I was waiting for next credit card month. Today I put the pay date as 3/1, on a whim, and it took that date. So I think they updated their system to take future payments. Woohoo! I would have set it to pay, ages ago, if I realized.

All the March bills are paid.

So, between now and April 15th I have to max out our IRAs, pay the IRS about $500, and pay the property taxes ($2000). I will probably just pay the IRS when Grandma pays me to do her taxes. Last year she gave me $300. That will mostly cover it. IRAs will be maxed with April 1 paycheck, but I can cash flow it sooner. Property taxes are already saved for.

It will be an ugly/spendy 30 days or so with all this stuff, but being prepared means that it means very little in the grand scheme of things.

Will see how March goes. BUT, since dh and I did not have surgery this January I am actually on track for some record overtime this year. Last 2 years have been pretty abysmal with "life in the way" and many years prior to that I am sure. I didn't exactly work a ton of hours with toddlers and babies, for one. I don't think I earned *any* overtime last January with my surgery, for one. So means I have already earned about as much OT this year as I did last year?

OF course, that said, it will go fast. When/if I get the check mid-April. Will replenish refinance costs, and will cover our medical deductible for 2013. If we have anything left over, I will probably apply the rest towards maxing out our IRAs on a calendar year basis. If this refinance ever finalizes I have some additional principal payments planned (not a lot, but to work we need to pay more this year - so we can pay less later). & on and on and on it goes. IT would also be nice to earmark $1k-$2k "some day" to a nice vacation. For example, to visit dh's family in Florida without having MIL foot the bill. But, I suppose it becomes obvious when managing a big windfall that is the least of our priorities. It's certainly not going to happen this year. At this rate, I'd just be happy if it didn't all go to medical bills.

So here is to March, health and some more overtime!

ETA: Ugh. Just realized I should pay property taxes next week and be done with it. I don't want my CU, or any bank, touching my property taxes with a ten foot pole. Fretted about it a bit and decided to pay online like I did last time (skipped the extremely unreliable local postal service) and will send receipt to loan officer with a request for a new ETA on closing date. The last ETA I had has just passed. I can inform her at that point that my property taxes are paid so don't bother with them, thanks. {Banks don't have the best track record with caring about paying your property taxes on time - certainly not as much as *I* care and can ensure myself. I just realized we are getting close to property tax due date and they will likely ask for the tax payment at closing}.

I guess that means property taxes on 3/1 pay day and ROTH/IRS next month (April 1). Maybe I will reduce that $1000 off the credit card again and push it to next month. Then cash flow is just all kind of the same in the end. I'll just pay the taxes early and the rest will still be on the early side if I pay 4/1.

Insurance Update

February 22nd, 2012 at 06:50 am

**Holy cow, my auto insurance went DOWN about 15%. Due to reporting mileage and paying on a tiered mileage scale. We last paid dh's insurance after a few big driving trips, so I expect his to go down in July, too. In fact, I just commented how low our driving was right now. At least the less driving will pay off.

**I got my insurance rebate yesterday and just put it to last month's expenses. My shortfall is still something like $150, but I can live with that, and think we will make it up this month anyway.

I get an annual rebate on my life insurance and disability insurance through my professional association.

This makes my net cost as follows:

$43 annually for $200,000 life insurance
$184 annually for disability insurance ($4000/month benefit)

Of course, the true picture is that my professional association dues are $600/year, BUT my employers have always paid those.

So, I am thinking I will increase the life insurance coverage next round.

**On the life insurance, I have also considered applying for a new 30-year term. I am happy with dh's life insurance and he can probably no longer insure at a good rate (brain tumor and all). The thing about our insurance is we both have a $500,000 term that we got *dirt cheap* in our 20s. (About $20/month for each of us). Since we were both working and not relying on each other financially, we got it with the kids in mind. IT was never really meant for each other, though it would certainly be helpful and make up loss of income if something happened to one of us.

But, life has changed drastically since those times. My wage has skyrocketed and dh seems mostly unemployable. I bought the $200k policy as a supplement when he was home with the kids - and my income was about half so it covered many years of wages - it renews annually. At this point, it would pay off the mortgage and the $500k would give him time to get back into the workforce. I think he will be fine. But I am starting to think in terms of "what if he never works again?" I think we are under-insured in that scenario. But there are also a lot of other factors where I don't think it matters. So, what I need is some real solid quotes to make an informed decision. IT will certainly be cheaper to lock in now, and better while we have most our health still.

**I can't remember if I mentioned, but my disability insurance went up a ton because I turned 35. It might have been $130 last year.

**I've been getting intense marketing for a long-term care plan through my professional association. Um, not buying that so young. No thanks! BUT, it is interesting to know I have the option. I am sure it will be far cheaper than anything else I can get. The insurance products are of high quality and so I am pleased. I don't have any "benefits" to speak of through my job, so this seriously helps make up for it.

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ETA: I got some quotes and life insurance prices have doubled from what we currently have. So I will definitely *not* replace my current long-term policy. I will consider applying for an additional policy - going with another company to hedge my bets a bit. But might as well keep the "dirt cheap" on our first $500k of coverage.

This & That

February 21st, 2012 at 07:50 pm

**Tax misinformation in the news is going to make my head explode today!

I just read an article that might as well have been gibberish - it made absolutely no sense. ??? Be careful what you read. (Granted, taxes are complicated, but makes me feel like the news is making me dumber. What other misinformation is filling my head that I don't know is misinformation?)

Mental Note: I will try to pass along useful/good articles on the subject of tax. There are not enough hours in the day to become a tax educator blogger and I am not interested in that anyway. But I can mindfully pass along good articles when I come across them.

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**Got the new dishwasher installed. Woohoo!

They tried to tell dh he owed another $20 for the hoses or whatever. Rolleyes Oh, that stuff does *not* fly with him.

He handed the installer a $20 (to get the dang thing installed) and then immediately called Sears and asked for a refund. He got it. {Well, will credit $20 to our credit card - I Won't rejoice too much until I See it}.

They said it's true, but the website should have added it to our total when we ordered it. So they cut us a break.

**The rebates on this thing are interesting. I was also feeling duped when I tried to complete rebate form, because we didn't qualify because we don't have an electric water heater. Seriously?

The funny thing is dh and I were arguing about that because we have SMUD (city) for electric and PGE for gas. So he told me it was a SMUD rebate. I said it was PGE. He said it was SMUD. I said it was maybe both or either/or, but in the store there were "PGE rebate stickers" everywhere. Rolleyes

So we failed SMUD which is where we get our electricity. Why on earth would PGE give us a rebate, we barely pay them anything, just for hot water? (In regards to a dishwasher?). BUT, I dug deeper after the SMUD rejection and PGE just says we have to use them for gas or electric. *shrugs* Okay. A $50 rebate will pay for 2 months of our gas bill.

