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Archive for December, 2013

Ting (Cell) Update

December 30th, 2013 at 06:23 am

Hard to believe, but we have been 30+ days on Ting.

I have been anxiously waiting for taxes and fees. My research indicated that Ting charges no fees. But I know taxes can be quite high, but I thought they were mostly based on bill. So cutting our cell bill by 1/3 should decrease the taxes, right?

YES!!

Taxes: $4.59



Of course, our actual bill is $0 because we have several credits applied to our account. We will not have to pay anything for the first 3-4 months.

This bill is larger than I expect it to be for the long run, and to be clear is for FOUR cell phones. We split cell service with my parents.

Minutes: It would have only been $9 for 500 minutes. I presume some months we can stay around 500.

Messages: $5 is for the 100-1000 text rate. (Funny statistic: I texted the least of the group; my old foagie parents text more than me. Even my mom with her her old dumb phone - HA).

Megabytes: $13 pays for up to 500 MB of data. We really thought we would be using more data so this was a nice surprise. I think on an average month we will use less data than this month. Dh found out his speed tests use way too much data, so he stopped doing that. Accounted for at least 1/4 of our usage. !!

We are just shifting mindsets a bit because used to have unlimited data. If we go over on a big vacation or anything like that, we just pay for that we use. So, we have a lot of flexibility with Ting. Other than that, just trying to be more mindful of data usage and using the wireless for any big data.

I'd say the bulk of the data usage is mine, at work. I don't have wireless at work. Everyone else on my plan is retired and so mostly uses wireless.

Devices: We initially activated 5 devices because I was not sure which phone I was going to use. They charged for all 5 this month. Each device costs $6 per month.

This means all else being equal, that this bill would be $6 less next month. About $64. That would leave our half of the bill at $32.

That is officially a 68% cell phone cost reduction in our own household. Woot!!

When we add the kids it will just be $12/month for the two phones (they can use our hand-me-down phones). We've already decided we could cover the $12 but they can pay for their usage. Texts are the cheapest on Ting, so works well for teenage users. I think we have a few years to go, but glad we have a solid plan for the future, one that doesn't cost a small fortune.

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& this is Ting's nifty Dashboard:



It's easy to glance at and see how you are doing on minutes and data an so on, at any point in the month.

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I will copy and paste a bit from my last Ting update, and update the numbers.

Sprint Monthly Charges:

1600 minutes (calls to each other were not counted), unlimited text and data

$105 for first phone
$ 25 for second phone
$ 25 for third phone
$ 15 for non-smart-phone
$ 20 Taxes
-----
$190 - Our split was $100 per month


Ting Monthly charges:

$24 for 4 phones
$18 for 1,000 minutes (Large)
$ 5 for 1,000 Texts (Medium)
$13 for 500MB (Medium)
$ 4 Taxes
-----
$64 - Our split is $32 per month

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If you don't have Sprint, Ting sells new and used phones directly, as well as they help you buy compatible phones from third parties. (A personal shopper service).

They also have a service for selling your old phones. Overall, they try to make the switch as simple as possible.

Here is a referral for $25 off if you decide to make the switch:

https://z181d126bt4.ting.com

P.S. The credits we earned were $25 for signing up with a referral, $25 for Black Friday sign up, $50 for our first referral, and $88 for "25% reimbursement of early termination fees". They've had some other promos in that time that we did not participate in - for example we skipped on the Starbucks credits because we don't drink coffee.

Credit Card Rewards Update

December 29th, 2013 at 08:28 am

I updated the numbers below. I will still have to tweak a few numbers as statements come in.

I did also add the $75 we earned from the AmEx Amazon deal.

If I add the Cap One ($152 savings bonus) I added this year, the grand total is $2,775 for the year. VERY close to last year's number. The Cap One wasn't a credit card, but it was really the same difference (but easier, since I only had to open the account and do nothing else). I won't officially include it in my totals because it was not tax-free. But for all intents and purposes I think it belongs in the same category.

{I don't have direct deposit and don't like/trust debit cards so have never been able to do any other checking account or savings account type bonus. I know there are ways around direct deposit rules, but then it is often "at your own risk" and seems like way more work than it is worth. May be re-evaluated in the future, if credit cards dry up. Since Cap One had no direct deposit or debit hoops to jump through, it was *super easy*}.



2013 TALLY:

$580 cash (Chase Sapphire triple dip moi)*
$430 cash (Chase Sapphire triple dip dh)*
$250 cash Citi (dh double dip? Triple dip?)
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$1260 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 525 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex (bonus for some alternating category?)

