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Archive for March, 2013

This & That

March 31st, 2013 at 08:04 am

**Yikes!! We had a super crazy big storm last night. It was hard to get a good night sleep. The thunder was shaking the house. I don't believe I have ever seen such a big storm in California.

**I am glad dh is on the ball because I totally spaced on Easter. The kids seemed so excited about it, and I wasn't entirely sure why. I even teased them and said, "Looking forward to 4 hours in the car??" Because lord knows I am not. I am happy to go see family, eat some good food, and get out of my environment (work work work). But, not thrilled to be in the car 4 hours round trip. Dh's cousin used to host locally, but no longer does. Frown Easter before April 15th is a little brutal. If it wasn't Easter, I would absolutely be working today. (I admit I enjoy the excuse for a break though).

Anyway, so it finally hits me that the kids are excited about their Easter baskets. We never did that when I Was a child, and kids figured out Santa/Easter/yadda yadda MANY years ago. So the thought didn't even cross my mind. It's totally dh's thing anyway. But told him I was glad that someone was paying attention. (HE also tends to spend insane sums and drives me nuts, but it probably fell under my radar this year because I didn't notice. He might have spent a large sum, but it fit in the grocery budget and I never saw the receipt. Or maybe he scaled it back a bit).

**WE did DIY pizza lunchables yesterday and they turned out well (see last post). No pre-planning, but most of the stuff was on sale. Dh just happened to do a grocery run yesterday and so picked up some english muffins, pizza sauce, and pepperoni. I determined the cost was about 1/3 of the lunchable price, per serving (they were on sale - so just compared to sale price, as not sure what full price is). & these costs could be brought down considerably by stocking up on sale, making tomato sauce and/or dough from scratch or with canned tomato sauce, or hitting the discount bread store (where I often get english muffins for much less; free even). To be fair, I didn't count the cost of adding spices, garlic, onions, cheese, etc., because these items are always bought in bulk and are abundant in our home.

Anyway, we made them in the toaster oven and was success!! This would also be a good way to use up leftovers (for pizza toppings).

**The kids' dentist stopped giving cash discount on credit card payments. LM had to go back for some sealants, so had dh just take a check. (I'd hesitate, but it was the last weekday of the month, and was going to pay it off next week anyway, and actually had some cash in the checking account). Glad we did that on a small amount, because they lowered the cash discount to 8%. Credit card discount is 5%. I get 2% back on my credit card. So only losing about 1.1% by paying on credit card. (IF we charge 95% of the full price and get 2% of that back, versus just paying 92% of full price).

We decided we won't bother to pay by cash or check again.

The loss of discount is a bummer, but our new local dentist is dirt cheap (for dh and I), and so we are saving several hundred dollars on our dental bills. & eventually we will switch the kids over which will save us TONS.

**Expecting some OT money in April. Our plan is to 100% save for potential China trip. Regardless, 100% to savings. Unfortunately, I haven't found international travel to be very motivating. (Just not my thing). I think I need a more exciting goal (for me) next year. It's more like an opportunity I feel we shouldn't pass up than anything I am actually that enthused about. In fact, there has been talk of NOT going, and I like that. So many other things I would much rather do with $10k-ish dollars than blow it all on a one-week trip. !! So, will see.

Anyway, I am thinking through purchases I want to do with our cash infusion (also got $300 for doing Grandma's taxes, which will allow 100% savings for the rest). I went ahead and ordered the "wearable sleeping bag" for BM. I Was clear with him that this is an advance on his birthday present. Between this and his Europe trip and college classes, not to expect anything else. I just wanted him to have the sleeping bag before camp in June. We had decided to get it a while ago, but just never got around to it. & if they both really like it, we will buy a second one for LM. It's just that BM literally lives in his sleeping bag, so when I saw this I knew it was perfect. !! We want to check out the size and functionality before we commit to a second purchase. They both could use sleeping bag upgrades anyway, so helps me to stomach the cost.

I am also thinking of investing $25-ish in some tupperware for them - like lunchable style. So, I think those are my big splurges. We pretty much had a prosperous year last year and caught up on some long pent-up purchases. I don't really have anything retail on my horizon. (Last year we finally got LM a bed, got some furniture, upgraded to smart phones, and replaced some appliances and stuff around the house).

Er, I lied. I would like to buy a side table for the other side of our couch. I need to peruse Craigslist heavily. I might set aside $20-ish for that too. Nothing fancy - just need something functional as it won't be very visible. I'd buy a matching table but can't find the one I bought last year, again. Bummer!

I am finding habits still hard to implement. I wrote that note that said "coupons/used" and put it in my wallet. The problem was that I didn't grab my wallet until I Was practically done with my online purchase of this sleeping bag. (& when I buy things on Amazon I don't look at my wallet since my credit card info is stored). TO be fair, I researched like crazy a couple of months ago, and so felt ready to just purchase. But when I was checking out it asked for a coupon code, so I dug furiously for one. Never found one. I Didn't see my note until I Was ready to pay, so I perused ebay and Craigslist when I saw my note. IT still bugs me that I could make any purchase for $100+ without taking those obvious steps first. & somewhat ironic since there are so many things I would never think to buy full price or "new." Maybe the note will get it through my brain. !! This thinking really should apply to *everything.*

**I still have mixed feelings if we are ready for a new pet, but might peruse the shelter this week. Cat adoptions (age 1+; which is our target anyway) are $5 on Fridays. I threw that in there to say I don't think I need to set any money aside for cat adoption. I paid $80 to adopt my last cat and that still seems to be the going rate (to cover all the vet stuff that the shelters take care of). Of course, I will probably be a sucker and donate some money to the shelter anyway. But, I can do that at the end of the year, versus now when I just spent a pile on vet bills and am taking on a completely unknown cat.

