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Archive for July, 2014

Woohoo!

July 29th, 2014 at 08:05 pm

Woohoo! I finally got the $200 bonus for dh's Chase checking. Phew! I set up another ach transfer from a less popular financial institution, but when I checked to see if the transfer had come through the $200 bonus was already pending. (I wasn't expecting that!) So, maybe it worked the first time. (Though that was well over 10 business days!). Or maybe they just deposited the $200 when they saw the transfer coming through. I don't know, but it did work without a real "direct deposit".


2014 TALLY:

$500 Amazon gift cards (SW Chase double dip, Dh)
$250 Cash (Chase Freedom, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Dh)
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$1150 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Notice that these are ALL Chase rewards? Yeesh!

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So BM survived his backpacking trip. We ended up spending about $350 on backpacking gear. I am relieved to get the $200 bonus as I will throw that at the gear.

I would like to say that I was depositing all these rewards to our mortgage or investments, but I think it *all* got spent. Just one of those years. We happened to have a couple of things break just as we got the rewards. IF not for this bonus, I'd pay for the gear out of the vacation fund. But, if I can leave the vacation fund robust it gives us more options for the rest of the year. We leave for the beach next week and I will definitely relax more and not worry about how much we are spending.

It is what it is. Always easier for us to splurge extra money or "Free money". I am certainly glad to have it!

Vacation Spending + Solar and Other Stuff

July 20th, 2014 at 03:09 pm

**They are offering free solar setup in our neighborhood these days. The company takes all the tax breaks to subsidize the costs.

We don't use enough energy to utilize. So, phew. Dh is a little more into that than me. I can't say he would necessarily do it, BUT, the whole thing appears to be moot at the moment anyway. So it's not even a discussion.

It is interesting though as several neighbors are taking up the offer and discussing their energy bills. $150-$225/month. We are at around $60/month. Don't ask me! It was our electricity usage that I wanted to work on this year - a rare bill I felt we had room to improve on. We don't really do anything special in this area and since we aren't from the area we aren't particularly used to the heat. On one hand. On the other hand, we don't feel the need to keep our house 70F degrees 24/7. I suppose that is the most of it.

The other interesting thing about our current electricity bill is that it is at a "people home 24/7" level. For the long run I do expect it to go down. I'd expect in 5+ years that everyone else in the house will have jobs and be out of the house more.

We do have a very energy efficient home and I guess some part of me presumed all these new homes were energy efficient, but maybe some of them are not as efficient as others. Ours is specifically an "energy star" home.

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I had no idea how much our vacation was going to cost. I mentioned maybe $0 or $1,000. I was just figuring $500. Probably the worst case.

In the end, I think we pulled it off at around $500. (In-laws were sidelined so did not really go anywhere with us. In the end we paid for the entire meals when we were together. Don't ask me. Is why I had no idea where we would end up).

MIL gave the kids $50. They spent $40 on souvenirs and arcade games. I will consider that a wash. We probably would not have done any of the above, otherwise. Though that was another plus for Six Flags. Their arcade was actually reasonably priced.

$20 parking, $400 food, $180 gas. Total is $600. But we will pull $100 from the regular food and gas budget to cover some of the costs. So, leaves $500 to come out of the vacation budget.

Hotel - free with MIL's timeshare
Parks - paid for by MIL and credit card rewards
Kitty hotel - paid for with credit card rewards

I think it was an extraordinary vacation for $500!

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Our total vacation budget is $1500 per year and so that leaves $1,000 for the rest of this year. Was waiting to see how this shook out before we plan trip to visit my sister. Waiting to see how that shakes out before we decide what to do with the kids' fall break.

Well, things are shaking out. My mom is not feeling up to flying out to see my sister and she offered to fly them out here. She feels bad about the whole thing. But I told her I think it is great. I did not want to fly out my whole family and I knew that would disappoint my sister. It just makes way more financial sense to bring her out here.

In exchange, my mom offered to fly me out with one other person in my family. I don't know if I will take up the offer to bring someone else. It will probably just be my dad and I. If she is really intent on being fair maybe they can pay for $400-ish of BM's Japan airfare next year. For that second airfare.

I have never seen my sister's current home or been to her current state (Kentucky) and so I think it's important to still go out there. I do look forward to just having a special trip with my dad.

I also think I can get us a free hotel, from MIL. (Or we may just split a $50/night hotel room). I don't even know if we will need to rent a car.

So that trip is starting to look fairly -$0- on the spending front. & that is a nice surprise!

Since we will likely go visit my sister the week my kids have off of school, dh and I are leaning towards doing something small that week. When I get back. Maybe just Death Valley. Or maybe just Grand Canyon. But don't want to do the whole giant road trip thing, due to time and finances.

