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Archive for October, 2012

Sold a Costume

October 31st, 2012 at 12:33 pm

Boy, people really do wait for the last minute!!

We sold a nice costume yesterday for $10. (Craigslist). Could have sold the other, but dh didn't check his e-mail in time. Rolleyes I think we could have sold them on Amazon, so am kind of annoyed dh didn't try that route (could probably get a lot more for them). But, who knows, maybe the other one will sell today.

I am kind of bummed with this experience because these are really nice costumes, and usually my experience with more baby stuff is to sell it for what I paid for it. In this case, not even close. I am surprised how little interest we have ever gotten for these costumes. Well, Amazon may be a better audience. I think at this point since it is too late for the Amazon route, will just offer up to relatives and close friends. If no one wants it, will keep to sell on Amazon next fall. (Though we can set the price on Amazon, so maybe we should see if it sells in the interim. For $10 it might sell in the off season).

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Oh, and the total Emergency room for BM last month seems to be about $1200. I just got a $700 bill for the rest of it. (I thought I'd owe $900, but I had forgotten that we paid $200 at time of admission).

Which in the end is rather "meh" because they never charged anywhere near what they usually charge ($1200) for dh's annual MRI. I think it kind of evens out. Unless they change their mind. BUT, they will have to change their minds quickly if it is going to impact us this year at all. So, phew!! (I am sure it's likely we will get some MRI bill at some future date).

{At some point last week I thought I would owe $2600 between this and the flood insurance, and so glad $2600 turned into $1000. Phew!!}.

Flood Insurance - Phew

October 30th, 2012 at 09:07 am

First off, of course hoping everyone is safe on the east coast (& mid-west and everywhere the storms are affecting). What a mess!!

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I've mentioned before here that the flood ratings here are SO political. (As is everything?) So, I got a note from FEMA while we were on vacation how we had to get a letter from a public official stating where our property was on the flood maps? Something like that. ??? I sent it to my insurance agent who is pretty awesome and said he would take care of it. I had no doubt he would. (Um, okay FEMA why don't you tell me where I am on the flood map?!? What the heck am I supposed to know about this? Public official? Because public officials have nothing better to do?)

Usually our flood insurance is $300-ish (because initially zoned as basically "not a flood zone" - I think this is the cheapest it can be). So then I get a bill for $1600. Ouch! I look it up in the local news and stuff and no one mentions it. No one's complaining about all this insanity because no one even has flood insurance. (They can't afford their homes, they certainly have not bought flood insurance. Though I think you'd be insane not to - low lying area protected by levees. Plus, the insurance has been mandatory for a while).

I finally find some news blurb that our flood insurance is supposed to go up 20% per year to ease into the higher rates, which frankly I thought were more like $3k. This also makes no sense whatsoever. Because $300 increased 20% per year gets you nowhere near $1600 or $3k or whatever it is supposed to end up at. But, whatever! It's clearly not supposed to be $1600 for this year.

It's not due for several weeks, and so I figured stuff crossed in the mail and it would work itself out. Figured maybe I'd wait a few days before I bug insurance agent again. I was sure he took care of it. & I was pretty sure the bill was wrong.

So, phew! I got another FEMA bill today and it was more like $360. No explanation - no mention to ignore the other bill. But I can figure it out and I will keep a copy of both bills just in case there are any issues.

So, I am feeling relieved I am off the hook for $1300-ish dollars I was not expecting.

Actually, a while ago FEMA decided to cut out the insurance middlemen and just started billing us directly. I wonder if this "public official flood map" thing is the kind of thing they would usually communicate to the insurance agents. It doesn't make any sense. I wonder how many people don't understand the gobbedly-gook or don't have an insurance agent willing to deal with the extra work. Makes me wonder how many people blindly play too much.

Halloween Preparations

October 27th, 2012 at 12:56 pm

This weekend is the polar opposite of last weekend. Mellow and chore-filled.

I am lucking out on the Halloween front. The kids had asked for some Halloween decorations, and I said "Heck no." No need to spend money on useless crap, and even worse to accumulate worthless crap. I am kind of "out" of the holiday decorating thing. But I was at Target for whatever reason a couple of weeks back and saw a bunch of decorations in their $1 bins. I figured "whatever," and spent $2. The kids were delighted, so win-win.