+$475 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$ 75 American Express Rewards ($25 x 3 cards)

+$ 85 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$ 178 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities; had 2% reward for a couple of months this year - woohoo!)
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=$2623 Total CC REWARDS 2013
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*triple dips = rewards redeemed for the third time. We redeemed once every 12 months or so.

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623

Total 3 Years = $9,569
**Tax-Free Income!!**

Caveat: I don't recommend using credit cards at all unless you have the discipline to pay them off 100% within grace period. I have never in my life paid a fee or any interest to a credit card company. I don't think it's a big deal if you don't spend money that you don't have and therefore pay off the balance each and every month. This strategy has worked fine for me for full two decades.

Random Money Updates

December 28th, 2013 at 07:08 am

Haven't been posty because work is CRAZY this time of year. Hoping to get time Sunday to relax (will do nothing) and I do get Wednesday off, so not particularly worried about it. Monday and Tuesday will be stressful though with the time crunch. All this stuff has to be done 12/31.

Of course, I will then come home and run my own numbers. Because I just like numbers that much. Big Grin {You think I'd be sick of numbers, but it fuels me}.

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Christmas:

Christmas was the BEST Christmas ever. The short version is aliens must have invaded my in-laws because they made it very low key. Who are these people? That was the best Christmas miracle of all. (Though a little heads up would have been nice because usually they are such gift hogs that no one else buys the kids anything. The kids got a little gyped this year, but oh well).

That said, all was not perfect around here. A loved one had a stroke (is doing 100% fine). IT just never ends!!! But, couldn't expect a much better outcome than that?

Our friends announced they were divorcing, on Christmas Eve.

Half of us were sick, and with one in the hospital, it was kind of a bummer for Christmas day. The mood was pretty glum on Christmas Eve after getting the divorce news. It just hit dh and I hard, for whatever reason. (We didn't hear about the stroke until AFTER Christmas because they did not want to worry us and weren't sure what was wrong).

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We also got a large cash gift for Christmas (very unexpected) and so I maxed out dh's ROTH. Heck, our total Christmas haul was $5,510. & nothing I wanted for Christmas more than a ROTH contribution. How cool is that??? (Plus $10 to spare!)

We had already committed $300 Christmas money (assuming we'd get even that) to some shows in January. We got front row seats for two different shows! So excited! (Comedy sketch fest - hard to narrow down but I guess easy enough with financial and time limitations - both the shows we are all going to are on the same day - dh and I may hit a couple of others if they don't sell out - they have like 100+ shows and all these big names and all of them we would probably love to see).

But, dh had already put $1k in his ROTH, and so I didn't need the entire Christmas sum to max him out. Still money left for our front row seats. Big Grin

I believe all the 2013 dividends hit in our ROTHs. As of yesterday the sum of our ROTHs was $99,174. So very very close to six figures.

The six figure mark means a lot to me because in our savings in general things tended to quickly take off after the six figure mark. If the stock market averages a 10% return and we contribute $11k per year, then returns are getting pretty neck and neck with contributions. & this is extra exciting for the ROTH space because of the tax-free nature of the ROTHS.

Plus, heck, dh received a 2% dividend in his mutual fund so holy heck. That adds up when you have a larger balance in your fund. This is one reason I wasn't expecting to end the year so well.

Funding both ROTHs at this late date was over-whelming, but since now only $5,000 is needed to max out mine, I will fund it to the point I don't have to dip into our "6 months expenses". It might be January or February. Much sooner than expected, thanks to the generous gift. Phew! This also puts us on track to easily max out 2014 in 2014 (Assuming we don't have a year like 2013!).

{I always fund dh's ROTHs first because I have a substantial retirement plan balance from my job. He only has the ROTH. Plus, the money came from his parents, so I guess it is extra fitting}.

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Yesterday I sorted out the kids' money.

They both received $20 cash for Christmas. LM had $30 prior and had already agreed to deposit all Christmas sums. BM had $0 but I am worried he lost his money. (He is the bigger saver so I find it hard to believe LM had $30 more than him). I don't know what the heck, but if that is the case I guess it will turn up. (He is also the slob of the two, so it's very likely lost in his room).

After depositing LM's $20, his savings account is up to $300. BM's savings account is sitting at $400 (by virtue of being older). They are both working hard to get to the $500 level. Because their interest rate is 7% on first $500. I spent some time with them yesterday showing them how much more interest they are earning now (used to get once cent per month!). We calculated the interest they should get 12/31, and how their money compounds. I think they are more well versed than most adults. They are both very math oriented and they clearly get it.

