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Archive for January, 2013

Skillet Chicken Dijon A+

January 31st, 2013 at 08:08 pm

Spondulicks/Paulette posted some recipes that looked tasty. I printed them out and put them with our recipes but never said anything to dh. I would have said, "These look good, we should try some time." But he interpreted as, "I want you to make these now."

So, I came home to skillet chicken dijon. YUM!.

I had to share because though my dh is a very skilled cook (& I am not half bad), my 7yo exclaimed, "This chicken is so juicy!" HE later exclaimed, "This is so well done!" Meaning, done well.

So, thanks Paulette - the 7yo approves. We all thought it was tasty. Reminds me we should probably make our citrus chicken - has been a while. Another juicy chicken recipe.

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Today was deadline day and I just squeaked by. 1099s and W-2s are done for all my clients. Don't have the tax forms/software updates to do any tax returns. But no matter since I have the weekend off.

I finished the kids' returns a couple of weeks ago - may be able to file tomorrow. They had some capital gains so I always have to file when they sell investments. I am hoping we get our software updated tomorrow so I can file those and be done.

Last I looked my tax due dropped by $300 and I have *no idea why.* I think the software had just assumed tax rates (pre-12/31), which seemed to be about spot on. So, I am not quite sure what changed. But can't remember if I mentioned, looks like we will only owe $600 instead of $900. Woohoo. {I did change my withholding to more breakeven, but it's hard to say. We got some big refunds for 2010 with all the medical bills. But I don't want to potentially owe more than $1k next year with lower mortgage interest, less medical deductions, and such. Deductions can be somewhat unpredictable. I can always pre-pay some property taxes or make a tax donation though to help manage less deductions the next couple of years. But I also think it is good to get used to more withholding}.

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I can relate with Thrifty Ray. Dh really wanted to go away for a weekend, but this week has been brutal. I spent the evening cleaning house and grumbling under my breath a bit. I will need a vacation after this week. Cleaning house because in-laws will be staying with the kids here. Which has taken most the fun out of it for me. I don't generally clean house before we vacation, otherwise.

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We haven't spent enough money this month apparently. Taking cat to vet tomorrow - she has been sick. Was going to wait until next week. She has been messing all over the house which also means many hours cleaning up. Considering I usually don't spend much time cleaning and I HATE cleaning, has made me grumpy.

But, the weather looks to be GORGEOUS this weekend. Holing up inside and being totally lazy will probably be supplemented with some fresh air/sun/hiking, after all.

I have been on a "good weather" vacation streak FOR SURE!!

Life is Speeding Along

January 29th, 2013 at 12:24 pm

I can't believe January is almost over. Total insanity!!

**Today I tackled the chore of closing an old Ally account. I believe I was keeping it because it was a money market account with checks, but I probably haven't written a check from it in several years. Easier just to close it and be done. I have another Ally account, so this is just some housekeeping and consolidation/simplifying.

I unfortunately need *two* savings accounts at each of my credit unions. That is the one annoying thing about CUs. BUT, the minimum for both is like $1/no fees ever. So, this only leaves me one for-profit bank to keep an eye on with minimums and fees and such. Not that I don't have to read all the CU Fine print - but I am definitely more lax with the CUs.

Anyway, because I started with a MM Ally account and then eventually moved most of it to another type account, I had two savings accounts with each financial institution I bank with. But as of today, that is no more. Phew!

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**Blockbuster is closing their local store. Dh is very bummed about that. I wonder if this means we can just go 100% to netflix. {We get several benefits with BB having been grandfathered forever ago, but most those benefits have to do with being able to pick up videos and games in store, any time. Very convenient. We just do this + Netflix streaming}. I know before that Netflix charged more for Blu Rays, which was a deal breaker. But, I think it will be cheaper and most our BB perks are to vanish in the next month or so.

Well, will have to discuss with dh. Plus, we picked up a pile of dirt cheap movies last time another store closed and they were selling off inventory at our location. So, this will be a good money-making opportunity if is like last time (buy dirt cheap to sell on Amazon).

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**That reminds me, will have to update my snowflake page for this month. Of note, got a $16-off coupon for our grocery store (new rewards program) and received $68 credit from CU Visa (1% of 2012 purchase).

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**My Money Blog and Mr. Money Mustache both had good posts today (or last night?). I am far too lazy to link, but see the links on my sidebar to their respective blogs...

MMB was about indexes beating hedge funds and MMM was just the usual.

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**SO, my 9yo has never had a security blanket, but he is in love with his sleeping bag. We were watching a TV show the other night where this person was like wearing a sleeping bag? Dh and I both look at each other and were like, "Um, is she wearing a sleeping bag!?!" We both immediately thought of BM.

Poler sells one of these beauties (called a Napsack). It is only $130. Wink The child size is $69, but would maybe fit my eldest for about 5 minutes. IF that. Today I saw another type for $50 on Amazon - bigger kids sizes.

The napsack is basically a sleeping bag with arm holes (that zip up), a hood for your head, and a drawstring for the bottom. We considered getting the $69 version as I don't think drawstringing the bottom really means much if you just want to wear it around the house. The other version was like a giant onesie - LOL. It needs one improvement - zippered feet - then maybe I would be sold. $50 kid sized on Amazon. Is totally fine around the house, so might get, but doesn't make a lot of sense to walk around outside while camping and get mud/dirt on the bottom of your "sleeping bag."

The kids both need new sleeping bags, so I'd consider the $130 ones. BUT, BM is hard on his stuff, so I don't know.

I hope these take off, because I want more choices. Big Grin But, it is so "OMG MADE for my son" that we will probably just buy one. His birthday is in July - it will not be a useful post-annual-camping trip or summer gift. We don't buy the kids much, so I don't mind a splurge.

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If you are easily offended you should sign off now. BUT OMG - dh was showing me this video and it is hilarious. (Lots of F Bombs, and other assorted words).

I can't resist sharing it because it is a pro thrift shop/frugal song. But you have been forewarned:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QK8mJJJvaes

As vulgar as this song is, they have a really beautiful pro-gay song too. I think it is called "Same Love." These two videos/songs are kind of polar opposite - but both rooted in some basic common sense, which is why my dh was really digging them.

Work/Vacation

January 26th, 2013 at 09:02 am

**Got the kids' passports submitted, finally. A VERY painful process... Rolleyes

As of right now, LM is no longer going on the trip. Will see...

We saw a Ted Talk about War Horse last night (& also saw it mentioned in the blogs). I will send the link to MIL if they have time for a show while in London.

Overall, they have a timeshare place (of course), are using miles for flight, and I believe a lot of the museums there are free. So, is not near as expensive as it sounds, that is for sure. MIL did not say it had to be frugal, but I think she is pleased with the choice. & I am sure there will be PLENTY to spend money on.