I have been having so much fun at Michael's lately (it is seriously better than the dollar store) that I figured I might stop by there sometime too. I just didn't have any coupons printed out so wanted to do that first. I am sure they have some super cheap decorations that will appease the kids and won't make me too cranky (won't take up a lot of storage space).

Glad I waited, because apparently we could use some foam board. Never even heard of it, but sounds very useful for costume making.

Anyway, dh lent the kids' Mario & Luigi costumes to a relative in another city. Rolleyes I was kind of annoyed because though the kids did wear them the past two years, I had already told them I wasn't going to buy them any new costumes this year.

Never fear. Today we decided we better get our act together (very unlike us to wait so last minute).

LM settled on a spider man costume we have - it fits like it was made for him. He is 7, and I think BM wore it when he was 5 or 6 (it was a little large at the time). Perfect!!

BM is making his own Minecraft costume. It's a video game with blocky characters, so we are just printing out the blocky graphics onto a cardboard box to wear over his head. Dh told me he needed some nylons for the eye holes (such a good idea!!). The pickaxe he needs was recommended to glue onto some foam board. They already have some foam swords, so may just be able to tape over the swords they already have. Will see what we can find.

When the kids were younger I was way too exhausted to go the DIY route. Maybe it's easier because they can do most the work now. Big Grin

So, I am pleased, I think I got off pretty easy. We already got Halloween candy free at CVS a while back.

Investing & Health Care

October 24th, 2012 at 07:02 am

I suppose I put it out of my mind, but it's *that* time of year. Got our health insurance renewal yesterday. It went up 10%, which is about what I expected. Anyway, I think it is pretty official that in 2014 we will be paying more for health insurance than our mortgage. More than out CALIFORNIA mortgage. Just grateful we can continue to afford in the nearer future. I keep figuring it has to slow down at some point. "When" is the question. It can't go on like this forever. ???

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I figured this year I was going to read up on investing and all that (it's just one area I don't have a ton of experience or confidence). Ha! I signed up for this class early in the year - "Investing in Turbulent Times." As the year progressed I decided I already knew everything I needed to know, and that in the same way I approach just about everything, "Simpler is better." So I pretty much abandoned this plan. Or, more to the point, realized I already know everything I need to know and everything that is useful to me.

As my "Investing in Turbulent Times" class approached I decided it would probably annoy me. I was thinking, "Why is investing in turbulent times any different than other times? Aren't times always turbulent, on some level, anyway?" Ha! I nailed it on the head. The whole class was a broad investing class and that was the whole point of the class: There is nothing unique or different about now. Asset diversification/rebalancing, and "keeping costs low" are proven investing strategies.

This & That

October 18th, 2012 at 07:09 am

**I applied for a new credit card, and so will have a 4-card system. I am sure I passed on it before because it has an annual fee, and because I don't want a 4-card system. But the 3-card system has been working well, so decided to give it a go.

New system:

-New Amex with 6% back on groceries and 3% back on gas. This is most of our spending, anyway.

-Old AmEx with 2% back on *everything.* Will keep this for insurance, utilities, misc. (Good thing is I don't have to change anything around - new card can just be swiped when used. This card is already set up to pay utilities and insurance).

-Credit union visa for 1% back on everywhere that does not take AmEx. (Mostly some utilities and insurance).

-Target card for 5% back on Target (used for groceries)

I am sure I would never consider this plan, but not for Quicken. With Quicken, I can download all the charges, and I just pay everything off the first of every month. It hasn't been a big deal, which is why I decided to bite this bullet. (I don't wait for statements - I just pay everything off when the month is over).

Oh, and the kicker is there is a one-time cash back bonus that would pay the annual fee for two years. I doubt this would be the best card in 2 years time - so will probably cover the fee for the life of the card. It seems we change our cards around every few years as rewards get changed.

