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Archive for December, 2014

This & That

December 19th, 2014 at 08:43 pm

**Work is cray cray! I just keep telling myself I survive every year-end and somehow I will survive this one.

**Dh finished up a script this week and it is really good. That just makes my heart happy! I think him and his writing partner have incredible talent, BUT this was definitely their best script. The more they try, the better they get. The plan is to produce this one.

**As of today, financial goals are going really strong. Will see where the market lands 12/31. I am expecting some pretty large dividends and capital gains this week and next.

**Dh grew up in a household where Christmas was a BIG deal. I didn't. We had just gotten the kids one modest gift each and something shared. We also got them some candy, which I think will be a BIG hit. {Their junk food secret santa exchange has been like the "best thing ever". That's in a household that really doesn't keep a lot of junk around but probably also never says no to junk. As with anything, I think we are pretty moderate. You would think they never got any candy or soda with how excited they have been this week!} Anyway, so yay to the candy. BUT... Dh was feeling like the gifts we got were a little inequitable, and we discussed how BM is so much more about the experiences than the stuff. I told dh, "I really don't think the kids will care". But, you know they are at an age where we could ask them. So I asked the kids about it all and what surprised me was that BM said, "As long as I get the big present I want I don't care if I get anything else". Well, I knew Grandma was getting him the "big" present, and so case closed. I was proud though of his maturity on that matter. I didn't necessarily expect him to be quite that mature about it. I was thinking more, "We are saving up $3,000 for a trip abroad for you, so maybe you can be mature about your brother getting a gift he is a little more excited about". Didn't even have to go there.

Anyway, so dh can stop overly worrying about it. Yeesh!

**I took my car into the shop this week. I took it in a while ago and it remained undiagnosed. I wasn't about to take it on any long trips or anything and still felt something was off. Then the heat was not working. I waited a couple of weeks so I could push off the payment of that expense well into next year. (Weather wise it's been very mild and I didn't miss the heat). But I took it in Monday and got the heat fixed and now it is all nice and quiet again.

PHEW!!

It sounded just like dh's car (which has 165k miles versus my 115k miles) and I was starting to think maybe I should just get used to old cars being LOUD.

Not overly thrilled with our "forever" mechanic - I think their business is going downhill. I won't be surprised if it is just shut down at some point. I was fine to let them do the work but wasn't thrilled that they couldn't diagnose it before it got cold and I tried to use the heat. It seems that they didn't check the fluids at all when I took it in for "strange noises". Not that I expect them to just know, but I just didn't get the sense they looked over the car thoroughly. (I took it elsewhere for an oil change and basically all my fluids were low).

Anyway, so we are in early talks about shopping around mechanics. Dragging our feet because it sucks and is no fun, but will happen eventually.

I would say that having a trusted mechanic is very key as to keeping low car expenses. I have confidence that we will find a place that works for us. Maybe something more convenient - it's not all bad. This is just a shop my dad's cousin used to work for and they have always treated us very well. Clearly struggling in this economy.

I still have "old car" problems though. My van also has an oil leak. Oil leaks are something I have always inherited in 150k+ mile cars, and have only driven that or fairly new. SO... I don't know when that usually starts up. All I know is dh's older car has not developed any leaks yet. Big Grin

That means we really need to slip back into "old car" mode. It's always wise to keep an eye on fluids, but after 10+ years of never having *any* problems I can't say we particularly bother any more. But I checked things enough when younger that it's no big deal. Just a shift from not worrying about it for 10 years. Lord knows it's probably a good idea to keep a closer eye on the older vehicle too. (We bought both our current vehicles at 1-year-old, 10+ years ago).

I am just so relieved that my car is QUIET again. Big Grin

**One last thing...

Our favorite restaurant shut down. WAH!!! I think last we were there was about a year ago and it was the first time ever we had bad food and crappy service there. UGH! I predicted they would be shutting down. Just seemed like those kind of red flags.

It's not ALL bad. They do have another location. A little different, but mostly alike. Phew!! I haven't been to the other location in forever, but I guess we will start frequenting it more. We were probably going to go this weekend but the open location is in a busy shopping area with limited parking. It will have to wait. The open one seems to be in a much better (busier) location - hopefully they are doing better??