**Work/Vacation - Trying to do both**

**Today we see Thrilling Adventure Hour in San Francisco. Any other time we may have made a weekend of it, but I will probably work all day today and tomorrow. I told dh we could go, if we drive straight there and back. But we may have a quick dinner there, just due to the timing. Nothing fancy. Maybe even Taco Bell. I was not sure how this weekend would pan out - and it did not pan out good. Will try to work from home tomorrow. At least I feel it is feasible to meet all my deadlines, even taking time out for several hours today.

**Next weekend is historically "carpet cleaning" for our office. Post 1/31 deadlines, but pre-tax appointments. SO, I told dh we could go away for his birthday, but had to be next weekend. (His birthday was last weekend).

He never made the arrangements, until I told him nevermind, I would figure it out while at work Saturday. At which point he decided to get it done. Glad he did, because sounds like he was on the phone a while. There was nothing anywhere along the coast on such short notice, and so all they had was Napa. I was pushing something a little closer to the Bay Area - just a quiet hotel to unwind all weekend - if we couldn't be near the beach then I didn't care if it was down the street from our house honestly! BUT, Napa came up as the only vacancy. Why Napa? Lord knows. So, we will stay at the same place we stayed last time. It was REALLY NICE. We will stay put and not go anywhere, for sure. That is what we should have done last time (not big wine drinkers). The timeshare stay is free - we will probably order in pizza. Or maybe get some groceries if we stay in - is a nice condo. Reminds we should just grab a take and bake pizza when we leave - even cheaper - our grocery store pizzas are A+. I told dh we could go away, but didn't want to spend money. Especially with the show tickets we bought for today.

I am hoping after next weekend to feel VERY refreshed to tackle the rest of tax season. It won't be May until I can get another weekend off.

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**My dad has offered to give us one of his older keyboards (music). We were thinking of buying one for LM, so this works nice. I believe I will buy a stand for it (will look for something used). I also have some Amazon credit I can use for that. It has all the midi sounds and yadda yadda. We already have a piano. But I am sure we will eventually get a sound studio of sorts with LM's musical passions.

I have a tuner that I have had since sometime in my teenaged/childhood years. It is the one we use in our main living area for stereo/MP3 players and such. The speakers too (they are awesome). So, dh is salivating at moving that old tuner with the keyboard and buying a new tuner. He found one for $250. I don't know when he is going to buy it - not sure when we will pick up the keyboard.

Dh has an office that is mostly unused. It is a place to hoard his junk. I am thrilled he seems motivated to go through some of the junk, to turn the room into a music room. Big Grin {I went into major decluttering mode while pregnant, between nesting and being displaced from my office - and with my ebook and MP3 player - I don't really own a lot of stuff any more. Mostly "electronic/doesn't take up space" stuff}. Dh has always been a movie and music collector - always will be. Electronic quality just isn't good enough for him. I have no doubt he has tons of junk he could get rid of though. Like the boxes in his office that haven't been opened. Fair enough - all his blu rays and CDs he actually uses on a regular basis. But I think there is some "haven't looked at it in 10 years" stuff to go through...

He was using his office for editing when the kids were younger, but now does that all downstairs at night or while the kids are at school. He's got some really old music equipment, and a bunch of video game systems in there. We are also storing are "on the fritz" TV in there while we decide what to do with it - but it would fit in our giant closet.

My old desk (solid oak - very nice) is in there unused. I think we could probably give it to LM.

I'd like to eventually buy a drum set for the music room. Dh already has the guitars and amps - we could be quite a band. We are pretty passionate about music - but has been really on the back burner for us lately. But LM in particular is very musical, so we are excited for this music room project. (& who knows, maybe my dad will be in a big drum upgrade mood at some point - I should ask him about that... Overall, my dad is a "keep it forever" type, so won't hold my breath. This keyboard is totally ancient that he is "letting us borrow.")

Music room - was always sort of the plan. Just hadn't got to that yet. But I think before we weren't sure exactly *where.* So far we are starting with a $250 tuner investment, and using what we have and hand-me-downs. This is always how we approach things. Eventually may be a full sound studio, but since I would like to stay out of debt, it will start small and improve over time.

Saving $ & Advertisements

January 22nd, 2013 at 07:04 pm

Advertisements often amuse me. The latest is flyer someone left on our door. I have often mentioned most people assume our mortgage is like twice what it is - stuff like that. To be fair, the foreclosure rate is sky high in our neighborhood.

**You may have enough equity now to refinance! Home values are skyrocketing!

**Get rid of that expensive loan with mortgage insurance

{Do most people really have mortgage insurance these days?}

**The payment on a $400,000 loan at 5.5% is $2,271 per month, whereas the payment would be lowered to $1,796 at a rate of 3.5% -- a savings of $475 per month!!!

*choke choke* That's one hell of a mortgage! I think everyone around here with that kind of mortgage, has long ago lost their home to foreclosure. Very literally.

Well, at least didn't say anything about cash out refinance. If home values keep going up, those offers will come too...

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**We've got a washer problem. Clothes washer is leaking water (inside). We tried to narrow it down but it only leaks water when both the cold and the hot water is on. ?? We gathered it was good it did not leak when the water was turned off, but had no luck narrowing it down to one hose or the other.

I e-mailed neighbor handyman but he did not respond, so tomorrow dh will call someone I found on yelp. He was going to call Sears. I said, "Are you crazy? Let me talk to neighbor." Will still save a few bucks by not calling Sears. {I've had really good luck with yelp lately so am willing to risk it - maybe in the past we just went with the big guys - plus I haven't heard much good about Sears customer service lately - so they are far lower on my list these days than they were in the past. Last time we probably called them because was under warranty}.

Dh also told me we needed to spend about $70 to replace our phones. Rolleyes Landlines. I went on a tirade about our disposable society. Totally ridiculous - the batteries are dying. ANYWAY, dh is as cheap as they come, so I didn't expect him to tell me we had no choice unless we had no choice. So today he tells me he found batteries for $8. Seriously!?! I did not expect that in the least. Dh is slipping... & phew that not everything is so entirely disposable in this day and age. It's easy to believe and assume with how things are made these days. (We've got a wireless phone with 3 handsets which is very handy for the layout of our home. So we wanted to get something comparable if we replaced. Why it was $70... I don't think we have had our current set more than 5 years).

Mr. Money Mustache Bares All

January 21st, 2013 at 11:56 am

Mr. Money Mustache bared all - his spending for the past 3 years.

He spent about $24,000 last year (Family of 3 with a home in Colorado). Cutting all the fat could have easily lived on $14,000.

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/01/21/exposed-the-mmm-fa...

I can relate to Mr. MM. *Obviously* we don't live anywhere near this lean. On a scale of 1 - 10, MMM is maybe a 10. (Or an 11?) No doubt about it!! I am nowhere near a 10. BUT, I can still totally relate. I am used to people telling me that our lifestyle is impossible on my income. We are clearly on a continuum where we spend less money every single year. We will probably never live as extreme as MMM, but are generally headed in the same direction.

I share because anyone can learn from MMM and he gives us all a direction to strive for. Even if we only want to be 4, 5 or 6 on this scale. You don't have to be a 10 to see the benefits.