I took $20 cash from LM and transferred it into his account. It saved us an ATM run - we might be good for 6 months. (My big cash expenditure for the half year or so was that I gave my dad $10 for a Senior National Park Pass). Lord knows we never use much cash anyway, but it seems to be dwindling down to truly nothing - no cash usage. I certainly could have given my dad $10 without using cash or writing a check, but since it was a gift we wanted it to be more personable than a "check in the mail from a third party." That is how my online bill pay works. If I pay an individual, they just get mailed a check. It saves a TON of time, and of course no stamps for our more long-distance family.

2013 Review

December 20th, 2013 at 06:48 am

Wow - what a mixed year it has been!

I am optimistic that the big ugly black cloud hanging over our heads since, September 2012, has moved along. It's only been about 15 months. !!! But anyway, will see... It's only been a couple of weeks of calm and so it's a bit premature to get too excited about it.

Because of this, we did terrible on our financial goals, maybe the worst ever. BUT, all our prior savings worked very hard for us, so it was a banner year for net worth and the big picture. Phew??

Anyway, I wanted to close the books on 2013 because I am SO over it! So, unless something big happens in the next two weeks, this is my final "general" commentary on 2013.

In general, we tend to make our financial goals aggressive and we tend to always meet our goals anyway. This year is a first in I ever remember failing. Spectacularly. The optimist in me is fine with that - if some years we do better than planned then it is expected to do worse in other years - it all evens out.

CASH:

Cash is up $5,000 by some miracle. We try to increase by $5k every year. Actually, we had decided to hit our goals one at a time this year. It's a mixed bag. We have not particularly put any money into our ROTHs yet (had wanted them funded by 12/31, and expected to do it easy peasy). BUT, if we had, we'd just be really cash poor and stressed right now. So, I think I am happy with this approach. The ROTHs will get funded. I am just considering doing it in April to preserve cash flow and liquidity. (To be clear: We have never in our lives had a crazy expensive year like this one - so it was pretty unusual).

Our goal for 2013 was to save $10,000. We were going to splurge on a trip to Asia. That is completely out the window because we needed *all* of that money for home repairs. Which leaves me ending the year off with some stress since we were supposed to be so ahead of the curve at this point to be able to splurge on a $10k vacation. I share this to illustrate a point. I have friends who will say we never splurge big and do anything fun. BUT, you see what happens when we try. & it's not like I got caught offguard for not planning ahead. !! Instead I am thankful that we had all that cash to cover it and not dip into savings at all. On the flip side, maybe this was just the universe telling us to do something else with that money. IT was kind of an obligatory trip and our relative in Asia doesn't seem to want us to visit her anyway. So... We aren't too broken up about our change in vacation plans. Heck, I am RELIEVED because I Was never very enthused about it. (Note to Universe: Um, you could have left SOME Of that money to do something fun with though???).

RETIREMENT:

We put a whopping $1,500 into our ROTHs this year, and that is all gifts and credit card rewards. I have been saving the money ($900 per month), but just putting it all into cash waiting for the hemorrhage to stop.

This is our primary goal (above basic liquidity and being able to pay cash for all of our needs) and so it will 100% get done. But, I am pushing it off until April. Mostly so I can fund the ROTH without depleting any cash (from current level). Ideally.

I can't boast a $100k balance in our ROTHs until I get them funded for 2013. So, that will have to wait until next year.

The good news is that our retirement funds are up $23,000 even though all we put in was $1,500.

Retirement milestone hit: 2 x income saved

Retirement investments are, on average, returning as much as we put in. I think that is a SWEET milestone. & also means that going forward that our investments are working harder than we are. (Note: This year was not average - obviously we earned far more than we put in).

& all of that makes this year infinitely easier to deal with!

HOME:

Along the same lines, home value is up 30%. It's been an excellent year for our overall net worth.

MORTGAGE:

Like all our other goals, we failed spectacularly on this one. Only added $950 (snowflakes) to the mortgage payments. Had expected to pay down an extra $4,000. (The rest went to home repairs and other emergencies).

I made the last 2013 mortgage payment in November. Don't need any more tax deductions so will pay the December payment next month (around January 1). So, I was pretty non-motivated on the snowflakes this month. Which is fine, I need to shift focus on the ROTHs. Just waiting to see where the dust settles. (I think I have some snowflakes already applied to the next mortgage payment - probably ones I earned in November since I expected to already pay the mortgage payment, otherwise).

The ending mortgage balance is $190,000-ish. I was going to go for $189,000, as the year progressed, but decided not only did I not need to make another payment this year (Waste of a tax break) but that I really needed to shift focus to ROTHs.

I am not 100% sure what I Will do for 2014. Mortgage has only been a higher priority in past year because of two reasons. 1 - Real estate values were tumbling and we risked having less than 20% equity if things continued. Which is a position I would consider an "emergency". Not an EMERGENCY emergency, but it would be worthy of some drastic measures to correct. 2 - I Thought we were more ahead of the curve and could throw more money at the mortgage.