That is not all though. Our grocery store told us our favorite take and bake pizzas (very yummy and very CHEAP) were going to be discontinued. Took them about a year but it is true now. They are gone!! So bummed about that because it is our Christmas tradition. So we are scrambling a bit trying to decide what to serve for Christmas. (We can get other pizza, but none of us like other pizza!)

I suppose it's not all bad as it will probably force us to do some DIY pizza at home. But I will still miss the cheap convenience. Frown

Credit Card and Bank Rewards 2014 - Final Tally!

December 18th, 2014 at 01:53 pm

Rewards Update...

Revised for actual numbers, year-to-date. I think I have everything tallied for 2014.

All the one-time accounts have been redeemed and closed. I got my real FICO score from Bank of America - is still 800+ though I opened a LOT of accounts this year. I think next year we can't do much - need to reset a year before we can quadruple dip some of these. Though I did time the Chase checking accounts so that we can do those again in 2015. Other than that, I think the plan is to focus more on travel credit card rewards in 2015. We are trying to plan a very low cost Hawaii trip in the fall. (Aside from food, I think most the expenses will be paid with rewards).

2014 TALLY:

$180 Cash (AICPA card, Moi)
$200 Cash (Citi card, Moi)
$500 Amazon gift cards (SW Chase double dip, Dh)
$500 Amazon gift cards (SW Chase double dip, Moi)
$250 Cash (Chase Freedom, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Moi)
$200 Cash (Chase Checking, Dh)

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$2030 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

+$150 Extra bank interest from a CD promotion (6%!)

+$400 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back; health insurance & misc. spending)

+$375 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$60 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$48 Visa Rewards (1% cash back - for places that don't take AmEx - primarily dentist/insurance/utilities. New bonus December 2014 - 3% back at restaurants)

+$65 Citi 2% card (new card, to replace Fidelity AmEx and/or Visa rewards)

Grand Total = $3,128

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623
Year 2014 = $3,128

Total 4 Years = $12,697
***Mostly Tax-Free Income***


NOTE: ABOUT $550 FROM BANK CHECKING AND CD PROMOTIONS THIS YEAR. UNFORTUNATELY, THOSE ARE TAXBALE.

***CAVEAT - I absolutely do not recommend utilizing credit card rewards in this manner, unless you are in full control of your credit card spending.***

Doings

December 14th, 2014 at 01:52 pm

Had a GREAT soup for dinner last night!

Sausage & Kale Lentil Stew Recipe

http://www.tasteofhome.com/recipes/sausage---kale-lentil-stew

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This weekend we worked on our Christmas Giving.

Saturday we did a Giving Tree sort. This picture is a small fraction of what was sorted. This charity caters to sick and grieving families. It was the first time we volunteered for the sorting, and it was kind of mind blowing to see all those toys crammed into one building. (Lots of toys and bikes and clothing).

We always take my Christmas bonus ($200) and take $50 each to donate. The kids are both choosing the animal shelter this year. I will probably give $50 to the food bank. (We will do this regardless if I get a bonus or not, but that was just how we started this tradition).

Both kids' classes are doing secret santa with junk food and soda. (After all the endless notes not to send junk to school, don't ask me! I suppose they figured it was cheap and easy, and I appreciate that at least it will be consumables). So we picked those up on the way home from sorting, yesterday.

Dh has been doling out Scholastic gift certificates. Teachers are very happy.

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Spending:

**Last night I cleaned the kids' shower. It goes a lot quicker when you use the good stuff that dh is hoarding in the bathroom, not the 10-year-old expired shower cleaner. LOL. Seriously, that tub and shower hasn't been so sparkling white in years. IT was some no-scrub thing and it actually worked.

Anyway, the reason I did so was that I got a new shower curtain for the kids. When trying to figure out what to do with some Kohls gift certificates and Kohls cash, that was one thing I was looking at. The kids' "froggy" shower curtain was starting to fall apart. I could probably limp it along, but I figured they would probably prefer something a little more grown up, for the long run. So I did end up picking that up this month. The new shower curtain seems rather flimsy, so we will see how long it lasts!