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Comparative notes on MMM's spending reveal:

Mortgage - we have a mortgage but no intention to keep one forever. Right now our mortgage runs us about $7,500 per year in mortgage interest. Not there yet, but eventually we will be down to $0.

**Plus, regionally, we have *always* kept our housing costs VERY low. Very key for living well while spending less.**

Property Taxes - As long as we don't buy up over time (lord knows we have no plans for that!), property taxes are actually pretty inexpensive in California. I Can compete with MMM here. In fact, the property taxes on our home are the same as they were on our last condo in more expensive city. (Value of both homes was the same, thought current home is far more luxurious). So basically, we have never "bought up" our property taxes, and no plans to in the future.

Food and Dining We are very much in line with MMM. I'd say we eat quite well, but eat the bulk of our meals at home. This was a habit we solidifed when my spouse was first laid off from his job (I was first pregnant). This has been REALLY key in living on a lower income. I have always been surprised how much we could stretch our budget by eating at home. We improve with time. We are always learning and getting more efficient. I expect the tides to turn at some point because I have 2 extremely high-metabolismed boys. Teenage years might be fun! But in the interim, we have improved every single year, for about a decade. Even adding two mouths to feed. We are just much more efficient than when we ever fed just us. (We used to probably eat out most the time - we worked long hours and both had a lot of meals provided by employers).

Healthcare - Healthcare is a financial beast for us. There is no comparison, but with our commitment to high quality healthcare and TRULY getting our money's worth the past few years, I don't have a lot of issue with this. We may always work more for good healthcare. & that is fine. We also just do not have the assets for a super high deductible plan. MMM and us live on two different planets when it comes to this area. {My spouse had brain surgery "out of nowhere" a couple of years back - so why we will always live on another planet - not sure my spouse could get any cheap insurance ever again, with the pre-existing}.

We could also maybe move to another state to lower our insurance premiums, but it's not quite that simple. Wages would also likely be lower. & we are fairly committed to staying put and being close to family. I will pay anything to stay close to my family. It's a deal breaker for us. For that, we will never be a 10, and I don't think everyone has to be a 10. I think my whole approach is to get all our other costs down so, "who cares about the beast? Will deal..."

Auto Our auto habits are somewhat in line with MMM. Buy inexpensive, used, fuel efficient vehicles in cash. We don't have a lot of auto expenses.

We are not DIY in this area, but having a trusted mechanic has always saved us a fortune. It's the next best thing when you can't/won't do it all yourself. For 2012, our spending was about the same as MMM, for example.

Gas - we are guilty on the gas. I have a commute and we *love* to travel by car. BUT, we don't have two commutes, and I could certainly see our gas usage going down considerably when I retire. I *get* it.

Auto insurance - oh, and auto insurance rates are totally insane in our city. That will be another fun one when it comes to teenaged boys! Not much we can do here - we already have inexpensive cars, no collision coverage on the old one, and "perfect" driving records and good credit scores. We've got the best rates we can get in this zip code.

Utilities MMM is good. His level of utility spending is about equal to the flat fee we get from our city and county for water/sewer/storm drainage. NOT going to happen for us. We keep our gas and electricity usage very low though. I know we are well below average. Having an energy efficient home is crucial. Having a fairly large home, people always assume our bills are insane. People have asked me if my gas bill is $300+ in winter months. We don't even pay that much for the WHOLE YEAR! We pay less utilities in our current home than we did in our last condo. The condo was not energy efficient in the least, though half the size with shared walls. Appearances can deceive. I know the questions to ask when we buy our next home.

cell and internet We pay large sums for these luxuries these days. This is not forever. We are seriously considering Ting for cell service eventually and internet offerings seem to improve with time. Waiting for more competition and options. My dh is always telling me about this or that - just waiting for when it is right for us. Just to say, just because I will pay a premium for something now doesn't mean I expect to pay it forever - we are always re-evaluating.

Home - Insurance and renovations. Insurance is a little pricer here, but not by a lot.

I would argue the love of the DIY could be a rather expensive hobby (versus always being painted as simply better and cheaper). We don't spend a lot on home maintenance. Our strategy had been to buy a new home that would not need much the first decade or so of home ownership. Likewise, our first home and our next home will be a condo. LOW maintenance. There are certainly other strategies if you don't love going to Home Depot all the time. Wink

Speaking of DIY, clearly we do the tax and financial DIY (another area where people spend a LOT of money). MMM is a jack of all trades. We are not, but we have plenty of major cost-saving skills. My dh is very good with the IT/computer stuff. I am musical and financial and tax savvy. Can always barter tax skills, computer skills, piano lessons, etc. I find our skills quite useful.

Travel - We don't spend much more on travel. I know MMM is a 10, but we do *plenty* without spending much money. Our vacation spending is comparable.

Other/Misc - Our spending is also pretty comparable. We are not big on the retail.

There are some glaring differences in our spending habits:

Insurance - MMM does not spend money on disability or life insurance. Understandable - I also will not bother when I reach his level of net worth.

Luxuries - I am willing to spend money on a few luxuries that I probably would not bother with as much if I were not working full-time. My luxuries are my $15 gym membership and $80/month to never have to do anything with the yard. (I mentioned we will eventually retire to a condo, to eliminate all yard concerns and costs). A gym membership would not matter so much if I could work out *any time.* I like to use for the dark and cold/hot hours. Is obviously a very small splurge. I don't see my dh giving up his internet and cell phone, BUT, like I said we are always keeping our ears open for alternatives. We kind of allow ourseleves a couple of regular luxuries here and there. OF course, do did MMM with some of his other costs.

Other Notes:

--MM probably easily pays no income taxes. We are in a similar boat. We don't pay a lot of income taxes with the decision to live on one income. But I do pay a fair amount of payroll taxes, working. (Which is not *all bad* as provides social insurance like state disability for me and social security for the both of us). But, yes, the "no income tax" thing is very relateable when you are willing to raise a family on one income.

--Debt - no debt payments were mentioned aside from mortgage - neither of our budgets have other debt payments.

--Daycare - MMM's kid goes to public school, of course. Public school + parents at home means little need for childcare. We are fairly committed to a public school education, not having MMM's financial resources.

So, there you have it. I think no matter where we all are on our financial journey, there is something to be learned. My approach is very "one thing at a time" but I feel like there is certainly always room for improvement in our spending. That is what I am always striving for and why I am here. The more efficient I am, the more I can do with my money. & that feeling is AWESOME.

P.S. My dad is a LOT like MMM, so where I got a lot of frugal habits. Funny enough, he would never hire anyone to do *anything,* and I do not think that is always a good thing. Thus, I am a lot more laid back about paying people to do things "right" once in a while. But I am sure my parents easily survived on $15k last year and spent another $10k on hobbies and travel - something like that. It doesn't strike me as weird or impossible. They paid off their home a long time ago and barely put any mileage on their cars. Besides food and utilities, what else do they really need? Apparently not much.

How To Track Savings Subaccounts

January 20th, 2013 at 08:00 am

Petunia asked me some questions about my savings methods, and I thought she might find my method useful.