Today we have over 50% equity (our home never dropped below 20% equity) and clearly we are not very ahead of the curve right now. Not where I Want to be. So, I think mortgage is falling off my radar for the moment as far as pressing financial goals.

BUT, I think the mortgage is ideal for snowflakes. So that is the part I am not quite sure on for 2014. It seems useless to put the snowflakes to the ROTHs because I will fund those regardless. & with anything more short-term I don't find it particularly useful or rewarding. I want to tie up those snowflakes for the long haul (retirement or mortgage). So I may just keep throwing snowflakes at the mortgage even if I am not particularly mortgage-paydown motivated otherwise, in the short run.

For 2014 I am going to focus way more on liquidity, which I think is wise given my job situation. I hesitate to say I am actually kicking the mortgage off my list of goals, because any money we save up and don't need for unemployment can eventually get thrown at the mortgage. It's more of a "better keep it just in case but mostly likely will go to the mortgage eventually," plan.

TOTAL NET WORTH:

Our net worth has increased by $125,000 this year. Since our goal is to increase this by $30k per year, we have quadrupled our goal. Wow, what a year!!! (Last year was similar, but we were making up for a lot of really pathetic years with the stock market and real estate market. This year was some serious forward movement). The $30k figure is just 50% of our annual expenses. That is how much we aim to grow our net worth every single year.

So, yeah, how is that for a mixed year? I don't particularly have anything to complain about. It's always disconcerting when things REALLY don't go as planned, but I also know we had a great year financially, in the grand scheme of things.

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2014??

I hadn't thought about it yet.

I think our goals will have to be:

1 - Fund 2013 ROTHs
2 - Increase cash by $5k
3 - Fund 2014 ROTHs
4 - Snowflakes to the mortgage ($1k is probably doable)
5 - Increase net worth by 40k**

**My "annual net worth increase" goal has been 30k for several years. I wonder if we can bump this up to a full 60k by the time we are age 40? The plan would be that our net worth would eventually increase by our annual spending every single year ($60k). I don't know what age that will be realistic for, but somewhere in our early 40s is what we are aiming for.

A realistic goal for now is 40k:

Mortgage paydown $ 5,000 (includes $1k snowflakes)
ROTH Contributions $11,000
Cash Savings $ 5,000
Overtime Savings $ 5,000 (to 2013 ROTH)
Investment Returns $14,000^^
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TOTAL $40,000

^^Assuming average 8% return, annually

I did not include real estate because way too crazy volatile, particularly regionally. For that reason, $40k may be a conservative estimate. (I did not include additional sources of income, gifts and so on, either).

It is not surprising that we are able to increase net worth more with time - is starting to compound a bit as we move past the real estate bubble and the last stock market crash.

I don't know what a realistic timeline is to consistently increase net worth by $60k annually. I think it will largely depend on short term market fluctuations.

Most of the $10k bump from $30k to $40k "net worth increase" estimate is due to lower mortgage interest rates (faster payoff) and stock market returns on increased investments. When I first estimated annual $30k net worth goal we were probably only paying mortgage down at a rate of $3k per year and probably had less than $50k in retirement savings. Our income has been pretty stagnant in all that time. But mortgage is being paid down faster (with a smaller payment) and investment returns are 3-4 times what they were in 2007 with investment balances 3-4 times as large. Smaller mortgage payment has also increased our savings ability (more to savings).

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Here is my sidebar update (putting it here for the future):

**2013 Financial Goals**

[ ]$11,000 to IRAs 2013 (MAX)
...(6,050 @ 12/31/13)
...Delaying funding to April 2014, to keep cash intact.

[X]$5,000 to savings
...(13,000 @ 12/31/13)
...Had to bump up savings due to lots of emergencies and repairs this year
...All but $5k redirected to expenses

[X]$5,000 saved for Hong Kong
...($5,000 @ 12/31/13)
...redirected to plumbing repairs

[ ]Pay more principal than interest to mortgage (+$4,000) - admittedly a pie in the sky goal
...($950 @12/31/13)
...Redirected the rest to home repairs, medical, vet bills, etc. What a Year!!

Goal savings rate = 30% of gross
(Actual savings rate = 11%? This may be our worst savings rate *ever*?)

[X]To have more cash/mutual funds than debt (mortgage)
...Goal Met as of 3/15/13!

[X]To increase net worth by $30k (or 50% expenses)
...(Up $125,000 at 12/31/13)

Credit Out My Ears!

December 9th, 2013 at 06:58 pm

I was surprised to see that I already got two $25 credits from AmEx last Friday. (Fine print said it would take 90 days or something - why do they always say that? - it always seems to take a few days).