Lunch Ideas + Other Stuff

March 29th, 2013 at 07:32 pm

Mr. Money Mustache had a totally awesome article yesterday. About how the best gift we can give our kids is teaching them to work for what they want (versus handing them a materialistic lifestyle).

Just some good stuff, especially for parents. We were raised that way anyway, but it becomes clearer as parents. Do we want to work more and ignore the kids so we can buy them whatever they desire? OR do we actually want to spend time with them and teach them how to thrive? I am very secure that I don't need to spend $1,000 at Christmas or provide my kids a six-figure education. We have all thrived very well without all that. Wink

& to be clear, I don't think this is an impossible thing to get if you have more "spoiling" parents. My bff and my spouse were spoiled rotten in comparison to me (free cars, free educations, free rent, my bff never worked until she graduated college. !!) But they are also both the most fiscally responsible people I know. BUT, that said, they were never handed a materialistic lifestyle either. They were given some nice things, but never taught to expect it. Cars and college can be useful (& neither had a six-figure education or a fancy car or anything like that. Lord knows the car I paid for was more useful than the piece of crap my spouse drove when I met him). I think what's important in these cases was they weren't spoiled on a material level and weren't just handed anything they asked for. I do believe in moderation. I think I Can teach my kids all the same lessons without being quite so extreme as my parents.

I am too lazy to link it - just google it - I think I might have the MMM website on my sidebar.

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The To-Dos are going okay. I got my parents' tax return done. Not much to it and my dad way over-estimated income from my Grandma's estate. Some of it won't be reported until 2013. Other taxable reporting wasn't as expected. So, we wasted a big fat tax-free ROTH conversion opportunity. Bummer!!

Which reminds me, I misunderstood on their health insurance. It is only $1800/month for the two of them. I thought they were EACH paying that. Nothing surprises me when it comes to healthcare... But if you thought I was crazy, I was. !!

& I also got Grandma-in-law's tax return done. She insists on paying me $300, so dh will get the check from her on Easter. It was probably fair in the past as her investments are a tax nightmare. I think she is a case where her broker is making her broker. Way more complicated than any of my wealthy clients, and she just does not have a lot. But anyway, I was able to import 100% of everything electronically, so probably saved me hours. I told her how little time I spent on it this year and she didn't have to pay me, but she is a Grandma.

So, I feel relieved to get those off my back. I filed and paid ages ago, for us and the kids. I don't generally do any other taxes (out of the kindness of my heart), but Grandma and parents are okay. Otherwise, I am just happy to *survive* every tax season. Not willing to do a lot of tax returns for others, pay or no pay.

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Here is a yummy/easy recipe:

Mozzarella Beef Roll-Ups Recipe

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/mozzarella-beef-roll-ups

Pizza-flavored roll-ups...

I was thinking to these today because had kids had asked for lunchables last time I took them to the store. I said, "Are you crazy?"

Anyway, dh was telling me how they were being very generous in the sample department today. They were selling two servings of apple sauce in disposable plastic bags. $4 for 2 servings. O.M.G. But they were giving away single servings. He said he was a little taken aback that they would give away a "$2" sample. But also launched a discussion with how ridiculous and wasteful those food packagings are. (I actually often take apple sauce to work, in reusable containers).

So, then it got me thinking that I needed to do some DIY lunchables at home. The kids told me they liked the pizza ones and I immediately thought to this recipe. Tortillas and pre-made pizza sauce would make a good base. Pepperoni and shredded cheese is often on hand anyway. Then I saw the idea to use english muffins. I like that! Bagels would probably be even better for my high-caloric-needs children, but BM informed me he does not like bagels. ??? So I will try english muffins. Tortillas or sandwich thins would work too. I think my kids would starve, is all.

We really need to work on spicing up their lunches. We let them buy twice a week (good value, and they will eat all the veggies). But it's usually literally PBJ 3 days a week. I try to throw in snacks or make them other sandwiches when I make them lunch. But I don't think I have made them lunch since December. Poor kids!! Anyway, I think I will invest in some compartmentalized tupperware and try to get a little more creative.

I also bought some frozen smoothie molds last year, but the experiment failed because the plastic smelled terrible. I think we are in general extra sensitive to that stuff since we try to avoid a lot of chemicals. (It's a theory, I could be totally wrong). As maybe a small percentage of reviewers mentioned the smell, but most seemed to think we are just crazy. !! Well, I am not surprised that we would be the ones to be unable to deal with the scent of the plastic. Anyway, I was looking those up again because I also think those would be GREAT for school lunch and I love making frozen smoothies. So I saw the tip to soak those in baking soda to get out the smell. I will give it a try.

This is an important lesson for the kids. You can have it, but let's be respectful of the environment and our dollars... So instead of always saying, "no," we instead say, "Let's do it BETTER."

Bubble 2.0 + Pets

March 23rd, 2013 at 08:24 pm

**I applied for improved disability insurance earlier in the year (offered by same provider I already have - was new more extensive coverage than previously offered). I just got word I am approved. Awesome!! IT now covers partial disability, which is a substantial improvement.

**Wow, real estate is HOT here. A house sold down the street for $375k (in minutes). That officially puts our home appreciation at 50% over 12 months ago. !! I thought, "Yeesh, I haven't heard anything about real estate picking up so much." So I caught up on the real estate news, and I guess our city is on fire. Apparently also high in the ratings for "flash sales" (or homes that sell within 24 hours). Flash sales have generally always been the norm since we have been homeowners (common enough even in the "slump."). But, it is definitely noticeable today that homes in our own neighborhood are 100% selling within days. (1 or 2 or 3 days - same difference to me. By the time you evaluate your pile of offers and sign on the dotted line, it might take a couple of days). In the "slump," homes priced right would always sell in a flash. (Yeah, it's hard to consider that a slump. Hence, the quotes). But others would languish at higher prices.