I found this idea on a personal finance blog many moons ago. I don't remember what blog. I would much prefer to link the clear and concise instructions I read many years ago. Big Grin But I will try my best.

One banking benefit that I really don't give a flip about is subaccounts. My spreadsheet method is an alternative to relying on bank functionality.

I suppose I do it this way is so that I can completely divorce *where* my money is from *what* it is. My banking strategy is basically to find the consistently highest interest rates with the least hassle and fees. My savings strategy is to save x for a and to save y for b. Combining the two strategies gives me a headache. Using a spreadsheet just keeps it separate.

At current I basically have 3 savings accounts. I always keep a token amount in my old account when I find a better interest rate and move to a new account. So I will in general always have two online savings accounts. I will close the lowest performing account when I find a better interest rate elsewhere, so there is always generally two accounts. I also have a savings account at my primary credit union, linked to my checking account. I always keep about $1,000 in there. Give or take, it doesn't have to be exact. (My checking account is little more than a conduit, I always run it to $0. The $1,000 account means I don't literally only have $0 at my disposal. You could call it a baby emergency fund. The interest rate sucks, but I have instant access to it. Though frankly, the primary reason I have/use the account is so that I don't transfer money back and forth to other accounts very frequently. You will see what I mean...).

FIRST, you do not need any fancy software to track subaccounts. I use openoffice. You can download it for free. (It is virtually identical to Excel - which just cost a LOT more). Or if you have any other spreadsheet software at your disposal...

I will start with the main sheet and then drill down:



My sub-accounts are: Short-term cash, mid-term cash, medical fund, and cash Efund. (Your subaccounts can be anything and everything. Vacation Funds, down payment funds, debt payoff funds, car replacement funds, however you organize things).

The totals for the subaccounts are being pulled from other spreadsheets. I have one "sheet" for each subaccount.

This first sheet reconciles the total in each subaccount with the grand total of all my savings accounts. **I just manually enter the bank balances at the end of the month.** I check that it is balanced about once every month (after the end of the month). If the difference between both totals is -zero-, then there is success!!

**You do not have to limit yourself to cash. If you have bonds, mutual funds, stocks, whatever, same method can be used.**

Okay, now for the subaccounts.

Let's start with an easy one:



CASH EFUND. This balance has been $5k *forever.* I don't have to do much with this.

My medical savings is the same kind of thing.

The ones I update regularly are the short-term and the mid-term, as I save a set amount monthly towards these savings accounts:





As I mentioned before, the totals just automatically flow through to my first subaccount Total sheet.

I generally enter the income and the outflow to these subaccounts as I make the transfers or payments. Since I generally charge everything, I usually do all this ahead of time before I actually need the money or do the actual transfers. BUT this should still work fine for a more cash method. You don't want to make 10 transfers every month from your bank account (there are legal limits and penalties for that kind of thing!). But, the money I transfer every month generally serves as a buffer until I finalize it all at the end of the month. If I have plenty of money in my checking account I might do my regular "to savings transfers" at the beginning of the month, and figure out what I need to transfer back, later. BUT, if not, I just leave it all to figure at the end of the month. Many months the two figures (to savings/from savings) are kind of a wash. I most often do just one transfer a month, and I will explain that at the end.

**I do think using an electronic check register, like Quicken, is essential with the way I do things. I often just move things around so that my checking balance is always positive. This is far more complicated to do with pen and paper. In a really spendy month I can easily rejigger in Quicken - change a payment date here and there.**

Anyway, so I jot it all down as the info becomes available, but put an "x" next to each transaction when I literally record it in Quicken (or you could do the same when you record it into whatever kind of check register you use - paper or electronic). When I record it in Quicken is not necessarily when transfers are made. This just means, I didn't forget anything in my check register. If everything has an "x", everything will easily reconcile, UNLESS I messed up a spreadsheet formula. Which is usually what throws me off once in a blue moon.

Okay, so now that you see the nitty gritty details for each account, let's go back to the summary.



Got it?

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Two more notes:

This is what my $1,000 linked savings account (with crappy interest) generally looks like:



I am not a stickler on the $1,000. It's just if the amount starts to get to be more than $1,000 at the end of every single month, then I know I have some money to transfer to my higher interest savings. Likewise, if the account balance is $5,000, but I know I have $4,000 in bills coming up - I just leave the $5,000 in there.

Finally...

** I do not do 10+ transfers per month to/from my savings accounts!**

I generally do one transfer per month.

What I do is add up all the money I need to transfer back out of savings (adding up all the little things in my spreadsheets), and put the total in my Quicken register (check register). That could be one total for 10 transactions.

In this example I needed to transfer $1,665 for several different insurances and expenses. This my checking account register:



It's really this simple. I need to transfer $1900 to savings, but I need to pull out $1,665 for expenses. SO, the net is $235.

What I actually do is just transfer $235 to savings. The End!

{Looking at the savings register above, before this last check register, you will note I did just *one* 12/30 transfer for a heck of a lot of transactions. There were like 8 transactions - all I did was transfer $570 to savings at the end of the month}.

**Quicken is a little finicky about this. What I do is delete all savings transfers when they download, and hit the "reconcile" button. I find if I do it this way, and manually reconcile the savings transfers, it works beautifully. If you try to finalize the reconciliation automatically, during the download process - which is quite easy to do by accident - then things can get messy. & it won't let you go back and mark off the savings transfers to make it balance. But after a while you know better NOT to do that. You will learn quickly once you figure out how to make it work. The trick is to choose to reconcile *before* closing off the "accept/match transactions" screen.**

So there you have it. What appears to be a little bit complicated actually just makes my life VERY simple.

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For the spreadsheet uneducated, I found this. I am sure there are also lots of useful internet and library resources. My spreadsheets that I have shared are VERY basic.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3kNEv3s8TuA

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qeMSV9T1PoI

I also use spreadsheets to track our net worth, and to track all things financial. ALSO is really great for loan amortizations. Etc., etc.

(Tax) Knowledge is Power

January 19th, 2013 at 01:34 pm

I am quite sure the average person is quite ignorant about all the taxes they pay.

I know I personally have a very strong edge with all my tax knowledge (income tax, payroll tax, etc.).

BUT, I don't always pay attention to every tax I pay. Some of the smaller stuff is easy to ignore.

SO, while I am tracking our sales tax this year and monitoring that I am also starting to look at all the taxes that we pay.

So, I have more tax observations, and I found a simple way to save some taxes!

**We share cell phone service with my parents, who live in another city. While looking at our cell taxes, I found that our city has some of the highest cell phone taxes in the region. Which is not to say there is much we can do, because my parents live in one of the most expensive cities in the world. Odds are, their tax is even higher.

So I looked it up. Best I can tell, our cell phone tax rate is 7%. I have *no idea* how it is figured, since it comes out to about 3% of our total cell charges. BUT I found that San Jose has a cell phone tax rate of 5%.

