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Archive for March, 2017

College

March 29th, 2017 at 02:52 pm

I figured I should start a "college" category in my blog. Still got a ways to go, but it's creeping up on us.

The *big picture* is that no one in my family has ever borrowed for college, so the road to a debt-free college is crystal clear to me. & I don't mean at all from a wealth/means standpoint. I put myself through college. Putting my kids through college should be infinitely easier, in comparison. They will have significantly more options than we had. It also probably helps to live in a state with abundant and affordable college choices.

Some of the ways that we expect to keep college costs down:

--Saving money ahead of time for college
--Scholarships
--MH working more while kids are in college
--Possibly finding an employer who will chip in with college costs
--Kids working in high school/college, even if just during summers
--Thinking outside the box as to housing (which is important with the high housing costs here)
--Mostly considering public colleges
--Community college (this is really what all the regional public colleges prefer these days, getting first two years done at CC, so motivation is more than just saving money)

Certainly not meant to be an all inclusive list, but in general sums up how we stayed out of college debt.

My husband and I actually had completely opposite college experience. Our parents were both opposite extremes, and so we seem to end up meeting in the middle. We both agree that we expect the kids to work significantly during high school and college, that our own financial health comes first, and that we don't want to borrow a penny for college. We don't want them to graduate with any student loan debt. We are willing to help our kids in any way we can as long as we are within these parameters.

I'd say that when our eldest was ages 0-10 that college was not on our radar at all. Part of the reason is that in-laws were providing college money. They gift the kids $1k per year, each, since birth. Initially they invested with their super pricey broker (load funds + ridiculous advisory fees) but for whatever reason they gave us the money to manage in recent years. Which means the money is actually growing instead of being eaten away by fees. Phew! At this point we are quickly closing in on $40k, which would cover two public college degrees, and allows for future price increases as they continue to receive gift money.

We personally have not tied up this money in college type funds because we don't have any incentive to. We would rather have free use of the money. We don't have a big enough income, but I do have enough tax knowledge, to not bother with 529 plans or other college savings options. To be clear, we are not paying any taxes on these investment gains. So we don't need the trade-off of extra hoops to jump through for tax breaks that we don't need.

Along the same lines, MH and I both used our "college money" for a home down payment instead. In a state where college cost pennies and housing costs are sky high, I think it seems very likely our kids will experience the same. So I don't want to be penalized for tying up their gift money for college when they more likely will use it for post-college housing. Ideally, we'd actually really like to pay it forward and save this in-law money to give them as a lump sum *after* college. I don't know if we will be able to swing it, but this is what we would like to do. & if we can't, we definitely want to do something like this for our grandkids. (I think if it was not for the in-law money, this would just be a "pay it forward to grandkids" goal).

Anyway, the "generous in-law situation" sums up ages 0-10 with our kids. Between that and the low cost of college here, and my hubby's prolonged unemployment, it just hasn't been on our financial radar at all.

That said, we have in the past put ridiculous percentages of our income into ROTHs knowing that we could use that money for college. I can't say it would have been our financial priority to tie up *all* our money in retirement funds, otherwise. So I am sure for a while that was our college strategy, and I did discuss in this blog during those times.

In 2014 we were in a position to start putting money away into taxable investment accounts again (in addition to fully funding IRAs). I guess college is the only goal at this point, besides retirement. Though I don't consider this *all* to be college money, it is certainly accessible if we need it for college. We are putting away about $7,500 per year. I think matching the in-law college money is a good place to start. It probably works out too that we will probably get there in another couple of years. At that point we may just back off and figure that $40,000/each is a phenomenal start. I think we'd probably most likely just focus on cash flowing the rest (if there is anything left to cash flow).

Since I worked my way through college, I think the idea of MH working + kids working seems easiest on some level (would be a LOT of cash that we could put towards college). But, I think the "saving ahead" is important just because you never know. Relying on future income streams is a little outside of my comfort zone. So while some part of me thinks that "cash flowing with several jobs" is really the most obvious and the easiest, we always have a Plan A + Plan B + Plan C, etc.