Bubble 2.0 is definitely here. I call it that, due to the abundance of zero-down home loans. (And 3.5% FHA loans).

Regional real estate is interesting because it seems to have little to do with regional economics. Unemployment is sky high here and wages/employment have never been overly fruitful. But home values are hyper inflated by outside investors and transplants from LA and San Francisco. So, I wouldn't be surprised if home values fly past $400k this summer. (& if they fly past $500k, $600k eventually, as they have before). Especially since buyers seem more concerned with monthly payments than home values. I have never really gotten a sense where things would settle down. For the past 13 years, real estate has been a rollercoaster ride every step of the way. I think it's some of why I find it so fascinating. If my home didn't swing wildly in value, it wouldn't be so interesting to keep track of.

**We got the catalog for the courses my 4th grader can take this summer at college. O.M.G. It's becoming clear to me he got the engineering genes from my dad. (& my dad will be so jealous!!). I've already guessed what classes he will want to try for, so will see. Electrical engineering, circuitry, designing, that kind of thing. Anyway, I am so relieved we can fit in two weeks of classes with our busy summer schedule. This summer will absolutely fly by.

That's 2 weeks of engineering classes (most likely) and 10 days in Europe. We have our annual camping trip, and summer break is only 8 weeks for the kids. I doubt we will plan anything else in particular. Except finding something fun to do with LM while his brother is in Europe.

**It's been a sad, sad week since we said good-bye to our fur baby. Frown

Dh and I, fatigued by the care of our elder cat, had many many talks probably for years about all the things we would do when we were some day petless. *No more pets.* (At the least, no pets for a couple of years so we can do some longer-term travels).

Well, spiritually, I had a very quick change of heart. I did peek at the shelter. Well, the many shelters and the gazillion homeless cats in our city. & it immediately hit me that I no longer cared for the simplicity of being petless. We have a nice, stable home, and I just couldn't say no. Of course, my spouse is in a space where he thinks this is a choice of grieving and he is actually open to it. I don't think it has anything to do with grieving. IT's realizing that having a pet is a lot of work and responsibility and a PITA, but that's what all the *best* things in life are. & I don't think anything has taught me that quite as much as having children. So, on some level, I think it's just an extension of being a parent. When I Was 23 and picked up my fur baby from the shelter I couldn't imagine being petless. IT was my first decision as a renter-turned-homeowner. These days I can imagine being petless and enjoying it (mostly because I am in knee deep with kids), but I also have very well learned what is truly important in this life. It's love. Bringing more pets into our home is just more opportunity to love.

Anyway, so we will take our time. But, I look forward to adding all that crazy to our life again, when we are ready. Crazy and love.

Habits, Not Willpower

March 21st, 2013 at 07:21 am

Mr. Money Mustache has an excellent blog post the other day:

A Lifetime of Riches Is it as Simple as a Few Habits?

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/03/19/a-lifetime-of-rich...

{Sorry - link is not working right now - check back later I guess - is a great article}.

This clarified a few things for me.

Firstly, I have often blogged on the theme that I don't feel like I have any extraordinary willpower. I literally do not equate savings with willpower. I never have. So reading this was a bit of a "aha!" I don't have willpower, I have good habits. The End! Big Grin

Secondarily, this clarifies my approach to life improvement. I always approach my life with a "one thing at a time" attitude. While some people thrive on the "Huge lifestyle change" all at once method, and is maybe more crucial if you have to dig yourself out of a big hole (you might have no other choice). I personally like to adapt to one new habit at a time. This is why I roll my eyes when anyone says they have no room for improvement (financially or otherwise). I think I can easily spend my entire life improving my habits. I Feel like there is always always always room for improvement - something to learn. There is never a point where I will stop trying to be more efficient in my finances. If I have accomplished this in the past 20 years or so, I am excited as to what I can accomplish the next 20 years and will keep pushing to improve. But, I have never been interested in a huge makeover/overhaul overnight because I know it would fail in the long run.

I think that though we have always been good savers and debt avoiders (good habits established in our childhoods, with the help of very fiscally sound parents), we have been working very hard on changing our habits since having children and cutting our income in half. Some of it is easy. I don't eat out very much because I can't afford to. The End. It is really that simple. A lifetime of "avoiding debt" habits completely rules it out as an option. I am not going to go into debt to buy things I Can't afford, either.

We still struggle with habits like buying used and using coupons. It still is not the first thing that comes to mind, because we never had the habits that we would "only buy used or with coupons." & we were even loosening up on that kind of stuff when we were both working, before kids. So, it seems to be a constant reminder. I should probably put a piece of paper in my wallet that says "Find coupon/Buy Used." Maybe it's really that simple. It is not always my initial reaction. & so sometimes I don't think about it when I am looking at a purchase that I would be perfectly happy to find used.

This also explains one final disconnect for me. People often equate willpower with good finances and a slim physique. So obviously I am very good with the willpower. Actually, I was raised with horrific eating habits. My nuclear family is filled with obesity and eating disorders. The absolutely only things I did to stay thin were to 1 - marry my dh and 2 - be too broke to eat out all the time. LOL. The End. My spouse was raised with very good eating habits, and that is why he does all the cooking and the shopping. I am afraid that I don't have the willpower to eat well all the time. But, it's almost like hiring a full-time chef to deal with that. & since I can't reach for the credit card, I eat the food that is in front of me. I hope eventually these good habits will overcome the bad habits I was raised with. But I think the bad is *really* hard wired into my brain.

