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Archive for November, 2015

Christmas & Birthday Updates

November 21st, 2015 at 10:28 am

**Dh is fine with the kids' Christmas plan. The only thing was that he had a couple of practical gifts in mind, so we will get those for the kids to open up on Christmas Day. I will fill their stockings with junk food and candy (which seems to be most of what they really want). & then their big gift will be the show tickets, which we were going to buy regardless. We will figure out a clever way to make the reveal. (It's likely we will be able to get front row seats for the show. Fingers crossed!)

I don't recall ever giving the kids "practical" gifts before. Will see how that goes. Honestly, I think they will be too excited about the candy to care. We don't make a big deal about Christmas and so they don't expect much.

**I was able to put together a nice 40th birthday present for dh, today. He won't be surprised but I think it will be pretty nice.

We were able to get a free timeshare stay in San Francisco for one weekend in January. This will allow us to more easily get to 5 Sketchfest shows. (We usually get more bogged down by logistics, which is fine because we usually need to narrow down more, financially).

I really thought I'd be splurging for a hotel and some meals out. Particularly since you have to book SF so far in advance (to get the free timeshare). In recent years we have just been going to Napa more because they always have more last minute rooms, and we tend to plan these things more last minute. So I don't remember the last time we asked for a SF room and actually got one! (& this is only 7 weeks out? It's a higher-end hotel and exactly where we can walk to most everything. We really lucked out). Oh, and MIL told me she would give dh some cash for dinners out, on his birthday. So I guess I don't have to come up with much. Maybe just some parking and public transportation expenses.

I don't know that we will buy all of these tickets, but we can feasibly do 5 shows for $285. That's not bad, and is because we won't have the kids with us. In the end I think we will be able to hit several more shows than usual, while spending in the range of what we usually do anyway. I think the 5 shows are pretty reasonable logistically. They are fairly spread out.

This is pretty much dh's *perfect* weekend.

**P.S. I came up with a creative birthday gift for my dad. It costs a whopping $7. (Tour of a private antique museum, though it might cost more if he wants to spend more time taking photos. Dh was there for an event, and so is how we heard about it).

Some Updates

November 20th, 2015 at 06:45 am

**We officially got our $85 Citi Price Rewind (price match). Yay! This is a good strategy to keep in mind with bigger purchases. We can always go with the *free* delivery or installation if the item costs more, and then request a refund on the price if it is cheaper anywhere else.

**This month is quite a snowball month. I am up to $1,700 already in side income. I think pretty much ALL of that is dh - he redeemed $500 in rewards, made $200 from a gig, and the rest is his paycheck. ($300 of the rewards was a checking reward for having direct deposit, so was somewhat paycheck related). If it was earlier in the year I'd probably throw all of that to investments. !! But, as is, I am waiting to see how the year sorts out before I dole anything out. We seem to be short a couple of thousand of where we really want to be on our cash savings and so I am hoarding that up and figuring it all out next month. I guess I expect more clarity next month.

I also just wrote a $5,000 check for property taxes, and we are picking up a bunch of show tickets this month. I am expecting all those tickets to basically be covered by Christmas cash (or maybe by the windfalls this month). We just got tickets for Book of Mormon and this weekend the San Francisco Sketchfest tickets go on sale. (It's always hard to narrow down - there could be several great shows we want to see, but the prices tend to be reasonable).

**We thought dh wouldn't have to work in the winter, which is great since it's a cold warehouse. We are still a little confused about that since he was initially told no work in Dec/Jan and it appears things are winding down and getting slow. But they insist there will be work next month. So, will see. Anyway, dh wanted to buy a jacket and was astounded by *new* prices. (I have no idea why he didn't just go to a thrift store, like he usually would, but maybe feeling more lack of time). I told him to check out Ross and he found a warm $20 jacket there. (I had just been there - for Christmas candy - and was taking note of the jacket/clothes section for my elder son who is wearing more adult sizes. Targets been really nice with $5-ish per clothing item, for several years, but I think Ross/Marshalls is going to be more my friend with teenagers).