Edited to add: I didn't mention financial aid. With the high wage/low college cost combo, regionally, I don't expect it to come up. I know it's infinitely more complicated than that, but that's just the short answer. It will be a better use of our energy to seek out scholarships that aren't based on need.

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In other news, I am sure I have discussed in the past about MH thinking of returning to college. I mentioned in my blog several years ago that nothing about the timing was right. With the economy in particular, it seemed like a particularly poor time to invest any money into a degree.

Today, things are lining up to make a lot more sense on this front. So I know it's something we will discuss more seriously as to the next two school years. I will have to leave that for my next post on the college topic.

Death

March 27th, 2017 at 12:51 am

We had a tragic death in our family last week. Suicide.

For all the mood disorders in my family, this is the first "successful" suicide I am aware of, in any of our families.

Is not anyone I was close to, but my family is very large and far away. Probably closest to my age (a little younger) and someone I clicked with more than most in my family.

Way too young and way too soon.

I haven't dealt much at all with death. But I saw today they were collecting money for the kids' college funds (in lieu of flowers). I am sure it is not expected at all, but I will send $50. We are in a place in our lives where I wouldn't think twice about sending money in this cases. & it really is just an "in lieu of flowers" thing. (It's not random asking for money, which my family would probably never do).

Since I don't think I've ever written a check for a funeral before, I was going to ask about the proper amount, but I think I am at peace with this. We weren't close enough to warrant a bigger amount, and I know this family doesn't need the money, so all of that factors into my decision. (He was single and his parents are in a financial position to handle a *very* unexpected funeral).

Sad to say this may be my first check of this nature, but unfortunately not the last. (Well, I'd be happy if this was the last suicide I ever have to hear about, but death itself seems pretty inevitable).

Fiscal Chores, Low-Spend March

March 26th, 2017 at 04:30 pm

**I had a 1.5% CD mature at my credit union. It just so happened they were offering a 1.6% CD, so I rolled it over into a new 1.6% CD.

I have another CD that matures next month.

**I didn't expect to find such a good (CD) rate at the same institution (or anywhere), so I had already planned to fund MH's IRA (2016) when that money was freed up. Since that had been the plan for so long, I just funded that this week. Will just have some extra cash tied up until next month.

**ThriftyRay's post reminds me that our very simple calendar system has worked very well for this year. We decided just to put all three school calendars on the fridge and to plan ahead every week and month. I personally forget things if they are not in front of my face (I need visual organization and don't like to hide things away). & it didn't seem it was really worth it to try to merge those all into some kind of electronic record. It would have just mucked up our calendar so much that it would have rendered it useless. I guess I like "simple" and I like "visual".

So, though next year will be MUCH simpler, will just stick with this method. We will still have two different schools for the foreseeable future.

**March seems to be our natural low-spend month. When we are both so busy (work) we seem to just fall into frugal routines and habits. You would think more convenience spending, but we just don't seem to do that. It's crazy how little we spent this month. Pretty much no recreational spending whatsoever. & not that we haven't gone out at all. We had a nice St. Patty's dinner at our house (tradition), hosted my parents one weekend, and have several other activities. Next week or two we have a couple of free events. & I want to get to the art museum (free to visit) once things settle down a bit.

I cooked a salmon dinner (new recipe) at home last night. MH stumbled upon a good grean bean recipe. I mostly do not like green beans, but these are incredibly good. So good, I requested that he make those to go along with the salmon.

Travel Credit Card Decision

March 26th, 2017 at 03:04 pm

I ended up applying for the Capital One Venture card that Buendia recommended. I didn't get much input here, and didn't have a lot of time to look into it, but it seemed probably the best card for our purposes.

When the credit card arrives, we will book our hotel. We haven't decided anything but seem to have infinite options. I think it is most likely that we will rent an apartment with a kitchen. It's just so cheap right now with the favorable exchange rates.