This reminds me of celebrities. Do they have willpower or do they have the money to hire chefs and personal trainers? I feel like I literally have a personal chef. & interestingly, I have exceptional workout habits, established when I Was a child. Which again, people seem impressed I can stick to an exercise schedule so seriously. I can't imagine NOT working out - I just can't function without a good exercise regime and have always made it a priority no matter how crazy my schedule was. Again, it really has nothing to do with willpower for me. For me, exercise is just a basic part of surviving. I am a mess without that habit.

The takeaway? The best thing we can do for our kids' futures is to help them establish good habits. !! Secondarily, let's stop beating ourselves up for our lack of willpower, and let's start establishing good habits in our lives. One at a time. If you can implement one solid good habit every single year, is better than beating yourself up for the rest of your life. & start thinking about how to circumvent your bad habits - maybe there are other ways around them, like a super awesome spouse who has good habits that you don't.

Low-Spend March + Kitty Cancer Update

March 19th, 2013 at 07:08 am

**January seemed off to a shaky start as there was so much fun stuff we couldn't turn down. !! But, traditionally January - April is very low-spend/high earn with the tax season. Always a nice jumpstart to the year.

Anyway, we have definitely shifted to low-spend mode. February is always easy because it is short. March has been exceptional. Our AmEx credit card did not close until the 7th, so already paid some March expenses. But I got the closing date fixed, again. So we can pay more by calendar month. (I moved the close date to the 25th. That means we can pay just prepay charges between the 25th and the last day of the month). As it stands, the balance on our gas/grocery card is $40. Dh is getting both cars oil changed this week and will fill up the van for me today (we have a 50-cent per gallon discount). I believe we can absorb the oil changes and the TV expenses in the gas and grocery budget. To be fair, we buy a lot of groceries at Target as well, but the Target balance is $35, including some outdoor toys for the kids. I can't tell you exactly what it is, but I think a lot of it is the new rewards system at our grocery store. I don't even think we have eaten any of those Indian meals this month. Which would lower our grocery bill even further. But maybe some of that eating last month has made all the rest of our food last longer. WE did splurge on corn beef and cabbage over the weekend. We also bought a take-out pizza Saturday because the kids asked and we hadn't eaten out all month. So, what the heck.

**I did redeem $25 rewards to my credit card (which credited $25 against our spending, and is also why our balance is low). I applied the $25 to our next mortgage payment.

**Dh earned $25 from a phone interview - from the focus group company. This interview will decide if he is eligible for the $250 focus group. No word yet.

**Other than all of the above I haven't spent a cent so no coupons or savings to boast.

**We did get our TV part and the TV seems to be working fine. The test will be if it lasts a month, as there were some complaints of these parts failing fast. So, still crossing our fingers that this is a long-term fix. After a month I will feel better about it.

**I just lump all our pet spending in with the groceries. I have never bothered to separate it out. We will always have to feed our cat, right? So, I expect another nudge down on our expenses with the loss of our cat. I don't think I will adjust our budgeting or savings goals as I felt our savings goals were very aggressive and maybe a bit tight. So, I will leave be for a while. IF we continue with this ever downward trend on groceries, I may re-evaluate. I have always left a big buffer in our gas budget since gas is ever rising. But this also means smart driving choices buys us more wiggle room in the budget. I don't think our groceries (& household spending) have ever been less than $500/month on average, but they might be this year. So, buys us more wiggle room, I suppose. Most likely would redirect some of our cost savings to music lessons, in the long run.

**Kitty kitty kitty. Frown We made *the* appointment for tomorrow. Not sure if we will have the guts to actually go through with it. I think dh is taking this harder than I am. Though he hates cats and she is my baby. Ha! So, tomorrow sucks and today sucks, and I will probably turn off my brain re: finances for a while. This is one of those times that illustrates the why of being fiscally conservative. So, I can turn it off and ignore it during these times. I asked dh if he asked any questions when he made the appointment. (Like cost). He said no. I said, "It's okay - I don't give a flip anyway." That is how it goes. I kind of figure ignorance is bliss. He did not ask anything about anything. I am sure he had trouble just making the appointment - as would I. So, we turn off the finances for a while and focus on life.

My mom said she'd take all our cat food and stuff to the shelter for us. I can face that because it is doing something good, but not sure when I will deal with the rest of it all. One day at a time...

We rescued her from the shelter when she was 2. We had her for about exactly 13 years.

TV Jinx + Free Stuff

March 16th, 2013 at 02:02 pm

Well, by some miracle we made the right decision to keep the "on the fritz TV" as a backup. Our other TV bit the dust yesterday. Yeesh!!

It's ironic, because we have never had so many conversations about how it could last "5 more minutes OR 5 more years," until deciding what to do with our other bad TV. The reviews on bulb life were mixed, so we knew this was a possibility.

*Fingers crossed,* but dh found the usual $300 part/bulb to fix it on amazon for $50. We already ordered it. It had some mixed reviews, but figured it was worth a shot. Even if it buys us a few months or a year would probably be nice. Since we *just* bought a new TV. !!