We went for a walk last night and when I grabbed my coat out of the closet I remembered I had seen a coat in there I thought was dh's. So I pulled it out. It was a REI fleece that he does not remember ever owning. But he found some hand written notes in the pockets and clearly it was his. I suppose I didn't think about it before because it looked more like a light jacket at first glance, but it's probably fine for his purposes. He said he will try it out. It looks like we have 60 days to return the other jacket, so might as well see if this serves his purposes through winter, before we decide for sure.

**I am pretty much done with Christmas preparations here. Mostly because we keep things so simple. I usually post a couple of links about "Christmas Simplicity", but those links seem to be broken. I will have to find new ones.

That said, I haven't really gotten anyone birthday presents (parents/dh). For my parents I will probably just do donations in their name. I just haven't had many gift ideas this year. It ebbs and flows, and their birthdays are within a few days of Christmas. I figured the kids and I will figure something out for dh's birthday next month (we have a lot of time). Dh handles his family's December/January birthdays. (We have quite a winter birthday cluster).

& then there's the kids... With dh working I think he just hasn't been as on top of it. I was surprised he's not spotted any used deals or picked anything up for them. We have no idea what to get them. I did see the Sketchfest show lineup (released today) and we may just go with surprising them with one of those shows. A couple of their favorite TV shows are doing panels. My eldest doesn't even want anything, so that is some of it. We usually just give them one thing to open on Christmas Day. But usually the material stuff is more dh's territory.

Though I usually say, "They don't need anything!" I suppose at this age and given past tradition I don't exactly believe in not getting them one single thing to open. I do have stockings covered though (candy!). I bought some re-usable cinchable bags that I can fill with candy, and I figure they could use for dirty laundry when traveling. (Dh found one randomly at camp, that's been really nice, and I thought that might be nice with the shift away from plastic bags. Pretty much we don't own bags. We just use plastic bags. But I am working on slowly accumulating more re-usable bags). I'll talk with dh tonight about maybe just wrapping the bags full of candy and surprising the kids with a show in San Francisco. If there is any year that dh would go for something like that, it would be this year. (He's been kind of scrooge-y with working. I think some of it is already having anything he could possibly want, but the rest of it is definitely not having his usual free time. So a lot of the video games don't appeal since he no longer has time. I think his blu ray collection is also pretty complete at this point. He seems entirely uninterested in restaurant gift cards, etc. I told him, "Welcome to my World." I didn't realize working/having less time was so much of it).

**Since my birthday is like a week away, I suppose I should not be buying anything, but I saw these basic long-sleeve shirts at Kohls that I had bought a couple and liked. They were $8.99 and so I stocked up on a few more. I have in mind to replace some of the more worn shirts I keep to just wear under clothes - I have some from my high school/college years that I still use. I am thinking with any gift cards received this season that I might keep an eye out for some short-sleeve replacements. I went a long time without buying these type shirts (the ones just sitting out on shelves in the store - always very cheap), because they never seemed to hold up very long. & I suppose they aren't very flattering either, once you've aged or born a child. So maybe these are purchases that I will regret. But in the interim I am really getting rid of old stuff, and they fit surprisingly well. Which is what I do with clothes. If I find something that works well, I buy up every color that I like. Which is pretty much what I did. Maybe these won't last for decades, but hopefully they won't fall apart too quickly.