We do have a beach weekend planned in August, so it's nice we might have a little spending money for that. I think we will loosen the purse strings on that one. (We already have a free hotel room and may or may not reserve the kitty hotel).

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All of the above is good, because this backpacking trip is going in the other direction. My dad mentioned we could just rent some stuff. So you know, we just got back from vacation and are looking at prices. BM leaves on Tuesday. We probably should have just planned ahead and bought some used gear. !!

Our attempts to borrow a tent are also failing, given the last minute nature of our preparations. I did find a backpack to borrow but also saw some at REI for $99 that were very highly reviewed and could last a lifetime for BM. That I am totally cool with. But haven't seen anything on the tent front under $200.

The University does rent out tents so we will look into that tomorrow. If that does not pan out my dad said he can rent one for us. The REIs around here don't have any rentals? But several in his neck of the woods do have rentals.

Anyway, preparation and planning is probably the #1 key to frugality. & I am feeling a little frustrated with our lack of planning. I am seeing how we could have saved a lot of money with a little bit of planning.

As of right now, will borrow a backpack for free. (Is a friend who owes me a favor anyway). Will probably rent a tent somewhere and then keep an eye for a sale for next time. My dad wants me to buy a titanium bowl and spork. {BM is going backpacking for three days with my dad. I suppose I should have mentioned that at the beginning}. We will owe my dad for some camping fees and so on too, but don't expect that to be much. Like literally a few dollars. Thought we might be driving to drop off or pick up but it seems they have most of that covered. It is a relief that we don't have to drive the van down too. Will just take the gas sipper to deliver BM. Maybe someone can also meet us halfway for that.

I will take all this from the vacation budget. This is also giving me renewed motivation to get that last $200 Chase bonus. That would go a long way to some backpacking gear if he thinks he will want to start backpacking more. (I don't see why he wouldn't).

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One final thing. Our Ting bill is going to be about $120 this month. We went over on our usual minutes with our travels. My dad has also been traveling.

My dad just got back from Japan and was able to use his phone there. Ting pricing was very reasonable. So that is the rest of it.

$120 is still significantly cheaper than our old sprint bill. So I had to talk up Ting a bit and share our referral code again.

$25 off referral link:

https://z181d126bt4.ting.com

Overall, travel aside, we have bumped up to the next data tier with my new phone. I must be using it a lot more. I don't know. So our household's portion of the Ting bill is averaging $30/month instead of $25.

Depositing Checks to Wrong Account

July 19th, 2014 at 01:57 pm

I seem to be on a roll this year for doing really dumb things.

So LM was quibbling with me the other day and I was trying to deposit their birthday money into their accounts and so on. I had a $20 birthday check for LM. He deposited $7 from his piggy bank and BM had $10 from his piggy bank.

Oh yeah, so I found out the "catch" on their 7% accounts. I could not believe they let us open those accounts for the kids without us having to be CU members. BUT, the catch is we can't take money out without going in person. UGH! BM hit the $500 max (for 7% interest) so I told him we could go withdraw interest once or twice a year. I was going to just transfer it out every quarter until I went in and they said I could not do that.

On the deposit side it is okay because they can do phone deposits. Go figure. So I just write them checks to deposit. Usually the kids give us cash from their piggy bank, we put the cash in the allowance money pile (to give back to them later), and I deposit a check into their account. Since they won't let me transfer money into their accounts, from external accounts. It works...

So let's start over. LM had $27 to deposit and BM had $10. I was quibbling with LM and I proceeded to put all of his money into BM's account. TWO CHECKS! From two different people. I told dh that I doubt the CU would even notice. But was hoping I would not create returned check fees and problems.

It's been a week and it looks like they all went through without a problem. Phew! I guess I have to straighten it out on our end, now. Dh is going to deposit BM's $20 check at our CU. We can transfer from that account. Will then put it in our account and write a check to his brother for his CU account. That will straighten out the $20 I put in the wrong account. Then I owe BM $10 and LM owes us $10. I will have to think through that part later. Big Grin

Okay, so through my work experience, I'd say banks frequently don't look too closely at checks. If they are signed, who they are made out too, the date, whatever. They don't seem to look at any of this stuff! So I am not surprised at all if it all goes through.

BUT... I seem to have been spending a ridiculous amount of time this year straightening out the stupidest little things. So, crossing my fingers that the CUs really are paying that little attention. Could I be so lucky this time?

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Reminds me, I seem to have failed at getting the $200 bonus from Chase since we don't have a true direct deposit. After reading that it doesn't matter. *sigh*

I will do a little more research on that before I give up and close the account. Looks like I should just try from another bank account. I have a couple of CU accounts and I do see reports that some random CU ACH transfers do seem to work. So I will keep trying.