This credit card has no fee for the first year. We will close the card before the year is over. If we like the card and it is useful, it is something to keep in mind for the future, especially for a less impromptu trip.

I just want a card without foreign transaction fees. It looks like we may also be able to get a $400 travel credit, which I am not sure is going to be very useful in our situation. But, if it works, we will save $400.

For now, I just want to get the credit card so that we can finalize a hotel.

Travel Abroad Credit Cards?

March 21st, 2017 at 07:31 pm

Does anyone have any credit cards they recommend for using in the UK? Hear of any sign up bonuses lately?

We have a credit union credit card that has no foreign fees. In addition, we get 3% back on dining out, which would probably be our primary expenses while we are out of the country. So we are good to go already. But, I wouldn't mind having a backup credit card while we travel.

Chase Sapphire: We both opened and closed this one several times for the cash bonus, so I doubt we could get this card. I was denied the last time I tried. But if we are charging up hotels and excursions, I wouldn't mind paying -0- foreign fees and working towards a bonus. It's been long enough it would be worth a try.

Barclay Arrival Plus: The rewards don't seem useful on this card, but it might be nice to have a chip+pin card in a pinch. I also saw feedback though that their fraud department was over-zealous and this card was denied too often. So I guess I am curious about any feedback. If we only use it in a pinch, I'd want it to work in a pinch. (This one has an annual fee after the first year, but we wouldn't keep the card for more than a year).

Any other cards to consider?

This & That

March 19th, 2017 at 07:08 pm

**Since MH has never been to Europe, and London probably topped our list of "future travels", we are shifting gears and planning a Europe vacation, quite suddenly. I'd say otherwise it was something we were thinking about in 5+ years. But the thing about travel not being a huge priority for us is we don't want to save for a long time and spend a lot of money on *one* trip. But if we can easily afford it, then it's not a big commitment and we will take advantage.

Hotel and airfare will most likely be covered by our meager vacation budget. (Hard to believe!)

I was already on track to match my highest OT payout this spring, so will have some extra monies to throw at this trip. (I don't expect this to change our sidebar goals at all). For the most part we would be fine with walking around and enjoying the museums, and using the public transport. But since I doubt we will ever go to Europe again, I also feel we should just do the big stuff too. We are thinking of an excursion to Paris, for example.

I seem to travel abroad once every 10 years. MH mentioned my passport. I thought I might squeak by, but apparently it expires 2 months before we are planning our trip. I will renew ASAP. (I don't know when I ever would have thought of that, but I am knee deep in work).

**MH was teased about a $500 focus group. !! But he didn't make the cut. Bummer!

**DL(11) is selecting his electives for next school year. How exciting! He just had to take "a little bit of everything" for this year (art school). He wants to focus on drama and music, next school year.

**MM(13) was accepted into the Honors program at the high school. We never had any doubt that he would be. But... It also looks like he may get back on track with his math. I am so happy that something seems to be going very right on the math front!

We need to find out more, but it looks promising that he will be able to get into Trig next year.

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Edit to add: I spotted London airfare for $504 per person (after taxes and fees) today, for our preferred August dates. Our flights are booked!

Second Edit: I also wanted to say, Europe is a HUGE trip from the west coast. I am *very* sensitive to jet lag and crossing time zones. Cut us west coasters some slack. Wink This is not on my fun list of things to do, in the grand scheme of things. As we were discussing flight logistics and so on, I was thinking the trip sounds much more bearable from the east coast.

Need HELP with London Trip!

March 15th, 2017 at 03:33 am

Just wanted to throw out another request for any hotel recommendations in London.

We are probably going to go the end of August. We figured it would save us money and be infinitely easier if MH did not have to request time off work. He is off work in August. I did not think it was wise to be gone when the kids start school (or too early in the school year) but the kids start August 9th this year. UGH! Totally insane! But I guess it works in this instance.

So we looked up school calendars and perused hotel and airfare in August. It was the same as Ocotober/November. Unreal! We will probably get airfare and hotel under $2,000. Tail end of August and/or early September. We are going without the kids, if you hadn't realized.