2015 Rewards Update (Ummm... Bought a CAR with Rewards!)

November 7th, 2015 at 05:44 am

2015 TALLY:

$525 Gift Cards (Citi, dh)
$300 Cash (Chase checking reward, dh)
$200 Cash (AmEx Card Everyday, Moi)
$200 Cash (Barclay card, dh)
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$1,225 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

Other Rewards:

**Free Prime For One Year

**$40 cash back (Amex Reward for spending $40 at Amazon)

**$85 Citi Price Rewind

Ongoing rewards (projected through 12/31):

+$200 deposit to ROTH (Fidelity Am Ex - 2% cash back; health insurance charged to this card)

+$300 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

+$100 Target rewards (5% discount Target purchases; mostly groceries)

+$40 Visa Rewards (3% back at restaurants)

+$525 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere)

Grand Total = $2,515

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623
Year 2014 = $3,128
Year 2015 = $2,515

Total 5 Years = $15,212
***Mostly Tax-Free Income***


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

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We have utilized credit card rewards for decades. It's only in the past 5 years I have been tracking them so closely in my blog because they started to get so substantial.

This year started out kind of slow and I Wasn't expecting much for this year. But as the rewards started to pile in for the last quarter of the year, I decided to do a tally.

& I realized, WE BOUGHT A CAR WITH CREDIT CARD REWARDS. Seriously! The $15,197 we amassed the passed 5 years was more than enough to pay for our most recent car purchase.

WOW!!

That said, I can not stress the CAVEAT part of this post enough. We personally have extreme fear of debt and have never paid a cent to a credit card company (no interest or late payments or carrying balances or whatever). I know not one penny of that $15,197 went back to the credit card companies in the form of any kind of interest or fees. The bulk of what I charge up for rewards is our health insurance (a bill we obviously are going to be paying regardless). Also, groceries and utilities. We charge up the fun stuff too, because we charge up everything, but I've never justified a splurge for a credit card reward. That would defeat the whole purpose.

If you are going to end up paying one single cent to the credit card companies, or can't treat your credit card like simply like it's an ATM card, then I would never recommend going for these kinds of rewards.

On the flip side, if you avoid debt like the plague and you have the personality for it, it's really not that big of a deal. You know, in response the DR mentality that it's impossible to win with credit cards. To that, I say: I got a FREE CAR! Big Grin

P.S. On average I'd say the earning power on these rewards is about $1,000 per hour of time and energy. This is the most efficient income stream that we have, by a mile. Least effort/most reward.

Good Dental News, Life Insurance Review

November 6th, 2015 at 01:39 pm

**The kids had dentist appointments this week and it was good news. Phew!

BM got his appliance out and so we can move him to our cheap/awesome dentist. For now, the preventative work has paid off and braces are not on his horizon. (No idea how one of MY kids got away with that! Woohoo!) They wanted to re-evaluate when his next teeth come in, but our dentist is pretty conservative and either we will wait for him to refer him to ortho, or we could always just get other opinions next year (at 13). It's been nice having the pediatric dentist/ortho team approach with the mess my kids inherited, but they are far away and is not where we would get frequent ortho work. Would want other opinions too. Moving BM to our dentist will save about $500 per year. I figured this move would help offset eventual orthodontist cost.

LM also had good news. The word "surgery" has been thrown out as a possibility because he has an extra tooth that is impacted. We've been watching and waiting on that. As of this week they want to wait another 6-12 months, but they seemed more optimistic that it is working itself out. He will eventually have the extra tooth pulled, but it will be a much simpler procedure if they can just pull it versus digging it out surgically.

**We took the kids out to dinner after the dentist to celebrate since the appointment ran way long and we were all tired.

I am happy to say that after 2 months of dh working that is the first time we lazied out of dinner. & I just had a DAY also - dh was the one that took the kids to the dentist. When he asked me if I wanted to cook dinner or eat out, I said, "EAT OUT!" I think any other day I would have been find with cooking dinner. But I think it was fitting to celebrate moving BM to our cheap dentist and him getting a hunk of metal out of his mouth.

If anything, we seem to be spending less money with dh working. I'd say we are regularly having 6 No Spend Days per week. We just tend to run errands on one day on the weekend and do all the shopping for the week. Probably forcing us to be even more efficient than we have been. Dh and I seem to be inclined to spend less money the more we work. (Too busy to shop?) That said, he's only working very part-time. So there isn't any big time crunch or need to resort to more convenience. I think full-time work would be a whole other story.

