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Archive for January, 2015

Taxes, Ting, Groceries

January 31st, 2015 at 02:38 pm

**I did file our taxes on Tuesday.

And... I already got a refund from the state. WHOA!

The irony is that I mostly never get state refunds because there have been so many years our state has been insolvent. I've already adjusted our taxes this year so that we should not get a penny back from the state for 2015.

IRS refund should arrive early next week. The entire $3,300 in tax refunds is earmarked for travel this year.

I have not filed the kids' taxes yet but they are mostly done. I might file them today. I just wanted to double check everything and I still have to pay the taxes they owe. They owed $6 in state taxes on about $2,500 of investment income. I try to keep their income tax-free but don't expend much energy towards that end. BM owed 5 of those dollars - I didn't notice his dividends were starting to get up there. More money, more dividends! I will revise my tax strategy to "$1,500 annual income" for him. If he owes the state $5 for that, I can live with that. (Federal is tax free $2k per year with the kiddie tax rules, but the state is only $1k tax-free).

**We got our first Ting bill since I have had work wifi. We barely used any minutes, texts or data this month. Our bill was $26.60. This is definitely what it will be at through tax season. When winter is over and my dad starts traveling again and I am not holed up at work 6 days a week, will see.

That's for the two of us. So, $13.30 per phone.

**Dh did a grocery run yesterday and did really good. He had earned $25-off and stocked up on a bunch of sales. Receipt said he paid $120 and saved $60. The pantry runneth over...

**Oh, and yesterday was kind of a lucky day all around. Surprise money in the checkbook. (Not expecting refund quite so fast). In addition, dh got his passport (we did not pay to get it faster, but they just sent it in a couple of weeks??). & dh also got the extra bulb for his projector (that was a rebate deal). Woohoo!

Free Lunch

January 24th, 2015 at 04:11 pm

We are on a roll this week!

I forgot that I have *three* dates with hubby this week. Today we are going to see a show in San Francisco.

Thursday was his volunteer appreciation dinner. He won a nice award, which was a surprise! It's the local public TV station - they always throw a GREAT party. We also managed to score two camping chairs and a New Kindle Fire from the raffle.

I don't know that a new tablet was particularly on dh's wish list, but he is LOVING it. (It's not gentle on the eyes like the e-readers and so it won't scratch his itch to upgrade his old reading Kindle. We did have a fairly old first generation Fire, free with credit card rewards, and so this was a nice upgrade for that. The old one is getting kind of obsolete. I don't know if I can talk him into selling it or purging it or if he can wipe it clean and give it to the kids. It's too bogged down with apps right now. I don't know if a purge of apps would help).

Yesterday I walked into the lunch room around noon and my employer offered me a Panera sandwich and some chips. Guess they didn't need the extra. I was just feeling on a lucky streak - I *love* Panera but rarely spend my own money there.

That is not the end of all the free goodness. My dh was all excited about the Amazon Prime deal today. I was feeling kind of "meh" about it because I see free Prime deals all the time. But I figure I don't really want to get sucked into that. But if we must do it, why not get it for free the first year?

Well, in the mail yesterday I got a credit card offer. $200 cash back PLUS free amazon prime for the first year. Dh agreed that was a much better deal! (I've seen the credit card deals before but didn't want to encourage him. Though actually I think the deals I have seen were usually "just" Amazon prime. I don't know if I would bother with a credit card reward for less than $200. So this was much more up my alley. Talk about timing!).

I looked it up and the snail offer was much better than the general bonus right now. But, you can get $50 and free prime. The offer I got was for the everyday card. The preferred card (also in the link) has a $75 annual fee. Of course, there may be other free amazon prime deals out there - I have seen them around.

https://www304.americanexpress.com/credit-card/compare/blue-...

2014 Review

January 24th, 2015 at 03:15 pm

I already reviewed 2014 but did not keep the entry because it had more net worth details then I'd prefer to leave up in this blog for eternity. So, I will summarize again for future reference. Nothing new here...

CASH:

Cash is up $7,000. This was an easy year - was a fairly low key year compared to more recent years on the "emergency" side of things.

$5k is our annual goal. The bulk of this is to cover home repairs and car replacements.