Of course, I still also have the original original shower curtain. It was someone on the blogs who mentioned that you can just wash shower curtains in the regular wash. Yesterday I did a good wash of the extra long shower curtain I have in there. Which was apparently of high quality and has held up very well (& several washings) over the past 13 years or so. It's extra long for the tall shower but it is also just a clear thing. I had put our old (froggy) shower curtain on the outside for aesthetic and some privacy. (Though otherwise it would be too short for that shower, by itself). I suppose I could tell the kids if they break the new one they will just have to live with the clear plastic. Big Grin Will see how it holds up...

**I bought myself a new laptop this week. Last week was just one too many days of "fighting over the computers" in this household.

Kind of impulsive, but I had no idea how cheap they had gotten. We did already buy a laptop this year, but every computer in our house has more advanced gaming and video editing capabilities. My needs were far lesser than that. I think it was last Saturday that I joked that I needed a new laptop. Dh kept an eye out on sales and picked one up Thursday? $288 for another Lenovo. Merry Christmas to me!!

Hoping for more peace in the house.. The computer didn't need much more than internet and spreadsheet capabilities, but dh picked out something that should be fairly future proof. (Faster processors and what ever techie goodness he wanted). I had a few wants with the laptop too, so it wasn't just "the cheapest thing we could find". I can't get over the price!

I will either pull the money from savings in January (a blip) or will pay for it with extra Christmas money. Hoping for extra Christmas money!

I am waiting for a $99 Chase refund and I think my parents owe me $150-ish for Ting. So, I guess there is some of that too. (All money due to me, but the checkbook is already fine for this month, so maybe one reason I am not sweating some bigger purchases this month).

**It's that time of year! San Francisco Comedy Sketchfest. They put on a TON of shows and we try to narrow down given the constraints of money and time.

I think a lot of the smaller stuff was kind of "meh" or either not that exciting or worthwhile for a weeknight trip. My pocketbook is happy with that! Dh is trying to arrange companionship for some of the shows. (Babysitting is a challenge, I don't like all the same weird stuff he does, AND I have an early bed time. I will go if he needs me to, or he will go alone, but it's more fun to go with a companion who can stay awake). Which has led to some conversations in our house about, "What is the point of making a bajillion dollars if you can never DO anything?" UGH!! (Don't get me started... You know, we are just the stupid ones who don't make as much money as we should, live in the middle of nowhere, and never have any fun. That kind of thing...).

So far our plan is to buy $200 show tickets. Hoping to cover with Christmas money. Thrilling Adventure Hour (a tradition for us) and a Newsradio Panel. Will have most the cast. (Oh how we miss Phil Hartman! Frown )

I like how that worked out because we didn't want to go too overboard, and the Newsradio was completely unexpected. But is one of our favorite TV shows. Will see if dh can swing any company for some of the other $20 shows. Or if I will be drug along.

Notes to Self, and a Snowball!

December 8th, 2014 at 08:41 pm

Notes to Self, or, Stuff I do not want to Forget:

**I learned in the forums today that libraries have free museum tickets. As a lifetime avid reader and library user, all I can say is, "Wha?????????"

This is good because I feel like 2015 should overall be fairly low-spend for us on most fronts. Planning two big vacations... I see some free museum visits in our future - should keep us fairly entertained next year.

Oh, and they do Passport services too. I think I knew that but don't want to forget. (Can even use just for passport photos).

**That reminds me that our CU also has some discounts that I probably rarely remember when I actually buy any tickets. Mostly amusement park type stuff. Just adding this to the "note to self" section.

**Credit Union has been profitable lately and is increasing credit card rewards. & a nice snowball, which I will get to at the end of this post!

As to the credit card rewards, 3% cash back on gas, groceries and restaurants. Our other cards are better right now but the good rewards come and go. So I Want to remember this for next time I am shopping rewards, or if I ever lose 6%-back on groceries.

I have to work on remembering the restaurant reward - 3% is more than we get from any other card in that category.