I guess I wasn't really expecting "less spending" in this case.

**Yesterday I went through the kids' clothes and did a shuffle. I have a small pile for donation.

Overall, my kids are really cheap and easy. But one reason I Went through their clothes is that BM was actually wanting to wear pants and long sleeves (which is a first!) He's outgrown all his pants, which isn't surprising since he never wears them and I may have not bought any in a year or two. BUT, I think it's the hormones. BM suddenly seems to be aware of the cold, for the first time in his life. (Usually no one turns on the heat while I am at work and they are all in their underwear. I crank up the heat and pile on the layers, in comparison).

BM told me the sweatshirts that he absolutely never wears don't fit, and same for the pants he never wears.

I took inventory and he's really outgrown everything. For whatever reason the school uniform shirts seem to fit him. But all his t-shirts are getting pretty tight. I found a school sweatshirt he can wear and probably won't buy any others unless I see him actually wearing it more.

I'll take him out shopping for pants and t-shirts this weekend. I've been mostly buying on clearance, off-season, but I figure with dh working I can probably afford to splurge a bit. & I mean like I can pay more than $5 per clothing item. I suppose it's "Back to School" shopping in a sense, though there was no point back in summer when school started and all their (summer) clothes fit.

LM doesn't need anything because he is rich in hand-me-downs.

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One other thing I did this week was sort out our life insurance and came up with a loose financial plan in case anything ever happens to me. I will have to go over it with dh and see if he has any input or tweaks.

Historically, we have enough insurance to bridge any gaps. But with age and assets, I guess I wanted to look at it because I figured at this point dh would be more "set for life." I also wanted to run the numbers and discuss with him a loose plan should anything happen to me. Two heads are better than one, and better to discuss together with clear heads.

I was very pleased running the numbers. Working is purely optional for dh at this point. That said, I am not going to lower my insurances at all since one policy drops out in 10 years. & I don't want to be stuck unable to buy more insurance (later) if need be. But we can re-evaluate again in a few years.

Also, social benefits are just gravy. I don't want to count on those, but social benefits always seem to be pretty substantial when your ducks are in a row already. My kids would received $4,000 per month social security until age 18, which is more than enough to support the entire household today (with me still here).

As to the flip side? I'd be open to insuring dh so that I Was in the same position. Another $200-ish per year in life insurance expense? For that kind of financial security? Sure, why not!? But, he is uninsure-able with his health problems, and so we don't have much in the way of options.

That said, it's not all bad. I do have a life insurance policy on him, which added to our existing assets would give me immediate financial independence. (This is insurance we bought 10 years ago, before any health issues).

I did also look up dh's social security benefits and was surprised to see the kids would get $2k per month survivor's benefits from him. Wow! He has not worked in 13 years, but he did work 10+ year prior.

I need to spend some time this weekend discussing these things with dh.

Doings

November 1st, 2015 at 09:10 am

**Dh got a small video gig. He seems to be a money magnet lately. (Just more stuff falling out of the sky).

**Of course dh's phone shipped the day before the credit card cycle closed. Just because it's the most annoying timing. (It was not supposed to ship for another week).

I ended up diverting his first full paycheck (received this week) to cover that.

**My kids have been wishy washy about Halloween. They were initially "too old." But with the Saturday Halloween I guess they got more invites to Trick or Treat. Since we had some Amazon gift cards (+ a free Prime year) we appeased them with some last minute costumes. In the end they had a blast with their friends and so I am glad it worked out.

**Reminds me, dh told me that we now get 2 hour prime shipping in our city (on some items). I never foresee using that. !! Like seriously, it can wait. I still haven't gotten used to 2-day shipping. We ordered a couple of non-prime items that showed up yesterday. !! One of them was a monkey dress costume I saw (a more feminine compliment to our monkey costumes we bought last year). I couldn't wear it because it was a heavy fleece and it was so HOT yesterday. We ended up turning on our AC for a bit. This weather is insane. Thankfully we are due for some much needed rain today.