I had envisioned putting the "newer with a lot more problems" TV in the closet or something, but since it seemed to be working okay again, dh wanted to get it all set up with his old game systems. (To replace the old 10-incher he has been using). IF we were keeping it, he wanted to use it. He wanted to buy a TV stand in December or January and I asked him to wait a few months. Anyway, we decided we could afford the expenditure this month, and he ended up finding a stand for just $50. We just put the TV up on the stand Wednesday night. Got everything all setup. & then the other one goes kaput within about 24 hours. HA!! So, basically, if this happened 2 or 3 days sooner, we may have just moved that TV into our bedroom and be done. & crossed our fingers that it would work for a while. But, now we have put all this effort getting it set up for it's temporary use. Will see...

As long as dh has one "precious," he doesn't really care about the rest. I am surprised he is willing to keep this TV - the one we will try to fix - it has had other issues and he has disliked it for a long time. But he is also disgusted by the disposable-ness of these TVs. I am sure even he envisioned just buying a nice TV and keeping it "forever." Not having to replace "every 3 years, which is totally ridiculous. So if I am happy, and it can be fixed reasonably, he will keep it for the less picky of us in the house.

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As far as FREE stuff?

The other reason we got the TV all set up in the spare room is that my dad brought up his musical keyboard last weekend. We are "borrowing" it. (Yeah, I think he is giving it to us). So, dh felt pressure to work on clearing that room and moving the TV out of the way, etc.

He was stressing out about where to put the keyboard. I figured we'd make do or buy a stand. Well, it fits *perfect* on my old desk. Big Grin We had already bought a new tuner for our main living area and put my OLD one up to use with the keyboard. Dh has some speakers from childhood. So, we were able to scrounge up everything else we need. That is how we do it around here. We may spruce it up in the long run, but in the short run there is plenty to make do.

We have a home theater in our house that started with the purchase of a projector. IT still has the original surround sound that dh bought as a teenager. We now have a ceiling mounted projector, a screen and some nice seating. I don't think we really give a flip what the room looks like with the lights on. But you know, the giant screen, the awesome sound, the comfy chairs. What else do you need? Big Grin Someone just recently asked why we didn't just buy a large TV. Well, it would be big and heavy and it would cost about 10 times as much!?! IT's hard to compete with a 12-foot screen.

So, our music room will evolve the same way. It's starting small with the purchase of a tuner, a hand-me-down (it's really old) and some repurposed furniture. But it will eventually be pretty sweet. For reference, we have many friends and relatives who have gone bankrupt buying this kind of stuff. You just don't have to spend a gazillion dollars to enjoy these type set ups. This keyboard is *really old* and my dad replaced it a long time ago, but didn't really want to let it go. I think he will be happy that we get more use out of it. I think it came up because I asked for his help in evaluating a keyboard to buy, for LM. & he said, "Forget that, I have one you can borrow."

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The "free" does not end there. I was driving home from work and saw a pile of fairly nice furniture on the sidewalk a few doors down. I walked over and saw that it was free for the taking.

Dh had been talking about getting some shelves for LM. For books more than anything. We decided this would do:





LM did not want to put it in his room but we have tons of room in the hallway. Good storage for joint books and games, so maybe it's best to just put it in the hall by their rooms.

Score extra points since it "hides" all their crap.

What had caught my eye was this:



I did not even realize, but I guess bottom glass piece was missing. I do not care, as I like the way it looked. I like the open bottom shelf.

I put it in my bedroom to replace the shelves I used to have in there:



We moved these shelves downstairs at some point, to house our growing book collection. I had taken the opportunity to declutter. But in the end, I couldn't sell everything, and I can certainly fill up the shelves. It's a little smaller than the old shelves, and I like it. This will probably give me another opportunity to go through my things and purge some more. & maybe I will give up on some of the trinkets I couldn't sell and will just enjoy them.

Oh anyway, dh moved a heck of a lot of books and games from this big shelf to the new little one for the kids. So we will have to go through all that stuff some more. Will be doing some spring cleaning, I suppose. OF note, there is now room for everything sitting on the floor "in front of the shelves."

Frankly, this is how we furnished *most* of our house. Hand-me-downs and such. Though I must admit I never saw furniture so useful and nice on the side of the road. Big Grin Usually it comes from a friend who is moving or something like that.

FREEDOM!!

March 15th, 2013 at 06:40 am

We have crossed over. Woohoo!

More cash and mutual funds than DEBT!!!

*Most* our our savings is in retirement funds, so obviously not planning to cash that all out to pay the mortgage. But I am very pleased to be here. What might not be that exciting of a milestone to some is extra huge to us because of the high cost of living here. I don't think we would be in this financial position without or low-cost move.

This is a very tenuous goal, as these things seem to be. So, the next goal is just to KEEP it this way. To get so far on the other side that we will stay there. That might take one year or five years. I don't know. (Historically I find these kind of goals take about 5 years to stick, but that's with the economy in the crapper and everything).

There is nothing spectacular we have done over the years. Save a little every year. Don't borrow any money against home. That's really it. Time does the rest. I share because it's so important just to save what you can. To consistently save and to stay the course. I am sure I would have found these numbers overwhelming or impossible when I Was younger.

Being very debt adverse, the mortgage still has never bothered me much. (Though obviously no plans to keep it forever!!). Why not? Because if we wanted to be 100% debt-free tomorrow, we sell the house. The End. Debt Free. There is certainly a lot of bad mortgage debt out there, but we have avoided putting ourselves in that type situation.

So why is this such an exciting milestone? For the first time I can envision paying off the mortgage and being 100% debt-free, *while keeping the house.* That feels AMAZING!! That means, keeping a roof over our head and not having to pay rent or a mortgage. & to me, this is a level of financial security we have never achieved before. Woohoo!!

I totally understand it's a little premature to get too excited about it. But then again, it only took about 4 years to turn $100k to $200k. Our savings level is back to where it was last we both worked - trying to save about $30k per year. At some point it becomes an obvious choice to save and invest rather than to be "debt free, today."

