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Archive for January, 2016

Low Spend February & Other Doings

January 31st, 2016 at 05:07 pm

I am personally not into the "no spend" month thing. I think balance is delicate and I don't see messing with the delicate balance we have achieved with our finances. Just to say why I usually sit these things out. (I could just see having a no spend month and then going hog wild the next month, and generally feeling out of whack).

That said, February is a naturally very frugal month for us. It's a short month and pretty much all I will be doing is working. Throw in that dh is working now too and seems to spend less money than ever while working. (Which is hard to do because he doesn't spend much in the first place).

In addition to all that, we actually have a pretty busy month already planned with free activities.

So I guess it's a good month to track our spending and see how it goes. That said, if something comes up, we will splurge and enjoy because it is expected to be a pretty low-spend month overall. We have already discussed going out to lunch Monday and I have no motivation to change that. It may be the last lunch date we can swing until summer, so we are taking advantage. (Since dh now works through the lunch hour, but he will have the summer off).

When I have tracked our daily spending (in blog) in the past I have shared what our dinners were on a daily basis. I will probably just go back to that format and will do that for the month of February.

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Doings:

There has been a gas station in our neighborhood with really cheap gas. Been paying $1.99 all month. So we had a really low spend gas month even though we drove out of town twice.

I didn't know ahead of time but we have a plastic bag ban starting January 1. Strangely we had been making some small changes to that end so didn't catch us too offguard. Overall we use the plastic grocery bags for everything. Dh does use re-useable bags at the grocery store but that was about it. We used the plastic bags for cat litter and household trash and so liked to keep getting the plastic bags. We switched at the grocery store several years ago though because they had financial incentives to do so. Anyway, I just happened to buy some re-usable laundry bags for travel. & when we were in Hawaii they had no plastic bags and so we bought some Target canvas bags that we had just decided to use at Target once we got home. In the end, after January 1, I put one of those bags each in our cars so that we always have a bag. I had used plastic bags for my lunch but dh had gotten a canvas bag for his job that I thought was perfect for work/lunch so had switched to that. Just random how we got the Target bags, the lunch bag, and the laundry bags within a couple of months of this big change.

For cat litter I have been just using whatever I could find. I told dh and the kids to keep cereal bags and produce bags for cat litter. I think I can make do with whatever we have laying around. But I expect that we will have to start buying plastic bags for the kitchen trash.

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The kids have a birthday party to attend at the park down the street today. I have been holed up at work for 7 days (took last Saturday off for our last comedy show in San Francisco, but then worked on Sunday instead). So I look forward to breathing some fresh air and getting some sun.

I had found an itunes gift card recently that I thought I had already re-gifted. I was surprised we still had it. In the end the gift card came from this family and we are going to re-gift it back. We don't have any apple products, do not use itunes, and they invited BM to this party rather last minute. He's not even really invited but more to entertain his best friend during the younger brother's party. So for all that, I am happy just to re-gift this back to them. (Plus the dad brought us this gift and the mom is throwing this party. Divorced couple). I Can't say I have ever re-gifted someone the same gift back before, but given the circumstances... I am just happy to be rid of it, and it's just a bonus that we don't have to scramble for a gift.

Taxes Done & Goals

January 29th, 2016 at 02:06 pm

I did complete our taxes. I don't really need any tax forms except some investment information. But I wasn't thinking that I didn't have dh's W2 from which I needed his employer Tax ID for e-file. So I thought that would hold us up for a while.

In the end I poked around online and found his W2.

Yes, our taxes are very simple. (I don't need W2s because neither of has any benefits, and even if we did I could figure it out from our pay stubs. I don't need any tax forms except for "qualified dividends"; is the only info I don't seem to have on my own).

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We did save $2,500 doing Traditional IRAs instead of ROTHs. I will get a $1,500 tax refund that (I will invest) and already moved $1,000 over from savings to investments. The deal is if we do the Traditional IRAs then we invest the tax savings.

Edited to add: And I just noticed we already got tax refund. So will move the other $1,500 over to investments today.