I was extra surprised because this particular credit card is the slowest one I have ever had as far as rewards. Except in this case!

We did remember to use the right cards. Dh spent about $50 on Christmas stuff and bought a $25 Amazon gift card. I bought a $50 Kohls card and a $25 Amazon gift card - both of which - Amazon cards - I consider "free" with the credits. (I could use some new pants for work - so got the Kohls gift card with that in mind).

I left our regular/usual credit card for last so we would not have to remember to use the correct card. Was just waiting to see if dh needed to buy some gift cards for his family. Well, it turns out his Grandma wanted him to order her gifts for the kids - about $50. So he will just pick up a third $25 amazon gift card for free. (I wasn't 100% sure if we would use that last one - so it was nice to use it for someone else's purchase - she will give dh back $50 later - and hopefully I get the last $25 credit in a few days).

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And... Happy Day! I got my first referral from Ting!! Thank you thank you thank you!! I told so many people about it, but since none of my in-real-life friends mentioned it I presume it was a referral from this blog. Someone anonymous in internet land??

Yay!!

From here on out all my referrals will be $25. I was super excited because only the first one is $50. See my last post for details about Ting and our experience so far. (You get a $25 credit too if you use my link).

As it stands, we have a $200 credit on our account, so definitely will not even get a bill for the first three months. Our early termination refund hit today - Ting paid 25% of it for us. I just submitted the receipt for that yesterday. Woot! & then I got that $50 today too. We already had $50 in Black Friday and referral credits from using someone else's referral.

I didn't lay this out in my last post: If we save $100 month x 5 months with early termination (our half of the family plan) that will pay off dh's new phone in NO TIME. As noted, we won't even pay anything to Ting for the first 3-4 months. & who knows, maybe we will generate a few more referrals by then.

{I wasn't sweating it because I got a credit card bonus to pay for the new phone, but looks like maybe I can use the bonus for something else instead? If the phone pays for itself very quickly?}.

One of those examples where it pays to terminate early. It's a racket - but it would have cost us a larger fortune to wait out the contract.

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Okay, so I FINALLY got my new Chase card.

Old game plan:

Was thinking of charging a property tax installment, fees and all, to get this card charged up. {Even though I cringed at the thought of the fees!} But I also expected to have received it a long time ago. This took forever!

In the end, I already ran my tax return and things were surprisingly breakeven. By some miracle we don't owe any taxes, even without paying December mortgage yet. So, phew! So, I decided NOT to prepay property taxes this year. I still think it will be simpler in the long run, but this year is just not the year. (Surprising because we couldn't deduct as much medical and had way less mortgage interest this year. I had also adjusted my withholdings - paid in more taxes which apparently was enough for this year - phew).

Okay, so property taxes were due before I even got the card and scratch the second installment getting paid before next year. I was relieved because I didn't want to waste $50 or so on fees - though would have been worth it for the large reward.

New game plan:

I am hoping to get this new card charged up by around February 1.

What I have come up with so far:

$400 to Sprint for final bill (50% is being reimbursed by my parents, so this is an awesome hit for the card).

$200 Insurance due

$300 Auto insurance due in January

$250 Christmas Donations. The theme this year is animal shelter. Since our family lost two pets and adopted two pets. My kids won't hear of anything else. I like how we usually spread out our donations among many charities - each choosing one. In this case I was donating as a gift to my mom as well - in lieu of any other gifts - and then the kids both picked the shelter - so it will be one large amount divided amongst two shelters - one in each of our cities.

My choice was definitely the shelter since we had only paid $5 to adopt our cat. At the time it was a stray, we had no idea what we were getting into and just came off a pile of vet bills. But I figured we'd give them $100-ish if the year went well. I am happy to say that he is as healthy as a horse! The year hasn't gone well, but at least we didn't need a pile of money for the new cat.

Other than that - will just put January and February health insurance on that card.

Oh, and another $50 bonus if dh makes one purchase as an "authorized user". He told me he was shopping Scholastic this week, which is PERFECT. He sometimes charges up $0.25-ish there (since he uses his earned credit and tries to pay as little as possible out of pocket). I asked him if he had any small purchases in mind, and I think that is about as small as it gets.

My general strategy is to charge up these cards as fast as possible, but kind of a tall order with having to spend $6,000 on two cards. But, I may just prepay February health insurance and be done with it. Could have that one done by January 1 if I do it that way. Depends when the card closes for the month...

Dh's card already has $3,000 in charges - it was all insurance. Insurance insurance insurance... I should be able to redeem his $430 bonus around December 31.

Ting Update

December 8th, 2013 at 06:50 am

Things are going well on the Ting front.