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**I may also take a backseat with the one-time credit card rewards for a while. Nothing about the credit card activity (open, reward, close) seems to have affected our credit score much but this year all sorts of inquiries are showing up on our credit reports. The inquiries = ouch. (I don't know why none particularly showed up last year. We've been applying for the same cards over and over - same card issuers, etc.).

So, I am sure I can be enticed, but in the meantime there isn't anything spectacular and I think we will just work on this 4-card strategy for a while. At least until next spring? Let the credit scores bounce back a bit. Our scores are still A or A-, but rather keep them that way then get to the point where I literally can't get any credit I apply for. (If nothing else, we may want to refinance down to a 15-year loan in the near future). So, I guess we quit (or take a break) while ahead.

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**I am probably going to abandon mortgage payoff plan for the next year. I feel great relief about this decision. I am feeling much more pressure to build up cash reserves (personal circumstances, crappy economy). But also feel like we need to focus on the mortgage. & of course there are always too many competing financial goals. If we could always do everything we wanted, these blogs would not exist.

Anyway, the lightbulb moment for me is that I probably have about 1/2 our HongKong airfare saved up (was going to put to mortgage before year-end) and should have the rest by spring. I decided this was a good reason to hoarde up some cash.

So, yesterday I paid off our recent Florida vacation (had the money, but just waited for payday to not have to move anything around). For next vacation, hoping to have the money saved up a solid year ahead of time. Phew!

It's not quite so simple that I am overlooking mortgage for vacation. I think I am just changing the order of things. In fact, I am pondering using the money to max out our ROTHs in spring, and hoarding up money the rest of the year for Hong Kong. Hong Kong is not a new goal, so just means more can go to the mortgage later.

I like this idea because I can focus on cash a little more, and because HK kept getting pushed up so I Was unsure if I could come up with the money. Yesterday I looked at airfare to get a ballpark - it was much better than I expected. Though I can't buy airfare for another year, so will see!! Will save up far more as a cushion (whatever we don't need will go to the mortgage).

I was initially thinking maybe saving up $3k per year, for 3 years, for this trip. But, we have been talking more seriously about summer 2014, which was stressing me out! Less than 2 years away...

The kids will be spoiled. Grandma wants to take them both on a "once in a lifetime - anywhere in the world" trip when they turn 10. So, that covers 2013 and 2015. That leaves us 2014. We are going to visit a relative who isn't getting any younger and who will likely retire in the states. So, I think it is probably best to aim for 2014.

I may change my mind 100 more times in the next year, but don't be surprised if I abandon mortgage plans in the interim.

There is always more to the story. The plan to do 15-year mortgage isn't panning out so much (I really don't want to give up liquidity we have gotten this year - and there are only downward pressures on income and upward pressures on expenses - for forseeable future). Home value went up $50k+ over summer, so I am no longer scrambling to hang on to 20% equity. Rising interest rates and falling home values could alter my goals again.

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ETA: I updated the sidebar to reflect this change of goals. Total savings goal is the same, but just shifted some of it away from the mortgage. I also put down 2013 goals for future reference.

Jury Duty

October 15th, 2012 at 01:07 pm

Yikes, today is such a Monday!! Actually, I usually like Mondays because I am so refreshed. But today has been such the typical Monday. Good thing the day is FLYING by. {I did a couple of REALLY stupid things, so I am keeping all the "stupid" to myself for the rest of the day - trying to avoid all human contact, which isn't too hard}.

Dh got summoned for jury duty. It's the kind of thing I think he would enjoy. & I think maybe the first time he can actually participate. (Our county is easy to get out of if you are sole breadwinner or stay-home small kid watcher - which of course we could not afford to do jury duty so glad they are so lenient. I hear surrounding counties are not near as nice). So, anyway, no small kids at home, so jury duty it is.

I saw today that Mrs. Money Mustache had a recent jury duty experience and was bemoaning all the commuting and inconvenience. I suppose this burst my bubble a bit, but was talking about it with dh, and we decided it really shouldn't be that big of a deal. For one, we have always lived very close to downtown. There won't be any commuting (not any more than it is to get the kids to school, which can also be a real pain). So maybe erasing the whole commuting aspect will make it a lot easier. I personally don't think it will affect the kids or I very much - not planning to use any daycare or help. & I think dh will enjoy the change of scenery.