Worth a shot, so I changed the mailing address to my folks' address. Totally on the up and up as our usage runs very 50/50. It's a toss up which city the taxes should be billed too. We have apparently been paying more tax than we need to, for several years. {I initially did not want to change it all over to their name, but realized that all I had to do was change the billing address. Easy peasy! Will see if this makes a difference...}.

**I am also seeing another layer of it being impossible to compare apples to apples sometimes when discussing these things online.**

Other utility billing observations:

**Our landline is also subject to the 7% tax, but it cost pennies. In fact, all of our landline taxes (lots of Federal taxes) are negated out because they run about $2 per month, and we get a $2 credit per month for getting online bills. So, I'll consider it a "no tax."

**Our internet is subject to -0- taxes. No fees. No taxes. I found this one surprising. I didn't know "high speed internet" was tax-free.

Clearly it's in how they bill it. I am sure they could lower the "bill" and add some fees. This is one of our higher utility bills. All the fees are obviously included in the rate. But still, I like the no tax part!

**Water/City Charges. $0 Tax.

I appreciate this because their charges are kind of insane and completely out of our control. For reference, the metered water portion of our bill was $3 last month. The rest is a flat fee, and we pay a TON for water in this city. Glad I don't have to pay taxes on top of fees I can't control at all.

**County Sewer Charges

It's a flat fee and I don't have the bill handy. I don't think the taxes really matter - they will charge what they charge and I have no control over it. But I will look it up later.

**Gas and electric is interesting. We use the regional private PG&E for gas and the local city utility for electric. The general impression is that our electric is dirt cheap because of this. Hard to say (I'd have to compare rates), but the city charges us a heck of a lot of FEES. I think our lower electric bill is mostly due to the energy efficiency of our home. As most people even locally guess we pay about 3 times what we do in winter, etc. {My parents seem to think they'd have a much lower bill here than their PG&E Electric, but I am not so sure - excepting a more modern and energy efficient home}.

PG&E GAS: 7.5% utility tax. Basically no charges and fees. We barely use any gas and so the tax is negligible. We literally pay on average $20/month. We have gas heat (furnace, hot water, gas stove, etc.).

City Electric: 7.5% utility tax. Plus this and that fee. They literally add $18/month just plain flat fees, to our bill. Our last bill (December) was $55 for electricity usage and $25 for fees and taxes. Lovely!!

So though I always kind of feel like our electricity conservation isn't as stellar as our gas conservation, I suppose that really isn't quite fair. Electric costs more anyway, and the fees and the taxes add up. This utility tax is calculated based on all the usage AND the fees. So, double ouch.

So today I have far more knowledge than I had yesterday. & I might have even saved a couple of bucks in the process.

Sales Tax Update

January 18th, 2013 at 06:57 am



**Tracking sales tax, just to see how much we pay, on average.**

Observations:

**Groceries seem largely non-taxed. We pay taxes on cat food and cat litter and such. Those are the only things I noted being taxed, above (Groceries).

**I couldn't make heads or tales of my Target receipts, until I JUST figured out that the total "after 5% red card discount" was being taxed. GOT IT! It finally makes sense. I just had to say it out loud, and I finally figured it out. So, the RedCard is earning me more snowflakes than I really realized. I hadn't thought about also saving on sales tax for everything I buy. Woohoo!

At Target, we paid taxes on wine and socks.

**I never shared that when I went to grab Calendars at Michaels that the calendars were marked at $2 (full price). Which is where I always buy my calendars because they are so cheap (though nice). Anyway, I had a 20% off coupon, I believe. They rang up something like 70%-off and the cashier thought it was "cute" that I had a coupon. I don't know if I would have bothered to seek out a coupon if I knew they were basically 60-cents each. BUT, since I had the coupon, OF COURSE I was going to use it.

It was also the first smart phone coupon I have ever redeemed. Probably made it extra cute. LOL. "The lady with the fancy phone wants her 24 cents discount." Yes I do - I got to pay for this fancy phone! Big Grin **I did thoroughly enjoy saving ink and paper.**

**Oh - I asked dh to take care of the passport photos for me. At home. You can do that at home. (Is that awesome or what?) He told me it seemed complex, we didn't have the best printer or paper, yadda yadda yadda. I told him, "Whatever." Life has been so crazy this month. I really meant, "Whatever. Whatever works for you. Lord knows *I* do not have the time to figure this out, and I understand you are busy too." So he got the passport photos and said, "OMG what a ripoff!" Yes dh - I Was WELL AWARE. I guess what I should have said, "Whatever, but you know it will be like $20 to get them done..." Because if I had said that, he would have done that at home. Lesson learned!

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Dh just made the wise observation that this is one reason eating at home is so much cheaper. Our food is largely non-taxed. So true! This is especially true if you live in a a higher-tax state. I think 8% sales tax is on the high side, so maybe we notice more benefits eating home more than if we paid no sales tax on eating out. Paying a 8% premium on all your food, plus tips, sure adds up!

Small Victories & Thoughts on Goals

January 17th, 2013 at 12:37 pm

**I saw a press release this week that our property taxes would go down. Some bonds were refinanced to lower interest rates (terms not extended). NOW we are talking. It's nice to get people in office who know what they are doing, and who look at reasonable ways to cut expenses. (Especially after the fiscal mess our school district has made. Stuff like this is the complete polar opposite of stupid/horrible fiscal decisions of years past).

There is hope...

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What I have learned this week is that I am a horrible goal setter. LOL.

But I wanted to share in case the typical goal setting model just did not work for you.

I was thinking about talking about this anyway, in response to wino's post. But then Dave Ramsey was going on and on about the same thing, so I took this as a sign to write it down. !!

Goals:

--They have to be specific and measurable, and attainable. SO agreed!

--They need a time limit. They do?

--If you DON'T write them down they will never happen. Huh??

I was flashing back to when my last employer made us set these arbitrary "5 goals per year" and I hated those stupid things with a passion. IT was such a pointless exercise. & I Was thankful to be moving and quitting before I ever had to achieve those goals. Wink So thinking about it today, it's all coming back to me, but I Am realizing fully why I hated the exercise.

I am a VERY goal oriented person, so I figured I would share my goal methods for anyone who has found all of the above to be useless.

#1 - Unless there is a specific reason or advantage to having a time limit, I do not set time limits on my goals. I think there are few goals in my life that I have set a time limit on. In general, if I put my mind to do something, I do it. (This is probably also why I have never written down a goal, aside for my SA blog).

Just as an example, our home buying goal was:

"Buy a home when we have 20% and when it makes sense."

NOT:

"Buy a home in 5 years."

I think because my personality is so in the middle with the grey areas. I don't like "black and white" stuff. Doesn't account for all of life's little variables. How the heck am I supposed to know when in the long-term future when it makes the most sense to buy a house? I do know I won't even bother looking at *any* houses until I have 20% down. THEN we move on to the next step.