RETIREMENT:

Maxed out our IRAs. 13.25% of income.

With returns, our retirement funds were up $22,000.

Doing Traditional IRAs in 2014 netted us an extra $3k in tax savings. That extra $3k went to overseas travel plans. But in the future should be more like $2,400 refunds just due to the IRA and will boost our entire "retirement savings" to 16.25%. (We will plow the tax savings into long-term retirement savings - will just have to keep it in taxable investments).

INVESTMENTS:

Opened up a long-term investment account to supplement our cash and retirement savings. Contributed $3k in 2014, for an additional 3% of income. (Contributions were $150 per month, plus snowflakes, starting in May).

Kid's college money was also up $3,700.

HOME:

The value of our home remained the same.

MORTGAGE:

Paid down mortgage by $6,300. About $4,000 was regular payments and $2,300 was snowflakes. We had a great year for snowflakes as we weren't focusing on the mortgage in 2014. But one of the snowflakes was a $500-ish mortgage interest rebate and another was a credit card reward for a $200 check to the mortgage so it seemed appropriate to put those to the mortgage. We put all snowflakes the first 4 months of the year to the mortgage too, before we opened our investment account.

In 2015 we plan to start throwing an extra $3k per year into the mortgage. For now, all snowflakes are going into investments.

TOTAL NET WORTH:

Our net worth increased by $42,000.

This was our goal, exactly. But what are the odds of that??? We are always so much at the whim of the markets.

-----------------------------------------------------

2015:

Net worth increase $42k:

Cash + $5,000
Investments + $5,000 ($3k + $2k tax refund)
Retirement + $11,000 (Max IRAs)
Investment Returns + $14,000 (assumes 6% returns)
Mortgage Paydown + $7,000
---------------------------
NET WORTH + $42,000
---------------------------

**My "annual net worth increase" goal has been $30k for several years and this was the first year that I had bumped it up to $42k. 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.

Celery Cat Nip

January 20th, 2015 at 02:10 pm

**BM is doing a science experiment with celery plants.

So I come home the other day and our cat is completely and totally BONKERS. He can be a hyper and troublesome cat anyway but he has substantially mellowed after a couple of years with us.

All I could think was... EARTHQUAKE. My dh thinks I am totally insane but there is science to back that up. I will never forget in the Loma Prieta quake when all the birds outside started squawking right before the big quake. (We don't particularly live in earthquake territory though so this pre-earthquake like behavior was a little perplexing. Like holy crap WHAT is coming?? We can feel quakes far away if they are large enough).

Dh is always the smart one that figures these things out. He had noticed that the cat had been particularly enamored with the celery plants. I jumped on the computer hoping we didn't carelessly leave out poisonous plants! Thankfully, that was not it. But what I saw immediately was that some cats react to celery leaves like they are catnip. HA! Dh called it.

The cat has kept out of the plants since and has mellowed out again. I keep expecting to come home to find plants everywhere and the science experiment ruined. Will see... He seems to be staying away from them - maybe that celery high was a bit too much for him.

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One of my recent posts I mentioned a lack of things to buy or a lack of a material wish list at this point.

Of course, I Am well aware we have stuff to maintain and to eventually replace and yadda yadda. It just seems to me that maintaining seems to be a generally much cheaper phase of life than the "accumulation" phase.

So I am sitting back and seeing what has been very low on our priority list and what is floating up to the top now that we really have no purchase priorities?

I have a GAP sweatshirt that I bought in like high school (20 years ago?) that I wear at night. It doesn't need replacing in the slightest but I thought "more than one night sweatshirt" might be nice. It's been kind of "meh" since we have done so much laundry with the kids. Especially when they were in diapers. But you know, I can probably afford a second warm night shirt now and we aren't doing as much laundry as we had been. Going longer between washes... So, I bought a couple from Gap online. Didn't see the exact same thing but thought I'd gamble that they are still making half the quality they did in the 1990s. Who knows. Their stuff was on sale. I actually gambled on a large boys' sweatshirt (it actually fit and I really like it) and then just got a large mens' sweatshirt. I figured if the boys' one was too small I could just give it to the kids. It's what looked closest to what I Wanted and both were on clearance. Of course they had nothing like my incredible sweatshirt!