**Since we were Sprint customers we were able to all keep our current phones. Of course, our switch was motivated by the new Nexus 5, which dh was able to buy directly from Google and then brought it over to Ting. The phone is $349 new but is a top tier phone. About half the cost of anything my dh was seriously considering up to that point.

Moto G also has a $179 price point? Which would probably be more my style than the Nexus. Ting is not supporting this one yet, but I assume they will work it out (would be a great match for Ting service, due to its reasonable price).

It will be interesting to see what other phones start to flood the market in the next few years.

**In the end, I took dh's android. It was a refurbished phone he bought for about $100 when his phone broke this summer. He hates it, but it's a nice step up from my windows phone. Of note, I can use our bank apps on the android (means immediate deposit of my payroll checks - I had just been using dh's phone when I got home). This phone also has 4G, if we ever get that service... Probably better for the long run.

We are keeping my old windows phone for the kids. It will only cost $6/month to activate it with Ting. In fact, we can activate it and unactivate it at will. Which is nice for this age. I don't see us having any use for the kids having a cell phone for a couple of years, but it is nice to have such a simple option we can activate today if we decide we need it for a special situation.

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**We are shifting our mindset on this Ting plan because are moving from virtually unlimited everything to "charge per tier". The charges are so inexpensive that it will be fine either way. BUT, of course we want to be efficient.

I also checked the details of our landline today. We have been averaging about 20 of our 300 minutes and so we will work on using the landline for some of our calls. If we do so, I think we can keep in the lower minutes tier with Ting.

{I find the landline necessary, particularly for the kids, and it is *free* anyway with our internet service}.

Sprint Monthly Charges:

1600 minutes (calls to each other were not counted), unlimited text and data

$105 for first phone
$ 25 for second phone
$ 25 for third phone
$ 15 for non-smart-phone
$ 20 Taxes
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$190 - Our split was $100 per month


Ting Monthly charges:

$24 for 4 phones
$ 9 for 500 minutes (Medium)**
$ 5 for 1000 Texts (Medium)**
$13 for 500MB (Medium)
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$51

**Texts and minutes to each other now double counted (versus not counted at all before).

+ Taxes and fees = ??? I somehow doubt more than $10 per month. Maybe only $5.

So, let's just say $60/month. For now we are splitting 50/50 for simplicity. We may re-evaluate later but I don't think either of our families uses a lot more minutes or data than the other. That makes our half at $30 per month.

I think the data usage is realistic given the lack of 4G service in our city. I am not sure on the minutes.

It is possible this will bump up to $80/month when we get 4G. I am expecting that to be the worst case. Only $40/month for us (half):

Higher End Projection:

$24 for 4 phones
$18 for 1000 minutes (Large)
$ 5 for 1000 Texts (Medium)^^
$24 for 1000MB (Large)
$ 9 Taxes
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$80

So, either way we save $60 - $70 every month.

Big Grin

I think the best part of Ting is they only charge you for your actual usage. That, and no insane penalties for going over. (They have reasonable rates if you want to use more data minutes or texts than their XXL "buckets").

^^Our texting is nowhere near 1000 but the tier below that was only 100 texts.

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If you don't have Sprint, Ting sells new and used phones directly, as well as they help you buy compatible phones from third parties. (A personal shopper service).

They also have a service for selling your old phones. Overall, they try to make the switch as simple as possible.

Here is a referral for $25 off if you decide to make the switch:

https://z181d126bt4.ting.com

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In other news, we got our final Sprint bill. I was expecting to pay last month's charges + early termination fee.

I forgot we had been pre-paying that bill all along. I was utterly confused until I pulled up our very first bill, which was the only one that indicated it was a "pre payment". The rest of the bills didn't seem to have any indication. Kind of annoying, but I guess it was a nice surprise.

I don't know if my accounting was terribly grand with my folks, but I think they are all paid up. They owe me $175 in early termination fees. My mom had been paying me every other month for their half of the phone bill. At this rate I think I will just ask for reimbursement once or twice per year. Since the amounts will be so much smaller... But I will probably draw up a spreadsheet and keep better track!

Ting also reimburses 25% of early termination fees, up to $75 per device. I submitted for that credit yesterday - super easy and it took less than a minute.

When that hits we should have $140 in credits, so I don't expect to pay a cell phone bill for a few months, until we run through all the credits.

My first referral will be a $50 credit so I am also really talking it up until I get that $50 - might cover a month of service for all four of us. We have a few friends we can probably get to switch, so hope to have a few referrals roll in during 2014.

I am not expecting to pay much of anything for cell service during 2014.