Will see!

The House Smells So Good

October 13th, 2012 at 07:33 am

I will say that this recipe wasn't the best ever (maybe we could use some practice), but I would make it again just for the smell. I came home last night and it smelled like an Indian household. YUM!

**ETA: Scratch that. Apparently dh forgot the salt the first time. He made it again and it was just divine. Who knew a little salt could make such a difference?**

Crockpot Chicken Makhani (Indian Butter Chicken)

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2008/12/crockpot-chicken-mak...

I am also wondering if this one will taste better reheated.

Don't get me wrong - it was good! It's just I am used to the real thing, so our version was a little lacking.

Reminds me, we also got a new Indian grocery store just down the street. OMG. We haven't checked it out yet - what are we waiting for? (They also have food "to go" there - will have to try it out some time this month).

& also, this is another crockpot recipe we have been using a lot:

http://crockpot365.blogspot.com/2009/10/indian-spiced-lentil...

The thing about Indian food is that it tends to be so complex and time-consuming to make. So I LOVE these crockpot recipes.

No Spending and Such

October 12th, 2012 at 12:50 pm

**Relieved to have such a low-spend week after such a spendy month and spendy vacation. Last month was just insane with the neverending last minute stuff.

According to the credit card online, only $100 was spent this week. Groceries. Phew! Won't need gas until next week. (No spending plans for the weekend). When I read about record high gas prices, I decided to leave the minivan parked. Dh has been driving it to school (less than 1 mile?). Soccer practice and all that was canceled, which helped a bit. It helps to be out of town and not driving anywhere when gas is at a record high locally.

Today I decided to grab a dollar-menu item from BK. I was thinking I was sick of leftovers (beef beef beef - dh has only cooked 2 meals since we got back?) and then BM told me at 7:40 that he had to get to school by 7:45 today. HA! That sealed the deal - went out for lunch. But $1 is barely a blip on the radar. In fact, I used toll quarters left over from vacation, which have already been accounted for as vacation expense.

**I am doing tax stuff for a friend. Well, trying. She said she would take me out to lunch Monday to thank me. I am "trying" because I don't have any information yet. This tax return will be down to the wire!

I generally do not do taxes for anyone, especially friends. A little more generous with family (especially my parents). But, anyway, this is a one-time thing (a death). & though it's kind of complex, I think I can whip it out in under an hour. So basically, not a biggie to me. {Plus, if it was more complex, she would have paid me for the help. It's just I offered to do it for free once I saw the what I was working with}.

**A neighbor is selling entertainment books for $15/each. Not a neighbor I know, but a friend of a friend.

MIL usually buys them for us, but we pretty much never use it. We just don't go out and consume that much (or we find better coupons elsewhere!!). We try to remember to look through the book when things come up.

So, anyway, not a terribly enticing offer to me (doubt we would ever save $15 using the enterainment book). But I asked MIL if she wanted any. Because I know, for one, she always buys for us. So, I bought her a few copies. If the other people use it, then what a deal! & I saved her some money on our copy.

Slow Cooked Beef

October 10th, 2012 at 09:35 am

Fiscal Doings:

**Finally redeemed old cell phone for $5 credit. Sprint had offered larger credit for accessories, but somehow we did the *big* cell phone changeover with no need for accessories. Dh was dragging his feet because wanted to pick out an accessory. I am glad he finally settled on the $5.

**Dh has some costumes listed on Craigslist. Also 2 old carseats. If all this sells, I might be willing to buy costumes this year, but sounds like the kids have a good DIY plan. More on that later, when decisions are made!

**Received my $420 Chase reward. After I cash it I will close that card. Saving that for our Pismo Beach vacation next month.


Food Doings:

Dinner last night was YUM!!

Sweet & Savory Slow-Cooked Beef

http://www.tasteofhome.com/Recipes/Sweet---Savory-Slow-Cooke...

Cost = $1.66 per serving.

Plus, we had a salad pre-mix. I usually make our own salads, but they were on sale, and the salad was very good too.

*This* is what I missed on vacation. Cheap and yummy.