It's funny because the Energy Star rating is all about water and electricity. I didn't see anything about the gas usage it would save. So, basically, no real rhyme or reason to these rebates. There never is and I shouldn't be surprised. When you try to cover a wide variety of scenarios, and cast a wide net, people will always slip through.

**Apparently new washer used about 50% the water of our last one - they were both Energy Star, but the technology just keeps moving on. (We couldn't find any indication of how much electricity the old one uses). Actually, when looking up the rebates I saw Kenmore and Bosche by far had the least water and electricity usage. Wasn't my angle, but I will take it!

**In other news, I saw that ATT is paying out $1000 per person in a class action settlement to customers from about 10 years ago (landline).

Several things of note:

--I didn't hear about this. You can't win them all I guess. But I Am mourning the loss of a potential $1000. Yeesh!

--They didn't have adequate records, so decided to advertise the settlement. IT is possible I saw it and A - didn't want to bother for a couple of pennies or B - thought it was a scam. C - I just never saw the ads (apparently I Am not alone).

--I keep receipts and records for a VERY long time, but frankly don't know if I could have produced any proof I was an AT&T customer like 9 years ago. So, oh well! {& I suddenly don't feel silly for holding onto some of that stuff???}

The Flipper is Floundering

February 21st, 2012 at 10:18 am

I mentioned flipper bought house on our street for $250k (about going rate) and is trying to sell for $315k? Rolleyes

That said, these type sellers have surprised me in the past. There are suckers everywhere. (Yes, you'd be a sucker to pay 26% more than the fair market value).

Anyway, it's been listed about 2 months, and I am kind of surprised to see they haven't budged on the price. ($299k asking price would be basic common sense, at the least).

Apparently they are busy fixing up the landscaping. The feedback must be "No one is going to pay that much for that ugly yard." The inside looks gorgeous (marble floors, etc.).

I am curious to watch this unfold? A few thousand dollars in yard work? Is that really going to cinch the sale???

Actually, looking at the pictures, the guy has the crappy builder standard white tile in the kitchen and the bathrooms. So, what's next? A more realistic price? Or marble countertops? Wink Seriously, we have that tile in our upstairs bath and I hate it with a passion. (It's like the cheapest tile the builder could possibly find. It's the *only* thing we didn't upgrade at all, and I have regretted it since day 1).

To be continued...

Money OUT!

February 20th, 2012 at 06:53 am

It's funny because they told us it would be a week (in store) to get the dishwasher, but we ordered it online last night and it should be installed tomorrow.

Woohoo!

We ended up paying $650 for the dishwasher, delivery and installation. We paid a $150 premium for the stainless steel interior and for it to be about 10% quieter. This might have been the quietest one we saw in our price range.

We just paid $10 for them to haul away the old one, partly because I found a $15-off coupon. So, mostly a wash. Basically, couldn't be any easier on us.

We will also save $100 on energy rebates and credit card rewards, which brings the final price to $550 when all is said and done.

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WE just ordered the garage door opener last night too. That one will be a couple of weeks because we ordered it online, but not feeling a rush on that. (In store they told us they could install it by today!)

Anyway, the ugly grand total on that was $350. Basically a $200 unit with $150 taxes and installation. & they will take the old one.

(Apparently Sears has one price to install everything, BUT the garage door is pretty intensive to install and they would have charged an arm and a leg to deliver the washer anyway, so we didn't feel the price was bad considering the convenience. Then again, last time they installed our garage door opener they installed *everything.* It's probably easier to rip out the old one and put in a new one. They had needed to install some rails last time?).

That is dh's belated birthday present. He's been wanting a quieter one forever.

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We save $425-ish a month for home repairs, next car purchase, stuff like that. So, basically won't really even need to dip into savings. We spent $425 (I think exactly?) to fix our heater in January. This will be $900 after rebate, rewards and all. Funny how that works? Pretty darn close to Feb/March savings.

I feel a *shrug* about it because it was extremely foreseeable and we had already talked about replacing both in 2011.

Dh asked if he should hold off on the garage door for cash flow. Nah. We carded it and it will be due around 4/1. So I won't even have to touch savings. I should get my OT bonus 4/15. It would be hard to plan it better for cash flow.

Of course, come 4/1, I will be whining about all the bills. Property taxes, life insurances, IRS bill and all this will be due. But all of the above is already saved for. I just gripe when I pay $4,000 of bills in one week. I always will!

Of course, I Feel "okay, okay, I didn't really expect *everything* to break this year? Can we cool it?" Wink Will see how the rest of the year goes. But I do share because I think sometimes people focus on the pain of savings, but don't seem to realize that this is the upside. Something breaks, you go out and fix it, and maybe we can even splurge a bit on something real nice. & that's it - absolutely no stress! & if it's tax season and you have no time but are making a extra money, then whatever. Fast/convenience wins.

This is why I am planning to save 100% of my overtime check. It will buy me bliss sometime down the road - and that is a fact! (& If I wasn't prepared, I'd be using my OT to pay all these bills, anyway?)

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I frankly don't remember the process when we bought our last garage door opener. Maybe *I* wasn't even involved. Though "buying the cheapest thing we can find" is generally not our way, I am sure it was much more in our young 20s. So, I wouldn't be surprised if that was how we bought our last garage door opener.
(We did own two homes and wouldn't be surprised if we just went cheap with it - was one of the things that did not come with new construction). All we had to buy for this house was a fridge and a garage door opener, so we just went with Sears. (Yes, I like Kenmore!) & we bought a really nice fridge, so probably went cheap on the door opener?

I thought yesterday was fascinating, in comparison. About 2-4 hours of shopping and research, and we picked out the most top-of-the-line appliances we could find in our price range. Maybe our brand loyalty is silly (I don't have many brand loyalties and usually poo-poo them), BUT there is a huge element of just narrowing it down. I think Kenmore had 20 washers in our price range and to our liking, know what you mean? I couldn't imagine adding more brands to the mix. I think one brand was all I could handle.

The process of reading reviews, narrowing down, reading consumer reports, checking them out at the store, and then coming home to re-check the reviews on what we liked in person, was an extremely fast and efficient process.

On the garage door opener, dh spent some time looking up other stores since we weren't married to a Sears specific garage door opener. But, we couldn't find a better deal anywhere. We were initially enticed by a faster door with a battery backup (same price, on sale), BUT the reviews were not favorable on the batteries. (They didn't last long, were expensive to replace, and one leaked on a car and ruined the paint - ouch). Plus, our power is pretty stable anyway (very rarely out of power). So we quickly changed our mind on the batteries. We are replacing our chain with a belt though. It should be much quieter, which dh has always had a thing about.