That's my January improvement, I suppose.

February? I am thinking toilet seat. Our toilet seat has gotten scratched up for whatever reason. I think we should buy one and see how we like it. If we find a nice seat then probably should just replace the other two. I don't know that the other two are messed up but they do have some stains. At the least, would be nice to have a new toilet seat in the guest bath. This will be a very nice but inexpensive improvement. I see all the toilet seats these days are "slow closing". That will be nice actually. Our weather is too mild to care about warm seats and stuff like that (though I saw a lot of those too).

Birthday Doings

January 19th, 2015 at 03:09 pm

Dh turned 39!

I had been thinking of getting him a kindle (Voyage?) but then we got a laptop instead and he didn't seem overly enthused.

He is big on the kids getting us gifts for holidays and birthdays because it teaches them to manage money. Which I admit is probably extra important since they seem to have very little opportunity to save up and buy for things - too spoiled by grandparents and circumstance.

That said, LM has -0- in his piggy bank and I welcomed the opportunity to do a less materialistic birthday. (I am fine with his -0- balance. Best to learn these lessons when you are 10 versus 20. & maybe is a nice lesson about money not being everything when it comes to showing love and appreciation).

BUT. Then I thought of the perfect gift and picked it up. I didn't realize dh had put it on his wish list and his MOM bought it for him. UGH! (Mental note - always check the wish list to be sure? I was at first very annoyed at myself for why didn't I coordinate with her, but then I remembered that I thought I Was being much more impromptu. Big Grin At least she gave it to him a week or two early and so we realized a while ago).

Anyway, I was going to cover the kids on that one. Which worked out I guess that I didn't have them pay for it, because now it's in the gift pile for someone else. It leaves me scrambling because that was all I had as far as gifts.

My family always celebrated with FOOD but dh is just not that into it. I did whip up some fudge for him and he did appreciate it. He refused to let me make him dinner or to do anything special meal-wise. But we will go out on a lunch date this week and we also have a dinner event this week. So two dates in one week is not bad.

I asked him again how he felt about the Kindle and the look on his face was he would LOVE it though his words said otherwise. (You know, if money was no object, he'd buy it. & I mean like only if he had a zillion dollars would he buy it). I told him I wasn't planning to buy it this week or anything, BUT we should reconsider in April. I think we had probably decided "no" before his parents gave us a big Christmas check. But, we had also felt like we had been spending a lot of money and we could cool it for a while. (He feels he should wait until the next generation probably - would make more sense. But I don't think it's the worst thing to have an extra hand-me-down for the kids, if he wants to upgrade again in the near future).

Which reminds me why we weren't really going to buy him anything for his birthday in the first place. He got his $3,000 toy a couple of months ago and he is LOVING it.

& so I am thinking ahead to 40. We aren't really big on birthdays and don't make big deals of them. But I was recalling that I surprised dh with a trip to Vegas for his 30th! In the grand scheme of things, don't know if that was the most exciting gift to him. But at the time he was staying home with a newborn and a 2yo. I came home from work and told him to pack his bags because we were leaving for the weekend. Getting away was the best gift I could have dreamed up for him. (I had seen an incredible deal on airfare, which has spurred most my vacations in my younger and lower income years).

So, how do I top that? I don't know. It might be fun to do a party, but the logistics of planning one this time of year is probably pretty horrible. Maybe we should split the difference and do a joint 40th birthday party in the summer. (I turn 40 in December of the same year, so that would be meeting in the middle). I would so much more enjoy a party in the summer. Not in the middle on Holiday and work crazy! I have a whole year or more to ponder that.

Reminds me, dh's Grandma turns 90 next month!

This & That

January 18th, 2015 at 04:08 pm

I'll start with the minutiae because I have lots of catching up to do. This is what happens when I don't post for a week!

**I officially opened a Traditional IRA for dh yesterday. I will fund 2014 as I can. By April, of course. (We contributed to his Traditional IRA in 2-income years but converted it all to ROTHs in low-income years. Time to start his Traditional IRA from scratch, since our taxes are creeping up).