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For 2016 goals I just copy and pasted 2015 as a starting point. I didn't have enough information otherwise to form goals yet.

In the end I got a small cost of living raise, which just covers cost of living increases for this year (our utilities all seemed to go up suddenly and our HOA fees went up for the first time ever). So I will keep my salary goals the same. Which are the goals in my sidebar.

As to dh, he went back to work this week, post long winter break. The last thing we really want or need is more long-term retirement funds. But it is the most efficient thing to do. I Was surprised when I ran a tax projection and his income is being taxed at 30%. Yeesh! Thankfully he does have a 401k that he is already eligible for. We discussed it a while ago before I knew the taxes would be so bad and dh was leaning more towards the 401k. I was more trying to talk him out of it. After running the tax projection dh didn't want to talk about it because he is getting some MRI results next week. He just can't think "future" until he knows where his health stands. So we will enjoy his first full paycheck for the year and figure it out after that. Historically we always delay taxes and I expect that is what we will do, even if we haven't had the formal "let's do the 401k" discussion yet. I don't see either of us throwing 30% of his income down the drain. We had abandoned ROTH contributions around the 20% marginal tax mark.

We are also still very much in the 15% tax bracket; nowhere near the 25% tax bracket. But taxes aren't exactly simple. They can be pretty whacked.

What we miss more than anything is the liquidity of dh working and this doesn't do much to resolve that. But... Our parents are in a generous stage and so this is helping us to just suck it up and fund the 401k. We might get some cash gifts this year to fund more "Early retirement" funds. If we do the 401k and we hang onto some taxable investments (gifts) then that takes away from the potential mortgage avalanche. The big picture is more important to us.

40th Birthday Weekend

January 16th, 2016 at 08:06 pm

I am so glad to be done with the "Year of Splurge".

Last year was a lot of pinching pennies while planning all these BIG and short-lived things. Though I see the value of doing something "bigger" once in a blue moon, it is not how I enjoy living my life overall.

Now it's back to "Vacation Lifestyle" where we can do several smaller things throughout the year. Last weekend was a perfect example of that. We spent a whole whopping $260 and it was just incredible. Of course maybe this isn't fair since we paid for several shows ahead of time. But I didn't really count those since we do those every year and this was just the first time we stayed in the city and were able to do several more. (But since we ditched the kids we didn't spend any more than usual).

The "weekend away" part was $260, and was worth every penny. We could easily afford to do something like this every single month, and is what I would rather do versus saving up for one big trip only once per year.

So I suppose I will put this under the "vacation lifestyle" category.

In the end we had wanted to hit 5 shows but one was sold out before we could get tickets. It was the Friday night show, which was probably for the best since we didn't have to rush to get there.

The first night we had a late dinner and were mostly getting ready for bed. (I think dh was already in bed). When I told dh that I had just wanted to go for a walk or go do something for a bit. I usually go to bed super early but was a little nervous about having to stay up so late the next night. Going to bed early wasn't going to help with that, even if I had stayed up a little later than usual. One of the venues that we frequent for the Sketchfest was on the same block as our hotel and I had been reading off comedians performing there this weekend (reading these off on the car ride). We had joked about stalking them and also wondered if any would stay at our hotel. So we initially just discussed sitting in either lobby and people watching.

That said, when we looked up the next show down the street it was to start in an hour and was one of dh's favorite comedians. It had been long sold out, but dh suggested trying to get tickets. I figured that would keep me awake. He told me, "The good tickets usually open up last minute anyway. They hold extra seats for the talent." So we walked over not really expecting much. Well, maybe dh was expecting more but I certainly wasn't expecting much! But... they had front row seats available. !! File that away under, "It never hurts to ask." Of course, all these shows are pretty small and the front row seats don't cost any more than the back.

It was the best show we saw all weekend. I don't know if I have ever laughed so hard at a live show.

That pretty much summed up our weekend. Dh (the birthday boy) is charmed and everything went our way. All the food was great. We got free parking everywhere we went. & so how it seemed to go.