I just don't remember ever gathering so much useful information so quickly on the internet, when it comes to a big purchase. But I haven't bough an appliance in about 7 years. Thank you internet!!

In the morning I Was kind of feeling dread about big appliance shopping, but the day ended with confidence that we purchased some high quality products, and that it wasn't a painful process after all. Yay!

Dishwasher Update

February 19th, 2012 at 05:52 pm

We almost bought a $350 washer (had a $50 rebate. in addition). For an Energy Star Kenmore, NOT BAD!! But, the funny thing is before we went I was leaning towards the stainless steel interior. Dh was very "meh" about it. But, it's kind of my main issue with our current washer (just some crappy GE the builder put in) - the inside is so disgusting and deteriorating.

Anyway, once we got there, the sales man pointed out the one we were going to get ($350) when dh tried to haggle. With the 30% off washers, they just weren't budging, BUT he said, "You can get that one for $50-ish less - the only difference is the buttons." Since the buttons were on the front. Frankly, the hidden buttons would drive us nuts (we decided). After reading reviews - there are no indicator lights on those (something the *consumer reviews* did not mention at all?). So, we were like, "a $300 dishwasher after rebate because we can see the buttons?" SOLD!

BUT, that said, I was looking at some of the Elites and was willing to pay more. Because frankly, this is probably our most used appliance. $300 sounds pretty darn cheap compared to how much we use it. That's the thing about dh and I. We don't mind spending money for something we use every day and get a good value for.

So, we perused the Elites and was leaning towards one ($600-ish?), but decided to leave the crowded mall and just order from home. Phew! (I admit it was nice to see them in person though - to get a better idea what we liked).

So, we came home and checked all the reviews and the Elite ones really had bad reviews. I was surprised.

Dh then settled on the stainless steel interior for $493. Still has a rebate, but the thing was that it is a little quieter. That was the selling point for him - he is half deaf. (It's 30% off - not that we would ever pay full price anyway). The reviews were stellar.

So I get what I wanted in the first place. Big Grin

I was just going to order it online, AFTER I check for online coupon codes. (Unlikely, but worth a check).

BUT, since we are buying more in the end, I might send dh to the mall Tuesday to get one and open a Sears card. We had decided against it to save less than $20. But now we will save close to $25. Though he may prefer to just order from home and be done. I'll leave it up to him. Neither of us is willing to go wait in those crowds today or tomorrow. Wink

That's my lazy shopping afternoon. I just don't have the time to deal with looking for a better deal. I know we probably could find a better deal, but I am extremely content with this. IT was EASY.

We are still not 100% sure on the garage door opener. But whatever we end up with will probably be $200 and a hell of a lot quieter than the one we have. & so dh can stop griping about it. We actually were going to get one with a battery backup, but then read that the battery wasn't that reliable, so not seeming like much of a selling point. Since we aren't married to such a store-specific brand, we can shop around a bit on that one. Will probably buy something on sale this week though, for sure.

P.S. I pulled out the paperwork on old garage door opener and dishwasher, just to make sure there was nothing weird about the size, etc. Apparently dishwasher had a 10-year warranty for leaks. I can't remember for sure if it ever leaked before 10 years though. But was a good reminder for the future. Like hell I expected a 10-year warranty of any kind on that thing. We could have gotten it fixed for free. But believe me, I am ready to replace that tired thing. Wink If I was dirt broke I would keep the thing, but no need to really keep it otherwise. But yeah, I will double check my warranty next time I have any issue, for sure.

Sale Shopping

February 19th, 2012 at 12:28 pm

It's seemed obvious to me that the dishwasher was on its last legs - would be the first to go.

I may be cheap and put things off, but I also like to stay ahead of the curve. I thought it might be wise just to replace the dishwasher end of last year, but dh did not agree. So, whatever.

OF course, the dishwasher leaked all over the floor a few weeks back, which I was not happy about. (Dh is always setting it off when he leaves the house which drives me NUTS. Especially since someone is usually home). So I nagged at him about not leaving the house and setting it off if he doesn't want to replace it. Rolleyes He says it has done it before and he just cleans the around the gaskets or whatever and is fine.

So, I am talking on the phone with my mom when I see him bring towels down to the kitchen. Rolleyes I say, "That's it - it's President's Day Sales weekend - we are buying a dishwasher today!"

Maybe the timing isn't so bad.

& then I realize I don't remember the last time I bought an appliance. Holy cow. Okay, it's been about 7 years since we bought a washer/dryer.

What is my great saving money tip? I don't have much. It's driving me nuts, we have the money, and I just want it replaced. So like the last couple of times, we will just go down to Sears and by a Kenmore. Since it's been SEVEN years, we will open a credit card if we can get a discount for doing so. Dh can generally get them to remove the sales tax. (We always haggle, and that's the wiggle room that Sears tends to have - that and/or free delivery. They technically won't lower the "price."). I am looking right now and credit card discount is 5%. We will take it and just close the card when done. Until next time. Might be our 3rd Sears card application?

Of course, I did peek online and everything is on sale dirt cheap - so I don't know how much haggle room we will have, and I don't care. $200-$300 off sounds good to me.

So, that's the plan.

& no, I have never bought a dishwasher before. 12 years of home ownership - this would be the first. As it comes to most every major appliance in our house. So I feel pretty rusty, on one hand. But having never replaced an appliance that came with our homes, I feel we have the luxury to just get what we want and move on. IF it wasn't tax season, I might take the time to search out more options. As is, I am spending my one day off appliance shopping. Sounds like a blast! Rolleyes

This & That

February 19th, 2012 at 08:55 am

**Still flush with cash and no refi end date in sight. Thinking of just maxing out our IRAs. If nothing else, will do it when I get paid 3/1. (Advancing $750 in payment that I would have made 4/1, to max out 2011).

Of course, I hope this refi is done before 3/1. But not holding my breath...

**I was craving kushari (ceejay's recipe) so made it for second time last night. I probably mentioned before, but the kids LOVE it.

I think why I like it so much is the garlic vinegar tomato sauce. Also, I accidentally put *way too much* garlic in the first time, but I think that was what sealed the deal on it. (Um, we keep pre-made minced garlic in our fridge which is like 1 tsp = 1 clove of garlic, something like that. So I put 3 Tablespoons of that stuff in by mistake. I realized right after I put it in - DOH - but it came out okay. I put a little less in this time but was still VERY garlic-y. I told the kids no vampires would bother us. Wink )

Oh, and the fresh fried onions were good but extremely time consuming to make, so I had dh just pick up some "french fried onions." We usually have some around for other recipes. I Was thinking to myself this defeats the frugality of the dish. So when I get home from work last night dh tells me, "Do you know how much these cost?!? $4,99!" & I think it was a smaller case than we usually get. I said, "I know, I know, I know how much they cost." & then he said, "But they were on sale for $0.99 - so I bought two." Which is why he bought the smaller ones. Heck, he should have bought 6 of them. Big Grin

What are the odds that I would call him and ask me to pick up some tomato sauce and french fried onions, and that they'd be on sale? Phew! Cheap/easy kushari for many meals to come...