**Still waiting for investment forms to complete our taxes but hope to file this week. Refund should be about $3,200. I am going to throw that at dh's IRA and mostly be done with that. (The refund is due to funding Traditional IRAs versus ROTHs. We aim very breakeven on our taxes otherwise but this will be "flip a coin" territory for a while; to be decided for sure when we do our taxes every year).

{This $3,200 refund is his Japan trip money, as you may recall. It still is, but throwing it at the IRA will just mean less money to move around. I will keep $3,200 in savings that was earmarked for IRA. I don't know how much or when I will really need the Japan money}.

**Mr. Money Mustache blogged about his 2014 spending details and all I can say is: I BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM!

Mostly, his efficiency increase in 2014 was astounding. Whereas once I would compare our budget to his and be like, "Sure, that's where we are and will be when we cut out the mortgage and the expenses of working and yadda yadda". This year was, "Never mind. What the..."

I don't bow down to people lightly, that is for sure. But it's the only response I have to that...

---------------------------------------------------

The theme for 2015 seems to be "ONWARD and UPWARDS," for us. We might progress our net worth upwards from it's peak in 2005? (Depends on the markets, so lord knows). Cash is back to it's peak level. Our income is higher than it's ever been. It feels AWESOME!

I did get a raise. Woohoo! It was not a full $200 per month raise but that is what I will net after tweaking my taxes a bit.

Thank goodness for the raise because we had a lot of expenses creeping up.

--Health insurance creeped up, as it always does.

--Property taxes went up about $1k per year and so I added $100/month to our savings to cover that. (During most years our property taxes have gone down and offset other expenses, so I don't know that I have increased this monthly savings amount in like a decade??)

--I increased our grocery budget by $100/month. Which is also the first time I have ever increased that category (in like 15 years of marriage??).

So that's a lot of budget increases, for us.

I suppose that is more budget increases than raise. I lowered our cash savings by $100/month since our cash savings is robust. I split the difference and added $50/month to our long-term investments. I will move things around if we have to but I think it makes sense to shift some of the cash savings to longer term investments.

I guess overall that leaves us saving $50 less per month but I am fine with that - our savings rate is very high.

I also have a lot of buffer in the budget still. The $150/month I Was putting to long-term investments was a placeholder for my raise last year. If I can keep this at $200/month (new amount) then that is a nice buffer for future expense increases.

We also have an extra $200/month tax savings for any year we do a Traditional IRA instead of a ROTH.

That gives us a total $400/month buffer - I am holding onto this for future health insurance increases.

In addition to all the above, we have significant sources of other income. Most of which will likely go to savings. (I've been averaging $8,000 per year NET income with overtime and credit card rewards, in recent years).

& this is why our income will be so high this year. I am making a solid $15,000 LESS household income than last dh worked (my salary alone). BUT, we are also paying about $20k+ less in income taxes, so we are netting MORE with my paycheck. All the extra income just boosts our "net income" substantially. I am sure we are nowhere near our peak "gross income" level on two incomes. But on a net basis we should blow our highest income year out of the water.

**On a side note, I took a 10% cut in compensation in 2009 and so it is only this year that I am making as much money as I Was back then. With this raise, it puts me back where I left off. That is another reason for my feeling of moving onward and upwards.**

The crazy thing about the abundance this year is that there is absolutely nothing we want to buy. If I ever receive a large raise, or any raise above expenses, we wouldn't make any plans to spend it. We are very content.

After carefully planning and saving up the cash for every purchase it feels quite odd to have nothing left on our wish list. It certainly took a long time but we have made it through our entire list! (We topped it off by upgrading our phones and car stereos last year, and dh's home movie theater. The year or two before we had finished furnishing our home and replacing the old furniture that we did not like).

I mean like since the time of our very first jobs in our teens this is probably the only time we aren't saving up for something substantial and material over the long run. (Or a long list of smaller things that would take time to accumulate). It feels WEIRD!

I've personally never been a big fan of spending money on experiences. Both my hubby and I much rather buy something we can use and enjoy every day. But I will admit that maybe a lot of that has to do with being in the accumulation phase of life. I'd rather buy something I can use and enjoy and save the rest for a rainy day?

