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Archive for May, 2017

May Savings

May 30th, 2017 at 10:44 pm

Received $36 bank interest for the month of May.

(I did lose higher interest CD, but I guess that is offset by parking OT in savings.)

Snowflakes to Investments:

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

Redeemed $26 cash back on Citi card.

Redeemed $7 cash back on Visa dining/fuel card.

Other snowflakes to investments:
--$7 Savings from Target Red Card

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
-1,000 London Hotel
- 140 passport expenses
- 100 wireless router (issues with old one)

In addition, we pulled $600 from mid-term savings to cover the rest of the hotel.

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We've already tapped out our regular vacation budget. We had no plans whatsoever to fly anywhere for the foreseeable future. I still really think we will revert to our modest vacation budget (future years). Knocking out Europe with $2,600 hotel/airfare was just too good to pass up. We could have paid less, but were willing to splurge on the unexpectedly affordable hotels. We didn't even look at anything with less than 5-star reviews.

Our short-term savings is pretty weak right now. We usually vacation in the fall. & we only prepaid the hotel because of the favorable exchange rate. (I decided to hedge my bets on "most favorable exchange rate in 30 years"). Anyway, usually we build up more before we spend down, but I expect the timing to just work out a little differently this year. It doesn't really matter. It will all even out by the end of the year.

The rest of our London expenses will come from savings, or MH's job. We've allocated about $500 from his job since we will save $500 by not traveling during his work season. Credit card rewards should cover most of our tours.

Credit Card Rewards Update

May 29th, 2017 at 07:52 am

2017 TALLY:

$465 Travel Rewards Cards (Capital One Venture,MH)
-----------
$465 TOTAL *ONE-TIME REWARDS*

**In addition, various monthly rewards that I will tally at 12/31.

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In the end, I have already surpassed last year's credit card (one-time) bonus total. Maybe 2017 will be better than 2016?

For the travel rewards card, I have a few days left to apply the $465 to our hotel charge. We have 60 days from date of purchase. My plan today is to book our Paris excursion. I'd like to just cover that with the travel reward. But I am not completely sure it will count as a "travel" expense. This card seems pretty liberal with the travel category so I think it will work. But if "tours" don't count than we aren't planning to spend $462 on any other "travel" expenses this year. (Most our remaining expenses will just be food while we are abroad). In that case, will throw at the hotel. I realize for the most part it doesn't make any difference. If I apply it to the hotel right now I will receive a $462 credit to apply to travel tours (or to anything). But, the hotel is a refundable rate and so I wanted to use the free money to cover non-refundable purchases. Just for a worst case scenario if we have to cancel or change anything.

It's not the worst thing to get things nailed down. We leave in less than 3 months. So maybe this is extra motivation to nail down our itinerary. In our true fashion, we really belabored choosing a hotel, but for the most part rather figure out the rest when we get there. Over-prepare and then go with the flow. That's just how we roll. We plan for the BIG things but not for all the minutiae. But... we do realize we need to make reservations for tours and such. MH had wanted to lock those in a couple of months ago. Then we lost momentum, somewhere along the way.

I had decided to look for a smaller credit card reward when PS mentioned the $200 bonus she applied for. It was a Wells Fargo card. I did apply and it was weird. They got very detailed about employment (as PS mentioned). I finally decided to just put "homemaker" for MH and that he had access to household income. After belaboring if I should put that or all his employer info (for his like $8k income), they approved the card instantly. We will use this reward for another England tour.

When applying for the new card (a couple of days ago) I had wanted to close my prior one-time reward card. I only kept it open this long because we were still going through rewards. It took us like 9 months to get through $250 restaurant gift cards. Kept it open in case there were any problems with the gift cards. Anyway, I logged in to AmEx a couple of days ago and they had no contact info or chat link. ??? If I log into MH's AmEx account it's all there. I know it would have been faster to call versus all the time I spent poking around trying to find a chat option. !! But I gave up since they didn't even have a phone # to call and I don't know where the card is. I always do paper statements for these one-time bonus cards. As a reminder until I close the accounts. I finally decided to just call when I got the paper statement. Then I'd have the account info and any idea who to even call.

So today I logged on to MH's AmEx and it looks totally different than it did a couple of days ago. There's also a huge chat button at the bottom of the screen. I really didn't expect much because both logins were completely different the other day. But on a whim, I logged in to my AmEx account, and the same chat button was there. Woohoo! It was like a 1-minute chat to get that card closed. Glad to get that taken care of.

DONE!