**Interestingly, our Visa expired (got new cards with expiration) and Fidelity issued us a new AmEx due to a security breach. I suppose it kind of works out to just update everything at once. I updated our utilities, health insurance, verizon, amazon, etc. Dh needs to update payment method for Netfix, Blockbuster and Hulu. I am sure there are more, but those are the monthly and most importantly the automatic payments are updated. The gym just charged me so I have a month to go down and take care of that in person (they wouldn't change it over the phone, if I remember correctly from last time). I have been avoiding the gym this New Year. I haven't gone once. I usually gripe about how crowded it is. This year I just didn't bother going. Wink But, come spring the crowd will thin and I can resume my enjoyment of the gym. IT has been divine. & heck, you don't have to listen to me gripe.

**A friend lost her MIL to a long battle with cancer. I appreciate what a unique position I am in - must be like being a bartender or a hairdresser. As a tax advisor/accountant, people tend to be very open with me in regards to their finances. So, she was telling me a lot about it that I Don't think she would necessarily mention otherwise. For one, they noticed $20,000 was missing from her MIL's account suddenly and were able to track it down to a car purchase. They don't know who she bought a car for, but they have reason to believe it was a caregiver. Rolleyes What is interesting is it seems her will and finances and everything are mostly in order (which trust me, is RARE). But I kind of feel like, "There is always something!" We need to keep a very close eye on our sick and elderly friends and relatives. But, even so, sometimes there is nothing you can do. *sigh*

OF course, if it turns out to be who they think it is, I would think they would have some legal recourse. I just don't think they can think about that right now. Maybe once they get the estate settled (or well on it's way to being settled) they will take the time to pursue this. Though I'd understand having enough to deal with, without having to deal with this. It just pisses me off royally to think how I would feel if it were my parent or grandparent.

Anyway, seems like a lot of my young friends have lost their parents lately. (I know a 20-something who lost both in-laws and her father in the span of a few years. Geez...).

**I haven't been overly successful on the low-spend month. I mentioned I made a Target run a couple of weekends ago. Last weekend dh took BM to a 3D movie and we ordered lunch in. But, that said, I think it is possible we will only get gas once this month (both cars). The last time that happened was NEVER??? So there is a large element of *work work work* and no driving anywhere. Dh has done an excellent job with the leftovers. I have been eating out most Saturdays, but yesterday *eating out* was a $1 BK cheeseburger. So, it doesn't mean much. with good/ample leftovers, I have had no desire to eat out. Anyway, with the insanely low gas month, we might make up for spending too much last month. Phew! I think we will have to buckle down next weekend and spend no money. But for me, that is just one Sunday of no spending. Otherwise just work work work.

Oh, the kids have the week off so will have to touch base with dh. I am sure they have a very frugal week planned.

**Oh, and did unwittingly splurge $10.

Maybe it's because I am a library book girl, but I Don't really get much joy from physically holding books. & I am not a germ-phobe by any means, but sometimes you wonder where those books have been! Library books can get pretty old and tired.

Anyway, I got a library book - physical book - for a book I have been wanting to read. I got it and it is a very huge hard back. *Sigh* I just couldn't do it. I decided to make my first B&N gift card purchase. I had a $50 credit sitting there for ages for just this kind of thing, but have been way too cheap to use it.

SO, I made the purchase (ebook version) but it apparently charged my credit card. Rolleyes $10 for the dang thing! Yeesh! (IT's an OLD book).

I at first thought, "DOH," I used all my credit for my new nook. Oh well!!!

Then when I Told dh the tale, he told me that he did not use my old gift card for that. He actually tracked down the physical gift cars and it still had the balance and apparently had never been applied to my account. IT still bothers me because I *swear* that I did apply it to my account. But, who knows, maybe I was just waiting for first use. Then a year later I forget. Probably what happened.

Dh also found a pile of Amazon gift cars. I told him I *swear* those were all applied and used already, but maybe he should check the balances on those too. Because apparently I am crazy.

In the end, the purchase is said and done and I don't have time to deal with it, so I will pay the $10. If not, I will just have that much less credit for later, so I think it's fine (dh thinks I should call and get gift card applied). But yeah, I don't think will necessarily buy anything the next 2 months and $10 is well within my allowance.

I've been spending about $10/year on ebooks, so this gift card might last me another 5 years! But, this purchase was in an effort to enjoy my gift card and not take 5 years to use it. Wink

It's official - I am an ebook snob. But seriously, why would I want to have to lug around such a giant book??? Those days are gone for me.

For reference, anything new can easily be borrowed from the library in ebook form. So it's just the older stuff that it gets to be a conundrum. (Yes, of course the classics are free, so it's everything in between!)

**I have been doing good on the "not bringing in more stuff" side of things:

http://monkeymama.savingadvice.com/newusedfree-2012.html

A Frugal Day

February 11th, 2012 at 06:02 am

I liked retire@50's "Perfect Frugal Day" post.

I figured I'd chime in and post about a Frugal Day. I don't have the time or effort to think about the *perfect* day, for one. Secondly, I get this a lot with my friends where I don't think they can fathom how we save as much money as we do. I am always telling them it's not just one thing - it is the sum of MANY things. & it's hard to communicate the sum of many things - we may have 100+ frugal habits that they do not have, know what I mean? So I think compiling a typical day for us would be interesting. Hopefully more people will chime in, in their blogs. & I am not looking for an award for *the most frugal* - I am all about the balance. So, if anything doesn't seem overly frugal, well, I am not saying it is. Wink I will try to be as detailed as possible though, to share some frugal habits.

I wake up anywhere from 5:30 to 7:30. Usually on the earlier side, unless I stayed up way too late! Wink I don't remember the last time I used an alarm clock. (Yes, I am a chipper type who jumps out of bed the second I wake up, wide awake and ready to start the day).

If I wake up at 5:30 I might update my Quicken, read the blogs, etc. Or I read, or I spend some time with my kids (they generally wake up at 6). If I wake up at 7:30 I shower, slap on my clothes, and go to work. I am pretty low maintenance - I can be ready for work in 20 minutes - most of that time being in the shower (which is why I don't bother with an alarm!). My hair is "wash and go" ready (cut it a couple of times a year) and I generally don't wear any make up or use any beauty products.