One thing I have ALWAYS been a stickler for in my goal setting, is small, manageable pieces. Successes are layered one on top of each other. I think this is why I like to set annual goals. I don't particularly set more long-term goals (that are very rigid and have a time limit) UNLESS I have a compelling reason to. I totally understand goals with time limits because they have to have time limits to work or make sense. But, other than that, I work better with the smaller pieces - one at a time. One year at a time. & is probably how I tend to break down bigger goals, anyway.

Some things I will likely never do: Resolve to lose weight, be the best mom and wife ever, to be high-achieveing at work, and to save half my income. All at once. HA!! I will probably also never move, get married, start a new job, and have a child, in the same year. All of the above would make my head explode. {But doing them one at a time - and layering successes and good habits on top of each other? - that works!}

One final note. I think the other reason I am not a big fan of overly long goals and time limits, is that I am very intuitive. The result is that dh and I have often made some seemingly rash decisions, based on our intuition. We are always moving in a certain direction, but the specifics always come to us at the last minute. & we go with it, because it has always served us well to just go with it. I think because we are so deliberate that people often assume we are just control freaks who plan everything into eternity. The truth is we have really often flown by the seat of our pants. But, that's not quite the same when you thought ahead and made up several back up plans.

I kind of feel this way about college. I really have no idea what college will look like for our kids, and wouldn't waste the ernergy trying to figure it all out, 8 years before my eldest is college age. BUT, I have thought about it enough, know what our options are, always talking to people with kids currently in their college for their take, etc. I think I have a plan A, B, C, D, and E on the financial side. So yeah - this is the perfect example. We are *prepared* though any and all of the specifics are about as clear as mud to us in this stage of the game. I always cringe when someone with a 1-year-old tells me how they got college figured out for their child. Down to every last detail. Where they will go to school, who pays for what, what kind of job their kids can get 20 years in the future and if it will work with their school schedule. "Yeah, good luck with that." Wink I think this is how most parents think. It drives me *crazy.* I understand why people feel so strongly about it, but I think the strong feelings over-rule common sense and logic. I think logic will be our edge. I don't have any strong feeling either way about the world ending because my kid goes to a private school versus public, if they live at home or live on campus, if they have lots of skin in the game or none. IF they work or they don't. Depends depends depends. None of these decisions are inherently bad. Depends on the individual and the circumstances. So, it's really hard for us to set concrete goals for something like college.

All this to say, you have to set goals in ways that it works for you.

Heat & Electric

January 11th, 2013 at 07:24 am

Yesterday my little LM (age 7) was pissy, and threatened to "waste money." He then asked me if I paid the electric bill. Because he could waste electricity.

LOL.

Actually, I was not amused at the time. But I am laughing today. I didn't catch that part because I was peeved he was threatening me. But BM caught the "Do you pay your electricity bill?" Where did that come from? We have been watching Bunheads. (Basically, another Gilmore Girls show). On the last episode we watched, one of the main characters was paying her bills. The "had to" bills were paid twice a year. The electric bill was mentioned. We of course pointed out how silly her bill paying method was.

Kids!!

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Mr. Snake went home, so we turned off the heat. Phew!! We somehow managed to keep him alive for 3 weeks. Today his last frozen mouse goes back to school. No more mice in the freezer. BM's room can go back to 55-ish degrees or however he likes it. I am surprised he didn't complain more about how warm his room was. He likes it cold. I didn't turn on the heat this morning and was fine. Like I didn't even notice it was 10 degrees colder than it has been the last 3 weeks. I am glad to see I haven't adjusted to warm mornings.

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LM has a birthday party tomorrow - we already have several birthay presents in a stash (Some are re-gifts, others just stocked up while on sale). So, the cost for a birthday gift will be -0-.

Sales Tax Tracking

January 10th, 2013 at 06:51 pm

My overall feeling is that we don't pay a lot of sales tax. It's a tax that is easy to avoid with lifestyle choices.

SO, I am putting my feelings to the test. I don't know if I will have the patience to track this all year, or if it will get too tedious.

This is what I got so far:



Our sales tax just went up to 8% on 1/1.

I was pleased to see that our grocery bill was literally $0 sales tax. That is about what I expected - but seems like this or that or the other is always taxed. Obviously this was an all-food run.

(I think at Target dh also picked up some tape. I just lump most the household type spending with "groceries.").

This is all good, since grocery spending is the bulk of our retail spending.

We will see how the year progresses...

Death to the 529

January 10th, 2013 at 09:39 am

So, I talked to MIL to sort out the 529.

The final nail in the coffin was that BM's 529 plan didn't make any money in 2012. Even MIL knows that is "really terrible." !!

I don't have anything personal against 529 plans - they are a good tool for the wealthier. BUT, it is good to know how your 529 plans are performing and it is good to know if you are actually saving enough taxes to warrant the higher fees and all of the limitations that come with a 529 plan. I included a helpful article below, that discusses some of this. In addition, many tax cuts were just extended more permanently. For us, this means our taxable investments won't be taxed, for the foreseeable future. 15% tax bracket = 0% capital gains tax rate. & doubtful we will have gains large enough to bump us into a higher tax bracket, especially since we can harvest tax gains periodically. This recent tax law change makes the 529 plan pretty useless for our purposes.

I won't hold my breath until MIL gets her money out - I know stock broker will give her a really hard time about it. The penalties and interest don't amount to a hill of beans since the thing never made any money.

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9 Situations In Which a 529 Plan May Not Make Sense

https://blog.wealthfront.com/9-situations-529-plan-sense/

Doings

January 9th, 2013 at 12:40 pm

**Dh tried another Indian crockpot recipe. Chicken vindaloo.

The recipe closely approximated this one:

http://www.sparkpeople.com/mypage_public_journal_individual....

Except the recipe dh made was about double. (I am surprised it all fit in the crockpot). I think the flavors were good, but was a little watery instead of creamy. I found another recipe that was tomato sauce based and we might have to try that one for comparison.

Anyway, no wonder this is one of my favorite Indian dishes. All it is is a LOT of onions and garlic and peppers, and vinegar (TONS of onions!). That's about it - throw in some chicken and a pile of spices. YUM!

Will see how the leftovers shape up - if the sauce thickens a bit. This was dh's complaint about the saag paneer - he added cream after and said it was perfect. Might be the same story for this dish - it just isn't creamy. It's good enough that I don't think I really care. Big Grin

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**I got a parking ticket in San Francisco for not curbing my wheels on a "more than 3% grade." Rolleyes I googled a bit, and while these tickets are often wrong, apparently, and fightable, I am pretty sure the grade was more than 3%. I've already paid the stupid thing... It's just that it never occured to me to curb my wheels since I wasn't actually on a hill of any note. I looked up 3%, and is about how it sounds. Like, about flat. The moral of the story is to never park *anywhere* in San Francisco without curbing your wheels. For me, lesson learned!

I won't sweat it, but I am peeved on a deeper level about the government's desparate grab for funds. I have a couple of friends who got even more stupid tickes locally, recently. IT doesn't matter what city - they are all desparate. At least mine wasn't $250...

$60 Out...