We did get stuck in the back row at a podcast recording that dh has been to a few times and always gets crappy seats for. But I was fine with it because at least we had seats! We had to rush from another show and there were a lot of people stuck standing. We got some of the last seats though we had been able to get there an hour before the show started. In contrast, on our Sunday afternoon show we didn't get there more than an hour early and we were like third in line. This was our view:



I mean, we didn't even bother to get there until the doors were supposed to open. & it was a packed and sold out show.

All the other shows were assigned seats and we had front row seats.

So we went to *five* shows, ate at several restaurants, and met up with some friends. Birthday Success!

Spending:

$130 Restaurants
$60 Hotel parking (free timeshare stay, otherwise)
$70 for spontaneous show

TOTAL $260

(See my prior post for some pictures of our weekend).

Free Movie Passes

January 14th, 2016 at 02:23 am

Dh signed up for some website that gets you free movie passes for advanced movie screenings.

He saw a free movie last night. That went well. He could take a guest but he knew I would not be interested. But it's a good find since the kids are old enough we can easily take advantage without having to find a babysitter. In fact, I read a tip that we both should sign up in case any family movies show up (since we could all 4 technically go in that case, if we can each bring a guest). Kung Fu Panda is being screened this week as well but we found out about it too late. & the catch is that they just want to fill the theater so they over-book and you have to show up early. I imagine that one might get crowded. The one dh went to last night was not crowded at all.

He heard about this website when waiting in line for the Star Wars movie.

I feel like dh did one of these not that long ago but he said he doesn't remember going to an advanced screening since college. I could see why they canvas the colleges for this type thing. He tells me he has definitely never seen a website for free movie tickets/advanced screenings.

Over prepare, Then Go With The Flow

January 12th, 2016 at 05:02 am

I saw this quote today. I've never seen it or noticed it before.

LOVE IT!

I am putting that quote up in my blog because I think that sums me up pretty well.

If nothing else, we were over prepared financially so dh's long-term unemployment has never been any big deal financially. So I think that sums up the last 13 years pretty darn well. But also I am surprised when people perceive me to be more Type A because I feel way more "go with the flow". I think the truth is that, with everything, I tend to just kind of land in the middle. I'll choose either extreme as necessary. The finances are where we always over plan and I really do think most everything else is very "go with the flow". I don't know that I have ever overly planned any big life decision. I take opportunities as they come and don't over-think the big things. We've actually made a lot of seemingly very rash life decisions because of our willingness to go with the flow. You will never be happy in this life if you can't go with the flow. Life always has other plans.

Net Worth Update

January 3rd, 2016 at 01:53 pm

2015 was a big year for us. We had a peak net worth of $498k in 2005, and then our net worth went down years 2006-2011. Our house lost $400,000 in value during that time, while we were saving and doing well with the rest. Housing started to turn around here in 2012. Our house is still $250,000 below the peak, but we've been increasing cash and investments over the years.

& so it seems like it took forever, but we finally did it! We surpassed $500k net worth in 2015. Moving on up!

We also made our net worth goal, which was to increase net worth by $42k (70% of expenses).

This is what I had estimated for 2015:

Cash + $5,000
Investments + $5,000
Retirement + $11,000 (Max IRAs)
Investment Returns + $14,000 (assumes 6% returns)
Mortgage Paydown + $7,000
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net worth + $42,000
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& here is how 2015 shook out.

2015 Actual:

Cash + $0
Car Purchase + $13,000 (Added asset to net worth)
Investments + $6,000
Retirement + $11,000 (Max IRAs)
+ $5,500 (2014 IRA)
Investment Returns + $0
Mortgage Paydown + $8,500
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net worth + $44,000
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I am fine with leaving this goal the same for next year. I think it will be doable. But overall, we want to start increasing our net worth by a full $60,000 per year. Even though that is 100% of our current spending, it is actually far more than I Expect that we will spend in retirement. I'd like to get to this somewhere in our early 40s. With dh working, maybe we can get there at 40. I really do expect to hit a seven figure net worth by age 50, which we will call "financial independence." I expect our 40s to be our last final push on the earned income/growing net worth stage of our lives. I expect to earn far more from our investments by the time we are 50, and in turn I expect "work" to fall down the importance scale significantly.