At current, I still envision paying off the home age 45 or 50. I am 36 today. If we have another good stock market run in the interim, I'd consider cashing out at a peak and being debt free. It just depends on all factors. With these low interest rates I lean towards investing in mortgage payoff (4%) versus bonds and more cash. If interest rates were higher I'd maybe keep more conservative investments in cash or bonds, earning more than our mortgage rate. I am a risk-adverse type, so will not be putting 100% of our money in the stock market. & it seems silly to settle for less than 4% with the more conservative portions of our investments (above and beyond more immediate cash needs). This is something we just evaluate constantly as economic factors change. What I am doing this year might look totally different next year. It wasn't that long ago I had a 6% CD at the bank. Big Grin So, will see.

In other news, real estate is HOT here. Our house might be worth $350k today and will easily hit $400k this summer. Homes are selling in minutes and going up in $25k increments. Bubble 2.0 is here. (I call it Bubble 2.0 because no one is putting down any money on these homes, nothing seems to have been learned in the first Bubble. I don't feel like we ever got anywhere near true rock bottom with all the investor speculation keeping home values artificially inflated. The market is spiking as real families are actually starting to buy these homes, to live in).

Cell Phone Data on the Cheap

March 13th, 2013 at 10:37 am

Mr. Money Mustache does it again:

http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/03/12/a-side-dish-of-fre...

I know many of you are trying cell alternatives, so bring this up for some new ideas.

**My overall feeling is, "It's about time!" This is some of the cell competition we have been biding our time for.**

We are about one-year into our two-year Sprint contract. We are gauging our usage, likes/dislikes, needs, and letting some of the start ups work out their kinks. So, next spring we will be seriously considering other options. In the meantime, I keep my eyes open for new ideas.

The IRS is Hard to Pay

March 8th, 2013 at 10:34 am

How is my attempt to go "checkless" going? Not so hot.

I easily paid the state online this week, but when I went to pay the IRS I could not figure out how to. Not without crazy fees anyway. Ugh! You think I would know, but most my clients get refunds. OR are older and would not pay online. Though our state often requires it, so I knew the state was easy peasy.

I could have set the payment up when I e-filed. Mental note for next time...

I gave up and wrote a check. *sigh*

On a whim, I checked all the checks I wrote this year. I am already up to FOUR. (& it is barely March).

--2 checks for passports (no other option)
--1 check for repairman (no other option)
--1 check to IRS (Just easiest and cheapest)

I could easily see using no other checks for the rest of the year. Will see!

Property taxes are due in about a month, but I will probably just pay them next week - after payday. I have taken to paying those online with a $1.50 convenience fee. Our mail SUCKS, and this beats it getting lost in the mail. I have had online bill pay for well over a decade and so mostly stopped buying stamps a decade ago. Spending $3/year to make sure it gets there on time, is worthwhile to me. & does avoid the hassle of stamps and checks. & yes, I will probably start paying the property taxes all up front, so it would only be $1.50 per year. I considered it last December, BUT with AMT up in the air, it was possible I would not have gotten a tax deduction for the extra payment. This year I will reconsider, as our cash coffers are replenished, and I know the extra payment will be tax-deductible. (& interest rates suck. Pre-paying $2,000 will cost me about $5 in interest over 4 months. Yeah, whatever).

Surprisingly, I have never paid our entire property tax bill at once. Interest rates were too high last we both worked and were flush with cash. I wouldn't have thrown away that interest. These days I am leaning more towards simplicity - pay it once per year and be done.

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Other than that, I am just watching the pot boil. The spread between our investments (cash/mutual funds) and our mortgage balance is about $2,000. It is very possible we will cross over this month - more investments than debt. !! I think that is as good as debt free. Obviously it means more the more on the other side we get.

I just think that reaching that milestone is awesome. Next, the goal will be to "keep it that way." Big Grin

This & That

March 6th, 2013 at 07:17 am

Here is a "this and that" post since I have not found the time to post in so long. A little bit of everything from the past couple of weeks.

**Snowflake doings:

--We earned a 50-cent per gallon gas coupon - one thing our grocery store has been doing is doubling coupons frequently since changing reward structure. So though we *always* have 25-cent coupons, the 50-cent coupons are twice as awesome! I will save $8 next time I fill up the van.

--Dh is being considered for a $250 grocery focus group. !! In fact, someone called and left him a message for a $100 focus group yesterday. Will see, as it has been a while since we qualified for anything.

--I picked up a salad at Togo's Monday (LOVE their Asian dressing) and they offered me two packages of salad dressing. OMG - I will totally ask from now on. The one package is more than I ever need and usually take the remainder home to use on home-made salads. Now I have a ton of salad dressing for the rest of the week. (I had been going for their Monday sandwich specials, but I do love their salad so much have switched to the salad - occasionally - not every week. This week I managed two meals and a giant salad for BM. I think they gave me more than usual).

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**LM was invited to a birthday party a while back and apparently the mother had made full viking gear out of...

Duck Tape. !!

When I first saw the outfit I thought it was genius (belt, hat, sword). Anyway, I keep forgetting to share. The gear has held up for a couple of months. I can not say the same for our foam minecraft sword. It snapped in half. (& yes, all it needs is a little duck tape!).

It was extra refreshing after how most birthday parties tend to go around here.

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**Credit cards closed - no $50 reward this month with the old American Express. Was bound to happen one of these days - surprised it took this long. One reason I haven't been posty is I haven't been spending any money or doing much money-wise. It showed in my reward.