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**MIL is talking about cashing out BM's 529 and giving the funds to us to invest. I am extremely pleased about this. I was telling dh, I have no idea why/when/how she started giving us the money to invest, but I appreciate it very much. I don't like 529 plans to begin with (inflexible/high fees), but what is worse is they have it in Merrill (more fees and fees and fees).

This was the holdout - she has a few thousand in a 529 plan for BM, from when before LM was born. Apparently once LM was born she just starting giving us the annual gifts.

I don't think there will be *any* penalties or taxes, because the thing has never made any money. But, that is what we have to sort out.

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**Dh is talking me into returning to the city for a live show in a couple of weeks. Apparently the Thrilling Adventure Hour is going to be peformed there. It is an old-fashioned radio type show - usually performed live and then put out on podcast. Some of our favorite actors and comedians.

This is dh: "Of course the kids can go - it is not 21 and up." We have our strengths, and dh often seems clueless when it comes to the rules of children. I suppose it probably would have been easiest to call the venue. I *finally* found the policy last year was no children under 5. Though I will recommend a call to be sure, before buying expensive tickets!

I am not a huge fan of the podcats, but I am totally hooked on Paget Brewster in the Beyond Belief show. She is a crackup!! Really makes you appreciate radio theater - something we have never particularly experienced in our lifetime.

It's the week after dh's birthday, so I think we will likely not buy him anything for his birthday, and will make it a birthday thing. In fact, his mom was going to give him a check. No idea how much, but I think it is fair to use it for this. Other than that, will have to come out of vacation fund. We have short-term savings for this kind of thing, BUT, I already hit the short-term way too much for the first of the year. This is an opportunity that can not be passed up, but we have the vacation budget for it. {We had been talking about going to LA to see the show at some point - which would cost a heck of a lot more in gas and such}.

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Other money out out out:

**BM needed new shoes - ran by Payless yesterday (thank goodness for those wide sizes).

**Funded kids lunch accounts for second half of year.

**Passports will be $200+ - will take from vacation fund. I don't know my options for paying. I assume check only, but will have to look that up. {I am trying really hard to go checkless, but something or other always pops up!}

IRS Filing January 30th

January 8th, 2013 at 03:00 pm

IRS announced today that they will accept e-files on January 30th. They will accept paper returns prior, but will not process them before January 30th.

The following forms will not be processed until late February or March (see list on link):

www.irs.gov/uac/Newsroom/List-of-IRS-forms-that-1040-filers-...

Most the items on the list are not common forms. I give the IRS credit for not delaying more forms. But maybe since the tax changes were not too different from last year...

Catching Up

January 6th, 2013 at 09:54 am

I haven't been bloggy because just a lot going on.

I did do a number of fiscal chores:

**Rebalanced investment portfolio today.

**Updated various financial spreadsheets.

**I redeemed $50 credit card rewards to my ROTH - updated my sidebar. Already up to $1050 for 2013.

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It is driving me nuts that we don't have a calendar!! Usually dh's Grandma gives me all her "free" calendars for Christmas. They think it is funny. But, I tend to put more practical items on our wish list, and told her many moons ago I would take all her free calendars (from various organizations). The kids have calendars and we use them to track their allowance. Apparently we manage most our lives around the calendar. I hadn't particularly noticed, but I went to the calendar to add things 2 or 3 times this weekend, and it started driving me nuts. No one gave us any calendars!! So, I got a 20%-off coupon and will run to Michaels today. They always have calendar for like a buck or two. I will buy two. Then we can get organized for January.

I think it's funny that I didn't notice until January 5th. But, I am definitely noticing now.

I added a calendar to my Amazon wish list so that I don't forget my calendar needs next December.

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Have you seen mortgage rates this past week? Holy cow?

The interesting thing is that if we just commit to a 15-year payoff on our current loan, the interest rate is so low to begin with that moving from 4% to 3% is not substantial. Not even worth the hassle. (Total interest savings is maybe $15k - $60k x 25% - BUT this means a lot of risk and hassle - and does not even include refinance costs).

The 3% loan was so enticing though, that I am rethinking just pretending like we refinanced and committing to the higher payment. I don't mind the higher payment while gainfully employed. I just don't want to give up the flexibility for the unknown future.

That said, I don't really like sending smaller sums to various goals all at once. So, I think I will only send extra payments to the mortgage about twice a year. It is already in my goals (see sidebar), but in my brain I am making it a higher priority in the here and now. Unless my income is reduced, or something catastrophic happens, we should really put that much away to the mortgage every year. Even if something else has to give.

All of this also makes me doubtful that we would ever refinance again. But interest rates have surprised us many many times, so who knows!!

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I did run my taxes though I am not sure how accurate the figures were (we need a software update). It is about what I expected, so may be right on. Software company assumed AMT patch + extending old tax rates and tax breaks.

I missed a deduction in my estimates, and so ended up with tax due of exactly $900. (I had estimated $1,000). Will see...

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**Mr. Snake goes back to school on Wednesday, I hope. & we can turn off the heat then. Somehow we have managed to keep him alive and well. Just a few more days...

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I am totally in limbo between "crazy tax season" and "fun." Big Grin

Friday our internet was down at work and so I left early. I was fully intending to work from home, but the day was so GORGEOUS on my drive home. Forget that - I took the kids to the park around 3:30. Ran into our neighbors, who decided to have an impromptu party. (There are 6 of us, with 10 boys. Girls are conspicuously missing from my elder child's grade and from our neighborhood - it has always been rather odd. BM's grade is 75% male/25% female, at his school. These 10 boys range in age from 5 to 10).

We fail miserably in the winter months, but we are trying again. Another neighbor did do a Christmas open house. Superbowl party is set. I offered to host in March. We are trying a "first Sunday of every month" thing. It's not really necessary in the summer months, but I think we tend to hole up inside and get more busy during the school year and the colder months. So we try again...

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Today is the live Dragon show.

Monday, BM has a big overnight field trip in San Francisco. It is a sailboat thing. I volunteered to drive before many details emerged. But I managed a couple of days off work during "no vacation time." I will be giving up my overtime this week, in exchange (working two Saturdays to make up for it, though I'd be working Saturdays anyway, so no huge sacrifice).

So I feel kind of in vacation mode until we return.

I am *not* chaperoning. HA! I am driving and will hang out with family and friends Monday. Will pick up sleepy kids (& adult?) Tuesday a.m. I suppose I should prepare for a lot of driving - need to find my MP3 player. I am taking the gas sipper because I can't imagine parking (or driving) the minivan in San Francisco. I also did not want to get stuck driving 5 kids. I offered to drive one other child. I doubt any other adult would choose to cram in my car - we live in SUV central. But, will see.

The idea only recently popped into my head - I have been having mad cravings for a favorite Mexican restaurant in the bay area. I did not know when I would get a chance. But now my chance is here. Woohoo!! I also have 3 library books on my nook to get through.

Oh boy will it be back to reality for me on Wednesday! Then I Will just be buried at work until May or so. I will enjoy this last hoorah.