Will have to remember this recipe for future potlucks - so very easy and feeds a lot!


Other Doings:

Tonight we have a big concert. Lumineers. Interesting find - dh has already seen them twice, but apparently they went *BIG* in the interim. Lucky to get tickets - very small venue - hoping it is not too crowded.

Fiscal Doings

October 8th, 2012 at 07:04 am

**I redeemed a $50 credit card reward to my ROTH.

**I received a $7.80 settlement from ATT. I expected it to be more. But I am pleased with the extra money.

I found the $7.80 here, probably about 4-5 months ago:

http://www.mymoneyblog.com/database-for-searching-class-acti...

I will have to go through it again - see if there is anything new.

**Today I will get my 10/1 paycheck. I will pay off the Chase reward card, fund the ROTH, and savings is a wash - I have about $3k for savings, but need $3k for vacation, dental, and medical bills.

**I did really well with the time change and fast pace of vacation. BUT, it all hit my like a ton of bricks yesterday. I pretty much slept *all day.* I feel asleep for 3-4 hours mid-day and all I kept dreaming was how tired and thirsty I was. Yeesh. Guess I was a little dehydrated. Slept another 9 hours last night, so feel back on schedule.

**There was some 100-degree heat while we were on vacation, but I suppose the nights were at least cool enough to offset that. It was actually comfortable when we got home. I worried when my folks came up to deliver a spare key and told me the house was only 78 degrees. I thought later that maybe someone had left the A/C on - that is just what it is automatically set to. So I fretted about that a bit, and was surprised that the A/C was *off* when we came home. Phew.

Anyway, we were running the AC heavy and hard right until we left (extremely unusual for this time of year) and so I am relieved to see more normal temps in the forecast. October is usually an easy no-heat/-no-air month. So, will hope for that. If we were home last week, we night have used some October A/C.

**I also just read that gas was at a record high. I *think* our cars are mostly gassed up and we don't have a big driving trip for two more weekends. Guess I won't be driving home for lunch much this month.

Back from Vacation

October 7th, 2012 at 11:24 am

**Vacation couldn't have been better! Only Snafu is that teenaged neighbor (cat sitter) lost the key to our house. Rolleyes So we learned to keep an extra copy a little closer to home. Lesson learned!

**Thumbs up to Dollar Rental car and United for *excellent* service. I Was so not looking forward to flying in this environment, but it actually went pretty well. I thought there would be fighting for more overhead space, etc., with the nickel and diming for baggage. On the flight there it was not bad at all. On the flight home it seemed a little more crowded in the overhead bins, but we got in the plane early. We left a few minutes early to get ahead of a big storm - phew!! We really don't fly *that much* - maybe once every year or two - but I don't remember the last time all our flights were so smooth. No delays, no issues whatsoever. Dollar was cheap, and I actually had a pretty bad experience with them once, but this time was an A+ experience.

**It ended up being fairly easy to pack light. I think all these digital toys have made travel so easy in that regard. I remember being impressed how lightly we were able to pack last we went to HAwaii, but I remember carrying a lot of books. This time, just the e-readers, which freed up a lot of room. We ended up with 2 carry-on suitcases, but one was pretty much just for the carseat I had bought. Next time we can travel *much* lighter. The kids are just so small - and we knew we would have laundry in our room so packed for only 3-4 days of light clothing.

**Weather was pretty good. We bought ponchos at WalMart for something like 90-cents each (you could pay 10-20 times as much in the parks). IT was generally not too hot or too wet all week. Oh, and there was absolutely no lines for anything. I had seen all of D-world in 2 days before - was kind of the same as before except we didn't even bother with a couple of the parks this time.

**I suppose we didn't need all those quarters, because the tolls all had attendants giving change. That had changed since 2009. We just used the quarters anyway - but I have a roll left. We easily spent $20 in tolls, but had accumulated so much other change - might have used some dollar bills early in the week when I Wasn't sure $20 would be enough.

**Reminds me, dh found a giant pile of change on one of the big rides at Universal. It was so bizarre - about $4.25 in loose change. He told me there were a couple of dollar coins in there so I didn't think much about it but had to laugh when he emptied his pockets end of night. HA!! It was just this HUGE pile of coins. Yeesh. It was like the biggest roller coaster there, so very odd.