{Reminds me, dh was telling me one of his friends was paying like $120 per month cell service for a single dumb phone. You got me!?! He will likely be our first referral. It was a terrible network too - one far worse than the Sprint/Ting network}.

Baby It's Cold Outside

December 5th, 2013 at 06:28 am

So, we turned on our heat. It has actually been pretty mild. Like it is usually a bit of a challenge to keep heat off until Thanksgiving, but was easy peasy with the late Thanksgiving this year.

I don't know that I necessarily needed the heat on today, but we had a freeze last night. (I am bundled up and will head to work soon with ample heat). BUT, dh is babysitting today and I thought he would probably never think to turn on the heat. Who knows, it might be so cold that my efforts may be futile (it might cool off quickly when I leave). But is my attempt to not look too insane to other people. Big Grin Other than that, the kids will have to speak up if they are cold.

Otherwise I have my gloves on and am toasty warm, myself.

It was interesting when we got back from the beach because my parents told me their house was 54F degrees. Yikes! Ours was only 64F though our region tends to get a few degrees colder. Just to illustrate how much of our energy savings is the house itself. This morning it is only 60F in the house (the lowest it gets on its own) but there is definitely a colder chill in the air.

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It is busy here.

I think the Christmas stuff is done. Since it's a busy time of year we don't do much for the Holiday.

Christmas Doings:

--I bought my dad almond roca, like we do every year

--For his 62nd birthday I am giving him $10 for a National Park lifetime pass

--Mom gets a donation to a pet shelter (in the name of her pet that just passed) & I got her some earring on Etsy for her birthday

--I already sent my sister some of these gloves last month - they are DIVINE! We don't necessarily do gifts but I get gifts for people when I see them.

--$10 Starbucks gift card for work exchange - I could only find $10 in pack of 3 but thought that would go well for gifts on hand. I picked up a $5 candle a while ago too. Might give my friend a GC and a candle. I had also ordered earrings for co-worker.

--Christmas work gift will pay for boss work gift

--Dh's family will gift us more than we pay for them - we usually just reimburse SIL for her purchases. Dh might offer to provide Amazon gift cards with the AmEx deal we did.

--Kids bought each other $15 in gifts

--Dh's new cell phone cost me $10 out of pocket. (After credit card bonus paid the bulk). So, the kids ended up buying that for him. He is happy and needs NOTHING else.

--Kids picked up a birthday gift for dh ($10 Blu Ray) - YES it is birthday central here.

--Kids' teachers will get gift certficates to Scholastic (dh earns by volunteering).

Dh's family is driving me crazy with their wish list demands. I thought I had quite a wish list going but apparently they just thought that was for my birthday. I told dh to deal with it. He is trying to talk them into buying some of his and the kids stuff for me. (I often try to sneak their stuff on my list). Will see... I don't think they usually go for it, but if they can't think of anything else.

They are also driving my SIL nuts. Who for one lived in a super teeny tiny space and for two is "homeless" this Christmas. She has a birthday this week too. They sold their home!! But still haven't found another. So, we have both been pretty grinchy about Christmas, but we kind of always are an no one seems to care. Anyway, the past several years I have just put needs on our wish list but I think the thing this year is we no longer even NEED anything. So I have been a little more frustrated than usual.

So yeah, those are the Christmas doings.

Busy doings?

--Only working 4-day weeks most the rest of the year but have TONS of work to do. This week I only get like 2 days in the office. Just CRAZINESS. I will be working some weekends - time is running out!

--Dh is wrapping up his second script - they are rushing a finish because they have an interested buyer. (It's one of those things will believe it when I see it, but overall sounds pretty promising. The buyer is interested in the script they are in the middle of, so no pressure or anything! They want to finish it before the guy changes his mind or forgets about it).

--Dh is volunteering at Scholastic many hours the next few weeks.

--Dh is doing tons of volunteer work at the Public TV station

--Dh is doing tons of babysitting for friends. Our kids are old enough is no big deal, but these friends have a smaller child. I am dreading coming home tonight - SO EXHAUSTING. So much worse in this cold dark weather where we can't run them around outside.

So yeah, it's like dh is working full-time plus nights and yadda yadda. I am only surviving because I am doing all my last minute education this month. Yesterday I attended a seminar from home. BM's shoe broke, so I took him to Payless at 4pm. I hope that is the LAST store I step foot in this year. Often dh is my Christmas elf helper but that is just not happening this year. I think I basically took advantage of down time this past week to get things done. I finished up my online shopping yesterday while attending seminar. I LOVE that. So it seems to be working out.

P.S. See last post for credit card reward tally for 2013!