During tax season I try to get to work between 7-8. The rest of the year I drive the kids to school 2-3 days a week (@ 8:30).

Saturdays are the BEST. Because my workout class is in the a.m. I wish it was every day! I leave the house at 7am for my one-hour aerobics/yoga class. It always puts me in the most awesome mood. The rest of the week it's at night where it's more rush-rush to get there and I probably mostly sleep while all those yummy endorphins run through my body. I sometimes go to the gym (is a discount gym) in the mornings before work, but it is never the same. Oh, my aerobics class is $2.50 per class at the community center. Gym is $15/month. At some point we will buy a nice elliptical and kill the gym membership. (I don't run, and so kind of need that piece of equipment for my sanity - much easier on the body though - I love to *run* on the elliptical).

On a perfect day I would go to work. Yes, you read that right. I like to keep busy and I like to work with numbers. On a good day I don't have to talk to anyone else and I can account other people's money to my heart's content. They PAY me to do this? Big Grin

Of course, just because I go to work doesn't mean I am stuck in the office all day. What do I do for lunch? Generally I just grab some leftovers from the fridge on the way out the door (hardly a time consuming thing - I use reusable tupperware versus anything disposable to carry lunch - same for the kids - they have never lost one piece of tupperware - I share because people are always amazed. well, we never taught them to throw away their food containers? That's the long and the short of it?). On Mondays I often buy Togo's sandwich on special ($4) - it buys me lunch for two days. Of course, lunch is my primary social time. So, dh and I often do a lunch date. When we go out is not the most frugal, but it kind of is because we skip the whole babysitter thing, and lunch prices are cheaper. We often meet up at home for lunch but it's never quite the same. I like the "date" aspect of meeting up for lunch, out, and really talking. Lunch at home with no kids is never a bad thing though. Wink I try to meet friends or dh once a week, out. I used to eat lunch at home every day, but gas prices have gotten too crazy for that, over the years. But when it's slow at work I still come home often. Just depends on the insanity of gas prices and how much money I Can spare for the luxury.

After work I usually go to aerobics or gym, about half the week. As an early bird, the thing is I am usually spent by about 5:00. So, a pretty normal day is sit on the couch and do nothing after that point. I'd probably go to bed at 8 every night if I Were single and childless. (The kids and dh protest. The kids like to stay up late and wake up early - I wonder when/if they ever grow out of that!)

On a lazy day we eat dh's wonderful meals together, maybe play some board games or video games as a family, or I ignore everyone and watch some TV or read.

When the weather is nicer I do try to make an effort to go on a walk to the park, a bike ride, to walk to the tennis courts, and in the summer we walk to the swimming pool fairly often. After dinner. (The kids are of the age I can lounge by the pool while they frolic - so this has been REALLY nice). OF course, I am more concerned about sun damage in general, and our HOT summer days, but we don't buy a lot of sunblock if we avoid the pool from 10-3 most days. In the winter it is generally TV or a (library) book. The lack of sunlight completely zaps my energy.

OF course, none of the above costs any money.

8:00 every night we brush our teeth and do family TV time. It's always been the best way to unwind the kids before bed. Watching TV as a family is not the same as watching it alone. We usually watch documentaries, stuff like that. NO *Kid TV* at bedtime, is the rule. IF someone does not like the majority choice, we usually just read instead (though LM likes to draw). Last night I read while snuggling with the kids for an hour - they wanted to watch Wipeout. (It's not always wonderful and educational! Wink )

The kids go to bed at 9, and I do too (if I am still awake). I generally watch most my TV at bedtime. But it sometimes takes me all week to watch a 30-minute show (I keep falling asleep). I generally only watch TV when I would otherwise be asleep, personally. (But clearly not in any way that affects my sleep - I need 8-9 hours a night to function, and that is definitely a priority for me).

OF course, when I can keep my eyes open I usually spend some time with dh, call my family or skype my longer distance friends. (Free free free).

On the weekends we tend to take advantage of our local memberships (museums, parks), or drive 1-2 hours for some good hikes or beach time. Last weekend we drove to visit our family - went to a birthday party for my nephew, a superbowl party at a cousin's house (all the cousins played; we ate well) and had dinner with my folks one night and dh's folks the next. Though we had to shell out the gas, it was a pretty frugal/no-spend weekend. That said, we generally have at least one day a week where we stay home and DO NOTHING. Which is always DIVINE. I think our society is so focused on *doing things* that people don't realize it's okay to slow down and just do nothing once in a while. For us, that's at least one whole day a week. I think we have been very activity focused in recent years because our eldest is an extreme extrovert compared to us and thrives on the activity and needed to get out of the house more than the rest of us. AND because I would feel kind of bored and stir crazy at home with the kids, anyway. BUT, they are getting to an age where we can all kind of do our own quiet things on the weekend. & that is DIVINE. Extrovert BM has his own social life - plays with his friend, invites them over, whatever. I can still hide in the bedroom with a book and read/sleep all day. IF that was every day, I'd be bored too. But once a week, it's pretty nice. BM actually spends hours skyping friends and family, too. We LOVE it because he gets his social time, but can completely bypass us. Dh and I are not interested in talking to everyone every day, but BM might talk to his aunt in China, his Great Grandma, and my dad in one day, and MIL will skype and do his math homework with him. He's in heaven and the rest of us can be anti-social. (Not that we never talk to anyone, but all the time/every day like BM? The rest of us are not up to that...)

Of course, dh hits the grocery stores pretty regularly, but frankly I could go months without going into a store or buying anything. Pretty easily. We may enjoy some splurges, but we don't get caught up in the little every-day purchases and we clearly aren't focused on consumption. We have an aresenal of free and low-cost activities at our disposal.

Bills Paid

February 10th, 2012 at 06:44 am

Still trying to keep +$4000 in the bank to please the refinance people. I usually run my checking account to $0, so it is driving me a little nuts. I did lose out on $3 interest this past month. Plus, hard to worry about checking account being defrauded when there is nothing in there to take. It just makes me feel uncomfortable to have so much cash sitting in there.

Anyway, I double checked when my credit card bill is due. I usually pay it around pay day (16th) but it is apparently not due until the 2nd or the 3rd (I forget already). SO, I just set it to automatically pay on the 28th. Not sure I've ever cut a credit card payment so close, but it is electronic, and I am sure it will be fine. I just usually allow WEEKS to avoid any issues. I get paid on the first, so this should please the refinance people (by mostly keeping my balance high, except for one day or so when credit card is paid). Lord knows when they will ever finish this refi.