I'd buy airfare today, but MH wanted to wait and make sure we are taking a proper number of days to do everything. I think 10 days is probably about my limit though. Should be fine. Obviously we won't be able to do EVERYTHING. Big Grin

I also wanted to request any must-sees. What are all the things we should really do? Trying to make sure we have enough days to hit the highlights. I am guessing this may very likely be the last time we ever go to Europe, so I guess also keep that in mind. (We both very much dislike longer travels and flying abroad).

Thanks in advance!

UK Peeps!

March 4th, 2017 at 04:41 pm

Do you have any idea why roundtrip tickets, non-stop to London, are $500 from the west coast?? Right now, for tickets in October. British Airways.

My husband told me that his co-worker mentioned and I thought it was just a credit card rewards thing. Didn't think too much about it. But I just spent one minute on google flights and it's for reals! (Just to say, you don't have to look very hard to find).

For reference, I've absolutely never priced tickets to Europe and have no idea how prices generally fluctuate.

I've often chose vacation destinations solely based on incredible airfare deals. So... The odds that we will go to Englad in October?? Looking very high at the moment. Big Grin Just curious what is up with that. Don't know how quickly we should jump on it.

If you have any hotel recommendations, I guess that might be useful too.

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Edited to add: I guess I am slow to get the memo since international flights aren't on my radar *at all*.

http://www.wendyperrin.com/airfare-deals-to-europe-are-excel...

I've seen articles going back about 9 months, so am not going to rush out and buy airfare today. But I think that we will seriously consider a fall trip.

February Savings

March 1st, 2017 at 03:57 pm

Received $38 bank interest for the month of February.

Snowflakes to Investments:

Redeemed $50 credit card rewards (cash back) from our gas/grocery card.

Redeemed $74 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $5 cash back on Visa/dining card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$8 Savings from Target Red Card

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$20 Citi Price Rewinds (price match for computer parts)
--rounded up $3

Snowball to investments (MH Paycheck):
+$365

Savings (From my paycheck):

+$ 200 to investments
+$ 300 to cash (mid-term savings)
+$ 900 to IRAs

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

+$1,300 to cash
+ 260 insurance refund
-$1,342 Insurance (various)
-$1,200 Auto Repairs
-$ 90 dentist
-$ 95 Windows OS (for new computer)
-$ 50 Professional Fee

Edited to add: I later realized that I forgot to update short-term expenses paid out this month. It was a spendy month! (I hadn't realized or particularly thought about it because most of these expenses were charged around Jan. 1 and paid off Feb. 1. But I include in February because that is when I transfer the funds out of my savings account).

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One of the insurance bills that I paid was my disability insurance. In the past I have had a $4,200/month benefit without having to have a certain income. I can "up" this to $5,000 monthly benefit now. I really should make this a priority.

I noticed that our gas rewards aren't calculating correctly, so will have to keep an eye on that.

I did receive $1,000 tax refund and have yet to literally deposit that into our investments. It works out because we usually charge health insurance around the 29th, but it went through a few days early with the short month. We actually didn't have any big bills on our credit card this month, but the health insurance was charged twice (1st and 28th). So I will just use the $1,000 to float that. Will put it to investments in April. Just kind of worked out in an easy peasy kind of way.

I am still in a groove where I just pay all the (cash) bills on the first of the month, which includes paying off all prior month credit card charges. Then I don't have to think about it again for another month. (I am just not into automating things. I have to look over things carefully, and this may also be largely driven by not having direct deposit. Lord knows when I actually get my paycheck sometimes, like if we are on a vacation).

March and April are big savings months for us. MH is back at work & all my OT gets paid out in a lump sum every April. Plus, we are just both super busy with work, so we aren't spending money. It is always interesting to see how those months shake out. But then we generally relax and enjoy the rest of the year.

I do have a CD maturing mid-month and will have to figure out what to do with that. I've seen some good options, but will just depend what's available when I get access to the cash. I'll let you know what I find.