(We could not put the vet bills on the AmEx, so will only get 1% back on those).

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**I had a bath rug fall apart in the washing machine. Frown I think that is a first. IT was a mess, but we got it cleaned up. So, I went through and some of the rugs were looking kind of sad. So I tossed them all and replenished a bit.

I spent $100, but just counting it towards grocery budget since it was a short month. IT was a nice month to do that kind of update. (I might have waited a while, otherwise).

I'd say we finished furnishing our home 100% in the past year or two. Our approach has always been very slow, one thing at a time. Which is a must to stay out of debt. We never intended to furnish this entire "forever home" the day we moved in. SO, with all the furnishing complete, this update reminds me there ALWAYS seems to be something. A lot of our old rugs were hand-me-downs. We do seem to be in the "update old to new" stage. That said, I have absolutely nothing else in my own horizon to update. But life may have other plans.

Oh, and the cute trash can I had in the kid's bathroom (had some liquid in the clear base, with some little flowers and flogs floating in it) - well that broke and was leaking everywhere. I guess I am lucky I noticed - kind of a slow leak. So, I cleaned that up and hunted around the house and found a tiny white trash can in dh's office. I moved another medium trash can into dh's office (we had used for disposable diapers and wipes, ages ago - it's fairly small because we mostly used clothe diapers, but was WAY too big for the kids' tiny bathroom). I had to scrub down the white one because it was disgusting. I initially thought I would have to repurpose a recycle bin, as I have a couple of tiny ones around the house. So I am happy I found another alternative.

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**I am so excited for the "music room" transformation of dh's office. Why? Because dh is going through his CRAP.

I was in major major nesting mode when pregnant and I also had to clear out my office to make room for one of the kids. So I have been through most my crap and in "less is more major declutter mode" in the years since. I honestly don't think I have that much stuff lying around the house.

Dh on the other hand? He's not bad, though he tends to have some hoarder tendencies. I think he inherited them on a very small scale. & in fact, to keep himself in line, he is pretty good about keeping most common areas of the house pretty bare. (HE doesn't like to store anything in the garage or closets - he is always driving me nuts - I figure there is plenty of room).

So, between the two of us, I think we could lead a pretty spartan existence.

BUT he loves his blu rays and his games and his computers so there is a fair amount of crap stored in his offices (he kind of has two). {I just have a desk and a couple of file cabinets in a nook in the hallway - which is huge and all I need}. Some of it is fair enough. HE will always have a lot more belongings than I will. I would never keep huge piles of "stuff" like the games and movies. But, that's his thing and it isn't hurting anyone. Lord knows we have the room.

BUT he also has boxes filled with crap that is sentimental or he forgot about or whatever. So... He is going through these boxes. He told me he was going to toss some old computer games and VHS tapes. HAllelujah!! He has taken a bunch of computers and parts to be e-waste recycled. Maybe it will be helpful to no longer feel like he has an entire room for storage.

HE does want to buy a TV stand for the old TV (We are keeping it as a backup, since it seems to be working okay now). Which I think is a fine reward for all this purging (I'll buy with overtime funds). Which probably means we can recycle the little TV/VCR combo he was using in there - where he keeps all his OLD game systems. So it will be kind of a game and music room. Probably a good idea for the long run. We have never had a "play room" for the kids, but might be nice to have a gaming system out of the main living room for the kids to hang out with their friends. The 50-inch TV is a bit much, but is all we have. The 10-inch screen wasn't very useful either. We have our old 30-inch at the family cabin but I doubt we would take it back. It is so HEAVY. At least these flat screens are easy to move around.

Fiscal Doings & Mustachian Observations

March 3rd, 2013 at 10:03 am

**The Mustachian lifestyle can be very subtle. The outside can appear the same while lots of inefficiencies are adding up on the inside.

I have just been pondering this as I had an interesting conversation with the in-laws yesterday. They were talking about how they felt they *needed* their large retirement income. I would not be surprised if they were spending twice as much as my parents these days, to live largely identical lifestyles.

It's not a totally fair comparison by any means, as my parents are much younger and have no doubt buckled way down with medical bills and lack of income (unplanned disability and unemployment, which has transitioned into early retirement). BUT, because they have started their retirement this way, I also don't particularly see them increasing their spending down the road when they reach full retirement age. They live *very well* and if you read Mr. Money Mustache blog you will start to see the how and why.

My parents have also received a lot more in inheritances. The saver gene runs deep - most my relatives are very poor. OR they were very poor and that is how they chose to live, but the inheritances have been surprising over the years. The general concensus in dh's family is that none of his grandparents have any money, but I won't make any conclusions until the *end.* They may be surprised. But I do wonder if this is somehow true as I don't hear the "extreme saver" stories from his side of the family (though they are obviously very frugal and such).

Anyway, I find the parental comparison kind of fascinating because I think they largely live quite similar lifestyles (having had similar incomes and means over the years). The in-laws pay far more in income taxes (pension income, which makes their social security income taxable, which puts them in a high tax bracket), give away WAY more money (always have), spent a lot more on travel and dining out. My dad travels a lot as well, but usually more driving/staying with friends and relatives kind of travel. Lord knows what the in-laws pay for their timeshares and such. The in-laws "commute" a lot because they have siblings, mother, daughter in a neighboring city. They babysit daily for their daughter and I am sure spend a lot of time with elderly mother.

Their bottom lines are very surprising to me, with how much they appear to differ from any conversation I have had with them. IT depends on the day how I feel. Some days I applaud the in-laws for enjoying their money. Other days I think my parents are enjoying just as much, but are doing far better. Neither of them will ever need any financial help, so any advantage one has over the other is just gravy.