2013 Credit Card Reward Estimate + Other Income

December 5th, 2013 at 06:05 am

2013 TALLY:

$580 cash (Chase Sapphire triple dip moi)*
$430 cash (Chase Sapphire triple dip dh)*
$250 cash Citi (dh double dip? Triple dip?)
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$1260 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$ 525 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)
+$ 25 cash back Fidelity Am Ex (bonus for some alternating category?)

+$450 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$ 75 American Express Rewards ($25 x 3 cards)

+$ 85 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$ 178 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities; had 2% reward for a couple of months this year - woohoo!)
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=$2598 Total CC REWARDS 2013
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*triple dips = rewards redeemed for the third time. We redeemed once every 12 months or so.

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,598

Total 3 Years = $9,544
**Tax-Free Income!!**

Caveat: I don't recommend using credit cards at all unless you have the discipline to pay them off 100% within grace period. I have never in my life paid a fee or any interest to a credit card company. I don't think it's a big deal if you don't spend money that you don't have and therefore pay off the balance each and every month. This strategy has worked fine for me for full two decades.

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Other income this year:

$152 Capital One Savings Bonus
$500 Focus Groups (all dh - just a lucky year!!)
$300 Grandma paid me to do her taxes (kind of a gift really)
$220 Amazon sales/Craigslist Sales/Rebates
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$1,172
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In addition, I earned $7,000 overtime.

Grand total of side income = $10,692

More details on AmEx Amazon $25 Deal + Good Vacation

December 2nd, 2013 at 08:14 pm

I've been subscribing to a few more blogs trying to get better notification of credit card bonuses and so on. Anyway, so I had already heard about the Amazon deal about 10 times, but I am glad I read through this post because it had a lot of info that I did not know:

http://millionmilesecrets.com/2013/12/01/american-express-am...

I realized that I was able to register my Fidelity American Express (which in general does not have all of the same perks of a true American Express card). I also saw the tip that authorized users *with different account numbers* can also register. My dh thought I was crazy at first, but I was pretty sure our real and true American Express card had different credit card numbers (our transactions show up separately online because of the different card #s). So, we checked and I was right.

So, we will be able to get $75 off of $225, multiplying by 3.

**Now the trick is to remember to use the right card each time. I think that is TRICKY!!**

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I was starting to worry that I got denied on that Chase $550 bonus. They absolutely *never* contacted me - I have a fraud alert so they always call when I apply for new credit. They certainly did not approve me instantly - never do with the fraud alert.

So, I was relieved today to get a letter that they just needed to confirm my identity. I roll my eyes at the letter because it says they "couldn't contact me". Well, they would have if they tried. ??? But, if I don't even get this card for another week or two, I think I will pass on charging up the property taxes and will just take my time. In this case it probably works out for the best. IT will take a little longer, but the $3k is no problem with all the insurance bills I have due.

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I feel like I have been tested very much this year. !!

But I am pleased to say that our third try of the year for a "vacation" went VERY smooth. It did not start out that way and we had our moments, but overall I'd say was an A+ trip. Phew!!!

So yeah, that above was my view for the weekend. It was about 80F degrees and the weather could not have been more perfect!!

My parents went with us and we celebrated my birthday AND also that dh and I have been together for half my life. Not sure on the exact date for that milestone so we just decided, "good enough!" Was also 18th anniversary of our engagement. So, we have been together 18.5 years - we started dating when I was 18.5. We officially got engaged on my 19th birthday but had talked about it and agreed to marry months before that.

I usually am not really into making a big deal about birthdays or anniversaries, but I enjoyed being treated like a Princess all weekend.

Why do I feel tested??? Well, the week started out with a bout of food poisoning. {I am so behind at work I can't even think about it. Stress!! I was hoping for a quiet week to catch up but instead I was home puking out my insides}.

LM was sick on Turkey Day - we had already called it off due to my illness - so we both stayed home for Thanksgiving.

{I have no idea what I ate or what happened, but my body just reacted so violently. Food poisoning was my guess, the symptoms were classic, and no one else in my house got sick. LM had a sore throat/fever thing; totally different. Thankfully he mostly slept in the car and seemed good as new once we got to the beach}.

I was feeling optimistic for the beach weekend, but after bouncing back in about 12 hours (how my kids usually are), LM woke up pretty sick the morning we were supposed to leave. Somehow he snapped out of it and we took a deep breath and we gave it a go. I Wasn't sure until we left that we would even go. I was determined to enjoy our anniversary no matter how we ended up celebrating, but feeling pretty sorry for myself when I woke up and thought we'd have to cancel. & kind of beating myself up for even trying because it would have been our third ruined trip of the year (NONE would have went well). I think any other time BM and I might have just gone with my parents, but it was an anniversary thing and so dh and I were intent on spending the weekend together.

I guess in the end I learned it was good that I tried. Phew!!