May 28th, 2017 at 10:26 am

**MM(13) had his final on Tuesday, so we are done with this 3-school nonsense. Woohoo!

It's still a little messy since he doesn't have a last period class and MH is going to pick him up early for the next few weeks. On one hand. On the other hand, it's on his way home, so maybe it's not that big of a deal. Though he gets out of work a while before MM gets out. I don't know. We hadn't discussed that part. Maybe some extra driving, but at least no more sitting around and waiting.

**I think I am over the hump on a big work project. PHEW!

I could feel it on Tuesday. I woke up crazy early and so went on a 2-mile walk around the lake. It was a billion degrees during the day, so in the evening we went to the pool (walking distance). It was just divine. Life is good.

Back to vacation lifestyle. I had failed miserably the past 9 months or so (don't remember ever being that busy, since having kids) but the rest of this year is looking up.

**The last few weekends we have gone out quite a bit. In a frugal manner. Free movies, using free gift cards, taking advantage of memberships, etc.

We used up our last dining gift card (credit card reward from last year) so I mentioned to MH that I might keep an eye out for a meager reward like that. If that's all there is, is better than nothing.

**I am so behind on posting that I guess I will just start with this weekend.

Yesterday DL had his friends over. Their plan was to work on their band, but thankfully I mentioned to have them bring their swim suits. The band thing didn't work out so well, and instead they really enjoyed their time at the pool. (DL is getting way into drumming. I've got a really old hand-me-down drum pad thing and we will probably him a fancier one for his birthday).

& MM(13) is friends with all of them, so he hung out with the younger kids yesterday.

Today both kids were invited to a BBQ (another 11yo that goes to school with MM now). I think DL has moved on, having switched school. So though it was his friend to start, I think MM will probably have more fun at the BBQ. Hopefully DL enjoys himself a wee little bit. He is way into swimming these days, so maybe he will be okay. If not for the swimming part, I could see him being cranky and bored. Will see...

That reminds me that we did discuss birthday plans. It sounds like MM is going to try to get a group of 13yos at the water park. Summer is a tough sell though. So, will see what we can do. We already discussed it. If everyone can go, it's just going to be the big kids. If everyone can not go (most likely) then DL and a mutual friend of theirs will be invited. I am hoping MM can find one or two friends who will be in town. (DL doesn't seem to care too much either way).

DL's new best friend at the new school shares his birthday. There was talk at some point of some mega birthday, but his friend sounds like he wants to bow out of that. Now his friend wants DL to have a party and he is not going to have a party? Regardless of how it works out, they will have to co-ordinate somewhat. So that they don't both have a party on the same day. For now, it seems like it will be rather low key. Just a sleepover at our house, or something like that. (Though it's way more fun to sleep at other people's houses, and that is what DL is pulling for. Sounds fine by me! He's got some time to talk his friend into it.).

I forgot to say, we always stay home big Holiday weekends. Too many crowds. We hadn't planned much of anything, but had some impromptu get-togethers. MH has a friend coming over to watch a movie, too.

P.S. I shared a couple of easy recipes in my last post, if you missed it.

Another Easy Dinner

May 28th, 2017 at 08:09 am

I am finding the recipes from Damn Delicious to be really hit and miss. But I keep trying.

So I was happy that this one turned out so well:

Chow Mein Copycat

http://damndelicious.net/2014/07/02/panda-express-chow-mein-...

Apparently it's a Panda Express copy cat. I've never eaten there, so I can't speak to any similarities to Panda Express. But this recipe is definitely a keeper. Will definitely have to double for my family. Maybe triple, for leftovers.

Oh, and I did use sesame oil instead of olive oil (a suggestion that was in the comments).

I will share again my favorite fast/easy recipe from Damn Delicious:

Korean Beef Bowl

http://damndelicious.net/2013/07/07/korean-beef-bowl/

I think it's meals like this that help with the habit of eating at home. If we crave something like this, the home cooked version is so much better tasting. If it only takes a few minutes to whip up, it's really easier/faster than going out.

I'd like to add the new chow mein recipe to my "last minute meal" rotation. It will work better if MH doesn't put it in his meal rotation (which is what he did with the Korean beef bowl). Usually the super easy (and more random last minute) stuff is more my territory.

Counting Down the Days!

May 17th, 2017 at 07:49 am

MH only has to drive MM(13) between schools for 5 more days. Woohoo! We are ALL beyond ready to put this school year behind us.

Yesterday was payday. All the bills were paid already (we just pay all the cash bills and credit cards off on the 1st of every month). Both our checks are going to savings. $3,800. This includes a $100 price match MH got on his big TV purchase.

Still VERY busy at work. Thus, a short update.

More on the Common Data Set (College)

May 9th, 2017 at 02:02 pm

I had wanted to share the common data set as to starting to nail down actual college costs (versus just picking numbers out of the air).