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Snowball:

Our credit union announced a 7.5% rebate on all loan interest paid in 2014. Which would mean a $500 rebate on our mortgage interest. Woohoo! I will receive that in a couple of days!

It probably makes the most sense to plow that back into the mortgage.

But... I am not going to do that right now. I am far more worried about getting 2014 IRAs funded and also funding overseas travel for dh and BM, in just a few months. So, I will happily add this rebate to savings, hoping to reach those goals faster.

I think mostly in the short run I will have a little more cash than I expected, and in the long run I will try to throw the rebate at the mortgage. April should be a good cash month for me and would probably be when I throw it at the mortgage. Once IRAs are funded and overtime is received for tax season.

What's best about this snowball is how out of the blue it is! Big Grin

Final Christmas Shopping

December 6th, 2014 at 07:20 pm

I think I am DONE, but still have to help the kids pick up a birthday gift for dh. At least we have some time for that.

Note to self: shopping the first Saturday in December is okay as long as you wrap it up by 10am.

So yeah, I lied. I did go out shopping. I did do as I said I would - avoided crowds and traffic. I guess my sole goal was to get a Christmas present for work gift exchange. I drew the new girl and decided I'd just pick up a nice Christmas decoration. (Recalling a really pretty one someone picked out last year). I printed out some Michael's coupons. I thought Target would be try #2 if need be, but Target opened earlier. I also noticed my wallet is falling apart, so figured I'd look at wallets while I was out.

So stop #1 was Target around 8:30am. Pretty empty and calm and nice so I took my sweet time. Could not find a wallet like the one I had. Could not find almond roca for my dad (the other thing I decided to get while I was out).

I did find a GIANT snickers bar. Dh had told me he wasn't going to do any stocking stuffers but then he was. I figured the kids would love that!

Defeated on the wallet and gift front, I decided to go to Marshalls later, which would be on the way home. When I got to Michaels a little after they opened I realized that there was a Ross next door. I popped in and failed on the wallet and the gift front but I found a good deal on almond roca! I will have to remember that for the future. No one was there and there was no line.

(I ended up getting some almond roca for the kids too and dh was happy with that for the stockings. Phew! I was actually just going to give it to them, but waiting is fine too).

It was probably closer to 9:30 by the time I got to Michaels - they opened at 9. Huge sale there and it was a bit crazy. Waited in line for a bit but at least it was early and they had a lot of registers open.

I found a second gift for my mom - so she is all covered for birthday and Christmas. (I wasn't necessarily going to get her anything but found a $8 gift she would love - the only thing I paid full price for).

Spent about $15 on a cute basket and some ornaments for work gift exchange. I also have a Starbucks gift card left over for last year, to round out that gift.

Saw the perfect gift for Japan friend, though I almost didn't get it! Then I had my "doh" moment that BM plans to be traveling to Japan in April. That's taken care of.

Found the cutest gift for a friend I am meeting up with on Monday. We just have that relationship where we don't necessarily exchange gifts but buy each other cute things here and there. Just, no pressure or commitments, which I love with buying gifts. I spent a whole $2.40 and the gift was perfect!

I also picked up some really cute ribbon which didn't make it into my bag or onto my receipt. Frown I don't know what happened with that. But I will survive.

Hoping that I am now officially done with stores and shopping for the rest of the year!

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Other Doings:

Today dh is taking the kids to stock up on free Scholastic books. Has like $300 in vouchers, in exchange for volunteering. (Much much more than that will go to teachers and school).

Dh also did some de-cluttering and sold a pile of books and video games for $100+ credit at the used store. So, he has close to $150 to spend there now. That will keep him rich in movies and video games for a while.

I closed two credit cards opened for one-time bonuses, and applied for another one. The card I applied for - the website just flashed a "thank you" real quick and went back to the home page. I will wait a couple of weeks and then call and see if my application went through or not. I don't see why I wouldn't be approved, but maybe the website glitched. So the new card is in limbo but I think everything else is officially closed and done with. Just waiting to hear if my $99 Chase Southwest fee is refunded.