We also have to get down to the post office this next week to get the kids' passport applications processed. I guess we all have to show up in person. More time off work for that probably. So, yeah, that is how it has been lately. Never boring over here.

P.S. I know some of you have ties to England, so let me know if there is any must-see for a 10-year-old. They have all the obvious things on their itinerary. They are staying the whole time in London. We had talked about France or other countries, but think they will keep it to England. But open to suggestions. (If you missed it, MIL is fulfilling her dream to take her grandkids "anywhere in the world" when they turn 10. BM is her eldest grandchild, and turns 10 next summer. He chose England. She is going to be busy traveling the next 3 years with 3 grandkids in a row - at least we spaced them out a wee bit).

Taxes Taxes Taxes

January 2nd, 2013 at 11:03 am

I have extremely mixed feelings about the tax bill that just passed in Congress. I will note the changes at the end of this post, for inquiring minds who want a quick summary.

My feelings are a little bit of "Holy heck, our taxes would have been insane" without these tax extensions. On the flip side, the tax extensions are expected to add $4 trillion to the deficit over the next decade. My ire goes to why these tax cuts were ever put in the first place (during times of high spending/war, etc.). This can be seen as very political, but to me it just is what it is. We certainly wouldn't run our household in this way financially - it is totally insane.

I think a lot of it is fine temporarily with the economy in the toilet, but not sure why so much of this is being made more permanent.

As to Congress? Seriously? Like you couldn't have figured this out 30 days ago? 2 weeks ago? Life has been rendered beyond complicated for me in the tax field. I feel more sorry for software developers and the IRS, though.

I am so relieved AMT is patched and we saved that $500. Not that I have strong opposition to paying another $500 in taxes. But I Really thought Congress was going to pay lip service to middle class tax cuts while letting stealth taxes like AMT run rampant. As they have been for a long time. The fact it was going to affect us was not a good sign for the lower middle class. I am more relieved that they made a permanent patch, indexed to inflation. This should have been done about 15 years ago...

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I ran some tax projections today. We are still at owing about $1,000; is what I projected early in 2012. Final number was highly dependent on medical bills for the year, which ended up as low as could be.

I ran tax projections for next year, but our software has not been updated for the very recent tax law changes. So, I refigured what it will be. Interesting to note, our taxes would have gone up $2500 this year without recent tax law changes. Add in $1500 for the payroll tax holiday ending. That is no small sum, to me. 5% of our income would have gone to increased taxes. Ouch! Dodged a bullet, for sure. We'd survive, but not sure how most people would handle it. Which is why I have so many mixed feelings... (ETA: I think more to the point - our Federal income taxes would have about *doubled* with that $2500 increase. Ouch! I think that is what bothered me more than anything. I'll agree our taxes are too low and should go up, but no matter how you slice it, it is going to be painful when it comes to pass).

Since the payroll tax holiday expires, and my withholdings are probably due for a change due to less medical deductions allowed in 2013 (Obamacare tax increase) and lower mortgage rates, I refigured my paycheck at a few different exemption levels. Decided to move my allowances down from 12 to 10. I also increased my state withholding by $20 per month.

The net effect of all this is to decrease my paycheck by $230 per month. But would have me at about breakeven for our taxes *this year.* Which means we will still owe a little next year with all the reduced deductions - is fine.

Our health insurance also went up about $75/month. So we are down about $300/month between this and taxes. I had set aside the payroll tax holiday and refinance "monthly savings" to our savings account last year, but will lose that $300/month.

This leaves my savings goals mostly as is:

--$1200/month to short-term savings. I was thinking of upping this to $1300 for property tax increases, but that will only be half the year, and I have run out of savings room anyway. Paying more income taxes and owing less later will help with just keeping our savings at $1200/month. All this money is spent within the year (mostly various insurances and taxes)

--$400/month to mid-term savings.

--Max out ROTHs, of course

--Overtime saved for China

--Extra mortgage payments will have to be snowflaked and come from other income sources. I think $4k is still very possible. Dh's folks seem very generous of late. It is also not every year that we will be saving a large sum for an overseas trip. More like "once every decade or two." So still gives us wiggle room for ever rising health insurance and ability to prepay more to the mortgage in future years, all else being equal.

--Raise? Perhaps, but doubt it will be much if anything. If so, I will put it to the ROTHs. We have been doing about $800/month. $900/month is a better clip for the new contribution limits. (It doesn't matter for this year, since I already advanced the additional $1000, but will help for next year, and is probably where any raise should go).

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**I harvested some capital gains in the kids' accounts this year, since the stock market kept going up, up and up. Basically, first $1900 or so of investment income is tax-free for them, annually. I was also unsure if this would still be true for 2013 (0% capital gains rate for them, and us, in 2012).

We don't bother with the complications of 529s and such, because hell would freeze over before we actually were eligible for any financial aid, and because it is pretty darn simple at this stage in the game to keep their earnings tax-free. Our strategy can always be re-evaluated as money grows and actually starts hitting kiddie tax limits. For now, I sell high and reset the cost basis of their mutual funds. This is the first time I have ever had any motivation to do so (in about 10 years).

I checked today and they were well under the limit. They both had about $1,100 in investment income for 2012. I was checking to be sure, when projecting our taxes.

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**Did you hear that California now has highest income tax bracket in the U.S. 13.3%? Ouch! A huge tax increase just went into effect on higher incomes. Thing is we already totally gouge the rich. I don't intend to ever be *that* rich, so we are okay. Our effective income tax rate for 2012 was less than 1% of my salary.

It's such a progressive tax state, that I don't have many complaints at our income level. I was thinking of tracking our sales taxes this year, out of curiosity. I don't think we pay that much because we don't consume that much. But I am curious to see real numbers. I may only have the energy to track for a month. Might be pretty tedious.

Obviously this is more painful with big purchases. So not that it never affects us - but less likely to affect us much on a day-to-day basis.

The ugliest taxes we pay are probably gasoline taxes. I should probably track those too.

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Recent Federal tax changes of note:

--Top rate 39.6% (up from 35%) for individuals making $400k+ and married households with $450k+ income.

--Payroll tax holiday is gone - Social security tax goes up from 4.2% to 6.2%, starting January 1.

--AMT patch made permanent, indexed to inflation, starting 2012.

--The maximum capital gains tax will rise from 15% to 20% for individuals taxed at the 39.6% rates ($400k+ income, as noted above)

--The itemized deduction phase-out is reinstated, and personal exemption phase-out will be reinstated, but with different AGI starting thresholds (adjusted for inflation): $300,000 for married filing joint, and $250,000 for single.

--The estate tax will continue to provide an inflation-adjusted $5 million exemption (effectively $10 million for married couples) but will be applied at a higher 40% rate (up from 35% in 2012).

--The $1,000 Child Tax Credit will be extended through 2017.

The following is for 2013 only:

--No taxes on discharge of debt (e.g. foreclosure) for primary residence.

--Mortgage insurance premiums treated as deductible interest.

--college tuition deductions

--favorable business write-offs for equipment purchases, extended one year