Short Vacation Update

July 18th, 2014 at 02:39 pm

A sure way to vacation success is to go in with low expectations. Big Grin

Background: In-laws invited us to So Cal for a week. We were wary about the heat and crowds and spending all that time with them, but in the end it turned out pretty well. Unfortunately FIL had an injury and they didn't end up really doing anything with us. ??? So it was kind of weird (to go on vacation with someone and then never see them), but WE certainly had fun.

Disneyland: Glad we didn't spend our own money to confirm that the kids are over it.

My parents took me to Disney once. I always kind of appreciated the magic of vacations like that because they were so rare. Living a 6-hour drive from Disney I certainly know many people who go many times a year and seem to enjoy it. But, dh and I are just so bored with it, and our kids even moreso. (I think they have both been 6-8 times? The older one a couple of times more?). As dh said, "We don't care enough about anything to actually wait in line for it". We saved that for Wednesday and the day started out pretty well but it was so crowded in the afternoon and evening. We gave up and left early. For the most part it was way better than expected and we did all the "long wait" stuff early on before there were any lines. Phew.

The kids still LOVE Legoland and the in-laws did join us for a few hours.

For BM's birthday we went to Six Flags. Best day of our week. We could not believe how not-crowded it was. There was only one ride BM could not get into (didn't want to wait 45 minutes and the ride shut down when he decided to do it last even if the wait was long), was the new one. We told him we will come back in 5 years and everyone will be bored of it. It was surprising how short the lines were on everything else.

So, we decided that he did 11 mega coasters for his 11th birthday.

Oh, and the Six Flags by us is just awful. They won't let you carry fanny packs on the baby rides or set your drink down while you ride. Ridiculous $1 lockers by every ride where you have to put your hat and sunglasses. Rolleyes Dh and I both worked at an amusement park in high school and we were just kind of annoyed about everything last time we went to that Six Flags, in comparison. Looking at the website this one seemed to be about the same so I Was resigned to being the "stuff holder" all day. In the end, they had very few rides that requested lockers (BM saw one or two) and they still let you set your hat and drinks to the side for the ride. It's a small thing but it makes a big difference in enjoyment.

Compared to the other crowded parks, Six Flags was heaven. Big Grin LM and I had a surprisingly enjoyable time though we didn't do many rides. Dh was a sport and rode most the BIG rides with BM. I am just getting too old for that stuff. Dh feels the same way, but he is a trooper. Next time we need to find a friend who is brave enough or tall enough. We could not for this trip. (His best friend is way too short to ride anything!)

I am guessing we spent $500 for the entire trip. Will see where we end up. Six Flags was entirely paid for by credit card rewards. In-laws paid for our other park tickets. We treated MIL to a $100 meal for her birthday dinner but she got us $100 Disney dollars (going to a timeshare talk). So I think we made out pretty well. We could have made the Disney day free, with the disney dollars, but decided to splurge on a ridiculously expensive lunch. $90 for four. IT was okay. If we had spent real money we would have been pretty disappointed.

Dh and I also made it to one show. A podcast one of his favorite comedians does. There were some other $10 shows but the timing didn't work and these are all shows that come to San Francisco at times. So, those will have to wait for another time.

I can't believe we were gone for 5 nights. I can get pretty cranky when we are away from home too long, but I think I am mellowing with age. I seem to travel better. But still very happy to be home! LM too seemed to have a surprisingly good attitude but this morning he told me he was happy to be home and he was going to hug the floor all day. That is usually how I am. Big Grin

Edited to add: $500 in expected costs is for food and fuel.

Good Money Week

July 8th, 2014 at 01:37 pm

I feel like I have been on vacation for weeks. Work is just really quiet. (Clients are mostly on vacation so I am getting caught up with stuff, just doing what I want to do). The long weekend was extremely refreshing (feels like it was more than a week or something). I think a lot of it is that I don't work a full week again until kids go back to school. Two more vacations in that time. I am already winding down for vacation after a quiet couple of weeks and a long weekend.

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I updated my 2014 rewards tally in my last post.

It's been a good money week. I did receive the $2k kids' college money.

I redeemed $200 Chase Freedom reward towards Six Flags expense, as planned. (Just saw my rewards hit today). I saved the rest ($36?) to redeem next month with gas 5% cash back (vacation driving). I expect this reward to be a grand total of $250. Will redeem the remaining $50 next month and will figure out what to do with it at that time.

We received our $500 (SW Chase) gift cards yesterday.

I won't know about dh's other $200 checking reward until Friday?