If this year continues on a good financial path (Knock on wood!) then I think our primary goal will be getting a bit ahead of the curve on our finances. #1 - I mentioned we will try to get our ROTHs funded on a calendar year basis. #2 - I might start paying bills earlier. (Built in savings/float). I am sure I am farther ahead of the curve than most, as is. BUT, we have also been putting bills on our credit card to push them off a month, etc., to build up savings faster. So, there is still room for improvement. Since I don't like having a lot of cash sitting around, I am thinking of just pushing the bills earlier. I should probably try to pay the credit cards around the end of the month that I am charging (at least have the money ready though I wouldn't pay the bill until I knew the final amount for the month). Maybe I can also start paying the mortgage ahead of time. That is $3000 right there. That would be an automatic *$3000 emergency fund,* if I am paying both of those 30 days before they are due. I admit that charging up the credit cards but not paying the bill for a good 30 days makes me a little uncomfortable. I've been doing it for YEARS, but I will be pleased when I have the money ready ahead of time (& wouldn't have to tap into savings to pay last month's bills, if something happened).

I have lots of lofty goals this year, so WILL SEE.

Good Grief!

February 9th, 2012 at 05:37 pm

Maybe January was just extra crazy, but I was just telling dh this morning that I didn't really work the last two Janaries (with us both having surgery). I think it is the lack of sunlight that is bogging me down more than anything. & I don't really remember the dark and the long hours (the double whammy!)

Last night I left work pretty late and the sun was out when I left. Yay!

This morning when I went to shower I didn't need to turn on the light - more sunlight. The natural light made me ecstatic.

Of course, I drove home for lunch and the day was GORGEOUS.

I spent the afternoon thinking how it would be summer in no time and by the way, seems awfully HOT in here. The weather didn't seem to say it was a freak 80-degree day or anything like that (was only 66?) and so I looked at the thermostat in my office.

77F! Holy cow.

Considering that we keep our house between 60 and 68, this time of year, it was a little hot to say the least. It started to feel humid, which was when I noticed. Thermostat is all messed up - I turned on the air.

Of course, if this sunny weather keeps up, we won't need to run the heat at home. I don't think we did the last 2 days. Thermostat maybe said 64 when I woke up and 68 when I went to bed, yesterday. The sun naturally warms the house a bit.

Well, I am not a fan of a humid 77 degrees in doors, but I do admit it lifted my spirits. Made me feel like it was closer to May than February. Wink

9 more weeks of tax season? Closer to May is good for my sanity. So, I wish!

Moving & Assumptions

February 9th, 2012 at 06:46 am

*Assumptions* are the enemy of doing better with less.

This next part will bore anyone who has read my blog any length of time, but there are always new people coming through so figured I'd share. MyMoneyblog was asking for moving stories, and this is my comment:

We moved from Bay Area to Sacramento simply for lower housing costs. Income was the same for me though my spouse has never found a job here. Life is still infinitely easier here – we traded a small condo in a crappy part of town for a luxury home in the best part of town – the costs are similar all around (same mortgage, same property taxes, but lower utilities since home is new and energy efficient – even if it is BIGGER!). So, we basically work half as much for twice as much (what I always say).

When we moved I Wasn’t exactly happy about it but it didn’t take long to *not miss the Bay Area at all.* We both grew up there and it is a wonderful place to live, but it is ridiculously crowded and expensive. So after about 5 minutes I didn’t miss it any more. If I could move back, I wouldn’t. I think I enjoy feeling so central – closer to Tahoe, just as close to LA, SF is just a wee bit farther. Plus, more time to enjoy all of it anyway.

We talked seriously about moving up north to WA a few years after this move. IT was such a positive move (so why not do it again?) and we could have sold our house for a $400k profit at that point. I am so glad we did not do so – since then both us and our parents have had health problems since. This was the *perfect* move in we still live in a great locale, still have GREAT weather, and still are VERY close to our family – kids are growing up with their cousins, etc. We spend a lot of weekend driving to and fro (1oo miles away), but sure beats a mortgage double or triple what we have now.

One thing for others on the fence: Most our friends and family think we are crazy and constantly tell us “They live in the best place in the world.” Yes, I thought so too when I lived there. From the outside looking in, it’s hard to see what is so great about it. For one, we have more time to drive down and simply enjoy all the Bay Area has to offer on the weekend. IT’s not like we are *that far away.* Most our friends and families have giant mortgages, work like crazy, and have no time to enjoy it anyway. So I really don’t *get* it. It’s just very different to get outside of that head space and to get an entirely different perspective. I was in the same head space, for the most part, but could not imagine paying those rents or mortgages for the rest of my life – we found it depressing enough to seek out other options.


For reference, I don't think all my friends and family should move here. Not at all. But the assumptions people constantly are throwing out at us, about what it must be like to move, are ridiculous. The fact that most of them would never consider living anywhere else, though they are really struggling financially, just seems silly to me. They are drowning in assumptions. & it is costing these people a small fortune in the long run. OF course, if they told me being close to their family was the most important, I could at least respect that. There is more to life than money. But it's usually, "This is the best place in the world to live." Okay, but how would you know? How are you even enjoying it with those 2 jobs apiece just to pay the mortgage?

Granted, I am sure I harbor plenty of assumptions - don't we all?? BUT, I think overall this is a huge strength for dh and I - that we hold onto far less assumptions than average. Whenever we approach anything financially, we never generally have too many preconceived notions about where we will get our best value. We look at our options, see what is out there, and go from there. Which means we have rarely ever taken the well beaten path to get anywhere financially.

Our HOUSE is a perfect example. We bought a home brand new construction. People off the bat always assume that is the more expensive way to go, and over the years people have ALWAYS assumed we paid far more for our house than we did. Which means I have several friends who paid more for modest/OLD fixer uppers that are half the size. Over the years they will tell me how they just aren't into the bling that we apparently are. & I just have to laugh! The truth is most people I know will pay more for an older neighborhood (more land and charm). Which is a fine decision. Nothing wrong with a bigger yard or a more established neighborhood. BUT, I always find some of those blingy comments ironic. Are you kidding me? We went with the *cheapest* thing we could find! The best value, anyway... An old neighborhood and big yard sounds nice to me too, but I just couldn't justify the expense. I think there are a LOT of people out there who never even looked at a new house because they just assumed it would be too expensive. Why did we look at new houses in the first place? A friend was looking at told me about these homes. So, it pays to keep your ears open? Would we have looked at new homes otherwise? Maybe not? I really don't know.