I do see our spending shifting with age and assets. If our house is furnished and our cars are new and we have everything we possibly want... That frees up a *lot* of money for other things. We are definitely throwing more dollars at vacations and shows and experiences. & it's certainly nice to be able to afford more than a budget vacation once in a while.

Passports, Crazy Spending, $6,800 Car

January 11th, 2015 at 02:51 pm

Passport fees have gone up a wee bit the last several years. Yeesh!

Anyway, all our passports (kids and I) are current so I didn't think much about it. Dh thankfully realized that we've never really traveled abroad together and were probably on different schedules. His passport expired 5 years ago! He should have enough time to renew before his big trip.

He last renewed his passport in 2000 because he worked abroad at that time. He has been to Asia several times (family and work), but he has never been to Japan. He figured he couldn't pass up this opportunity.

As to the passport fees, just taking it out of the vacation fund for now.

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There is a lab in our city that teaches technology classes to kids and so on. There is a class this weekend on making games for PC or mobile. The software is free to use. So BM is going to that. He can teach LM and dh from there. (LM would probably be more into that but would probably rather just learn from his brother).

They wanted cash and I am pleased I have $20 cash for that. My mom gave me $40 for Thanksgiving groceries? For whatever reason I just put it with our cash on hand for "in lieu of ATM". If we go to the ATM once or twice a year then maybe this would make it zero times per year.

{I usually put any and all change and cash straight into the bank, but I thought it might be more useful to keep a little extra cash on hand this time}.

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I've said it before and I will keep saying it I guess... It is so odd that one of the biggest benefits of our low-cost move is not having any grandiose illusions of income. As we approach 40 it just seems to get more and more ridiculous.

I wouldn't even know where to begin. Seven figure mediocre homes and $33,000 private schools, etc.

I was thinking about it more locally actually because co-worker brought a brand new SUV. He is older and higher up and makes more money. BUT... His car was broken some time last year and he groused that he was carless (for like a whole week?) because he could not afford to fix it. I personally had absolutely no frame of reference for that. When I was a completely broke and almost penniless college student I could afford to fix my car. I thought, "Is he so tapped out he can't even throw it on a credit card??" I don't get it. I really don't. I understand living far beyond one's means but I don't understand having no means to secure a loan.

So anyway, to be fair, he is the only one in my office who has not replaced HIS car during the entire past 13 years that I have been there. & as much as I feel on a different planet as my co-workers, they are certainly more frugal than average and it's common for us to all keep our cars for 15+ years.

So I believe he has always had this car since I have been there and he is probably due an upgrade. But, he did just also buy a new car for his wife. & there was this whole thing with this ridiculously expensive truck he bought his daughter than just sat in his driveway. (He complained it was too gas guzzling to drive and use; daughter went off to college on the other side of the country).

All that, and he could buy nothing less than a brand new SUV for himself. Of course!

All of the above makes me feel grateful that I am under absolutely no illusion that I can afford any of the above. A $30,000+ vehicle, a seven figure home, or a private school education (or two or three) in the most expensive city in the U.S. Nope, nope and nope.

OF course, my gross pay may be a lot lower than everyone above but I don't know that our means are particularly lower. We don't pay much in income taxes. So I have just been pondering a lot how bigger salaries motivate people to spend more. Even when they really don't have any more at the end of the day.

As to our relatives back home, I really hope they have stock options or something lucrative on their side. It seems less likely the more they grouse about how broke they are. I am extra fascinated by this when it comes to our relatives because I'd say they more started out like us. Very frugal and financially sensible out the gate. But the insane high cost of living has eroded their common sense, for sure. (Except for the one who moved to our city and then spent lavishly beyond his means with his home equity windfall. He's chronically unemployed and $300k-ish upside down on his house. So - I don't know WHAT it is! Any illusion of wealth of any kind makes us really stupid??)

A lot of it also seems to be who you marry. Dh and I are the only ones who married another saver. Watching our relatives makes me extra appreciative about this point. It's not anything I ever thought about consciously when I picked a mate - I met my spouse when I Was only 18 - but I don't remember ever seriously dating any spenders. Would be like oil and water.