I am sure if we start hitting $60k annual increases early on that those amounts will increase over time with investment compounding. On the flip side, gives us some room to still make our goal with normal market fluctuations.

2016 Estimate:

Cash + $10,000 (saving to replace vehicle soon)
Investments + $10,000
Retirement + $11,000 (Max IRAs)
Investment Returns + $15,000 (assumes 6% returns)
Mortgage Paydown + $7,000
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net worth + $53,000
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Wow! More than I would have expected. Maybe at 40 I will just revise my goal to $50k annual net worth increases.

2015 Rewards Final Tally

January 3rd, 2016 at 12:37 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)

+$340 AmExRewards (6% cash back groceries/3% fuel)

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

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

+$555 Citi 2% card (2% back everywhere)

Grand Total = $2,585

Year 2011 = $4,164
Year 2012 = $2,782
Year 2013 = $2,623
Year 2014 = $3,128
Year 2015 = $2,585

Total 5 Years = $15,282
***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.***

2015 Goal Update

January 2nd, 2016 at 02:46 pm

I am copying and pasting sidebar, to memorialize in my blog. Brief Commentary below.

2015 Goals

**Financial**

[X]$11,000 to IRAs 2015 (MAX)
...($11,000 @12/31/15)
...$10,850 savings;$150 credit card rewards
...We save $900/month, plus ROTH credit card rewards

[X]$5,000 to savings
...($5,000 @ 6/30/15)
...We save $300/month, plus interest
...Received an unexpected gift and so will stop tracking savings this year. Just want to have $5k cash more than last year.

[ ]$5,000 to investments
...($4,596 @ 12/31/15)
...We save $200/month, plus snowflakes

[X]$4,100 to mortgage
...($4,100 @ 12/31/15)
...$3k per year to pay off in 15 years; $3,100 *this year* will be more principal than interest!
...Funded with overtime
...Added $825 (gift) to get balance below $175,000

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I am putting this under the "one income" category because these goals were based on my income alone. & dh brought in a whopping $2,000 in 2015, which was more of a snowball. I did not use any of his wages for the above goals.

We fell a little short of our investment goal. I am fine with that since I will have a tax refund to deposit in a month or so (getting us to $10k+ in taxable investments, which was more my "bigger picture" goal). Since the "big picture" is currently much better than I expected for 2016, I just can't bring myself to care that I Fell short of my 2015 goal by $400.

December Savings

January 1st, 2016 at 02:55 pm

Received $35 bank interest for the month of December.

Snowflakes to investments:

Redeemed $50 credit card reward to ROTH IRA.

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

Redeemed $67 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $1 cash back on Visa/dining card.

I was also able to add an additional $670 from Christmas cash received.

Reinvested $325 Dividends

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Total snowflakes: $1,138
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Savings (From my paycheck):

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

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

+$1,300 to cash
-$1,500 to home/disability insurance

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In addition to the above, added $825 to the mortgage (using Christmas money received). This put us below a $175k balance.

{This was all I did with Christmas money before check bounced. Also threw $1k to the credit card to cover recent splurges. This is why I didn't go more in the hole with that. When I get the check replaced and cleared we will fund our IRAs. Which we'd do anyway, but this just saves us from moving money around and keeps our savings account fatter}.

I believe dh made $189 this month and I didn't do anything with it. I suppose I will consider moving that over to investments. I just haven't got that far yet. (Everything is a bit of a mess because of our bounced deposit!)

Edited to add: Cleaned up Quicken a bit today and don't seem to have any money leftover, so will just use dh's checks in December to cover concerts/events we paid for. I had not used gift check for this and I did not pull from savings to cover this. He actually received $635 and we paid $625 for shows. (I forgot he had one bigger paycheck the first of December, for November work).