I suppose homes and moving come to mind because this is where we have saved the BIG $$$ over the years. But when it comes to everything, we always seem to find some great deal that most everyone else overlooked. It's always kind of right in front of our face. When we bought our first home in the Bay Area, for example, we found a home that was simply *too good to be true.* We almost walked away like everyone else. In a market where homes were selling in 5 minutes and bid up to oblivion we found a beautiful condo that had say on the market for *6 months* Which of course was a HUGE red flag. But we investigated further. You know what the problem was? The selling realtor was TERRIBLE! AWFUL! Who can't sell a home like that in 6 months? Good Lord! (Turns out they had paid the realtor pennies compared to the norm and REALLY got what they paid for - he was MIA for the whole process - but our excellent realtor was willing to get the sale through, even doing the other guy's job. Why not? We got everything we asked for). Once we figured it out, we felt very comfortable making an offer - no competition. For reference, it took us 5 minutes to sell the place when *we* were ready to. We looked for homes on 2-3 occasions since then - we always would stumble on GREAT homes that were being overlooked by everyone else. The signs of "terrible selling realtor" would always emerge. We were looking at a home that had been upgraded to the HILT, but for whatever reason it wasn't being advertised for what it was. The homeowner had given us a tour and mentioned about 100 things that should have been advertised on the MLS, but weren't. The tour sealed the deal and we put in an offer. Here was this gold mine not being properly advertised. I don't know why we always stumble onto these properties every time we are house hunting.

Homes are the biggie, of course. Education is another BIG one. One of the most respected business programs around was my alma mater - a public university that was dirt cheap when I attended. When we bought our home, long before having kids, people would wrinkle their nose at our school district. Seriously? #1 - I didn't have kids, #2 - we live in a GIANT metro area with hundreds of excellent public options, and #3 - was a new/wealthy community. I wasn't worried about it. Fast forward 10 years and our kids attend one of the best public schools in the city - I couldn't have bought them a better education if I tried. It's a public charter school about 3 blocks from our house. This is certainly even better than I expected or planned, but I still get stupid comments about our school district. Rolleyes

Of course, this applies to all things big and little, but you see how you can really cut the BIG/HUGE expenses with a little *outside the box* thinking. I think I am personally hard wired to believe that what everyone else is doing is probably not the best (because I have seen those common assumpions play out over and over and over and so often be wrong). So personally, I am surprised when something very normal and easily assumed does work out to be better. It happens sometimes though, and so I try to approach *everything* with an open mind.

New ROTH Strategy

February 8th, 2012 at 06:46 am

My IRA strategy has always been this:

**Decide how much to put away when I do my taxes!**

Mind you, this is my *IRA* strategy, not my *Retirement* strategy. Wink

My retirement strategy is to always put away 10% into employer plan (at minimum) and the IRAs are always gravy. I was never opposed to putting away more, but between saving for a home, saving for the transition to one-income, living on one income, etc. I have never done more than 10% to employer plan. Maybe more to the point, I've had no choice in the matter since about 2002. Have put away 20% some years though (10% employer + 10% IRAs). Looking back, we've averaged 12% through thick and thin. Being only 35, and contributing for about 12 years, that has served us well.

I've never much maxed out our IRAs. We got a cash gift in 2008 or 2009, so we maxed out one of those years.

I no longer have a work retirement plan, so ROTHs are the priority. We will max out 2011, by April 2012. We are still on this April funding schedule since we tried to put as much as possible last year to the prior year.

Will see how this year shakes out, but I will add "Fund 2012 ROTHs in 2012" as a potential goal. I think we will be able to get on a calendar year schedule. I am contributing about $800/month and the rest ($400 or so) can come from April bonus. This year's $400 can come from this year's bonus. I'll hold off to see cash position at 12/31, but I only need to cough up another $2000 or so to get on a calendar schedule. It just depends how I feel with parting with that much savings on 12/31.

If we don't make it this year, we can maybe ease into this schedule over the next 2 years.

On a calendar year schedule, will probably just do ALL to the ROTHs. The only reason I put $2k to Traditional IRA this year was to save on the taxes (rather pay myself than the IRS). But next year, if I owe, I owe. It will probably all be deposited to the ROTHs already. ROTHs will be best in the long run, considering current low tax bracket.

The Neverending Cable Monopoly

February 7th, 2012 at 07:06 am

OMG, thank you Netflix for helping us cut that cable cord!

I just blogged a little bit about dh's unique love for cable (he is a film maker - he loves his TV and movies).

But, secondarily, he is also extremely frugal and has no love for the monopoly of cable. The only reason I think we had cable so willingly for so long was due to the little mom and pop cable company we had (they were cheap and awesome).

Life has been in a bit of turmoil since Comcast bought them out a few years back. We went to Surewest, eventually, which is locally based. Expensive as heck, but a much more pleasant experience than Comcast, Dish, or any of the others.

Anyway, even though we dropped cable, Surewest is who we would return to if we felt the need to go back. I don't think we feel that we have any other decent options.

AND we still have our super high speed internet with them.

Should have seen it coming. They just got bought out by a mega company.

Frown

Dh e-mailed me late last night when he saw the news. HE said "At least it wasn't Comcast."

Another GREAT company gets bought out. I think it's safe to say all their customer service and awesomeness just went down the tubes.

More This & That

February 6th, 2012 at 12:32 pm

**Earned $50 on credit card, again. $50 to ROTH. That's $100 year-to-date.

**Dh gave me green light to sell NFLX today. Woohoo! Sold it all - 60% return on this batch, after fees and all. (I would have taken the money and ran, a while ago, so am very pleased with this decision).

**Had quite a no-spend week or so, with exception of one Target excursion. Frankly, I don't remember the last time I went there. Got some *needed* stuff (BM went up two sizes in pants since I last shopped. Maybe one, but he will outgrow true current size any second, so bought up one). I wanted to stock up on soda to keep at work while it's BUSY. Got a few other things. Though nothing was probably a true *need* (aside from BM pants), the rest was more or less on the horizon as a need - replaced broken hair clips, and stuff like that. Soda for my sanity?

THEN we went to San Jose for the weekend where we were fed way too much. I thought it likely dh had footed dinner. Which is the problem and why our dining out bill was so huge last month. But, I never had asked, and when I logged into the credit card today it greeted me with a big fat $0. No one had made a charge since the 31st. I suppose that answers that. Unexpected! (If we had paid for dinner, it is what it is. We got fed very well for several meals all weekend, and time with family is priceless).

Sunday we went to a birthday party and a superbowl party. Food Food Food!

**I made awesome progress on 40th Anniversary for my parents. Holy cow - it's right around the corner! I've been meaning to steal some photos from their home (er, borrow) but it's been way hard to do it sealthily. I suggested we stay there Saturday night and dh distract them. *That* worked. I actually made it through all their photo albums and scored wedding invitation, wedding photos, new baby phots, wedding and graduation photos (sis and I) and a few other random photos. I think I got the grandkid photos handled (went digital in 2003 when my son was born?) Which is almost a blessing - at least I don't have one gazillion digital photos to go through (for the last 40 years!).