**We did also redeem the last of our gift cards for our last credit card reward. I redeemed $50 for a school fundraiser and we got some movie theater gift cards, Best Buy (since they price match Amazon) and a Panera gift card. I think we got $50 for the movies, so that should last us a while. Dh seems to be in a bit of a movie lull.

**I am phasing out my American Express 2% cash back card (since so many places don't take American Express). Will replace this with my 2% Citi card. I haven't done this sooner because the limit was so low on the new card. (Initially was like a $3k limit?? Most our limits are $15k-ish?) But I had asked them to up the limit at some point and they did. I apparently should have asked them for a bigger limit. Anyway, I took the time this week to move any lingering bills over to the new credit card. The only thing I have on the AmEx is our health insurance (which is more than out mortgage - it's a big bill). I am going to ask for another limit increase before I move that last bill over. I hear they are phasing out this AmEx reward card anyway. It always eventually happens, so I am glad I have found an even better replacement card in this case.

I've not been a fan of managing 5 credit cards, so I look very much forward to simplifying. That said, it hasn't been a big deal with using Quicken. I've taken to paying all the credit cards off the first of the month because it's just simpler. (Then definitely nothing is ever forgotten. I've moved very far away from "waiting for bills".) I might stick with that habit even when I consolidate a bit. I had wanted to add an extra $3k or so to our emergency fund to cover "last month's credit card charges", but I think paying off the end of every month is a simpler solution to that.

I will still have 4 credit cards. It is the way with rewards these days. Each card has a great reward for just one or two categories that we utilize. Then the 4th card will be for 2% back on everything else.

October Savings

November 1st, 2015 at 07:06 am

Received $40 bank interest for the month of October.

Snowflakes to investments:

Redeemed $25 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.

Redeemed $80 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $10 cash back on Visa/dining card.

{These last two were much higher than usual due to vacation expenses}.

Other snowflakes to investments:

--$12 rounding (gets us to $3k)

--$ 25 Ting credits (no cell bill this month)
**This is the final free month since we've run through our credits**

Savings (From paychecks):

+$200 to investments
+$300 to cash
+$900 to IRAs

Short-Term Savings (for non-monthly expenses within the year):

+$1,300 to cash
- $150 Auto registration renewal

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A little commentary on our savings goals:

With dh working, I expect to increase our savings rate roughly from 30% to 40%. But I suppose we will work through that next year.

IRAs: I just happen to expect another $50 credit card reward to my ROTH and so we will get exactly to $11k max this year. It usually doesn't work out quite that perfect. I usually try to get close and just top it off end of year.

I did see that IRA limits are unchanged for 2016 so this goal will remain the same for 2016.

Investments: I am thinking of abandoning this goal. Not in a bad way though. I had intended to invest $7,500 this year.

I've yet to fund $1,400-ish from my OT. Sure we've had a splurge-y year and maybe that is a lot of it, but we have also had a very charitable year (by our own standards). I am thinking of letting this go since we have given about this much to charity. & I definitely foresee charity being a higher focus next year with dh working. For this year, we just knew a lot of people suffering a lot of hardships. A lot of stuff came up that we felt compelled to give cash to. I know next year we will probably have more means AND also switching to more cash giving as we have less time to donate. (We've been infinitely more focused on donating *time* since having kids - with lots of time and less money, but that is starting to shift the other way - probably more 50/50 in the interim).

I was also going to invest our tax refund, estimated at $2,500. I was going to invest around 12/31, since we have the cash, and reimburse our cash when we get our tax refund in early February. I am still going to invest the refund, but I am not going to count it towards this year. I will just invest it when I get the money. I was thinking the money was really saved this year, and it's true, but I'd also rather keep it simple.

I've revised my sidebar for the $2,500 (tax refund) and we can wait and see on the other $1,400. I've still got time to scrounge it up.