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How about that Elio??

http://jalopnik.com/elio-releases-definitive-2016-model-at-c...

"Elio has released their "definitive" 2016 model at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, even though the electric-looking three-wheeler is gasoline powered."

"...standing firm at 84MPG and the $6800 price tag"

Who knows if they will be able to pull this off but I just LOVE that they are trying and that so many consumers are excited about this.

This could easily be our next car. (Or a third car to limp our sedan along until the kids have their own cars).

I mean, this is like my husband's dream car. There have been a lot of small cars that are ridiculously expensive (and thus impractical). But YES - this is what we need - small cars that are low gas mileage AND inexpensive. YES YES YES!!!

We have a 2001 Ford that we paid under $8,000 for, barely used. (We bought it in 2002). It gets 40mpg on the freeway. Of course, it cost so little because we bought it at the height of SUV crazy and in the midst of the massive debt bubble. No one wanted a practical and small and inexpensive car. Wink

But anyway, I have just been so disillusioned watching cars get more expensive and less practical. & bigger. Like there was a time I had no idea what we would do if anything happened to our cars. Particularly as the debt bubble peaked.

The timing of this is interesting because dh and I have discussed that if we saw a deal like when we bought his last car I'd be ready to pull the trigger on replacing his car. Figure it likely will not happen, but we agreed to keep our eye open for maybe something in the $10k range. Otherwise plan is probably to spend more like $15k-ish in another few years.

Of course, I completely ruled out buying a one-year-old low mileage car for under $8,000 again. But hey, what do I know? This gives me hope! & maybe also gives us some extra motivation to wait a few more years.

$50

January 6th, 2015 at 03:23 pm

I redeemed $50 (credit card reward) to my ROTH today and added that deposit to my sidebar.

Nothing much else going on.

Long Weekend Doings

January 4th, 2015 at 10:12 pm

**Paid $1.89 for gas! (Dh got a 50-cent off per gallon gas coupon). I will savor moments like this while I can. Big Grin

**I funded the kids' school lunches for the rest of the year. (Once a year would be even cheaper - they charge a fee per deposit. But twice per year is my middle ground. Accounts for "things change sometimes." I don't want to pay for the whole year and then the kids start hating the lunch or something like that).

**Our taxes are pretty much done. I will have to wait for some broker statements to finalize.

I just printed out a bunch of Quicken reports around 12/31 - that was the most of the *work*. It then takes me a few minutes to enter it into my professional work software.

**The kids and I visited my parents this weekend. We took the van (which we very rarely drive out of town) and I guess the only thing I spent was about $30 for gas. We had a very nice time!

**Today I took the kids to their indoor favorite play spot which only tends to have weekend hours on holidays. In fact they were only open 2 hours today! (Otherwise they shut down for birthday parties). But I had noticed that and it was still worth the $7 per child admission. I brought a few $1 bills for snacks. I took a book and enjoyed the peace. The kids were in heaven.

**Dh and BM bought up quite a few $1.99 shows on Amazon this week - they got into some series. Considering that is about it for our spending during their break I think that was a good value.

**LM is doing that overnight sailboat field trip this week. (The one his brother did a couple of years back). I keep forgetting about it! Guess I better make sure we have what we need for that.

**On the Hawaii front I think we have settled on Maui as our destination. No decisions for sure until we book our free room.

Today I looked up the credit card deal I saw and it looks like we will be able to get two free flights out of four. My plan is to get the credit card for dh and to play around with the booking a bit (nothing final). If it works as they say then I might get the same card for a second free flight. The only downside is the $89 annual fee - which makes me nervous if we can't get the free flights for any reason?? But, then again, with the $12,000 or so of free money we got the past 4 years I think we can take the risk.

**You may recall the BIG trip that the in-laws took BM on for his 10th birthday. The same offer extends to all their grandkids. & LM turns 10 this year!

How does LM feel about this? He refuses to go anywhere with them. LOL.

So that is where we are with that. I don't think he is going anywhere this calendar year but he has another 18 months to come around. In addition, MIL told me last we discussed it that he can have a raincheck. I do hope he comes around in the next few years but I don't necessarily expect much.