Looks like the focus will be on older photos, but they are deteriorating anyway. Will be nice to scan and preserve some of them. (Dh has done a lot of that for his own family over the years - converting old photos/slides to digital copies).

I thought of an even better gift. Dh is working on a video, and I will probably still do a nice photo album for them. BUT, I realized what we really need to do is get some really nice professional photos of the family. I am thinking of trying to arrange something this spring (not really telling them why) and then we can probably get a relative to do a few shots with my sister when she visits. My parents always bought a nice photo session every 15 years or so, and I think it would be nice to get some pictures with their grandkids, etc. I've got a few ideas of photographers, so will think it through.

This & That

February 3rd, 2012 at 01:05 pm

**I have the weekend off work and the weather should be GORGEOUS. Plus, getting out of town. I think it will be nice to get a change of scenery. OF course, it's just a brief break before the craziness of the next 10 weeks or so. 1/31 just left me beat down far more than usual. I am exhausted! But yes, definitely looking forward to a change of scenery and some nice time in the sun. (Working overtime or not, the darkness every morning and night is depressing to me - more of a winter thing than a work thing). Yay to the days getting longer...

**My 60-day refi rate expires Monday. Rolleyes After calling and e-mailing loan processor several times to see what's up... (Hello???) I finally called a higher up lady I had on my list. She got back to me ASAP, thank goodness! Our rate will hold (it's their fault) and she gave me an estimate of 3 more weeks.

I think it's totally ridiculous, and this is the worst customer service ever, but whatever. What can you do? Dh and I do a pretty good good cop/bad cop (just our personalities). But he is chomping at the bit to rip them a new one. It's like, "Down boy!" We've gone through enough refinances to know nothing makes them go any faster. I just didn't want any BS about our rate when they are slower than heck. I just don't see the point of sicking dh on them since I know there is nothing else we can do.

*I* just wanted my rate honored and someone to act like they cared and to tell me what is going on. I got that (eventually) and didn't need bad cop. Wink

Of course I'd sick bad cop on them if I thought it would do any thing. Anyway, if they didn't reply to me today, they'd probably be sorry. I don't think there would be any stopping bad cop. So, they got lucky.

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

Anyway, with this refi thing so up in the air still, I went ahead and paid several months of ROTH contributions that I had put on hold. Deposited 3 months to our IRAs, did the usual savings transfers, and paid off the visa. (I had some ROTH payments on hold for advanced expenses for credit card rewards, and then was just holding on to have extra cash readily available for refi. But with this last paycheck, I still mostly have all the cash they wanted me to have, at the ready. I have another account I can write checks on, if I end up short. It has more than enough cash. I give up putting everything on hold for the refi that may take another 60 days).

After talking to CU loan lady, decided to just pay one more month of mortgage too (paid through 4/15). Lord knows how long this refi will take. The longer it takes, the less cash we should need to cough up. We've paid off about $2000 principal since we applied for refi, and will probably be due back interest, too. So, I suppose it isn't the worst. Though of course I would love to close this chapter and move on! But at this rate, we won't even take any hit to cash (I should get paid big OT check in April, to replenish whatever we spend on refi. I just expected our savings to take a bigger/longer hit, is all - since this refi should have been DONE by now. At this rate, the hit will be smaller and shorter).

Feeling the Pinch...

February 1st, 2012 at 08:03 am

I did fiscal chores last night - updating the spreadsheets.

Ouch!

Did good on the grocery budget. Squeaked by with about $500 for January. Apparently is still very doable for us. I've narrowed down overage to wine/beer and growing kids. But dh is being more mindful in cutting other costs. That said, we had shrimp for dinner. I think we can still clearly cut a lot of fat, if need be. I just need to report to dh on a monthly basis. He does the shopping and takes budget overages to heart.

Our spending actually looked pretty low and on track for January, but I came up with a negative $300 for the month. Last couple of months was kind of the same but *I forgot parents owed us $200* - stuff like that. So I initially thought I Was just missing some income.

So, pretty much, I couldn't find the $300, and it was giving me a headache. About to give up and look later, when I found it. Almost $200 on dining out. UGH! Plus it was dh's birthday and his dad's birthdays - gifts were purchased that were really beyond our super tight discretionary budget.

February is a short month and so plan of action is just to make up what I can next month. I am also getting state refund ($50-ish) so may just use that.

Our credit card cycle runs through Friday but pantry is filled and cars are gassed. NO-spend 3 days = easy peasy. I don't want one more cent on the credit card this month.

I told dh and the kids we would spend no money in February. We generally keep it pretty non-spend during tax season, so not a huge biggie. I just think we got used to a lot of freebies last year (credit card rewards) and were rolling in cash in December (birthdays and Christmas, etc.). The end result is that *normal* feels like a severe tightening of the reins. Hence the *ouch.* We just need a few months to re-adjust. There is an element of "some of my overtime can go to increased convenience costs during times of high stress." I just wasn't quite thinking $300/month for that. Maybe $100/month?

January is extra *ouch* because I only received one paycheck. $0 to savings. (1/1 paycheck was received 12/30 and put to 2011 financial goals - will get an extra check end of 2012 to make up for it).

But today is payday so I added 2/1 savings to the sidebar. $415 to savings, $10 interest to savings ($425 was exactly enough to cover heater repair from savings account, so not exactly forward progress, no to mention refi costs ready to go out of my hands - easy come, easy go), and $50 credit card reward to ROTH plus $750 ROTH contribution.

For bigger frame of reference, budget is tight, but we are on track to put away $30,000 this year. I need to remind myself, too. Easy to get caught up in feeling *broke* because can not afford a meal out. The big picture helps me relax. Secondarily, cash savings is for more immediate future. (I am tired of getting a lecture on inflation every time I mention I sent $5 to my savings account. Rolleyes Yes, that is why I don't put my long-term savings in cash! Wink )

I added some fiscal chores to my side bar:

1 - Some how I got an extra savings account at my CU with $1. I need to close that.

2 - I've got a ROTH with about $1000 in it that I really need to consolidate - I've got 3 other ROTHs with more substantial balances.

3 - I need to double check that my name is on kids' investment accounts. I know we got my name added to their CU savings account at some point (dh had opened them), but can't remember if I ever added my name to their Vanguard Funds. (They were opened in conjuction with dh's Vanguard ROTH, which was only in his name - no obvious way to add my name). Kind of hard to believe we didn't get that taken care of with his brain surgery and all, but were probably a little distracted (I think I remember feeling happy all our ducks were already in a row so I didn't have to worry about any of this - this duck being small and forgotten).

The kinds of things I had to write down lest I keep putting off.