{See last post}.

But of course, if you've been looking up this information, you see that there is loads of other useful information in these reports.

I was just poking around a bit today and found a series of interesting articles on the subject:

http://www.thecollegesolution.com/tag/common-data-set/

Enjoy!

I think that for myself, none of this is terribly useful until my kids start nailing down where they might want to go to college. Wink

The Cost of College

May 7th, 2017 at 06:47 am

I get the sense from college conversations that many are just making stabs in the air as to the actual cost of college.

It's actually kind of ironic because I know many people seem to think I am crazy when I talk actual costs. But the reality is that I have been tracking actual costs and real numbers. That is what we are planning for.

That said, it's apparently been a while so I will adjust my projections today. With a kid starting high school this fall, I will probably make it an annual thing to update actual costs. Should probably start keeping a closer eye on it, as to planning ahead.

So... I heard this tidbit about a decade ago? Every (4-year) college provides a "common data set" report on their website, for every school year. There is a lot of information in these reports, but includes a clear and concise summary of actual tuition + fees that students pay. They also share room and board costs, the cost of books and supplies, etc.

When I first heard this, I looked up my alma mater. My alma mater had this information going back to the years I attended, so I looked through those numbers and I will say that this is really good information.

Confident in the usefulness of the numbers, I started to track public school costs in our state. This is probably easy for us because we live in a large state with so many excellent college choices. So this is all I am bothering to track, for now. & of course, I presume we can narrow down as kids get older and start to zero in on what they might want to study or where they want to go to school.

In a recent college post, I did throw out $20k as the number I have been using to estimate the cost of 4 years of college. I don't remember the last time I looked up the numbers, and was clearly rounding. But as of today, I will revise to $30k. Per information below.

For me personally, I am leaving out room and board, and the cost of books and supplies. Kids need room and board regardless, and dorm living is not a requirement to go to college. I figure at the very least they can pay for their own books and supplies, so I am not going to worry about that part.

So I took the tuition and fees for the 4-year public college, and multiplied by 4 (years). Tuition + fees = $29,762. I will just round up to $30k. & of course I know that costs will increase in the next few years. But I have those years to adjust and save more. For now, I am going to take some time to wrap my brain around this new $30k estimate.



The costs above are from my alma mater. It's probably hard to come up with a better cost/benefit scenario as to college. This is in the middle of Silicon Valley. Location location location.

We have another public option. The UC (University of CA) system:



That comes up to about $14,000 per year, tuition and fees. I would presume community college first 2 years (cost pennies). Rounding up, that's $30,000.

So I know that planning for $30,000 will buy my kids a lot of options.

{Over the years, it's worked out that both options cost about the same}.

As an aside, our community colleges cost $46 per unit. I would just budget -0- as to saving ahead for community college. We can cash flow any community college costs.

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I mentioned in earlier post that in-laws were giving us money (annual gifts) for college. We have $40,000 saved already, from these gifts. I'd like to get this up to $60,000 ($30k x 2) to cover a full degree for each of our kids. It seems we are well on track with that. I don't need *all* that money before they start college, but looks like we most likely will, with future gifts and investment gains.

We would like to match this sum, to buy our kids more options and/or maybe cover room and board.

For now, we have $20,000 saved up. We are saving $8,000 per year. This puts us well on track to match their gift money before they start college. We will make $60k our new "college savings" goal.

I know costs will increase and we will have to increase our goals over time. The nice things is we have time. We don't have to have all this money saved up before they even start college. I think knowing this and planning for future increases is why I Feel rather *shrugs* about adjusting my estimates.

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Edited to add: Based on comments below, I wanted to edit to clarify a bit.

The colleges I cut and pasted above have very low on-campus living rates. There are several excellent public colleges in the region we grew up in. These are areas we know very well. Also, my kids *can* live at home and earn a profitable college degree. Rent/dorms is just not a necessary cost of college, for us.

Much Better!

May 6th, 2017 at 08:57 am

I had a long overdue day off, and feel very rested now. Phew!

Thursday night we went to DL(11)'s school open house. His (art) school is always just so much fun. They had musical performances going on everywhere and we also saw an art exhibit. They also had food trucks, so we splurged a bit on some food.

Yesterday I did a bit of running around since both kids got off at odd hours. But we got the pool to ourselves in the afternoon. I don't know that we generally go quite this early in the year, but it's been HOT. Yesterday ended up being quite pleasant.



This is our neighborhood pool, two blocks from our house.

Now we are just counting down the days until "school crazy" ends. Only two more weeks, for this crazy math schedule. Hard to believe that it's just two more weeks!