**The only reason I am so happy is because the bed we had was really comfortable. Another A+. I usually never sleep well anywhere else - spoiled by our own ultra-comfortable mattress.

**Happy to be home. Today we just recover and adjust to the time change. I don't have much else to do. I'll do a post on the financial side later. I pretty much already did all the work, so don't have much to do today. We decided to order pizza in. Haven't gotten the mail yet - so see what surprises we get (still waiting for various medical bills).

I had estimated to make a $3k credit card payment next payday to cover September expenses + vacation. I ended up about $3100, but some of that is gas and groceries (which can use October budget for), so I think I will just pay the $3,000. How is that for some good estimating?? I also think I did a good balance of keeping track of the finances without thinking about it too much. More on my method, later.

**I generally do not like to travel much at all. I pondered on how flight home what it was that I so enjoyed about these last two trips. Dh and I had a GREAT trip to Hawaii in 2010 - about exactly 2 years ago. That is two "big" vacations, with flying and everything, that I *Really* enjoyed. {I am usually perfectly happy to do a road trip and to keep it much more simple - just more my style}.

I think there was a huge element of just packing light, and getting on and off the planes. I think electronics has a lot to do with it. That said, dh and I have not traveled much together, so I was pondering that maybe I like traveling with him more than otherwise. In recent years we have done a lot of family trips without each other. In the more distant past we would do more trips for business or with friends, without each other. I realized, we just haven't traveled a whole lot together. Without a big crowd of family. Traveling with a big crowd always sucks, of course. So hey, maybe I'd be willing to be a little more adventurous in the future, with a great travel companion like dh.

**I've decided after the last month or so that the extra $400 per *year* we are paying on our smart phones is DEFINITELY worth it. IT was invaluable in the hospital (which we seem to spend lots of time in, in recent years). On vacation, it was so great for communicating back home with the time change. I could have wasted to much time on the phone with the whole cat sitter snafu. But a few quick texts resolved that. I Called my mom to grovel a bit, to deliver a spare key 100 miles away. But, other than that... Thirdly, I do not do *work* on vacation. I can think of nothing less appealing than being constantly reachable. BUT, I did have to check on a couple of payroll things. The caveat is it depends who you give your info to. I did not give my personal e-mail to a rude manager who would call and bug me about the stupidest stuff on vacation. My employer/boss is polar opposite - he would never bug me about anything - there have been many times I said, "You should have called me!" because something or other came up. I did give one client and one co-worker my personal e-mail. IT was DIVINE. I had to crunch some numbers mid-week and it was so nice just to know when the info was ready for me. Co-worker e-mailed me a quick question - again - I didn't have to keep checking. So that was a perk I did not expect. I'd be likely to be grumpy that I had to take work on vacation with me - something I generally never do - but it just worked out well. IT just is what it is when you are involved with payroll - the payroll must go on.

**Anyway, usually I am just SO HAPPY to be home from a vacation. !! This time, I am kind of "meh." I guess that is the sign of a good vacation. Big Grin

**I can say the grand total for our trip was right about $3,000. That was absolutely everything, for 7 full days in Orlando, 4 people. I think we did good. Airfare and parks was $2200 of that.

Huh?

October 5th, 2012 at 04:43 am

I was just looking at my gas bill, and was so confused:



I thought, surely they couldn't make such a math error on the actual bill. Looks like they added the payment to the balance and subtracted the bill. Wha???

So I looked at the invoice, and it made a little more sense:



Glad I didn't have to sit on the phone straightening that out.

We turn down our hot water heater in the summer. But since it's still 100 degrees here, I guess it will be kept low a while. Summer started out pretty mild, like last year. But yeesh. I had wanted to turn off the AC and irrigation and all that while we are on vacation. Hadn't really thought about it since it is *October.* But, will have to leave it all on - it's been really hot.

Thus, with September and October so exceptionally hot, our balance is probably more negative than usual. Will use up that balance in the winter months when we turn on the gas heat, turn up the hot water, etc.