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I had yet to close the last two Chase Sapphires we opened. No rush, until the annual fee comes due a year after we opened. I probably would have closed them by now, but I did not want to close them while opening other accounts for rewards. In case it lessened our chances for any reason. The checking offers were because we had Chase accounts, and so I decided not to close them until we got our checking rewards, at the least. We have since both applied for new Chase accounts. At the time we both only had one Chase credit card.

SO...

Today I closed my Chase Sapphire card and dh's SW Chase card. The SW chase card was paid off yesterday AND we received the reward. It's best to close that one ASAP to get the annual fee refunded. Crossing my fingers on that too.

I will pay off the Chase Freedom next pay day and close that account. I will close dh's Chase Sapphire as soon as I sort out the SW Chase. Maybe tomorrow.

I can't close our Chase checking accounts before December. I have those set up in Quicken with a reminder. If we close before 12/31/14, we will be eligible to do the same rewards again in 2015. But if we close before December we forfeit our rewards.

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I suppose I have been somewhat in cleanup mode. Also managed to do some light de-cluttering around the house. Freecycling a few items, recycling batteries, etc.

I was going to say I wish that I had anything to sell. BUT, I guess that is not true. I am glad I don't have much laying around that we don't use or need. The difficult part for me is the stuff I don't want to throw away. (Thank goodness for freecycle! So glad to get things to people who can use them, even if can not sell for money or give to charity). I did have two freecycle no-shows, which is really annoying. I got a slew of e-mails of interested parties, but it's hard to tell who is actually serious I guess.

I purged a personalized frame (unique spelling), my very old and tired cat carrier, and a small animal pet leash. The free stuff got enough interest that I will try a few more random things next weekend.

Rewards Update

July 8th, 2014 at 01:29 pm

2014 TALLY:

$500 Amazon gift cards (SW Chase double dip, Dh)
$250 Cash (Chase Freedom, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Dh) - ?????
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$1150 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$550 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back)**

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

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

+$ 75 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities)**

**Estimates for the whole year

Grand Total = $2,310

BUT, I still don't know if dh will be able to get the Chase Checking reward. So I put "?????" next to that one.

Birthday & Fiscal Doings

July 4th, 2014 at 04:20 pm

We decided to do an impromptu birthday party for LM tonight. Sleepover, one guest. His wants are simple. He requested an indoor sleepover and Round Table Pizza. & a homemade cake. I think we can oblige.

Oh, and frozen waffles for breakfast.

BM will probably have a backyard campout with his best friend, when we return from vacation.

We were going to worry about them both after vacation, but we thought to ask if LM's friend would be free tonight, with the holiday. I think the kids are excited to space out their parties a bit more.

I am also noticing that the kids' favorite play place tend to be open on Holidays. (Is otherwise closed for parties on the weekends. So we just hit it when we can on weekdays). BUT, it looks like it will be open all weekend. I last took them on Mother's Day. There was no one there and I read a book. It was DIVINE!! I hope it is half as quiet there this weekend. Big Grin

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Kids also got free cupcakes from our local grocery store. For their birthday month.

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Fiscally, I just paid all the bills for the month so I won't have to worry about getting my next paycheck late (after vacation). I am good until August. Mostly this means paying off all the credit cards for last month. They all have credit balances at the moment. (Since I round up to nearest $1 or $5 when I pay, I have some reward credits already applied from last month, prepaid $200 snowflake for kitty hotel, and haven't charged a penny this month yet).

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The above reminds me that the in-laws are coming up on Monday, to celebrate LM's birthday. They charged up $3,000 of our medical bills for travel rewards. I will repay them Monday while they are here.

I expect they will bring birthday money for the kids. They have consistently gifted $1k per year, per child, since birth. For college. (Though I think that is pretty flexible. Dh didn't need his college money and instead used for a down payment on our first home. I wouldn't be surprised if it is the same for our kids, and I know the in-laws would be cool with that).

Between the low cost of education in our state, and the in-laws providing enough gifts to fund 4 years of college, college savings probably couldn't be any lower on our priority list. BUT, this year we are starting to match the in-laws' contributions. I received a $150/month raise this year and so that is where the raise is going. That said, this match is not being solely earmarked for college. (Is probably more earmarked for retirement). But it will be there if we feel we need it for college.

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June/July Fiscal Minutiae:

--Received $22 bank interest & $11 taxable dividends (dividends are from that new "college" fund I mentioned)

--Transferred $190 to "college savings/misc" account: $150 monthly contribution + $25 credit card reward + $15 monthly internet promo savings

--I did not have my usual $50 ROTH reward this month. Because I let MIL charge up $3,000 of our medical bills. That cost me $60 in ROTH rewards. (But they are very generous so I do not mind. Like I said, I think they are bringing me a $2,000 check for kids' college).

--I updated side bar for IRA and other savings. (Saving $1300/month for the rest of the year, to max out IRAs).