I have another picture to share. We were over by the old Tower (movie) Theater and it just looked very pretty (lighting) so I snapped a picture. The theater was built in 1938. It is where we went to see that free movie during spring break.



& across the street from that is the used book/movie/video game store. We stopped by because DL wanted a video game. It was $60 full price. $40 at the used shop. $32 with coupon. He spent his own money.

I am not planning to do much this weekend. MH is going to make us watch some movies. In turn, I will probably drag him to the art museum.

Real Estate Update

May 6th, 2017 at 06:51 am

Our house value has been rather stagnant for 3-4 years at this point. When we moved here (2001) so many people were moving up from So Cal and Bay Area, for the more affordable housing. At the time, the median house price in the Bay Area was $500k. (We thought *that* was absurd). Now? $1 mil! $1 mil-ish, if you just want to buy a small starter home.

& so I have been wondering why things are so stagnant here. I know that was really instrumental in the housing bubble, regionally. Not that we need another housing bubble, but I would expect a little more growth. I guess I have mixed feelings about it all. I do like that housing is more in line with wages and people are being more prudent.

In the end, I saw an article last week that so many people are moving here that we should be building an extra 2,000 homes per year. So I guess it's happening. I just haven't seen it so much myself, and home prices seem to be left in check.

I also got a flyer from a local real estate agent and it listed that a 3-bedroom house (down the street) sold for $450,000. What in the heck!? I figured that must have been a typo or it must have been one of the bigger houses which have been selling at that price point, but I looked it up out of curiosity. Indeed, the largest home model on our block and the smallest home model just both sold for the same price. WOW!

I have to back up a bit though. It's funny when I look back and some of the most ridiculous splurges in our family have ended up being the best long-term investments. & it's not like these purchases were made with any regard to long-term investments or making money. It was just about ridiculous splurging. So, our home is the perfect example of this. We changed cities to lower our housing costs by 70%. The housing seemed so cheap to us, that we decided we would buy a home with space for a movie theater. In the end, the price was an even trade for our Bay Area condo. (We didn't even spend any more money to get the theater space).

The sole purpose of this purchase was "ridiculous splurge". The End. But, we ended up only paying pennies for the extra space. The reason is because land is so expensive here that land is the primary driving cost of housing. If you buy a larger two story house, it's not going to cost a lot more. I've said before, but our first floor cost $130 per square foot. The second floor only cost $35 per square foot. Seriously!

We did buy new construction, which is a lot of why we got such a substantial discount on our home. On the open market, our house had never fetched less than a $100,000 premium over the smaller models, so this was obviously an immediate financial gain we received for going bigger. & of course, bigger was better during the boom. At the peak, our home could fetch an additional $200,000 over the single story homes.

As our house prices have stagnated, I have noticed the trend of increasing values of smaller homes. It's clear that people are buying what they can actually afford, and maybe even embracing that more is not always better.

For the most part, we weren't planning to sell for another 6 years minimum, so it will be interesting to see where things head. A lot can change in 6 years. I expect the market to eventually adjust and allow some benefit for bigger homes, even if it's just a very small premium. I expect that we will see some movement on our home value this summer. Will see.

The other interesting thing is that our house is still a solid $200,000 below the housing bubble peak. The peak is nothing I expect to get back to before we sell. It was pretty absurd in our region. But it just hit me that the single stories in our neighborhood have hit peak levels. Amazing!

Another College Post

May 5th, 2017 at 11:04 am

I had a couple of other (college) posts I wanted to get to (and I will eventually) but saw an interesting article today from the NY Times:

As College Deadlines Near, Families Wonder What They Can Pay

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/28/your-money/paying-for-col...

"The colleges talk a good game about affordability. But once the teenagers do their part and gain admission, their families get lowball offers for aid and are daunted by the debt they would have to take on to make the numbers work."

& re: free college in New York:

"Sara Goldrick-Rab, a Temple University professor of higher education and sociology, and author of “Paying the Price,” worries about the New York program and the assumptions that many overly optimistic students may make. Data suggests that at least 20 percent of students who are financially eligible at first will end up leaving the state and having their grants turn into debt."

I think a lot of this is moot for us, having access to many high quality and affordable colleges. But, I've always been skeptical of the private school/aid route because it seemed like there is a lot that could go wrong (that would mean ending up in piles of debt). & of course, I don't see anyone talking about this, but this is just what I was thinking. You know, what if you take some kind of aid, lock in a college, and then lose the aid for some reason? So I was intrigued to see that my concerns aren't unfounded. At the end of the day, there's some value to just taking the low sticker price and not worrying about keeping your aids and scholarships. I share because I know this will weigh heavily in our own college decisions.

Regardless of your perspective or opinions, it's an interesting article.