I see us ending up more like *my* parents. Which again, is a lot just circumstances - lord knows we are not receiving any pensions and definitely am not counting on social security. This means our retirement will look VERY different than my pensioned in-laws, and I think we are better served learning to make do with a lot less. But, on another level, it's hard for me to imagine spending that much money. When the kids are grown and the house is paid off? I don't see it. They are frugal, good savers, and better off than most the population. BUT I question if they are particularly Mustachian. The difference is surprisingly subtle. & I find that kind of fascinating.

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Fiscally, things are very good here.

I received an unexpected cash gift of $770, yesterday:

--The in-laws resumed piano lesson payments, though teacher is on leave for one more month. They told me to keep it. Since I am paying the mortgage on Monday I just threw it at that. $160.

--They also gave us $600 for BM to take two "college courses" this summer. I was willing to cough up $1,000 for 3 classes (+ fees and everything), but after discussing with them and looking at our calendar I think we can only swing two classes at most. (BM will be out of town most the weeks that classes are offered).

So, not only does that take a load off me down the road, as I now maybe only have to come up with $50 for college fees, but I also owed about $600 in income taxes. I will also just pay those Monday, when the deposit hits. (I no longer have to pull this $600 from savings - but will keep it in savings for college stuff).

Payday was Friday and so I updated my goals in my sidebar.

I toyed with the idea of hoarding cash and hitting all my cash goals by April, and then funding ROTHs the rest of the year, but wasn't entirely sold on this method. But with the stock market being so high, I figured what the heck. (I know - I may re-evaluate next week with the economic news. If stocks drop, I will certainly reconsider).

But overall I am very pleased with the psychological effect of this method. I am also thinking of funding IRAs slower because I think in the next couple of years there may be more decisions to be made about ROTH versus Traditional. Which means maybe I will go back to funding every April for the prior year. I don't know... I am pretty committed to ROTHs for 2013, but who knows for 2014. I am rethinking my strategy a bit versus trying to fund the first of every calendar year.

Anyway, so where I am at now:

--ROTH deposits: $1,100 (2013)
(To fund the rest @ $1300/month, May through December)

--Savings: $3,780 of $5,000 saved
(By April 30th I should have this goal done, plus should receive overtime bonus to fund bulk of Hong Kong $5k goal).

--Mortgage: $235 of $4,000 "extra" paid
(Mortgage to be prepaid with gifts, credit card rewards, and overtime - which means possible large April and December infusions).

It feels amazing to possibly have all cash savings goals checked off next month. Still ample time to fund the ROTHs and throw any extras at the mortgage. I am also feeling positive about my extremely aggressive savings goals for this year - like they might actually be possible.

One financial downside on the horizon is vet bills. I just pulled $500 from savings for vet bills and I am sure there will be more this year. But this is one reason I feel great about not worrying about the cost of this college summer program.

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The bigger picture? I also am very close to $20k in our mid-term savings fund. This is enough to replace both our cars, so I am ecstatic with this milestone. !! (I think is prudent with the age of our cars, but also absolutely no plans to upgrade our cars any time in the near future). For a long time we had discussed living without second car if it came to that. But this has also been less feasible since BM goes to school at another campus this year (is not very walkable or bikeable, especially since the kids have to be dropped off in two different places close to the same time).

So I feel relief with the long-term car situation. This is also why I felt comfortable earmarking April overtime check entirely for China, with this goal met. We can divert to something fun and different for this year and next April. That is only "13 months of diversion" at this point.

On the cars, we tend to save up $100/month per car to replace. I'd keep our cars for 20 years, but that's still $18,000 saved, per adult, if we only kept for 15 years. We should have saved up about $22k by now, considering how long we have had both cars, so are about back on track with that. As long as we have a mortgage, I do not foresee spending more than $10k on a vehicle. So the longer our cars last, the more we can throw to other financial goals. This keeps us extremely motivated to keep our cars as long as possible. We may still have 5-10 years left before we replace our vehicles. {We stopped saving for our cars for a time when my spouse stopped working - as back up plan was to live without a second car}.

We also have about $8k set aside for strictly emergencies. (Obviously the car fund would double for emergency in a pinch, the car fund is far more robust than any basic *car need* we would have. Most our cars were bought very inexpensively, so I am not scared to pick up a car for $1,000 and drive it for 5 years).

Why $8k? This actually covers all our deductibles. I should probably bump this up to $10k, for simplicity, and because we just bumped up home insurance deductible. Hmmmm...

This should give us a total of $33k cash once I get my overtime this spring. SO... I will be letting go of the ROTH Efund. It has served its purpose. I was encouraged to fund ROTHs in years when I felt uncomfortable tying up so much cash into retirement. But I was able to do so psychologically knowing it would be there in a real pinch. (I wouldn't have touched it but for prolonged unemployment or something really catastrophic like that). As is, I don't feel we need that safety net any longer.

So I suppose that is also a pretty awesome milestone.

We are still saving $5k per year to our savings account, as there are still endless expenses on the horizon. Of note, we need a home repair fund and orthodontia fund. I just call it "mid-term savings" as we are saving for all of the above all at once. I find it easier to keep things flexible. If cars die sooner than home repairs have to wait. If a big home repair comes up, then our next cars can be more modest. We will keep saving at this pace until we have the cash for all the "extremely foreseeable" expenses in our nearer future. Our wish list includes $10k for China, orthodontist paid in full for both kids, some general home repair fund as well as to replace fence, replace carpets, and to renovate master bath. It goes on and on and on. These are all things that could wait or we could live without, but obviously need to be saved for if we don't want to borrow for these things.